Just Listening

This Ain’t Belle’s Rose, Adriana Barker

     Granstan didn’t much like driving on the Trace. Says they’re too many young bucks looking for love on that stretch. After a drink Granstan and Daddy would chat away and cut up while I listened on… no talking, only listening. Granstan would crack something witty and maybe a little crude and Daddy would laugh. Nana didn’t take too kindly to that sort of stuff. Says there ain’t no place for that kind of language. Nana didn’t take too kindly to swears either. She always tried to keep things civil. The modern image of a classy southern lady, I’ll tell you that. She knew a thing or two about that sort of thing. Mama drove on, talking about her dollhouse and her yellow T.V. Granstan don’t remember- and I’m just listening.

All the while I’m listening. Listening to the slow sendoff of cars as headlights brighten the night like a Sallis morning sun only to fade away into the Mississippi night. If you weren’t much learned in common courtesy, you’d ride on by without checking your high beams. Listening as I stand at the three-way stop to the gentle hum of the local steakhouse sign as it washes me in warmth and muted yellow. Looking across the street I read the sign of the church- “Salem United Methodist Church,” it says- never gave it much notice when I was a child. Always saw it, but never read it. I’m 20 years old now- just celebrated my birthday with Mama, Papa, Nana, and Granstan of course- could never forget him if we tried. Been growing and changing, always learning more about yourself and your relationships with others, friends and kin and such. 20 years give me a lot of time to listen- to family, to friends, to myself…

Too often you forget you ain’t right in the head sometimes, and a family just as off as you sure don’t help that much. A family who makes a full production of a grandfather’s new cyst just waiting for a squeeze, an aunt who can always turn day-to-day nothings into something of a thespian display… belligerent cousins who say they don’t believe in God no more, a brother having sex before marriage, and me, a little queer boy kissing the horizon of living on my own, learning to live in a world that don’t take too kindly to “that kind of lifestyle.” When you do a lot of listening, you don’t get too much time for talking, and when you ain’t talking, you’re bound to be keeping secrets. Secrets you know would mess your family up something good and send your parents into denial and fear of failure as upstanding, Christlike models. Always making sure you go out and get yourself a good wife, have a few kids and live in a nice neighborhood with a dog and the good schools- you know, just like the Bible says. You know they love you, and you know they’ll keep on loving their own son, but you can’t help but think they ain’t gonna take you after something like that, and feeling like you screwed up, too. Split between feeling sexually perverse and morally reprehensible, feelings muster up inside, and you sometimes don’t know how to cope. You fester, you cry… you beg the good lord to take it all away while your family yaps on about Pastor Bob’s sermon or your down-the-way neighbor’s embarrassing drunk driving incident… and all the while I’m listening. But I ain’t just listening, I’m hurting. In pain realizing the world you once knew as a wide-eyed little boy is gone, and instead now you’re beat with the burdens of life and the bitter taste of reality, a cruel mistress who don’t have any time for anyone’s shit.

“What would Nana say?” I ask myself. Don’t think it’d be anything good, that’s for damn sure. I know loving yourself is real important. Been telling myself that for a real long time. But sometimes it sure is hard. Thinking about how they’ll react to the idea of a fag as a son sure does keep me up sometimes. But if life weren’t hard, if it didn’t have its trials and tribulations and such, I suppose you really never did live, did you… but what do I know? The radio quietly plays the top hits of ’87. Nana gasps while Papa and Granstan keep on with the usual banter of good Southern men. Mama’s keeping her eye out for her next left as I climb out the back window and lay out on the dirty truck bed as the trees whizzing by gradually give way to calm, rolling farmlands and a sky full of glistening stars paints the night sky, cicadas chirping something real pretty… and all the while I’m just listening. 

Sure is noisy out here.

About the Author

William Humphreys · Auburn University

Will Humphreys is a student at Auburn University where he studies Apparel Design with a minor in Business. Growing up queer in Mississippi serves as his main writing inspiration, with his stories traditionally following fictitious lives set in the American South, often focusing on the mundane events of everyday persons underscored by a fundamental “otherness.” “Just Listening” first appeared in Auburn University’s student literary magazine, The Circle. 

About the Artist

Adriana Barker · Hope College

Adriana Barker is a creative writing and communication double major and a proud member of the Hope College class of 2023. She is currently the Opus Literary Magazine Poetry Editor and an intern with the Visiting Writers Series (VWS) at Hope College. See more of her photography work on her Instagram @adrianabarkerphotography, and more of her written work on her website https://adrianarosebarker.wixsite.com/myportfolio. “This Ain’t Belle’s Rose” first appeared in Opus Literary Magazine. 

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