Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Unfortunate Reality

“Alright, Monica, push!  Push!”

She let out a scream that would’ve shaken the graves of those who passed away.  It was her first child, and she didn’t know what to expect.  When the doctor came in with a needle the size of her finger, she waved it off, “You have to stick that in my back?  No, I’ll pass.”  The epidural would’ve saved her from a multitude of pain, but she wasn’t privy to it.  As a matter of fact, she rarely saw the doctor throughout the pregnancy so it was a tossup as to whether or not the child would be born without any difficulties.  Her mother passed away when she was five, and it left her father to raise her on his own.  At the time, he was twenty-three, and he was so caught up in his own life that he didn’t make time for her.  Luckily, she had a grandmother who was older but still willing to take custody of Monica to keep her from going into the foster care system.  She had seen first-hand the effects that could have on a child, so she did what she had to do.  Her name was Janice Carter, and she was her father’s mother, but Monica only knew her as Mama.

“Push, Monica, Push!  That’s it, keep it going!  Good job, Monica, good job!”

In the hospital room, the nurse stood beside her and held her hand as she used a towel to wipe the sweat from her forehead.  “You’re doing great, Monica.  Just keep going.”  She coached her from the side and as a two-time mother herself, she knew the pain the Monica was going through and did her best to ease it all.  Trey, the child’s father, stormed out in an unbelievable rage the day he found out Monica was pregnant.  The scene wasn’t how she expected it to go at all.

“Trey?  Hey, baby.”

“Whassup, Monica?”

She walked to the couch as he sat, watching Sunday football with a burger in his hand that she just prepared for him.  They were both nineteen years old, and Janice passed away two years before, but she left her the house that she paid for before she died.  Janice was living in a three bedroom house with no mortgage, and the only thing she had to pay for was the monthly bills, something she could manage as a cashier in a department store.  “Do you like the burger?”  Trey didn’t turn to look at her when he answered, “Yeah, it’s straight.”

The announcer on the television spoke up as the play just began.  Monica reached into her pocket and pulled out two pictures to place them on the table.  After a few moments, she realized that Trey wasn’t going to look at them from there, so she picked them up and set them on his lap.  He stopped in mid-chew and glanced down at them, speaking will a full mouth.  His voice was muffled, “What is this?”  She was nervous because she didn’t know how he would take it but she knew the truth had to come out eventually, “These are sonograms.  We’re um; we’re gonna have a baby.”  She had been dating Trey for almost a year and even though it was off-and-on, it was still the most consistent relationship either of them had.  Monica smiled at him as she waited for a response and suddenly, she got it.

Trey smacked the small photos off his lap as they fluttered to the ground, “Pregnant?!  Nah, I… I don’t know why you’re tellin’ me that.  You know I pull out every time we don’t use a condom.”  She exhaled, hoping that it didn’t go this way, but she knew it was a slim chance that it wouldn’t.  She sat back on the couch as seclusion saturated her facial expression.  He slammed the plate down on the table, nearly shattering it as the top bun of his burger flew onto the floor.

“Nah, nah, I know that ain’t mine.  You’ve been cheatin on me, Monica, huh?  You’ve been messin’ around with somebody else, and since they got you pregnant, you’re tryin to pass it off as mine?”

“Trey, stop trippin’.  You know I ain’t been with nobody else.”

“I know?  I know, huh?  All I know is that I never came inside of you so how is this baby mine, huh?”

“Trey, it’s yours!  I haven’t been with anybody else!  You’re the only dude I ever been with!”

Tears began to well up in her eyes as Trey paced back and forth, his nostrils flaring with both fists balled up as if he was ready to punch through a wall.

“Whatever, Monica!  You can tell me anything you want to!  Oh, I guess the dude I saw you at the grocery store with ain’t nobody, huh?  Go and tell him that you’re pregnant!”

“Grocery store?  Trey, I told you that he worked there, and I asked him where the vegetables were!  That’s it!”

“Whatever!  Look, I ain’t stayin’ here for this!  I’ma let you go and find the real father of that baby and tell him the news because it ain’t mine!”

He looked down at the sonograms that laid spread out on the floor and when he reached down to grab one, he ripped it into pieces and flung them into the air like confetti.  “And don’t call me until you get all this situated!  I’m done!  For real!”  He stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind him, the vibration knocked pictures off the wall as Monica buried her head into the couch and cried out loud.  It was an acute pain that she hadn’t felt before, the precise stabbing of small needles into her heart as she was on the verge of hyperventilating.  Suddenly, she felt a cool and calm spirit around her.  “It’s gonna be alright, Monica,” the voice said as she looked up with teary, reddened eyes.  She calmed her breathing and sat up as she looked to the floor to grab the two pictures that were still intact.  On the back of them, she wrote, “Monica and Trey’s baby,” and placed them on her table.  The truth was the truth, no matter what Trey said.

Inside the hospital, she pushed again but this time, the baby was fully out as the doctor suctioned the fluids out of his mouth and patted him on the back until his first cries came out.  “There we are, theeere we are little boy, you’re fine, you’re fine,” the doctor said as he passed him to the nurses to they could quickly clean him up.  Monica was out of breath and suddenly, the pain she had seconds ago seemed to all be worth it once she realized her baby boy had come out unharmed.  “Can I… can I see him?” she asked, still trying to recollect herself.  “Of course!  They are just cleaning him and then they will bring him right to you.”

They walked over with her baby boy and placed him in her arms as tears rolled down her face.  The nurse that was by her side continued to coach her, “Just hold him close to your skin for a while so his body temperature can regulate.  Yes, that’s it, right by your bosom.”  Monica held him close and kissed him on the cheek as he relaxed, his eyes moving around aimlessly like he knew he was no longer in the comfort of the womb.  “Do you have a name for him?” the nurse asked as she admired them.  “Yes.  His name is Allen.  Allen Travelle Taylor.”  From that day, she always held him close to her and when Trey came to visit his son in the hospital, Monica rolled her eyes at him.  He hadn’t contacted her at all for the entire length of the pregnancy, but Monica didn’t want her son to grow up without her father around, so for his sake, she told Trey what hospital she was in.  When he came in, his hair had grown out and was on the verge of locking up.  His pants sagged just below his waist, and he had all types of jewelry hanging from his neck and around his wrists.  During the last nine months, Monica had gotten word that Trey started selling drugs to make extra money.

