Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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from Miami Don’t Know

Jerry’s stretched out across the hood of our old car, not looking at me and saying stuff about me that ain’t true.

He says, “Miami don’t know from woods.” He says, “Miami thinks if it’s two trees in one place, then he found him some woods. Miami thinks he’s Wild Kingdom or some shit, thinks if he can get himself up into some woods then he can get him a piece of bear ass since he can’t get none no place else.”

I’m sitting on an old piece of log, and the weeds in our yard are so high that I can’t see the road from down here, can’t see nothing but the sky and the grill of the car, and Jerry pointing at the pine trees that run along the edge of me and Mama’s yard and saying, “That ain’t no woods.” He says, “Miami spent too much time running the streets with all his Cuban boys to know nothing about no woods. Miami best watch out if he gets himself up into some real woods and runs into some of them white boys from Galestown out shining for deer. They’ll put some antlers on his head and pin a faggoty little tail to his ass, show Miami what goes on in them woods when there ain’t nobody around to see what’s going on. They’ll take Miami to school cause even though when he was down in Miami, he was ganging and running drugs and starting them riots like I know he did—even though he was into all that mess down there, up here Miami ain’t shit. Up here he done got all short and skinny. Up here he don’t do nothing but try and get niggers to go up into what he thinks is woods—try and get niggers to go up in there and do something with him, I don’t know what.”

He rolls over on his side like he’s going to look right at me, but he don’t. He looks out at the road and says, “I don’t know what all they do down in Cuba, but up here, we don’t play that shit.”

I ain’t Cuban, but I don’t say nothing about it. I told him that before, but he don’t ever listen, which is how come he messed up me saying that instead of sitting here in the sun and the weeds, we should sit under those trees where it’s shady and cool and where I could show him a dog that I found half buried in the leaves.

He rolls back over on his back and says, “Up here Miami done got all soft. Up here little girls come and kick his ass, but down there, Miami was King of the Cubans, all decked out and looking like Miami Vice. He don’t look like nothing but a chump now, wearing them high-water pants his mama made for him, but he ain’t fooling me. I know my man was styling back then, with his shirt all open to show that chest hair he used to have, and them pointy-toed shoes he used to kick niggers in the head with back when he was Scarface and had that town locked up tight. Miami’d walk down the street, and before folks even saw his face, when all they could see was the light coming off that shiny suit he used to wear, they’d start getting out of his way because they knew he was bad, knew he was packing all kinds of stuff—.45’s and .357’s, 9mm, 10mm, 15mm—stuff all us up here in the woods ain’t even heard about yet. But Miami was all over that shit, with two guns in each hand and a damn cannon strapped to his back, talking shit in Cuban so couldn’t nobody understand what he was saying.”

“I ain’t Cuban,” I tell him. “My mama’s mama was Mexican.”

“It’s all the same stuff,” he says. “You was talking that mess and running that town like you owned it. But up here, Miami don’t hardly say nothing. He’s keeping quiet cause he don’t want nobody to know who he is. My boy’s in hiding, and he knows if he starts talking that Spanish, sombody’ll figure out who he is and send for Miami Vice to come up and snag his ass. I know Miami’s laying low. That’s how come he don’t party like he used to, won’t drink none of that malt liquor I know he likes and won’t smoke none of that reefer. I been watching him real close, and I ain’t seen him snort no cocaine, ain’t seen him get no pussy neither. Girls up here don’t want to get with him anyway cause Miami’s all scrawny now. He lost all them big muscles he used to have, lost them big old pecs and now he don’t have nothing but that chicken chest that looks like somebody punched him real hard and caved it in. Miami got all skinny so couldn’t nobody recognize him. Miami Vice is after him, and if Crockett and Tubbs find out he’s here, they’ll come sneaking up to the boy’s trailer, hiding in all these weeds so that Miami’ll wish he’d mowed that lawn like his Mama’d told him to. Vice’ll come creeping through all this mess, and when his mama sees them coming to take her boy away, she’ll get after Miami with that shoe. She’ll tear his ass up just like I seen her do at the Laundromat when he spent up all her quarters on that pinball machine. She’ll knock him in the head so hard he’ll start begging Vice to take him to jail. He’ll want Vice to pull out their guns and tell her to leave him alone, but they’ll put her in jail with him so she can chase him all around that cell with her shoe, telling him to hold still so she can whip his ass good. Miami’s afraid of that shoe. That’s how come he changed his name, and that’s how come he gets so mad if somebody calls him something else.”

