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 international
Summer igj2
$*-75  Editor    jacob zilber
Associate Editors    douglas bankson
MICHAEL BULLOCK
ROBERT HARLOW
GEORGE MCWHIRTER
Managing Editors     w. d. ulrich
MICHAEL PATRICK O'CONNOR
Editorial Assistants
WAYNE FIPKE
JEREMY LONG
JAMES MCGINNISS
MEREDYTH SAVAGE
JOHN STUPP
DON THOMPSON
JAMES WYATT, JR.
international
A JOURNAL OF
CONTEMPORARY WRITING CONTENTS
VOLUME  TWELVE     NUMBER  ONE
SUMMER  1972
NOVELLA
When She Leaves Me
JAMES WYATT, JR.
4
SHORT STORIES
Truckin'
KEN MITCHELL
I05
Real Roger
HAROLD OBER
123
CARTOONS
OWEN DAVIS
97
POETRY
Four Prose Poems
PIERRE REVERDY
84
Your Room
ROBERT SHERRIN
87
Two Poems
PARM MAYER
88
Faces of the Sun-Man
RIENZI CRUSZ
92
The Intellectual
BENNY ANDERSEN
96
The Death of the Partisan Girl
TOM WAYMAN
112
Four Poems
NORMAN MAG KENZIE
114
Three Poems
ELAINE BOUGIE
117
Two Poems
PATRICK WHITE
118
Two Poems
SEAMUS DEANE
120
Summer Lines
JUDY MGGILLIVARY
122
Anthem
TERESE SVOBODA
133
Two Poems
SEAMUS HEANEY
134
Eight Poems
PAR LAGERKVIST
136 Pan RON MILES
Nijinskij lars forssell
Religion None richard snyder
Two Poems james mgginniss
139
140
143
144
BOOKS  AND  PERIODICALS  RECEIVED
149
The cover drawing is by Ian Robinson, who lectures in Comparative Literature
at Kingston Polytechnic, Surrey, England, and edits Oasis magazine.
The cartoons in this issue are the work of Owen Davis, who was born in
Kuala Lumpur and now lives in London, England.
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS APPEAR BESIDE THEIR WORK
DESIGNED AND PRINTED BY MORRISS PRINTING COMPANY LTD., VICTORIA, B.C.
PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published three
times a year by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver 8, B.C. Annual subscriptions are $5.00, single copies
$1.75, obtainable by writing to the Editors at that address. Microfilm editions
are available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints
(vols. 1-5) from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, NYC. James Wyatt, Jr., was born in Jacksonville, Florida and raised in Baltimore,
Maryland. He recently received his M.A. in Creative Writing at the University
of British Columbia. This novella is his first publication.
When She Leaves Me
JAMES   WYATT,   JR.
CHAPTER ONE
1
The room is dingy, the kind that makes Butch, the paper boy, think
"all it needs is a good brushing" since it reminds him of yellow teeth.
He never knocks on the front door, he j'ust turns the doorknob from
the outside slowly hoping that the other half of it won't hit the floor
this time so that Mr. George won't call him a "little black devil from
black hell" again, and carries the paper upstairs, turns right avoiding the small hole in the floor, says "evenin' " to Mr. George who has
the cane in his left hand and other arm resting on the window sill,
drops the paper on the foot of the bed, gets his money off the adjacent dresser, and leaves the house feeling the eyes he did not see
upstairs resting on his shoulders.
"When you sell a paper to Mr. George, it's like you bought one."
(This is what he tells Herby after getting out of sight of his last
customer's house and setting his papers down to play a game of
marbles.) "Can't remember the last time I've seen his face. All you
ever get to see is the back of his head. No hunchin', Herb. I see ya,
man. Your knuckles might be big, but they ain't that big. Get back
behind the line!"
"Butch, man, you need glasses. My hand is nowhere near the line.
You're j'ust mad 'cause I'm winnin'."
"Who cares about winnin' all the time. I beat your ass just about
everyday."
"That's a lie." "Your mama."
"My mama what?"
"Your mama is a bowlegged bullfrog with high-heeled sneakers."
"That's all right. At least that's better than having a big-lip
mama."
"My turn. You didn't hit nothin' that time. Just for that I'm
gonna beat your ass." Butch took aim. "Was gonna let you win since
I beat yesterday."
"I beat yesterday, man, is you crazy as ... "
"Don't cuss at me, you can do anything you want, but don't cuss
at me. I don't stand for that."
"Man, God cussed. Are you better than He is? My shot. You
missed. Ha, ha, ha!"
"Where did God cuss?"
"Don't you know nothin'. He said let there be light. Let there be
earth. Let there be Hell Goddamnit!"
"Hell ain't a bad word."
"It sure as hell is. Go tell your oP man to go to hell and see what
happens."
Herby plays with the accuracy of a young boy with love on his
mind — he catches Big Dot out of the corner of his eye as he says the
word hell with a double emphasis, the tone of the word started the
way an evangelist he knows says it to condemned sinners, and then
it faded near the end of the last syllable as if his mother, after just
warning him not to say H-E-L-L again, had surprised him by opening the closet door. He didn't hear what Butch said although he saw
his lips move.
Dorothy Cloud, as the teachers call her when she is chewing gum
in class, decides that must be Rabbit's shirt, a T-shirt that was once
white and now is a dark gray with two red tomato stains — one on
the left shoulder and the other on the left side — which Big Dot
branded her man with in a tomato fight the day she hid the entire
afternoon behind a bush in a yard next door to Rabbit's house waiting for him to come home. She got him fast — one, two.
"Hey! Rabbit!" bellows across the street from Dot's mouth. "Hey!
Rabbit!" She stands on the curb with her jump-rope in one hand
and waves with the other.
"Rabbit, man, the Big Dot is callin' you."
"Shut the hell up. It's your shot!"
"I told you not to cuss at me. You should at least speak to her.
You know you love ..." "Shut the hell up! Gimme my six marbles you owe me. I just
remembered somethin' important I gotta do."
"Wait. You ain't give me a chance to get even."
"Gimme my marbles, Butch. I ain't playin' now. There's something I've got to do."
"One more game. Just one more. Hey! Get your hands out of the
pot."
The ten-year-old girl in blue jeans sees Rabbit jumped from behind by Butch while he is picking up something from the ground,
and starts to gallop across to where the fight is. The boys can hear
the flat-footed run flop, flap, flap its way towards them as they roll
on the ground wrestling with each other like two movie-type cowboys. She grabs the one who sells newspapers by the pants and belt,
yanks him off the other, throwing him on top of her as she stumbles
backwards on the ground still holding onto the belt, wraps her legs
around his waist while the surprised boy with the greasy bald head
and the brown cowboy shirt wonders how the hell Rabbit got behind
him so fast when he was just on top of him ready to ask him "Do you
give, man! . . . Do you give!" like he did the day before yesterday
when his marble partner called his mother a Siamese turtle — "She
looks like she is comin' and goin' at the same time" — and tried to
run the way he always does (not because he's scared, but because
he's the fastest runner on the block), but was caught before he had a
chance to lift a foot off the ground and vanish somewhere and made
to say "I give! I give!" in answer to Butch who held Rabbit's arms
back on the ground and was pounding him on the chest with his
head ("Don't. You monkey!"), so that it hurt the way Big Dot is
making him feel pain by putting the full-nelson and scissors on him
and asking "Do you give? Do you give, Baldy!"
"I give! I give! And don't call me Baldy!"
The torn shade covering part of the window serves as a camouflage for Mr. George. He sits watching Big Dot run up the street.
She is the first person to pass the window since the paper boy left. A
lot of people passed — milkmen, breadmen, salesmen — but he
didn't know any of them. They were strangers, all white people,
bodies that drift in and out of sight making as little impression on
his soul as airplanes do upon a cloudy sky. Watching the young girl
approach from the front is altogether different from catching last glimpses of her athletic-behind view. About two years ago she gave
Mr. George his morning chuckles because whenever she approached
from one side of the street, he had to do a double take after the
black face with two small cactus plaits tied in red or blue ribbons
passed going to school to make sure that he was seeing the same
person. He still would not gamble his remaining years on earth to
anyone who wants to bet him that the next morning Dorothy Johnson will not be on time for school. He has even given up betting with
himself on the day when Butch will not say "Evenin' Mr. George,"
or on the cantaloupes brought from the fruit truck. Years ago he'd
have bet his whole pay-check on the sweetness of the cantaloupe he
picked from the fruit truck with almost the same orneriness with
which he refused to believe the day Dot did not walk past his window at all, that she was sick or that she passed and he did not see
her, not dead. Once, when he bet the fruit man, he refused to believe
that any of the fruit was sweet because he had a bad cantaloupe,
even though the man on the truck plugged a few that were ripe.
That happened when orneriness was at its toughest, when the sun
came up on Mr. George's front side and went down with him still
working hard on his job and ready to put in another shift.
When he did not stop to consider whether he was right or wrong,
he was in a '49 Pontiac full of winos driving along the edge of the
white section looking for whatever it was that was supposed to happen to them. They found themselves at a church picnic, the kind
that serves beer from barrels if you are a minister or deacon and
some kind of watered-down cola to you if you are one of the other
members. The George Boys could tell that the minister was high off
of something besides the words he was saying because he said, "Join
us, brothers" as the car was emptied and left with the motor running, and six black men flew into the small picnic area, grabbed the
chicken with dressing, the ham, the chocolate and coconut cakes, the
potato salad, roast beef, like human mosquitoes with hats and cigars.
"Where're the damn biscuits?" was heard by the congregation with
hymn books in hand. "George, they got beer!" said Ace.
They rushed back to the car dropping all they did not want to
carry so that it looked like they would be back to pick everything up
as soon as they unloaded in the car; instead, they drove straight to
the alley behind the Acme food store where they ate the food while
dividing some in two medium-sized boxes.
It was noon. Helen, his girl, used to work half a day on Saturdays,
and she always brought home some chicken from the restaurant. To
7 make it back to bed after hearing her quick footsteps coming along
the back walkway and up the cellar steps, used to excite him as much
as the time when he used to have three women who lived on the
same block without either one discovering that not only was he one
helluva man in bed, but three; and there were a couple of Sunday
evenings he can remember when he saw all of them, within twelve
hours arriving at work on Monday morning just out of bed looking
for a room where he could hide with his broom and mop until noon,
when he would parade up and down the halls pushing the broom
looking like "If that mother-fuckin' Board of Education doesn't give
me a raise I'll..." while small voices said, "Afternoon, Mr. George,"
to a man who hated everybody; he hates life.
Helen took good care of him after he broke his leg in a car accident. She never took any of the insurance cheque. "She's somewhere today thinking about me," he says to himself. "I know she
still loves me." When she was at work, there was always food left for
him on the stove. He seldom went downstairs because it was so much
trouble to walk, and used to lie in bed until she came home. If he
was downstairs when she fumbled for her keys, he's hurry back to
bed and pretended to be asleep. Everything seemed to wait for her
since nothing was touched and the house was dark. She'd peep in to
see if he was asleep, and then go about cleaning the house.
When his leg was almost healed, and he had made up his mind
that no woman was going to chain him down, he started making
plans how on one morning just after Helen checked in to see if he was
asleep, he'd sneak down behind her while she was shaking rugs and
talking to the kids, take the food that she brought home and disappear for a week or two — depending on how long she'd hang
around the house. He laughed each morning Helen looked in on
him thinking how surprised she was going to be when she found the
food gone and the bed empty.
"Now, Butch," Helen would say to the one he hated, "don't feel
bad if they call you Baldy. Baldy ain't a nice name, but it's a lot
better than Booger or Snot-nose. . . . That's what they used to call
me. 'Booger, When you gonna eat some big black ones,' they used
to say. I used to cry. And sometimes they got real mean and say,
'Does your mama lick snot too?' .. . "Now don't tell your mother
what I told you. OK?"
"OK."
"Want a piece of chicken? I fried it myself not too long ago over
at the restaurant. How 'bout a big piece since you gonna need a lot of energy to carry that heavy gun around all day? I got to carry Mr.
George's paper up to him. When he's not able to come downstairs
too well and I'm not around, I'd really appreciate it if you took the
paper up to him."
"We havin' pork chops tonight."
"Pork chops is good. I like 'em."
"Last night we had ham."
"You are really blessed, Baldy. You gonna be a strong man when
you grow up."
"Tomorrow we havin' chicken or maybe steak. I don't know
which one."
"Do you eat all the food off your plate? Hand me that clothespin
please, Baldy. Thank you."
"Yeah. And sometimes I get second, thirds, fourths, and fives.
Two times two is four. Two times nine is eighteen."
"Gone child!"
"Four times two is eight. Two times six is twelve. Two times nine
is eighteen."
"You sure are smart. What grade are you in now?"
"First grade. Miss Jones is my teacher. She gives me graham
crackers and milk each morning."
Helen would go inside with the laundry basket, and leave Butch
and Herby playing cowboys. When she finished the downstairs cleaning, she began to prepare lunch.
"Bang! Bang! Bang!"
"Bang-Bang! Bang-Bang!"
"Baldy, didn't you hear me go Bang-Bang?"
"Nope."
George could hear everything. He'd get out of bed ready to raise
hell, but by that time the food was beside him.
The belly juices talk to him now as he watches Baldy shoot down
the street with Herby chasing him and Big Dot running after one or
the other, or maybe both. "I knew it all along that boy ain't worth
the newspapers he is carryin'. Ain't worth a damn and never will be.
If Helen was here. . . Damn! Who'd think that a woman like her
would have nerve enough to want to leave a man, let alone do it —
leave me to think and wonder why the hell she left instead of me
leaving her and she wondering about me."
9 A big trailer truck is heard turning on Maple Street; the mufflers
sounding loud. Ace takes the corner slow catching the whereabouts
of the tail end through his West-Coast mirrors. The fins of Calborn's
El Dorado are at least a foot from the trailer, but it looks like one
inch to the owner's tired, bloodshot eyes resting on folded arms,
reciting "TK-80943 ... TK .. . 809 . . . 43TK "
Mr. George makes it downstairs in time to see the driver pass
wrestling with the steering wheel. A few green tomatoes are in the
window sill and coffee grounds cover knots in the kitchen sink. He
stands in some sugar he wasted, looking for a clean spot on the floor,
and wishes that the ants would hurry up. Again the growl from
Red's truck is heard coming from the front. He laughs. The water
starts boiling before he has a chance to get the oats from under the
sink (where the soap powder used to be) because he stands
crooning.
It was good for Mr. Preacher
It was good for Mr. Preacher
It was good for Mr. Preacher
It's good enough for me.
Gimme some of that ol' time religion
Some a that ol' time religion
Gimme some of that ol' time religion
It's good enough for me.
The oats cover the boiling water and smother the bubbles. He
turns to watch the tomatoes turn ripe.
Ace met Helen once outside of East St. Louis, and he told George
when he got back that she was on her way to Chicago, "... or at
least that's what she told me, man, you know how women are." He
said one night he was driving along making his way back East when
a farmer and his wife tried to get him to pull over. "I usually don't
stop for nobody, but they looked kinda desperate standin' there with
both the hood and trunk open, so I thought I'd take a chance."
The farmer had picked up a woman just outside of Jackson who
was pregnant and he wanted Red to give him a push. Red said he
would pull the car because his bumper would just about rest on the
rear windshield.
"I didn't know it was her at first, George, she looked younger. She
didn't have a lotta make-up on but she looked like about five years
10 younger. Well she didn't see me, man, and I didn't think it was her
'til I got back into the truck to pull that ol' jallopy."
"Was she dressed fine?"
"Naw, not like she used to be. But I tell you, brother, she looked
good."
"O.K. I got the message. So what else happened?"
"I pulled 'em for about a mile or two then the farmer's car
started."
"Did you talk to her?"
"Naw. The farmer got out to thank me and told me that Helen
said she was on her way to Chicago to get married."
"To do what?"
"Look, all I know is what the man told me."
The truck is going slowly down the street now, brushing slowly
against the branches and almost against car doorknobs. Baldy and
Herby stop and stare at the communication wire they put up a week
ago as Big Dot is steady coming a half block behind. The truck
breaks the invisible wire and it falls partly and hangs in the trees.
Baldy goes in the house and comes out with more wire; the two are
busy splicing as the girl in blue jeans breathes heavily over them.
They leave her standing there with her large brown eyes and each
goes to his own house and pulls the wire tight again.
"Can you read me? This is Herby."
"Read you loud and clear, Herby! What you been doing?"
"Nothin' much."
"Nothin' much happenin' here either."
"What're you goin' to do today?"
"I don't know. Maybe go to a movie. What're you gonna do?"
"Nothin'much."
"Do you want to see that picture up at the movie?"
"Don't have the bread."
"I'll lend you some."
"You owe me twenty cents from last week."
"Man, ain't we partners?"
"Yeah."
"Partners don't owe each other nothin'."
"Since when? You owe me ..."
"We'd better make it cause it's almost one o'clock."
11 "Can't be that late."
"Meetcha in the back next to the popcorn stand."
"OK."
"Later."
"Later."
The communication wire goes from Baldy's parents' bedroom
window to Herby's room. Once Herby called over to speak to his
partner early in the morning. He had a dream that scared him because when he woke up he forgot about it — the rain was coming
down hard outside and the wind was blowing. He called Baldy (the
microphone is kept close by) forgetting that the other had the
receiver hidden under Doc Johnson's bed, and woke the man up
with "Baldy, are you awake? Hello, Baldy, get the hell outta bed.
This is an emergency!" Doc Johnson got out of bed and ripped the
receiver from the wires and threw it in the trash can mumbling, "A
man works hard all day and he gotta hear that kinda shit."
The trip this time took Red through Chicago and down through
Kentucky and Tennessee.
"He probably saw Helen. I'd like to know if she's married. I be
damned if that ain't the funniest thing I ever heard. You'd think she
never took care of kids after school every day the way their parents
refused to do cause their parents' parents refused to do it. The way
a common prostitute waits for men, hanging around bars was the
way she did it, and she still ain't had enough! Nobody gives a shit!
All those nappy-headed kids didn't appreciate a damn thing cause
all they wanted was some of that chocolate cake or sweet potato pie.
If she's married to anybody.. . . Who cares. Who the hell cares!
'Cause I be damned if she ain't fooled me. And I don't fool easy."
He thinks how any minute Red will be coming in the door knocking after he gets in saying "Internal Revenue!", telling him about
how he made Chicago in a day 'n' a half and that it ain't no
different from Louisville 'cause niggers are catching hell all over.
He'll talk about anything so long as Red doesn't leave until he has
told him what Helen is doing. "When I ask him about Helen, he'll
say he didn't have time to see her. And I know that's a lie. She's
been on his mind as much as mine. That Red son-of-a-gun still
doesn't think that I know he has tried to cut me up twice."
12 She's "A Thousand Miles Away" sitting and worrying about
Sonny Junior. She knows he did not go to work. Her feet are cold. A
baby picture of Sonny with his father, Leroy, sits on top of the
piano.
Sonny is on his way home, and stops to watch a crowd gather for
free beer at a political rally. He knows Helen is upset. There's no
reason to be. He might get there and he might not.
The rally is almost over and people begin to walk and run towards the tables of steamed-crabs, beer and soda. Sonny sits on the
lower level of an electrical tower. The politician's stand is immediately behind the food, and he is seen running to safety with his
comrades. People start tackling each other, fighting, putting crabs
inside their shirts and bags; holding them in their mouths while
reaching for beer. Sonny gets down off the tower, mingles around
the fringes of the crowd, picks up a brick and hurls it at the windshield of a limousine. In the next instant police are chasing everybody back and forth across the lot. Sonny remembers he's supposed
to meet his partner at the poolroom.
When he gets there, Jerome has lost his money, and wants to go
bust some pigs. They go for a walk in the park, and start to mug a
guy; then they see him pick up a cigar butt. Later, they snatch an
old woman's pocketbook, and get into a fight with two white guys
who are about to get their asses beat, but the same old lady recognizes them and starts screaming again. (Sonny managed to wax one
of them. Jerome likes to use his feet, so Sonny knew when he saw
the gray dude fall, nothing in the world could save him. By this time
the old lady was doing an hysterical war dance, shaking her fist at
Sonny.)
They hide the pocketbook in some bushes and are a couple of
blocks away before a police car pulls up beside them. ("All right,
move along! Move along!") They keep walking, looking straight
ahead. ("When I say move along, I mean move along! Come here
you two.") They stop and walk over to the car.
"Look. I can be polite or otherwise. Anyway you want it. Understand. What's your names? . . . The next time I say move, I mean
13 just that. Move! And I suggest you get off the street. If I see you
again hanging on the corners, I'll run you in."
They walk for awhile after the police drive away.
"There's a dance over on the South side," said Sonny playing
with his knife.
"Those ofays. Those backwoods ofays."
"Man, don't waste your breath."
They turn at the next corner and walk towards Maple Street.
The dance is crowded. The two part, checking the scene out, it's
the regular crowd except for a new girl. After a cigarette Jerome
asks her to dance.
"She's just moved to town," he told Sonny later. "Stayin' with
Peaches until her ol' man gets outta the service. She's soft as hell."
"What's her name?"
"Bernice. Peaches is her cousin."
"No lie."
"I guess so. Damn. Peaches won't talk to me."
"Looks to me like she's goin' for bad."
"Naw, it ain't that way. She's one of them kind-hearted college
bitches."
"Later for that."
"Get off it, you just as phony as she is. Just be glad my hands are
tied."
Most of the regular crowd are paired up the usual way, so there's
not much to choose from outside of Bemice and Peaches. The smile
in Bemice's eyes seems to flirt with every guy in the room. Her
mulatto complexion makes her the centre of attention, all the guys
want to dance with her everytime a record starts. During a brief
moment sitting beside Peaches, she sees Sonny looking in her direction, wearing a black beret (there's a small razor scar along his left
cheek), and she pours all of her naivete into his dull eyes.
He makes his move. She sees him coming and says no to the first
guy. It's a slow record, and he's ready to rack her mind with ideas
about love he has heard run down by his science teacher who said
in class one day 'if you love love then you'll never be without love
cause love will love you in return', or something to that effect.
Sonny takes Bemice's hand when the music starts. Her face looks
nonchalant and away from him as they dance; her arms keep him from getting too close while the rest of her body lies firmly against
him. They dance on one spot because everybody is dancing now and
there is no room to waltz even if you want. He puts his face next to
hers, holding his beret behind her with both hands while chewing
gum. "Say, baby," he whispers, "what's your ..."
"Bernice! I'm here visiting my cousin. That's her over there
dancing with your friend. What's your name. Excuse me. I didn't
hear you, Ronny? Oh, Sonny! That's a nice name. Have you heard
that new record out called 'Sonny'. You haven't. You ought to hear
it. It's dynamite. Really outasight! . . . That's O.K. with me if it's
O.K. with Peaches."
He gets the eye from Jerome.
"I bet you play basketball. You don't! You sure are tall enough.
You don't think you're tall! Bet you must be at least six feet? I
knew it. .. . Thanks for the dance."
He walks back over to the spot where he left his partner.
"She's somethin' else, eh?" said Jerome.
"Yeah. This place ain't sayin' too much. I'm about ready to make
it."
"Peaches is ready," said Jerome. "She decided to act right." He
offers Sonny a cigarette.
"O.K. Til dig you later."
The air feels good after being in a room with no windows, and it
felt that way to Leroy, when he got off the crowded bus and saw a
woman being slapped to the ground, kicked, spit on, and then
kicked in the ass. He had to work overtime on the kilns in the old
mill. The bus let him off, pulling away to reveal a drunk beating the
woman across the street. Leroy started to help the woman up from
the ground and told her to go home. Helen saw the kindness in his
face when she looked up from the ground to see Leroy extend his
arms to her as the knife rose above his head. He started to turn. The
knife fell again in the back. Helen screamed the yell of a woman
under water that was not heard by the neighbors turning on their
bedroom lights since it spoke directly to reflexes tuned to aged
blood.
The thought of Helen waiting for him makes him laugh. Sonny
thinks how upset she gets when he does not eat supper. He walks
towards another stoplight which could be the one on the corner of
15 Poplar Lane and Vermont Avenue where he fives, only she is home
(not in any damn alley) with her tired eyes half open, mouth slightly
agape, head resting on the back of the chair where the crocheted
piece is pinned, and hands lying on her lap as if she is praying that
he will come in with some excuse, some He.
When the coldness reaches her knees, she is asleep. She wakes up
suddenly ready to put on a sweater, looking into his eyes and seeing
the darkness reflected in his gold tooth. She shakes her head and
throws his hand away. It is two-thirty. She goes upstairs to bed. The
cot in the living room has been pulled out and made. Cold chicken
and greens lie in his stomach as he gets in bed trying to figure out
why any man would spit on her and ruin her after she told him that
she was going to> have his baby.
For a long time she never saw anything but a knife thrusting into
the neck of Leroy while he lay in the alley. Anything red makes her
whisper sometimes and rub her neck; and some nights she sits up
next to Sonny's bed listening to him breathe. Sometimes she tells
herself that she wants a drink of water or that Sonny forgets to lock
the door, so that she passes him either on her way to check the front
door or on her way into the kitchen cutting a quick side glance at
him balanced in air by the invisible legs of the small cot, to see if he
is home for the night — to make sure she is not happy upstairs thinking he is putting his dirty face on the clean linen while he is really
outside running the streets.
Sonny sits up now and lights a cigarette. Bernice has his nose
open. He thought he had her pretty well labeled and forgotten but
there was something about her actions — they seem so funny, so
unreal or unnatural that he is certain that she was either playing
him for a fool and knew it or was either a fool herself and didn't
give a damn. At any rate, he usually forgets women until he sees
them again. His scheming and bad conversation always come spontaneously whenever he sees a girl or turns after hearing a sweet black
voice say, "Look at him. He think he's somethin'." In fact, all ideas
about women were becoming boring. He is preoccupied nowadays
with ideas about the future. "Maybe since I know that she'll never
be poor regardless of her corny action, I respect her because actually
that's what I want — to not be poor all of my life. .. . When a guy
gets mixed up with a chick like that things get to be really a drag
cause you gotta pretend that everything is on the up and up, everything's cool, like the moment you hit the street after leaving her, you
don't look at another woman no time." But for all practical pur-
16 poses she acted like she was in love with every guy in the room. How
can she be so religious then? How can those high-cididy chicks act
like that and believe it? Maybe they don't believe and want you to
believe it so that they can believe somethin'. Jerome definitely
doesn't dig 'em. Those poor rich mothers. They some poor mothers.
Still there was somethin' about that chick that's different, unreal.
The bitch has no cools at all, but there is somethin'. Damn! Whatever it is ain't worth losing my sleep over."
The next day he gets up early, folds the bed up, dresses, and
walks over to the park. There is something about the morning air
that he likes. The air late at night and that early in the morning
makes him feel glad to be alive. He walks like it's Friday and the
eagle is flying low, he has that self-assured walk of a hustler and the
proud countenance of a laborer, knowing if it wasn't for him the
world would go crazy. He thinks that maybe Jerome picked it up
last night but "Naw, that lazy nigger!" The sun disappears and he
feels the draft that he felt when he put his feet on the cold linoleum
floor that morning. The knife weighs in his pocket. "Maybe I'll go
to work today or check out the stores downtown." The sun comes
out again and shows itself in puddles of gravel and water, shining
brightly in this one, then another. "If I were a king, I would have
no worries. If I was a white man, I'd want to keep my money and
be black."