“Yo, whassup, Monica?”

“Allen is right there.”

He walked over to look at his baby boy, but honestly, he wasn’t interested in him, and he still hadn’t accepted the fact that he belonged to him.  He stuck his finger inside the incubator and smiled at Allen, but quickly left his side and stood by Monica.  He reached out for her hand, but she snatched it away, “What do you want, Trey?  I thought you were here to see the baby.”  He smiled arrogantly, “Yeah, I did come for that, but I came for you, too.  I miss you.  I miss what we had.”  She sucked her teeth, “Trey, get out of here with that, for real.  You dissed me nine months ago and after all the morning sicknesses, the cravings, and everything else I had to go through BY MYSELF, you wanna come back around?  Nah, I’m not goin’ there with you.  There is your son.  He is the only reason we will ever need to communicate with each other.”  He reached out for her hand,

“Come on, Monica.  You know you-”

“Trey, get out of here before I call security!  I’m not playing with you!”

His nostrils flared, the same look he had when she told him that she was pregnant and with that, he left the room without once looking at his son.  Monica refused to let tears fall from her eyes over him as Allen moved around in his incubator.  He deserved more than what Trey was going to give him, and Monica knew it but for now, she was only focused on raising her son to the best of her ability.

 

FIFTEEN YEARS LATER

 

“Mama!  Mama!  Where is the ketchup!”

“It is in the refrigerator!”

“Where?  I don’t see it, Mama!”

The two of them yelled back and forth from the kitchen to the front room until Monica sighed and got up, “If I come in there and grab that ketchup, I promise I am going to pop you upside your head!”  She walked in as Allen stood with the ketchup in his hand and a broad grin on his face.  He burst out laughing as soon as he saw her.  Monica shot him a look of disgust before she charged at him.  She was thirty-four years old, but she still looked as though she was in her mid-twenties and people had a hard time believing that she was the mother of a 15-year-old boy.

She still lived in her grandmother’s house, but now, she worked as a supervisor at a call center and made well over enough money to keep her and her son happy.  Allen was a good kid for the most part, but she saw a lot of Trey in him.  His temper, mainly, was what she worried about the most.  He was always getting into fights at school and with children around the neighborhood.  His father came close to laying hands on her when she was younger, but he never crossed the line.  With Allen though, it didn’t seem that he had that kind of restraint when it came to other people.  The two of them had an air-tight relationship and even though he didn’t have a father figure in his life, he still had a good grasp on what it was like to be a man.  His teacher, Mr. Weston, did much to structure him as much as he could, and he recognized Allen as a bright student during the parent teacher conferences.

“Allen is really a smart kid, Monica.  He just gets mixed up with the wrong crowd a lot of times, you know?  Bad company corrupts good morals, so all of the good things you are teaching him at home sort of gets washed away when he comes around these group of kids.”

That was what he said each time Allen had gotten into trouble at school, and he was on the verge of being kicked out of Madison High School if he kept up his behavior.  Trey had only seen Allen twice in his lifetime, once at the hospital and then once again when Allen was five.  Allen said that he had no memory of his father and even though Monica tried her best not to talk bad about Trey in front of his son, Allen still drew his own conclusion.  He was a mirrored image of his father, same thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes.  His hair kinked up the same way Trey’s did when he started growing it out, and Monica would shake her head at how much the two of them resembled.  At times, it scared her because she felt that somehow, she had gone back in time and started life as a teenager all over again.  Those thoughts only lasted for split seconds, though, and she hated when it happened.

Trey continued to be a dope dealer since the day he left the hospital and for a while, he was making a lot of money.  Monica would hear how he was driving new cars almost every other week and flashing pockets full of twenty dollar bills and tossing them up at the strip clubs like they were dollar bills.  Ten years after Allen was born, Trey was robbed by a group of other men and the ended up shooting him in the legs.  The doctors thought he would be paralyzed, but amazingly, he regained his ability to walk after extensive rehab sessions.  He had a limp, but it was better than strolling along in a wheelchair.

Back at the house, Allen was preparing to leave.  “Aight Mama, I’ma be back later on.”  He grabbed his bag and headed to the door,

“Wait a minute, boy!  Where are you going?  Don’t play with me.”

“Mama, I’m going to Ricky house right down the street.”

“Ricky?  Is his Mama gon’ be there?”

He exhaled,

“Yes, Mama.  She will be there.”

“Boy, if I call around there, and she is not home, I am coming over there with a switch, and I am lighting you up right in front of yo’ little friends.”

He laughed and kissed her on the cheek,

“Aight Mama, beat me with a switch, aight.  I got it.  Any other method of abuse you got for me?”

She playfully swung at him, but he eluded her and ran to the door,

“I’ll be back, Mama.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

When he got far enough away from the house, he looked inside of his bag to make sure he had everything.  A black Glock 9 and a few bags of weed was what he needed for the trip he and Ricky were about to make.  Ironically, he followed in the same footsteps of his father except he started at a much younger age.  He was influenced by the wrong crowd, and when the music videos showed him what it was to be a man, he figured he needed to step into his place as well.  He made it over to Ricky’s house, “What up, fam?”  They shook hands as Ricky spoke,

“Chillin.  You ready?”

“Yeah, let’s roll.”

They headed to the West side of town to make a drop.  Allen knew that it would be dangerous because they were going on unknown territory but he wasn’t scared at all.  In fact, Ricky was the one who was calm, and it was just because Allen was there.  As they rode to the West Side, Allen glanced at his phone.  “My Moms is calling, man.  She is about to snap once she finds out where I’m at.  She probably called your mom first.”  Ricky drove his car with one hand on the steering wheel, “Yeah.  Don’t answer that, though.  Just wait until we get back.”  Allen slid his phone back in his pocket, and twenty minutes later, they arrived on the West Side of town.

