The Man Called Daddy (novella excerpt) | By: Piper Davenport | | Category: Short Story - Family Issues Bookmark and Share

The Man Called Daddy (novella excerpt)

The very day that Robinson became evil was the day that he ran away from home. The summer of '84 was when the deep, quiet started, and never stopped. It lived inside the white, tender of a blue-eyed doll that given to Robinson as a present. Robinson had a Cupid's arrow through his heart, and his grandmother was too scared to touch him. She thought that a doll provided a world of cotton candy, castles in the sky, and blond curls. The doll was named June, was placed on a pedestal, inside a black etergier.

There in the center of silence, was a neighborhood, not unlike the rest of the world. Imagine in that neighborhood a road of fresh summer flowers that by midday gave out a peaceful feeling. In front of his grandmother's house, was a big ash tree, wooden and full of surprises, some made up, and others not entirely The clear and lonely beauty of the sky did not cover up its magic that day. Near a patch of begonias, a hollow place at the trunk's center where Robinson played with June the doll, until his mother decided that one day, the doll did not just belong to the little boy, but belonged to the world.

After a time of slight boredom, the display of yellow teeth to a lonely dog across the street had started everything. The dog's underbelly revealed a fawn color and uncertainty of yesterday's meal. He lived with another family across the street from Robinson's grandmother. Without the mind of compassion or reason from his owners, day in and day out, the dog was left alone in an unfeeling home. The dog was content sometimes to chew on hard, turkey bones. However, before the dog died that night, there was nothing more satisfying than the taste of white rabbits.

The sun refused to sink the two of them, their need for adventure, and their slight annoyance at the uncomfortably sticky summer weather. Robinson's mother, Joan, had come out, brought him a bottle of pure, unfiltered water with two fat ice cubes mashed together at the bottom of the drink. Joan's ability to complicate her young son's life with the damned configurations of science never ceased to amaze him. Even at the age of ten years old, he still wet his pants when he thought about his mother's long, slender fingers touching his ice-cubed drink, the dog's grimy head, and later on, his privates when she used to give him his nightly bath.

He wondered how the man Joan claimed to be his daddy felt when he touched his privates. Joan and his grandmother jumped up and down every time they saw him on television, their smooth-brown hips mashing up against each other like ice cubes, only they do not get soft after awhile and melt away. Nevertheless, the sparkle in his mother's eyes made no difference to him. The sparkle settled with an ease of triumph every time that Daddy would on television, especially when the man started waving his hand in the air, only to bring it down to point right at the camera.

Now and then, the tears would start rolling. Joan, as if on cue, turned to Robinson and shook her head. Loose curls formed a chain link of patterns around her soft face. His grandmother's criminally noticeable gap-space between her two front teeth skipped a generation, coming to him, and not his mother. Joan's teeth were crooked, but together. The man called Daddy had neither a gap-space, nor crooked teeth.

The man called Daddy wore a black cardigan sweater, black pants, and white socks. At the exact moment, that Joan's tear gathered strength to tickle the black mounds on her face, the man's jehri-curl sweat cascaded down like flakes without snow. Robinson's amazement at the ability of the man called Daddy to mesmerize the people in the room brought with it a certain feeling of responsibility. Even when a little buzzard at the back went off with a red light and a woman stood in the back with her arms folded, no one moved.

An older woman in a white, cotton bathrobe had a small puddle under her that tinkled every few seconds. The woman's brown eyes briefly squinted and then a strong smell was in the air that reminded Robinson of a downtown Detroit department store, and the pile of wet, brown stinky stuff Joan had found on top of a toilet seat in the women's restroom. His grandmother, standing next to him, had a pug nose that almost lifted off her face, and eyes that bulged so large, it made Robinson think she might have a thyroid problem.

Finally, his grandmother's crinkly, calloused hands wrapped themselves around his shoulder and said, "Come on, sugar. We best be gettin' home." The man called Daddy glided across the stage to accept an award from an orange-haired woman with one side of the hair partly shaved. Robinson thought there was a woman trapped inside the man called Daddy's high-falsetto voice, waiting to jump out and do a figure eight across the stage.

Instead, the man called Daddy exited the stage and Joan looked like a small child kissed a million times by someone she did not care for. Robinson glanced over his shoulder as the woman in the back unfolded her arms, and placed a brown shawl around Joan's shoulders. The woman said, "Joan, Robinson's leaving." Joan looked at him as if a thirsty person might look at a half-full Coke bottle with flat soda and no fizz. She softly replied, "He's the only black man I ever loved." To that, the woman said with a soothe-soft face and button-like dimples, "Who Robinson?" ."No, Daddy," Joan said and pointed at the 18-inch black and white RCA.

