NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 84

On those rare days when my friends had no field work or chores and I had none, we would go to the blue house to visit with the Candy Lady and suffer through her stories about how the Canebrake had changed since she was a little girl, fifty years ago, and her questions about our favorite subjects in school… or what we thought about Eisenhower or Marvin Griffin or other people I had not really known … before she let us buy a chocolate bar or Boston Baked Beans or Lemon Heads. She likes to see us shocked, when she tells us that the things we bought from her were a penny in ’09. We’d laugh, when she said ’09. She said that sometimes they’d just say nine to cut it shorter still. People always looking to cut it short, she said. Peebo asked why I never went beyond the Candy Lady. He said that it would be nice to eat candy while walking out on the main road. He wanted to know if I never left Lou Walker because I thought I was too good for everybody. Then he said if I stayed on that road everyday I’d remain twelve years old forever. I had never thought about it. It was habitual… my coming and going. Nobody needed to know a thing about it, as long as I was home when it was time to work, and when it was time for dinner, which was precise. Five in the a.m. sharp: work. Dinner: six-thirty in the p.m. What Peebo said got me to thinking — made me start thinking about traveling aside from imagination. I had shown Peebo and Sam how to sit and envisage whatever came to mind or whatever one could bring to mind but had not expected to take from them that picking up the feet and getting out beyond that little dirt road was just as vital. Some weeks later, on a Sunday, I was at the table in my undershirt after my mother told me to take off my suit before eating fried fish and bread, when Sam knocked on the door. The whole family was at the table… eating fried fish and bread. Sam didn’t wait to be told to come in, just knocked and then we all heard the hinges screech. While Old Man sat patiently looking, Sam made his way around to meet all of the greetings in each of our various ways of delivering them. Sam spoke to everyone around the table who was busy with their fish. He never was candidate for the most vocal, so when I say spoke, the picture of a boy visibly inhibited, void of menace should definitely color the Nelson kitchen I describe. Rob and Raymond raised their heads from their plates, their full mouths working the food, and gave a nod of the head to show the little boy who had come for me that they heard what he was saying. Finally, Old man asked Sam why he wasn’t at church. Told him that he better not be backsliding because kids need God the most. It got easier, he said, when you older and the loose things don’t tempt you any longer — once you accept that, you don’t have it in you to act the thought out anyhow. Age slows you down more so than the word… but everybody don’t get to live long enough to make sure they saved by age. Sam nodded and told Old Man that he understood. He wasn’t backsliding or nothing like that. And Old Man let him be. Sam turned and spoke to my mother who was emptying a plate in the slop. She told him to get himself some fish… sit on down at the table if he wanted… he could have her spot… she was through… and had to get started on her peas if they were going to be ready by six. Sam told her no thank you. He had already eaten. He was telling my mother, and everyone else, that everything with him and his family was okay, and that he had just been sitting around and decided to come hang out with me. No plans. Just a visit. We’d play it by ear. Kaisha said that sounded nice. Rita cut her eye at him, forced a smile. I wondered did Sam see any of it. Then Rob asked Sam if he was taking me away from the house, away from Rita, and that he was not to go too far or he’d regret when he had to bring me all the way back when I missed her, and it wouldn’t take long before that happened. “You must not know him too good or you know he ain’t never been away from her,” Rob said. “Except to take Lucie to Red’s and back,” Raymond was quick in saying. Rob laughed, then, “Y’all go pick flowers round the side there, that’s what you can do.” “Yeah, Duke like that.” “Leave your brother alone now.” My mother, without lifting an eye out from the kitchen sink, was at my defense. On the way out to sit where we always sat, I emptied my plate in the slop, and because it was getting full, took it out to the hogs. My mother warned me, as I knew she would, not to put fish bones in the slop. The sun was blinding, so when Sam looked across the way and threw a rock into the pasture — on the other side of Lou Walker — I watched him. He clutched the handful of rocks, shook them around like dice, and threw another, before he grinned. The grin was the closest he’d come to laughing. I can’t ever remember