He rolls back over on his side again, and almost looks at me when he says, “Ain’t that right, Penny.”

Penny was my old name, what Grampa’s wife started calling me so long ago that I can’t remember anything before that. And even though I told Mama that I don’t like nicknames and that she should call me by my real name, which is Cameron, she still calls me Penny. I don’t like nicknames cause they ain’t real, so I don’t like how Jerry got everybody up here calling me Miami either, but once folks’ll think about something the wrong way, you can’t ever get them to stop. That’s how come even Mama forgot the real reason why Grampa’s wife started calling me Penny. If we’re in the grocery store and some lady hears Mama calling me Penny, the lady’ll say, “Ain’t that precious. He is the color of a penny, even his eyes.” I am penny-colored, not the bright color of a brand new one, but brownish red like one that’s starting to get dirty and worn. But being the color of a penny ain’t how I got that name.

Ladies in the store won’t think nothing about touching on me and saying what a pretty color I am, rubbing on my arm like they think the color’ll come off and they can put some of it on their own faces along with that blue stuff they put on their eyelids and all that purple-looking lipstick they outline in black. Mama always looks proud whenever anybody starts talking about my color. She won’t smile or nothing, but I can still see it, and since she’s the one who likes hearing whatever ladies got to say about what I look like, I always let her say thank you first and wait for her to slap me on the arm and tell me to be polite before I say it myself, not looking at the lady I’m thanking, but looking instead at the cash register or the cover of a magazine or at the picture on a box of cake mix that’s going by on the belt, at all the patterns in the icing, thinking about how nobody who makes a cake from out a box would ever take the time to do all that. Mama’ll say something to the lady about me getting to be a teenager and starting to dance on her last sore nerve, and the lady’ll keep on rubbing on my arm, saying how a boy as pretty as me must have all the girls chasing after him, and maybe she’ll say Penny over and over while she rubs her fingers all on me, and Mama won’t ever say that I didn’t get my name from being penny-colored but because every time I did something for Grampa’s wife, every time I got up to change the channel on the TV or went to get her purse for her or helped her take off her shoes, she’d say, “You’re worth a penny.”

Mama won’t ever tell anybody the truth about my name, just like she won’t ever tell me what really happened when she came to Miami from Texas after her mama died, and she saw Grampa for the first time. She tells me that story all the time, but she tell it two different ways, and I know that neither one of them is all the way right. Sometimes she’ll say that the first time she saw Grampa, she was standing on the porch of his house. She’ll say that she knocked on the front door, and when he opened it, he asked her who she was and what she wanted, and after she told him, he went back into the house and got his pistol and said he was going to kill her.

“I was fourteen,” she’ll say. “Not much older than you.”

She’ll say that she was too scared to move, that all she could think about was how being killed by her own father was her punishment for leaving her mama’s grave with nobody to look after it. She’ll say that Grampa was the darkest man she’d ever seen, that even his mouth wasn’t nothing but a dark hole because the teeth he had left were all stained from tobacco, and even the parts of his eyes that was supposed to be white was filled with gray splotches.

“He looked dirty,” she’ll say, “and all I could do was fall on the floor on my elbows and my knees and pray for him not to kill me. And I was singing while I was praying,” she’ll say, “mixing parts of every hymn I knew together into a jumble.” She’ll say that her voice echoed off the floor and filled her ears so much that she didn’t hear Grampa’s wife come outside and tell him to put that damn gun away, didn’t hear her when she leaned down and whispered in Mama’s ear that everything was going to be alright. She didn’t hear any of that and so Grampa’s wife had to pull her up from the floor of the porch and hold her while she said that Mama shouldn’t worry because sometimes home takes getting used to, that sometimes it takes a while before it ain’t so scary.