The long walk from the tall, rectangular-shaped building violated the unspoken restlessness disguised as scorn that Robinson felt about coming to Northville Psychiatric Hospital. That he could not control the weaknesses in his life frightened him. Smeared windowpanes with smudged fingerprints contested the fear of God and the deprivation of familiarity seen in his mother's face.

His grandmother lit a cigar that looked like a fat, soggy sausage in between her lips, and for as long as he could remember, Robinson always climbed into the back seat of his grandmother's Cadillac, whom some people called Dorothy, and looked out at the sign that said Welcome to Westland. They were now leaving Northville. At school, he told his friend that it was the North Pole, that building, and that Joan was one of Santa's helpers, thus why she never came around anymore.

The drive back from Northville Psychiatric Hospital always started driving along tree-lined Palmer Road, he could watch the birds and squirrels run, jump, and float by. He would replay the same image in his head: The sweet sickness behind Joan's eyes, the smell of cancer that always seemed to envelope his clothes, and the taste of sour gumdrops from the glass bowl on the receptionist's desk.

Robinson seemed satisfied with those gumdrops. However, no matter how many times he asked Joan why, she never gave him a satisfactory answer. Once, an older, fat man, with a protruding face like a soft bulldog rose in a good home, had pulled his sleeve in front of Joan and Dorothy and told him, "I'm not going to let her out. How do you feel about that?" Robinson expected his grandmother to say no,

the plainness of her answer in an expressionless head shake with her lips tucked in, and her brown-black eyes closed.

Joan's eye lost the ability to twitch, the only sign he could gather of lifelike certainty. She was gone now, and Robinson wanted set these idle folks, people like Dorothy and the bulldog-faced man on the right side of things. Let them know that there was learning behind the cadence in Joan's voice, a powerful education that had taken her away.

Their favorite game though was rock school. Joan liked being the teacher to begin and Robinson's grandmother, collected kids from the neighborhood by offering them a nickel for every ten minutes they played the game. Robinson and the neighborhood kids lined up on the bottom stair of his grandmother's Craftsman-style house, a rarity in their Rosedale Park neighborhood.

Joan placed a rock behind her back: describe the rocks. The object of the game was to try to guess in which laid the rock. If the child guessed correctly, that child had to move up a stair, but if they guessed incorrectly, they kept their behind on that step, even if a baby ant came along and clawed under their summer shorts.

The child that reached the top of the stairs first won first prize and became the next schoolteacher. For many days, Joan joined the neighborhood children to camp out on the front porch from sunup until sundown and Robinson wondered why his mother did not go off to work like the other parents. Why his grandmother always baked cookies for them as a mid-morning snack and ham sandwiches with the crust cut off for lunch and not Joan?

One particular day, Jeannette and Anne, two little black girls from up the block, on the right side of the street, decided they had had enough of feeling obligated to make their mother happy. Every day, their mother made them take a plastic yellow table with a cardboard sign on the busy side street from home with dirty red aprons and sell lemonade to offset the cost of their supper. With thick behinds and thin pigtails, both Jeannette and Anne longed for the excitement of playing games with the boy across the street, and the doll-like woman called Jo.

Every now and then, Jeannette looked up into the two-story colonial's bedroom to see if their mother was watching them, she was not, but Jeannette looked anyway. Anne felt a lump in her throat; she had a taste for a cherry-flavored slush drink mixed with cherries and whipped cream. The entire summer spent on the moss-covered side porch counting pennies from people walking by or thrown by neighborhood cars familiar with the girls' plight.

Therefore, when Anne tired of selling, Jeannette let her little sister play with the moss-covered leaves making a halo around the side porch door, and chewed on the ends of her fingernails and her blonde-haired pigtails. Jeannette concluded that most people did not want to buy lemonade from her because they were scared of her freckles. Not one area of her cream-colored body had at least a million little red splotches, which heated up in the summertime and caused her to burn.

Accompanied by a feeling of inadequacy, Jeannette directed her enthusiasm into where she knew she could make more money than selling lemonade: by letting, the freshman high-school boys feel her up. Most of them went to nearby Redford High School on Grand River Ave., but a couple of them also went to Renaissance, and one boy named Samson, who wore Coke-bottle size glasses, went to Cass Tech downtown. He would grab the back of her hair, run tiny fingers through, and said, "Feels like silk." Anne helplessly turned her head to the side and pretended to be mute.