Both of them were unfamiliar with the area, but they knew where they needed to go.  Little did Allen know, Trey lived on the same side of town, but Allen wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup, let alone identify his relation to him.  “Aight, you ready?  The house is right there,” Ricky said as they were parked on the street.  “Aight, Let’s go.”

They both got out of the car and headed towards the house as Trey walked down the sidewalk with a limp.  He was still on edge since the time he had gotten shot and even though it was almost ten years ago, he never forgot the moment it happened.  A group of young boys, close to the ages of Ricky and Allen, were the reason he had to walk with a limp.  As they approached him, Allen put his hand near his waist.  In unfamiliar territory, he always wanted to be ready to pull out if it came down to it.  Trey tensed up as they inched towards each other’s path, “Whassup, little nigga?” he said as he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to block their path, “Yall don’t belong over here.  I can tell.  What’s up?”  Allen glared at him, but before he responded, he realized that something was off about him.  It was like he was looking in a mirror and watching an older version of himself right in front of him.

Ricky spoke up, “We ain’t here to see you, so watch out.”  Trey didn’t budge, and when Ricky shoved him back, Allen snapped out of his trance and pulled his gun out, “Look, we ain’t come here for all that.  We just trying to see Snap, aight?”  In Trey’s mind, flashbacks of the fateful night he was shot twice by the group of boys began to replay in his mind.  He looked down the dark barrel of the gun, oblivious to any detail of Allen that might have told him that they were related.  It was all erased, and the only thing he could focus on was avoiding being gunned down again by a group of teens.  As Allen pointed the gun at Trey, he froze again.  He saw his own eyebrows, lips, nose and eyes on the face of this man in front of him.  His eyebrows wrinkled up but to Trey, he sensed hesitation.  He is not going to shoot me, he said in his mind.  He had been living a street life for a while, and he knew when somebody was going to shoot and when they were bluffing.  Allen wasn’t bluffing by any means, but seeing his features on another man bugged him out completely.  Slowly, he began to wonder if the man standing in front of him was his father.  Before he could react to his thoughts, Trey pulled the pistol from his waist and as Allen was on the verge of yelling for him to stop.  Pow! Pow! Pow!  Trey emptied his clip into Allen as Ricky ran from the scene.

Blood spilled from his body as he laid on the sidewalk, gasping for air.  Trey stood over him and shook his head, “Not this time, little nigga.  Not this time.”  As Ricky sped off, Trey turned around and limped away from the scene of the murder.  Allen laid there with his eyes wide open; chest covered in blood as his gasps for air slowly ended.  If you are not being a father to your son, you are killing your son.

 

If you liked this story, or any of the short stories I have posted, please take a moment to check out the kickstarter page for my upcoming novel, “Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle.”

 

 

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Allen “Breeze” Rawlons

“Hey Daddy, when can I drive?”

I looked in the rearview mirror to get a better look at my son.  His light brown eyes illuminated as the sun beamed down onto his mahogany complexion.  He sat in his car seat, his feet dangling halfway to the floor.  It was almost time for him to sit on the regular seat like the big kids but he still had a few more months to go, and I didn’t want to rush it.  If I could have it my way, he would stay the same age for as long as I could keep him there like Peter Pan.

“When you get old enough, son.”

“But Daddy, I am old enough.  I can see over the steering wheel.”

“It takes more than seeing over the steering wheel to know how to drive.  You’ll get there, trust me.  Just enjoy the ride for now.”

He sighed and glanced out the window as I smiled to myself.  He was a splitting image of me when I was his age.  My mother would sit down and show pictures of me in my younger days, and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn that the boy in the picture was the same kid in the car seat behind me.  Just as I was about to speak to him again, the phone buzzed in my lap.  I immediately became disgruntled when I saw the name flash across the face of my screen.

My ex-wife barely gave me any breathing room whenever I had my son.  My visitation rights were cut down because of my job.  Being a police officer took up the majority of my time, and it was mainly the reason why she felt she needed a divorce.  Her insecurities built up over time and for the longest, she just felt like there was another woman.  Somebody, I was cheating on her with and she was partially right.  It wasn’t a physical act that was brewing but more of an emotional one.  She checked out of the marriage, and it forced me to fill the voids in other ways.  In my mind, physically cheating was worse than doing so emotionally, so I chose the lesser of two evils.  In retrospect, emotional adultery was worse, and once those doors opened, there was no way to close them.  I read her text when I came to a stop light.

“Where are you at with my son?”

“This is my time with him.  Why are you worried about it?  I’ll have him home when he is supposed to be home.”

“You better not have him around no other women.  I swear to God, Allen.”

“Look.  This is my time with my boy, aight?  You can interrogate him later on about the other bs, but right now, I am busy.”

The light turned green as I set the phone in my lap and pulled off.  I looked back at A.J. as he picked up one of his toy cars and drove it across his lap.  In his other hand, he made another car crash into it.  “Boom!” he said as he banged the cars into each other repeatedly.  Just then, the phone buzzed in my lap again.  I tried to do things to get my mind off the fact that Lauren seemingly harassed me anytime I had A.J. with me.  She had the ability to send me from one to one-hundred in record time at any given moment.  I looked straight ahead, doing everything in my power not to look at her text but I couldn’t resist.  If it was something disrespectful, I had to fire back.  I couldn’t let it sit and wait until later because then; she would feel like she won whatever childish dispute was going on between us.  The road was clear ahead of me, so I reached down and grabbed the phone as my son kept replaying the same accident over and over.

“Interrogate him?  You should be the one interrogated for posing as a man!  You’re not a man!  A.J. will be ashamed once he knows who his father really is!”