He stops at some bushes, lights a cigarette and drops the book of
matches alongside the pocketbook; it's stashed under his shirt as he
walks towards Jerome's pad. "He ain't outta bed yet. I know that
before I even look in his window. His ol' man is up and gone to work
and that cat still sleep."
The gold ring he wears on his little finger raps against the basement window of the house. Jerome pushes back the curtain; he does
not see the face because of the sunlight, but recognizes the stance. He
opens the door and runs back downstairs in the nude to his bed. The
breakfast dishes his father used are on the table next to the sofa
where he slept. The other one enters and throws the purse at the bed.
"I thought you were gonna get this, lazy ass."
"I would've, man. It'd still be there now if you'd left it alone."
The purse has ten dollars and some other things.
"This wasn't worth the trouble," said Sonny later.
"Yeah, the way she was screamin'. I thought sure we had at least
a cino."
They laugh, the one imitating the scream of a scared black woman
i7 with big eyes and mouth and the other bent over in the chair laughing and smoking.
"Man, that buckwheat bitch looked so bad I kept dreamin' 'bout
her. Kept seeing her sneak in that window there with an axe sayin'
'Son the Lawd has called you home!' Scared the piss outta me."
"What happened last night?" asked Sonny.
The other one tells him how he had to walk both chicks home,
and how he tried to talk only to the fine sister, but the other kept on
yapping about "how that's true" and "that's so true" and smiling
and batting eyes like he was all the cats at the dance wrapped up in
one. He tried to walk on the outside next to Peaches, but had to
walk in the middle because the other one kept on talking across to
him so much that he was afraid there would be a fight; and how
even though he likes nothing better than to see two women pull hair,
he did not feel like seeing anybody die, so he stood in between the
two of them as they walked along, trying to make some time with
Peaches while smiling at Bernice everytime she would comment;
and he said that wouldn't have been so bad if when he got to the
door, he could have had a few minutes to talk, to make future plans,
but Bernice stood out on the porch too, making eyes like it was her
he wanted to see, like the reason for him smiling and nodding to her
was because he liked her.
They laugh and both light up another cigarette.
Jerome says how he and Peaches took a smoke and listened to
Bernice tell how she hated college; and that the only reason she is
going is because her father makes her.
"She was sitting up on the bannister facing us, man, just talkin'
away; so finally Peaches drops a heavy hint— 'Don't you have to
leave early tomorrow morning?' — and she goes in; but Peaches
was mad at me for being nice to her. I could tell cause she kept
battin' her eyes and sayin', 'That's so true,' while I was runnin' it
down."
They laugh again, one throws his head back on the pillow and
the other bending over in the seat.
"Then she got up, man, and said, 'Later for you, Smiley'."
Tears roll down the side of Jerome's face as he flashes a wide
smile. "Man that bitch is somethin' else again."
"What'd she say, man? 'Later for you Smiley'," said Sonny and
imitates Jerome.
They laugh and smoke. Jerome gets dressed, grabs a couple of
apples out of the icebox and throws one to Sonny. The television is
18 turned on and they let it run while they look through some magazines and talk.
"Man, Jackie Robinson is vice-president of 'Chock Full of Nuts'."
"No shit!"
"Damn. He's got it made in the shade."
"You can believe it."
After awhile they play cards.
"Yeah. I'm gonna check Bernice out. You know me," said Sonny.
"I seen her around, man, but I didn't know she was that fat."
"Yeah, she kinda sprung up all of a sudden."
"No lie. I never noticed her before."
"Later for you, Smiley! ..."
"Aw, go to hell!" said Jerome. "You didn't do anything."
"She's not my speed."
They watch an afternoon movie, eating bread sandwiches and
drinking wine. Superman breaks through a wall, then there's a
commercial.
"Man, what did Angie Mamma say to Superman?"
"I don't know what?"
"Honey, where'd you get that little toothpick?"
"Where'd you get that corny joke?"
"How 'bout another hand of blackjack?"
"You've won two of my dollars already."
They watch television some more.
"You know, I've been thinking we better steal those typewriters,"
said Sonny.
"We need a car."
"We probably could steal one down at the shopping center."
"Where we gonna sell 'em?"
"Pawnshop uptown. Harvey's."
"We'll have to wait for a cloudy night cause the moon lights up
that side of the school."
"How you know?"
"Go to hell. Never mind how I know."
"We'll try it tonight."
"Is it gonna be cloudy?"
"Yeah."
"How you know? . . . Aw, go jump."
They sit thinking, smoking.
"The shopping center closes at five. It's almost four now," said
Sonny.
19 "Yeah, my ol' man should be pullin' in here any minute. Think
I'll make it up to the pool hall."
"O.K. I'll check on the car situation. If I ain't in the pool hall in
about a couple hours, I'll meet you at the usual spot with a car."
"We'll see," said Jerome.
He managed to conceal it while talking to Jerome, but now he
sees very little as he makes his way to the shopping center. Bernice
dominates his thinking. How could he begin to explain himself?
With the fingernail file he found in the purse he steals a license
tag from a car parked on a side street. The shopping center is
crowded with people making last minute purchases. It's almost
closing time. He takes off his hat and begins walking around acting
like he is looking for something. Every once in a while he drops a
coin to pretend that he is ready to crawl under a car for a nickel.
The license tag is wrapped in an old brown paper he found somewhere when he was thinking about if he will ever see her again. "It
won't have to be for long, just long enough to settle the score between us, so that I'll know what it is that's so mysterious."
Sonny looks away from the car when he sees the housewife in her
apron running towards stores facing the cars, he knows that she has
not only left the parking lights on, but also the keys in the car. He
quickly stoops for the coin between the two closely parked cars,
opens the door of the turquoise sedan without standing up, pulls the
keys out, opens the glove-compartment and repeats the address to
himself. Putting the papers back and closing the door is all one
motion. He is standing straight. The license plate is put under the
adjacent car, and he cools it over to the hardware section. Sonny
gets back to the car looking for a petite woman wearing a yellow
apron. "Bet she has a garage," he whispers as he slips the keys
back from a stooping position. For an instant he believes there's a
police car coming in his direction, and panics, dropping the nickel.
He searches for it as he stoops to tie his shoelace.
Sonny begins walking towards Ash Avenue. It is only six blocks
away, so he gets there a little before she drives up. The woman
picks up her groceries and rushes into the house. He sits and smokes
for a few minutes; thinks for awhile, then starts to smoke again. He
plans to wait longer before he makes his move; instead he moves
immediately, forgetting the smoke he wants.
After throwing his hat and license plates in the back seat, he
releases the brake, begins pushing the car towards the intersection,
and jumps in like the battery is dead, leaving the door open in case he has to jump out to push again. The car cruises to a red light, he
lights up a smoke and cracks the window before throwing his right
arm on top of the seat, digging the sounds on the radio.
10
"If that joker is ever on time in life, I'll eat my hat raw." Sonny's
hands begin to sweat as he decides to circle the block again when
he sees Jerome who is trying to look like Malcolm X as he walks.
The horn blows. Jerome walks without turning. Sonny wants to
blow it louder, but he stops suddenly — "Damn! With these brakes.
. .. Hell! Better off drivin' barefoot." — and plans to meet him at
the corner.
Jerome jumps in the car, asking Sonny where did he get it, if he
knows how many years they sent you up for this, had he changed
the license tags yet ("Naw, I haven't yet."); and that he must be
crazy as hell if he's waited all this time. Sonny pulls into a nearby
alley and changes the tags.
"We should still paint it," said Jerome. "We can do the job
tomorrow. Hey, what're you. . . ."
Sonny went across the street to a surplus store, comes back and
throws the package on the back seat.
"What's this?"
"Some janitor clothes."
"What the hell... That's outasight, my man! Drive on, Al
Capone! You slick mother."
They drive to the white section and take turns changing clothes
in the back seat. Jerome begins wiping the windows and bumpers
with his undershirt while Sonny starts making room in the trunk for
the typewriters. Jerome looks like he is working for a speed car wash;
he was wiped the entire car once, passing Sonny only a minute ago
and is about to pass him again mumbling "you bad mother". They
laugh nervously.
After awhile, they drive over to the rear parking lot of the high
school. Sonny gets out with a rag hanging from his back pocket, and
climbs slowly up the fire escape to the roof of the building. He enters
and goes down to the Commercial Education Department. The door
is locked. He panics — "If a janitor doesn't want anything to
happen to his school, he won't let it," he thinks — and goes into the
lavatory for a smoke. After a couple of puffs, he steps on the cigarette, cracks the door and begins to listen for a broom and footsteps
21 in the corridor. He tries all the doors on the third floor and goes to
the second floor straining his ears against echoes off the granite floor.
The door to a small store room is open. There are a few cans of
poster paint, paper and a mimeograph machine which is small
enough to carry; and after he gets it outside, he and Jerome will try
the other doors.
Jerome is wiping the lights when Sonny comes. What he sees by
catching side glances does not look like a typewriter to him. He
jumps in the car. "Maybe it's one of those you speak into, does the
typing and every damn thing," he thinks, as he mimics the way
Sonny drove before, saying, "Where to, Boss?"
"Your pad," Sonny says.
When they arrived at Jerome's, they put the mimeograph machine
in the closet, hiding what's already there under the sofa; that on
the sofa they put in small piles on the floor and behind the television.
Sonny then takes the car a few blocks away, removes the keys and
hub-caps, locks the door and leaves it. He gets back to Seawell's in
time to see him emptying a can of sardines.
"Where's the car? . .. Well, how in the hell are we going to get
this thing across town? I thought we were gonna get typewriters
anyway."
"The room was locked."
"We can't sell this thing at Harvey's pawnshop and he buys
everything."
Sonny lies back on the sofa with a smoke. When he sees Red, he'll
run it down to him — "Listen, Red, good buddy, what you need is
to start your own business. What you need is a mimeo-machine to
advertise yourself; let people know you're in the trucking business."
CHAPTER TWO
1
"Hot-butter-beans,  come  'n'  get your supper!... Hot-butter-
beans, come 'n' get your supper!"
Baldy can hear Herby screaming "Hot-butter-beans" as he runs to
duck behind Mrs. Cloud's hedges. Dot can see him and becomes
anxious at the opportunity of giving Baldy's hiding place away to
Herby. She giggles at the sight of Baldey's holey underwear showing
through his worn overalls, and at the cardboard paper covering the
22 hole in his left shoe, while balancing herself on the arm of the
living room sofa. Baldy is unaware of the snag-tooth, pigtailed little
girl wearing red buckled shoes that hurt her feet and a dress that is
below her knees, popping her head up and down behind the window, half-covered with a Venetian blind as if she is a periscope with
eyeglasses, ears, and big lips.
From across the street Miss Green can see a pair of eyeglasses
with hair and ears emerge from below the windowsill of her best
friend's home and submerge again leaving only a ribboned, nappy
pigtail, telling of Big Dot's presence and conspiracy. A passing
motorist, who is on his way to attend his community meeting,
wonders what the strange black plant is in Mrs. Cloud's window
setting alongside the yet-to-bloom Four-o'clocks and flanked by
miniature cacti. The driver looks for only an instant because he has
to be aware of Herby who is hollering "Hot-butter-beans, come get
your supper!" as he walks in between parked cars looking for the
last of the Junior J's who hasn't received his supper. Miss Green
looks across the street again at Dot as she wonders "Who the hell
wiped dog shit on the door mat" and says to herself "It must have
been the paper boy last night." She looks again at Big Dot, laughs
and sweeps up the shit on the mat, pardoning her paper boy the
same way that Judge Watts does at least once a year, and for the
same reason everyone in the neighborhood forgives him each time
he steals a penny or two or a piece of candy while his customer
goes upstairs to get the money for the evening paper.
Herby is looking for his best friend on Miss Green's side of Oak
Avenue and is whispering in the bushes "Hot-butter-beans, come
out. Come out, Hot-butter-beans." He remembers one of his own
favorite hide-outs (the one he told Baldy about yesterday) that is in
ol' man George's yard behind a small tree and next to the gutter
pipe and outside faucet. He approaches on tiptoe and whispers so
that Miss Green doesn't hear, "Hot-butter-beans, get the hell out
of my hidin' place." The small tree shakes as if afraid of Herby; and
Miss Green's cat leaps from it towards her master's yard, and tries
to get inside the door as Miss Green steps in the house. Herby
continues the search, rolling the old newspaper up in his hands to
prepare supper.
Big Dot's heart is beating now as she opens the door to scream
"Here he is Herby! Here he is behind the bushes!" when she suddenly realizes that she has to do number i. Caught somewhere
between nature and the devil is Big Dot's hatred of the entire male
2,3 population of ages unborn to seven. She stands in the doorway as
Herby crosses the street with her legs crossed and points to Baldy.
A slow warm yellow trickle of water settled in a puddle on the
concrete porch.
"Hot-butter-beans!" shouts the one wearing a Baltimore Oriole
T-shirt, raising the newspaper to get a second lick across the other's
head. Herby is a fast runner — he wins all the races at the school
during lunch time and Baldy is a long-runner. Once when he and
Herby were running from the Barracudas, the rival gang to the
Junior-J's, he saved the fives of himself and Herby by running for
a long time while Herby hid under a car. The Barracudas caught
Baldy and Herby hustling carts at the shopping center. Baldy saw
them first and shouted to his partner and took out like he does at
school during lunch hour, raising much hell, but couldn't get going
for flat feet — there is always lots of arm motion, but slow leg
action. The day the Barracudas closed in on them Herby stayed
under the car and counted. He told Baldy later that the last time
was not necessary because the Barracudas did not follow him around
the next to the last time. Baldy said "You're a liar 'cause I heard
them niggers!" and Herby said, "You're another liar 'cause you
were running from your own shadow!"
Baldy now slides underneath Mr. Calborn's new El Dorado and
watches Herby as he turns the corner. Herby sees Baldy hide and
pretends he doesn't; and he really doesn't need the help from Dot,
but appreciates the smile she gives him accented and followed by a
bubble of bubble gum. When Herby comes around the corner again
she points to Baldy's hiding place. "The girls always seem to want to
play with the boys," Herby whispers to himself. He smiles back at
Dot as he begins to run around the block again. Baldy chuckles. He
believes his friend is showing off for Dot; and therefore, really make
him look good to the girl he is going to marry; but Herby stops at
the last corner and watches Dot skip rope and blow bubbles, and
at his friend hiding under the long purple car with white upholstery.
Curiosity gets the best of Baldy. Without looking down to see
him crawl from under the car, Dot does a turn while still skipping
and blowing bubbles. Mr. Calborn looks on with envy from his
upstairs window, marvelling at the footwork of his neighbor.
Herby sneaks behind the purple El Dorado. Dot doesn't turn
around until she hears "Whop! Hot-butter-beans, come get your
supper! Whop! Whop! Whop! Whop! Whop!"
"O.K.! O.K.! O.K.! You got me! O.K.! Punk!"
24 "Whop!"
"O.K.! Damnit! O.K.!"
Dot innocently skips into the house dragging her jump rope.
". .. Baby, I didn't say nothin'!" said Mr. Calborn.
"Don't baby me you black no-count. What makes you think I
need you to do anything for me? You don't have to do nothin' for
me."
"Well, that's fine with me. For all I care you can take . . ."
"Mr. Calborn and his oP lady are at it again, Baldy."
"Yeah."
"Guess I'll go on home and eat supper. It's about that time."
"Me too."
"Wanna go crabbing tomorrow?"
"Yeah. What time?"
"Six o'clock."
"O.K."
"Meetcha at the hide-out."
"Oleoleo."
"Oleoleo."
CHAPTER THREE
1
After his first date with Bernice, Sonny notices that Jerome
begins to act distant; and he keeps asking questions, "Well what
happen, brother? What happen after that? I bet you lived it up."
Most of the conversation they had talked about anyway, especially
after either he or Jerome walked a girl home the night before who
they liked at a party.
"Bernice has a lot of class, so maybe Jerome thinks I've gone
hi-fi," Sonny thinks as he says, "I like her, Jerome. She's got style.
You know what I mean," and motions for them to walk towards
Spencer Street.
"Yeah. She does everything in a rich way," said Jerome.
Sonny can't put his finger on it, but he knows money has something to do with it. He wants money; he wants it badly, and maybe
the reason for his desire has something to do with Bernice. What he
is trying to decide is if he wants to act that way because he doesn't
have any money or because he thinks that is a more refined and
25 human way to be. Anyway, he wants to see her again. They had a
date, but she called and told him she was in the hospital for a minor
operation, he asked her to call him as soon as she got out; and she
said it might take up until Friday; and then maybe she'll be well
enough to go out.
She didn't call. He decides to call her place between jobs. Peaches
answers. He thinks he recognizes her voice but isn't sure. Peaches
can tell you the sound of Sonny's voice anytime, anywhere. Bernice
has invited her to come up for the weekend; it is Saturday morning;
and her cousin is still in bed. Peaches would be there herself except
that Helen told her on Friday evening before she left that she would
be back early Saturday morning; breakfast is fixed at 8:30 for the
whole house; after that you serve yourself. Usually Helen is the
only one up, unless Mr. Murray has a golf game. She likes to get
her house chores done before everybody starts acting nice.
Bernice had mentioned the word love, and maybe the idea of love
was thrown in the air a few times, especially when he brought her
the record album. She kept telling him not to rush things. He had
wine on his breath the last time and when she mentioned it, he
pulled the bottle out of his vest pocket. He took a drink with his
back to her while she was reading the liner notes to the album; and
after the bottle was almost finished, he surprised her with a second
one. He surprised himself too because he found himself offering her
some; and she told him very quickly that he wasn't about to get her
so high that she didn't know what she was doing. "I like you as a
friend or something like that," she mumbled; and after a pause she
told him that friendships sometimes grow into infatuations or love
affairs, but they were still friends. He wanted that too, a person to
be his friend, and said that was his reason for coming to see her.
Her not being at home is one thing, but she is supposed to be in
the hospital, so what is this jive that Helen is talking about when he
calls — "Bernice is in the tub. She's taking her bath."
"I'll call back later. In an hour maybe. Will she be at home
then?"
"I don't know for sure, Sonny. More than likely," said Helen.
Later Bernice told Sonny that she was there when he called,
getting ready for a date to play tennis. She said she told Helen what
she had planned for the afternoon and Helen must have forgotten
26 because she was talking to Peaches. Those two are something else
when they start arguing.
Peaches was waiting for her toast so she could spread some of
those delicatessen preserves on it, and get another cup of coffee
when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver and felt Helen
breathing down her neck. The silver and gold watch was close by
the toaster but Peaches hadn't seen it before Helen began putting
butter on her toast while she talked to Sonny. Peaches motioned to
Helen and told Sonny to hold on a minute. Helen began to talk,
and Peaches put the watch in her apron pocket.
Before the phone rang, Helen and Peaches were talking in general
about the race riots, the Murrays, and how it was one thing to be
considered a relation of the family in fun even though it is sometimes
taken seriously, and quite another matter altogether to expect certain
favors.
"I'm not a hard person to get along with, child," Helen told
Peaches, "but after all you did come here to work. Now didn't you?
There's enough work to keep me and you busy and your children's
children busy. Now, Bernice is a nice girl, but don't let her get you
into trouble. She's not our kind."
Peaches had polished her old tennis shoes, and was thinking of
buying a tennic racket. The bottoms of her gym shoes were thin.
Her feet lay upon stone as if she carried groceries and wanted to sit
down on a bench near a phone booth to call a cab. Her black skirt
was ironed hard, the way it looks anyway when she wears it too
often, or sits on the bleachers to watch a basketball or football game
— the only reasons for going to No. 180 as far as she was concerned,
except for Typing II. She was doing seventy-five words a minute
and was about to tell Helen before the phone rang that her future
plans don't include scrubbing nobody's floor. Next year she should
be doing at least eighty-five words a minute; and the day you see
a woman of that typing speed in somebody's kitchen worried about
answering somebody's phone, the world won't be round no more.
But she didn't say anything; at least not much at all. She respected
her elders because she understood them. The experience in their
body rhythms was different, depending on the heaviness of the
responsibility. Helen was a gossipy-mama to her who lost her chance
to live. She obviously dressed only for church and her job, and never
27 went out to clubs; probably, never wanted to sleep with any man.
She is religious. When Bernice arranged for her to get the job, she
told Peaches that Helen was from her neighborhood. Peaches was
not to worry about the work because Helen works hard. Bernice
explained how sometimes when they give weekend parties or have
guests over for a few days they never have trouble getting Helen
to stay to help out, so Peaches knew right away that whoever Helen
was, one thing was certain, she was a flunky; and there are a lot of
old flunkies in the neighborhood where she lived so she couldn't say
she knew her. She didn't think for a minute that it was Sonny's
stepmother.
"You better let me answer the telephone, Roberta. Mrs. Murray's
real particular about how she wants it answered."
Peaches had just started to sit down after pouring the coffee,
wondering if part of her job was washing dishes, when Helen told
her the basement floor needed cleaning.
"It was some mannish boy who called," said Helen. "He never
called here before, and I hope he never calls again. You know
Sonny? . . . Well, like I was tellin' you, you better be careful of
Bernice. She's a nice girl but she can make a mess of things sometime."
Peaches drank her coffee. Before she started to work she had to
rest. The red lipstick trace on the cup almost matched the color of
her fingernails. Her skin was clear black. Her hair was shiny in
places with some curled on each side in front of her pierced ears
where medium-sized gold earrings accented her dimples and the
crumbs on her lips.
The bus ride was long, but the walk from the bus stop to Mrs.
Murray's home was enough to make her want to turn around to
go home. When she was part of the way down the road she stopped.
It was hot and her underclothes stuck to her. "I knew that I
shouldn't have worn that girdle," she thought. "And it's only ten
o'clock."
When she was walking, she tried to make it seem like it was the
chauffeur driving by who wanted to stop and give her a ride by
catching his eye and then turning her head. A bunch of dirty names
came to mind. Even saying them meant nothing because the
chauffeur had the windows up grooving with the air-conditioner,
28 taking his time. He was part of her dream; and if she hadn't looked
back towards the bus stop and the sun cooking the tar and gravel
road, she wouldn't have seen him drifting with wheels for wings and
asphalt for water.
When she reached the house she thought was the right one, she
looked for a mailbox. The hedges were high and the house sat far
back behind some trees. The lady over the phone had told her it
was the last house on the right. She made a few steps down the walk
way, then a dog barked from an area of a smaller house. If Helen
had not called her from the doorway she was going to call it quits.
Helen told her that she didn't have to wear a maid's suit if she
didn't want. Peaches didn't listen at first. She was still trying to
think of a way to rest her feet.
"Helen, how do you get here from the bus stop?"
"I usually catch a cab. Some mornings when it is nice I walk."
"Who pays for the cab."
"Sometimes I do or Mrs. Murray does. Don't let a little walking
like that get you down, girl."
"It wouldn't if it wasn't so hot. You can fry an egg on that road."
"We're all gonna be a lot hotter if this war keeps up. You got any
brothers or sisters."
"I've got an older sister who's married and a younger baby
brother."
"That war is something, girl, I'm telling you. I'm worried my son
might have to go. Want some bacon?" Peaches nodded. "What
school you going to?"
"No. 180 on the south side."
"Are you finishing this year."
"No, I'm in the eleventh grade."
Helen got the cream and sugar out of the refrigerator, and
unfolded the morning newspaper.
"Mr. Murray doesn't like for me to read his paper before he does,
but he has to pay me more to be givin' me orders like that. If you
want more coffee you got to get it yourself." She looked at the
newspaper; first the front page, and then she turned a couple. "That
war. Seems like it's never going to end. What're you studying in
school?"
"Commercial course."
"I might as well tell you right away this job doesn't pay a whole
lot. The work isn't hard, but there's always something to do. Do
you like to do house work?"
29 "It doesn't matter. I need the money."
"I know what you mean. But I've been trying to get rich for some
time now. If you're born with it, you got it. What kind of work
your father and mother do?"
"My mother is a nurse's aid. My father works at the steel company."
"You're a lucky girl to have both mother and father livin'."
"I want to be on my own and . . ."
"This your first job working out this way."
"Yes."
"I've been working here off and on for about ten or eleven years
myself. Everytime I want to quit, they make such a fuss I stay on.
I'm gonna quit soon, though. I'm through cleaning other folks'
homes."
Peaches got up to get herself another cup of coffee. She was
wondering how she was going to get along with this old bat, Helen,
and was casually listening to her talk; but what interested her more,
was how she planned to beat out rich competition like Bernice
before the summer was over. After Sonny came Jerome. She knew
that much.
"If they make me walk too many times on days like this, I'm
going to quit too."
She and Bernice met each other during the Christmas holidays.
She didn't think much of the friendship until she saw how much
attention Bernice's new car got. For about a month, they went
shopping downtown. Roberta told Bernice her nickname when they
were driving one Saturday afternoon, not going anywhere particularly, and looking to see who was wearing what. Bernice told her
where she lived, and Peaches thought they drove past her house but
couldn't remember.
Helen put the paper away and was saying something to Peaches
that was important mainly to Helen while Peaches tried to remember
if she ever saw the watch on Bernice's arm. Helen began wiping
around in the kitchen some with her back still to Peaches, humming
a spiritual.
"That small closet there will be all right for today if you got some
things to keep safe."
"All I have is my pocketbook and sunglasses."
"Well, nobody'll bother them in there."
Peaches put her sunglasses in her handbag and began pulling at
the stuck closet door. There were two cases of beer stacked next to
3° the door hinge so Peaches looked around at Helen to see what she
should do, but she had left the room. She stooped down and tried
to slide the cases of beer, and finally pushed the top case on the floor.
Helen shouted from the doorway.
"You workin' already, girl! You don't have to start 'til twelve
o'clock today."
"That's o.k. I'll just stop work early."
"You better take it easy. That's what you better do." Helen put a
few rags and some window cleaner on the table. "I guess you might
as well get started since you're on your feet."
"Yeah, I guess so." Peaches put her things away. She felt a slight
ache across her shoulders and back from the way Jerome treated
her last night. They went for a walk around the park last night
because there was no place they could be alone to talk; and they
were tired of sitting on the steps listening to the radio. They were
both desperate after a couple of kisses even though they made love
the night before, and somehow got under some bushes behind the
soda stand at the park.
They talked every once in a while about Bernice, never about
Sonny. She told Jerome after they got back to her place and were
sitting on the steps digging the radio where she was going to spend
the weekend. In fact she had to get up early, so she thought she
had better go in. Just one more cigarette.
"Life," Jerome began, "is not the way people like Bernice sees it."
Peaches nodded.
"There ain't but so many ways," he went on, "that people can
get to know each other. I mean, you and I have been knowing each
other for how many years? Ten. . . . Our parents know each other.
They probably have known each other longer than that. The point
is, what I'm driving at, you dig, is that they know each other
because they have had the opportunity; they've seen each other
around. There're a lot of circumstantial things that might not seem
to mean a lot at the time, but are neverthless a fact if two people
are going to relate to each other and know each other." He paused
for a minute when a popular tune came on the radio. "That's a bad
jam. I was thinking of joining up with a group myself, but I
couldn't see much of a future in it, unless you could be a lead singer.
If you got your own group and band then you can make a livin'."
3i Peaches kept time with the music. "You see," continued Jerome,
"your cousin doesn't know how to appreciate the little things that
make life worthwhile. I don't mean to say anything against your
cousin, but a car ain't everything. Where're you two going tomorrow?"
"Nowhere special. She just invited me out for the weekend. I
might not stay until Sunday though."
