MOUSE IS DEAD. Those words had gone through my mind every morning for three months. Mouse is dead because of me.
When I sat up, Bonnie rolled her shoulder and sighed in her sleep. The sky through our bedroom window was just beginning to brighten.
The image of Raymond, his eyes open and unseeing, lying stockstill on EttaMae's front lawn, was still in my mind. I lurched out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. My feet hurt every morning, too, as if I had spent all night walking, searching for EttaMae, to ask her where she'd taken Ray after carrying him out of the hospital.
So he was still alive? I asked a nurse who had been on duty that evening. No, she said flatly. His pulse was gone. The head nurse had just called the doctor to pronounce him dead when that crazy woman hit Arnold in the head with a suture tray and took Mr. Alexander's body over her shoulder.
I wandered into the living room and pulled the sash to open the drapes. Red sunlight glinted through the ragged palms at the end of our block. I had never wept over Raymond's demise, but that tattered light reflected a pain deep in my mind.
IT TOOK ME over half an hour to get dressed. No two socks matched and every shirt seemed to be the wrong color. While I was tying my shoes Bonnie woke up.
"What are you doing, Easy?" she asked. She had been born in British Guyana but her father was from Martinique, so there was the music of the French language in her English accent. "Gettin' dressed," I said. "Where are you going?"
"Where you think I'ma be goin' at this time'a day? To work." I was feeling mean because of that red light in the far-off sky. "But it's Saturday, baby." "What?"
Bonnie climbed out of the bed and hugged me. Her naked skin was firm and warm.
I pulled away from her. "You want some breakfast?" I asked. "Maybe a little later," she said. "I didn't get in from Idlewild until two this morning. And I have to go back out again today." "Then you go to bed," I said. "You sure? I mean... did you need to talk?" "Naw. Nuthin's wrong. Just stupid is all. Thinkin' Saturday's a workday. Damn."
"Are you going to be okay?" she asked. "Yeah. Sure I am." Bonnie had a fine figure. And she was not ashamed to be seen naked. Looking at her pulling on those covers reminded me of why I fell for her. If I hadn't been so sad, I would have followed her back under those blankets.
FEATHER'S LITTLE YELLOW DOG, Frenchie, was hiding somewhere, snarling at me while I made sausages and eggs. He was the love of my little girl's life, so I accepted his hatred. He blamed me for the death of Idabell Turner, his first owner; I blamed myself for the death of my best friend.
I WAS SITTING at breakfast, smoking a Chesterfield and wondering if EttaMae had moved back down to Houston. I still had friends down there in the Fifth Ward. Maybe if I wrote to Lenora Circel and just dropped a line about Etta --- say hi to Etta for me or give Etta my love. Then when she wrote back I might learn something. "Hi, Dad."
My hand twitched, flicking two inches of cigarette ash on the eggs. Jesus was standing there in front of me. "I told you not to sneak up on me like that, boy." "I said hi," he explained.
The eggs were ruined but I wasn't hungry. And I couldn't stay mad at Jesus, anyway. I might have taken him in when he was a child, but the truth was that he had adopted me. Jesus worked hard at making our home run smoothly, and his love for me was stronger than blood.
"What you doin' today?" I asked him. "Nuthin'. Messin' around." "Sit down," I said.
Jesus didn't move the chair as he sat, because there was enough room for him to slide in under the table. He never wasted a movement --- or a word. "I wanna drop out of high school," he said. "Say what?"
His dark eyes stared into mine. He had the smooth, eggshellbrown skin and the straight black hair of people who had lived in the Southwest for thousands of years. "It's only a year and a half till you graduate," I said. "A diploma will help you get a job. And if you keep up with track, you could get a scholarship to UCLA."
He looked down at my hands. "Why?" I asked. "I don't know," he said. "I just don't wanna be there. I don't wanna be there all the time." "You think I like goin' to work?" "You like it enough," he said. " 'Cause if you didn't like it, you'd quit."
I could see that he'd made up his mind, that he'd thought about this decision for a long time. He probably had the papers for me to sign under his bed.
I was about to tell him no, that he'd have to stick out the year at least. But then the phone rang. It was a loud ringer, especially at sixthirty in the morning.
While I limped to the counter Jesus left on silent bare feet.
"Hello?" "Easy?" It was a man's voice. "John? Is that you?"
"I'm in trouble and I need you to do me a favor," John said all in a rush. He'd been practicing just like Jesus. My heart quickened. The little yellow dog stuck his nose out from under the kitchen cabinet.
I don't know if it was an old friend's voice or the worry in his tone that got to me. But all of a sudden I wasn't miserable or sad. "What you need, John?"
"Why'ont you come over to the lots, Easy? I wanna look you in the eye when I tell ya what we want." "Oh," I said, thinking about we and the fact that whatever John had to say was too serious to be discussed over the phone. "Sure. As soon as I can make it."
I hung up with a giddy feeling running around my gut. I could feel the grin on my lips. "Who was that?" Bonnie asked. She was standing at the door to our bedroom, half wrapped in a terry-cloth robe. She was more beautiful than any man could possibly deserve.
"John." "The bartender?" "Do you have to leave today?" I asked. "Sorry. But after this trip I'll have a whole week off." "I can't wait that long," I said. I gathered her up in my arms and carried her back into the bedroom. "Easy, what are you doing?" I tossed her on the bed and then closed the door to the kitchen. I took off my pants and stood over her.
"Easy, what's got into you?"
The look on my face was answer enough for any arguments she might have had about the children or her need for sleep.
I couldn't have explained my sudden passion. All I knew was the smell of that woman, her taste and texture on my skin and tongue, was something I had never known before in my life. It was as if I discovered sex for the first time that morning.
Bad Boy Brawly Brown
- hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown
- ISBN-10: 0316073016
- ISBN-13: 9780316073011