She sent a cold chill down my spine.  She knew what buttons to press to piss me off.  My son kept playing with his cars in the back seat, yelling out “Boom!” every few seconds as I drove.  I looked up to make sure the road was clear and with that, I put one thumb on the screen and began firing off my response.  “Boom!  Boom!”  Just after I pressed send, I looked up, but it was too late.  An SUV was coming at us full speed on the same side that my son was seated.  My mouth dropped open, and before I could say a word, the truck smacked into the side of our car and flipped us over like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind.  When we came to a stop, our car was flipped over on the hood as blood trickled down from my forehead and onto the ceiling which was now the floor.

“A.J.?”

I called out to him in a faint voice, struggling to hold onto my consciousness.  I slowly turned my head back to him as he was suspended in the air and the only thing that was keeping him from hitting the bottom were the straps of his car seat.  His side of the car was caved in as blood dripped from his head.  The window beside him had completely shattered, and as I reached back to him, I finally lost consciousness.

“Um, sir?  Are you ready to order?”

I looked up at her as she stood at my table with a pen and a pad of paper in her hand.  She was young and attractive.  She seemed like she was either a single parent reaching to make ends meet or a College student doing what she had to so that she could keep some money in her pocket.  Her hair was tied up in a ponytail, and there were a few loose strands that fell over her forehead.  She pushed them to the side as she smiled, waiting for me to order.

“Yes.  Just um, give me the blackened salmon, please.  Mashed potatoes and corn.”

“Alright, sir.  Will that be all?”

I looked at the menu while simultaneously stealing glances of her pulchritude.  I was good at hiding my eyes with the brim of my hat.

“I wouldn’t mind taking your number.”

She took my menu away from me and winked,

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that… but if I were single, I would.  I would, and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”

She turned and walked away.  She could have been just trying to let me down easily because she didn’t have to add to her reason but at this point in my life, I didn’t care.  The rejection wasn’t something I was afraid of.  There was either going to be a yes or a no and either way; I would live with it.  My son, though?  He wouldn’t have that chance and even though the accident happened five years ago, my mind still replayed it like it was something that just occurred.  I leaned back as the patrons continued to flood into the restaurant.  It was more of a bar than anything else, but there was an area where you could sit and dine and across the room, there were a wet bar and a dancefloor for those who wanted to cut a rug.  The atmosphere around me was a bit cloudy, but I didn’t mind.  It added to the peculiarity of my personality.  Unclear.  Foggy.  Ambiguous.  Enigmatic.  I reveled when people used those words to describe me.  It meant that I came off to them exactly how I wanted to.

After my son’s death, I developed tunnel vision.  The psychiatrists I was referred to stated that the path I was headed down was unhealthy.  “Mr. Eddison, you are powering straight towards a profound and dark depression.  You cannot keep shutting people out and holding onto the bitterness that lives inside of you.  It is going to make you rotten from the inside out and cut your life in half.”  I sat up on the awkward couch that I was forced to lie on, “The more I let people in, the more bitter I become and by the way things are going in this world, it would be better to be dead than deal with the nuances of this life.  I’m fine where I am and quite frankly, Dr. Slowerwizt-” he interrupted me,

“That’s Showerwitz.”

“Whatever.  You are wasting your time with me.  You could be using this slot to help someone who wants your help than to be with me and continue to allow me to patronize you and your profession.  I have been sending barbs at you all day, but I guess you can’t catch on to my sarcasm.  Common sense is not something they teach you.  You have to be born with it.”

The sessions never went well, and finally, my lieutenant let me off the hook so I could do my job.  I went from a regular patrol officer to a detective in eight years on the force.  I loved my job, and it was only because I could get lost in it and forget about the things that were happening in my life.  My wife made the divorce final just one year after my son’s death.  Soon after that, she packed up and moved across the country to California.  I blamed her for his death, but it wasn’t her fault.  It wasn’t her fault at all; I just couldn’t find the strength to shoulder the blame on my own.  I am a man, but I have my flaws, and that was one of them.  I could face anything in life except going to the grave and apologizing to my son for ending his life well before it should have.  I sighed and took my hat off just as the pretty waitress brought my food to the table.

“How does everything look?”

I winked at her, not once glancing at my food,

“Things couldn’t look any better.”

She smiled and walked away as she switched back and forth.  She made her case, but now, I just thought she was working for a bigger tip.  Life had made my cynical even though most would say that it was one of the effects of bitterness.  To hell with them all.  I popped the napkin open and stretched it across my lap and no sooner, he walked in.  I put my hat back on to cover my eye sight as I watched him walk to his table.  A pretty boy.  Tall, chocolate and deep, wavy hair that most men would kill to have.  He wore a fitted shirt that showed off his physique as two women draped on each side of him.  He was a player and women knew that.  They knew it, but when you have looks and money, none of that matters.  Most women will put up with your flaws when you have it made like that and the more money you have, the more they will put up with.  It was like clockwork.  He was the guy, though.  He was the one that the agency had their eye on.  He had a slew of women at his disposal and periodically, a few would come up missing with him being the last person they were with.  None of us could get a hook into him, though.  The women that were with him kept their mouths shut at all costs.  It was like trying to pry open the mouth of a hungry alligator while his dinner was locked inside.  Nothing was coming out.

I watched him walk over to his VIP booth that overlooked the first floor of the restaurant.  His haughty gaze brushed over the patrons below him as if we were all his peasants and he was the king of the city.  In his mind, he was, but that was far from the truth.  This was my city and the only people that didn’t know it was the ones that hadn’t been crushed by my hands.  I took a sip of wine just as he looked in my direction.  Right now, he was a man that was seemingly able to side-step the grim reaper, but I had my sights on him, and he knew it.  He puckered his lips at me and then smiled.  Taunting.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was at his house asking him questions about the last missing woman.  Just behind him, another female stood with her arms folded over her chest, pushing her breasts up on top of her arms.  He turned around to see where my eyes were fixated,

“Oh, yeah, she is nice, isn’t she?  For the right price,” he leaned in towards me, “You can have her for the night.”

