We were going to the rodeo. Despite all the rigmarole with loading up the horses, saddles, and ice chests in preparation for the trip, the entire experience was exhilarating. During the week he may have spent his days loading shipping containers at the Houston Ship Channel until he was exhausted or chanced his paycheck on the roll of the dice on Stassen Street or the dexterity of his pool cue at Jewel's Lounge or listened to Mother's harangues while trying to watch the Astros game, but none of that mattered on Sunday because on Sunday, Father was a bona fide rock star in the black rodeo circuit and nobody questioned that.
We loaded up a palomino named TJ. A beautiful, cream-colored horse that Father had been training for calf roping. Then we loaded in a jumpy quarter horse called Black Jack. That was my horse and part of Father's blatant attempt to make me a horseman. Black Jack had come off the racetrack and was a bit skittish, prone to take off without any warning. And although I protested about Black Jack being my horse, wanting a kinder, gentler ride, Father was adamant. If he rares up on ya, grab them reins and jerk 'em and tell him to cut it out, he said. Take control of the animal is what he meant. Take control. Don't get used or run over. Grab the reins. But it didn't matter. I got thrown off that horse more than I care to mention. And every time I was thrown off, Father would run to me with worry and concern like that day in the flood when I was little. And he'd help me up and tell me not to cry.
"Crying never solved anything, Ti' John. It only makes you focus on your failure and bad shit. Don't cry. Focus on how to do things right the next time so that you don't have to cry. Do you understand what I'm tryin' to tell ya?" he said.
We rode in his brown Chevy pickup pulling a horse trailer down FM 521 South headed to Angleton, Texas. Cold Schlitz rested in the coffee holder next to my Big Red. Charley Pride crooned on the eight-track asking if anybody was going to San Anton' or Phoenix, Arizona. The AC was on full blast. Driver's-side window cracked slightly so that my middle name wouldn't change to Benson & Hedges. A CB radio crackled under the ashtray with random gibberish, a foreign language understood by men who spent long hours on the white line. Father had been a member of that fraternity from time to time, privy to its secret codes and rituals.
"Daddy, you think they gonna let Cookie stay in Heaven?" I asked.
"The girl that got hit by the bus."
"But she ain't get baptized. Sister Marie Thérèse said you gotta be baptized to go to Heaven."
He took his time with that one.
"Everybody don't go to Heaven, Ti' John," he answered.
"They go to the hot place?" I asked.
He lit a cigarette.
"I'ma tell you something and you better not repeat it. Understand?"
"Ain't no such thing as Hell, Ti' John. That's just some bullshit them white folks came up with to get people scared," he answered.
"What about in the Bible?"
"White folks wrote the Bible." He grabbed the CB receiver. "Breaker one-nine, pushing down 521 South, who got their ears on?"
He joined the precursor of online chat roomsthe CB chat roomeffectively ending our discussion on the afterlife.
I stared at passing crops. Green. Brown. Tan. Brown. Green.
"Daddy, look at that," I said, but he stared straight ahead while getting reports on Smokey in between lurid jokes. He didn't see it, I thought.
About a hundred feet off FM 521 in a barren field of dirt I noticed a figure on its knees, hunched over. As we got closer I could see it was a man, a dark man in dark clothes wearing a large hat. He saw me staring. I think. I knew it. Just as we passed by, the man stood up, facing my curious eyes, took off his hat, and leaned forward with a deep ceremonious bow. It was friendly, respectful, even regal.
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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