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When It Gets Cold in the South, The Youngest Baby Dies

Honey, Mississippi 1949

When it gets cold in the south, mama wakes you up much earlier than she used to, and here you are now having to help clean the hog head sitting in the kitchen sink.

Its tongue is long, and black-beige-brown.

Its teeth are broken-glassed, and grey.

It’s grinning a terribly-split smile at you that makes you happy it’ll be in the stove soon.  

Mama starts to look at you in that way. A kind of way that you’ve become accustomed to, now.

See, mama is much different with you since you’ve changed.

In the months before, she’d been like a freeze pop to you—all full of brightness and color, sugar and syrup. In the early morning, she is like a freeze pop once all of the good stuff has been sucked from out of it—all empty with dullness and pale, bite and bitter.

She’s become the tossed away bits that nobody ever finishes, or chews up on.

“You at that age, you know,” and the way that she says this is part-telling, part-threatening. “Come heah.”

You are already here, beside her, but she means closer so that she can see, so that she can do.

With her hog-juice hands, without washing them first, she touches you.

Moves to your breasts to see if they’ve gotten any fuller.

Reaches for your hips to feel for their roundness.

Presses her fingers to the lower parts of your belly to see if a hardness has started to grow.

Every time she does this, you have to keep your head facing her, still, if you carry a stankness in your face she’ll slap it right off you. If you cry, she’ll ask you what you cryin’ for?

In your head, you are screaming for her to stop touching up on you!

How, you ain’t been doing nothin’!

How, just because you’ve changed don’t mean you’ve been wantin’ to do somethin’!

When she is done, she replies to all that you’ve been shouting inside of yourself, washing her hands now that her inspection is complete.

“This ain’t never been your body, guh. Ain’t you know that?” She looks at you. “These,” she points to your breasts, “Are for them babies you gone have. Them,” she gestures to your hips, “Are for them babies to ride up on soon as they old enough to hold they own head, and that right there,” she points to the place below your belly, the place where you now bleed from. “That right there is for both them babies and ya’husband.”

“And both of em’ll use you all up. ‘Fillin’ you up with something that you don’t even want! That you ain’t even healed all the way up good enough to receive! One baby on one titty, and ya’husband on the other!”

And she is going on, and on now.

Not even talking to you, but talking to any and everything—the plates, the pans, the breakfast biscuits with plenty of butter.

You cannot move until she is finished with all her fussing, even though she will shout at you when she notes your respectful stillness to get to doing.

The hog head sits in a cast-iron skillet, gets slammed into the stove.

Blistery Popping-Pink Skinned.

Greasy Dahlia-Cut Grinned.

Exodus Oktavia Brownlow is a Blackhawk, Mississippi native. She is a graduate of Mississippi Valley State University with a B.A in English, and Mississippi University for Women with an MFA in Creative Writing. Exodus has been published or has upcoming work with Electric Literature, Cosmonauts Avenue, Barren Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Parentheses Journal, Booth, and more. She has a healthy adoration for the color green.

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