1 With God in Baton Rouge
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3 1 With God in Baton Rouge I’m driving my minivan down Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, past the Snack Shack, the Ford dealership, the U-Lock-It, and the Super Chicken, listening to Lorraine, who is sitting in the seat next to me, talking. It’s a hot, sticky October day—the overcast sky like a blanket, keeping the heat in. Louisiana weather is like no other I’ve ever experienced—so hot and so oppressive for so many months that it feels personal, like the entire planet is soon to catch fire and you’d better get off it before it’s too late—and for the millionth time since moving here a few years ago from Washington, D.C., I yearn for cooler pastures, for the smell of falling autumn leaves, for crisp apples and cold nights and sweater weather. But I’m here, in Baton Rouge, with Lorraine, and Lorraine likes to talk. Correction: Lorraine loves to talk—and to smoke, sing, eat, anything that will keep her mouth moving. She is forty-four, so dark that her skin shines like polished mahogany, and growing fat from all the potato chips and pork rinds that she eats when she’s not talking. “Honey, let me tell you,” she is saying. “How I get here? Don’t rightly know. Didn’t mean to get here, but here I am. Lord Jesus. Jesus loves me, you know? Loves you, too. He do, even if you don’t know it, but he do.” I nod. “How many children you got?” she says, changing the subject. “Three,” I answer. “How old are they?” My eldest, Sam, is twelve, I tell her, and my twins, Rose and Jonathan, are eight. There’s a lot more that I could tell her about them—such as the fact that Sam is so physically beautiful that I fear for him; or that Jonathan, at birth, looked like a baby bird, all beaky and bony, with downy fur; or that Rose is so content within her skin that it’s as if she’d been born with the soul of a shaman—but I don’t. It would be like delivering a discourse on quantum physics to a dying man. So I keep quiet, waiting for the story that I know is coming—the one about how Lorraine landed in prison. She’s told it before, but because her mind doesn’t work quite right, she doesn’t remember. “Ain’t that nice, now,” she says in her smoker’s contralto. “Two boys and a girl. Praise Jesus. Bet they favor you. My own children, I got two boys and three girls, all grown. First there’s Larry, he make me a grandmother first. His father was something else. Lord, I loved that man. Would have done anything for him, sure enough. I give him three fine children. Three fine ones, and what he do? I was working up at the printing press then. Had me a good job. Steady. I was going to school, too. LSU. Working full shift every day of the week, don’t you know it, child, and going to school, too. Come home. What do I see? That man in bed with my favorite auntie. My favorite damn auntie. Mamma’s youngest sister, don’t you know. Caught them in my own damn bed. Didn’t think nothing about it. Just ran into the kitchen, grabbed me the gun in the cabinet, and shot that motherfucker right in the head. Missed and shot him again. ’Cause I wanted to kill that mother dead.” She looks out the window, begins to hum along with the radio. “Shot him good,” she says. “Spent a week in the hospital. But you know, he still living.” “Do you mind if I turn the radio down?” “Still out there catting around. But me, I get sent down to St. Gabriel,” she says, referring to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. “Five years in St. Gabriel. Got out for good behavior. But five years, five years plenty long, and I ain’t lying.” I turn the radio down. “But you know, it when I get out that the trouble started. While I locked up I good as gold, but when I get out, oh, Lord, that’s when things start going bad for real. Stayed with my mamma, and got a job, sure enough. Working at the dry-cleaning plant. But every day I...


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