When Odessa Blackburn is three years old, she sees her grandmother for the last time, and so begins her story as the fifth born of eight children in a troubled family. Molested by her father, Odessa is also the sole witness to a murder he commits. Her mother guards both secrets and joins her husband in ostracizing their fifth born from the rest of her siblings.
As Odessa grows, so do her troubles. She ultimately separates herself from her parents and siblings into a new reality that prompts memory and revelation. Her choices for survival provoke an outcome that will forever alter the carefully maintained lies of her childhood.
Zelda Lockhart's Fifth Born is lyrically written, poignant and powerful in its exploration of how secrets can tear families apart and unravel people's lives. Set in rural Mississippi and St. Louis, Missouri, Fifth Born is a story of loss and redemption, as Odessa walks away from those who she believes to be her kin to discover the meaning of family.
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August 01, 2003
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Excerpt from Fifth Born by Zelda Lockhart
When we pulled off in the station wagon to head home to St. Louis, Granmama stood in the wake of dirt and rocks waving, her black hair blowing violently in the wind of the storm that we were leaving. I watched Granmama from the back of the station wagon until first her copper skin faded into the colors of the landscape, and then the speck that was her dress drifted, as if blown by the wind, out of the road and up the stairs of her front porch. That was the last time I saw her.
Granmama's funeral was held in the church where she had taken us on summer Sundays. The church stood tall and blinding white in the middle of a stretch of orange Mississippi dirt. Our family sat on the front pew, and because I was the baby, I sat next to Mama, holding her arm tight while my sisters and brothers sat quietly with their eyes wide open. Mama and the aunts wore veils, all their heads erect, their eyes and mouths invisible. The sun filtered through the stained-glass window, breaking the light into streams of orange and yellow where dust particles floated like dandelion seeds.
Our Grandeddy sat on the elder's pew at the front of the church. The wood dipped where he sat rocking to the soothing sound of the choir. He was the fattest black man I ever knew, and in the stained-glass light, he was so black, he was almost purple. The whites of his eyes were yellow like yolks. I stared at his face full of misery and regret for the woman that I never saw him hug or kiss. Their relationship was a lot like Mama and Deddy's, always cutting each other down with a list of regrets, but the babies came like seasons.
That day Grandeddy's face was hard and cold, not grinning behind a sip of white lightning like it usually was. In his white shirt and suspenders he looked worn, his age dusty on his black skin. I rocked with him and the rest of the family, and looked all over the church for some shift in things that would help me understand what was happening. He rolled the program tighter and tighter where the roughness of his hands against the paper sounded faint behind the harmony of the choir. Their voices lifted into the beams of the church and resonated inside my chest.