Frankie Baker, grey as a Missouri storm, stood so tall the room grew close. She yelled, “He wasn’t named no Johnny. You listening to those songs on the Victrola and the radio. His name was Allen and he was nothing but a struggling, loser pimp who I thought loved me.” She swiftly moved from anger to tears, her sobs came quick and transformed her to a small, lesser thing. She was now a woman who put too much of herself into a prospect worth nothing. “Guess you’d call me his whore. But he was mine. My man! He played piano.”

She sat down and turned away from us. Her tired, black hand reached up and caressed the padded walls. Then the other hand joined in. Her fingers played invisible notes, her left hand striding along the lower register. “Ragtime. It was still fairly new. He made up songs, too.”

She stopped playing her soft piano, then turned to us, looked at us over her shoulder. “The girl wasn’t named Nellie Bly. That’s them Victrola and radio y’all hearing. She was another whore. And I didn’t shoot him there. I shot him at home because he tried to stab me. I shot him as God would have me do. That’s why I’m still alive. I’m a Christian woman.”

Miss Baker pulled a folded-up piece of newsprint from her bosom. Unfolded it with care. “They all got it wrong,” she said. “I was nice and thick. Beautiful.” She passed me the sheet and I see a print of the Thomas Hart Benton painting. “That woman they depicted there is as thin as a whisper. She shoots Allen in his back. I shot that motherfucker in the chest a couple of times. He too evil to die right away. And look at that woman. That’s how they make us look. That wasn’t me! I was beautiful.”

I gave her the engraving back.

“I had curls,” she said.

DeMisty D. Bellinger’s writing has appeared in many places, including WhiskeyPaper, The Rumpus, and wildness. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available from Finishing Line Press. She teaches creative writing and women’s studies in a small Massachusetts town, and she lives in that small town with her husband and twin daughters.

You can read more from DeMisty at and find her on Twitter @DeMistyB.

© 2018 DeMisty D. Bellinger. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, November 2018.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Mete Eraydin).


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by DeMisty D. Bellinger
The ballad 
of Frankie Baker