My father called himself Irish but there was something else as well—something in the tilt of the cheekbones, the breadth of the nose, the wave of the hair. No one dared say it to his face, for those were fighting words, but he’d come from out east, with the railroads… from Boston or New York, where the Irish first intermarried with the free blacks. Whether from black rebels or white, he had fighting in his blood, and it was a rare man who’d cross him more than once.
My father, then: in a glimpse, the way I remember him. Black hair, jet-black and wavy, silvered over the temples (it had gone so when he was only twenty); blue-grey eyes, the color of rain-slicked slate reflecting cloud-bellies just going over to storm; full lips and a broad nose and flared cheekbones. Bone structure, yes, we have from both sides of the family. It worked out just so with Helen and with me, to Mystery Woman, not the white ingénue but something ambiguous, perhaps sinister; had we made a go of it in the movies we might have been cast as Indian Maidens in one film and Chinese court ladies in the next, or harem girls… whenever a dark-haired foreign type was desired, but (unspoken rule of those days) not to be played by anyone who couldn’t at last pass for white. The Negro girls, we knew, were not so lucky: at very best, they’d have day jobs as maids to support themselves between film roles as maids.
As I begin revisions on The Shape-shifter’s Tale, I will be posting character interview excerpts for the main cast of the novel. This week’s excerpt comes from the interview with Sophie, the narrator’s great-aunt.
Weekend Writing Warriors offers eight-sentence excerpts from a variety of writers; see the other excerpts here.