But sometimes when she talks about the first time she saw Grampa, she’ll say that she was inside the house. She’ll say that she was standing in the front room and he was sitting on the couch, sawing at the laces of his boots with a steak knife cause he’d knotted them too tight to get them off anyway else.

“He was cursing,” she’ll say, “using words I’d never heard nobody use inside the house. And he didn’t get up or even look at me when I came in. I stood there watching him while Mama Leena stood behind me, telling me that I was the prettiest little girl she’d ever seen, lying to me to make me feel welcome and running her fingers through my hair,” and I know that’s true because Grampa’s wife had long, bony fingers, and she used to run them through my hair and up and down my neck too, telling me that she was going to cut my hair off and sell it. Mama’ll say how Grampa’s wife stood behind her, playing with her hair, and told Grampa to put the knife down and look at his daughter who’d come all the way from Texas to see him. Mama stood there, watching while Grampa finished sawing through the laces on one boot and started on the other, and even though his wife told him again to look up and see his daughter, he kept messing with the bootlace, barely even trying to cut through it, and didn’t look up until Grampa’s wife went over and took his chin in her hand to make him look at her. When she tell it that way, Mama won’t say anything about him looking dirty or being the darkest man she’d ever seen, but’ll say that he looked more disappointed than anybody she’d ever seen in her whole life. She’ll say that she knew then that coming to Miami was a mistake, that she should’ve done like her Mama’d told her before she died and left Grampa alone.

She’ll tell it both ways, and even though I know how it really happened, I won’t say anything to her or to anyone else, just let her tell it however she wants to and keep the real story to myself. I won’t tell anybody how I know that when Mama first saw Grampa, she was standing in the front room, with Grampa’s wife standing behind her, telling Mama how pretty she was, Grampa’s wife telling the truth because Mama’s light, light brown and even though her hair is thick, you can still get your fingers through it without hurting her. I know that folks’d slow down their cars to look at her, but she never believed it was because she was pretty. If anybody ever looked at her, she thought it was because she was doing something wrong, and if strangers were ever nice to her, she thought that they’d start laughing at her as soon as she turned her back. So when Grampa wouldn’t look up, she thought it was because she was ugly. Grampa hadn’t even seen her yet, but I know that Mama thought that she looked so bad that folks didn’t even have to see her to know how ugly she was.

But I know that Grampa not looking up didn’t have nothing to do with Mama being ugly. I know that while he was sawing at his bootlaces with that steak knife, he was hoping that his own daughter’d have something about her that reminded him of being close to God, of how He’d come to him that time when he was fifteen and then gone away, leaving Grampa feeling lonely for the rest of his life. Nobody else knows about God coming to Grampa when he was fifteen. Even his wife didn’t know because he never told anybody, but I can see it as clear as I can see anything else because the same thing happened to me when I fell off the wall. I know that when Mama was standing in the room with him, Grampa was hoping so hard that his own daughter could make him feel close to something again that he was afraid to look up and see if it was true. He was afraid that if she didn’t remind him of God, then he didn’t know what he would do next.

I know that Grampa wasn’t even trying to cut the second bootlaces, that he had that knife turned to the side so the blade was barely touching them and he was hardly even putting any pressure on the lace, that he was just moving that knife back and forth, trying to keep himself from hoping that Mama would make him less lonely so that he wouldn’t be disappointed if she didn’t. But I know that he couldn’t stop himself from hoping. I know that when his wife came over and grabbed his chin, he didn’t jerk it back down. He let her move his head up because he was thinking that Mama must’ve had something of God in her because why else would she come all the way from Texas to find him, Grampa thinking that God would always find you whether you wanted Him to or not.

