For a long time after, I softened. Even more than I had during my life up until then: daughter, niece, hairdresser, wife. All that time practicing being warm and willing to carry just about anything.

I carried Oriah too that April. Took in his apologies for not being the husband he should’ve been, for falling in love with someone else that winter. He let it spill out right around his spring break, his body leaning against the kitchen countertop, his fingertips pressing from brown to white against the granite: “It was just the one time. At the dig. I knew it was a mistake as soon as it was over and all that wind started flapping through the tent.” It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry, and when he said, “Please, tell me what I can do,” I said, “Alright. Can I have a minute to myself first?”

Carrie R. Moore

Carrie R. Moore’s fiction and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Normal School, The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review, and ForHarriet. She has received scholarships and fellowships from the Community of Writers, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. As a current fellow at the Michener Center for Writers, she won the 2021 Keene Prize for Literature from the University of Texas at Austin.

Karen Friedman on “Naturale”

“Naturale” by Carrie R. Moore begins with a betrayal. When we meet the main character, Cherie, her husband has just confessed to an affair. Cherie doesn’t shout or throw her coffee in his face. Instead, she pushes down her anger until she can be mild and pleasant—the woman she thinks her husband wants. Half a page later they’re sharing a bath.

But Cherie is no doormat. As a hairstylist who ministers to her clients, Cherie understands not only the hidden burdens women can carry, but also the potential consequences of their rage. Like so many, Cherie knows that “unlikeable” is the kindest judgement our society passes on an angry Black woman. However, it will come as no surprise to our readers that Cherie’s desire for gentleness cannot force her to forget her husband’s actions.

In exploring the aftermath of a very personal betrayal, Moore pushes us to ask broader questions about our biases and assumptions. How much of our behavior is dictated by the expectations of others? Moore expertly sifts through the layers of gender, race, education, and class with grace and wit, ultimately leading the reader to the conclusion that perhaps forgiveness cannot be found without first allowing anger its due.

One Story is delighted to bring you this expansive story, and especially to introduce you to Carrie R. Moore, an emerging writer of immense talent.