"Why don't you come back Saturday night so I can come over
to see you?"
"Well, I don't know."
"Look, if you are going to be giving me a hard time . .."
"Well, Jerome, I don't know what Bernice has planned."
"But you still can come back when you want to. She don't own
you."
"I didn't say she did own me. She don't own you neither."
"Now, what's that suppose to mean."
"I'm sorry, but I got to go."
"You can bet you're sorry, sorry as .. ."
"I'll talk to you when I get back."
"Talk hell!"
Peaches ran in the house. She went straight upstairs to her bedroom. It was twelve thirty. She set the alarm for six o'clock and
went to bed. One thing was for certain in her mind, she was going
to make good on her job; make as much money as she can to buy
herself at least one new outfit for the summer and a couple of things
for school. She has to rag, dress to kill in order to be the best
secretary anybody would want to hire, and the best looking one.
The wardrobe she has looks good in the morning. In the afternoon
her clothes need ironing again. For work the next day, she wanted
to wear her black skirt and pink blouse, the one with the ruffles
around the neck and down front, and falls almost too low below
her waist. The hem needed to be taken out a little in the waist, but
it's always that way until she starts walking to save bus fare. She
and Jerome will walk together sometimes when school starts. Even
if she is walking with some of her friends just to have somebody to
walk with, Jerome always comes over and tries to take her books
from her to carry them and she calls him a fag. When he tries to
be like that again, she is going to let him take her books to see if
he'll carry them all the way to her class; or at least she'd do it if
tomorrow was one of those routine school days. "What's wrong with
Jerome is that he doesn't want to be nothin'," she thought. "A band
32 leader! Ha! He doesn't know a note of music. That phony! When
he tries to be cool and take my books again I'll laugh in his face."
She wore facial cream and had rollers in her hair. She thought
she heard something, and sat up in bed to examine the reflection
of the door in the floor length mirror setting on the low night table
opposite her bed. It is a small bed worn in the middle; the mattress
and springs complement each other and hold her in a groove deep
with high edges.
She snored, it was a soft half hiss mixed with a growl sound that
ended suddenly, depending on how much breath she had left. Bedbugs caused her to twist and turn, scratch and swear during the
night. The clock made the loudest sound. When she was tired like
tonight and had to get up early, she would whisper before getting
in bed, "I can't be bothered tonight." After awhile, she would be
turning in every possible position to accommodate her misery, when
she thought she had her arms the right way to scratch her legs, the
hair rollers clamped her head.
Half-asleep she got up, grabbed the sheet and tried to go to
sleep on the floor. There was no air down there. Her foot played
with a braid or dirty hairpin; she picked it up, threw it away, looked
at the clock and crawled back in bed after trying to open the
window. She gave up and fell asleep, exhausted.
When Sonny decided to call Bernice, the last person he wanted
to speak to was Peaches. He knew he had to put up with Helen.
If he could see Bernice just once more. . ..
Helen had fixed him three roast beef sandwiches; he ate a couple
around eleven o'clock last night and the last is smelling good to him
now and is starting to turn the bag greasy.
He is handy man around the dry cleaners where he works. He
does everything from sweeping to running errands, except he doesn't
work the machines. The other job from 12 a.m. to eight in the
morning is a janitor helper's job where he cleans over two hundred
toilets each night in a group of rooming houses all within an area
of ten blocks. The job is just as clean as any other if you listen to
Sonny because they give him large rubber gloves; and there's a
waterproof apron and knee boots. "And after all," he thinks, "lazy-
ass Jerome doesn't have any job."
He pulls the cord and stands up to get off the bus at the next
33 stop. "Some guys are still looking for a job and here it is almost the
end of June." The bus door springs open. He feels sleepy while
waiting for the next one, and steps around the corner out of the
wind, and finds a copy of Son Number One that was thrown away.
He and Jerome saw the movie version on television. Jerome said
he thought the janitor did it. Sonny told him the janitor was a
butler.
"Whoever saw a butler cuttin' hedges, man!" said Jerome.
"Cleaning all them toilets must be going to your head."
"Well, he's a lawn-keeper then. Anyway, that mousey mother
couldn't kill nobody," said Sonny. At the end of the movie, they
discovered that the guy who was collecting all the insurance money
was the one who was supposed to be dead.
The bus comes, he steps on and asks the driver to call Vermont
Avenue. He sits next to a window on which he tries to rest his head.
The last time he saw Helen for more than a minute was Sunday
morning when she came in the room she's been trying to rent talking
to a church member. He said nothing and went downstairs to the
kitchen. After he heard the front door close, he stood waiting for the
house slippers to stop somewhere in the front room; then, he turned
to go upstairs again. He thought maybe he'd go over to Jerome's,
changed his mind and walked towards the hallway, thinking that
Sunday was his only day off from the rooming house job; he'd
better rest. She was usually in church on Sunday evening. Nothing
seemed the same. There she was in the hallway and wanted to know
what to do with herself, picking up the phone book as he approached
to call somebody who was probably at the prayer meeting.
"Don't you walk away from me when I'm talking to you," she
chanted in a stern whisper that was said more as if she had never
saw him except in passing, or was unfamiliar with his dirty dishes
stacked in the sink each weekday morning, and would know him
only by the length of his stride and the musky smell of his clothes
even if they passed the same way next week. ("Sonny, you hear me!
.. . I'm talking to you, Mr. Man.") She held the phone book like
a boomerang, holding the bottom end with her left hand while she
kept a place in the directory with the other. He looked at her once,
but she was looking away, and what he heard was the phone book
slam against the small night-table in the hall, or she might have
34 thrown it at him after he turned to walk upstairs; but she said she
was talking to him and he ignored her, and that even though he
was working two jobs and giving her five or ten dollars a week, she
was still paying the rent.
It seemed as soon as he was in the room and relaxed again, she
came in behind him, emptied the ash tray, and smacked at his feet
on the bedspread. He said he was going over to Jerome's after she
lifted the shade filling the room with neon lights. She began
mumbling something about the reason she could not rent the room
was because he was all the time dirtying up, and he had a room;
why didn't he use it?
"The living room is better than what most people's got to sit and
think, Mr. Man, and try to act smart," she said. He was untying his
shoelaces. "I guess the roll-out bed is not good enough for you now.
And you can ignore me all you want. Your pants is too big for you,
that's your problem." She talked some more as he went downstairs,
but he only listened sometimes because he knew she didn't like
Bernice.
8
"The way I see it, brother, a woman is a woman," Jerome said.
"There is no difference when you get down to it, only some have
more money."
"She's o.k. except she's a little dizzy," said Sonny. "I told you
why I like the chick."
"What are you going to do tonight?" Jerome said as he stood up.
He turned off the TV. and they went outside on the porch. "I got
two dollars on me."
"I'm supposed to be at work at twelve, but I be damn if I feel
like it." Baldy, the little kid Sonny gave his paper route to, walked
by shouting to some kids down the street.
"Get on over there and wash them toilets, janitor." He pops his
fingers to a tune on the radio. "Wait 'til Miss Hi-Fi hears about her
lover boy washing toilets. She won't let your stinky hands touch her."
"I could care what she thinks," Sonny said before spitting through
his teeth.
"Man, don't hand me that. If she said crow you'd bark like a
cow."
"Talk all you want, but when you see me in my bad new two
35 hundred dollar tinted gold suit you'll have to walk on your knees to
speak to me, Jack, and still I might not see you."
"Cause you'll have that funky gray bitch on your arm. You won't
know nobody after you get solid with her."
"I could care about the bitch."
"Yeah. I know. If you plan to use the phone, drop your dime
right here. We don't run no charity organization."
The transistor radio was blasting, and Jerome was shouting to a
guy in a red convertible listening to the same station. Sonny came
back and sat on the steps again.
"She wasn't home, eh. I bet Helen told you to call back tomorrow."
"Man, lighten up. I didn't call the chick. I ain't even thinking
about her."
"Yeah. Like mosquitoes ain't bitin'."
"Just to show you how much you know, chump, I called the dude
I'm suppose to work with tonight, but he wasn't in. Look, come on,
go over to my job so I can have some help in case this cat doesn't
show up."
"How far is it?"
"Over by Kenmore Stadium."
The radio swung at Jerome's side. The long silver aerial came as
high as his chin. As they were crossing the street at one intersection,
Sonny suggested that they hop a bus the rest of the way. Jerome
looked at Sonny and shook his head, laughing a little to himself.
"Hear 'bout the dude who broke the record for a quarter. Did a
47.0."
"Where?" said Sonny.
"Down at Kenmore the other day. That dude tore out of the
startin' block like mad. I think his name was Dixon. Ernest Dixon.
Everybody was pullin' for the dude. Come on Ernest! Come on
Ernest! And my man, Ernest, was chewing up some track. You
should've seen the cat. He got down like a low rider. And he was
a short dude."
Sonny pointed to one of the rooming houses where he works. He
told Jerome that it was where he finished his work in the morning.
Jerome looked at the house from over the top of his sunglasses, then
at Sonny who kept walking, and laughed. Jerome wore black tennis
shoes with red shoestrings. He had a small chain with a rabbit's foot.
"I'll tell you one thing. I'm never walking over here again,"
Jerome said.
36 When they got to the corner opposite the stadium, Sonny told
Jerome this is where he usually meets the guy he works for, and he
explained how his boss told him he might not be on the job every
night and how if he didn't show he would be making three dollars
an hour. Jerome told him he could be making twenty dollars an
hour and he still wouldn't help him. Sonny said he was planning on
quitting his cleaning job and if he helped him by doing a hundred
of the toilets, he would see that Jerome got the job. His partner
agreed and they walked behind the back of one rooming house
where a small garage was used as a locker room. Mops and buckets
were stacked in the corners. Jerome was to do the bathrooms at the
end of each hallway in the first group of houses. There was an old
list of street numbers on the back of the door taped beside a calendar
with Jesus Christ on it which was covered over with dust and
grease. The street numbers were marked in pencil; they were to do
the houses listed in the left column; the other numbers looked like
arithmetic. Sonny showed Jerome the hallway where the toilet on
the first floor was located, and then went to work himself.
That was the last they saw of each other for the week. Jerome
didn't drop by the cleaners and Sonny didn't quit his job; and as
he gets off the bus near his house that morning he plans on not
seeing his partner for at least another week. He has saved his money,
and on his lunch hour while working at the cleaners, he bought a
new pair of kicks, tips the same design as the brown ones he had
on with suede on the toe and close to the shoestrings.
Helen is definitely going to cause trouble. He tries to think of
something else he might have told Jerome, and he is sure now, just
as certain as he is that when he sees his partner again, the other is
going to grandstand, want to fight and argue about the job.
He puts the mail on the piano, goes in the living room, and waits
for the phone to ring.
CHAPTER FOUR
1
Jerome is not home when Sonny gets there later in the afternoon. He hangs around. Even in the shade it is hot, so he takes
37 off his shirt and stretches out with his feet crossed and hat tilted
over his eyes; his arms folded across his stomach. He is sound asleep
when he slaps at a fly a few times on his forehead, then around his
throat. He brushes at it again, squints out of one eye and sees
Jerome pointing a knife at him and standing with a group of guys
from the basketball court who watch and chuckle. Sonny pretends
to go back to sleep, and Jerome puts the point of the knife on
Sonny's throat again. Jerome is smiling and moving his lips slow.
Two guys are throwing the basketball back and forth to each other
while they watch. Jerome wipes the sweat from one wrist and
switches the knife to the other hand, and back again. One of the
guys laughs at Jerome and tells him to quit playing with toys.
Sonny recognizes the voice (he didn't look because Jerome was
shouting — "I don't give a damn 'bout the fuckin' job! Where's my
money.") and he remembers how McBee goes in for a layup which
ends sometimes as a fake and left-hand hook; if he doesn't leave you
at the foul line or has you flying in the air because of a fake to the
right or left, he leans back and throws a soft jump shot, bringing his
feet almost parallel to his head.
McBee wants a smoke now. Sonny throws it to him. He wants a
match; then Jerome cuts Sonny quick across the hand, slightly over
the knuckles, and McBee high-jumps the bannister from the sidewalk using both arms to take his feet over and lands between Jerome
and Sonny. Jerome cuts him on the leg above his sweat socks,
figuring it is two against one and backs up to the door. Sonny tries
to get around McBee, but it is impossible as always. Jerome mumbles
something like "Both of you mothers can go down as well as one."
Sonny remembered he let go of his knife when his head seemed to
bounce to his stomach and spring back as he fell forward into the
screen feeling a couple of quick jabs from Jerome's direction before
he laughed and closed the door, opening the mail slot to stab Sonny
in either leg when the rest ganged up on him. His ass is numb and
McBee made sure of that when he shouted to the others as if
running a play pattern, and stopped for a moment after some of
them began to move away — "Cut me again, nigger!" he shouted
— and went to work with his size twelves for good measure.
Sonny doesn't feel anything when he tries to stand and look
around for the sunglasses he left on the other side of the porch, he
feels as if he is crawling, or has wooden legs. He looks away from
the street even though he is not sure anybody saw what happened.
"If they're looking at all," he thinks, "they're looking for blood."
38 The wet spots on his side are probably sweat anyway. There is no
reason to know the truth, to search himself.
He picks up his sunglasses. The crowd starts to walk away.
Jerome watches from inside with tears in his eyes as he forces a
happy laugh mixed with silent pauses filled with no feeling. He
shouts that Sonny has to pay for the screen too, and starts to come
out to let the world know his partner got his ass kicked and he was
the one who did it, except Sonny picks up a part of the bannister,
walking off the porch as if he is dead or has seen death in the nit-
raw so that he has nothing else to lose come a tractor trailer or
McBee.
"Ho-Ho-Ho and Ha-Ha-Ha," said Jerome. He stretches out on
the sofa and relaxes while his nerves vibrate. He goes to sleep. Later,
he turns on the television and falls asleep again, getting up when
he is still half asleep to clean the porch before his father gets home
from work.
Sonny's deck of cards is behind the old flower pot on the porch
that he made for Peaches in Vocational class. She didn't want it,
and he could care less. Cards are not like a woman though; they'll
do what you want them to, and he is smart enough to get what he
wants.
The next day there is not much to do, so he sleeps late. He thinks
about going down to Pierson's Cleaners just to see if he can get the
job. After he hears his father come in, he changes his mind and stays
in bed, and eats stale cookies. Vernon mumbles something, then
Jerome mumbles; and later Vernon goes out, leaving a few dollars
on the table.
He gets up later and dresses to go over to Helen's for supper. (He
thinks that Sonny probably went to see Bernice.) On his way there,
he finds McBee and the others playing basketball. He watches for
awhile. They ask him to play, and he takes off his starched high
collar shirt, makes a basket at the beginning of the game; and
shortly afterwards, he quits and walks off the court, telling them
not to ask him the next time; he has better things to do. He hooks
the shirt over his shoulder and picks up his straw hat and radio.
When he passes Helen's, he can see she's not in, and walks towards
Hunter's Drugstore to soak up some air-conditioning.
He tries to phone Peaches, eats a couple of hamburgers and leaves
39 the drugstore going towards the park; and later walks past her
house, jingling the change in his pocket and whistling. After awhile,
he finds himself downtown, looking for a hardware store where he
can buy batteries for his radio.
He passes a blind man standing next to Stanfield's Department
Store. People come closer to him because it starts to rain. When
one lady approaches from the bus terminal carrying suitcases and
two kids who pull at the side of her skirt, Jerome thinks for sure
anybody in their way will be pushed into the display window. The
first kid trips on the blind man's cane, and looks back for his
younger sister who bumps into him and runs to catch up with her
mother.
Red-caps are hustling cabs for men in business suits. Jerome
wonders for a second about hustling cabs, then he watches a guy
running in the rain with two suitcases for some guys with big cigars.
"Shee-it." He can just see himself doing something like that —
slipping on the jive-time sidewalk, a quick grab for a suitcase as it
approaches the entrance; the left leg holding the door open; his
right hand on the suitcase along with the paws of about three other
dudes who would probably be the official red-caps for the bus
station. After he slips the first time, he would think about going
barefoot and laugh at himself with hatred for the red-caps. He
would ignore those dudes, and the next time he'd be ready with the
galoshes he found that night in one of the rooming houses; and
everytime one of those chuckling red-caps came by with a suitcase,
he'd wait for his chance. Those galoshes would be slushing and
flopping water every which way.
He tries them on when he gets home and they balloon around his
tennis shoes. A rainy day downtown would be something else with
those because he can't even walk fast enough to answer the door.
He yells for the person to come in before he finds Bernice standing
in the doorway. She wants to know first if her cousin is there and
then if Sonny is around. She asks him questions and answers them.
The car motor is running. Her black pleated mini-skirt twirled;
flying straight dark brown hair is trying to cover up a side glance
at Jerome. Her fragrance reminds him of a hospital in the way that
it suspends him when he jumps over the low coffee table onto the
sofa sitting up as if he has been asleep under the influence of a
4° violet anesthetic. He forces a laugh and asks her for some gum.
Yeah. He has to have that one, Sonny or no Sonny. "If she wanted
to see Sonny why did she come over here. Yeah. She's in love with
me," Jerome said to himself. "I don't really care for the gray bitch,
but she'll have to learn not to fuck around with me." He pretends
to go back to sleep. She has to be taught that just because she has
a lot of bread every blood wasn't after her. He is going to take it
slow. The screen door opens and closes again quietly. She'll be back.
The car engine.
He isn't surprised when he hears the door open again, and doesn't
bother to look. He tells her to sit down and keep cool. His ol' man
is working the late shift. When she doesn't answer he sits up and
finds the couple selling pamphlets for The Seventh Day Adventists.
The tall man in the black suit says they will only take a few minutes
of his time. He and his wife have a seat. Jerome stands up and tells
them again that his father is working the late shift. He knows it's
dark in the room as well as they do, and if they didn't like it they
could leave. ("Anybody who reads the Bible is a Tom anyway," he
said.) Furthermore, he has no money and he knows nothing about
the jive they are rapping. If it wasn't for them, Bernice would be
there. ("She digs me. I know she digs me.") If she had only stayed
a few minutes longer, he'd have taken care of business and be
wheeling her car all over town. Since this is her first year in college
she knows how to talk to these two in his living room about that
brainy shit, concerning concept of darkness and how that relates to
everything.
The Bible is the mainstay, the given, if he listens to the way they
are talking. "Everything after is a modification of a source," is the
way Jerome hears what the minister says. The important thing as he
understands it is to hang in there with this dude because everytime
he starts to tell them to leave or that his father digs the hell outta
the Bible, he might be home early, and it is kept in a drawer of the
small table next to them; then, either one of them would start again
and throw ideas back and forth. They eye him while they talk to
each other. ("Yeah. That chick loves me," he thinks. "She just
doesn't know it.")
"What do you think, son?" said the minister.
Jerome nodded. The Bible didn't relate to him because it needed
to be re-written. But it had to mean something, he said, or Vernon
wouldn't keep it around.
4i "That's right," the couple said. They decide to leave when he
tells them he is a diabetic and it is time for his insulin.
He begins trying on some of his father's old sport coats after they
leave, and searches for the old bamboo cane he bought to go with
his straw hat. Even if he found that one instead of the broom
handle Vernon used to come down across his backside (Vernon
would rest his knee on his son's back while he used the stick) he
could still paint it white and put on a metal tip. He can see no
reason why any man, blind or not, should have a square block
downtown to himself. Anyway, if they bought some better stuff once
in awhile, Vernon might have a hard time telling .. . Hell. Sonny
drinks so damn slow anyway. "In fact the dude is slow at every
damn thing," he thinks. "Shee-it! that gray bitch is gonna crawl
to me. I used to like the dude, but all is fair in love 'n' war. I'll
sell her this fuckin' mimeo-machine. The crazy bitch!"
The minister had wanted to know if he played basketball. Jerome
thought the minister was tall enough, but too skinny. McBee's
skinny, but moves fast.
"That's a good sport," the minister said before leaving. "It's the
same in basketball because you got five guys on a team." (He eyed
the B-ball in the corner.) "It's the same because one man can carry
a team or the team can work together. My assistant here knows
something about the sport. We talked to a young man yesterday.
An all-around athlete, a Mr. Ernest Dixon. You know him? We
talked to him yesterday I believe it was. He said that he's making it
a point to come to next Wednesday's meeting. There'll be a lot of
people your age there who want to hear what we have to say."
Dixon told them that the school team has a 4 - o record and
should win the championship. Jerome nodded and smiled. When
he was a young boy, he used to play for the team. The minister's
wife smiled. She wanted to learn how to play B-ball with the peel,
she said hesitantly and suggested that if Jerome and Dixon would
join the church, the church could have a team. It was about that
time they gave Jerome some pamphlets, and they all shook hands.
Baldy saw them as they stepped on the porch and tried to sell
them a newspaper. They followed him to the house next door, but
the minister checked his watch and gave his assistant a slight tug
on the sleeve. Jerome closed the door.
42 He can't sleep because a friend of Baldy's is yelling from the other
end of the street. Baldy shouts he has to sell papers. Herby meets
him under the lamppost. Jerome laughs with them when he hears
how some girl named Dot went wading in the fountain at the park
after day-camp. She stooped down and made like a duck and did
the chicken. Her dress was wet and they were arguing whether or
not she had her shoes on. Herby said she had to because of the glass.
Until the cops stopped them, they used to line bottles on the edge of
the fountain and took turns busting them with rocks. When Baldy
saves enough money, he's going to get a B-B gun.
CHAPTER FIVE
1
Her flesh seems to jell. She waits. For dinner she has the baked
beans Sonny likes. Some of the silverware belongs to Mrs. Murray.
"I'm not only going to take myself a fork when I get ready one of
these days, but I'm going to get me a whole damn set," she thinks.
That's the way Sonny used to talk to her in the mornings, and she'd
tell him to hush up. He'd talk that way about his bosses and teachers,
"White people," he said. "They know nothing and try to make you
believe the world is square."
George is the same, sometimes his heart is stone. "You might be
a mother to all the damn kids in the neighborhood, but I be damn
if I'm going to be their father," Helen remembers him telling her
once when Baldy was invited for supper. George just stared at the
beef-a-roni patty like it was going to jump back on the plate. Baldy
said he didn't put it there for meanness, or at least he tried to tell
Helen later that "It was only a joke like the big guys play on
teachers with thumb tacks." At the time Helen thought George
probably did it himself.
It was a rainy evening when Baldy couldn't go home because the
storm had flooded the streets enough to go over the top of his
boots. He called home. Helen dialed the telephone for him and
talked to his mother who said he might as well move all his clothes
over to Helen's house. When Baldy asked what was for supper,
Flavia said a lot of things, including rice pudding. Helen talked
some and told her it was no bother at all.
43 Baldy went to look out the window. The sun was shining through
the clouds on the roof tops, and it was raining hard in big drops.
The rain hit against the windowpane and sounded like marbles
dropping on his bedroom floor. It was the same when his father
had the '51 Oldsmobile running over gravel roads.
She finishes washing the floor when she hears the mailman. There
is a letter from George. "George must be the devil himself," she
says, forgetting about the floor and being careful the way she does
at work after she has finished the kitchen floor and Betty Murray is
asking her if any coffee is ready, on her way to the patio to watch
the last bit of morning fog move away from the trees. Sometimes
Betty would exercise before breakfast. Once Helen asked her to buy
a small electric pot for the patio. She said no getting up from the
wet floor and wanted to know what more did Helen want, and
walked away kicking the broken cup.
DEAR HELEN
ARE YOU MARRIED
GEORGE
YES OR NO
The letter even smells like George. The wrapping paper he wrote
it on was left in the living room some place when Baldy had finished
with it and announced he was not eating at home any more because
his mother couldn't cook. Helen could. He was running away from
home.
Helen remembers that she used to write the grocery list while
George stood leaning on his cane looking in the closet, calling off the
most important items, the most essential items needed in the way of
food. Then he would sign the welfare check over to her. It was
the same way every second Thursday of every month. Sometimes he
would watch the check fall in the mail slot, and look at the $69.82
figure from outside the envelope, holding it up to the sunlight after
putting the bills in the usual place. That was the one day she could
always feel his manly pride — he took his breakfast after he shaved
and his shoes looked shined; his hair parted, depending on the way
she tried to look after the surprise of seeing him sitting there in the
44 morning, waiting for the breakfast he had decided to get himself.
Hidden agony came from somewhere and caged his soul because it
couldn't get to his heart, and when he turned his head to look out
the window, it rested callow on his neck with the same look of
naivete seized in the burden of a watch repairman; his yellow
fingernails resting on the table. If he loved her, she wanted him to
show it then, like when they first met. She lives off the memories —
the way he pinched her the day his gang raided the church picnic.
She had finished helping the others and sat down herself when it
happened. She'd have scratched his eyes from their two red, baggy
sockets if it wasn't for his jaw moving to accommodate the cigar
that switched from one side of his mouth to the other whenever
he decided to spit — to the right then to the left, never taking his
eyes off Helen who told him when he asked her name, "My name
is Helen Stokes! And what of it?" ("That's all I want to know,
baby.") and then helped himself to a whole ham and carried it back
to the car.
She sits down to answer the letter. She starts it "Dear Beloved
George". The letter says she isn't married and will be out of town
for awhile, "I went to Memphis last Spring." She tells him that
he should at least go to church on Communion Sunday. She is glad
to get word and if the Lord's willing, they will see each other again
soon. Sincerely yours, Helen. Then she begins to think how easy it
would be to meet right out on the street. George never goes anywhere, but all the same it seems like they'd meet by accident.
She doesn't feel like playing the piano or even standing up.
Sonny is probably out running the streets with Jerome. She knows
he didn't go to work.
The letter reminds her of a letter Sonny got. She heard him and
Jerome talking about it last week. She goes to look through some of
Sonny's things, and finds a telephone number; then quickly tries to
hide it because she thinks she hears him coming. She hums a
spiritual, begins to dust, and works her way towards the kitchen.
The neighbors' dog is in the garbage again. ("Git on away from
here dog! Git on 'way from here!")
She leafs through the Bible some, finds a stamp for George's
letter, and a few grocery coupons. She is going to dust some more,
but changes her mind and goes back to Sonny's things, searching
through some pants she used to get ready for him on Sunday nights
when he promised to go job hunting the next morning. Now he was
never home.
45 Nothing. There was absolutely nothing besides Bernice's phone
number.
Oh, I want to be,
I want to be, Lord.
In that place you made for me.
Oh, I want to be,
Yes, I want to be, Oh, Lord,
In your house
That building you made by hand.
Helen is trying to make up her mind to work Monday and take
off Tuesday instead. She used to take Mondays off when Sonny was
sick enough with a cold or flu to stay home from school. Things
won't get done if she's not there to make sure Peaches isn't drinking
coffee and eating all morning. "... Just eating every damn thing.
Well, the Murrays have a plenty. Peaches has only got one stomach.
She sure can't eat much before Tuesday morning. She knows I
won't be there today. The lil' hussy ain't worth a damn, Lord
forgive me. Eatin' and goin' to the bathroom the whole day. Mercy!
I'm tellin' you, these younger ones, they got it easy. They got it real
easy. Just think money grows somewhere."
She recognizes the voice of a lead singer on her favorite radio
program, "Hymn Hour." When Sonny stayed home on Saturday
mornings doing nothing but sleeping late, she'd sing out loud to get
him up, and if she knew a song like she did now, she'd play the
piano; then, she'd clap her hands some and after the song praised
the Lord, and her no-count son would be saying "Amen" right
along with her, sleeping like he had asthma.