So when his wife turned his head towards Mama and he saw that she was just a regular girl, that she was pretty like her mama, with shiny black hair and those big gray eyes—when he saw that there wasn’t nothing about her that made him less lonely, he was so sad and disgusted that he drank what was left of the whiskey he had in the house. And it was after he’d gone down to the store and bought another one of those little bottles he was always getting for himself and drank half on the way home and the other half right there on the porch while Mama watched—it was after all that that he pulled his gun on her and asked her what she wanted and who she was really, told her that she wasn’t any kin to him and he’d be damned if he was going to let her take the two dollars he knew he’d had in his pocket before he came. That’s when Mama fell to the porch and thought about how she should’ve stayed in Texas to be near her mama’s grave, thought that she deserved to die for leaving it to the weeds. She was down on the porch on her hands and knees, her nose pressed up against the wood, singing hymns just like she said she did, listening to her voice fill up the space between her body and the floor so she couldn’t hear nothing else. She didn’t hear Grampa say that he never knew any Mexican woman and that Mama needed to get back to where she came from. She didn’t hear Grampa’s wife telling him to put the damn gun away and didn’t hear when Grampa’s wife kneeled down and whispered in her ear that everything was going to be alright.

She couldn’t hear anything on the ground around her, but I know that she could smell the dust and the dirt that filled the cracks in the floor on the porch, and know that she was afraid to die and go to heaven because of all the stuff in this world that ain’t perfect but that she’d miss anyway—the sweet smell of the mold on an orange that made her happy and disgusted all at the same time, the big balls of dust she’d find up under her bed, and the raised scars on her legs, the three long lines running from her ankle up to her knee that she got from crawling under a barbed-wire fence when she was ten and that she still runs her fingers across when she’s bare-legged and wants to remember what it’s like to do something she wasn’t supposed to be doing. And I know that she’d miss too what she smelled like when the blood she was supposed to be ashamed of came out of her. I know that she wasn’t ashamed of the blood but ashamed of how, when she went to the bathroom, she couldn’t help but touch it. She’d run one finger just inside herself, and when she put her finger up to her nose, she’d think about eating dirt and lying down in the mud. She’d press her arms up against herself and imagine that they were somebody else’s and that they were strong enough to hold her down no matter how hard she tried to get away. She’d touch herself with the finger of one hand and bite just behind the thumb of the other, and she’d wish that her hands were bigger because she wanted something thicker between her teeth when her body tightened up and the sounds of everything around her disappeared for a while and it felt like she was melting into the air.

I know that while she was lying on the floor of the porch, Mama was already missing all of that which is how come she stayed down there singing hymns for so long—because she wasn’t ready to leave and go someplace where she’d have to live without the things she loved the most. She didn’t know why she was singing hymns, didn’t know if she was praising His name so He’d have mercy on her and let her stay in the world, or if she was begging His forgiveness for not wanting to leave it and accept the greatest gift that He had to offer. I know that she still doesn’t know, and that whenever she tells the story about seeing Grampa for the first time, she tries to forget that any of that happened, which is part of the reason why she don’t ever tell it right. I know that while she was down on that floor, she was thinking about whether she could ever learn to live without filth, and that when Grampa’s wife pulled her up off the floor and Mama finally opened her eyes and saw that she was still alive—saw Grampa’s wife hitting Grampa in the arm and telling him to put the damn gun down because it didn’t have no bullets in it anyway and he’d spent the two dollars himself which is how he got drunk in the first place—when she saw the paint peeling from the walls and the streaks of mildew stains on the eaves and the whole porch alive with mosquitoes and moths, she didn’t know who to thank, but she was thankful to be right where she was.

That’s the way it really happened, but I won’t tell anybody about it. I keep it to myself so that it’ll stay true, and while Jerry says to me, “Miami don’t do nothing like he used to,” I can see it happening over and over in my head. I keep it all straight while he says, “Miami don’t even try to get him no pussy anymore. I thought he was a faggot until I saw him up in that tree, trying to look in Miss Freeman’s window, hoping to see the old lady naked. Miami’s supposed to let the ladies alone, but he can’t help himself around Miss Freeman. He see a lady with a cane and he can’t think about nothing else. He’s supposed to keep his ass away from the cootchie cause once word gets out, once the ladies start talking about all the nasty stuff he did to them, they’ll be fighting each other trying to get a piece of Miami for themselves, and all Crockett and Tubbs got to do is look for some place where the women is tearing out each other’s hair and scratching out each other’s eyes, and that’s where Miami’ll be, surrounded by ladies cause one ain’t enough for him. Miami wears them out, gets them all sore and fucks a hole right through to the other side. Then gets him a new one and keeps on plugging. He caught all kinds of nasty shit from them too, but he don’t care. He caught some Cuban shit that turned his dick green, made that shit shrivel up and fall off, but Miami took all that drug money and got the doctor to build him one of the Steve Austin bionic dicks. They don’t ever say nothing about it in the show, but you know he’s got one and Miami got him one too. He had to turn that thing off when he came up here and went into hiding cause he knew it’d get him into trouble. But when he saw Miss Freeman, that shit woke up on its own, started talking to him in that robot voice, started telling him to climb up in that tree so he could see Miss Freeman walk past her window with them saggy old lady tits. Miami was sitting up there hoping that Miss Freeman’d see him and tell him that Mr. Freeman ain’t home. He was waiting for Miss Freeman to tell him to get down out of that tree and come in the house and give her something good.”