“Not interested.”

“Your eyes make you out to be a liar.”

“Your lips make you out to be one as well.”

His smile immediately wiped away and from that point, he refused to answer anything without his lawyer present.  We didn’t have concrete evidence about anything so we couldn’t go any further.  Ever since then, three more girls had come up missing, and all were with the same MO.  From that point on, he had become the only light in my tunnel vision.

I took a bite of salmon, and before I knew it, the same woman that stood behind him at his house stood in front of me.  She licked her lips and took it upon herself to pull a chair out, “I hope you don’t mind if I join you.”  She said it in a way that said she would be shocked if I said that I did mind.  I was torn on the decision myself.  She was easy on the eyes, full bodied and pretty.  Not movie star pretty, but she was pretty.

“So, what brings you here… alone?”

“My Camaro.”

She smiled,

“Cute.  Real cute.  How about you join us on the top floor.  Mike asked me to extend the offer.”

I took another bite of salmon,

“I’ll pass.”

“Oh, come now.  You can’t possibly be happy sitting here alone.”

“I’m quite content.”

Under the table, I felt her hand brush over my thigh.  My eyes peered up at her slowly as she smiled,

“For me?  I mean, listen, he sent me down here to extend the offer.  I will look like a failure if I can’t do something as small as bringing you back with me.  I mean,” she leaned forward, “WE, would appreciate it if you came with us.”

I couldn’t avoid what she was flaunting.  It was a weakness of mine that I spent time after time praying to God for forgiveness about.  I hadn’t visited a church in months, and that wasn’t the main reason that I gave in, but it had a lot to do with it.  I took another bite as she pleaded with me earnestly and after she had batted her eyes a few times, her long eyelashes fluttering like butterfly wings, I gave in.  It wasn’t because of her pleading; it was more so that I wanted another shot at Mike.  He was too comfortable, and I hated that.  I hated that more than anything else.

Upstairs, the suite was decked out.  Champaign on every table, the lights were low, women scantily clad.  If I were in my younger days, I would’ve indulged myself but I was much older now and besides that, it just wasn’t my thing anymore.  I couldn’t care less about getting drunk and reckless.  Mike extended has hand to me when I made it up there, “Detective Rawlons.  Good to see you again.”  I shook his hand firmly, my lips tight, jawbones gyrating inside my mouth.  “What is this about?”  He laughed, “Oh, come on, Detective.  I thought we would be on good terms now.  I mean, after all, you guys did come back with a search warrant and the whole nine, but you guys couldn’t find anything.  Now,” he leaned towards me, “You guys did trash a few wings of my home but hey, those were materialistic things.  They can be replaced and have been, but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones here.  I mean, I’m even the one inviting you up here with me.  I’ve buried the hatchet, and I think we can have a good relationship.”  He put his arm around me, but I swiftly smacked it off.  “I am not your friend, nor will I ever be.  You understand that now and there won’t be any need for you to invite me up next time.  You still have the stench of kidnapped bodies and missing women on you, and if it is the last thing I do, I will sniff it out.”

Mike glared at me and for a moment, I believed he was going to swing at me.  I wanted him to.  I was looking for a reason to put my fist to his jaw and send him crashing to the ground.  He was a few inches taller than me and as he peered in my direction, nostrils flaring, he decided against it and suddenly, a smile appeared across his face.  I was disappointed that he didn’t take his shot.  “Well, Detective, you are going to have a long road ahead of you, following a scent that is not even there.”  I squinted my eyes and looked around the room at the women that perused the VIP area.  Some walked around gauntly while others were smiling as if they were just happy to be around.  I made eye contact with her.  She sucked on her cigarette and blew the smoke out, then quickly turned away from me.  I knew who she was because I never forget a face.  I turned to Mike, “Thanks for bringing me up.  I’m sure we will bump heads later.”  He laughed, “Alright, Detective.  You can keep chasing ghosts and pass up on all these beautiful women.  I’ll tell you what, though, I will not make another offer for you to leave the slums and dine with a king.”  I stopped in my tracks as I walked away from him, wanting to turn back around and empty my clip into his chest.  He continued, “And if I catch you on my property again, harassing me with that nonsense, you will regret it.  I will make sure of it.” I took the cigar out of my pocket and relit it, leaving a cloud of smoke behind me as I left the VIP room.

My home was in shambles.  I hadn’t cleaned in over a month, but I didn’t see a need to.  I was barely home, and things seemed to be easier to find whenever I didn’t put them up somewhere.  I grabbed a cup of room temperature water from the table and took a few swallows of it.  Only God knew how long it had been there, but I didn’t care.  It wasn’t a time for me to be picky about it.  I pulled out my phone and flipped through the contact list until I got to his name.

“Donald.  I think we got a way in.  I saw Sherrie there, and she looks like she is mixed up with Mike.”

“Jesus, Allen, you’ve gotta leave that guy alone.  We’ve been embarrassed twice already by trying to put that guy’s name in some place that it doesn’t belong.”

“That’s bull, Don, and you know it.  We both know that Mike had somethin’ to do with-”

“Listen, Breeze, I hear you.  I hear you loud and clear, but it is not about what we know, it is what we can prove.  We can’t take some hair-brained case to the prosecution.  She will laugh us out of the office, and I know she will tell Lieutenant Branderson.  You know she will.”

“Alright, Don.”

He sighed,

“Listen, man, I’m sorry, alright?  I’m sorry, and you know I usually have your back on these things.  I had it when nobody else did.  I’m the one that went to his house with you when we didn’t even have a warrant, but enough is enough.  If he is guilty, it’ll show.  We just have to wait.”

“Yeah.  And in the meantime, those girls are going further and further into the sea of forgetfulness.”