When she is ready to go to the store, she puts on her jersey white
dress with black polka dots; later she changes and puts on another
one. The cars racing their motors outside while waiting for the
light to change, and transit buses with heavy exhaust and "Drink
Mellow Wine" signs on the side don't make as much of a mess as
the people hanging on the corner. She allows time once a week to
clean her own place; and when she works on Saturdays, it would
be sometimes three weeks before she cleaned again because she
refused to do anything on Sundays. For the past month she hasn't
been to church. But she prays often from roots known to nobody.
Usually in the evenings after dinner, she thinks about her friends
and prays for them. George used to sit upstairs thumping his cane
on the floor and would never bother her in the evenings, especially
Wednesday when she went to  prayer meetings.  Sometimes just
46 before going she would sit and relax, pour herself some ice tea or
lemonade while singing to herself. She could smell George and saw
him everywhere. He would listen to every move she made.
On her way to the store (stepping outside she looks mean and
quick at the trash outside her window) she makes up her mind that
she wants to see George. "He doesn't have to know I want to come,"
she thinks. "I don't have to put it in the letter. I'll just go." She
mails the letter and walks towards Anthony's Grocery Corner.
Mr. Anthony is telling her how he gets rid of arthritis pains in
his fingers when Ace comes in; he wants to know what is on sale
today. Mr. Anthony tells him without taking his eyes off Helen,
"There's been no sale here yet, 'cept on day-old cookies." It's been
that way long before Ace started coming to the store, and "It'll be
that way 'til I can find somethin' else to give the kids for soda
bottles." He turns away from Helen now and is talking to Ace
who brushes past Helen a couple of times until she says, "Hi" and
wants to know how he's doing. It's been a long time. Not long
enough though. George? Haven't seen him.
Ace wants her to think back real hard because he isn't the kind
of man to ask a woman to do anything she doesn't want to do. He
made love to her so long ago, he can't remember. What he has to
say is important; he doesn't want his business in the street; they'd
better go over to his place. His brand new station wagon is right
outside. ("Is that you out there, Ace?" Mr. Anthony asked. "Ain't
nobody else but!" Ace said.) Then he turns and whispers to her
again that it is about Chicago and the time he met her on the road.
She still ignores him and plans on getting back to the house to see
if anybody has been there soon enough to help her convince herself
there is nothing Ace can say that is worth hearing.
Mr. Anthony doesn't believe in cash registers and even though his
mind for figurin' is still good, it doesn't help matters. He thinks
everybody wants to put it on the bill so he never bothers to ask —
just goes straight for the notebook. When Helen shows him the ten,
he grabs it fast, and things kind of speed up, and he keeps looking
at Ace to see if he is going to do something about his bill.
"You hit the number, Helen. I know Ace here hit 1313 for a
quarter."
47 "No, Mr. Anthony, one of my tenants paid rent. I guess that's
almost like hittin' it."
"Yeah. Ace told me before he played, he dreamt 1313."
Helen starts to leave. Her arthritis is giving her trouble every now
and then. She doesn't know what to do — quit the job or go on
welfare. "Maybe by winter," she told Mr. Anthony, taking him up
on his suggestion, "I'll go on welfare."
On the way home, a kid bumps into her knee. His mother catches
him with the switch as he runs for the door. It looks like both of
them are in the air when she starts laying it on him; and Helen is
ready to drop her groceries on his head, but his mother jerks his
arm hard enough with a few quick strokes to change his direction in
mid-stride while steady working with the switch on her son's barefoot
and bony legs.
Ace catches up with her. He touches her on the arm; he has
plans; her house is good a place as any. Her orange leather dress
reflects more sunlight than the windows. He likes it but doesn't say
so. With him she can do better. When Betty gave her the dress, she
wanted to dye it black. Ace looks over his shoulder again at his
station wagon. He is going to get himself a pickup truck to do some
local hauling on his own. He can do that with a station wagon if
he wants plus he has the luxury of a big car.
"You and me, Helen, baby, we are opposites — you like to work
hard and I don't. Now we could make it. Ain't that right? I mean
ain't that about the most natural relationship you can think of? . . .
Now when that farmer walks up to me at the fillin' station . . ."
(They were at the door now. Helen tries to balance her groceries on
her knee. Ace holds them for her while she opens the door and turns
on the hall light still trying to decide if Sonny had sense enough to
come home.) "Ace," she said, "you want to come in for awhile?"
"Yeah, baby, what you think I walked all the way up here for?"
"Well, come on in and make yourself at home."
"Helen, you listenin' to me?"
"I heard you, Ace. You can come in but you can't stay long. I
got things to do."
"Well you're gonna hear some more, you cold woman!"
"Now explain to me how come I'm cold when I've invited you
in my house."
"I ain't talkin' about that. Hospitality is one thing, but havin'
babies is another. Helen where's the baby you were about to have
in that farmer's car?"
48 "Want some coffee? I'll get some."
She worries about Ace spilling some on her chair covers and
starts looking around for something, the phone book maybe, or the
church fan. Ace drinks his sweet the way Sonny does. Sonny uses
half a pound of sugar when he makes cool-aid. He puts in enough
sugar to make a barrel of cool-aid and it's even pre-sweetened.
(They laugh.) "And if that ain't enough," she said while putting
the tray on the table, "he puts in half dozen lemons." ("A half
dozen. Damn!") "Well maybe not," she continues, "maybe just
three or four."
She gets up to adjust the shade and then sits back down telling
Ace she doesn't know what she is going to do with that boy of hers,
and that she hasn't seen him since Friday. (Ace slips the bottle back
into his vest-pocket.) "You're really celebratin' aren't you?"
"Helen, don't go preachin' to me now. I love you, baby, but the
preachin' got to go."
"Call it what you want. I'll have no alcoholics in my house."
He drinks his coffee. This time he promises about the whisky. He
has to go some place just on the other side of town he says, and if he
has a chance he'll stop to see George.
Helen is walking back to the kitchen; neither one of them
remembers when they last saw George. She wants to know how
George is doing. Ace knows that's why he is going over there. But
there is one thing he wants to get straight first — "Do you or don't
you love the man? Don't give me none of your off-the-wall preachin'.
All I want to know, baby, is what I asked you."
She doesn't answer at first. She just stares at the wallpaper. Ace
looks around to see if Sonny or someone is standing in the doorway.
He doesn't know for sure what she's doing; she could be figuring
out something she never asked herself before and took for granted.
He sips his coffee. The room is quiet except for that and the traffic
gathering every two or three minutes outside the window. He asks
her again and then tells her it doesn't matter how she feels about
George or anybody else for that matter because whether she knows
it or not Helen Stokes is Ace's woman.
She still keeps quiet, looking at the wallpaper like she understands
it. Ace tells her this is no time to act crazy. He is going to ask George
the same questions because he has waited long enough for them to
reach some definite decision. There is no sense in saying or pretending you love somebody if you don't. "You bitch! Are you
listenin' to me?"
49 Helen wants to get up to do something — either get Ace more
coffee or turn on the TV., but her knees hurt. She puts both hands
on her knees like she is going to do a half-stand-get-down slowly to
scrub. Then Ace tells her if she doesn't love anybody except Sonny
that is nobody's loss and Sonny's gain because although he loved
her, he isn't about to make a fool of himself. After all George
treated her like a flunky and he is promising to treat her like a
woman should be treated — night clubbing, cabarets that she's seen
people all dressed up for on Friday nights; like the one they went to
when she first started taking care of Sonny. Her friends, the ones
with the happy smiles in church on Sundays, were his clubbin'
partners. "There ain't but so many black people in this town," he
told her ".. . It only stands to reason then that when I say you're
missing out on the sociable side of life, you're also missing an
opportunity to get to know your cut-buddies. They know all about
God like you and how to swing when the time comes. You can't be
narrow-minded. You want to be like George? He can't see no further
than his damn nose, and only sees that when he's real broad-minded.
Tell me somethin'. Has George ever talked to you like I do?"
She stares at him. There is a silence different from the way she
kept quiet before. Ace is not like regular company, the way sister
Beulah is (Ace drops over once in a blue moon although he used to
come all the time before something happened or he made up his
mind to forget her; and even though he has been to see her only
twice in the last four or five months, she'd see him passing on the
street. There was no cause to speak. He wanted to discuss some
important business before, and she was never interested), rather he
is company that doesn't come around on proper visits like Beulah
because you don't have any idea when to expect him if he doesn't
come around on Friday night smelling like whisky and cologne with
his ascot, a bright silk orange smooth space in front of his neck that
he wears with just about everything. She likes him. ("I like you, Ace,"
she said. "I never thought I did before because anybody can see you
ain't no good.") Then he told it to her straight — "Look, baby, you
don't have to tell me what I've already known since the first time
we got a change to understand each other. In short, you love me
and I love you and I'm movin' in. And if loudmouth George got
anything to say about it, he better get to sayin' it because I'm calling
the cops on the mother."
"Do what?"
50 "You heard me. You think I don't know who wiped out Sonny's
ol' man."
Gray hair is woven in mainly at the top, and on the sides and
you can see sweat. He keeps pointing out all the important things
he wants to do as if he has written it all down. She said George
didn't do anything he'd have to go to jail for; at least as far as she
knows. Then he stands up, takes off the sport coat and throws it
on the piano stool. He says that's what they have to talk about and
lights up a cigarette, putting a hand out to stop Helen from looking
for the ash tray.
Sonny comes in and goes straight upstairs. Helen hears him
messin' around. She motions to Ace to talk softly.
"He's gonna find out any way," he said. "He's gonna find out any
damn way." There is some whisky left. He has the bottle up to his
mouth as Sonny passes and stops at the front door.
"Hey, take it easy ol' man. Watch yourself 'round my mother."
Ace offers him a cigarette. They are both talking like they are
in Grand Central Station. Helen can see their lips move, but doesn't
hear anything.
"If you're plannin to meet Bernice somewhere, she won't be
there," said Helen.
They're laughing. Sonny is all bent over, then he is up straight.
Ace is hiding the place where he is going to have the new denture
put in. They slap hands once or twice and Sonny looks at Helen
out the corner of his eye. Ace reaches in his wallet and takes out
ten dollars, and calls Sonny a young punk. There is no law that
says you should have a ride like his, Ace said. It might be a station
wagon, but it is a new one and beats ridin' the bus. Sonny said he
saw some dudes staring at Ace's hub caps, and why in the hell would
he want to put spoke-wheels on a station wagon, but by that time
Ace is out the door. Sonny puts the money on the chair arm where
Helen sits and leaves.
"Helen!" shouted Ace from the steps. "Helen, I'm gonna bring
my car up this way. I'll be right back." Then he goes to the window
and peeps in on her (the same as he did that afternoon on the
road somewhere close to Chicago to see if she was still sitting there)
and finds her cleaning up the mess he and Sonny made. The other
time she was almost unconscious from exhaustion. The old car she
had paid fifty dollars for broke down a short time after steam started
blowing out of the front. She was able to get it a few miles further,
51 but she was on a paved country road that had barbed wire fences on
both sides and lanes only large enough for small cars.
She got the car secondhand just for the trip. There had to be a
gas station near by. She could see a sign flanked by fields of wheat
as she walked, having to step almost tiptoe on the gravel and weeds
whenever a car passed. If she had only brought some different shoes;
even an old pair of George's. "These I'm wearin' is good for the
beach," she thought, and began to squeeze under the shade of a
small tree. She looked at the tree once or twice when she thought
the sun was behind a cloud, just to get her eyes off the heat rising
above the wheat fields. "It might be a tall weed or a baby tree," she
mumbled as she sat down to rest looking like another hill of manure
with her pregnant self.
Helen was asleep when Mr. and Mrs. Chambers woke her up.
The car was closer than she thought because while Mrs. Chambers
was trying to wake her up she remembered Mr. Chambers went to
look at it, and then he was back in no time asking where was she
from. But Helen didn't say anything. From a distance she looked
like a drunkard. She was wearing an old denim shirt over her dress
and carried an extra one (which she used for a towel) because she
didn't have time to buy anything.
"Bertha, try to wave down one them cars passin'. Lookin' at her
ain't gonna help none," said Mr. Chambers.
"We gotta get her some water, Melvin. She's dry 'round the
mouth and still perspirin'."
Mrs. Chambers would close the door and wave her hand when
a car or truck passed. The motor almost started a few times. When
Mr. Chambers got out to have another look under the hood, Mrs.
Chambers shouted for him to look down the road. She kept pointing
until he turned around and said, "If he can't tow us, I'll ride up a
piece with him to McNeil's place." She took another look at Helen
and then watched Ace back his truck up along the side of the road
where the car was. Ace was in a hurry. Mrs. Chambers could see
that. "Any tractor-trailor with tags on it from every state is sure in
a hurry," she said.
Helen thought she was in Indiana. Ace told her later that she was
a hundred miles outside East St. Louis. The early start helped her
and she thought she made good time, but Ace told her (after he
52 came back with another half pint of whisky) that the routes are
different and about roads he knew about that are not on the map
and never will be.
Ace said when he went to get his car, the reason it took him so
long was because he saw Doc Johnson's old '51 Oldsmobile parked
in the alley. He thought at first Doc's creditors were after him. He
didn't want to tell Helen what for, but Doc owed somebody. He
saw him later on the corner. He could tell, he told Helen, that Doc
didn't want him to play, but he put five on 1313 again. With the
money from his next win he is going to move her to a part of town
that is more respectable. Well, if she likes where she lives, then he
is going to get himself a Hog, a good used one with fins and power
windows. He thought she understood, he said after mixing a little
whisky with his coffee, that he wouldn't always be driving the station
wagon. People change. After he moves in and they're married,
everybody will know when Ace and Helen are stepping out ready to
party.
George is the father of her baby and he let her go away. "See
what I mean, Helen, he don't care for you. I know he thought you
were going to see some relatives, but still if the man cared for you,
he would've made you stay home."
It is getting late in the evening. Supper is ready. It isn't much, a
small piece of leftover roast she got from the job and a few black-
eyed peas. There is no hesitation on Ace's part; he steps in the
kitchen and takes a seat like he used to when Silvey rented the
room upstairs. He used to come visit expecting Helen and Silvey
would answer the door. Then he'd talk to Silvey about old times
being careful not to mention her husband, Leroy. She became
paralyzed after his death. It happened so she could see, almost
beneath her window. She was half asleep, but protected from the
crowd running towards the corner as the ambulance approached
and cleared the confusion to give her a view of a murdered man
from the steelmill who might have been anybody except Leroy until
she saw the lunch pail.
Silvey never talked much to anybody except Helen after she came
out of hospital. A side of her body was slightly paralyzed, but you
couldn't tell right away. Ace used to say she looked younger than
Helen. He told Silvey the day she got out of the hospital that she
53 wasn't staying with Helen long. Silvey needed somebody to take
care of her stepson. Helen was the only friend she had.
Silvey liked to work but she used to take a week or two doing
what Helen would do on the weekend. She would tell Ace with
a smile that no matter what she started doing, Helen would be right
behind her to finish it.
"And don't let me get the idea to go back to a job I started the
same day, Ace," she said, talking under her breath while Helen
would play the piano. "If the job wasn't already finished I'd bump
into Helen on the way there."
Ace would laugh and tell her the news (Silvey didn't go many
places even when Leroy was around), and when he didn't know
something like whose name belongs to what face he'd shout to Helen
and she'd shout back echoing sounds with her piano chords.
"I know you two been talkin' 'bout me. Back here gossipin' with
Silvey as much as I do, Ace," Helen would say, and invite Ace
to have some supper.
"Woman, shut up. You don't know nothin'."
"Now, Ace," said Silvey.
They would eat and talk until late about Sonny and how they
needed a man around the house to do the dishes. At the time, Ace
thought it was a good idea to leave Sonny with Helen since he knew
she was swingin' low because her baby was born dead. Silvey told
him.
The food was always good and in no time Ace would have both
elbows propped on the table with his hands turning like a barbecue
rotisserie which stopped only to reach like a crane to the preserves
and iced tea. His eyes would be half closed and he'd get down to it.
When Ace didn't answer Silvey, Helen would. Silvey would try to
catch Helen's eye whenever Ace grabbed for the hot pan of biscuits
and shook his hands as he set them down tenderly and went to work
with the butter and preserves, but Helen would be laughing with
a mouth full of greens. Silvey always finished early and excused
herself after awhile with a pat on Ace's shoulder, squeezing by him
and the stove, telling Helen there was some of everything if Ace
wanted it.
When Helen and Ace started to eat alone, he reminded her how
there always seemed to be plenty to eat when Silvey was around.
Helen told him that was because they had two social security checks
coming in plus the money she got from her job helping out Mrs.
Murray. He asked her about the baby and told her he was willing
54 to forgive her and that he'd have raised the child like he was the
father, just like he was going to do for Sonny.
He saw Mr. and Mrs. Chambers another time when he was on his
way to California and they were still running the roadside market.
There wasn't time to stop; he just blew his horn and kept gettin'-up
since he wanted to make San Francisco in ten days. He made it in
twelve days and got a bonus.
The refrigerator motor hums and some kids are fighting in the
alley. He wants to know if George told her to get out after he saw
her pregnant and she nods her head; her eyes fill with water; her
face remains calm. She wants to know what gave him the idea that
he could just barge in her house and live with her like she is one of
his women, and starts to tell him that he might be the father, and
later said it, except Ace didn't hear nothing.
The leftovers she has prepared are o.k. for Sonny. Ace told her
Sonny is all right, but he's a hoodlum. Helen starts to say something
but Ace is up and making his way to the door.
"The first thing you gotta do is quit that slave labor. No wife of
mine.. . ." He walks fast and is in the hallway fumbling with the
bottle cap. Helen cuts on the light. She points to his shirt collar.
They stand there for awhile with him too drunk to fix it; then she
does and he is gone.
CHAPTER SIX
1
Everybody knows when you're dressed up to go somewhere and
you're trying to look like you're not — like you just dropped into the
poor section of town to see what it's about.
Bernice is playing the field. Sonny trusts her. The deep feeling
that he has for her is a discovery which for the time being can be
one-sided insofar as the giving is concerned so long as she recognizes
the slacks he has on are not khaki. He thinks for a second that he
wants to call her. If she is making time with some other dude, like
Jerome for instance, she probably knows by now that second-class
maintenance men have to be old enough to join the labor union to
get paid well. Bernice wanted to know what did a maintenance man
do, and Sonny told her about the job — he works the late shift
55 which is concerned mainly with hydraulics. "Jerome probably told
the bitch everything," he thinks.
There are some things he still wants to talk over with Jerome. It
wasn't the first time. "But the dude has got an attitude," he thinks
to himself. "He's been that way about Bernice ever since I told him
that her first father was white." (Sonny chuckles to himself and
looks to see if the lady is still in the phone booth.) "What do you
mean her first father was white?" he remembered Jerome asking.
"Was her second father African?" ("Yeah," Sonny told him.
"How'd you guess?") "No jive!" ("Well, all I know is the man is
blacker than you.")
He remembered Jerome sitting back in the chair listening like he
does when he is taking everything in, and breaking things down to
J-D (Jerome Dunbar) essentials — he sat up straight and his eyebrows lifted while his nose seemed to vibrate slightly.
"I saw a picture of him," said Sonny. "The dude is big too. He's
a lawyer some place."
Jerome didn't say much. There was not much Sonny knew about
Bernice's real father, and he wanted to talk about his girl anyway.
Jerome wasn't interested though. He pretended to be — he lifted his
eyebrows and stared out towards the street.
Sonny plans to see his partner again after he checks Bernice out.
The lady steps out of the phone booth. He puts out his cigarette and
calls. The line is busy. He tries again and she answers. Peaches is
with her and both of them are going into town; they could stop
and give him a lift where he wants to go. He said that's all right
with him since he only wants to see how things are going anyway.
He hangs up the phone, sits down on a nearby bench and waits.
The lady who used the phone before him leaves in a cab.
After awhile, they are blowing the car horn trying to get Sonny's
attention. Peaches looks fine. She is wearing a skirt of Bernice's. She
gets out to let Sonny in the back and he jumps in anxious to talk.
Bernice said "Hi" looking at him from the rear-view mirror and
Sonny nods. There is a big grin staring at him when he looks in the
mirror to catch her eye. He closes his mouth. Peaches and Bernice
are going downtown to Martin's. He can come if he wants. How's
Jerome?
56 "I was going downtown anyway to buy a few records. You can
drop me off any place on Broadway."
"What's Jerome doing these days?" said Bernice.
"I couldn't tell you. Haven't seen the dude. Peaches oughtta
know."
"What do you mean by that."
"Nothin'. I mean. I thought.. ."
"You thought it right," said Peaches.
"O.K., you two."
"Ease up, Peaches," said Sonny. "What's wrong. You and
Jerome . .."
"Look, Sonny, you and Jerome think you're somethin'. You want
to mess with somebody, you better mess with somebody else and
leave Peaches Gilmore alone cause that's one person I know who
won't take no ..."
"Ease up, Peaches."
".. . All I can say is you're lucky Bernice is here."
Bernice pulls over to the curb.
"Sonny, will this be O.K."
"How far are you goin'?"
"Over to the Plaza."
"That'll be all right. That's where I want to go anyway," said
Sonny.
When they turn the corner and drive towards the Plaza, Bernice
changes lanes but there are two lanes going opposite directions, and
after the stop-light change the other cars approach from a distance.
Bernice drives down the center; then she goes into a panic u-turn
that ends up beside a huge embottled ship (a sidewalk advertisement
for an antique shop) which in order to avoid hitting she parks
facing the window display, a jungle of the future serving as a
camouflage for a pair of pince-nez and grey hair. Sonny tells her
that she is on the sidewalk after the car stops, and she throws her
hands in her face. Mrs. Murray's watch with the diamond band and
some other things were scattered under the dashboard. Peaches picks
up the watch quickly, puts it back in her pocketbook. Bernice is
shaking her head and she stops to peep through her fingers when
Peaches asks if she is all right. Before Sonny can convince her that
he'd better drive, she starts the car again. The shopkeeper is shaking
his fist. She puts the car in reverse, and backs away.
Sonny keeps looking over his shoulder to tell her the way is clear.
57 Peaches checks her pocketbook and turns to look at Sonny. She
opens it and takes out a cigarette.
Bernice turns into the first parking lot; tells Peaches when she gets
her nerves together, she is ready to go home. Police cars seem to be
coining from everywhere. It looks to Bernice like the parking lot
attendant has on a state trooper's outfit without the hat; he stands
with his belt buckle framed by the window, hands on his hips waiting
for Bernice to get out of the car. It is her business if she wants to
stay one minute or all day. The price is the same, fifty cents per
hour.
She thinks the shopkeeper spots her from a passing taxi and she
dodges into a shoe store. Sonny goes the other way. Peaches suggests
that everybody meet at Canned Yams, but Sonny said he'll be
waiting at the parking lot.
Peaches went home. Bernice meets Sonny later that afternoon.
She and Sonny sit in the car for awhile until the attendant comes
and then Bernice said she wants to shop some more.
They window-shop and go in every store on Broadway. Bernice
looks for an artificial rose in Gertrude's Florists that she can wear as
a corsage and water when she wants. She finally buys an African
violet and turns to look for Sonny who said he saw Jerome standing
across the street wearing an old jacket and sunglasses. He was carrying his old shoeshine box.
Bernice crosses the street after leaving the store, walking among
the crowd and talking to Sonny who ends up on another corner
looking around ready to ask her if she thinks the dude who has
turned his back over by the shoeshine box is Jerome. Bernice is
waving her gloves above the traffic. When the light changes Sonny
walks over to her smoking a cigarette, and she leads him to Martin's.
She tries on slacks first, then tennis outfits; then slacks again until
she decides she wants the pair Sonny said he likes, and she doesn't
because every girl in town is wearing them.
For supper that evening they sart with a salad in a skyline
restaurant. Bernice tells Sonny her parents are going out for the
evening. They know a lot about Sonny already — about his plans
58 to be an architectural engineer; that Helen isn't his real mother, and
wants him to leave school to help with the bills. ("Well, maybe she
thinks I'm going to work two jobs and still go to school," said
Sonny.)
Betty was surprised to learn the news. She and John had a long
discussion about how Helen is good at cleaning house, but that's
about all. Bernice said Betty told her father she might not be as
energetic, but that she understood children. ("That's obvious," said
John. "Just look at your daughter.")
"I was eavesdropping, Sonny, but I didn't mean to, but I'm sure
they wanted me to hear because they were talking with the bedroom
door open."
Bernice excuses herself and comes back with a new shade of lipstick. Sonny wonders why she doesn't eat. Bernice moves her lips
from a wide smile to a pout, then starts eating. She touches the fork
only with her teeth and tries to keep a pleasant look.
"What college do you want to go to, Sonny?"
"I don't know. It takes a lot of money."
"I told my mother you were thinking about Inverness State. She
didn't like it. I think it's because Daddy's college always lost to them
in football. That's how they met."
"What about your real father?"
"My .. . Oh, I remember telling you that. Was it when we met at
the dance? . . . Well anyway, John is my real father. When Peaches
told me about Helen, I. . ."
"You thought it would make a little ghetto boy feel better."
"Oh, come on, Sonny don't be obnoxious!"
"Well, why did you fie?"
"It was because I liked you and wanted to be your friend."
"My friend! Shee-it, we might as well get something else straight,
I don't plan on going to any college. I'm gonna join the service and
learn a trade."
"If that's the way you feel. I have no objection."
"You have no objection! I could give a ... I could care about
your objection."
"All right. You don't have to shout. Just go along with what I say
when you meet my parents."
"Look I don't plan to change myself in any way. Your father
might have bread but that means nothin' to me."
Sonny doesn't remember much about his parents, but Bernice
wants him to talk about them anyway. He said Leroy used to take
59 him over to the park when he was a kid. The park is not the same
now. (He thinks of the old lady screaming the day he and Jerome
waxed the two white dudes.) There was one time when a young
kid fell and broke his arm after holding himself upside down on the
monkey pole, and just laid on the ground crying. Bernice was
shocked that he saw it and didn't do anything. But those things
happen, and he knew if Baldy didn't get up then, he'd better die
right there.
Leroy worked swing-shift, sometimes he was home in the evenings
until four; sometimes all day until late at night. The neighbors were
asked to keep an eye on things. Sonny didn't know anybody by name
at the time and wasn't supposed to answer the door.
A lady smelled gas one day and started rapping on the door and
ringing the bell a few hours after Leroy went to work. It was late at
night or early in the morning, maybe just before daybreak. Anyway,
they were living in the projects then. His main job was to lock the
door and put the safety chain on the way Leroy taught him. He
had to stand on a chair to do it, and Sonny remembered locking his
father out once when they practiced. Bernice thought it was cute.
("It might be cute, but it didn't feel cute.")
The landlord's wife used to do their laundry sometimes. It
probably was her bangin' the hell outta the door. Sonny thought she
was a burglar and he was trying to get dressed fast. As he smokes,
Sonny tells Bernice that if the lady said anything about the gas,
he didn't hear it.
He remembers standing for awhile on the fire escape, and then
going back to get his jacket, and by this time whoever it was had
opened the door and was trying to get the safety chain off. Halfway
down the fire escape to the window of the next apartment, he heard
the door crash.