He looks at me and says, “That’s what you was doing up in that tree, so don’t even try lying about it.”

I won’t tell him what I was really doing up in that tree. I won’t tell him that I was waiting for God to make me fall again because I was lonely without Him just like Grampa was. I won’t tell him because he’d mess it up and then say something about it front of Mama and she’d get it all wrong too because she believes whatever Jerry tells her. Like when me and Jerry were sitting on the little porch me and Mama got on the front of the trailer, Jerry on the top step and me down at the bottom, and he started talking about this girl who’d been messing with me outside the Laundromat, saying how she liked what she saw and telling me to get in her car because she wanted to take me some place and show me something I’d never seen before. He said loud enough for Mama to hear that she was in love with me and that I went and messed her up because all she does now is cry about how I don’t love her back. He hooked his arms up over the rusted railing we got around that little porch and said that I shouldn’t mess with girls like that, that I shouldn’t talk all sweet to them and make them fall in love with me and then not get into their cars when they ask me to. And Mama, who was listening on the other side of the screen door, wanted to know what a girl with a car thought she was going to do with a child like me. She got up off the couch and walked to the screen door and said that I’d better not even think about getting in any girl’s car, said that if any girls ask me to go anywhere with them, then I need to send them to her so she can straighten them out because she knows they lost their minds if they think they’re taking her child anywhere.

She stood behind the screen door while she talked so that all I could see was the dark shape of her. When we were outside the Laundromat, Jerry was telling me to go on and get in that girl’s car. He told me, “You’d better grease that thing up before it rusts and falls off.” But outside of the trailer, he told Mama that he’d tried to get me to let that girl alone, said, “I told him you’d be mad, but he wouldn’t listen,” and then he looked down at me from the top step, making the same face he makes when he’s got his knees on my shoulders and has me pinned to the ground so that he can slap me on the head as much as he wants. Behind the screen, Mama said that I needed to listen to Jerry, that he’s older and knows what he’s talking about, and Jerry said, “He hardheaded and won’t listen to nobody,” so now me and Mama can’t go anywhere without Mama saying something to me every time she sees girls acting the way they do sometimes—dancing right out in the street or singing something nasty or tying up their shirts so that everybody can see all that smooth skin on their bellies and on their backs—acting like there’s nobody around to see them when the only reason they do any of it is because they know people can’t help but look. Mama sees girls acting like that and she tells me to close my eyes.

She doesn’t even like thinking about me being anywhere near girls like that, so I won’t tell her about all the girls that Jerry knows and that we go driving with sometimes, won’t tell her how sometimes Jerry’ll decide that he wants one of them nasty hot dogs they got in the window of the Dairy Queen, one of them wrinkled little things that goes around and around in that machine that sits under a big, hot bulb. When he decides that he wants one of them, he makes me walk to town with him, what everybody here calls town even though it ain’t nothing but the Dairy Queen and the Laundromat and a little store that’s hardly got nothing in it, and nothing to do there but play the pinball machine that Mama won’t give me any quarters for anyway. We walk down the road that runs in front of me and Mama’s trailer and that’s not made for walking because it’s just two lanes with no sidewalk or anything, just the white line at the edge of the pavement and a little bit of grass that’s always trying to creep out into the road and up through the cracks. And while we’re walking, if I ask him how come he don’t just buy a package of hot dogs at the store and some buns too and then we won’t have to walk so far every time he wants one, he’ll knock me in my head or push me into the bushes, and while I’m getting up off the ground or ducking to keep him from hitting me again, a car full of girls Jerry knows will stop right next to us, the girls asking do we need a ride, and Jerry won’t answer, just crawl in through the back window and right into some girl’s lap. She’ll start laughing and’ll slap him on the leg and the behind, and while I’m standing next to the car, waiting for Jerry to stop playing around so that I can get in, the girl in the front seat’ll lean out her window towards me and say, “It’s alright, Miami—we ain’t gonna bite you,” the girl thinking that I’m scared even though standing there waiting for Jerry to stop messing around don’t have nothing to do with being scared.

