Delicious Foods

Darlene start shuffling backward, staring into them headlights, till she got near to the end of the commercial strip of whatever the hell city she in. Out there, wasn’t no more traffic lights—edge of the world. After that, just flat dark. Brushy dirt, short trees, and squinty little stars—wait—was that the fucked-up carcass of a crow? Nope, just a busted tire tread in the damn emergency lane. The sun finally gave up and turnt its back on the dusk. Fuck you, went the sun. Fuck all y’all, you skanky freaks don’t deserve no sunlight. Find another star.

Outside the parking lot of a closed-down BBQ restaurant, somebody headlights drove up like glowing monster eyeballs, blasting in Darlene face and—hallelujah!—the car slowed down. Old cheapo car, VW Rabbit something. Darlene couldn’t see in, but somebody could see out, so the car slow to a halt in the gravel. In there, it’s some round-faced man, ’bout fifty, leaning cross a lap, cranking down that window. Light brother with a short ’fro, wine-tinted Coke-bottle glasses, rough skin. Had a cigarette stuck in his left hand, his round-ass belly up against the steering wheel. The lap in the passenger seat belong to a skinny teenage boy in a short-sleeve shirt. Kid had skin light as the man’s, pretty lips, ears out to here, the picture of a scared-ass virgin. Even a rookie could figure out that setup.

Tobacco smoke poofed out in Darlene face so she pulled back like somebody done threw a snake at her, even though she a hard-core smoker herself. I thought Darlene coulda made a living as a singer; she moved like a dainty princess, like one of them bougie Marilyn McCoo, Lola Falana types. On the AM radio in the car, she heard DeBarge doing “Rhythm of the Night.” So she’s like, Good, they’re middle class, they have some money.

The man leant across the boy and went, What you doing out here all alone, honey?

Get cool, get paid, get some rocks, go home. Darlene heard them phrases in her head, and I thought they had a nice rhythm to em, so I asked her to say em out loud and she did.

The father went, Say what? Go home? Aw right, then. He spun the window roller once but Darlene stuck her fingers on the top of the glass, so he stopped. The shit we do for love. The love we do for drugs.

The boy went, She meant her, Dad. I think.

We noticed a car key chain made of braided plastic swinging off the steering column, and the shadows of the braids was forming a pattern like a swastika. That got us both to thinking about what the book had said.

What about the Jews? Darlene thought, and also said. What about the Jews? They couldn’t have brought the Holocaust on themselves, right?

The kid went, Excuse me?

The Jews! You know. She pointed at the key chain. Chosen People?

Jews? the kid says.

Yes, because if you’re an antenna—

The kid went, Ma’am, you okay?

With your good thoughts, I mean—

The father shut the engine, took his glasses off, rubbed his eyes, put the glasses back on. He scratched his ’fro and went, How much it’s gonna be?

The grid on the kid’s shirt made Darlene remember a tablecloth from her childhood. People who know me well always be making interesting leaps and turns inside they head. I call it braindancing. Me and Darlene was doing the hustle right about then. You could hear the flutes from that Van McCoy jam going doot-doot-doot…do the hustle!

She poked the boy chest and he bent his torso away like the curve on a banana. Let’s put the basket of fried chicken right here, Darlene said, figuring a li’l joke might break the ice. They ain’t get it, so she poked him again, closer to his belly button. And the potato salad goes here, she said. I busted out laughing and so did Darlene, but she scratched up her lungs and that made her cough and spit.

Dad—

The afro father twisted his face, getting uptight, squirming in his seat. He tugged a chunky wallet out his pants and peeled off two twenties, so Darlene says to me, See, the book is right. I thought a good thought, and here go the twenties I dreamed up.

Nice trick, I said.

The man went, Okay, here go my fried chicken. That’s my fried chicken right there. What you do for forty?

Her eyebrows rose.

Dad. She’s—

The father yelling and muttering at the same time. You can just shut the fuck up. You gon prove to me you not like that. To-night. Punk cousin done turned you.

