In an undergraduate introduction to literature course at Spelman College, when someone read the line from the Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”—“ ‘She would have been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life’ ”—Roxane sensed a number of heads turning toward her. She might have discerned something about herself if she wasn’t already mid-sentence, pointing at the text and telling the class full of her female peers that the story struck her as offensive and insensitive, not at all funny or ironic. “It’s rude,” Roxane said. “This is some racist stuff. Why are we reading this?”

     Roxane grew up in Atlanta, raised by a single mother from who she inherited her gift of gab, with twin sisters, Brianna and Bella, two years her junior. Roxane’s father, Johnny now lived in Tallahassee and sent cards on Christmas and her birthday in February with whatever cash he could afford, depending on his Superbowl bets. The twins’ dad Marcus married her mom and only acknowledged Roxane when she wore low-cut tops, advising her—with a wave of his cigarette—to “keep her legs shut” so she doesn’t have twins, too.

     But Roxane talked like it was an addiction, those syllables and sounds coming out her mouth soothed her cells. No matter the topic, she could talk about anything from the oppressive heat, to the protests downtown, to increasing costs of getting her nails done in the strip mall on the outskirts of the city beside the law office, to the real importance of Diana Ross and The Supremes. And while Roxane would talk incessantly, barely pausing for breath, she almost always knew her subject but seldom heard any dissent when it was offered.

     After finishing at Spelman with a marketing major, accruing close to $25,000 in student loans while still working as a waitress at a sports bar in a wealthier section of the city—where she would chat up the male clientele and make considerably more than 20 percent when tipped out—Roxane took a job at a start-up company selling voice-to-text software apps, an unexamined irony.

     She can sell the product, from small businesses to school districts, but many people, including a small portion of her co-workers, saw her as too much breath and not enough pause. Some of the criticism was rooted in jealousy—Roxane could schmooze a starving man into buying a diet pill—and some of it stemmed from an overwhelming garrulousness, an incessant barrage of syllables and sounds. In her attempts to seem personable, she sometimes overextended herself, sharing too much and often including details that listeners deemed too personal for casual discourse—the back story about her deadbeat dad, details about her hygienic routines, intimate details about shaving private areas, or birth control preferences.

    After work, a few shots and White Claws to the wind, at some sensible suburban sports bar, Roxane will ramble for hours, unaware of her audience of bored colleagues and men nodding incessantly and buying more shots that taste like buttercups. A few drinks later, Roxane boasts of her impressive sales statistics—as a salesperson and a talker, she was tenacious and quite adept at her job—then reaching a lull by the end of the night, her credit card slaps flat on the bar top.

     On an intuitive level, she sensed when her motorized ramblings went on too long, or her sales pitches became exhaustive; and she knew when people were rolling their eyes, or kicking one another’s shins below the table, or turning off their cameras in a Zoom meeting and making Pac-Man motions with their hands.

     But Roxane wanted those sales and knew her gift was the gift of gab—the inheritance from a mother she deeply loved—and her ability to make people feel like they were part of some cocktail party where she was the hostess made her special and unique and, most of all, heard. And everyone was hanging on to her next word. 

Even when they weren’t.