And in the back seat, with all of us mashed up together, the car smelling like Mama’s dresser, like perfume and Noxzema and all kinds of creams and sprays that I don’t know what they’re for, some girl’s bare leg’ll be right up against mine that’s half as dark and half as big around, and she might say something about Miami getting fresh, or might put her arm around me and say, “Y’all look—Miami my boyfriend, so don’t y’all be messing with my man,” and she’ll keep her arm around me all the way to town. And even when we get to the Dairy Queen she’ll keep it there, hold me down in the seat while she says, “No baby, you staying here with me,” and she’ll put her legs over mine, put them right in my lap so that I can feel her up against me, and I have to push as hard as I can to get her off me so I can get out of the car.

And Mama doesn’t want to know either about how sometimes Jerry leaves me with the girls and goes out behind the Dairy Queen to see his friends who never pull into the parking lot but always drive around back. If the girls are talking to each other and not paying any attention to me, I’ll peek around to the back of the building and see those boys sitting in their car while Jerry puts his palms flat on the roof and leans inside the window, his back flat and his arms and legs looking even longer than they usually do, and before he takes the reefer, he’ll turn around and see me, give me a look that tells me to go back around to the front of the Dairy Queen and keep my mouth shut.

And because I do keep my mouth shut, Mama doesn’t know any of that. If she did, she’d want to make us move again because she don’t know what else to do to get me away from it. If I told her about all that, then she’d think about how she really should’ve married Brother Patrick because he was the only she’d ever known besides her mama who seemed like they could keep evil away from wherever they were. She thinks that anyway, but she’d think it even more if she knew the truth about Jerry. If I want to, I can look into the wall and see that she’s between shifts right now, see how she’s sitting by herself in the break room, not watching the little TV that’s on in there and not hearing it either because she’s thinking that maybe she should’ve married him. All the Jamaican men at our church in Miami were quiet and serious, but Brother Patrick was more quiet and serious than any of them, and I know that she’s thinking about how just being around him would’ve kept me straight. Sometimes between Sunday school and meeting, me and Marcus and Eugene would be running around the meeting hall, chasing each other through the pews with the Bibles and hymnals knocking up against one leg and the smooth wood of the pews sliding past the other, and when we looked up, Brother Patrick’d be standing in the aisle in front of us, holding his Bible across his chest, short enough that even I could look him straight in the eye if I hadn’t been scared to do it because he looked like he could knock you down just by staring at you. And he was spooky-looking too because he was so light-skinned, lighter even than the tan of the suit he always wore, and you got scared when you saw him sometimes, wondering what this white man was doing in church, scared enough that you’d stop whatever it was you weren’t supposed to be doing—jumping off the stage or messing with the Coke machine in the fellowship hall—and he’d just look at you for a while, not saying anything while you stood there thinking about how maybe you were going to hell for trying to get a Coke out of the machine for free.

And when he used to come to the house after church, I didn’t even like to walk around too much because I was afraid of messing up the quiet that was always around him. But I know that that quiet is just what she liked about him, and while she’s sitting in the break room, looking at the clock and thinking that no matter what her legs feel like, she’d better get back to her register, she’s thinking that if she’d married him and worked in his store, then she could take a break for as long as she needed to. She’s thinking that it’d hardly be any real work to straighten up the shoeboxes and keep the place clean enough that the ladies who came in there wouldn’t be making faces at the dust on the windowsills while Brother Patrick was looking down at the shoes he was putting on their children’s feet, trying to find something that’d fit them right.