seeing Sam laugh. He’d smile. But he was always too on guard to let laughter surprise him. Peebo and I could fall out to the place where we can’t breathe and our stomachs cramping and we laughing and Sam, who had been right there with us, trailing slightly, but still hearing what we heard, smiles like he got something else on his mind. “Why you look so serious?” I said. “What you been doing?” “I ain’t been doing nothing — (rock flies). I been going to Mr. Walton’s like we do is all.” I started to tell Sam what I had been thinking and instead asked if he wanted to go get ice cream sandwiches. He didn’t say. He smiled but didn’t say one way or the other, body language, eyes or otherwise. I sat back and let him be. In fact I enjoyed sitting there not saying anything — this is what I did best. I did think it a bit questionable of him to walk all the way over in order to drag me out of the house to sit and be standoffish, but I did not question him further about it. It did not bother me enough to take it any further. We sat swinging our legs off the porch in our way, looking out across Lou Walker Road, across the pasture that sits beyond that. After a little while. Sam tipped his chin upward towards a spot shaded by the stretched out, slim body and long legs coming down Lou Walker Road. The legs were Peebo’s — no hesitation. His walk betrayed him, and then it changed when he knew we were watching him. When Peebo finally reached he hopped up on the porch and swung his legs over the face of the porch. His shirt, wet, clung to him, and before saying anything he worked at catching his breath. This seemed to call for a folding of his body over as if in a stretch-and- touch-your-toes exercise, where he lifted his legs out away from the side of the porch so that they were parallel to the ground, and he held that for a pause… followed always with him snapping back to that perfect posture bestowed him since he began poking his chest out whenever he walked, whenever he sat, and for all I know, whenever he slept. He turned and looked at the screen door. Then turned and looked at me: “Where everybody?” “You been running?” I asked. “A little bit. Where everybody?” “They in there,” I said. “Mama in the front room. The girls in they room. Mama ‘bout to yell down the hall at the girls in they room to help her with the peas. Old Man out back somewhere, I guess. He ‘bout to yell across the yard to help him with whatever he got going.” “Not after he churning me about church — he working you on Sabbath?” “Where were you?” Sam asked him. “Down to town with Leelack.” Peebo looked back at the screen door one more time before he asked us if we felt like swimming, and I immediately began to try and picture me in a pool somewhere. “Y’all ain’t doing nothing ‘sides sitting here throwing rocks.” “Where ‘bout you going swimming,” I asked. “Don’t know yet.” “What you mean?” I said. “You don’t know? You know. How you not know.” I didn’t let him answer, told him he ain’t walk all the way over and not know something. He ain’t walk in the hot sun to sit with us and think about where he wanted to swim. If he wantedto sit and think, then that was one thing, but to sit and think about swimming in the sense of picking up the feet and finding a fresh water pool, as he apparently had, meant he had to have something in mind before he left the house. Sam was grinning, but I was dead serious. I knew Peebo had something for us. Tell by the beam on his face. From then on… we saw Papa Man… we looked busy. Every once in a while, I would be sent on an errand. Or the family took a trip somewhere. Otherwise, I never had a reason to go anywhere, because sitting on the steps took me everywhere I wanted to be. Took me out of the house when I needed it, when Raymond and Rob, and Ken — when he was still at home — crowded me out of the bedroom. The girls in their room. All kinds of folks in the den… We were not really supposed to go to the living room, but if I went to that room on the sneak, Rita followed. And though she followed me out to the porch, she never lingered, if I stopped there. She trailed in hopes that I would be heading down the steps, where she would tell me, You see this spreading bush here, it is an azalea, part of the genus known as rhododendrons. But so unique that they originally had a classification all their own, and that fact is what I commit to memory. I liked that about this single plant next to the house. I measured, by sight, its growth each time I passed. This one, Rita explained, will become a tree eventually, and one day will be taller than Old Man. thawed ground from one end of Lou Walker to the other. What ch’all sitting round for with all this day left? was the first thing he said. Then he said, Need something to do? Hop up on the back here, and I’ll carry y’all on up the road. We told him we were fine, but despite how it sounded to us, it was not a question.