There was a brief silence between us.  I knew he had already made his line in the sand, and he wasn’t going to cross it, so it would be up to me to find those girls.  I don’t know why it drove me to this point, but if I had to guess, it was because I know what a missing child can do to a family.  I’d seen first-hand how A.J.’s death ripped whatever strands were left of my marriage apart.  Not only my marriage but my reclusiveness had even driven me away from my family.  Instead of pulling everyone close together, it pushed me away.  As the silence lingered between us like a thick, morning fog, I hung up my phone and placed it on the crowded table.  What did I have to lose, I thought to myself as I picked up the glass of water and took another swallow.  The warm water slid down my throat like backwash as I looked around my apartment.  Nothing was hanging on the wall except a picture of A.J., his broad smile jetted across his face, exposing the missing front tooth that had fallen out just days before he was set to take his school pictures.  “It’s alright, man, the little girls will love your smile.  Just tell them you got into a fight and they won’t think twice of it.”  I remembered giving him that little pep talk the day before he was set to take the pictures.  I walked up to it and removed it from the glass so I could fold it and shove it into my pocket.  I wanted to make sure I had it with me because, for some reason, I knew I wasn’t going to be home.  Not for a while.

Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle – Snippet

I walked inside to inquire about where the help was needed.  An old man stood behind the register.  His round belly extended out further than it should have.  His suspenders went down his sides instead of his stomach; no belt would have a chance of reaching around his waist.  There were a few patrons in the store.  A tall, slender man stood in line with a carton of milk in his hand.  I took my place in line right behind him.  The store looked much different from the mom and pops stores in Idlewild.  No ceiling fans and no screen doors that popped when it crashed to a close.  It was very foreign to me.  A young woman walked past me and headed to the register where the over-sized man stood.  We made brief eye contacted.  I tipped the front of my hat towards her, and she smiled.  The man behind the counter noticed our interaction and slapped his hand on the table,

“Josephine! Stop flirtin’ with every man that walk through here and get behind this register before I find somebody more qualified to do this here work!”

She continued smiling at me as she walked towards the register, seemingly paying no attention to the old man’s threat.  The old man waddled from behind the counter.  I figured he was the one I needed to talk with.  I followed him towards the back of the store.

“Excuse me Mr.”

He kept walking as if he didn’t hear me.  I spoke a little louder as I stepped closer to him.  Still no response.  He was near his office when I finally reached out and grabbed him by his shoulder.

“Pardon me, suh.”

He spun around; his belly just inches from where I stood.  He had lit a cigarette on the way to his office, and it dangled out of his mouth as he spoke.  His voice was raspy, and his words seemed to all come out at once.  It sounded as if he was gargling his words,

“What can I do for ya?”

I took my hat off and held it in my hands,

“Well, Suh, I noticed you had a ‘help wanted’ sign outside your store.  I was hoping it was something here that I could help out with.”

“Ummhmm,” he said, looking me up and down.

He blew smoke from his cigarette into the air.  His goatee was almost entirely gray.  He was bald, except around the sides.  He had to have been close to 45 years old, but not more than 50.  He touched my biceps and shoulders.  I stood there, confused as to what he was doing.

“Where ya’ from?” he said, “ya’ talk like you ain’t from around these parts,” I responded as he continued checking me out, “I’m from Idlewild, TX suh.”  He spoke as soon as I finished talking like he knew when my sentence would end,

“Idlewild, huh? You say Idlewild?  So you come way up here to work for a mom-and-pop store?”

“No suh, I just need work for-”

He cut me off as I spoke,

“Pick up this here box,” he pointed to the bottom shelf, “and put it up here,” he pointed to the top shelf.  I placed my hat on the shelf and did what he asked.  “Ummmhmmm,” he said as the cigarette dangled out of his mouth.  I spoke up,

“I just need something to-” he cut me off again, “This is only gonna’ be temporary until my son gets outta’ jail.  When can you start?”  His words were too mumbled for me to understand him, “Suh?” I asked.  He took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it in his hands.  “I said when can you start? Are you hard a hearin’, too?” I could only make out a few words, but I guessed at what he said, hoping I was right, “I can start today.”  I guessed right.  “Hold on right here,” he mumbled as he placed the cigarette back in his mouth and walked back into his office.  I glanced around the mom-and-pop store.  It was larger than any store in Idlewild.  Josephine walked past the aisle I stood in, sweeping up the front of the market. Her dress stopped just below her knees.  Her hair was cut in a bobbed shape.  She wasn’t the prettiest woman, but by far, she wasn’t the ugliest.  It wasn’t her appearance that intrigued me, though; it was her aura.  She started down my aisle but quickly reversed her steps moments later when Leroy headed back in my direction.

“Here ya’ go,” he said, handing me an all-black apron, “You wear this when you come in tomorrow.  Your responsibilities will be to help keep the place clean. Sweeping, mopping and cleaning the restrooms. Stock the shelves, take out the trash and run errands for me when I need it.   Be here at 7 am.  Not 7:01, not 7:02, 7 am sharp.  If you are late, I dock ya’ pay for that day.”

“Thank you, suh,” I said as I held the apron in my hand.  He began walking away but turned around abruptly to say his last words, “And one last thing.  Do NOT mess with that girl here.  That girl right up front sweepin’ up.  You see that girl”, he grabbed my shoulders and pointed at her, then looked me in the eyes, “OFF. LIMITS. You hear me?”

“Yes suh, I hear you,”

I put my hat back on, and he released me so that I could head out of the store.  She smiled at me again when I walked out.  “Josephine!” the man yelled, “What I tell you, huh!?  Finish sweepin’ and then come round’ back here and sort these papers out!”  I had a feeling she would be trouble.

 

Chapter 3

 

It was 1 am when the phone rang.  I was too tired to get up to answer.  It was 2:20 am when I heard aggressive knocks at my door.  I lifted my head up, taking a moment to recollect myself as the knocks turned into bangs.  My bare feet slid lazily across the cool, wooden floor as I crept to the door.  “Who is it?” I asked in a raspy voice.  She yelled, “Ehhis, open up this door! Who else is comin’ over here before the rooster crows?!”  I was tempted to leave her outside, but I knew she would do nothing but bang louder until I opened up.  I opened the door, and she pushed her way past me before I could get a good look at her.  “Where is that Hussie at!?” She yelled as she frantically searched the apartment, “I know she’s in here! Where is she at!?”

