Louisiana black people, like most black people, are superstitious. Maybe because we are so aware of the real world, having been denied so much of it for so long, that we accept what's just past it, the other side of reality. That understanding gives us access to magic. Father meant what he said. Half of those rough and tough cowboys swore off beef after that night.
Maybe it was the Wild Turkey or the fact that he flipped his winnings three times with the dice or that he got to shoot the bull in front of everybody, but Father was talkative on the way back home. Hero status reaffirmed.
"You all right?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said, a bit remorseful.
"You gotta remember not to be by the fence when they ridin' them bulls. Them niggas be half drunk and not payin' attention and anything can happen. You understand?" he asked.
He popped open another Schlitz and handed it to me.
"Here. That one's for you. Don't tell your momma. Matter fact, don't tell her about none of this tonight 'cause you know how she likes to worry," he said.
"I know, Daddy," I said and took a sip of my very first beer.
That night I lay in bed, tipsy, listening to the distant train on Mykawa Road and the busy mouse gnawing on the Sheetrock wall trying to get me. He was determined and steady, chipping away inside the wall, plotting his meal. My toes, then my legs to prevent me from running away. He sounded small, innocuous, but his gnawing reverberated, hummed and vibrated the worn wooden floor. I could feel it from my metal trundle bed. The mouse was coming for me. And my only solace was the reluctant glimmer of light peeking from the Star Wars curtains. Use the Force, Ti' John. Not enough to muster courage. Not enough to foster hope that the avid mouse would retire for the evening or get lockjaw. Maybe if I could look into his eyes and make contact, like Harold with the bull, he could be convinced.
Despite three killings in one week, I was holding up pretty well. School continued the next morning without a word about Cookie or her father. Adelai had been in psychiatric custody of some sort and there was no blood in the church, but we all knew what happened at Station 6. Gunshots and buzzers and screeching tires, alarms signaling danger, yet I managed to stay safe. And for that I felt stronger, more able to handle what the world was preparing to throw my way. I was gaining a sense of daring. Maybe I could go on Ricky Street now without fear. Maybe. Mother had to be busy or gone. I had no idea what awaited me on Ricky Street, but those other incidents didn't offer warning either. I committed to disobeying Mother. I committed to daring. I'd have to pick a good day for play, because if I got caught there was a good chance that I wouldn't be leaving the house for a while. I needed a day when everybody, young and old, would be outside. I didn't want to miss a thing or person. I wanted to know everything happening on Ricky Street, which could only mean one day out of all seven. Saturday. The official weekly holiday for all black folks in good standing. With God's blessing, Mother would have to be properly distracted for a good eight hours. I had a day appointed. Now I had to wait.
The next day, Saturday, Mother decided that she'd spend the entire day cooking a pot of gumbo. Have mercy! Making gumbo is an event that requires the cook to stay on the pot for most of the day, a sacrifice with the promise of a worthy meal. It requires commitment, attention to detail, and very limited distractions. Excellent. Thank you, God.
I grabbed a few toys and headed for the door.
"I'm gonna play out in the front," I told Mother.
"Be careful. Come in and use the bathroom. Ms. Johnson say she saw you peein' on the side of the house," Mother responded.
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
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