There was a nude couple sitting in bed when he passed the next
apartment window. The woman pointed to Sonny on the fire
escape. He said that's when he started to cry because he was getting
dizzy. The man reached for him after he got the window open as
you would a light switch, knocking him against the railing. They
were both drunk. He started talking about Sonny's mouth (Goddamn ! Did you see how big. . . !) The lady caught him by the
pants' leg; then the ankle. She would try to reach for Sonny and the
blanket she held in front of her would slip. Sonny said he didn't
move. He crawled into a knot because it was all over, the way it is
when you play superman.
60 The man knew Leroy. He stood for awhile trying to figure out
what was so familiar about this kid. The woman put on a slip and
began whispering to him. She handed him his pants, and he threw
them on the floor. They got into an argument and Sonny said he let
loose again, and the drunk stared at his mouth and told him to
shut up. He did. They got back in bed. Sonny said he tried the door,
and a beer can hit the wall behind him. He began to cry again and
a shoe missed him; he finally went to sleep on the rug next to the
radiator.
In the morning, the two figures were curled in bed. The lady got
up to pull the shade down and didn't notice him. Sonny said that's
when he started getting thoughts about going back up the fire
escape.
The window was noisy, he didn't raise the shade. After he
climbed outside, he closed the window slowly and walked up to his
floor. From the window he could see the broken door leaning against
the wall. A few people were passing in the hallway dressed for
church. The window was locked now. He knocked. The best thing
to do would be to do what they did to the door; he took off his
shoe. Some people passed again in the hall and he shouted. He
thought his father wasn't home from work yet.
The window raised up and Leroy stood there in his work clothes.
He yanked him inside. Where in the hell was he the whole night?
Sonny said he opened his mouth to cry and knuckles of steel hit his
jaw. His father said because of all the trouble he caused, Mrs. Percy
had a stroke last night and was in the hospital.
Bernice asked again about Helen. Sonny didn't know her then.
Leroy was getting married to Silvey, the junior's Sunday school
teacher. She came over the next day while Leroy was fixing the door.
Leroy was making some measurements when Silvey came in. She
brought a basket with some sandwiches and other stuff. Sonny only
had oatmeal for breakfast and the usual frozen dinners were put
out on the sink for lunch.
Sonny told his father how there was a lady screaming, and where
he stayed last night. Leroy was going to lock him in the bedroom
while he went to the hardware store, but Silvey said she would
stay.
She helped around the apartment for most of the day, put Sonny
to bed after lunch and early to bed after supper. Sonny said he was
still hungry, and couldn't wait until breakfast the next day. Leroy
didn't speak to him.
61 Bernice wants another cup of coffee. Sonny doesn't care for one,
and stands up more to stretch than to buy cigarettes. Pierre fills the
water glasses and lights Bernice's cigarette.
An elderly couple stands at the entrance. Pierre notices them after
the cashier said something in code which got the attention of all the
waiters. The headwaiter who is talking to a waitress turns immediately, and pops his fingers in Pierre's direction.
"He's been bothering me," Bernice told Sonny. "He wants to go
out. He's too old and fresh for me. I like them to be about his height
and with a little heavier accent, a little more urbane. . . . Oh, I'm
sorry. Finish what you were saying. Did your father and Silvey get
married right away?"
"Finish what I was sayin'. You asked me about my parents. It
wasn't my idea."
"Yes. Am I. .. ."
"Well if you think I'm here to tell you my life story, you better
forget it."
"I'm not thinking anything of the sort. Don't be silly, Sonny. You
kuow I love you."
"Yeah. I know you love me. Like you love Pierre."
"O.K., Sonny, if you want to be that way, when I finish my coffee
we can leave." Bernice gazes over his shoulder. A girl is wearing
a yellow pleated mini-skirt and a brown blouse with no collar or
sleeves.
Sonny studies the menu. A group picture of the waiters is on the
back as part of a design used to describe what restaurants on the
moon will be like. The building is designed something like the one
they are in except there is more glass so you can see earth.
Yeah. Jerome is hustling shoe shines. Sonny is sure it's him this
time, and tugs Bernice's sleeve once they are through the revolving
doors, but she is oblivious to everything except window displays and
fashion models getting off from work. She turns to see if her sleeve
is caught or maybe discovered by a famous clothes designer, looking
up at Sonny over her sunglasses, and then quickly at the Afghanistan
dog raising hell. The owner is in a limousine passing packages from
the delivery boy's hands over her lap. The delivery boy gives the
62 other packages to the chauffeur. ("Shelia! Come here this minute!")
Shefia barks and wraps her leash around the trash can. The chauffeur picks her up and throws her in the front seat. Bernice and
Sonny cross over to the parking lot.
They speak to each other in sign language. When either one
happens to be walking ahead because of being separated in the
crowd, the other stares blankly and simpers.
Part of the unspoken plan is to drive to her house. She pulls over
to the bus stop and Sonny agrees with a nod that he'd like to meet
Mr. and Mrs. Murray.
"We'll tell them that you're going into the service and might want
to make a career out of it. O.K.?" said Bernice.
Later that evening beside the swimming pool, Sonny is sipping a
coke while strolling in the yard. Mr. and Mrs. Murray walk out to
the patio. They have a short talk. The party they are going to isn't
far. Usually the Matthews stop their parties early because of Joyce
and Harold, twins.
There is lots to talk about — the dog Sonny saw downtown was
a terrier if it had long hair and seemed spirited. Mr. Murray said
a collie like Tippy. Bernice was inside probably imitating the statue
of an Indian dancer. How's Helen?
"Shee-it, would Jerome love this," Sonny thought. "That mother
shinin' shoes. Knew he was up to somethin'. Thought he was movin'
in on me with Bernice, especially after what Peaches said. The last
time they had a fight, Jerome slapped her, beat the hell outta her,
and the next day she was all up in the man's arms talkin' about
marriage and children." ("Helen's been with us a long time," said
John. "I guess I love her as much as you.") ("Maybe you do," said
Sonny.)
Bernice is still upstairs trying on the clothes she bought. She
definitely doesn't like Sonny. How can she give him the hint? Tell
him that she forgot, and had a date, or that she has homework.
The more time she spends upstairs, the better for him. "If he only
knew what I had in store for him, the little honey," she said to
herself. "The stupid bum. He thinks he can just get a date with me
whenever he feels like it. Didn't call me for a week, and when he
does, expects me to run into his arms without any . . . without any
reservation. There're guys with cars I don't even speak to."
6.3 "Bernice! Bernice! We're leaving now. Be sure and feed Tippy,"
shouted Betty.
"The Pagoda?" said Bernice.
"No, dear. I'll call you if we stay late. Too tight."
When she finally comes downstairs, Tippy begins jumping against
the cellar door. They couldn't have any unmotivated nudity because
Betty or John might drop in anytime. The party is just down the
street. Matthew always challenges someone to a sprint, and John
usually gets out of it by going to the liquor store. The whole neighborhood knows when they race. If there're more than two racing
with him, only one makes it from the driveway to the street since
Matthew runs like a broken field runner with a trick knee — his
arms move fast and are kept close to the body, more like a road-
runner. (Bernice is showing Sonny the study now, and reciting an
avant-garde poem from memory.
commitment gives way
for a dawn cremation
(basic changes
where water looks rose
all the rose looks the same)
while listening
to a road-runner's echo
in an alley
from a high-rise apartment;
the faucet leaks
engine starting
a dog barks
surf sound of traffic
on a distant freeway.)
When he gets to the slope which appeared after a week of ninety
degree heat that caused the dividing line on the road to sink down
with the asphalt and swerve, he was a locomotive and would be
talking until two in the morning about how he didn't touch ground.
Matthew went to Inverness State. At college, John never beat him.
Bernice couldn't tell Sonny what happens when they race; but she
knows sometimes John comes home on his way to the liquor store.
While she is upstairs trying on her new bikini to show Sonny, the
front door opens, and she quickly puts on her bathrobe. She doesn't
hear Sonny speak to her father, but she hears John call her absent-
minded. It sounds like he is taking everything in the bar back with
him to the party.
64 "Bernice. Remember you have company," John said in the intercom.
With lips of various shades and the lipstick decided upon for the
evening held in her hand, Bernice whispers softly, "Don't take the
rum," which is with the other bottles in a box under his arm as
John checks for the car keys. He tells Sonny if women would start
being on time then they could liberate themselves. An intercom
blast follows. As John hurries out the door, a house slipper ricochets
off the stairway wall.
"Fix me whatever you're having," she said an hour later when
she finds Sonny examining the liquor labels. But Sonny's too slow.
She gets a book on how to fix drinks. Sonny watches. She follows
instructions for a martini and tops everything off with some lime
and a straw. After the first sip, she is rubbing her eyes.
"It's funny," said Bernice, "for most people it goes to their head,
but for me it goes straight to my eyes." (Sonny told Jerome later
that was the last thing he understood her say for the rest of the
evening.)
She kicks off her loafers and stands on top of the stereo cabinet.
Her jeans fit tightly, and she wears a shirt belonging to some guy
who could carry an unabridged interspace thesaurus under his arm.
Then she begins pulling Sonny on the rug, balancing both knees on
his back. He is a motorboat. The color of the water is blue-green
with yellow slime. Sonny nods. Bernice figures out while feeding her
engine an olive that the amount of pressure on his back is proportional to the way the alcohol moves in his stomach. Doesn't he know
anything! ?
When Sonny stands up again, they are in the kitchen. Tippy is
waging war in the basement with some insect. Whenever Bernice
laughs in a high giggle after a sip, he gives a forewarning whine at
the corner of the cellar door. The charge upstairs has to end with
four paws hitting the door at the same time because a less graceful
tumble follows after a quick second effort.
With their glasses almost empty, and on tiptoe in time with a
string arrangement of "You Better Believe It!" they make their way
past the cellar door to the bar again. There is a whimper and then
the collision.
Sonny has to take off his shoes to walk on the stairway. It is the
policy of the house. Any disagreement meant back on the rug in the
living room with part of an original in his stomach.
"You're drunk," she said. "I know you don't believe me, Sonny,
65 but I know. I can tell by your eyes." She places his arms around her
neck, and tries to carry him.
"The red mohair slacks are from New York," she said sitting
down on the house slipper and pulling Sonny down beside her.
"They have a narrow bell-bottom which comes out like this."
Bernice plays with Sonny's cuffs ignoring the look in his eye.
There is to be nothing involving physical sex. The party is only
down the street. A gallop is heard outside. Bernice goes to look. She
turns up the stereo because the D.J. decides to play the entire album,
and Tippy is singing a solo in a reserved pandemonium audible to a
less taciturn friend across the street who is giving an account of
Matthew's destruction.
Afterwards she shows Sonny her bedroom. There are shades of
an exotic flamingo pink blending in with some color on the ceiling
that is beginning to breathe. Bernice steps into the closet to change.
("Don't stand there holding your Martini! Just throw those clothes
anywhere. The straws are on the stairway.") Sonny's fingers are
loosening up around the glass. If the possibility of emptying it without seeing her reflection existed, he would put the glass down. There
is always the same amount, and the right angle cramp near his
elbow is numb and asleep. Straws had to be made for drinking
geometrically.
"Ready, Sonny? How do you like it?" She turns around.
"Fine, baby." The edge of the bed is still under him; there is no
harm in checking. Bernice wants another drink. No rug is visible —
clothes and shoes allow only a few clear spaces from the bed to the
mirror where she stands turning around arabesque.
"Sonny, I'd like another drink!" The words mean nothing to the
figure behind her in the mirror, and after a sigh, a green dress
disappears with the mohair pants into the closet. When she comes
out again, Sonny has put the glass on a shoe box sitting on top of
paper bags and sale slips. The dress dances close to the glass, and
Sonny points until she understands. ("Sonny! Stop!") Another sip
and she is back in the closet. Out again with blue-jeans, shirt down
to her knees, looking for her loafers. ("Have you seen them anywhere ! Sonny. Have you . . . Are you listening to me? Hey, stupid!
You're wrinkling my new dress!") A couple of jumps on clear
spaces. There has to be a way to get him to wake up, before eleven
o'clock. Given as good advice is the appendage-jerk, a stubborn
laboratory method from freshman zoology.
66 When she puts both hands on his face to squeeze it in an effort to
get the eyes open, he smiles.
"Will you kindly get your greasy, kinky hah off my new dress!"
Two quick punches in the stomach sit him up; one hand grabs the
dress and she is out the door, taking another look; he collapses in
the same place.
Bernice goes downstairs. From the doorway, it looks like more
cars are jammed in the Matthews driveway and people are still
arriving. When she opens the cellar door, Tippy runs straight to the
water bowl. In the back yard is a hammock, a place to rest while
Tippy exercises. The light in the bedroom glows for all the world
to know where nasty Sonny sleeps.
The phone rings and Tippy races to the backdoor. (Helen's job
is definitely out of the question no matter how much Bernice wants
to visit her. Peaches' house is good enough to get experience. Anybody might answer the phone there. People walk in and out of there
all during the day.) Phone calls are nice but since they are for
Betty sometimes, it is somebody else's job to answer it. Tippy is on
the screen with each paw, doing a boomerang into Bernice's arms.
"Hel-lo darling, this is your mother speaking."
"Hi, mom. How's the party?"
"Copesetic. I'm visiting the twins in the playroom. We're having
a lot of fun here with the chemistry set making invisible ink. Just
a minute. ("Herald! This is my martini you're not supposed to pour
that purple powder in Mrs. Murray's martini. Understand? .. .
Here. Say hello to Bernice. Herald wants to say hello.") The phone
sounds like it falls in a fish bowl, there is another liquid sound; a
glass breaks. Joyce picks up the phone. ("Bet you don't know who
this is?" "Yes I do, Joyce. How're you?") Betty shouts something
about her satin dress. A chair moves back. The phone is bouncing
on the floor or dangling over the end of a desk next to a wall or
bookcase and tin trash can. ("Hello, who is this speaking? ... Hi
Herald, how're you? This is Bernice. Is Mrs. Murray O.K.?")
("Uh-huh, she's fine. She's in the bathroom, but I think she'll be
back. Here she is.") The phone is loose again. ("Herald or Joyce or
whatever the hell your name is I'm going to tell your mother. This
is one of my best evenin' dresses.") (Mother, don't lose your
temper!")   ("I didn't do it, Mrs.  Murray. Herald did.")   "It's
67 ruined. I'll never be able to wear it again with this fuchsia spot on
it." ("That's magenta, Mrs. Murray.") ("Hello, Mother, are you
all right?") "Hello, Bernice how're things at home?" "Everything
is fine here." "Is Sonny still there? .. . Well, remember our little
talk." ("Yes, Mom.") "And we'll probably be home late. People
are still arriving." (O.K., Mom. Bye.")
"Sonny has to wake up," said Bernice to herself, "maybe a glass
of orange juice will get him up. I'll have to drive that lazy adolescent to the bus stop at least. He'll want me to drive him home, but
I'll only do it if he promises never to come back or call me again."
Tippy wants something more to eat. An opened refrigerator door
with revolving shelves is his speed. Bernice holds him by the collar
and puts the dog food can close to his nose, but the brown eyes
stare at the roast. The dog food is spoon-sculptured to look like the
roast. What she takes from the refrigerator she stacks with other
food on the table. The kitchen is going to be off limits again after
Helen finds the mess — everything in the pantry and refrigerator is
piled up on the table and floor the same as it was the weekend Helen
told Mr. Murray that coming to work on weekends just to keep
things in order wasn't worth the extra cost to her.
"Oh, it's you," Bernice said to Sonny, "I was going to sic Tippy
on you if you didn't get up." She lets Tippy out the door. They go
into the living room and sit down on the rug. Sonny is carrying a
fifth of scotch with him now and a glass. They joke about how he
doesn't get far from the booze. He holds her hand, pulling her with
soft persuasion on the rug beside him.
"Did I show you the control room, Sonny?"
"Naw. But that's O.K. Maybe next time."
"Next time? What next time?" She tries to hide her smile. He
kisses her.
"I thought you'd never get around to that!"
Sonny sits back almost knocking over his drink.
"Get 'round to what!"
"Get around to what you just did. What do you think? . .. Now
you can leave. Do you want me to drive you home?" He tries to
kiss her again. "Sonny. Come on. What is this?" He pins her on the
floor trying to land a kiss whenever she starts to talk. "Sonny, you've
had too much to drink. Much too much." She turns over on her
stomach and crawls behind the sofa. "You're too drunk to even
know what you're doing, Sonny, honey." Sonny fumbles with her
tight pants, his hands lost in her blousy shirt. Bernice stands up and
68 takes off her pants. She lies back under him wrapping her legs
around his waist, guiding him to come down easy.
Later, there is a peek over the sofa.
"Did you hear someone at the door," said Bernice.
"Yeah. I heard something."
Bernice starts to get up. Sonny pulls her around the waist when
he hears the voices.
"Are you sure this is where Matthew lives?"
"I'm sure."
"I don't see anybody."
"It's down the street," shouted Sonny from behind the sofa.
"Thank you," they said and left.
"Sonny, anytime you want to come visit me," said Bernice, "I
mean, anytime you want to go out. . ." she said pushing him away.
"Did you hear someone? . . . Well, next week, I'll be at college
registering for courses, but after that Til be home on weekends. I'm
not staying on campus this year." A peek over the sofa, and she
leans back to share a cigarette. "I can tell Helen and I are going to
be on better speaking terms."
"Why?"
"Because I got to know everything you do. In case you're running
around with another woman."
"I thought so."
"Like Peaches for instance."
"Peaches? She ain't nothin' without Jerome. She'll tell you that.
After that fight, in a week they're back together again."
"Quit lying, Sonny. I heard what she told you."
"Damn. If you don't believe me ask the bitch."
"Well, all I know is I'm nobody's woman . . ."
"Listen here, just a minute ago I thought you said . .."
"That's what you thought, nigger! I'm Bernice Murray. Remember that." She put on her pants and shirt. "Sonny, someday
I'd like to meet Silvey. Where does she live?"
"You'll have to meet her by yourself. You might think I'm lyin',
but she spit on me once."
"Whoever told you, you could drink? . .. For what? What did she
spit on you for?"
"Hell if I know," he said sitting up, reaching for the glass.
"Give me some." He holds the glass as she lifts her head. "What'd
she spit on you for?"
"The day she got home from the hospital I was at school, but she
69 thought I was hookin'. And when she called the next morning to
find out, she wasn't even sorry for what she did. She said I deserved
it. She told me I was more trouble to her than I was when my
father was alive. I almost spit on her, but she looked like she was
'bout to die."
"You're crazy, Sonny. Let's go before my parents get back. I'll
meet you in the car. My coat's upstairs." Sonny takes one last drink.
Bernice watches him as she starts to run upstairs. "On second
thought I'll drive." She grabs the keys and runs upstairs to get her
coat.
CHAPTER SEVEN
1
Ace told George what Helen was doing after she screamed and
turned to run around back. He said at the time he was walking
across the field. It's full of booby traps. Kids around here, he said,
are more dangerous than a runaway truck.
It was Thursday morning, Ace said, the day the garbage is picked
up. Dogs barked. Helen was screaming and crying. He saw George
trying to keep low next to the aluminum fences. When George was
almost to his backyard, he stood by first base and looked for Helen.
Then he climbed in his back window.
Ace told George there is nobody who walks like he does. He knew
right away what happened the minute he saw George's shadow and
Helen trying to tie a bandage; her hands covered with blood. He
wanted to see how badly she was hurt, but Mr. Cloud ran out of
his house. All Ace was concerned about was Helen. Mrs. Cloud was
doing a war dance in the window. Helen had given up trying to get
the blouse to fit around both shoulders and was mopping up the
alley, beating softly at Leroy's neck, her head moving back and forth
the way it used to for George when she massaged his back. Mr.
Cloud took one look and ran back into the house to phone. Ace
said he didn't want to get involved; kept hoping that Helen would
see him because he knew that he could get her out of any mess
George made.
"See there, that proves you don't love her, man. That's enough
proof for me," Ace said still with one hand on the doorknob ready
to leave.
70 "You just got here, Ace," said George. "Sit down. I got a new
deck."
Ace promises to let him know if something comes up. Jobs are
hard to find. The whole country is in a depression. New York to
California.
He has only a few minutes. Since he doesn't want to see George's
face again over by Vermont Avenue, he thought the two of them
had better talk. George said he doesn't know what happened, one
minute he and Helen were arguing and pushing; the next minute
some big dude grabbed him by the collar and shoved him.
None of what George wants to talk about interests Ace; the past
is over and done with, except of course, if George thinks he is jivin'
about Helen, then he'll call the cops. It happened more than five
years ago, and the neighborhood is still talking about how much
Sonny looks like his father.
He offers George a drink, and they begin talking about old times,
when they used to swing out together — about how Ace used to
drop by for an afternoon of blackjack, penny a game. He is still
driving the truck, and has a small interest in buying another. Things
have changed. The initial down payment is paid on the new one. He
owes the company for some damage done to freight. (A few crates
of furniture, some chairs and lamps were stolen once while he was
making a delivery in Dayton.) But he has some extra change in his
pocket these days and plans to open a savings account. George
reaches for the half pint.
"When this is gone, I got some more. Some scotch. I see you still
drinking the good stuff." He pours a drink. "Yeah. How's she
doin'? You sound like you in love with her. Nobody can love her.
What the hell... ?"
Herby and Baldy are in the back yard shooting crap. Ace laughs
as he watches George limp over to the window.
"The one with the bald head is her favorite," said George. Ace
loosens his ascot and looks around for some glasses.
"Herby, what the hell you doin'? You have to roll a four," said
Baldy with an eye on the upstairs window. The day George's leg gets
well Baldy wants to be the first to know because he saw Helen's
face the day he went to watch her new color television which she
always talked about but never came. He told Herby it looked like
she'd been to the dentist and a wall ran into her.
"It's almost time for the game. Comes on at two-thirty," said
Baldy. He held his lip tight, and let the dice loose.
7i "George, cut on a light," shouted Ace. "Why you keep it so damn
dark? Cheap sonofabitch. At least open the shades."
There was a time before when they both wanted the same woman.
On Saturday afternoons before either of them knew Helen, and
when Ace used to live in his truck, they'd play cards and talk about
Silvey. For a long time it was no one else but her. She didn't get
married until she was close to thirty, not because she liked to club
with Ace or didn't like to be pinned down; it was just that she
didn't go anywhere — if she wasn't visiting somebody, she was
taking care of her flower bed.
When one of her cute cousins came to town, they'd have a
sociable get together. George didn't like talking to anyone except
Silvey. Ace didn't care one way or the other since they both knew
Silvey had everything — good looks, personality, money. She was the
best. On weekday mornings she'd be in her flower bed with her
orange slacks and straw hat; and there was a smile with a southern
accent.
Sonny needed a father to look after him. Silvey was right, she had
no business trying to bring up a kid like him. Ace told George that
he and Sonny get along. Sonny borrowed his car the other day.
"It won't be long and he'll get one of his own," said George.
The mailman comes. George recognizes the handbills from where
he is sitting. He gets up to get the fifth of scotch, and sets it on the
table.
"Well, Ace, I'd go as high as a nickel a game if I thought I'd
break you." George offers him a drink, but Ace said he's got things
to do and starts to leave. He opens the door, talking as he looks
across the street.
"See you around, my man," said Ace. On his way to the car,
another car pulls beside him and he leans over; elbows resting on
the chrome, and then his neck bends back after he slaps the other
guy on the shoulder, laughing. The car pulls off and Ace waves,
checking for the car keys. He taps his horn a few times, and pulls
out of the parking place. At the stop sign he comes to a halt, burns
rubber (screaming "Mercy! Mercy!"), and makes a sharp turn.
The car shifts to one side and Ace leans towards the steering wheel.
There are only a few things to pack at his old place. George used
to kid him about the furniture — a monogrammed chair from an
outdoor revival meeting and a table (a card table that was once part
of a suitcase; the legs were handmade, and came from a store
specializing in foreign furniture; the Renault Company. A lady in
72 Chicago ordered the table. The company he delivered it to said she
was raising hell because of some damage, and wanted to know the
name of the transport company to sue. The table got back in Ace's
truck somehow with no top, the legs were sawed-off.). There is a
sofa he picked out not long ago as a present for Helen. He'll get
Sonny to help him move it.
He thinks maybe he'll stop by the shoe store to put in his bets,
then go have a beer or two, and around supper time he'd drop over
to Helen's. He turns down Chestnut Street, and drives past to see if
there is some sign that she might be home.
After things get settled, George can come over. It'll be strictly a
business call — Hello. Good-bye. Helen understands that much, but
she might get the idea to entertain for sociable reasons, and there is
to be no talking to George unless the three of them are together.
Ace has played enough card games on Saturday afternoons to know
how George loves Helen's tender touch; that's what he used to call
Helen, the lady with the tender touch; and Silvey, the lady with the
sweet smile. There was a cousin of Silvey's they used to kid about.
She was raunchy, the one with big lips.
Thirty-seven is not old. With two jobs he'll be able to raise a
family. It's got to be a big family the way Helen likes kids. Damn
she used to take care of all the damn children on the block when
she and George were together. "I used to come over there sometimes
and the damn place would be full of nappy head children runnin'
barefoot," Ace thought.
He is at the bar now; he gets a beer and sits at a corner table;
takes out his small notebook from his vest pocket. There is some
thinking he has to do. The numbers on the paper are grouped in
single columns — a row for the single and double figures; he has
only two sets of three figure numbers. His arithmetic is done in
terms of tenths, keeping the places of numbers on the speedometer
in mind. From the entrance he is seen at the table next to the phone
when he lifts his head, the afro styled conservative and distinct
enough to demand a memory of his presence. On a good day he
meets most of his customers there. They usually want a small loan.
He wants Sonny to be younger. After awhile he'll be getting in
the way, unless he gets out of school or gets married. "Wish things
were different for me when I was coming up," he thought.
73 The phone rings and he hears Chuck, the bartender, coming in
his direction. Somebody wants Ace. Call back later. Haven't seen
him. He comes in after seven.
When he gets to Helen's, she wants to know if he plans to have
his meals late in the evenings. It doesn't matter to her and Sonny.
Most of the time that boy doesn't get home until breakfast time
anyway. She is going to talk it over with Sonny, but fifteen dollars
for the room doesn't seem too much.
"Fix my supper and then we'll talk," he said.
"It's fixed," Helen said.
Sonny comes in and she asks him if he is staying long enough to
have dinner. He doesn't say anything; kind of nods, and it seems for
a minute he is about to go upstairs, then like he wants to talk.
When Helen calls him to come eat, he is out on the back porch.
The evening is humid; a slight breeze carries the smell of wet
cement.
"Ace must be asleep. He's so quiet," thought Helen.
Potatoes and onion are frying. In a neighbor's window the baseball game is on. She sets the table.
"Sonny, come on and eat your dinner," she said.
"Be there in a minute."
She calls ace. They sit down, Ace reaching for the food.
"I have to make a delivery upstate this weekend," he said.
"Let me hold a couple dollars," said Sonny.
"Damn."
"You want a lunch," said Helen.
"Yeah," said Ace. "Fix some sandwiches and give me some fruit.
Did you say somethin' Sonny? What?"
"I couldn't tell you," Sonny mumbled to Helen. "The last time
I saw him he was hustlin' shoeshines downtown."
"I think I know him. A short guy," said Ace. He scrapes the bowl
clean. Helen gets up for the collard greens. She is wondering why
Jerome doesn't come around. ("Anymore potatoes.") He and
Jerome probably had a fight over Bernice.
"You know Jerome?" said Helen.
"Yeah," said Ace. "Met him once or twice. He shines my shoes.
Look here, I can let you hold this five 'til next weekend," Ace said.