She walked antagonistically through the apartment in a nightgown with a scarf over her head, opening and closing closet doors and cabinets in the pantry.  She looked under the bed and behind furniture.  I shook my head, walked lazily back to my bed and crept under the covers.  She turned on the lamp in my room moments later and stood at the foot of my bed. “Ehhis, where you been all day, huh?  I been calling you and calling you and you haven’t answered.  I even came by earlier today.  Now WHERE have you been negro?”  Her anger and foolishness were momentarily hidden by her beauty.  It had the innate ability to calm me down in heated moments.  I answered her peacefully, “I was out looking for work.”   She relaxed her stance, taking her hands off of her hips, “Oh,” she said, her voice beginning to soften.  I spoke, “I don’t do it as much as I should on account of all my time going to you.”  She sat down on the bed as I scooted my way into an upright position,

“Oh, so you’re gonna’ blame the fact that you don’t have a job on me?”

“Not entirely,” I said, “Besides, I found some work.”

She smiled,

“Well, I’ll say!”

I always thought it was incredible that she could go from extreme anger to happiness as quick a flip of the switch.

“Where bout, Ehhis?  Spill the beans.”

“At a mom-and-pop store a few blocks from here.”

“Well, when do you start?”

“Tomorrow.  7am”

She looked at my chain watch.

“Well, you need to be sleeping then!  It’s nearly 3 am!”

I shook my head in amazement at the range of emotions she exhibited in the last 10 minutes.  From rage to happiness, to concern. I spoke to her, “I was sleepin’ peacefully till’ you came in here with all that ruckus.”  She gently guided me back down on the bed and tucked me in.  Moments later, she turned off the light and was tucked in next to me on the other side.  “Ehhis, I’m sorry for acting a fool.  Sometimes, I just think the worst in situations like that.  I know you a good man, but that alone makes me think every woman in Harlem wants a piece of you.  I mean, not just that you’re a good person, but you’re quite a handsome fellow as well.  I’m just scared of losing you.”

The warmth of her body was comforting as she scooted closer to me and placed her arm on my stomach.  I responded as she readjusted herself.  “Yeah, but even with that, I have to be willing to go along with them if I was to cheat.  It’s all on me.”  She sighed, “I know Ehhis, I’m sorry, though, ok?  I’ma do better by you, I promise.  Now, let’s get some shut-eye.  You gotta’ get you some rest.  7 am ain’t slowin’ down on account of my craziness.”

My alarm went off at 6 am, and I slapped the clock on my nightstand to silence.  The abrupt movement caused my lady to re-adjust herself in the bed.  The room was sweltering.  A dry, humid air rested in the room on account of the window that was left open all night.  I looked at her.  She was still peacefully asleep, her face slightly glistening from sweat.  Her scarf had come off in the middle of the night and exposed the silky appearance of the hair that flowed from her head.  I gently moved the hair off her forehead and kissed her.  The sweat clung to my lips as I walked away from her.  She was a heavy sleeper.  I got out of bed, searched the closet for clothes and headed to the bathroom.  By the time I was cleaned up, the clock had read 6:44 am.  I walked back into the room.  She had kicked the covers onto the floor and was sprawled out on her back.  She only had on her undergarments.  Her thick thighs were exposed, resting peacefully on the top of the mattress.  Her breasts sat up perfectly inside her bra like they were wide awake, waiting to be released from their prison.  I walked over to her, running an ice cube across her forehead.  She opened her hazel eyes slowly.  I kissed her on the lips, and she smiled,

“Have a good day at work.”

I smiled and left.  The walk went quicker than I thought it would.  The street was quiet.  Much quieter than I had ever heard it.  Crickets chirped loud until the moment I got closer to them.  Street lights were flickering off.  A few men with factory clothes on came out of their apartments and headed down the same sidewalk with lunchboxes in their hands.  I looked down a little further, and a group of men with the same outfits stood at the bus stop.  We exchanged silent pleasantries as I walked past.  I got to the mom-and-pop store and tried to push the door open.  It was locked.  I cupped my hand to the glass door and peeked in, trying to see inside.  Seconds later, the store’s owner appeared seemingly out of nowhere and tapped the window.  Startled, I jumped back.  He peered at me from the other side of the glass, lip curled up like a Rottweiler, shaking his head with a cigarette hanging out his mouth.  He finally opened the door,

“Hey, you only five minutes early,” All of his words running together.  I looked at my chain watch, “Yes, suh.  You said sev-”, He cut me off,

“I know what I said. It’s 6:55, you may as well be late.”

“I’m sorr-,”

He cut me off again,

“Jus’ follow me,” he said as he tossed an apron into my chest.

I tied it around my waist and headed to the back of the store with him.  The girl I saw yesterday stood behind the counter as I walked past her.  She smiled as I bowed my head to her behind the owner’s back.  In the rear of the store, he barked out directions to me.

“Take these a here boxes and empty em’ out.  Everything in these boxes right here”, he pointed, “Go in aisle 5 and 6.  These a here boxes go in aisle 7 and 8.”  The cigarette hung onto the edge of his lips with each word.  He seemed like the type of person that preferred an early morning cigarette over a cup of coffee.

“Yes, suh,” I responded to him as he stood, waiting for me to get to work.

“Now, I needa’ run a couple of errands.  You have this done fore’ I get back, hear?”

