excerpt from my first novel and thesis
CECILY MADE DUST CIRCLES ROUND AND ROUND ON THE GROUND, shredding the knees of her burgundy corduroy pants against the concrete while she played with her toy car. Fat’s Domino begged ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ out into the streets from inside Clark’s tavern. The music masked the noise from traffic on the nearby highway. People were making their way home from another day’s work. The sky was graying and the streetlights began to hum like fireflies in the sky. It was Friday. Folks walked with a slight groove, taking their hands out of their pockets and swinging their heads side to side. Everyone checked in with everyone, speaking in jovial tones to find out what was happening good for Friday night. The soul of the city was returning for the weekend.
Gene stepped onto the front porch from inside the house. The soles of his shiny chocolate Stacey Adams gaveled Cecily’s attention. The toddler eyed her father from his feet up. Her eyes stretched wide following the heavy crease of his tapered brown pant leg and across his broad chest that was covered in the matching metallic suit jacket. He tilted his cocoa felt hat on his bald head then traced the brim with his fingertip. A small red feather was firmly tucked under the orange and green ribbon that hugged the hat. Cecily looked into his russet eyes that were overlooking Prairie Street.
While most of Vivian Courts was making their way home from work, it was now Gene’s turn to make a buck. He didn’t punch a clock at one of the factories, or on trains, or serve meals on fine china at hotels in the city. That was the life of a much lesser man than he; that was a simple man’s life. He was much slicker, smarter, and much too smooth. He was a hustler by blood, a drug dealer, a lover, a fashion icon, and in 6-year-old Cecily’s eyes, untouchable. He stepped down from the porch, and if each stair exploded after his exit it would have been of no surprise to anyone. Gene glided by Cecily as she stood to her feet and stared, almost panting up at him like a puppy rather than his child. She followed close behind him. Men drove by in cars 18 feet long, honking and waving at Gene. This did not disturb his stroll; he’d simply acknowledge the men by extending his arm and pointing to them without missing a step or turning his head.
When they arrived in front of Clark’s, the fast girls from the high school were standing out in front practicing their dance moves: the fly, the shotgun and the skip. Their dances got sexier as Gene drew closer. They’d pop their butts a little harder and shimmy their chest down low so he could see.
“Heeeeeeyyyyyy, Gene,” they sang.
He winked and adjusted his toothpick to the other curled corner of his mouth. The girls melted from the inside out. They’d stand around smiling and rubbing their thighs together whenever they saw him.
“Charlene, I done ‘tole you to hollar at me. Now don’t forget about me, Gal.”
If black velvet had a sound, it would sound like Gene, smooth and dark. Charlene stopped dancing and leaned up against the building.
“Alright, I will,” she said, smiling and simmering in her own juices.
He swung open the wooden frame of the screen door and walked inside. When it fell shut behind him, Cecily stood outside with her tiny fingers pressed against the web of tight wires looking into the dark lounge at him and her mother.
“Patricia, look, I gotta run now, alright?”
She sat on the glittery plastic-covered stool with her wide butt escaping all angles of it. She stared at his reflection in the mirror that hung behind the bar. Patricia looked down into her drink and slid her tongue across the dried blood on her bottom lip. Gene rested his forearm on the bar top and with the other he rubbed his hand across her back combing the softness of her purple housecoat. Most folks laughed at Patricia walking around town in a housecoat all the time, strung out over some man, but she could give a good goddamn what folks thought. She’d already caught the eye of the man she wanted, and he’d caught a hold of her too. Every woman in Vivian Courts wanted some of what Gene Thomas had, but he was all hers. He looked into the reflection of her eyes in the mirror. They’d met there at Clark’s seven years ago when Patricia first moved to Vivian Courts from down south with another man. Then, they sat staring at one another in that mirror from across the room. A bar fight later, leaving a poor countryman stabbed to the brink of death, bonded Gene and Patricia together from then on.
