Delicious Foods

Eddie somehow knew not to mention that his mother also hated olives.

Minimart clerks at gas stations shrugged, a man in a tool belt who claimed to be an electrician said he lived two hours away in Nacogdoches, and a nervous man with slick black hair and a tattoo of his dead Rottweiler on his naked pec kept reaching into the small of his back and telling Eddie, You better go home, kid, ’cause shit’s finna go down right the fuck here, son. He pointed to the ground with both index fingers. Eddie met two kids younger than himself who wanted money for a Butterfinger. At first they threatened him verbally, but after he turned his pockets inside out and explained his journey, one of them offered to help him find his mother. Eddie declined, and as he walked away sideways, it occurred to him that nobody else had volunteered to help. Two or three dark sedans slowed by the roadside, powering down their tinted passenger-side windows. Eddie ran from them.

On his second night of searching, drawn to the bright pink and orange of a 24-hour donut shop, he thought he might finally find people inside who would not only know and remember but also know what they knew and remember what they remembered, and have some of it turn out true. He understood that he couldn’t rely on the night people, who frightened and angered him, and he experienced a deep burn in his stomach when he thought about how his mother had joined them or died with them, like his father, and at best they had engulfed her and made her vanish into this ruined land where true and false didn’t matter, where the differences disappeared among memories, dreams, and a young man standing in front of them asking a desperate question.





    3.





Conjure




Not long after Darlene arrived at Grambling State University, she gained a sorority sister, Hazel, who transferred in from Florida State. Hazel had a vivacious, confrontational attitude, fueled by her determination to override the social strikes against her—a mahogany complexion, features too small to fit her face, a large mole muscling in on her nose, unusual height for a woman, a tough demeanor.

All this Southern gentility baffles me, Hazel sometimes said. I always feel like I’m playing the trumpet at a tea party. She made up for her brashness with camaraderie. Hazel organized the group’s bowling outings, oversaw the decoration of the house, and made an astounding barbecued brisket packed with smokiness. Her flowing red-and-turquoise blouses often had African designs or palm trees printed on them, and the loud clothing seemed to complement her frank conversation—often about her main vices, chocolate, bourbon, and sex—and her bawdy sense of humor. Everybody took to her, especially several doe-like, unremarkable Sigma Tau Tau sisters, and Darlene, who, as she grew into womanhood, joined Hazel’s shocked but delighted audience and found it hard to avoid imitating her infectious insolence. April Woods, a light-skinned, straight-nosed, and polite senior beauty queen, served the function of official role model, but Hazel’s charisma got everybody wearing brighter clothing. She loosened their tongues, their attitudes, and their belts.

Hazel ignored her presumed lack of status and thereby overcame it. She accepted herself and demanded reciprocation as the price of her esteem. In association with these strong values, a sense of moral outrage ran like an underground stream through her sense of humor. She took the greatest delight in skewering hypocrites and had immediate and unforgiving scorn for anyone who gave even the appearance of doing something unethical for personal gain. At one point, Tanya Humphrey (It’s Tan-ya, not Tahn-ya, she would say) insisted that Sigma tap Jamalya Raudigan, a notoriously self-involved cheerleader whose father ran a black Atlanta law firm where Tanya aspired to intern, and in the middle of a potluck supper, Hazel quieted everybody, stood on a coffee table, and told Tanya, Stop promoting this annoying social climber because you want to work for Curtis, Gitlin, Raudigan, and Sindell. When Hazel exposed your failings, she made you feel like she’d stuck a blowtorch full of truth up your nose. Rarely did she turn her anger on a sister, but everybody knew not to butt heads with such a sharp-tongued, obstinate powerhouse.

More than one Grambling linebacker had called Hazel a lesbian, though never to her face, and the notion that it might be so rumbled under Hazel’s frequent complaints about men and was tacitly reinforced by her perpetual singleness. Darlene had heard these rumors about Hazel and had listened to her comments about men, head cocked in wonder. While she didn’t completely believe what everybody said, she accepted the possibility. In those sophomore days, in the rare instances when her friends said the word lesbian, it was always a slur, never a person.

All the Alphas had to suppress their shock when Hazel took up with Nat, an impossibly attractive tall man who moved with the alien grace of a praying mantis. He played forward on the Tigers’ basketball team, a trail of comparisons to Willis Reed spilling out behind him. His rank as a slightly older guy with experience added to his mystique—he’d come to school on the GI Bill a couple of years after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam and had just entered his junior year.

It took Nat three tries to convince Darlene to walk off campus with him after their economics class to a greasy-spoon diner that other students rarely visited. She made excuses until his third request. A number of possibilities stampeded through her head: Maybe he wanted her econ notes, so he had decided to sweet-talk them out of her. Perhaps he had no idea that it would look bad, and the choice of restaurant wasn’t deliberate. Or possibly he intended to woo her behind Hazel’s back. At the center of these possibilities stood the man himself: the supple-spined number 55, with feminine lashes ringing his amber eyes; a fine-looking, bashful guy whose many sensitive questions and attentive gaze had probably invited fantasies of marriage in even the most sensible of her Sigma sisters. He palmed basketballs easily, and Darlene enjoyed thinking of those big hands wrapping her hips or cupping her breasts, her nipples pinched between his long fingers. His solar charisma shocked her thinking so dramatically that anything capable of keeping them apart—even Hazel—became irrelevant.

The second time Darlene went with him to the diner, he made his intentions clear by brushing her bare arm with his knuckles, and though she sensed the wrongness of the caress and felt stirrings of the potential havoc it would cause in her sorority, she couldn’t avoid relating to Nat the way all the sisters did, as a grand prize only an idiot would refuse. Under the table, her leg relaxed, slid against Nat’s, and rested there as a testament to her surrender. The next time they saw each other, they walked farther off campus, and in the lot behind a different restaurant, when they recognized their luscious privacy at the same moment, their faces drew together instinctively and their mouths and tongues connected with slippery, illicit delight.

The secret dalliance inflated her—it practically pulled her skin taut with joy. Her roommates noticed and told her she had the flushed look of someone obsessed; they poked her waist and demanded information so personal that she blushed and hid from them in the library. She would have had a very difficult time keeping such juicy information from the girls with whom she shared lipstick, pomade, blouses, stockings, and class notes, and with whom she usually initiated long conferences after a mere glance from a fly athlete.

At other times, she wanted them to know. Her roommate, Kenyatta, wouldn’t give her any peace, and Darlene finally confessed, careful to emphasize that they had only kissed.

Kenyatta’s face went flat at first, then developed into terror.

Aren’t you happy for me? Darlene asked.

No, Kenyatta told her, this is not good. This is very not good.

Vertigo overtook Darlene, and she swiftly understood how they’d view everything. Nat, the man, the basketball star, wouldn’t bear the responsibility, only Darlene, the slut, the man-thieving heifer, regardless of whatever credit she might have with her sisters. When it came to romantic betrayal, they’d give her no breaks.

Then just don’t tell, she begged Kenyatta. Forget I told you.

I’m sorry, these girls gon find out one way or another. Lord knows I can’t keep a secret, neither. Better if it happens sooner than later for all involved. Why you had to tell me, anyway?

No, Kenyatta, don’t. You can’t. Please.

previous 1.. 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ..74 next