Eric Jerome Dickey is back with a sexy, fast-paced novel about grifters and con artists, brothers and sisters, looking for love and making ends meet-on the wrong side of the law...Momma shrieked.
The walls echoed her cries for Daddy to get his hands off her, brought her pleas up the stairs to my room. I jumped and my algebra book dropped from my chestnut desk onto the floor.
My father cursed.
By the time I made it to the railing and looked down into the living room, Momma was in front of my father, begging for forgiveness. Her petite frame was balled up on our Aztec-patterned sofa. She was holding her lip to keep the blood from flowing onto the fabric. I watched her rub away the pain on her cinnamon skin, then run her fingers through her wavy coal-black hair.
My old man looked up at me and grimaced. “Go back to your room, boy.”
I was fifteen and a half. Less than half of my old man’s age.
He stomped toward Momma.
She screamed and moved away from him like she was trying to run away from the madness that lived here every day.
My chest heaved as I stumbled past the grandfather clock and rushed down the stairs. My heart was pounding. I tightened my hands and hurried to my momma’s side.
“Momma,” I moaned as I kneeled next to her. “You okay?”
“I’m all right, baby. It’s nothing. Nothing.”
I looked at my liquored-up old man. He bobbed his head and pointed back at the kitchen. “I work hard all day and come home to no dinner?”
He was slurring and sneering down on us.
I said, “Nobody knew you were coming home tonight.”
Momma tried to get up. “I over slept. My pills made me”
“Carmen,” he shouted. “Get up off that sofa and cook. Now. Planet of the Apes comes on in an hour and I want my food on the table by the time Charlton Heston”
“Don’t ever touch Momma again.”
“What you say?”
“He didn’t say anything.” Momma touched my arm. “I’m okay, baby. Go back and finish studying for your test.”
Daddy’s back straightened, his bushy mustache crooked as his lips curved down, his eyes widened. “What you say to me, nigger?”
“I’m not a nigger. My name is Dante.”
“So the nigger speaking up for himself.”
“You heard me the first time. And I ain’t a nigger.”
“You challenging me? What, you think because you got a little hair over your dick you’re a grown man now? Ain’t but one man in this house.”
Momma spoke carefully to Daddy. “Don’t get upset.”
I frowned at the shiny badge on the chest of his tan uniform, then at the gun in his leather holster.
He sucked his teeth, nodded and jerked the badge off. He threw the gun holster on the love seat. He stepped away from the glass coffee table, opened his arms and snapped out, “You want to be a man? Come on. I’ll give you the first shot. Nigger, I’ll knock your black ass into the middle of next week.”
Momma gripped my arm tight enough for her nails to break my skin. I glanced at the golden cross she had on her chest, the one she had got from her mother just a few weeks before Grandmamma died. I looked into my momma’s light brown eyes, which looked like mine. “Let me go, Momma.”
“No.” She put her nose on mine and whispered, “Momma’s okay. It’s just a little scratch.”
My knees shook when I stood and faced my old man. When his eyes met mine, his anger held so much power that I forgot how to breathe. Heart went into overdrive. He balled up his right fist, slammed it into the palm of his left hand; it echoed like thunder. “What are you gonna do, nigger?”
I trembled, backed away and said, “Nothing.”
I kicked my bare feet into the rust carpet, then slumped my shoulders, wiped my sweaty hands on my jean shorts and turned around to go back to my room.
Then that motherfucker chuckled.
A simple laugh that stoked up the rage inside of me.
I charged at him as fast and as hard as I could.
Daddy’s eyes widened with surprise.
Pain. Anger. Fear.
Three screams from three people.
From the backseat of the police car, I stared through the wire cage at the colorful rotating lights that were brightening Scottsdale’s earth-tone stucco houses. I was hostage under a calm sky. The spinning glow from twelve squad cars looked like rainbows chasing rainbows. Colors raced over all the sweet gum trees and windmill palms, moved like a strobe light over the vanhoutte spirea in the front of the three-car garage. The reek of cordite was on my flesh. Couldn’t really smell it over the stench of my stress sweating. I concentrated on the colors to make the pain from the tight handcuffs go away. Watched the rainbows come and go.
The door opened. A dry May breeze mixed with the sweltering car air. A police officer stuck his sweaty head inside. His face was hard, his voice angry and anxious. “Your mother wants to say something to you before we lock your ass up. We shouldn’t let her say a damn word to you after what you did. Do you mind?”
I stared straight ahead. “No.”
He raised his voice. “No what?”
“No,”I repeated in a way that let him know I thought that all of them were assholes for making me out to be the bad guy. “I don’t mind.”
He gripped the back of my neck. “You’re pretty belligerent.”
I was a knob-kneed reed of a boy. Hadn’t lifted anything heavier than an algebra book and could barely run a mile in P.E. without passing out. That was before I started pumping weights, before squats, before doing two hundred push-ups in the morning to start my day, doing sprints, before the hooks and jabs and side kicks and roundhouse kicks and spinning back kicks became my trademark.
