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Claim the Disappearing: 2

(I invite you to enjoy this free New Orleans novel, courtesy of the wonder that is the internet, unrolled a teensy bit at a time. If you are just joining us, feel free to return to THE BEGINNING and work your way through.)

All bad things start in Alabama. That’s not talking ugly. It’s geographical fact. Alabama is a topographical sinkhole out of which the earth burps. The onion-tinged belch rolls east, carried mostly by the earth’s orbital spin but also blown by the puffed cheeks of easily-offended Mississippi. 

At least that was the story my grandmother told me when I was young enough to yawn at eight o’clock in the evening, worn out from a day of riding horses and hiding in the hayloft where straw stuck in my wool sweater as I ran like hell from the mean-ass geese who claimed the barn as their own as soon as the weather turned cool. We would be in her bedroom, my Tippy and me. She sat on the edge of the bed with the popcorn bedspread slipping to the floor, its weight pulled sideways by the dense quilts she took to making in the evenings after my Pop-Pop left her for a woman in Mobile (only much later did I realize this was probably why Tippy maligned Alabama.)

The room smelled tangy like Ben-Gay and, because I stayed with Tippy in the winter when gas heaters hissed, scorched dust. My stomach was full of the salty boiled peanuts Tippy set aside for my snack in front of the TV while, behind me in the gold throne chair, she pieced her quilts and murmured against the idiocy on the screen. Afterwards, already in my pin-tucked nightgown, I sprawled on the bumpy bedspread and and sucked on a slick strand of hair as Tippy talked trash about Alabama, my favorite thing. 

Mississippi was way better than Alabama, Tippy assured me as she plaited her hair into a braid thick as a water moccasin. How much better? I asked, rising to fetch the silver-backed mirror with the tarnished mermaid riding a wave on the sea. We could beat Alabama with one hand tied behind our back, she replied, examining the neatness of her handwork in the angled mirror. Fair fight. No Alabama-cheat-‘em rules. Alabama, she flipped her plait over her shoulder and squinted at me to make sure I absorbed her point, was good for nothing but running away from.

We were from Mississippi, my Tippy and me. Her mother, too, and her mother’s mother and—after she ran away from Alabama—Tippy’s mother’s mother’s mother (I refuse to make a joke about all those mothers.) The bedtime tales Tippy told me weren’t exactly an origin story, but she did get it from that long ago great-grandmother of hers, the one she called Tip-Top. The first of us, I always thought, at the very tippy top of the Tippy heap.

Tip-Top is the one I want to tell you about. She’s the first of the three women whose inheritance I snatched into my fist as I ran away from Mississippi, hellhound on my heels, exactly the same way Tip-Top had run away from Alabama, a theft that eventually sent me stumbling down Rampart to watch St. Claude rise from the dead. Again.

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