Q&A by Karen Friedman

KF: What was the seed of this story? What was the first thing you wrote?
CM: Stories come to me as sentences, little images rendered in language. Years ago, while I was scrubbing my apartment floors, the following line inched into my mind: “That autumn, the woman my husband fell in love with came into the salon.” Though that fragment didn’t make it into the final story, it contained its climax: Cherie washing Simone’s hair, her internal conflict revolving around maintaining her composure. In my personal experiences as a Black woman, I’m often afraid of being angry, both because it can be a destructive emotion on its own, and also because I never want stereotypes to be weaponized against me. But as I worked on this story, I came to believe that some anger is justified, that you can’t even begin to feel anything else until you’ve made peace with your rage, especially when you’ve been wronged. Its highly destructive, managing how you feel because of someone else’s imposed rules.
KF: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
CM: It took me quite some time to figure out who Simone was. Though Cherie felt immediately clear to me, I wasn’t so sure about how guilty Simone felt, if at all, about her complicity in disrupting this marriage. There are some versions of this story where Simone doesn’t love Oriah and sleeps with him simply because she can. There are other versions where Simone’s elitism makes her coolly indifferent to Cherie, too. Eventually, I had to ask myself why my frustration with writing Simone felt stronger than my frustration with writing Oriah. I found that I had more empathy for Oriah because he was genuinely trying to atone for his mistakes, so when I gave Simone a similar opportunity, I understood her a bit more: She was another flawed human being who nevertheless just wanted to be loved.
KF: During editing, you and I talked a bit about female spaces in fiction. How did setting shape your narrative?
CM: At its core, this story is about emotions that have to be unearthed, that are buried so deep within Black female bodies that they have to be coaxed out. The South is similarly a place where narratives get buried down deep, where what might seem friendly on the surface hides something more complicated. Setting the story in Charleston, which is near many slave plantations and archaeological sites, felt like an external manifestation of Cherie’s internal experience. In terms of more micro setting details, a hair salon is such a private female space. I’ve shared so much of myself with the marvelous stylists I know because unbelievable amounts of trust go into letting someone put their hands in your hair and see your habits and make you over. You may as well tell them your secrets, what keeps you up at night. Because there’s such an intimacy in hair styling, I felt that the salon was where Cherie and Simone would be forced to confront each other—though they do so in very different ways.
KF: This leads me to hair. Cherie explains that it’s more complicated letting her hair be natural, but she doesn’t correct the clients who assume otherwise. At the salon, a girl cries getting braided up, a woman cries when her extensions need to be removed. So much identity and emotion are tied up (pardon the pun) in hair, yet it is not vanity. Or not vanity alone. What does hair represent in this piece?
CM: One of my goals as a writer is to document as many Black experiences as possible, to have a record of us that goes beyond trauma and suffering. For this story in particular, I wanted a narrative that played out against the varied landscape of Black hair. The story’s title, “Naturale,” is a play on words with the form of the “pastorale,” which is a musical work that has certain rural tropes. So, my own story treats hair as “genre.” I think there’s a seasonal and emotional pattern to the way Black hair gets styled: box braids, cornrows, TWAs, press-and-curls. Hair-styling is a form of creativity and expression that both your external and internal environments dictate. I do think that hair goes beyond vanity. It’s so easy to make your own physical appearance about impressing other people, which, in truth, is not about embracing yourself. Much of Cherie’s conflict arises from how she relates to herself and how she relates to others. She can’t stop comparing herself to Simone, falsely believing that beauty is a kind of currency she can spend to maintain her marriage, to maintain her own sense of being carefree. She doesn’t focus her attention on her own needs until quite late in the story. There’s also just the plain truth that hair takes up so much time and private effort. Before I started letting my hair do what it wanted, it used to take me four hours on wash day to get it ready for the week, and this was tedious, invisible labor that affected how I could socialize or travel or even swim. Some emotions, like anger, occupy similar amounts of effort to maintain. Cherie is a master of controlling her feelings, of covering them over as expertly as she would hide a bald patch. And yet, at the end of the day, hair betrays your internal state. When Cherie starts losing her hair, it’s her body’s way of communicating that there’s something else going on inside of her that she needs to address. Ironically, when she turns her attention inward, she actually stops thinking about her hair. It’s still important to her, for sure, but it doesn’t take up so much mental real estate. As a stylist, one of the things she loves most about her job is helping others with their problems. Finally, she gets to work on her own.
KF: Throughout Cherie’s life, her imprisoned mother has been held up as an example of the wrong kind of woman to be. Near the end of the story, though, Cherie thinks, “My daughter was me and so she was my mother too.” Do you think this acceptance is a result of Oriah’s betrayal or her pregnancy? Both?
CM: Certainly both, as well as the result of Cherie’s confrontation with Simone. When Simone detects how deeply frustrated Cherie is, Cherie begins to realize that none of the things she’s done to be respectable actually stop her from being angry. She can try to hide what she’s feeling all she wants, but it still slips out, unbidden. Cherie’s heard her uncle talk badly about her mother her entire life, and she’s never questioned it, never considered that her mother’s response to a man who was physically abusive was to choose herself. In the end, self-defense is her mother’s radical act. Though what Cherie experiences with Oriah is a far cry from abuse, Cherie begins to understand that her mother’s real crime was physically saving her own life. If her mother’s done that, then surely she can too on a much smaller scale. Cherie realizes that the person she was so afraid of becoming actually has so much to teach both her and her daughter about how to choose herself over a man.
KF: As writers we’re trained to seek out the conflict, but here you’ve created a main character who refuses to show anger. How did Cherie’s temperament affect the story as you were writing it? I guess I’m wondering if there’s a version of this story in a drawer somewhere where Cherie doesn’t keep it together.
CM: Interestingly enough, Cherie’s always kept it together. A core component of her character is her uncomfortable ability to suppress, to hold everything in until there’s barely any room for air in her chest. To me, that always felt like one of the story’s sharpest points of violence. Cherie did, however, used to channel that anger in different directions. In a very early draft of this story, she had three uncles, all of whom shaped her identity as a Black woman, and she became frustrated with them for not teaching her how to be a full person, how to live her life without being in total deference to a man. In this same draft, she doesn’t go back home after her encounter with Simone but instead spends the night hanging out with Nya, trying to figure out how to be.
KF: What are you working on now?
CM: I’m in my second year at the Michener Center for Writers at UT-Austin, and I’m working on a novel about Black collective identity. My first attempt at a longer form! I am very much lost in the woods and delighted.
KF: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
CM: In a recent novel-writing workshop I took with Elizabeth McCracken, she warned us to “keep writing moldable as long as possible.” In other words, don’t forget that everything on the page results from a choice that you have made, and you can always choose to do something differently, no matter if it’s a character or a plot element or even something as foundational as the central conflict. Many authors have said similar versions of this—I’m thinking of the way that Lauren Groff talks about throwing out entire versions of novels and beginning again—but I do think revision is a sacred practice. You have to be devoted to starting over, to forgetting previous drafts and trying something different on the blank page, in search of getting closer to the story’s most authentic self. This version of “Naturale” is the twenty-eighth iteration, and I’m much prouder of it than of any of the preceding versions.