“Yes Suh”

He waddled away from me, but not before he tossed me a box cutter.  The slim, silver case was cold in my hands.  It felt like I had officially begun my first job.  I started stacking the shelves with everything from peanut butter and crackers to paper towels and dish detergent.  I rehearsed poems in my head as I worked,

“This old gray haired man said he was sellin’ his soul because he was poor/and the pastor in church asked for so much offering that he thought he had to buy his way into heaven/he thought that heaven was only for rich men-“

“Scuse me,” She interrupted my train of thought.  I sliced another box open with the cutter as my silence made a response for me.  She spoke again, “I just figured you needed a towel or something.  It can get kinda’ warm in this establishment and you are building up quite a sweat back here.”  The sleeves of my white, collared shirt were rolled up midway on my forearm.  I wiped the sweat from my head with it.  “No ma’am, I can make it.  That was a mighty kind gesture, though.”  She seemed bashful, lowering her head towards the ground as she smiled.  She looked young, but could’ve passed for any age between 16 and 25.  Her body was fully grown, but it was her personality that threw me off.  “I don’t mean to pry,” she said, “but were you back here talkin’ to yourself before I showed up?”  I looked at her, picked up a box and carried it over to a shelf, “No ma’am.” I was terse with her.  The owner told me to stay away from her, and I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.  She followed me to the shelf.  “Well, do you have an imaginary friend of some sort?”  I took a few things out of the box and neatly stacked them on the ledge, “no ma’am.”

There was an awkward silence between us as I wiped my forehead of sweat and unloaded the final objects from the box and headed back to the rear of the store.  She followed me again.  I prayed that someone would walk into the store so she would have to attend to them.  I hated to imagine what would happen if the owner came back into the store and saw us chit chatting after his explicit warning to me.  I took the box cutter and sliced open the next box.

“Listen,” she said, “I don’t know if you shy or just rude.  I’m hoping you just a shy country boy in a new city.  How do I know you from the country? Cuz yo’ tongue is the laziest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.  Now, before I jump to the conclusion, I want to ask you.  Did my Uncle say anything to you to have you actin this a way towards me?”

The way she spoke to me led me to believe that she was much more mature that what she initially seemed.  She was a lot more aggressive and straight forward than I pegged her to be.  I took another box and headed back towards the shelf.  She followed me around like a little sister.  I spoke as I placed more items on the ledge,

“He just said that I need to keep my distance from you, you know.  And I don’t wanna’ disobey his orders.  I don’t wanna’ get fired on account of speakin’ with you.”  She let out a laugh from the pit of her belly, “Shoot, that old hound said that?  I tell ya’, that man is so over-protective of me.  Ever since my dad passed a few years back, he’s been this bodyguard type of old man for me.  Well, at least that’s what he thinks he is.  If he had his way, I’d die old and alone.  In his eyes, no man is right for me.  They all cheaters and dogs.  I just say that’s karma for him, ya’ know?  He must’ve been some kinda’ womanizer in his day.”

I let out a chuckle.  I couldn’t imagine him being a womanizer.  I believed his appearance hit its peak when he was born, and it went downhill from there.  She continued, “I am a 24-year-old woman,” she put her hands on her hips as if she was posing for a photograph, “he can’t keep me away from men for forever,” I smiled,

“I understand, but as I say, ma’am, I just don’t wanna’ be the cause’ of no trouble round’ here and end up losin’ the first real job I ever had.”

“Honey, don’t worry bout’ that.  As long as I like ya’, you’re gonna’ be here.  I am the apple of his eye and believe it or not,” She held up her pinky, “I got Uncle Leroy wrapped around this pretty little finger of mine.”  I placed more items on the shelf.

“Now, is you gonna’ tell me what you was sayin’ before I came back here or will I just have to introduce myself to your imaginary friend?”

I laughed.

“It was poetry, ma’am.”

“Poetry?” I headed towards the back to get another box, and she was right there with me with each step, “Yes, Poetry.  Why did you respond that way?”

“Because, I’ve…never actually met a poet before.  Can I hear something?”

I cut the box open and wiped more sweat from my brow, “Not right now.  I’m a Lil’ busy.” I picked the box up and carried it to the aisle.“Oh, come on.  You were just back here sayin’ one to yo’ imaginary friend just a few moments ago.”  I stacked the ledge,

“That’s mighty funny of ya.’”

“Well, let me hear it!”

“Maybe another time.”

She twirled her hair playfully as she leaned against the shelf.

“Fine, I won’t push anymore.  It’s a spot that just opened up over on 125th.  They play jazz music there.  Maybe we can check it out.  I used to date a guy that does security for them and reckon we still on good terms.  Maybe I can get us in for no charge.  It might spark some creativity in you, or you could make some umm… poetry connections or something.”

She finally had gotten my full attention.  I thought her suggestion wasn’t a bad idea.  I could check out the place and maybe it would lead to more opportunities.  Besides, I never thought of how my poetry would sound behind something like a live band.  My imagination began flowing as soon as she mentioned jazz music and the excitement burst out of my mouth in the form of an unexpected question,

“How would we get there?”

“I can drive Uncle Leroy’s car.  The band plays on Thursday nights, so clear ya’ schedule next week.”

“Will do.”

“Just remember,” she said with raised eyebrows, “you owe me.  But, instead of money, you can pay me in poetry.  And I’d like my payment upfront.”

I smiled, “Ok, I guess I can give it to you now.”  She clapped her hands as a big smile jetted across her face.  Just as I began saying the poem, the bell rung on top of the front door of the store.  It was the day’s first customer.  She slapped her hands together,

“You lucky scoundrel!”

I laughed as she headed towards the front of the store.  My words followed her down the aisle as she scurried away, “You’ll get your payment, I promise!”  She turned back towards me as she continued walking, “Oh, I know I will! I’m not the least bit worried about that!”  I couldn’t tell if she was flirting or if she was just a friendly person, but if I had to choose, it would be the latter.  I smiled to myself when she was out of sight.  After I had wiped more sweat from my head, I yelled towards the front of the store, “Oh, and I could use one of them towels now, ma’am! Please.”  She yelled back, “Ok!”  There was a brief pause; then she yelled again, “And stop calling me ma’am like I’m 50-leven years old!  My name is Josephine!”