But I know that she didn’t marry him because she’s hoping Daddy’ll take her down to the Shrimp Man’s too. She doesn’t want to think about that, but I know that she can’t help it. When she’s driving home sometimes and sees all the trash that people keep in their yards up here, all the washing machines and the old rusted cars and the other stuff that she doesn’t even know what all it is—I know that when she sees that, she can’t help but think about how if Daddy was up here, all of those yards’d be clean because Daddy would’ve looked at all that junk and seen money sitting there, ready for him to take. She thinks about how in Miami, he’d get people to pay him to haul their scrap away because they didn’t know he was going to sell it. I know she’s thinking about how Brother Patrick never would’ve mussed himself with somebody else’s junk, that even though he owned his own store and made a good living, he didn’t know how to make money out of nothing, Mama thinking about how all Daddy needed was a truck to make money. Most folks are always trying to get out of work, but Daddy was always looking for more. Even when he was driving home from a job, he’d be looking in people’s yards and at their trash piles for pipes or air conditioners, for white goods or lumber because there wasn’t anything he couldn’t find a place for, and if it wasn’t money he’d get, then it was favors or information about a job that needed doing somewhere, Daddy saying all the time, Most folks look at stuff and see what it is, but I look at stuff and see what it can get me, and I know Mama misses how even when he was sleeping or when he was on the couch with his beer, there was something moving about him, something that always looked like it was trying to do more.

That’s how come she didn’t marry Brother Patrick, and when she’s worried about me getting into trouble, she feels guilty about it, feels like she shouldn’t have been thinking about herself when she moved us up here, thinking how what she wanted wasn’t worth her quitting her job with the city and having to work all day at the grocery store, from when they open to when they close and still not have enough money to pay the rent on the trailer and the note on the car she had to buy because our old one broke down on the way up here. Even though she doesn’t want to, she thinks about how she’s glad she’s only got one child to take care of, thinking how if she had anything more to worry about, then she might sink. She thinks that if she’d married Brother Patrick, then she could watch me herself instead of having to pay Jerry to do it, and what I know is that she shouldn’t give Jerry any money because as soon as the Shrimp Man dies, Daddy’s going to come and take me back to Miami anyway. And he’ll give her all the money that she needs then too because he’ll have more of it than he knows what to do with, that all she has to do is wait and then everything’ll be fine. She could see herself that that’s what’s true, but she don’t want to know it, and if I tried to tell her, all she’d do is beat me with my own belt for thinking about running away. She doesn’t want to know that everything will be easier for her as soon as I go back, that she won’t have to worry about my clothes or about paying Jerry, and she can live anywhere she wants to without having to worry about me.

While Jerry’s telling me, “I know it was Miami who started them riots down there,” I’m wishing that she could see things the way I do because then she’d see that there’s nothing to worry about. If she could see stuff like I do, then she’d know that all the things she thinks is true ain’t no more true than Jerry telling me, “I know Miami was tearing up that town, busting in people’s windows and stealing their stereos and knocking the police out his way with nothing but a cue ball in a tube sock. I was watching the news and saw Miami with a color TV up under one arm and a woman up under the other—some fine white lady he’d picked up off the street and figured he’d take home and give a little something to. She was screaming at him to set her down and was kicking so hard that you could see all up under her dress, could see that sweet white ass that Miami wasn’t letting loose for nothing. Miami took her home to that big old house he used to have right on the beach, but when he got her there, she wouldn’t give him no cootchie. Miami made her sit out by the pool wearing something he could see her titties through and had all his Cuban maids making her drinks with some kind of voodoo shit in them to try and get her all loose and ready, but she wouldn’t give it up for nothing. She told him he wasn’t getting near her stuff cause she couldn’t stand looking at that nappy red hair that he don’t even know how to comb right, that hair that always looks like he just got up out the bed or just crawled from out the woods with some nigger simple enough to follow him in there.