"Don't tell me you and Jerome fell out over Peaches," Helen said.
74 Sonny is playing with his food.
"Who does Peaches like?" she said.
"Not me. That's for sure," Sonny said. "Won't be long before
she and Jerome get married."
"Speaking of marriage, Helen and I are gonna do our thing soon.
Ain't that right, baby?"
"Sonny eat your food."
"All the time givin' me orders," said Sonny. "I pay rent like he
does. Now, I'm suppose to drive you to work."
Ace looks around for something to wipe his hands, grabs the dish
towel. He tries to kiss Helen, and she elbows him in the throat,
turning to see what he was trying to do. He puts the car keys and
some money on the table brushing his face next to hers.
"Yeah. You two ought to get married," said Sonny. He tosses
some potatoes around and takes a restrained chop of some food,
then a swallow of lemonade. "You two love birds."
"I won't be seein' you for a week. Take care of her, Sonny." Ace
wants her to be ready Friday to go out. Get a new dress. Not only
is she going out this coming weekend, but every damn weekend
after that.
"Sonny, are you and Bernice suppose to be goin' together?" Helen
said.
CHAPTER EIGHT
1
Ace must have known that George was coming over. Helen
doesn't expect to see him waiting for her when she comes home
Monday standing somber and with a hair cut. Not that it matters to
him, but he doesn't want to see Sonny. If she wants to, they can
go someplace else.
"How're you, George?" she said. He motions to help her with the
packages, some things Mrs. Murray doesn't want. He stands facing
the street until she is inside the door, talking about how he still has
his health after she told him something about Ace staying or coming
over. Both of them are crazy. All they want to do is play cards and
drink. He hasn't changed. She can see that. "Same ol' no count
nigger," she said.
"Helen, you callin' me names and I ain't in the house yet." He
75 steps in the living room surveying the piano. "Ace told me you're
getting married."
"I don't know what Ace's gonna do. He's gone to Chicago or
somewhere."
They sit for awhile with him tapping his cane; then he laughs and
sometimes looks as if he is talking to a different woman with her
imitating Betty's la-dee-da. George tells her he saw Silvey the other
day. Helen pouts.
"How's she doing?" she said to the side; her hand limp in disgust,
Betty's la-dee-da again without the huge diamond and watch. If
Sonny stole it, she'll find it.
She and Silvey had an argument at choir practice. Her so-called
friend wanted to show everybody how well she could play piano
after she'd been absent for a week.
"And she had the nerve to ask me to take her place again," said
Helen. "Well, I didn't mind the first time even though I never
had proper lessons. Well, never again."
George said he meant to come over before. Helen said she went
by his place just last week. She went to say hello to Flavia.
"Well, I guess I'll be goin'," said George. He might even see her
at church one of these days. Anything can happen with these astronauts flying to the moon.
"Come on, we'll be glad to have you," said Helen.
When he steps outside and hears the door slam behind him, he
knows he has to come back. His being there matters if Helen cares
for him, but he didn't give a damn about Ace (he was gone for the
week) and about Helen either come to think of it. The light changes
to red again, and he believes there is reason to go back, to turn and
see if she is looking at him. Ace's station wagon is parked next to
the curb.
A car swings close to him as he starts across. (That's the reason
he doesn't drive a car, people driving on the damn sidewalk!) He
turns around then but she isn't there. If he calls she'll hear him and
come running; he knows she will. He walks past the park refusing to
look again. He thinks each time a friend recognizes him, it is to get
him to look at Helen running behind.
76 The next day is long until late evening when he finds himself
again at the street leading to the park. If she isn't home, he'll sit in
the park for awhile. Chuck and another guy walk by.
". .. That's what I heard. Yeah. He took care of 'em both. Hey,
George what's happenin'?"
"Nothin' much, Chuck," said George. "How're things?"
"No complaints," said Chuck. "Goin' to work. Workup like a
dog."
Looks like there is a light in the window. She is just getting home
from work. Lookin' good. Best thing to do is keep cool awhile.
Peaches decides to see if Helen is home once again. She calls
through the mail slot. (George thinks Helen has forgot her key.
Sonny has to be there. The light is on. She sure looks fine. Just came
from the hairdresser's.) Then she turns around to face George, gets
a better grip on her books, and knocks again calling Helen. She
wants another weekend's work. She hasn't talked to Bernice since
they were downtown. A few more times working there, she'll be all
set, and by Christmas she'll have a job at the Post Office.
George stands there for a minute and then walks over to the park.
Sometimes Helen stays the night. Ace told him the work was getting
too hard for her, and how the first thing he wants is to get Helen
to a flower garden like Silvey. There is some business he has to get
straight first, and he is keeping an eye out for George if something
comes up. After he sells the old truck, he'll be in business. Now if
George wants to drive some of his runs upstate, he can see himself
clear to maybe lending George a hundred, and giving him a ten
percent cut for making the run.
He has seen that girl somewhere. Maybe she's Sonny's girl. The
last time he remembers seeing Sonny was the day he and Ace
decided to forget Silvey. Maybe he never saw him since any of them
kids running through the house might of been any damn body.
When he does see him again, he won't tell him shit.
When he gets back, Peaches is still waiting. If she isn't home by
now, Helen isn't coming home.
77 "She's still working at the same place?" said George.
"As far as I know," said Peaches. The new covers were slipping
off her books. "I'm not waitin' any longer."
George stands by the steps until she leaves. He knocks on the door
before he figures tomorrow will be better; he'd just seen her yesterday, and before that he hadn't seen her in years. It seems like only
a year ago since he discovered her the first time at some church
picnic or used to watch her walk by the lounge when he used to
spend evenings bummin' enough for a quart of beer. A woman like
Helen comes along while you're trying to get set for the night
and you might speak if at one time the two of you went to school
together or used to play hide 'n' seek together, or some of those
stupid games kids play in the yard, ruining his grass. The one who
delivers papers, he's her favorite; bet she'd look a second time and
still wouldn't recognize him now, holes coming through patches
over his old suit pants, the cuff angled from shoelace to heel.
Helen used to wipe Baldy's mouth after he ate friend chicken
while she talked to Flavia Johnson on the phone (Flavia had supper
ready and knew if Baldy wasn't over to Helen's, he was playing with
that bad Herby), then George would enter the kitchen (he didn't
hurt his leg until later) one hand with the cigarette at chest level,
eyes half closed; he'd stop for a second to cuss them both.
CHAPTER NINE
1
Baldy and Herby plan to get George on halloween. Just about
everyday after school they see him in the park now. Baldy talks all
the time about quitting. Flavia said he'll end up like old man
George no matter what he does. A man couldn't ask for more opportunity to help himself, she would tell Doc. After doing what he did
and everybody finding out his business (even about Helen's baby),
Ace still helped him out, got him a job on the police force. Helen
works the restaurant. Ace got it for her. And there's talk he's buyin'
out Mr. Anthony's. That man is somebody! Flavia would say. Now
Baldy, why can't you be like that? Go to school or get a job, that's
all I know, but be a man.
They put the firecracker underneath George's seat and wait.
"George has false teeth."
78 "No lie," said Herby. "Shee-it. You learn somethin' new everyday."
The older people talk about him, and the guys with their own
cars and girlfriends throw pennies or peanuts at his feet. His always
sitting there never bugs them until they finish school and walk by
the park realizing he's moved only to spit. The rain forces him away
sometimes, and he moves across the street to Helen's store.
There is some talk that he was married once and his wife ran
away. Some say he spent time in prison. Whenever anybody goes
up to him, he says nothing or begins to talk in a way which makes
the words roll off your brain.
Everybody laughed the day he joined the police force. They
couldn't understand why he took the job. Ace said it'll give him a
chance to sit on his ass. To celebrate, somebody got him a hamburger and soda from Helen's across the street. She'd been talking
to him that day, sitting at the other end of the bench, eyes towards
the street, dressed in an old wool coat, flat freshly polished slip-on
shoes, with her feet crossed and tucked underneath the bench; the
white apron showed at the hem of her coat. Her arms were folded
the same as his. Nobody ever watches them and they never look
at each other it seems. She dyed her hair blonde black at the roots
that summer. She's lost weight, the thin frame is covered with skin
extending tightly over her body; her face is more round, and the
rest of her except her legs seems to be various combinations of
circles. She wears too much rouge, and talks faster. The marks of a
domestic are still on her hands and knees which are Creole yet a soft
brown like her face with contrasting hard definite lines (that weren't
there before) accented with hazel eyes.
The talk going around when she first started running the
restaurant was that she was afraid to open her store late. As the
word became a label, she changed her hours from eleven to eleven,
exposing her soft heart to the winos who forced her to close early
again.
Around that time George appeared. (He was always around.
Before no one ever saw him.) A look at Helen's face told you
everything was gone. He did it.
He never says a word to her while she talks to him on the bench
or in the restaurant when she beats around the bush, kiddin' with
him sideways with small talk to help her guess what he wants to
eat.
"You ain't worth a damn, George," is what she said one Friday
79 night when he was drunk in the park. "You're not as much of a
man as these kids. . . . You think you're somethin', but you ain't
nothin', ain't worth a damn! Don't turn your head away from me
you no-count fool! I ain't finished yet!" ("Tell him, Helen! Tell
him.") "Wake up when I'm talkin'! You strud on into my store like
you own it. I'm the boss there understand! Understand, nigger!
("Tell him, Helen! You can do it! He's a lazy-ass, eh, Helen!) You
damn right he is! And another thing. Turn your fool face 'round
here. ... Another thing, don't be coming to me for no helpin' hand.
I ain't no Samaritan! You must think I'm your flunky. Well, let me
tell you somethin', God! Take your black self somewhere else cause
you ain't nothing but your own damn mistake! You hear me! Turn
around here, Mr. George."
On Saturday mornings if you need some day-old bread half price,
you can pick it up at Helen's place. George is always sitting at a
table that time of day. If it seems like you are in a hurry, he moves
when you walk over to talk.
He drinks a lot since he retired. Helen will tell you quick he
wasn't always that way. Maybe she blames Baldy since at his suggestion George started buying a case of twenty-four about once a
month in the alley behind the drugstore where Baldy works.
Ace was his drinking partner. They used to drink together before
they had that fight. Even when George disappeared for a long time,
you only missed him when you thought about it; and who would
have believed that was Ace's cut-buddy standing there in the
policeman's uniform with a big gun on his hips, face shaven to
fool everyone to believe he carried the soul of a late adolescent,
swinging his stick as he would a watch chain, wearing sunglasses.
The white cops didn't give him a car. All they did was let him
sit in theirs sometimes during the winter. But in the summer he was
king — his suit was pressed; he tapered his pants a little to make
you look for the motorcycle; and the gun hung at an angle from
his side. He directed traffic, broke up fights and walked around.
"Mornin', Officer George," Helen would say. He didn't say
anything, and you never could tell where he was looking with those
sunglasses. She'd give him coffee and tell him that she had some
fresh crab cakes while wiping her hands on a dish towel.
When Baldy and Herby would come in the store saying, "Mornin', Officer George," he wouldn't move. "Ain't you got no respect
for the law" would be heard coming from the rear. "Dumb black
fools. Ain't got a bit of home training," as she wiped the counter
80 asking, "What do you want? If you're not gonna buy anything then
get out." Nobody knew how George would act, so Baldy and Herby
would leave. Once George stopped Herby and began stabbing him
in the chest with his forefinger punctuating each word of "When-
the-lady-says-move-she-means-move!" with Baldy standing next to
his partner smelling the coffee and wine breath they talked about
later while playing cards and wondering why the hell George joined
up with the cops?
People talked about George more than ever then. Everybody
smiled and hi-ed him, and agreed that he had to be the biggest
fool that ever lived. Now that he sits all day people just call him
names. But when he turned cop, they respected and laughed. He
was up so early Baldy said he heard him talking to the garbage
man; and he was the last one to leave the streets at night. First
they began calling him "Father George"; then "George, The Enforcer." Helen kept a place for him at the restaurant. She put a
small mat at his table to cover up "George is a U.T." and began
looking neat herself no matter how late she and Ace stayed out.
About five members of The Black Brotherhood, a group organized
and led by Ace, waited for Helen to leave a bar one night when
George was busy checking on a dance at the recreation center.
She was so drunk one guy could've taken her into the bushes.
Nobody was old enough, but Herby said he saw her the night before
screwin' with some guy in the field. Baldy didn't believe him, but he
went along to watch. The word was that two drinks would put her
out for the night.
She screamed louder than hell and bit some flesh off of Herby's
hand when he tried to cover her mouth. Everytime she turned to
look with her mouth wide as a basketball in the direction where the
hands were running over her, the brothers would collapse towards
the ground, heads down with hands tight around her jerking angles;
then, she was on her knees. Herby shaking his finger, kicked her,
putting her flat on the gravel. The important thing became the
money.
George didn't know who did it because Helen said it was three
men from the bar. He told everybody at the next Brotherhood
meeting to be on the lookout, and a few brothers hung around the
restaurant for a week.
81 Ace came to the meeting mad as hell. He'd been out of town a
few weeks. He always appeared out of nowhere snapping everyone
to attention. He walked with a square shoulder, loose left arm,
complementing or accenting right arm, a quick snapping leg motion
and big steps. The Brotherhood cap was slanted to one side.
Ace hadn't been that uptight since he and George had it out.
"... She's always twenty steps ahead of me. You know her,
George. Damn. There's no complainin', but let me tell you if I ever
catch you over there again I'll kick your ass."
Ace said some more, but Baldy and Herby couldn't hear it because George walked towards Ace shouting. His pants were wet with
urine, and he wore a big hat. He gave a bottle to Ace and sat beside
him mumbling for awhile; then he started pushing Ace's shoulder
against the tree. Both of them sat there drinking and mumbling, and
George would push Ace against the tree whenever he felt like it —
first not so hard; then like he wanted to fight. A few stones were
around; big ones used to sit on, and an old log. Baldy and Herby
made themselves comfortable in the bushes watching Ace move from
stone to stone each time George pushed him. They thought Ace was
going to throw some karate-chops. George started walking towards
the bushes where Baldy and Herby were, pulling down his zipper;
it was stuck or maybe he was too drunk.
"No punk in his right mind would mess Helen's life up and still
claim she's chasin' him," shouted Ace.
This time George kicked Ace. He went to do it again, but Ace
moved. George humped over a little, and put a bulldog expression
on his face. (Baldy knew George was trying to imitate Ace's wife,
Helen.) Then Ace jumped at him from an almost kneeling position
like those he demonstrated to us during drills. He missed. George
stomped him in the face and chest and walked away.
The next meeting was no different than the others. When Ace
came in, everyone stood at attention, and didn't sit down until he
gave the order. George stood beside him, and called the roll after
the other nodded. Then Ace called on each troop leader to tell
about their meetings and projects. He knew everybody's name, and
as each person finished their report, he'd call the last name of the
next hard and fast. "Mr. Johnson! Mr. Milner! Leave by the rear
door!" he'd shout if there was some joking and laughing in the
82 back. Once he saw inside you, there wasn't anything he could do to
scare you because you knew something about him that didn't exist
for him, or that he should want you to know about, since you can
choose to act beyond him without first feeling a sense of hauntedness
or guilt which lurks around the memory of any spirit as soon as it
becomes one; and since as a young man he donned his uniform for
protection, exposing his innermost uncertain nerve fiber to that voice
which called loud enough, or to eyes that saw because of some
accident or coincidence. It did not matter how convincing he acted.
Helen still was spitting in his drink and stirring it with her finger
to let him know it was all over. She was ready to call it quits
and reminded Ace when he didn't expect it, standing on the corner
together.
As Herby Milner pimps out, not a head turned. All eyes were on
George now reading the report. He was the kind of guy who comes
on stage with no introduction, says nothing and leaves with a lot of
applause. While he read, Ace sat at the head of the meeting. He
was the leader and planned to keep it that way.
83 FOUR PROSE POEMS BY PIERRE REVERDY
Translated from the French by Michael Bullock
FETISH
Little doll, good-luck puppet — she dangles outside my window,
jiggling in the wind. The rain has wetted her dress, her face and her
hands which are fading. She has even lost one leg. But her ring
remains and, with it, her power. In winter she taps at the pane with
her little foot in its blue shoe and dances, dances with joy, with cold
in order to warm her heart, her wooden good-luck heart. At night
she raises her suppliant arms to the stars.
POETS
His head fearfully took shelter under the lampshade. It is green
and his eyes are red. There is a musician who doesn't move. He is
asleep; his severed hands play the violin to make him forget his
wretchedness.
A stairway leading nowhere climbs around the house. There are,
by the way, neither doors nor windows. On the roof we see dancing
shadows that fling themselves into the void. They fall one by one and
are not killed. Quickly they climb the stairs again and start afresh,
eternally charmed by the musician who keeps on playing with his
hands that do not listen to him.
84 AFTERNOON
In the morning that is rising behind the roof, in the shelter of the
bridge, in the corner of the cypresses projecting above the wall, a
cock has crowed. In the clocktower that rends the air with its shining
tip the notes sing out and already the sounds of morning are rising in
the street; the single street that runs from the river to the mountain,
dividing the wood as it goes. One seeks for some other words but
the ideas are always just as black, just as simple and singularly painful. There is almost nothing but the eyes, the open air, the grass and
the water in the background with a spring or a fresh fountain basin
at every turning. In the right-hand corner the last house with a larger
head in the window. The trees are extremely alive and all these
familiar companions hug the demolished wall that collapses laughing
among the thorns. Above the ravine the noise increases, swells, and
if the carriage passes on the road from the heights no one knows
whether it is the flowers or the bells tinkling. In the blazing sun, when
the landscape is flaming, the traveller crosses the stream by a very
narrow bridge, in front of a black hole in which the trees border the
water that falls asleep during the afternoon. And against the background of the trembling wood the motionless man.
From Plupart du Temps, Gallimard 1969.
85 THE MUSICIANS
The shadow and the street in the corner where something is happening. The thronging heads are listening or watching. The eye
passes from the sidewalk to the instrument that is playing, that is
travelling, at the car that is traversing the night. The blades of the
gaslamp cut the crowd and separate the outstretched hands, all the
suspended looks and the random sounds. The people are there and
all at the same hour, at the crossroads. The dispersing voices lead the
movement on the string that grates and dies at every instant. Then
the sign from the sky, the gesture that gathers up and everything
vanishes under the coat tail, behind the wall that is slipping away.
Everything glides and the fog envelops the passers-by, disperses the
echoes, hides the man, the group and the instrument.
From Plupart du Temps, Gallimard 1969.
Pierre Reverdy was born in 1889 and died in i960. A friend of Apollinaire,
Max Jacob and the Cubist painters, he became a master among the Surrealists.
Michael Bullock's poems, fiction and translations have appeared widely in
journals and in book form. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of
British Columbia.
86 YOUR ROOM
ROBERT   SHERRIN
If windows are eyes
and the door
a mouth —
I have entered you quietly,
deposited myself
in your softest corner
then departed
as always,
leaving the door ajar.
Robert Sherrin is a student in the Creative Writing Department at the University of British Columbia. His fiction has appeared in The Canadian Fiction
Magazine.
87 TWO POEMS BY PARM MAYER
LATER, WHEN I AM
CARRIED FORWARD THIS FAR
Me
sitting here
with this metallic madness
in my hands
between two worlds
each of small importance
with signs of sliding doors
and low lights
to open up the end of night
my finger
cold against a quick
and triggered way.
You
somewhere in the far-away
do not know
the world is hardly ever right
but poorly fitted together
in tiny silver shrieks
and there is imbalance
and improperly-tuned segments
awash in dark circuits
laden with debris. You
who did not know
I was what I stood there for
thinking only of love
and what was I holding
in my empty hands
but not what you said
was what I was searching for
but when I was looking
for a sign of stirring
in the fixed shadows of your face.
And now
there is this in my hand
and strange thoughts
and what if there should come
a half-flown thing
to change the dawn's surprise.
89 THE AIR WAS FULL OF BUGLES BLOWING
What I couldn't understand
was why he always said
the air was full of bugles blowing;
the sky a sea for a day's sailing
and morning was for launching.
He lived apart
from the torn canvases of life;
removed from mass convulsion;
far from the strident cries
that set your teeth on edge.
Abandoned himself to a bowl of milk
and a crust of bread;
and to crickets cricketing
in webby corners.
Said his beagle hound
nosing a rabbit in a cedar swamp
sounded like a bugle blowing.
And always,
time to putter in warm earth;
to ponder the slow feel of a stone.
To meander quietly,
whenever it suited his fancy,
like a sand road through the woods.
Should he knock at your door,
most likely it's to ask:
Does love exist?
90 Take me ... always pigeonholing:
this for sorrow; this for joy;
this for Barney when he brings back
the stick I throw.
When I look at a boat,
I think of old days at sea.
Sometimes I put a pistol to my head
and pretend to blast old dreams.
What aspirations I've got,
sleep with me on my arm.
That morning,
when I pulled alongside
his long lean legs
and wished a good day's sailing,
he said as usual
the air was full of bugles blowing.
But there was no sound,
except the sound of the sky
flapping against the wind.
Parm Mayer, who died in October 1971, was a frequent contributor to literary
magazines including Prism international. He directed a creative writing seminar
and was an associate professor at Northwood Institute in Midland, Michigan.
91 FACES OF THE SUN-MAN
RIENZI   CRUSZ
Descendant
of the sun,
he comes with the color of skin
in bronze,
a bone distilled
in the Vedic poem,
a psalm of peace
locked in his Buddha eyes.
He is a body
of blue water
shaped like a man,
limpid to the depths.
You can look or move
into him, through him,
the fluid dimension holds.
Sticks and stones
only ripple his face
like a tentative breeze
and sink
to cool their fires.
When silence threatens
he cries for the shake
of the sun's thunder,
splinters glass
with the wild trumpet
of elephant,
coaxes a leopard's growl
from the muscles of his belly.
92 When noise strikes,
he walks like an octopus
into his limbs,
plugs his small brown ears
with sun-stained olives
and waits
for the decibels
to climb down to the pitch
of the magpie's song.
When hate wears
a white mud mask
and dances in rituals
of living death,
he holds out a golden hand
marinated in the sun,
a Jesus heart plucked
from some ancient Calvary.
When winter comes
he crawls
into his sun-dial nerve
and sleeps
with myths and shibboleths
as central-heating steals
under his dark eye-lids,
to dream
of blue Ceylon,
where palms bend
their coconut breasts
to the morning sun,
and Nuwera-Eliya's valley
oozes with the fragrance of tea,
93 the sun-stroked fishermen
swearing under
their salty breath
as they clown
with the rush of toddy
in then black skulls.
When spring breaks,
he hears the paddy-bird's song
in his throat, watches
the king-fisher bend its wing
to the blue lotus, the sun
trap the dagoba spires
with rings of fire.
He's sipped the ferment
of Red Cap Ale,
jumped to the slithering puck
on Saturday Night Hockey,
smelled Ali Baba's steaks
grow rich on slow charcoal fires,
but loves to grab the batik spice
of rice and curry,
to beat his thighs with green leaves,
write poems
the color of wounded sunsets.
94 When his neighbour's lawn
shines with the summer shave
of mower and prong,
he turns green, a mantis
in the leaping grass,
to sleep
with a symphony
of dandelion and weed
about his green ears.
He is the son
of the sun,
shaped like fire,
bound in cap and bells,
a dusky clown
beating winter's silence
to a belly-full of laughter.
He is SUN-MAN.
Rienzi Crusz has had poems in many North American journals. Sun-Man, his
first book, will appear soon, with design and illustrations by RolofT Beny. Mr,
Crusz lives in Waterloo, Ontario.
95 THE INTELLECTUAL
BENNY   ANDERSEN
Translated from the Danish by Hanna Gliese-Lee
He drank a symphony
the way we would have drunk coffee
and even without stirring.
An innocent remark like:
what's the score?
he would immediately head into
the ideological consequences on-side or off-side
and corner to Freud.
When he saw a dog taking stock of a lamp post
he would spread his wings
and circle for half an hour
at a height of three thousand years
while we would hunch our shoulders
like the flat-bottomed bargemen we were.
You would hide your bitten nails under the table
and feel like swivelling your simple
complex-mauled mug to the back of your head.
We hated him because
he made us feel like a flock of lowbrowed
cannibals received in audience by the white man
with his firestick and magic glasses.
That's really the way it was.
It started with us thinking
if I only had half his brains.
One afternoon we devoured him.
That didn't make us any smarter.
But we were quite all right as we were.
Several poems by Benny Andersen were in our Spring 1972 issue. He is a
young Danish writer whose fiction and poetry have already brought him considerable recognition. Hanna Gliese-Lee is a graduate student in Comparative
Literature at the University of British Columbia and a member of the Creative
Writing translation workshop.
96 wo,        Ken Mitchell's "The Great Electrical Revolution" originally appeared in our
Summer 1970 issue and was reprinted this Spring in the Macmillan Co. of
Canada's anthology of Western Canadian fiction. A native of Saskatchewan,
Mr. Mitchell is now living in England.
TRUCKIN
KEN   MITCHELL
I thought George was gonna swallow his Ole Port ceegar when he
saw that orange Redi-Mix truck barrelling up the drive toward the
farmyard. We were sitting on the back step after lunch, while Adele
was doing the dishes inside.
"Look at that crazy bastard," George says. The truck was all shiny
in the noon sun, just a-churning up George's driveway from the grid
road, great jesus clods a gumbo flying in all directions, and the
ceement mixer on the back going full-tilt.
"It's gotta be a Yewkeranian!" George says. "Lookit that crazy
bastard!"
All of a sudden the truck hits the soft grade, and she's swerving all
over the road like a gopher with crushed nuts. Any second she's
going to go shooting off into the summerf allow.
"I told 'em!" George says. "I told 'em to get it in here before ten
o'clock!"
It was raining like hell the night before, and then there was this
heavy October freeze, so the road was solid till at least ten a.m. But
after eleven that driveway of old George's turned into the slickest
grade this side a the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
"Better git down there," he says, "and stop that there Yewkeranian
before he ends up in thuh summerfalluh."
I'm still standing beside the house with my mouth hanging open.
"He might make it," I says, not wanting to get my Western boots all
muddy. I was supposed to have the afternoon off to go into town and
have a couple a games a pea pool. It was a Saturday afternoon.
"Get goin'," George says.
"Shall I take the John Deere?"
"No, goddammit! Run!"
105 I take off down the road, kicking lumps a mud off my boots, trying
to stop him before he hits the dip near the dug-out. But / couldn't
run on that drive worth a pinch of badger-shit. It must a took me a
good five minutes to go the quarter mile. All the time I'm hollering
stop, stop and waving my arms like a Frog, but he didn't even slow
down. If he wasn't a Uke, he sure acted like one.
When he hits the dip, the ass-end of the truck goes slewing off the
side of the road like I expected, but the front end keeps on going,
kind of sideways. It looked just like George's old red boar, the time
he got the grain augur dropped on his back, and kept dragging himself around the farmyard with his front legs, going slower and slower
till he finally groaned to a stop.
The driver jumps outta the truck and gallops around it checking
the wheels, all mired down in the gumbo.
"Yuh dope!" I says, ploughing up to him. "Don't yuh know it
rained last night? This ain't thuh Trans-Canada Highway, yuh
know."
But he isn't even listening to me. He leaps back into the cab again,
and grabs one a them two-way radio mikeraphones. "Six-five! This
is one-three. Hello six-five! Hello, six-five!"
"Hey!" I says. "Don't yuh know it rained .. . ?"
