- This Old Way
Before the Golden Isles, Willa shot a bird at Baker's camera mid curtsy, a royal gesture for the ancestors and her momma, Dolly Rae. Black people wore crowns in Africa went Dolly Rae's kitchen sink anthem. With hymns or hums, her marigolds would hocus pocus a sink full of dishes. A storm out over the ocean became her battle cry, an offkey incantation for sanitizing the counter tops and scrubbing grit out of the oven. It's moving this old way. If your soul's not anchored… She could transform corn meal, canned green beans, and ground beef into a feast. As a child, Willa had never gotten up from a meal without feeling both powerfully full and powerfully loved.
After the photo shoot on the roadside, Willa returned to Baker's Chevy, and he revved the engine to merge back into traffic. They had fifteen more miles to go before they reached the coast. This was Willa's first vacation as an adult without Dolly Rae to tell her which gas stations made for the best rest stops or the right way to carry herself in front of new strangers who might mistake her for worse than she was. This, being misrecognized, didn't bother Willa. She had been called out of her name too much by people mistaking her race, her weight, or her clothes as the whole of her identity instead of just parts that made her entirety grand. However, as the coast drew closer, a new uncertainty settled in Willa's stomach like a hunger without a single craving she could imagine.
The trek west from the congested suburbs of Atlanta presented a challenge. Baker had a shift in the morning at America's Credit Union, and Willa had to spend Sunday preparing for her shift stocking shelves the day following. They had twelve hours to get to the beach and get back home. These types of problems required slightly chaotic solutions, the kind that caused eight people to share a four-person hotel room for a trip that couldn't have happened otherwise, the kind that included lessons on resourcefulness, like how to use the opinions page of a 2002 issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution for rolling papers while half-wondering through smoke if the ink would help or hurt the high. In the case of the beach, the solution just required time management, out of bed before sunrise, four-hour drive with little to no stops, a few hours on the beach, then another four-hour drive back to Baker's apartment in Decatur.
Four-way stops marked each intersection among gridlocked [End Page 77] rows of pastel houses. The speed limit on the GPS said thirty-five, but it couldn't have been possible to go over twenty, not with the speedbumps that jostled the car like Jiffy Pop. Covered boats and various Jeep models waited in driveways or lined up just short of each corner. House after sherbet house slid by, lemons, sunny oranges, and inactive greens, the color of milk of magnesia or some other antacid. The street dead-ended at a parking strip and a crooked set of steps that led down to the beach, one of too few stretches along the Georgia coast.
Willa had never seen the ocean so close. She was curious to learn why the blue and white nautical themed picture frames were always out of stock in the décor section at her job. So far, she had no desire to hang an anchor above her old, cherry wood dresser, but she did allow herself to sink into the doubling shock of this new experience. She looked at Baker for some sign of him splitting in and from himself too. Baker snapped the sun visor shut and grinned.
"We'll stay for a couple hours," he said. "We're short on time, and we don't want to catch that noon heat anyway. Melanin burns in the sun too, baby doll."
Willa looked nothing like any doll she had ever seen. She was full and round everywhere except her hair, which she kept short and...