The muteness turned to deafness when Samson asked Jeannette, "What about your sister? She's kinda small, but kinda cute." Jeannette shook her head and said, "She's my sister. She runs a lemonade stand." Jeannette repeated this line with such allegiance; Samson flicked his menthol cigarettes in her direction, and laughed when she whimpered into the weed-filled backyard to hide.

The very idea of Samson pilfering Jeannette's body while Anne dreamed of running away to live with Babar the Elephant which did nothing to bring back the girls' dignity. Another mere spectator named Antonio, a classmate of Samson's from the nearby neighborhood of Grandmont, stood in the alley break dancing to take his mind off the growing swelling between his legs.

"Y'all finished yet?" Antonio forced himself to abide by Samson's rule never to bother Anne or any other little girls, but he was getting tired. At two o'clock in the afternoon, the alleyway bustled with homeless cats, lots of old garbage, and a delivery man who cocked his head twice in their direction, shook his head, and returned to his truck so he could speed back to the Southern, hip charm of Ferndale as soon as possible.

"Not yet," Samson said as he pushed Jeannette's head further down into his pants. I may never be ready; Samson thought to himself as he took a flower-covered handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his glasses with it. Little beads of sweat dripped down his face.

"Okay, cause I ain't got time to develop blue balls," Antonio said. On the contrary, there developed a twinkle at the corner of his eyes at Anne's growing breasts. Though only nine years old, she was only one year younger than Antonio was. He had lost his virginity to a girl twice his age not too long ago. With God's blessing, a mere glance from Antonio snatched the innocence of Anne and her eyes would presume of his needs, and his lack of discernment about the substance of any work.

Though Jeannette easily portrayed the neighborhood tramp, she longed for her sister's innocence. Anne's long brown legs continued to bend slightly, facing the other way. Her growing irritation at her role as accomplice showed in the increasingly sour smile-lines in her muscle-heavy face. Robinson walked over from across the pothole-covered street, closely followed by the lonely dog.

His nose increasingly scrunched up as the distraction of the smell of boldness flared his nostrils. A high chorus of voices that included one soprano and two tenors; the closer he got, the more elevated the soprano's voice became. Robinson looked into Antonio's dull-desperate eyes and put his hand up to stop him from getting up off the stoop of the side driveway next to Anne.

He shook his head from side-to-side and she quickly glanced down. The same dull-desperate eyes followed him, and dropped the heavy-leather strap of his grandfather's Daisy No. 25. Robinson thought he smelled gun oil sloshed onto a BB gun. The sheer impact of the trigger's discharge sent a faint thump across Robinson's heart as he shouted, "Jeannette, are you alright?" She felt like a whore when he said that. Only wooden whores scrambled to fix their soiled clothing and soiled faces before a young boy appeared. Like Joan, Robinson saw a look of disillusionment in Jeannette's eyes. She looked at him in much the same way that the man called Daddy allegedly looked at Joan.

"That was how you were first thought of. He looked at me," Joan had said. That winter, teardrop-filled days, no one ever thanked Joan for not embarrassing Daddy. For signing Robinson's birth certificate with an X under the father's name, and not bringing public embarrassment to the man everyone hero-worshipped. A man who preferred the company of chimpanzees and little boys with chubby faces and Fedora-style hats to a Detroit woman named Joan and the son on her mother's side of the family named Robinson.

Robinson's pride did not contest the validity of his mother's statement; instead, he blamed the man called Daddy for choosing entertainment over the scaffolding silence of urban ghetto life. He blamed Anne and Jeannette for being sisters and not his sisters and not appreciating their roles in his life.

Joan longed for the doll named after and the exact replica of the man called Daddy. Twigs of leaves were the doll's bed, and every night Joan lit a match and rubbed it around the doll's face until one night, she accidentally set fire to the man's hair. Then, the man's hair caught fire on television. The shrine deceived the flames skirting around; Joan finally let the tingling in her toes move up her thighs and overwhelm her with blindness.

The very idea of the BB missing its intended target reviled the knife-edged power of Antonio's perversions. Instead, the madness of dry bristles from the branches of an evergreen covered the pellet lodged into the tree's bark. At that moment, all heads snapped up as Anne's cries pointed toward the true destination and foretold the disturbed silence that followed.

"I don't believe this." As ambassador of the group, Antonio looked for the group to respond. "Aren't y'all going to say something?" The group shook their heads no. Antonio walked over to the tree, and thumbed the mark. He turned back around. "This is your fault," he said, pointing at Robinson.

