Delicious Foods

What? You’re kidding. Dad?

A ambulance screamed by, honking a high note, then a low note, and that took they attention. They waited like criminals for the sound to die down, for normal cars to whiz over the asphalt again, so they could get calm enough to ignore the background noise, and Darlene took a couple tiny steps away from them two before some regular noises crept back in. The kid moved his eyes to his father head, then to Darlene face, and swiveled again.

First he asked politely. He go, Ma’am?, and opened the car door.

The word ma’am itself made her back up faster, like a curse reminding her who she shoulda been, so she turnt and start to book behind the dusty front entrance to the BBQ, thinking the Jackson twins was hers now and she ain’t had to do nothing to the kid. A plastic cowboy on a red bucking bronco be dangling off the roof. Broken furniture sitting behind that greasy windowpane, and a For Lease sign be hanging by one corner inside the damn window.

The father shoved the son ’gainst the door and went, Sammatawitchu, nigger! Git that money back!

Ow, my elbow!

Darlene ran, but it was a fence back there and she couldn’t jump that shit. The fence too high and she too high and a razor wire be swizzling round the top of the fence. She heard the car door slam and feet slap the asphalt behind her and the next thing she know, the sonofabitch had her wrists behind her back. He got some kinda sharp, athletic thing zapping through his fingers like a depth charge. Youth buzzing in his veins, all gruff and rowdy and shit. She bucked around and thrust her legs back, tryna find his nuts with her heel, but she kept kicking her bag on accident. She ain’t had his kind of strength.

Some vagrant brother be lying by the dumpster without no shoes on, showing off his rough-ass swollen feet. One of em had a open sore that’s all meaty, attracting flies. Darlene yelling murder and rape, but the bum just lift his head and ain’t react no further. The young man hand had came down over her mouth and it tasted soapy—cleaner than some of Darlene recent meals. So she licking the webs between his fingers to get him to let go her face, but he just clamped onto her jaw more tighter.

The bum lift his head and put it down again. A bottle of Old Crow be his pillow and his pacifier. The kid let go her mouth and figured out how to cram his hand into the bag and rifle through without letting her go. Once he had got the money, the bag fell off her arm and he pushed her forward. She twisted her ankle and fell on her face ’gainst the curb by the dumpster and she could feel her nose and lip and face had swole up already. A police car slowed down fifty yards away on the main road. One cop checked the scene from the passenger side, but they ain’t stop, probably because the father said everything cool. Darlene spat out two teeth and felt a third so loose it come out when she touched it with her tongue. She rolled that puppy round in her mouth.

I guess that made Darlene go more nuts. She not vain, but she had to keep her looks to get business. I made sure she knew at least that. She picked up them teeth, stuck em in her skirt pocket, and tore after the kid—leapt on his back right as his hand touched the door handle and tried to throttle the motherfucker, using his shirt collar to get control. Man, she wanted that forty dollars something bad. But some powerful surprise demon leapt up out the kid too, and he threw her off and slammed her in the cheek. Darlene head snapped back, then she stumbled and doubled over. Dull, heavy pain spread out from her nose into her skull. She couldn’t turn her neck without no more pain and she tasted iron and salt, touched her lip and held out her hand to see some cherry-red fingertips, and all her love lines and heart lines and fate lines be wet with blood. The car wheels was skipping around in the gravel, then the car turnt onto the road and got smaller in the distance till you couldn’t see it no more. The dust be mixing with the gritty metal taste in her mouth and she spat the blood and the grit on the dirt. Her gums was throbbing real bad.

Forty dollars…Shit, Darlene, I said. We coulda been done for at least one motherfucking day. Much as I loved Darlene, I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I could get sorta angry sometimes. I ain’t proud of it. But she had that thing where she crumbled under pressure. So I threw a fit. I lost it, I was hollering and cussing and accusing her of being unfaithful to me. Then I guess I made it clear that I wouldn’t let her go home until she could get some money so we could go braindancing together 27-9.

She looked at me with her cheeks deflated. Who’s going to pick up my sorry behind now, she asked, with my face broken, three missing teeth, and no shoes? I can’t do this anymore. This is horrible. I give up.

Goddamn it! I shouted. Maybe Crew Cut’s right! Maybe you is lazy, you fucking—! I made myself hoarse yelling inside her head. I called her a bazillion nasty insults I can’t even repeat here. I went, You don’t really want to be with me! You don’t love me! I cried—she made me weep.

Scotty! she screamed. Please, stop! Just tell me how can I get the money now. Scotty! I do love you, and I will do anything for you.

I pointed her face at the road. Get out there! I said. Ain’t nothing shameful ’bout trying to survive, bitch. Don’t you know the street always got a answer?

And of course I was right.





    2.





Blackbirds




Eddie got used to being home alone after nine o’clock, when his mother went to parties, or so she said. Every night a party? he thought at first. Sometimes she’d go meet a friend and return in twenty minutes. During the day in the schoolyard, he fought other fifth-graders who called his mother names, not convinced that they had any evidence, but at night the names reverberated in his head. Your mother is your mother, he would tell himself, and you have to forgive, no matter what people say, no matter if she did any of what they say she did.

In the mornings he’d sometimes find her facedown on the couch in last night’s outfit, one leg drooping above the carpet, a crust of spit caking the throw pillow under her snoring mouth. She would have left the television on, and he’d hear people talking for a long time about some guy named Dow Jones who had fallen down a lot. His mother’s dress would have crept up to expose the crease where her thigh met her butt. No one else lived in the apartment, and to discover his mother’s rump displayed so crudely moments after he had woken up with an erection always produced a confused sensation in his head. To silence the feeling, he’d find a sheet, draw it over her body, and kiss her cheek gently, attempting not to rouse her. It occurred to him that he was doing her job, but he didn’t notice the cloud of resentment forming in his love for her, his hostility growing darker. I’m the son, he whispered to himself. The son can’t take care of the mother.

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