While she’s a sophomore at Georgia State University, Delilah competes in the Miss Georgia Pageant. She gets the opportunity by winning a local contest in Canton where she’s still listed in her aunt Wanda’s household, despite living in an apartment in Doraville most of the year. Delilah views it as the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, but for Wanda, it’s another step in Delilah’s route to Miss America.
“Nothing but good things are coming your way, Sweetie,” Wanda tells her.
Delilah knows most of the contestants, having competed against many of them in smaller contests throughout the state, some since she was a teenager. There are a few new faces as well, but mostly seasoned veterans, since this is the ultimate contest in the state, to which they all aspire. She’s made many friends and sparked a few friendly and one or two not-so-friendly rivalries over the years.
Most of the competition is familiar to Delilah and, while challenging, the requirements don’t faze her much. Her talent, ventriloquism, sets her apart from the other contestants and Delilah considers this her ace in the hole. It is the impromptu speech that concerns her. Her topic is “The Person Who Most Inspires Me”.
“There’s only one person who really inspires me,” she tells Wanda. “Well, you too, obviously, but not like Mama did.”
“I know that, Sweetie,” Wanda says. “You’re going to have to tell ‘em about Persi.”
“I can’t talk about Mama without crying.”
“All the better, Sweetie. They’ll know it’s from the heart.”
When the time comes, Delilah takes her place at the mic, breathes in deeply and lets it out slowly. “The person who most inspires me is definitely my Mom. I never really knew my father because he never came back from Vietnam so it was always just me and Mama. When I was little we always watched Steel Magnolias together. That was Mama’s favorite. It was our weekly appointment, she’d always say. We always had so much fun, especially when she took me to work with her.” A tear runs down her cheek. “I lost her too soon as well.”
Suddenly, she leaves the hall and travels back to the police station in Canton where she first told the story and she’s fourteen and sitting on a steel chair and holding the teddy bear that the desk sergeant gave her tightly against her chest. She finds it hard to meet the investigator’s eyes because talking about what happened to her mother upsets her but she knows she has to say the words. She gives the full account of Mac’s behavior and him hitting her and Persephone’s reaction and the aftermath and how she got away from Mac.
“What do you mean you threw your voice? I don’t understand.”
Delilah looks up at the investigator and instead of saying what she meant, she sits the teddy bear onto the table and clutches it from behind, so she can move its head and arms. She has the bear face the investigator, who is startled when the bear begins to speak.
“Hello! I’m Teddy. What’s your name?”
“That’s incredible. Hello. Ah. Teddy. My name’s Monyea.”
“Hi, Monyea. So nice to meet you. You know my friend Delilah.”
“I sure do. She’s a very brave young woman.”
“Delilah doesn’t feel very brave. She’s really scared and she misses her mother.”
“I know. I’m so sorry for what’s happened. But Delilah’s going to help us get the man who did this. I know her mother would be very proud of her right now.”
When Delilah finishes her abbreviated version of the story she told the investigator (minus the gory details and harsh language) there is subdued silence throughout the hall. No one seems to know how to respond. The emcee stands just offstage, clutching the mic, but staring at his feet, a grave look on his face.
Then the first smattering of applause is heard which grows until it’s deafening and the crowd rises to its feet, pounding their hands together, some cheering. Delilah manages a smile through her tears and waves to the crowd. One of the other contestants comes forward and wraps her arms around Delilah. She’s followed by all the others, who form a tight circle around her.
Many years later, when she is asked to testify before the parole board, considering the release of Mac Crawford, she will repeat the story as she has many times before and since and once again she will cry as she always does. Delilah swears that if she ever tells that story and doesn’t cry, she’ll stop telling it.