When I arrived in Otis and walked into Mama's kitchen, I knew instantly that I'd made the right decision. Mama had done her thing. . . . The enticing scent of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, vanilla, and sugar blended enticingly with the hard, cold afternoon air. I would be easing a blade through a newly-baked pie in less than thirty minutes.
No sooner than I'd hugged Mama and taken off my coat, there were short anxious rings on the doorbell. Mama, who was filling the coffeepot with filtered water, looked at me. I could tell from her expression she knew I wasn't in the mood for company. The next ring was a long sharp siren. Some moron was leaning on the bell. I bolted into the foyer and snatched open the door. Nat Mixon and a woman stormed past me and headed into Mama's kitchen. When I caught up with them, Nat was squared off in front of Mama, his raisin-colored finger pointing in her astonished face. "You're a wicked woman, Miss Candi! A wicked
woman who took advantage of my Mama!"
Nat stood six feet tall with broad shoulders. His wide nose was pierced; a tiny ruby sat on his nostril like a semiprecious booger. His short hair sprouted like uncut grass. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a tan sweater jacket that had holes in each elbow. He had a thin scar, the result of a fight in which he took a nasty cut from a switchblade; it ran from his left cheek to the base of his neck. His smell was a mixture of old sweat and cheap cologne.
The woman with him wore what looked like a dark brown wool dashiki over a pair of slacks. Her hair was finger-sized shoulder-length cornrow braids. She stood behind Nat rubbing her arm, her eyes glued to Mama's face.
Mama lost her look of surprise. "Don't you talk to me like that, Nat Mixon," she snapped. "And take your dirty finger out of my face!"
Nat's hands waved. He breathed heavily and a muscle twitched beneath the scar on his cheek. "Sugarcoated words ain't for the likes of you, Miss Candi! You ain't no good. And I'm gonna tell the whole town what kind of woman you really
"Nat Mixon," Mama retorted, "I know you're troubled, your mother dying and all, but there's no call for you to spread lies about me!"
Nat glared. "You ain't gonna get away with what you've done!"
Mama looked as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing, especially in the sanctuary of her own kitchen. "Boy, what are
you talking about?"
"You're nothing but a good-for-nothing thief
I feared Mama was going to burst. "Get out of my house!" she hollered.
Tears welled up in Nat's marble eyes. His fist clenched. This time when he spoke, his voice trembled. "You're gonna pay, Miss Candi, sure as you were born to die, you're gonna pay
for taking what my Mama had!" A curtain was being dragged from the window of Nat's eyes, giving a glimpse into the depths of his bitter disappointment. Nat had been his mother's only child; his father had been killed. Hannah Mixon had raised her son to be self-indulgent. Now, thirty and unmarried, he was irresponsible and known for stumbling in and out of fights, most of which he lost, and now he was losing his fight with Mama.
Mama's voice tempered. "I never spoke a word to your mother!" she told Nat, more gently.
Veins throbbed at Nat's temples. His nostrils flared. There was a crazed look on his face, one that made me decide I'd better do something fast. I took a gulp of air and cleared my throat. "Nat," I said, pulling out a can of roach spray from the kitchen cabinet, "you'd better get out of here!" I positioned the can toward his eyes. If he tried to hit Mama, I'd spray them . . . a trick I'd learned in a rape defense class in Atlanta.
Nat's finger was shaking in Mama's face again. If he feared the roach spray, nothing in his threat revealed it. "My Mama wasn't smart enough to make a will without somebody like you showing her how to do it! You're gonna be sorry for what you did!"
My finger rested on the spray button. If he came one step closer . . .
But Mama was unafraid, unshaken. "Get out of my house this minute, Nat Mixon!" she said.
"You talked Mama into giving you everything--"
Mama's eyes blazed. "You're accusing me of something that I don't know anything
"Give me back what's mine
At that moment, Daddy walked into the room and I began breathing lighter. "What's going on in here?" he asked, looking at Nat. "You're talking so loud they can hear you clear across town!"
Veins were popping through Nat's neck like ridges. "You ain't right, Miss Candi!" he declared hotly.
"Soon as I can make some sense of what Hannah's done, I'll give back whatever you think belongs to you!" Mama shot back.
"You've got everybody in this town fooled, thinking you're so much!"
Daddy, who had swiftly assessed the situation, now planted himself firmly between Nat and Mama. Mama glanced at Daddy but kept talking to Nat. "I don't want anything
that Hannah left!"
"I'm gonna kill you!" Nat yelled.
That was too much for my father. He moved closer to Nat and his hands balled into fists. "Don't you threaten Candi!" he roared at Nat.
Mama looked puzzled now. I think she couldn't believe what was happening. My hand tightened on the roach spray.
Excerpted from Mama Stalks the Past by Nora Deloach. Copyright © 1998 by Nora DeLoach. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.