The son closed his eyes and twisted away from the father. No, Dad. It wasn’t what you—The son gulped down a sigh and stroked the car-door handle like he probably do his dick in private, then punched it in a half-assed kinda way. His Adam’s apple shot down his neck and then right back up.

The father chucked them bills in the kid lap, but the kid ain’t budged, so in the pause, my girl picked up the Jackson twins, all gentle, like they was babies. She folded em together, thinking, My ticket to the morning light. Now we both got excited. Forty clams not much, but it did mean we was gonna be spending a whole bunch of time together in the very near future. We was like, Love, soft as an easy chair, love, fresh as the morning air. Darlene wondered if we could just book right then so she wouldna had to do nothing else; she had too much pride in her heart for this line of work, and I kept telling her, Yeah, fine, do what you want. I don’t judge nobody.

The father broke the silence and went, Get out the car, go in them bushes, get laid. He stuck out his lower lip. Bitch got my money now!

The kid put his hand on the door and went, You mean your fried chicken.

Darlene smiled more than her usual amount, ’cause she still thinking ’bout the forty dollars and had forgot that they could see her.

The son kept staring and his face gone all tight. Dad, this isn’t Christian, Dad. I want my first time to be special. You said you wanted me to wait for marriage!

The father ashed in the tray, said, Don’t give me that first-time bullshit. You done some damn unholy shit already. You think I don’t know? You think I’m stupid something?

The kid turnt his shoulders and leant into the father space, tryna keep his words private. Ugh, he growled. She’s really out of it. What was that crazy stuff she said about the Holocaust?

Darlene shoved the Jackson twins deep in her bag to hide them shits from robbers, under a change purse she found on a barroom floor, a scratched pair of sunglasses, and a bunch of open lipsticks—she ain’t know, but one of em had got extended and be smearing her possessions with all kind of red smudges. I knew ’cause my ass was in the damn purse, a couple tiny rocks in a glass vial that she thought she had lost.

Two months ago, on Easter Sunday, some guy who called hisself a coon-ass car salesman paid her to watch him fuck a watermelon. No lie. Set that melon on his card table, knifed hisself a round hole in it, and made her egg him on while he sliding his dick in and out that little globe.

He says to her, It turn me on to got somebody watching. I like the shame.

She couldn’t think what to say. Screw that round thing! Mmh! Juice it, boy!

The fruit start weeping pink water out the hole. His hairy butt went umph and he came inside that melon.

When he pulled out, he grinned and said, Hope it don’t get knocked up, ’cause I don’t want no green chirren!

Even remembering that shit, we couldn’t stop laughing. Don’t want no green chirren! Like they gon be little watermelons with legs. I tell you, though, Mr. Melonfucker had him some green money. Darlene spent most of it on me in a day.

Somebody as inside herself as Darlene right then, without no natural talent for hooking, could watch some melonfuckers on the regular, though. Not bad, not like some of them other johns. Melons had it all over cigarette burns, getting stabbed, leather belts across the back, and a curtain rod up the ass, all of which she had either had or come close to having. For a while, Darlene had this gentle, fresh attitude that made motherfuckers want to kick her in the tits, like a girl in one them Z movies.

Out in the street, she always thinking ’bout Somebody Might Kill Me. She got so obsessed with dying that she ain’t take no kinda precautions ’gainst it. To Darlene, copping ain’t never meant risking her life—’cause not copping felt like dying anyhow, and she ain’t lost that game yet. And if she did lose—well, hell, she wouldn’t know. Her idea of heaven was that the two of us could kick it together 27-9, like we would say—that’s twenty-seven hours a day, nine days a week—without nobody judging our relationship. Without none of the issues you get from having a body. Y’all think a body be who you is, but it ain’t nothing but a motherfucking sack of meat.

Darlene start inching away, thinking ’bout making a run for it—to where, she ain’t had no idea—and the father shout at her to stay put, but she ain’t heard him right.

Another thought that we had sewed together in her mind right then like a thrift-store quilt spilled out her mouth without her realizing. Who does a watermelon…laugh at…when you kill it?

Dad, I can’t do this. I can’t do this!

Then get my motherfucking money back.

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