"My fault?"

"Yeah, if you hadn't interrupted, I'd be gettin' some now."

"Wasn't his fault," Anne said. She turned to her sister. "Jeannette, let's just go now." Anne turned to walk back inside their house. She picked up an old wilted flower along the way and picked at it with her stubby fingers.

"I am not going in that house. We ain't even made enough money anyway. Besides, Mama won't like that," Jeannette turned her back on her sister. She took out a fine-toothed comb and began pressing her gold-flecked hair.

"I know Jeannette, but this ain't right. These boys don't belong here," Anne pointed at Samson and Antonio. Something shifted in the air, and Antonio flicked a dried booger in her direction. Jeannette walked over to her sister, and yanked her arm. She did not let go until they passed their garbage can on the other side of the garage that reeked of old potato peels. "What is wrong with you? Girl, why you embarrassin' me like that?"

"Embarrassin' you? Jeannette, do they even know what you have?"

"No, they don't. You not tellin' them and neither am I."

"They gon' find out if they catch it."

"They not gonna find anything if you keep your big mouth shut."

"I don't know about this."

"What don't you know about? What, girl?"

"They might do something to us if they find out."

Jeannette knew then though that the boys would not find out. She vowed never to speak the name of what her doctor had whispered to her mother. The cough, dry whisper that knocked blood and teeth out of Jeannette's mouth. Her mother's stiff legs took another permanent vacation in the bathtub with an old bottle of gin that demanded arrogance as its reward. Jeannette and Anne were forced to eke out their living outdoors—Their mother's philosophy was if it must be sold, then it must be sold with indifference.

The sunlight stiffly cracked the wilted geraniums that Samson trampled on as a perpetual scowl tightened the forehead under his flat, hard eyes. The girls had not returned from behind the garage, and Jeannette had his necklace in her pocket. In his knapsack, the ugliest dog that he had even seen, with fat jowls and snap-red eyes, was eating his lunch of hamburger patties and buttered biscuits that he had brought with him. "Hey!" he yelled as he took a broken twig and threw it in the direction of the dog. Half-sneers erupted from Samson and Antonio as the dog yelped, and looked in the direction of Robinson.

Anne and Jeannette came from back behind the garage. They quickened their pace as they heard the dog yelping and Robinson calling them. In spite of their worries, the dog was still alive; its paws covered in a puddle of urine. The girls, following along, allowed themselves the mutual enjoyment of the unexpected. A brick wall separated them from Robinson's cries; his arms scarred with welt marks from the twigs that Samson and Antonio were beating him with. A rattle disguised as death frightened Anne's senses of right and wrong. She knew that Robinson, along with them, was losing the battle. No one had ever taught them to fight back.

"Stop doing that. You're hurting him," Jeannette cried and Anne wondered if her sister was talking about the dog or Robinson. Shuddering, Robinson shook little black specks of dirt off himself as he stood up. The boys were laughing and chasing the dog with sticks; Jeannette stared at him intensely sucking the end nail of her left thumb.

"Aww, we just playin' with them."

"I don't like the way you play."

"That's cause you a baby, Anne. Man, babies don't know what they like."

"He didn't do anything to you, Antonio. Just stop it! You're hurting him!"

"He alright. They both is. Ain't you boy?" Antonio picked up his BB from off the ground and pointed it at Robinson. An illustrious splintering of resentment swept over Robinson; Antonio could do whatever he wanted to them, and they could do nothing. He thought then at that moment of moving to the suburbs. Such glamorous, faraway places like Southfield, Royal Oak, and Farmington Hills. Why did his mother have to be sick? Why could not she hurry up and get better so they could move, so they could see the other side of being black?

"Hey boy, I'm talkin' to you. Don't you have no manners? Don't you know how to respect your elders, boy?" Antonio triumphed in the anticipation of his sharp-edged victory. He enjoyed the beckoning call of bullying, especially Robinson. The girls, especially Anne, watched with fretful impatience at Antonio's willingness to keep Robinson in a position of submission.

A mound of anthills covered the dirt patch next to the weed-whacked alley grass. Samson took his white sneaker, sucking his tongue-kissed thumb, and smashed millions of little ants. Those that remained scattered; Robinson vowed never to exterminate an ant again in that moment. Robinson smiled and conjured a gradual separation from his flesh. He no longer looked at Jeannette and Anne as physical. There existed in the two sisters an air of curiosity, no longer directed toward him.

