Excerpt from A Day Late and A Dollar Short by Terry McMillan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Day Late and A Dollar Short

by Terry McMillan

A Day Late and A Dollar Short
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2001, 448 pages
    Dec 2001, 480 pages

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When ain't nobody there but him (which ain't often 'cause he can't stand being by hisself more than a few hours), he do crossword puzzles. Hard ones. And he good at it. These he do finish. And from what I gather, he done let hundreds of women walk through his revolving door for a day or two but then all he do is complain about Donnetta, his ex-wife, who he ain't been married to now going on six years, so most of 'em don't come back. And don't let him get a buzz going. Every other word outta his mouth is Donnetta. He talk about her like they just got divorced yesterday. "She wanted a perfect man," he claimed, or, "I almost killed myself trying to please that woman." But even though Donnetta was a little slow, she was nice, decent. After I'd left Cecil for the third time, I stayed with 'em for close to a month. By the second week, I was almost ready for the loony bin. First off, Donnetta couldn't cook nothing worth eating; she wasn't exactly Oprah when it came to having a two-way conversation; cleaning house was at the bottom of her things-to-do list; and that boy needed his ass beat at least twice a day but she only believed in that white folks' "time-out" mess. She didn't have as much sense as a Christmas turkey, and how you supposed to lead a child down a path when you lost your damnself?

I understood completely when that chile turned to God, got saved, and finally stopped giving Lewis dessert at night. A few months ago she sent me a pink postcard from some motel in San Diego saying she got married, is seven months pregnant and they already know it's a girl, and her new husband's name is Todd and he wants to adopt Jamil, and what do I think about all this? And then: P.S. Not that it should matter, but Todd is white. First of all, who she marry is her business, even though Lewis'll probably have a stroke when he find out. But one thing I do know: kids love whoever take care of 'em. Lewis been lost since she left. And he blames everybody except Lewis for his personal misery. Can't find no job: "I'm a threat to the white man," he says. "How?" I ask. "You more of a threat to yourself, Lewis." He huffs and puffs. "I'm a victim." And I say, "I agree. Of poor-assed planning!"

And then he goes off and explains the history of the human race, and then black people, and then finally we get to the twentieth century and the castration of the black man that's still going on in society today because just look at how successful the black woman is compared to us! This is when I'd usually hand him another beer, which finally either shut his ass up, or he'd nod off into a coma. Tragedy is his middle name. For years I fell for his mess. Would lend him my Mary Kay money. My insurance-bill money. Even pawned my wedding ring once so he could pay his child support. But then it started to dawn on me that the only time he call is when he want something, so I stopped accepting the charges.

Last week he come calling me to say another one of his little raggedy cars broke down on the side of the freeway, way out in redneck country, where Rodney King got beat up, and I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for him, which I did for a hot minute, but then I remembered he ain't had no driver's license for close to a year, and then he asked could I wire him $350 till his disability check came, and this time, this was my answer: "Hell, no!" He got mad. "You don't care what happens to me, do you, Ma?" "Don't start that mess with me, Lewis." "You don't understand what I'm going through. Not one bit. Do you?" "It don't matter whether I understand or not. I'm your mother. Not your wife. Not your woman. And I ain't no psychiatrist neither. What happened to Conchita?" "It's Carlita." "Comosita, Consuela, Conleche ... whatever." "We broke up." "I'm shocked." "I need your help, Ma. For real." "So what else is new? You ain't even supposed to be driving, Lewis." "Then how am I supposed to look for work or get to work?" I decided to just pretend like I didn't hear him say the word "work." "I don't know. Call one of your friends, Lewis." "I ain't got no friends with that kind of money. It's tough out here for black men, Ma, and especially if you handicapped. Don't you know that?" "I didn't know you was handicapped." "I got arthritis." "Uh-huh. And I'm three months pregnant with triplets." "How come don't nobody ever believe me when I tell the truth? I can't hardly ball up my fist, my knuckles is so swollen. And on my right wrist, the bone is sticking out.... Oh, never mind. Ma, please?" "I have to go now, Lewis. I ain't got no three hundred and fifty dollars." "Yes you do." "You calling me a lie?" "No." "I'm telling you. All my money is spent." "Where's Daddy?" "Barbecuing. Where you think?" I say, lying my butt off. "Could you ask him? And tell him it's for you?" I just started laughing. First of all, I ain't seen Cecil in over a month, but I didn't feel like getting into it right then. He groaned. "How about two hundred dollars, then?"

Reprinted from A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan by permission of Viking Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Terry McMillan. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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