"Just a sec," he says. "Hello, six-five! This is one-three. Come in,
six-five!"
Only a young guy he was, maybe a couple of years older than me.
He looked like one a them university students, tall and sorta skinny,
with a set of glasses, but he couldn't a been, or he would a been at
school. He looked Ukrainian, too, with this bushy hair sticking
straight out from his head.
"Nobody there," he finally says, throwing the mikeraphone down.
"It rained out here last night," I says, but he's off scrambling
around the truck again, kicking the wheels. He was in a fix okay.
Every time the ceement mixer turned, the truck slid another inch
toward the dug-out. Oh a real fix.
"Listen," he says. "Where's your tractor? Maybe we can pull it
back on the road before it goes over.
"This ain't the Trans-Canada Highway, you know," I says.
"Listen," he says. "There's six yards of concrete in here, for your
granary floor. It's going to tip over\"
"Isn't my grainry floor," I says. "It's George's grainry floor."
He smacks himself in the forehead with his fist. Whap, just like
that, and that's when I knew he was a Uke for sure.
106 "Why don't you shut the mixer off?" I says. "Won't slide then."
"You ever spent eight hours chipping concrete out of the inside of
a mixer?" he says. "Come on! Let's go get your tractor."
"Not my tractor, yuh don't," George says, slogging up in his old
rubber boots. He's gasping and wheezing for breath, but still got the
Ole Port stuck in his face.
"I never seen the inside a one of them things," I says.
"Listen, do you guys want this concrete or not?"
"Never ordered it for no one o'clock in thuh afternoon," George
says. "I told 'em to get it up before ten. Before thuh road turned
soft."
The kid wallops himself in the head again. "All / know is I was
supposed to deliver six yards for a granary. You got a granary, right?
Now do you want this stuff or don't you?"
"Don't want her here," George says. "Want her up there." He
points up behind the barn where him and me laid out all the plywood forms the day before.
Just then, the truck sort of shudders sideways another six inches,
and the kid leaps at the side of it, heaving against it with his shoulders
like he's trying to lift it back onto the grade.
"You better help!" he yells at us from under one arm. "Or else
I'll have to dump it out here!"
George, he hawks a big gob, right beside the kid's feet where
they're sliding into the ditch, making long grooves in the mud.
"Don't hurt me none," he says. "Ceement ain't mine till she's slung
into thuh grainry."
The kid looks at George and at me and at his truck shivering into
the ditch by inches, even with him leaning against it. His face is all
red and I'm afraid he's going to rupture himself. Finally he lets go
and grabs the mikeraphone out of the cab again.
"Mayday!" he hollers at the top of his lungs. "Mayday! In the
ditch! Losing load! Is anybody out there? MAAAAY-
DAAAAYYYYYYY7"
But all there is is static. He shuts the mikeraphone off, and stares
at it. "Guess they're all out for coffee," he says.
"They Yewkerainians too?" George says.
"I'm not a Ukrainian!"
"Oh," George says, grinning at me.
"Listen," the kid says. "Be reasonable. Why can't we pull it out
with your tractor?"
"Oney get the tractor bogged down too. Lotta gumbo in this here
107 summerfalluh. Now if she was empty," he says, flicking his cigar
ashes at the truck, "wouldn't be no problem."
"I can't just dump it. They'd dock it off my wages."
"It's a bugger awright," George says.
"If I shut off the mixer," the kid says finally, "maybe we could —
haul the concrete in to your granary. In barrels or something."
George looks at me, which makes me nervous cause I'm still hoping to spend the afternoon playing pea pool at the Royal Billiards. I
got my good clothes on and boots and everything.
"Maybe the old stoneboat," I says. "If we can find some barls."
"Sure!" the kid says, looking brighter. "Sure, that'll work!"
"Okay," George says to me. "You take him and get the stoneboat
and thuh John Deere, and we'll see what we kin do for this Yewkeranian."
"I got my good clo'es on, George," I says. "I was gonna go to town
today. Siggie and Carl are meetin' me ..."
"I'm not a Ukrainian."
"Gotta get that grainry finished before freeze-up, Nick," says old
George.
"This is my god-dam day off," I says. "If you think I'm gonna get
all dirty..."
"Move!" he says.
The Ukrainian shuts the mixer off, and me and him hit off for the
buildings. George, he stays to keep an eye on the truck. The Uke he
keeps getting ahead, waving and yelling at me but I just keep plodding along, taking my time. By the time I get to the machine shed
and start the John Deere, the kid has pulled the stoneboat across the
yard by himself, which isn't a bad stunt. We sling it on behind the
tractor with a chain and linch-pin.
I manage to find three gas barrels with the tops cut out of them
and it wasn't really enough, but we didn't have time to go around
cutting any more, so the kid just throws them on the stoneboat and
we chug straight out the yard and down the drive. He keeps hollering
something, I guess in Ukrainian, but I can't hear him anyway over
the engine plus the racket of them barrels clanging against each
other. I got the throttle opened to the hilt, though, and the tractor is
showering the stoneboat with so much mud, it looks like the kid's out
in the middle of a shit-storm. But he just keeps waving faster, faster,
so I'm pouring it to the old John Deere.
When we get there, George is leaning against the truck, useless as
tits on a bull. The Uke is off the stoneboat in a flash, his legs a-going
108 like pistons. Right away, the mixer's rolling again and by the time I
get the tractor and stoneboat behind the truck in the summerfallow,
the ceement chute is all set up. Without stopping for breath, he zonks
the ceement into them barrels and you could tell he was going to get
every last yard of it hauled or bust a gut trying. The only problem
was, they didn't even hold half of it.
Next thing we know, he's jumped onto the seat of the John Deere
himself and it's all I can do to get on the stoneboat before he takes
off again. We go slithering around the field in circles a couple of
times before he finally gets back on the driveway. I have to grab the
barrels and hang on, or else get pitched off in the mud. There isn't
much to choose between though, what with George's summerfallow
zipping past and the ceement slapping around in them barrels. It
was sure making one hell of a mess out of my good black cowboy
shirt with the mother-a-pearl buttons on the pockets.
Just as we make it back onto the drive, I hear this funny screech
— and there's old George churning along behind the stoneboat like
a Guinea hen in rubber boots, his arms stretched out trying to catch
us. I lean way back and manage to grab one hand just before the kid
hits the throttle, and we go like that all the way to the yard, towing
George through the muck by one arm. I finally manage to get him
hauled onto the stoneboat as we go sailing around the barn, ceement
spewing out of the barrels, and pull up at the grainry.
The ceement forms are set in a square where George wants the
floor. The kid and me dump the barrels and fling them back on the
stoneboat to go for another load. But old George is looking a little
thoughtful. "Hold on," he says. "We gotta level the ceement before
she sets."
The kid looks at George with a big Ukrainian grin. "Ceement's
yours when she's slung into the granary," he says, and with that he
leaps back onto the tractor, and it's already moving before George
can say anything. He gives me a funny look, and we pile onto the
stoneboat as the kid roars off to pick up another load a ceement.
We're just swinging past the house when suddenly everything goes
off like an explosion, the barrels flying in all directions, banging and
gonging like church bells. I come plunging down out of the sky,
running on my knees through the cinders in George's yard. The
squeal of brakes is everywhere. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the
John Deere skidding into the side of George's old Chrysler parked
behind the house.
"What the hell?" George is roaring from the stoneboat. His chin
109 is bleeding where it got banged with a barrel, but at least he didn't
go overboard and scour the knees out of his only pair a brand new
GWG's. "What the hell?"
"Cream cans!" the kid calls back, running to the house, where a
couple of Adele's cream cans are on the back step to be filled. "We
gotta get it all this time."
When Adele hears the cans banging, she comes trotting out the
door just in time to see this Ukrainian taking off with her cream cans.
"Halt!" she screams. "Halt or I'll shoot!" Adele gets a lot of stuff
from TV, but the kid doesn't know that, and he's standing there like
a statue of Louis Pasteur or something till George says, "For Chris-
sakes Adele, it's okayl"
"They're for the ceement!" I yell.
She looks kind of blank, staring at us standing there in the yard,
plastered with mud and ceement from asshole to teakettle, George
with blood dripping from his face. Then she says all hands to the
rescue or something, and goes running into the house and out again
with her old straw hat down over her ears.
By then, George has spied a five-gallon grease pail over by the
machine shed and he goes after that, while the kid is yelling "Let's
go! Let's go!" But Adele is already galloping back to the house,
squeaking about the milk pails. Then I remember a rusty old separator bowl I seen once in the weeds out by the back-house, so I go
threshing through the nettles looking for it. I'm just digging it out
when here comes Adele running out with her arms full a milk pails.
"The butter churn!" George hollers at her as they cross. "Where
the Christ is the butter churn?"
Meantime, the kid is going bats up there on the John Deere, roaring the engine and yelling at everybody to get on the stoneboat.
George just makes it with the butter churn before we're zooming
down the drive again. He's clutching the churn against his overalls,
so I have to hold on to Adele or she'll fly out on her head.
"What the dickens is going on, George?" she keeps saying, ducking and weaving while the clods whistle past her ears. But he isn't
paying any attention, just hollering at the kid to go easier, all the
way back to the truck.
I thought for sure we'd get it all this time, with all the extra pails
and everything. But no, there was still about a quarter of it left. I
have to hand it to the kid. He doesn't even hesitate, just takes one
look around at George — and dumps the rest of it on the floor of the
HO stoneboat. There wasn't much else he could do, I guess, cause by
then the ceement is coming out of the mixer in big, pasty chunks.
All the way back to the grainry, I am watching the ceement sliding
up and down my good Western boots like a tide, and thinking
George you son of a bitch, this is the last Saturday I'm going to be
around to work for you.
It was like trying to pour tar down a ski-jump, getting it all into
the grainry. It took a good half-hour. All the time George is going at
it with a plank and trowel, trying to get it levelled. The last half-a-
dozen shovelfuls hit the floor with a sort of a clang.
"Well," the kid says, scraping the last barrel out, "we did her."
"You fought the good fight," Adele says.
"Never mind that," I says. "Who's gonna look after getting my
boots clean?"
"To hell with that! What am I gonna do with this?" George is
pointing at a big pile a ceement in one corner where we were shovelling it out. It must a been a good four foot high. Adele is trying to
chip some of it off into a milk pail, but it's no use.
The kid looks at the tower a ceement for a minute and says to
George, "You could put a brass plaque on it," he says. "Call it a
Ukrainian Sculpture."
George, he gets this constipated look on his face, but Adele smiles
and says, "I thought you done real good for a Yewkeranian."
The kid bashes his head again, and goes galloping off down the
drive to his truck, jumping into it on the dead run. He guns her back
and forth in the summerfallow till she comes roaring back onto the
road in a burst of flying mud. He doesn't even stop, but with the
truck already cannon-balling down the drive, he opens the door and
hangs out, one foot on the running board, and waves at us still standing there in the grainry.
"I told you he was a Yewkeranian," George says. All we can do is
watch him disappear down the road with the ceement chute dangling behind and the wheels throwing up big jesus clods a mud all
over the countryside.
111 THE DEATH OF THE PARTISAN GIRL
TOM   WAYMAN
There must have been a time when eveiything to you
was clear as iron: that the kitchen of bread must pass
to the gun-cleaning rag, attics, and the low sheds around farms.
Your child became a motorcycle
a stretch of road, a wire, and birch trees.
And when they had you, time became German.
If someone could only have whispered
you will be held four days, raped twice
beaten for this many minutes. But no one said that.
So you could not know they would not
smash you in the face for another hour
press their bloody sperm into you in turn
all afternoon, and bum your nipples and tongue with cigarettes
every day at six o'clock for a week.
Then they killed you.    Someone took a photograph
of your body.    Your eyelids were swollen shut.
They put the picture in a book, and years later
in another country, a man you could not possibly know
looks at your beautiful face and becomes confused.
112 He believes that when you knew words were useless
you opened a knapsack and took out a terrible metal cannister.
His fingers are shaking now, holding only paper.
Who can touch you?    You were in agony, that your brother could say
my older sister was killed in ig43,the Nazis
tortured her, your niece could say my aunt
whom I never knew, died in the war, your parents
could say there was another daughter, but she's gone
And when it happened, your cause was lost.
Now your butchers re-adjust themselves on a sofa somewhere
to be interviewed by sympathetic pencils.
You, partisan, no one can forgive.    You are dead.
All we can do is put a black-and-white photo on the husk of dead
meat
that was you, hung from a rope, in a book and forget it.
But I intend to remember.
Tom  Wayman's first book-length collection of poetry,  Waiting for  Wayman,
will be published by McClelland & Stewart in 1973. He lives in Vancouver.
"3 FOUR POEMS BY NORMAN MacKENZIE
BREAKFAST ANIMALS
jaws and jaws
the day begins, in my
sleeping half-lit mouth
the sun counts teeth
like a doorman.
the charred animals of my brain
lick their dusty genitals then
scratch at the spine
for scraps.
i was dreaming i'd left
their food
outside the door.
WEATHERMAN
The man at the drawing board
drawing next week's weather
throws a guess
at the horizon,
and rubs it off the mirror
as he shaves in the morning.
He wears questions behind his hairline
like false incisions
in a perfect map.
The rain that is falling
smells like the blueprint
of a lake.
114 SLEEP
the man
curled
among the stones
of his bed
holds a lizard
in his throat
( it is winter
on the tongue
of the lizard
the stones
blown grey
are the shadow of the lizard )
with the fingers
grown of sleep
the man holds up his mind
long
above the stones.
Like spring.
"5 HORSES
two bodies come together
in a circle of broken horses,
the white rim
of their dust
hangs before the sun.
as morning moves past shadows
the dust enters a conversation
with the fire in the foothills.
the day draws the fire up
into the mountains,
at night
it eats again at the charred trees;
the horses come down to feed
on the ashes.
Norman MacKenzle is an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia. This is his first publication.
116 THREE POEMS BY ELAINE BOUGIE
ARTIFACTS
strange, the importance
that masks take —
you wish to run your memory
along the gilt and coloured contours •
when their functions cease.
IDENTITY HUNT
to watch them leaning
over themselves
is to think of
the mad bird
struck by stone
pulling its guts
out a hole in its feathers
and swallowing them;
the beak keeps shrieking
its own endless probe
THE BLIND BASTARD REFLECTS IN OLD AGE
his eyes have been worn down by : faces in anthracite
the invariability of
their descendants
the veins
that link them
to that selfsame
image
Elaine Bougie has previously published in The Canadian Fiction Magazine.
She is an undergraduate in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.
117 TWO POEMS BY PATRICK WHITE
THE POLITICIAN
just a man talking, who really cares
what you say? just a man talking.
I tell you again, only the dead
are truly converted, are won over
by your appetite for stone, you name
everything that has died within you,
talk well of love, better than your son
who can still melt snow in his hand,
better than your wife, your ice-angel
who broke free of that middle-aged glacier
and moves south now into warmer waters,
the best part of her life nine-tenths submerged.
indeed you will make a statue of yourself
in time in time, leaving the rest of us,
the living, to make a man in your memory.
118 FOOTNOTE FOR DIANE WAKOSKI
'one kiss too many and kisses lose their meaning'
as if they had one to begin with — no,
not kisses not poems not the habits
of goldfish, these have always been meaningless,
witness God tangled in high tension wires
like a child's kite, only a man
letting go the other end of the string.
forget how to be an ocean, fish die,
nothing comes in on the tide, there is no tide,
just a man mocking himself, wishing
he could drown in other men's tears,
and this poem, these words I choose
because I am whoever I am, what
are they, what do they mean but Let there be?
all else follows from that, including me.
Patrick White's poems have appeared in a number of North American journals. He is completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria
and plans to begin graduate work in Creative Writing at Boston University in
September.
"9 TWO POEMS BY SEAMUS DEANE
THE LAKE
Encumbered now with dawn
This lake now surpasses peace;
Not a single breath
Disturbs the moor-hen's ease;
She glides explicit on,
Her image moulting death.
Yet you and I will die.
Peacocked by the rain
The meadows tremble green;
Who would care to say
How estranged we might have been?
But our love has cleared again,
It has emulsified the day,
It mirrors all. Both you and I.
Imaged so, we may not touch.
Not touch. For that would be
More than you or I yet know
A risk and an adultery,
Not of bodies, but of such
Simplicities as this morning shows.
Though the bird and the image may kiss,
The lake and the love intervene
And persist; and are there; and persist.
120 OVERDOSE
The bulb is swinging and dummy waves
Go up and down on the wall.
He leans back like an oarsman
To sing himself down
The long stream of nightfall
To the darkness he craves.
His voice is as blond as a cry
From a potholer choired alone
In a cathedral under the ground
Where the windows are wet rocks.
He calls out for help, but the stone
Scatters his voice in flocks.
The bulb is slowing. He waits
For the cloaking shadows to stop.
In a clutch of sleep he watches
The clock face drizzle and drown,
Until his head opens salt and clean,
And silence flourishes sea-green.
Then he sings again, and his hands,
His hands are gathering crops.
Seamus Deane teaches in the English Department, University College, Dublin.
His poetry has appeared in Encounter and the Listener, among others.
121 SUMMER LINES
JUDY   McGILLIVARY
Again you vanish between the vapor of
good scotch and self pity.    Returning
you suggest we live together for
some days.        I could melt a thousand
snowmen like you. Simultaneously.
I rush out and buy Wallace Stevens
Poems, slicing up every damn pineapple
that I can find    trying not to think
of wheat fields. Or harbours.
And you arrive light on the edge
of a moment carrying only a short pencil
, your journal, and bottled metaphor:
saying you want    to capture this
experience in a slim volume of poems.
Oh, the Blue Guitar
You shall not freeze my image        for
every eye to track me
across your poem.
Judy McGillivary has had material accepted or published by the Wascana
Review, Mainline and The Canadian Fiction Magazine. She lives in Ottawa.
122 Harold Ober is writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. In September he will begin graduate work in Creative Writing at the
University of British Columbia.
REAL ROGER
HAROLD   OBER
Their turn again. He turns his head in coy surprise (who, me?),
smiling at the red light on their camera, also aware of the pinstriped
sleeves and black hands of the cameraman. This is an important
turn. Hemming in the blue-white-gold set, wheeled TV equipment
and men with arms folded are keeping him covered. He tries to
follow every move of Ralph Ray, the elegant host.
"... one more chance for Roger and Pamela to take ..."
He keeps checking back to certain faces in the studio audience:
grinning faces that turn and whisper to each other, critical faces that
regard him diagonally with the same detachment they would a television image — which he is, of course, his every little movement
multiplied in a half dozen monitors staring down from the studio
ceiling. But he (real Roger) gazes out defiantly, also a little condescendingly, because he is one of the cast, because they don't realize
that all this is work.
"... worth twenty points and you'll be on your way to a sunny
honeymoon in fabulous . . . ^4<>apulco!"
They exchange an excited look. He's never seen her looking so
beautiful. He gives her a wink, turns quickly, nods. Ready? You bet.
He draws his lower lip over his moustache, moistening, waiting.
Ralph Ray is at his lectern reading from a square blue situation
card. Visible is his wristwatch whose face is a twenty dollar gold coin.
His giant voice marches uphill and down dale, his lips arch and
sneer, he tilts and tosses his long head like a horse.
"... but to make matters worse," he finishes, "your wife never
even knew about this 'other woman' in your life!"
"Boop, b' boop boop," cues the organ, "boop, b' boop boop
BWEEEEEEEEEEN!" and laughter washes up from the audience.
123 Roger leans forward into his mike, gives a meek, "Oh, oh," and sits
back. Pamela has turned to glare at him in mock reproach; she looks
ridiculous. He drops his eyes in fake guilt, embarrassed — but only
for a moment: Ralph Ray is sounding off the multiple choices now;
the laughter dies down.
"... suddenly seeing something in a nearby store window and ..."
He looks over at the other couple, Bruce and Gay, graduate students from Ohio. Gay, a thin triangular-faced blonde with black-
framed glasses, meets his eyes and smiles thinly. He grins back.
"... or C, you can let your old girlfriend come up and introduce
your wife before either one has a chance to get a word in edgewise,
then leave it in the hands of ... "
PONG-PONG-PONG! Lock-in time. He looks into the camera
truthfully, purses his lips, looks down, makes a tight mouth, and
pushes the green button on his hooded console. Locked in. He sits
back, smiling, watches her peripherally.
The audience begins to scream out letters in a drowning frenzy.
She laughs feebly, blushes. She guesses C.
In answer his C of little light bulbs appears on the front panel.
PONG-PONG-PONG-PONG-PONG! She shrieks, bounces, he
grabs her, they bear-hug in a wild ocean of applause —
The back door is fixed open, revealing nothing. They are standing
like Hansel and Gretel in the cool crickety night outside. One foot on
the doorstep, he is squeezing his thumbs, squeezing.
(Here's where he was going to sweep her off her feet, bear her in
and keep on going through the dark house up the stairs down the hall
into the bedroom throw her on the bed . . . )
He scrapes his shoe loudly on the step. He expected to find the
postcard they mailed to themselves from Acapulco, but the mailbox
was empty. Next door lights just went out.
(The whole black house sensitized for the shock of their entrance,
the walls ready to shrink like skin. Him pitching forward with her
into the void, stumbling, knocking her legs against walls, losing his
balance, coming down with her like a ton of bricks . . . )
Somber, workmanlike, he turns to her, arms up and down. She
closes her eyes, smiling a virtuous V (the fulfillment of all her little
girl dreams?). He squats, crooks his left arm under her knees (no
strength!), puts his right hand high on her shoulderblade, doesn't
have a grip when she is falling dreamily back, he has to seize and
124 rise backwards, scooping her up in one loaded motion, staggering to
keep her steady. Almost by coincidence, he has her.
They're both laughing, a little desperately maybe. Rearing back
with her he renews his grip, trying to make her feel light-as-a-feather.
"Well...," he begins.
"Giddy up," she shrills like a child, tightening her arms around
him, pocket book slipping. "Giddy up!"
"It's only me from across the sea . . .said Barnacle Bill the
Sai-lor ..." He's walking a slower circle in the living room now,
she's getting heavier by the minute, but he doesn't dare let her down
— or even turn on a light. He walks her carefully as a candle — "It's
only me from across the sea ..." — disenchanting with her laughter
black furry chair shapes, sofa, fire-cave, suspicious windows .. .
He falls back with her into the gasp of an armchair. He remoistens
his lips. "Well, wifey," he tells her, smiling a husband's wily smile,
snaking around his arms, "we're home."
"Mmm," she murmurs, her eyes not leaving his. Gentling the
smile, he bows his sleek head like Clark Gable over her, pauses
tenderly, then roofs her mouth with his moustache like a pair of
calipers, his tongue driving and drawing against the tangy saw of
her teeth.
A laughish sigh comes quivering out of his nose. They're in! He
fives here! The tenth owner since 1833, quoth John Towne, the
landlord. But of course the house has to feel him here, get used to
him. Tomorrow he'll be everywhere, use everything, march the floor
an army's worth. Tonight he has, coaxing her lips, a more immediate claim to stake. King me, it says. No more sanitized hotel room,
no more borrowed beds!
He slides his lips off, on and off, and gets unsteadily to his feet
with her, the blood rushing from his head in a sparkling soda.
Frankenstein's Bride? He grins, tingling.
"Who's that knocking at my door?" he moans softly, his vision
swimming back, "Who's that knocking at my door?" He stumbles
against the first step. "Who's that knocking at my door? . . . said the
fair young mai-den." She thinks it's a ride. Gears start to growl in
his throat, bolts in his head, boxes for shoes . ..
He climbs ("Put me down," she's giggling), bringing his ankles
up clump by clump, landing on each new step as if engraving it,
yours truly, The Hunchback of Notre Dame! — "Sanctuary," he
groans, "SANCTUARY!" — she's squealing, he swings her danger-
125 ously — clump — sees real fear in her eyes, doesn't he? — clump ■—
he adds labored breathing — clump — bristling stubble — clump —
dirty fingernails — clump — fangs, clump, CLUMP!
Careening through a gabble of mobbing molecules he bumps like
a boat against the bedroom door — "HAAAAAAAAGH!" — works
a few fingers to the doorknob, grinning foxy and night-faced, twists:
pushes — jerks it back, dumps her, pocket book falling with a fat
slap, things colliding, falling — something flying around in there,
fleet and phantom, something bad.
"Will you wait a minute?" he asks her, closing his eyes, squeezing
his hair, then patting at the air, "Just. .. wait a minute." {Spoiling,
spoiling, big swirls, going bad . . . ) He pats at the air, the seconds,
trying to come to terms, stiff terms, but this isn't fair! He looks down
the hall, THIS ISN'T FAIR! He was in Acapulco! This stinks I
And now he's supposed to ... ?
He turns and gives the door a savage kick, it flies open by mistake,
he lunges after it, she's screaming, something's coming at him, beating wings, he can't see — there! in the window! — he wrests the
door back with a slam, turns and tells her, "A bat," almost pleased
to say it.
"A bat," he says again, breaking away from her clutching, her
crowding — he needs space, elbow room. He walks down the hall,
walks back, sloughing data, snippets, true-or-false: Blind as a bat.
Bats are mammals. The Vampire Bat lives in South America and
other tropical climes. They see by radar (more sophisticated than
man's). Rabies. Sometimes. Little finger claws on their wings. If they
lay their eggs in your hair you'll go crazy. Or is that moths?
"What are you going to do?"
He snaps on the hall light, snaps it off again. He laughs harshly,
takes a deep breath, lets it out with a cold shiver, laughs again, this
time a gruesome yelp, followed by a cough, groan, scowl. He keeps
walking, can't stand still.
What is he supposed to do? Messages tightly coiled in his arms and
calves tell him the door. He veers away, clenched, wry, nodding,
looking down the hallway for whoever left him with this. Thank you.
This is really . . . This is . .. Thank you.
He keeps running into the same dire message, sometimes considers
it with a thrill of fear and even goes so far as to say, "After all, there
is a lamp in there." (Forty watts all huddled in a coiner.)
He says, "Yes," and turns, giddy, grinning, shrill singing in his
ears, in his chest, snaps on the light, wincing, walking straight to the
126 door, hand out like a pincer ("What are you doing?"), fitting his
hand over the cold bulb ("ROGER!"), turning (SLAM) —The
wave crashes, sickeningly, and he stands in it, head lowered, hiding
a smile, heart thudding, and then the smile twisting with disgust. He
takes his hand off to see the little big reflection of himself in the doorknob. "You can come out," he half sobs, grinning, and turns around.
The bathroom door squeaks open.
But he has another idea, it may work, it's surefire if she'll help. He
explains it to her eagerly, making rapid, symmetrical gestures. It's a
barricade. They'll pile up furniture in the middle of the hall, in front
of the bathroom door, pile it to the ceiling, she'll help him, making
sure there are no gaps, no ways around, and then she'll go into the
bathroom and he'll be out here with a towel and he'll open the bedroom door and let the bat fly out and then close the door behind it.
"... and then we've got a little space to trap it in and enough
light. They don't like light." He folds his arms, licks his moustache,
delighted.
She turns over to face him again, sofa springs cringing. He lies
rigid beside her, eyes fixed on the ceiling, afraid of whatever she's
going to say. The sound of a car looms outside and a pale window
ghost slides its way around the walls.
"But can't I just not feel like it?" she begs again, little hand on his
stiff shoulder. "Can't I be too tired or something?"
The night swarms in his silence, poisonous. He picks at his thumb,
feeling the jittery, nauseous waves of the bat flitting around upstairs.