“White lady wasn’t paying him no mind until he walked past her with his shirt off and she could see them big old pecs Miami used to have before he moved up here. She saw all them muscles he had before he got them raggedy arms he got now that don’t even look like they got bones in them, and she started feeling something down between her legs. She started thinking about how she needed to get her a piece of that, so she said she was sorry and told Miami to come close so that she could apologize right.

“Miami was cool, though. He made the bitch beg for it, made her say all kinds of nasty shit to him before he came out and gave it to her right by the pool. He turned on that Steve Austin dick and started giving it to her all kinds of ways—sideways and upside down and in the bootie, had her hanging over him on a trapeze and shit while Miami’s maids was all standing around watching and wishing that they could get some of it for themselves cause Miami was giving it to her right—was making her scream so loud that somebody called up Miami Vice cause they thought Miami was killing somebody again. Crockett and Tubbs came by in that big boat they got, thinking that they’d finally caught him, thinking that they’d finally get to take his ass to jail, but when they got there, it wasn’t nothing but Miami giving it to his old lady just like she wanted, so there wasn’t nothing they could do but sit in that boat and watch. Crockett and Tubbs were trying to learn them a little something. They had binoculars and cameras and was taking notes, but Miami didn’t care who was watching. Miami didn’t miss him a stroke, just waved and kept on pumping.”

He says, “After a while, the maids couldn’t stand it no more and made Miami give them some of it too. All them Cuban ladies took off their clothes and started dancing around and shaking their titties all over the place, started yelling shit in Spanish and singing the cucaracha song every time he pumped something into them. There was a pile of women out there and Miami was way down at the bottom with a snorkel, reaching up and grabbing some of whatever he could get his hands on. Some faggots came sneaking in there, but Miami didn’t care. He likes him a little dick sometimes, so he was fucking and sucking anything that came close. Boy grabbed him a dog and an alligator, grabbed him a damn barracuda cause I know if it moved, Miami’d fuck it.

“But then his mama found out where he was and came to get his ass. She saw him fucking and sucking and took that shoe off just like she did when Miami spent up all her laundry money on that pinball machine and she tore his ass up in front of everybody who was folding their clothes and stuffing them into the dryers. She can kick some ass with that shoe, and when she saw all them women piled up on her boy, she started swinging that shoe good, started knocking all them maids out the way and saying they’d better get their clothes on and get their hands off her baby quick. You know she was mad, and when she pulled Miami out from under all that pussy, she tore into that head with her high heel, and Miami started crying. He was all wet and greasy, with nothing on but his gold chains, and his mama told him to hush up that mess or she’d give him something to cry about for real. She told him she’d better not see him selling no more drugs or fucking no more women. She told him he’d better take off them gold chains and get short and skinny quick, told him he’d better get his ass back on home and start to mowing that lawn, told him he’d better get his butt in that kitchen and work on them dishes too.

“But Miami wouldn’t keep his ass home like he was supposed to. When his mama’d get home from work, she couldn’t see the house from all them weeds, and in the kitchen there’d be mold growing all on the dishes in the sink but Miami’ll be gone. That’s when she’d take off that shoe and go looking for him. Miami don’t ever learn. He hardheaded, so he don’t know that his mama’ll always find him and get after him with that shoe. She’d go limping all over town, with one shoe on her foot and the other one in her hand, and when she found Miami kicking ass on somebody who owed him money or giving it to some lady right out on the street, she’d whip his ass good right there where everybody could see. After a while, she got tired of having to go looking for him, and that’s how come she moved him up here where he can’t do nothing but spend up all her quarters even though he don’t even know how to play pinball right.

“And he still won’t do them dishes or get to work with that lawnmower. He says that the lawnmower can’t cut through all these weeds, but I know he’s just telling stories. I know he likes to keep these weeds nice and high. He likes to have him a place where he can get all faggoty without nobody seeing him. That’s how come I stay up here on the car.”

He’s still not looking at me. He’s looking up at the sky, but still he puts his hand up to the side of his face like he’s using it to keep from seeing me and says, “I ain’t gonna look cause I don’t even want to know what the nigger’s doing down there right now,” even though all I’m doing is thinking about all the things people get wrong just because they don’t want to see what’s right in front of them.    

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