Bessie Takes Aim at Billy Gee

By Stephanie Dickinson

Bessie smith postcard 1 cent

Lover Man blues at 4:00 a.m.

raleigh, nc

Bessie Takes Aim at Billy Gee


His love-talk’s a sinning thing, a gutting. He thinks he can midnight express us both to Nashville and the clubs where the saxophone players and piano men are jazzing my songs. Better stop roaming around, Billy— just look at your hair and patchy skin. I’m leaving him. Custard leaks down the chubby legs of the babies at the train station. If I sit here all night waiting for Billy to pick me up, the dead will all be resurrected. I have somewhere to go, a stage I’m to sing on. In the Colored Waiting Room the floor is black and white and there’s a hive of red ants walking along a crack. I’m out of gin but not money, and I’m thinking of buying a train car. I’m done with Whites Only hotels for me and my dancer girls and backup singers. They’re angels anyway. I watch the women sleep. All of them. The door swings open and a new line staggers in, drunk on tiredness. I can see the seat in their chins, a shadow, a bruise, and then the shiver of moonlight. I heard that lay-about Billy Gee call my songstress-rival Gertrude — Raven. Beautiful black dove. Let me know you, baby. Fool, I’d like to know how the bitch is a raven and a dove at once.

Those same kinds of dripping words he used on me. Billy Gee, you’re the clown wearing coffin lining, like the pillows the corpse has his head set into. After he’d opened me and rolled me onto my belly, he knelt behind me, and lifted my bent legs, gripped my calves, he found his way inside, deeper into a bottomless mine. He said he craved the moist dark inside me. He called me his wheelbarrow and neither of us are great housekeepers and we slept in cracker crumbs for days, licking pebbles of salt from our skin. 4:00 a.m. Billy Gee bursts into the depot and drags me outside. Everything will be the same he tells me, and then he kisses me, and raises his fist. I sniff some lover’s loins, not mine. Billy, you tick, blood-sucking becomes you, a thick ooze engorged in a dog’s ear, you go ahead and swell up, get all you can. Explode. All that greed. I go for my revolver and then you bet he runs like that gal who reeked of salty meat I found him with behind the juke joint in the spider ferns. The hummingbirds love those.


Stephanie Photo - by Lawrence -2

Stephanie Dickinson, an Iowa native, lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her noir novel Love Highway. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, and Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, and Flashlight Girls Run. Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired ReadingNew Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest.  She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press.

Read more by Stephanie:

Bessie Shames the KKK
Bessie & Ma
Bessie and the Chain Gang
Bessie’s Island Dancer Recalls the Fight for her Life