Some were ex-cons like Father's friend Butterfield, who was a known rapist and car thief. Others were educators like Dr. Poindexter, the veterinarian who taught at Prairie View A&M. He'd give discounted horse vaccinations to these cowboys, most of whom were cowboying on a budget. The Fifth Ward golden boy Mickey Leland kissed babies and provided photo ops for his next bid for Congress. Ntozake Shange sat sidesaddle on a Tennessee walker conjuring verses about a crowd that really didn't know who the hell she was. Father seemed pleased with all of this as he nursed the beer with a familiar grin. Then he handed me five dollars and told me to be careful. That was it. Off I'd go into this den of thieves, playwrights, politicians, rapists, and veterinarians.
I took off for the refreshment area for a Frito pie and a strawberry soda. A few older kids had commandeered the pool table and were betting on shots, imitating the adults with wagers. Stevie Wonder professed from the jukebox"that girl thinks that she's so fine." And I just tried to stay out of anybody's way, but my presence wouldn't go unnoticed. Girls my age were milling about, giggling, writing letters and notes on barbeque-stained napkins to the older boys around the pool table. This had been going on before I arrived. Then I entered and the focus shifted. The back of my neck got hot as a toaster, and it wasn't because I was John Frenchy's son, oh no, although that did have its benefits. I was the light-skinned dude in the room and, brother, the letters and notes started coming like I was the postman.
Since kindergarten, I had been well aware of the premium of being light-complexioned among black folks, particularly girls. I hadn't spent much time around white folks, and when I visited family in Louisiana my skin tone really wasn't a big deal because there were a lot of people who looked like me. But in Texas, this complexion thing was carrying some weight, both good and bad. I didn't think too much of it, still working with a developing ego that only sought acceptance inasmuch as it would provide playmates and defense against bullies. At eight, that was my main emotional concern, but I did notice that for the past three years I had gained unearned favor with girls because of my looks. And riding the wall near a pool table in a shanty during a rodeo was no exception. There was a general excitement in their eyes when they saw me. Hell if I knew why. I couldn't swim. I couldn't fight. I couldn't pop a wheelie. I could barely throw a football. All of this because Mother wouldn't let me go on Ricky Street, of course. But somehow none of that mattered and I wondered, if these girls knew all my shortcomings, would their eyes still dance? Or would I be the inadequate fly on the shanty wall that stood before them?
This attention didn't go unnoticed by the older boys, who were plotting to get their fingers stanky or pull a little tongue. I inadvertently thwarted their plans and would soon become a victim if I didn't figure something out. One of them, a little closer to my age, noticed what was going on and decided to befriend me, maybe thinking that some of this female attention would rub off on him. It kind of worked. His name was Harold and his father used to fuck him.
Harold was ten years old and was missing his front teeth. Big brown eyes and complexion with a dusty red afro. He had a lot of energy, but most of the boys didn't play with him because the rumor about him and his father had circulated around the rodeo circuit for some time although no one dared to investigate.
After conferencing with the girls by the jukebox, Harold proudly came over to me and announced that two of the girls wanted to get booty. He pointed at the young vixens, who blushed. Hell, I blushed too. I hadn't got booty, didn't really know how except with my action figures, and that didn't count. Harold then started to chide me about being scared of girls. This went on for hours until Arthur Duncan stepped into the refreshment shack with two young bunnies on his arms, saying, "Lil' Frenchy! Ya daddy 'bout to rope."
Excerpted from Red Now and Laters by Marcus J Guillory. Copyright © 2014 by Marcus J Guillory. Excerpted by permission of Atria/Emily Bestler Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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