Issue 8, Spring 1955
Belle had a scar on the third finger of her left hand. She was twenty-nine and unmarried—twice.
To know what she looked like, you had to ask somebody. That didn’t always help though. Like, one time in the Beauty Parlor, Skeezer’s little Sister said Belle was ugly, but the hair dresser said, “Aw, Belle a mighty pretty girl, sister.”
Little Sister said, “She skinny...”
“Now, I wouldn’t rightly say, skinny’.”
“...her hair’s stringly...”
“Any woman’s is, when it’s just done.”
“...she got buck teeth...”
“...and she got right curious-looking legs!”
And the hairdresser laughed so hard at that he couldn’t say anymore.
Belle didn’t even know, her-own-self. Like her second husband just kept on telling her how pretty she was all the time and she wouldn’t believe him; but her first husband never would say one thing or the other, and that made her mad. About her first husband, though, she never could say that he really made her mad, he just kept her puzzled. He never said much about anything at all, and then one day he just went and died, and Belle wondered why he waited so long for her when, after he finally got her, he wasn’t going to say anything and was going to just die so soon after.
Her second husband, though, was the one ran after her. Even when she was going after her first husband—to find out how come he was so quiet, and why he never seemed to notice her—even then her second husband chased her. And when they got married, he kept right on running: out there on the streets, popping his fingers and kicking his heels up ’til Belle got mad after a year and quit him.
Belle was always running from or after somebody. One time at the Musetta house party she ran from Skeezer all night until Pretty Willie came after her and then she started looking for Skeezer again. But he was mad at her by that time because he didn’t think she should of danced with Pretty Willie in the first place.
When Pretty Willie’d come over, Skeezer told him, “You better not let your wife catch you over here fooling around.”
But Pretty Willie said, “Aw, she told me I could dance with Belle.”
So Belle danced with him anyway because he was a good dancer before he got married. And then he had to start carrying on.
“You better take your hand away from there,” Belle told him.
“Aw, don’t be like that, Belle; I don’t mean no harm.”
“You don’t mean no good, neither.”
But he just kept on so Belle had to leave him right there in the middle of the floor. And when she went back to find Skeezer, he was mad. So Belle just went over and talked to Goofer who used to be an old boy friend and still looked kind of pleased all over when Belle was around. And Skeezer got mad again.
It didn’t mean anything, though. Skeezer was always trying to talk to Belle, and she always made him mad. The first time, when they were sitting in Belle’s house, he just talked about everything except what was on his mind, and then finally he took her hand and looked at the tiny scar on her finger.
“What’s the matter with your hand. Belle?”
“Nothing wrong with my hand.” Belle had heard this beginning eleventy-five times. She pulled her hand away.
“How come can’t nobody hold it?”
Belle looked at him to see what he meant by that. She could never tell what people meant unless she was looking at them, and even then it was hard to tell. People were tricky.
She countered with, “Cause it belongs to me. That’s why.”
And that finished it for a while. So Skeezer sat and played with the couch cover and couldn’t think of anything else to say. Belle felt a little bit sorry, but she wasn’t sure whether she was sorrier when Skeezer talked so much like he usually did or when he shut up so fast like that. She put her hand back on his and started to say something to make up, but don’t you know that made him mad! He jumped right up and said, “I don’t like nobody to play with me, Belle.”
And then Belle got mad. She wouldn’t even try to explain to him if he was going to take it like that. And since she wasn’t going to try to make up, Skeezer knew he’d have to leave or something and not just stand there, so he did.
Belle could sing; God, she could sing! Every time somebody gave a finger-popping they’d ask Belle, and she’d always get up there while somebody played a home-made banjo and somebody else played a spit-and-guitar, or she’d get up there all by herself and get to patting her foot and swinging her hips, and she’d throw back her head and just sing, and every-damn-body would hush.
She liked best to talk to the instruments and have them talk back. When they really understood one another, the talking was good. And next she liked it when everybody all around would get to feeling just the way she felt. She always knew when she reached them, and she could make them feel any way she wanted to, from low-down and blue to easy and glad. And that was good because Belle always sang according to how she felt and would know that everybody was feeling the same way.