“Come on now, Patty.” He massaged her neck and she leaned into his chest silently waving her little white flag. Finally, the fight was over. They’d put fist to face and foot to ass all day long about that pregnant whore of his. Patricia simply wouldn’t accept the disrespect. The little whore was tramping in the streets, talkin’ ‘bout her and Gene was gonna be together. Patricia wanted to make clear that she was the wife, and his whore needed to know her place. Gene made it clear to Patricia that she knew her place was with him by going up side her head when she threatened to leave.
“I’ll be back in the morning. Don’t forget to feed Cecily, Alright?” he asked. By the tone in his voice, she knew he really didn’t want an answer. He just wanted to be understood.
Patricia nodded her head against his chest and inhaled him all amber and honeysuckle musk. Gene picked up her glass and dug into his pocket. He pulled a ten-dollar bill from his stretched-out money clip and she situated it between her bosoms. He nestled his face in her blonde wig and kissed her scalp. He turned and headed towards the door, still holding her glass. Patricia called out to him.
“Gene,” she eyed the jukebox, “Play me a song ‘fore you leave.”
He sauntered over to the jukebox. After the nickel tap-danced its way down to the belly of the box, the screen door slammed shut and James Brown screamed, “This is a Man’s World but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”
“See there, Stella,” Patricia looked to the barmaid. “Can’t nobody say that ain’t my man,” she said waving her pointer finger in the air before slapping her hand onto the bar top.
When someone else came out of the tavern, Cecily dashed inside, afraid of being snipped by the large door. She struggled to get herself up on the bar stool right next to her mother. Cecily laid her rough little hand on top of Patricia’s and batted her little eyes. Patricia thought she looked just like her daddy.
“Mama?” Her voice was slight but groggy.
Patricia knew she’d probably caught cold from being outside all day with nothing on but her thin little jacket. Still, she snatched her hand from under her baby girl’s and tapped the bar top signaling Stella to bring her a new glass.
“Cecily, I ain’t ya Mama yet.” Patricia picked up her freshly poured glass and looked down on Cecily “Let Patty get a couple more in and then I’ll play nice with’cha.”
Cecily tucked her head down in the collar of her jacket. The small blue bow she had pinned in her hair had gotten twisted upside down, and her plat had come undone from all her playing. Patricia looked down at Cecily thinking she had a rough little girl, no matter how many bows and dresses. Patricia was hard on Cecily. She saw nothing of herself there. She thought Cecily would act like her father, abuse her just to then woo her back.
“I can only take you like I take your daddy, after I done had a few. Stella, give me another one.” She slammed her empty glass on the bar top. After her third shot, she was numb as she wanted to be, and was just as nice as Cecily needed her to be. Stella had fried catfish in the back and that boogie music was getting into Patricia. She popped her fingers to the blues.
“Ooh, ‘Chile, I’m hungry! You hungry?” Patricia looked down at Cecily who was boogying in her spot. She smiled at her child. “Stella, gon’ on and grab us a hot plate of that fish and don’t be stingy on the ‘sghetti either. And put some mustard on the side. Cecily likes it on her fish, and make sure you give her the nuggets. I don’t want my baby in here choking on no bones. I’ll have to kill the cook if something happens to my baby!” She winked at Cecily and straightened the crooked bow. “Come on, let’s dance.” Patricia held Cecily’s hand while she hopped down from the stool and walked over to the dance floor with her in tow.
Cecily loved dancing down at Clark’s with her mama on Friday nights. It was the time of the week that she could depend on being fed a decent meal. For the next couple of days it would be nothing but dancing and laughing and cherry soda pop with handsome men that had sweet smiles and candies in their pockets. Come Sunday morning, the fights would start in straight through Friday afternoon.
Cecily mimicked her Mama on the dance floor, twisting her hips and swinging her head in the opposite direction.
“’Chile, you your mother’s daughter alright. Lookin’ just like her!” A man yelled out. She looked around and all the smiling faces seemed to be laughing at her. Cecily stopped dancing.