I'm not blaming you! he screams to himself, despite what she's obviously reading into what he isn't saying. He'd tell her, it's not you, it
isn't you, you're just a part of it. It's a plot, I've been jinxed. Don't
you see how the house is fucking me over tonight? I'm not blaming
you, you're just a pawn. Only if he opened his mouth he'd end up
saying the exact opposite, or worse.
"I just thought," he blurts at the ceiling, "you know," he does
little flips with his hands, "The Big Night." He shuts his eyes, his
words loud and ridiculous in the hollow of her listening.
"Tonight was like, the beginning ..."
He listens, too, horrified, yet fascinated. It's like he's an imposter
ruining the real Roger, who's locked in a cabin five thousand miles
away. "The honeymoon, you know — the El Presidente and all —
that doesn't count. I mean, I mean tonight was like.. . the
beginning!"
127 At the end he lolls his head to her, powerless, almost giggling. The
funniest thing is, after all that waste, she's taking it all seriously, every
word, framing her careful answer like Miss America.
"I think I know what you mean," she begins in a slow, perturbed
tone. She takes a sharp breath: "But, Roger, you can't assume ..."
"Right," he almost cries, gazing at her profile adoringly.
"Right."
"Right. .. right. Right."
"Yeah, digit. Digit!"
"Absolutely! I agree!" He gets off the sofa with an agonized
croak of springs and stalks around naked in the dark, nodding, yes
to the chair, yes to the lamp. "No, you're one hundred per cent correct. Oh, wow." He stares out at other houses, a street lamp, the rear
end of a car in its garage, nodding at them all. Sleep, he thinks, sleep
is the only answer. Let's just get this night over with, what do you
say? Put a lid on it.
But now, inevitably, she's starting to regret her initiative, even
trying to apologize, but he's not going to let her, not a bit of it, you're
fuckin' A right, he assures her, walking hastily over, giving her a
warm kiss to say I've never loved you more, believe me, I was selfish
— absolutely!—assumed too much—I'll say it: an ego trip is
what it was — and after all we've got a whole life together, baby, so
what do you say? Sleep on it? Let's just go to sleep, okay, and old
Roger the Lodger will be coming to bed pretty soon, okay? Sleep
tight!
He drops into a cold leather seat and crosses his legs, begins
jiggling his feet, takes a drag on his cigarette. He surveys the room
cagily. Without actually growing in volume, it seems to be expanding
in space — a kind of pouring sensation.
Every few minutes some little noise goes off somewhere, a little
shot. Someone lurking on the stairs. A cough in the cellar. A whole
rickety row in the kitchen.
Listening from his corner he dilates his senses to include everything. He can feel rays passing through him, atoms caroming off.
The hum of the house, almost inaudible at first, turns out to be a
moan — fine, but very distinct — and from that moan many moans,
a whole chorus. When the refrigerator goes on it is a monstrous
guffaw that settles into a gloomy lament, vibrant and elderly. He
listens for the bat: hear it?
A new noise distracts him: the steady sough of her breathing. It
scares him. It's not her, it's the noise of her body idling like a strange
128 lonely machine. She's gone from it — who knows where? He sees
sleep as something unearthly, a transparent ghost peeling away from
the body, leaving it empty. Suddenly he's all alone here, the only
person in the house with a live bat rooming upstairs and down here
the sleeping husk of his wife.
He unsticks his ass, rises teetering slightiy, gropes across the room
between the dire bars of her breathing. Deep traps sound under his
feet, shallower in the kitchen. Logs, logs: he finds them where they
were last time, only fewer now, on newspaper by the back door. He
brings back three, hastily crumples newspaper into cabbages and
throws them into the fireplace. He makes an N with the logs, makes
a Z, looks around hurriedly as if something black and smothering is
going to overtake him before he can get to a fucking match!
Surprisingly (to him) it wasn't about a bat. He meets a girl — not
Pamela — in a strange railroad station (trains to France, American
deserts, faraway towns in Switzerland and Mexico). But it's been in
his dreams before, and so have the gigantic gleaming escalators
which kept on climbing and he had to jump off of or never come
back. Now he is only waiting by them in the station lobby when a
girl in a brown corduroy coat comes up to him, holding a lighted
joint between her fingers. She says: "Where can we smoke this?"
and they look around. There is a little cafeteria in the lobby, they see
it across the brown polished floor as people come and go, their footsteps and voices echoing and murmurring as from a deep distance.
In the cafeteria the waitresses are all old Jewish ladies wearing paper
aprons of turquoise and orange, serving customers at window tables.
"Back there?" she suggests, pointing to a spotless boiler room. It is
perfectly clean, but he says not safe. Then he says, "We could try my
sister's." So they leave the station, walk outside and down the dirty
iron grating in the middle of the street, past sooty gray buildings.
Then, remembering, he says, "This isn't going to work. My sister's
not home," and he turns around, half-expecting her to be gone, too,
but she's still there, following a few steps behind, shyly smiling. They
make their way back, catching puffs on the sly, popping into alleys,
open warehouses, garages, boiler rooms. But they're never safe, some
fat guy in a dirty white T-shirt or a boy with a Coke, someone always
keeps surprising them. In one garage they find an old man lying on
the roof of a truck, moaning. Or else he keeps seeing sloppy cops in
blue uniforms at every corner and wonders if they could drop the
joint down an iron grating in time and get away. Back in the railroad
129 station lobby one of the Jewish waitresses sees them trying to sneak
into the spotless boiler room again and yells at him: "You're always
going into nonsense!" and he sings back gaily, "You're right I"
It was probably at the same moment when, squatting in front of
the fireplace last night, blowing sparks up the flue, he remembered
with a sharp breath the parallel draft in the upstairs fireplace whose
open chimney had pulled the bat down into the room in the first
place — he knew that — keeping it trapped in endless rounds, crisscrosses, near-collisions — and him right along with it, after a manner
of speaking, until it finally located the hole in the wall, probably (he
has no doubt) at the same moment he came upon it, and flew up
and out like a crazy ash into the cool wide night where bats — bless
'em — belong, not in people's bedrooms, like the one which greeted
him next morning, yawning and deserted.
He reported it to her without emotion or opinion, sitting on the
sofa's edge by her head, staring out at the bleak, washed-out day. He
was still gripping the idiot fire-shovel he had whanged up the flue,
muttering, "Good — fucking — riddance," like a belated epitaph,
and in the future there would be a sturdy firescreen for both fireplaces.
He apologized for his childish behavior last night, no, it's true,
for being so possessive and defensive, that's all, but, you know how
it is, the house and ... he squashed a grin, well, you never know
what an animal will do if it's cornered, or what it's carrying. Rabies,
et cetera. "Give me a kiss," he said.
He was hungry all day. Instead of eating he kept filling the house
with as many evidences of their being here as possible in a day,
oblivious to practical purposes, intent only on the action, the rhythm,
the progress.
He let her make plans, agreeing to all her proposals without appearing too ready to — he was rarely listening. Nor was he very
much aware of himself, except as follower of his hunger, a hole that
was still not full at the end of the day.
Late in the afternoon they had a surprise visit from John Towne,
the landlord. He mentioned the incident of the bat to Towne, trying
to sound droll, compressing it like an already old anecdote. "Meanwhile," he grinned, "the problem just kind of took care of itself!"
"How do you mean?" asked Towne.
130 An oboe arches treacherously. Violins tremble.
She turns and tells him she's a little cold, would he please go
upstairs and get her sweater? The white one? "It's in the third
bureau drawer," she tells him, turning back to the TV. "Third
bureau drawer," he mumbles, frowning, and gets up from the sofa
with reluctance, backs slowly away from the TV screen, finally turns
and bounds upstairs, two steps at a time (still straining to hear). He
strides swiftly down the hall, pushes the bedroom door out of his
way and heads for the bureau when something small and shadowy
flicks past him, missing his face by inches! "FAHCK!" Hands on his
hair he scoots in a half-crouch for the door and — flushing with
panicky triumph — shuts them both in!
He drops to a tense crouch, wildly unarmed, back against the
door. "Hey, Bat!" He peers for its flittering shape in the dark, here,
there. . . "Hey, Bat! Hey, hey Bat! Wh-what are you doing?" He
laughs like a lunatic. From downstairs he can hear muffled shots. It
lilts across the room, a shadow . .. He keeps losing it. "Hey, keemo-
sabby! Hey..." There it goes. How does that radar operate? The
room must be full of high hairfine squeaks he can't hear, bouncing
off walls, bureau . . . "Hey, DraculaV he hoots in falsetto'. His eyes
are adjusting. There it goes, along the wall, he can barely keep up
with it, past the window, banking in the corner, coming straight at
him?! — he covers his head, ducking, but a few feet away it does a
deft wing-flick and veers. He bursts out laughing.
"Roger!" Fuck, her sweater. He half-turns to the door-crack, eyes
not deterring. "Yeh!" he shouts.
"It's in the third drawer!"
"I know! I've got company \"
"Whaat?"
"I said — "As expected, he can hear the thump of feet. He closes
his eyes. "Lookit! I'll be down as soon as I can! Can't you wear a
coat or something??"
"What did you say?" Oh, is she coming upstairs?
"The bat is in here," he recites. "B-A-T, bat. But fear not! I will
get him out! Meanwhile — don't worry, leave me alone with it, and
go back downstairs. Okay?"
"How long do you think it'll take?" She's outside the door.
"As long as it takes. Maybe five minutes, maybe all night." He
takes a deep breath. "Anything else?"
"Is it big?"
"Yes! Now just go downstairs. I don't want to open the door."
131 After a pause, he hears with relief the retreating thump of feet,
the reluctant creak of stairs.
"You get lonesome, Mister Dracula?" he asks, rising uneasily.
"You goan' drink my blood?" He watches it veer from the closet,
veer again in the window. Their radar is flawless, he reminds himself. Flawless. He ducks and makes a dash for the window.
"Okay, Bat," he sings, "okay, take it easy, take it. .. okay. All
right." Stomach clenched, tugging at the window sash, he can feel
it behind him, coming from every direction. "All right. All right." It
comes up with a groan. He slides up the screen; cool night comes in.
"Okay! There it is!" he says. "Your new home! Whenever you're
ready!" and he ducks again and scuttles to the bed to sit it out. Now
it's just a problem of blind man's buff, he thinks, hunkering down
on the pillow. No, it's like making the most intricate bank shot in the
world. Caroming all night. Right now, as it keeps describing the
same polygon around the room, he can just sit and watch the shape,
shape, shape, shape . .. He drops his shoulders, relaxes his stomach
muscles tentatively.
"Bat," he says, his fear ebbing maybe one degree, "if I were you
I'd feel pretty emba — WAIT!"
i32 ANTHEM
TERESE   SVOBODA
it has no words
it is tuneless
and without meter
it is not sung
at football games
or school assemblies
nor to the goosestep
of slick-haired men
no one can remember
composing it:
fragments arrive
and are whistled
by drunks in alleys
one note at a time,
forgotten by morning
yet each phrase
is found intact
at the autopsy
of every man
and is spread
like the plague
with the ashes
of the burning bodies
Terese Svoboda has worked as a professional disc jockey, accountant and rare
manuscript curator of McGill University, and has studied at several universities
in the United States, England and Canada. Currently she is a student in the
Arts Faculty at the University of British Columbia.
'33 TWO POEMS BY SEAMUS HEANEY
WEDDING DAY
I am afraid
Sound has stopped in the day
And the images reel over
And over.    Why all those tears,
The wild grief on his face
Outside the taxi? The sap
Of mourning rises
In our waving guests.
You sing behind the tall cake
Like a deserted bride
Who persists, demented,
And goes through the ritual.
When I went to the gents
There was a skewered heart
And a legend of love. Let me
Sleep on your breast to the airport.
134 MOTHER OF THE GROOM
What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.
Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It's as if he kicked when lifted
And slipped her soapy hold.
Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That's bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.
Seamus Heaney is one of Northern Ireland's leading young poets. His books
Doorway into the Dark and Death of a Naturalist (Faber & Faber) have been
widely acclaimed. He teaches at Queen's University, Belfast.
*35 EIGHT POEMS BY PAR LAGERKVIST
Translated from the Swedish by W. H. Auden and Leif Sjoberg
It is in the evening that one makes a move,
at sunset.
Then it is that one abandons everything
Mind takes down its tents of spider-web,
and Heart forgets why it felt anxious.
The desert wanderer abandons his camping-site,
which soon will be obliterated by the sand,
and continues on his journey into the stillness of the night,
guided by mysterious stars.
I am the one who goes on
when you remain behind,
the one who steps out into the night
when you retire to rest,
the one who opens the gate into the darkness
and walks further.
On an uncertain path,
a path which perhaps does not exist,
I forsake you.
*    *    *
Throw open your house to me,
open all doors and gates to me,
as I enter like a storm wind.
When I march in there will no longer be any room for you,
You shall dwell in the desert as an outcast,
I shall drive you out into the desert,
you shall lie naked in the desert under the stars.
But in the house which has been yours I shall live,
I shall fill it with my presence.
[36 Only that which smoulders
can become ashes.
Ashes are holy.
You touched me
and I became ashes,
my ego, my self turned to ashes, consumed by you.
So says the lover and the believer.
You touched me.    I am holy.
That is, not I but my ashes are holy.
Let my shadow disappear into yours.
Let me lose myself
under the tall trees,
that themselves lose their crowns in the twilight,
surrendering themselves to the sky and the night.
Hold me in your unknown hand,
and do not let go of me.
Carry me over morning-bright bridges,
and over the dizzy depths
where you keep darkness imprisoned.
But darkness can no longer be imprisoned.
Soon it will be evening over your bridges,
then night.
And perhaps I shall be very lonely.
*    *    *
137 May my heart's disquiet never vanish,
May I never be at peace,
May I never be reconciled to life, nor to death either,
May my path be unending, with death as its unknowable goal.
From the surface of my being he blows away the grey film
and makes me live
like a dark well.
Happily I mirror his sky
and the bright clouds around his forehead.
In my dark well
he mirrors his depth of light.
Par Lagerkvist, who was born in 1891, has been for many years among
Sweden's most influential writers. Poet, novelist, playwright and essayist, he is
one of the eighteen "Immortals" of the Swedish Academy, and in 1951 received
the Nobel Prize for Literature. He resides in Lidingo.
W. H. Auden and Leif Sjoberg translated Dag Hammarskold's Markings, and
the recently-published Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelof. Mr. Auden's next book
of poetry, Letter to a Godson, will appear in the fall of 1972. Mr. Sjoberg, who
teaches at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, has completed A
Reader's Guide to Gunnar Ekelbf's A Molna Elegy, to be released soon by
Twayne, New York.
138 PAN
RON   MILES
That my fife has been a matter for speculation
is the lot of bastards, but be assured I had
a father, an immortal like yours, and he a mate.
Believe too that when you cry out
someone who is also you answers.
And when you play at dance
ask if music still lives.
You will have heard my death
is no mere rumor, but a fact.
Below the waist you know the truth,
my servants of the lasting faith.
Ron Miles has had poems in a number of Canadian journals. He teaches English at Cariboo College in Kamloops, British Columbia.
139 NIJINSKIJ*
LARS   FORSSELL
Translated from the Swedish by Leif Sjoberg and Michael Hamburger
MARIAGE AVEC DIEU
I
All became silent
when Romola opened the door
She felt there was something in the air
or he himself in the leap, the famous
explosion in slow-motion
II
"What is it?"
Berthe's beet-root red fingers halted in the dough
and Marcello said "Niente"
but it was brought out through Heinz
"When I was small
I often ran errands for Herr Nietzsche
and he behaved towards the end
precisely like Mr. Nijinskij now"
III
She caught sight of him down on the village street
He wore the heavy golden cross over his tie
and stopped all and warned them
not at any price to miss Mass
Romola grabbed hold of him "Now stop
those Tolstoy manners
You make yourself ridiculous"
140 IV
"But Romola, the world takes after me
The women copy my costumes
they paint their eyes obliquely
because I happened to be born with high cheekbones
I make the fashion, more than Chanel,
so why should I not try to inspire them with the whim
to seek Truth?"
V
He called this his marriage with God
Marriage to God he called it
VI
Soon after he was brought to the clinic in Zurich
sentenced in his absence
in contumaciam
VII
To speak with the professor
"Either he is mad
or only Russian"
To speak with the Americans
"He was crazy all right"
"They get together whispering.
I can hear my muscles speak
in small creakings of the chair I am sitting on
They flock les comtes et les comtesses
clouds of perfume
or like the water fleas in the brown tarn at Mazr
Quelles f esses;
I am sitting with my back to.
141 I catch a horrible smell
Now I must not burst into tears.
Down on the instep there opens up
a muscle, a mouth, the little mouth, of a child ■
you shall dance tonight
in a smell of Chanel you shall dance tonight
you shall dance like a rose
Then I shall whisper to my wrist in a while
I shall dance in a while
in a while in a year in millions of years
but they only want to shut their eyes.
Dance so I stand.    Dance myself hot.
Dance to you The War without arms.
Burst in the leap with dangling bowels.
The war that you did nothing about."
Then he danced for them The War
and no one had seen anything like it
either before or later.
The accompanist, writes Romola, kept pace
bravely and as well as she could.
Translators' Note: This poem does not claim any biographic authenticity;
however, episodes have been taken out of Romola Nijinskij's biography of her
husband. "Mariage Avec Dieu" is almost verbatim from that biography.
Lars Forssell is a leading poet and dramatist of the younger generation in
Sweden and the youngest member of the Swedish Academy. Michael Hamburger, the well-known translator and author, lives in London.
142 RELIGION NONE
RICHARD   SNYDER
Please to be seated
and now all rise.
I've made plans
and combed the backside of mules
and sometimes the thought of going home
hurries me to thinking
that all I've done has been done
and high time to cut tail or lock wood.
Chilly sunny mornings in July
and fires in the mackinaw nights
singe the brain
and forestall the hanging lessons
that point towards quarry in the unknown.
The scent of camel just over the hill
and dune upon dune
of lost but intriguing questions
has laid an arrow on my arm.
Straight is the line to the stars.
and late comes the word to leave.
I've disoriented the embers
and left my poems for the glacier to recapture.
The people I love the most
are covering the hillside
intent on the mountain
and its treasure.
I've turned away from their breath
but the memory of childish thumbs
clings to my odyssey.
Soon their scrawl will be illegible.
Richard Snyder is part-owner of a Turkish restaurant and co-commander-in-
chief of Kitsilano You.
143 TWO POEMS BY JAMES McGINNISS
THE STARGAZER
The Babylonian
sky tonight
is faultless (with a moon
as fine as any ironstone
bowl stuck
beneath a foot
of soil,
a map
of careful fractures
in the glaze
of age, of cold,
a certain calender
of change
they pull it up
each month
& rub it clean
with denim
so it shines
tongues differ
but the stars won't change.
another aspect
of the sun
will only bring a body closer
into summer, fall
another side of warmth
144 they scan the stars
for omens, gods & animals
& miss the light
itself
which plays upon the bowl:
a cup of special water
to taste the lather
of an active wave
is to have a portion of the world
upon the tongue
a clod of earth & fire make the rest, one
in either hand will do
let the iris
swallow stars
(as that
credible flower
closes
on a dozing bee
in the endless dusk
of summer)
& so remember sleep
145 the Pleiades
are a bee's wings
on the surface of a pond
the white bowl
packed in soil
is as fine as any moon
rising in the east
through air as thin as tracing paper
age showing in its face as
plains & craters — fractures
in the blue glaze (the night wind
a denim cloth
polishing the umber moon
to a dull finish
the Babylonians had it:
the proper star,
a plumb bob in the desert wind.
a slit across the heavens is a rule of thumb
146 THE MELANCHOLY GALIARDE
his sleep
at Elsinore
drifts with the noise
of slippers
on a marble floor, the sting
of blades
as they sever
ribbons in the hall
(it's quiet just now,
the candle shivers
by his open door
& the memento mori
on the table
lacks
a jaw, an inch
of flame
inspects the socket: empty.
it can read
the tablature
of darkness & embrace
147 each stone
& turret in a wink, so
the mortar of this winter palace crumbles
& the chatter
of a lady leaks
from a fissure in the wall with silk
& the elegance of foils & daggers
breeds compassion
in the footman: a sigh which holds
a touch of rust.    So
the court swarms to him
& the ladies all give suck (even
in a sleep as mild as this)
to his mood, his pain,
his power to astonish
James McGinniss is in the graduate program of the Creative Writing Department at the University of British Columbia. His poetry appeared previously in
our Autumn '71 issue.
148 BOOKS AND PERIODICALS RECEIVED
BOOKS
Howard aster and jane meintjies, House on the Hill, McClelland & Stewart,
1972, political satire and cartoons, 182 pps. $4.95.
Hubert aquin, Prochain Episode, New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 126 pps., $1.75.
pat austen, A Time for Lilies, Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1971, $0.50.
ronald bates, Northrop Frye, McClelland & Stewart, Canadian Writers, New
Canadian Library Original, 1971, 62 pps. $0.95.
kenneth Bernard, Night Club and Other Plays, introduction by Michael
Feingold, Winter House, 1971, The Winter Repertory, Vol. 1. 200 pps., $7.95
hardcover, $2.95 paperback.
earle birney, The Poems of Earle Birney, New Canadian Library, McClelland
& Stewart, 62 pps., $1.50.
avi boxer, No Address, DC Books, 5 Ingleside Ave., Montreal 215, poetry, 76
pps. $5.00 cloth, $3.00 paper.
joseph bruchac, Indian Mountain and other poems, Ithaca House, 1971, 73
pps. $2.95.
fred Cogswell, The Chains of Liliput, Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1971, 32 pps.
$0.50.
david l. condit, Slingshots Morality-Spooks, Corduroy Press, 406 Highland
Ave., Newark, N.J. 07100, poetry, $1.25.
robertson davies, A Voice From the Attic, New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 360 pps. $2.95.
William henry drummond, Habitant Poems, New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 110 pps. $1.50.
harvey feinberg, Cock of the Morning, The Crossing Press, 1971, poetry,
illustrated, 43 pps. $1.50.
sylvia fraser, Pandora, McClelland & Stewart, 1972, Novel, 255 pps. $7.95.
0. w. frost (ed.), Tales of Eskimo Alaska, Alaska Methodist University Press,
1971. Drawings by Kci Ochessess, special issue of the Alaska Review, 91 pps.
dan   Kennedy,  Recollections  of an  Assiniboine  Chief,  McClelland  &  Stewart,
1972, 160 pps. $7.95.
irving layton, The Collected Poems of Irving Layton, McClelland & Stewart,
1971,488 pps. $14.95.
j. m. g. le clesio, The Book of Flights, translated by Simon Watson Taylor,
Atheneum, 1972, 319 pps.
dorothy livesay   (ed), 40  Women Poets of Canada,  Ingluvin Publications,
Montreal, 141 pps. $3.00.
david mcaleavey, Sterling 403, Ithaca House, 1971, poetry, 75 pps. $2.95.
david mcfadden, Intense Pleasure, McClelland & Stewart, 1972, poetry, 94 pps.
$4-95-
eli  mandel   (ed),  Poets  of  Contemporary  Canada, New  Canadian Library,
McClelland & Stewart, 138 pps. $2.95.
hardin w. masters, Edgar Lee Masters, A Centenary Memoir-Anthology, A. S.
Barnes & Co., 1972, 62 pps. $4.50.
Brian moore, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, New Canadian Library, McClelland
& Stewart, 244 pps. $2.35. william h. new, Malcolm Lowry, Canadian Writers, New Canadian Library
Original, McClelland & Stewart, 1971, 64 pps. $0.95.
al purdy, Selected Poems, McClelland & Stewart, 1972, 127 pps. $6.95 cloth,
$2.95 paper.
thomas raddall, Roger Sudden, New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 358 pps. $2.95.
richard robillard, Earle Birney, Canadian Writers, New Canadian Library
Original, McClelland & Stewart, 1971, 64 pps. $0.95.
eric salmon, Another Morning Coming, Outposts Publications, Walton on
Thames, Surrey, England, 1971, poetry, 32 pps. $1.25.
david Sinclair (ed), Nineteenth-Century Narrative Poems, New Canadian
Library, McClelland & Stewart, 190 pps. $2.50.
Audrey thomas, Munchmeyer and Prospero on the Island, Two Short Novels,
Bobbs-Merrill, 157 pps. $6.95.
john waddington-feather, Garlic Lane, Hub Publications, Youlgrave, Bake-
well, Derbyshire, England, 1970. Play, 23 pps.
rudy henry wiebe, Peace Shall Destroy Many, New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 239 pps. $2.35.
peter wild, Grace, Stone Chapbooks, The Stone Press, New Jersey, Poetry, 25
pps. $0.75.
peter wild, Peligros, Ithaca House, 1971, poetry, 65 pps. $2.95.
Christopher Wiseman, Waiting for the Barbarians, Fiddlehead Poetry Books,
I97I, 56 pps. $2.00.
ross g. woodman, James Reaney, Canadian Writers, New Canadian Library
Original, McClelland & Stewart, 1971, 60 pps. $0.95.
PERIODICALS
Kapa, ed. Peter Pepper, University of Hawaii, twice a year, poetry and prose, for
and by the undergraduates of the University of Hawaii.
Karaki, ed. Ken Fernstrom, English Dept., University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C.,
poetry, fiction.
Oasis,  ed.   Ian  Robinson,   12   Stevenage  Road,  London  SW6  6ES,  England,
Poetry, fiction, illustrations, three times a year, sub. $5, single copies $1.50.
Quarry, ed. Raymond Carver, College V, University of California, Santa Cruz,
Calif. 95060. Fiction, poetry, articles, drawings. Twice a year, sub. $2.00 per
year.
The Canadian Fiction Magazine, ed. Wayne Stedingh, 4248 Weisbrod St., Prince
George, B.C. Fiction, book reviews, articles. 3 times a year, $1.50 each, sub.
$5.00 per year.
150 University of British Columbia
Bookstore
TEXTBOOKS
REFERENCE BOOKS
PAPERBACKS
STATIONERY
Hours: Weekdays 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
BOOKS
for almost every taste
and purpose can be found,
easily, at
and PAPERBACK CELLAR
919 Robson
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1032 W. Hastings
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684-3627
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I51 The Canadian Fiction
Magazine
Editor: R. W. Stedingh
Fiction   Essays   Photos   Manifestoes   Reviews   Graphics
The Canadian Fiction Magazine is a journal of contemporary Canadian fiction. The editor invites manuscripts from writers residing in
Canada and/or Canadians writing in other countries. It is published
four times per year by the editor.
Past issues have included work by Eugene McNamara, Leon Rooke,
Michael Bullock, Lawrence Russell, J. Michael Yates, George Payerle,
Andreas Schroeder, George McWhirter, Glenn Clever and many others.
Future issues will include a complete novella by Linda Wikene Johnson
and fiction by such promising writers as Michael Mirolla, Don Thompson, Charles Lillard and Don Bailey.
The editor invites your support for this CANADIAN literary magazine.
Please send all donations, subscriptions, and manuscripts to:
THE EDITOR
The Canadian Fiction Magazine
4248 WEISBROD STREET, PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
SUBSCRIPTION  FORM
THE EDITOR
The Canadian Fiction Magazine
4248 WEISBROD STREET, PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
I enclose $ for a year subscription to The Canadian
Fiction Magazine.
1 year — $ 5.00 2 years — $ 9.00 3 years —$13.00
NAME  	
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