"You Frenchy's son?" Harold asked as the older boys gathered around me with looks of astonishment. I told you he was a legend.
"Yeah," I answered as humbly as I could, then left with Arthur Duncan and his foxy escorts.
Father won both events and left me under the care of a hideously obese woman who sold catfish sandwiches from an Igloo cooler so that he could flip his winnings with a throw of the dice. But I didn't mind because the main event was coming as the sky darkened and the stolen stadium lights illuminated the dusty arena. It was time for the bull riding.
There are only two rules when you're a youngster watching bull riding. Don't put your fingers in the fence and don't sit on the fence. Usually, when you become a teenager, you show your courage by sitting on the fence but only after you have stopped shooting duck water. Bull riding is grown men's business and deadly, as I would soon learn. After Arthur Duncan locked in a competitive time on his bull, a flurry of challengers came and went, most thrown off and some with rides too pathetic to garner any respect or score.
Then a gracile, pecan-colored man with a reddish brown "shag" (black folks' answer to a mullet) confidently hopped the fence into the arena and headed for the chutes. His Wranglers looked as brand-new as his floral-print Western shirt, both of which looked heavily starched. I smirked, remembering Father once saying, "Cain't trust no redheaded nigga 'cause a nigga like that grow up mad at hisself, mad at how his hair turned out."
"That's my daddy," Harold said as he joined me next to the catfish sandwich woman.
"Oh yeah?" I responded, rather impressed that his redheaded, pedophile father was a bull rider.
Harold didn't show up empty-handed either. Three prepubescent girls sat with us, smelling like candy, barbeque, cigarette smoke, and the all-too-familiar manure. They started pinching me.
Harold's daddy climbed onto the beast with hurried confidence, staring down at the animal's head with occasional nods to the chute boss and cowboys who strapped his right hand into the bull's collar. He nodded quickly and the chute opened.
The animal charged out of the chute with angry bucks. Up and down. Twist to the left, then the right. And Harold's father held on. You could hear Harold's heart racing as his father reached the eighth second.
The crowd roared. It was a fine ride indeed, worthy of a champion's score if only he could dismount. He was stuck, locked to an angry animal that only sought to get the damn tickling rope off its hinds. But Harold's father wouldn't let go. In fact, he couldn't. He was tied down to a series of ropes that extended to the bull's hinds, behind the ribs. This is a sensitive area for many animals that arguably may tickle if touched. The bull hates this feeling just as most people do when tickled. Then there's the cowbell that's strapped to the animal for dramatic effect but also confuses it with every ring. So this half-ton beast is getting tickled and a bell is mocking it. No wonder they kick like hell.
Cowboys rushed in on horses trying to side the bull so that the trapped man could grab a saddle and escape, but it was impossible because the bull was turning violently, scaring the horses away. Some clowns, the unsung heroes of bull riding, danced and gallivanted around the bull while others attempted to reach the strap to free the man, only to be gored by the animal, which still had sharp horns. One clown took a horn in the thigh and was thrown into the stands. A young girl screamed. Another clown took a horn to the back and quickly decided to permanently commit to a life in the church, jumping quickly out of the arena and dashing for his sister's rusted LTD along the dirt road. Better to be in church on Sunday, he thought as he headed back to Acres Homes while staining the faux velour seats with his bloody wound and singing spirituals.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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