Delicious Foods

Two and a half years after arriving in St. Cloud, Eddie opened a bona fide shop downtown, Hardison’s, selling hardware, fixing appliances, organizing home repairs. When the florist next door went out of business, he expanded into that space. The shop thrived, and the novelty of the Handyman Without Hands wore off, but Eddie never removed the phrase from his business card.

Eddie didn’t let his disability get in the way of an active life, and that attitude paid off in many ways. On an ice-skating outing to St. Paul, he met a paralegal named Ruth, four years his senior. Ruth was the only woman he’d met in Minnesota who remained unfazed by his missing hands, though she did prefer to remove or warm up his metal prosthesis with her cardigan before lovemaking. After eight months of dating, which Bethella considered too short a time, Ruth moved in with him and became his fiancée. They had a son out of wedlock whom they named Nathaniel. The boy seemed to inherit his father’s tenacity and his grandfather’s charisma.

Eddie presumed that by drafting and adhering to such an average blueprint for a life, he could overcome his misfortunes and shake off all the agonizing memories of Delicious Foods, but they never left him, nor did the urge to return to Louisiana and set things right disappear completely. Sometimes he snapped awake in the earliest-morning hours, convinced that he was back at the farm. Shrouded in pitch-black, the memories would return, alighting on his bed like dark birds poised to attack him. Inevitably, they seemed to say, someone will reveal everything that happened on that farm, and you will have to go back.





    1.





Braindancing




Lazy? That fool done zipped off in his black sedan and the taillights getting all mixed up with the traffic signs, and Darlene thought hard ’bout that word. Out all the stuff a motherfucker could say, not realizing he had spoke to somebody who gone to college. You could use other words for her activity at that moment, maybe some of em not so nice, but lazy? She had to laugh behind that, hard as she out there working for a couple ducats. The nerve of this man! He ain’t know her life. She had a son to feed, eleven years old, had to get out there walking in some bad shoes, humidity frizzing the heck outta her perm. This whole damn June, sun been beating down so hot the roads be looking blurry up ahead, all kinda mirages happening up the highway. Look like a truckload of mercury done had a accident.

Seem to Darlene that everything she strove for turned out as a hot mirage. Probably folks oughta blame that on the dude in the sedan or that dumbass self-help book she read; can’t nobody pin what happened to Darlene on me. Can’t nobody make you love em, make you look for em all the time. Maybe I attract a certain kinda person. Folks always saying that I do. Doctors talking now ’bout how people brain chemistry make some of em fall in love harder with codependent types. But I feel a obligation to Darlene. Out all my friends—and, baby, I got millions—she make me wonder the most if I done right by her. Sometimes I think to myself that maybe she shouldna met me. But then again, can’t nobody else tell her side of things but Yours Truly, Scotty. I’m the only one who stuck by her the whole time.

Nine months out on the street and she still had a meek little attitude ’bout doin’ the do, you know? She ain’t had the look down at all. My girl had on flats and a skirt that went below the knee—no lie! Instead of going down to the edge of the road to look in them cars, she be hanging back, almost in the hedges or whatever, hoping some car gonna slow down and stop. She reckoned she get in and get cool in the vehicle. Solve two problem at one time.

Across that double yellow line over at Hinman’s Aquatic World, it was some giant Plexiglas pools resting on they sides, looking like God’s bedpans. The owners had just turnt on them plastic palm trees with the lights all in em. Pickup trucks parked at steak houses, broken neon trim blinking on the wall of the porno store. Forlorn-ass Mexican folks be chilling at the bus stop.

Texas was stupid, I’m sorry. Fat sunburned gluttons and tacky mansions everyplace, glitzy cars that be the size of a pachyderm, a thrift store and a pawnshop for every five motherfuckers. Fucking limestone! Whole state and everything up in that bitch made of limestone. Damn strip malls look like they done come right up out the ground. Upon this rock, I shall build my strip mall. It’s like they ain’t heard of no other rock. Granite salesmen getting jealous. In summer, Texas too hot for 99 percent of life-forms; in the two-month winter, ain’t none of them houses insulated, so you gotta rub your legs together under your blanket like you a grasshopper, rub so hard you about to set your own ass on fire.

Then some crew-cut ofay she hoping gonna be a trick—so she could score and we could hang out—he just slowed down and stuck his neck out the passenger side and went, Lazy.

Lazy! Darlene took a few steps back—the flats made me feel for her since the first time I met her. (She said from the get-go she couldn’t wear a certain kind of pumps but wouldn’t say why, and it wasn’t till I penetrated the inner sanctum of her brain later on that I found out the truth.) She made a note to remember that guy and his li’l rabbit face. ’Cause when they said lazy they also meant nigger. Hardy-fucking-har-har. And lazy working on who behalf? Hustling this hard at the Peckerwood National Savings Bank, she’d be the damn manager. Hell, Darlene thought, I’d be the CEO. It’d be an easier job too. In that air-conditioning? I have put this paper in this folder. Now I will return that pen to its holder. Done. I am leaving for the day. Hey, Mrs. Secretary! Where did you put my golf clubs?

A pothole by the white line tripped her, and my girl be wobbling. She twisted a tendon and almost dropped her handbag. My sweetheart thought bending over would be vulgar, even though she had on that long-ass skirt. She still ain’t knowed thing one about marketing herself. She squatted, and she saw that highway marker sparkling down there, and that took her mind off the rabbit-face man and sent it rushing back to her usual thoughts, thoughts about how to spend more time with me.

I wanna rock with you, she sang without thinking ’bout it. The day start going dark orange, and some shadows starts to cut through the trees like they broken bottles. The past kept dogging her, like she could always hear its clunky old motor idling outside whatever else be in her thoughts. The sound of her dead husband whistling would get super-loud up in her head, and if I couldn’t stand that noise, you know it made her stone crazy. Darlene would double the fuck over—this time she bent down and put her hands over her ears like the sound coming from outside her head.

Once that particular bad feeling passed, she got up and turnt to face traffic, thinking ’bout a happy person. The book said that to get good experiences and money in your life, you had to think positive thoughts and visualize shit. So she imagined some dude thumbing a fan of twenties into her hand. Held out her palm to take some imaginary cash—I almost busted out laughing. But instead of fat-money johns down this road, it’s only some soccer moms going by and frowning behind the wheel of they minivans. They kids heads be swiveling with they mouths open and closing, pointing they little chocolaty fingers at her like, Mommy, what she doing?

Next thing you know the Isley Brothers singing Who’s that lady? in her head. Real fine lady. At that time, Darlene truly was fine—that girl coulda stopped more traffic than just some tawdry johns if she’d a wore some tight miniskirts and high heels. I kept telling her that shit all the time.

Now where in the hell she had walked to? Halfway to Beaumont, seemed. Nobody else out there hooking, else they had better luck. Crickets getting louder, dog barks be coming from way the hell and gone, headlights whizzing by all silver and black, like low-flying spaceships—could be anybody in there. Aliens. ET and shit. Chewbacca smoking dope with ALF.

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