I said, “Fuck you.”
With his other hand he grabbed the front of my throat and squeezed, made me gag and look into his blue eyes. He growled, “Say, ‘No, sir. I don’t mind, sir,’ you insolent bastard.”
He let me go when another officer passed by. I gagged and caught my breath while perspiration tingled down my forehead into my eyes. I tilted my head and looked at him.
He smirked. “Now what you have to say?”
I spat in his face.
His cheeks turned crimson. He stared at me while my saliva rolled down his scarred face into his ill-trimmed wheat-colored mustache.
“That’s your ass, boy.”
Veins popped up in his neck while he stood there, clenching his teeth and wiping my juices from his eye, handkerchief in hand. He kept watching me, wanted me to break down and show my fear. It was there, but I refused to let it be seen. Another officer passed by and scarface told him what I’d done. It looked like they were about to double-team me, but the second officer said to report the assault and they both stormed away.
A second later the door opened again and my mother eased her bruised face inside.
She said, “Don’t hate me.”
“Love you, Momma.”I smiled. “Get away from here.”
She fondled her wedding ring. Tears formed in her eyes. She dropped the police blanket from her shoulders, took her cross off and put it around my neck.
She used her soft fingers to wipe the sweat from my eyes.
“Somebody’ll come get you out. Maybe Uncle Ray. You might be able to go back to Philly and stay with him for a while.”
“Uncle Ray don’t like us. We’re Catholic. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t like nobody but Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“Stop saying that.”
“I’ll call him anyway. I’ll tell him you made honor roll so he’ll know you’re still doing good in school. Let him know you might get a scholarship. You could help him around his grocery store in the evenings.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about me. Get away before he hurts you. All he’s gonna do is beat you up, then go out to Fort McDowell and spend the night with that Indian woman. He ain’t been home in two days, then walks in complaining about some stupid dinner. Tomorrow he’ll be mad about his shirts. The next day his shoes.”
My old man was standing in a crowd of badges, guns and whispers. The ambulance crew had bandaged his head and he was back on his feet. I’d beat him with everything I could get my hands on.
He made a single-finger gesture for Momma to come.
My beautiful momma looked tired of the life she was living, and that made me sad. She wiped her eyes and kissed the side of my face. “You understand, don’t you? You’re a big boy now. Almost a man. You can take care of yourself. You understand.”
I kissed the side of her face as my answer.
“Don’t be angry.” She twisted her lips. “Don’t be like him.”
“Iwon’t.”I smiled for her.“ Go back inside before you get in trouble. Stop taking so much of that medication.”
She rubbed her eyes, then dragged her fingers down across her lips. “It calms my nerves.”
“Why you wanna sleep so much?”
“Sometimes”she patted my legs with her thin fingers“sometimes I have nice dreams.”
She was distant, reciting and not living the words.
I said, “Dreams ain’t real, Momma.”
“Sometimes” She stopped and kissed my forehead. Her voice became as melodic as the poetry she always read. “Sometimes they’re better than what’s real.”
I fought the dryness in my throat that always came before my tears. I was scared. Fifteen and a half and living in fear.
She wandered away, wringing her hands and looking back at me with every other step. We blew each other dysfunctional kisses.
I’d be in juvenile hall, then a boys’ home until was old enough to register for the draft and vote.
Living with criminals would be like going to a different kind of school. Nigerians, Mexicans, Whitesno matter what nationality, they were all caught up in the same game. And didn’t hesitate to lend to the schooling on everything from three-card monte to rocks in a box to pigeon drops, even broke down how to pass bad checks. A few were bold enough to run telephone scams from the inside.
That was different from the education I was after.
I had dreams of getting into Howard, to a frat life and a world filled with sorority girls. Always wanted to stomp in a Greek show. Make enough money to get a small place, get Momma to move in with me. I was working on our escape.
But that night, guess I had had all I could stand and couldn’t stand no more. I wanted to be like a superhero and rescue my momma. That was my mission in life. What motivated me.
Hard to save anybody when you’re locked up, when you’re too busy trying to fight to save yourself. When you’ve made yourself a prisoner.
I did want to save her. That gave my life a lot of purpose.
But there would be no Howard. No sorority girl at my side. And the closest thing to a frat I would see would be a bunch of young hardheads lining up for roll call, all wearing prison blues, most with tattoos. Our Greek show was marching in sync to go get our meals.
Momma would find her own way to freedom.
My momma would take too many pills and become an angel.
My daddy would be found dead behind the wheel of his Thunderbird at Fort McDowell. Ambushed and shot outside of a married Indian woman’s place.
On that night of changes, I sat in the back of that squad car, staring at the colorful lights dancing in the night to make my pain go away. Watched the rainbows chasing the rainbows.
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