Frightened by the possibility of simplicity in their lives, he decided to challenge Antonio. "No, I don't respect you," Robinson said, "Hell; I don't even like you either." Rolled off the tongue of Jeannette came a grasp so full of pain that it wept blue-black tears. Plum purple from a can of crayola crayons had been Anne's favorite color since childhood. Their mother's tube of Fashion Fair creamed a gentle softness on her lips that Anne only saw on Easter. Seeing that same plum purple flicker across her eyes gave her an overwhelming sense of dread.

Anne's remembrance of her mother's broken heart became a slow teardrop that moved down her plump cheek like cold oatmeal down her throat. Smothered in uneasiness and circumstance, and believing that Anne's crying was for him, Robinson fixed his one seeing eye on the lonely dog. Preserving his words for the one person he needed, Robinson tried to lift his hand to tell the animal to leave.

The dog cocked his head to the side, and growled as Antonio flashed his brilliant yellow-white teeth. "Mama," Robinson called. "You ain't got no mama. Least not out here. Just yo' daddy, son." He thought he heard the bark of the animal, or could have been Jeannette's voicing cracking, or Anne weeping, or the slurping of Samson sucking his thumb.

Antonio was mean, so callous that even after he blackened Robinson's face, he continued to hit him. With a sense of pity that even God could not touch, the last thing that Robinson remembered were the bloodstains on his shirt, the dog falling down on its side, a brick hitting them both over again, and Samson grabbing Antonio's arm. Someone said, "Enough." There existed in that word an education of chocking silence.

Following the vague smell of cabbage materializing from behind the boarded-up window, Robinson awoke to the uncertainty of shuddering emotions and sagging rags next to an old mop with a clean pine scent. The luxury of hearing the evening crickets dulled the smothering terror he felt for the ability to hear, and not see. The sightless emptiness before him knocked Robinson's strength back into him. He was in a brick-layered garage surrounded by cans of unsweetened grapefruit juice and an old meat case of bacon, that when open cooked in a pot of fungus.

Years later on down the line, he would kill an unrecognizable Antonio over a pair of shoes and Cartier sunglasses. Antonio, whose mother collected dreams about her son; after tonight, she would warn him of impeding danger, the laws of revenge, and the unsolved murder of his favorite singer, David Ruffin, whose short-lived strength coupled with long-term irresponsibility came back to haunt him.

Robinson said, "I didn't forget either, son. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time." Two weeks shy of completing his youth minister training, and a burgeoning career as a local gospel singer cut short by a childhood indiscretion. Antonio thought going to meet The Man prepared and therefore allowed for the role of forgiveness in his life. Knocking Antonio on the ground, Robinson secretly longed to be the one about to die.

He remembered a mental note made from years earlier: a walnut-colored birthmark the size of a small dime on Antonio's right cheek. When his face turned red, the birthmark curiously became browner. Scraps of skin under his pink-brown fingernails separated his eagerness for revenge with his disgust for the staleness of the corpse lying before him.

His fingers touched the window with the fast-fading sun glistening behind the group. Not fifty yards away sat Jeannette on the stoop with a look of sorrow on her face. Robinson wanted to go to her, wrap a shawl or blanket around her shoulders, but he needed to relieve his insides first. Samson and Antonio were teasing each other, and Anne was standing in the middle of the backyard of the condemned house next to Anne and Jeannette's house that his grandmother told him not to go near.

Anne was standing in the middle of the yard with a red-leaf apple on her head from the withered apple tree on the condemned house's lot. An empty barrel near the gravel-paved driveway lay on its side along with a heavy object covered with a thin, bloodstained bedspread. "Damn it," Robinson cursed to himself. For a minute, he stared at the cruel game the boys were playing. Each missed shot of the apple made Jeannette cry harder, and Anne's body tense. The boys' laughter indicated a deliberate coldness directed toward the girls.

"You lucky that's the only thing I'm making you hold," Antonio said as another pellet provoked the birds up in the trees. Among saints and sinners, he did not concern himself with Anne or Jeannette's crying. Every time one of them gasped, he heard his kooky mother's exaggerated breathing. He remembered as a child hiding in the closet, an innocent game of hide-and-seek with his imaginary friend. He decided to hide in his mother's closet and then found himself unprepared for the fascination he found with trying on his mother's shoes.

"That's my right spot Daddy," she had breathed into a man not called that name by her son's face. Antonio had turned around and watched the blood-colored man with the velvet skin shake violently on top of his mother. One eye he kept closed behind the closet door, the other seeing eye on a bead from his mother's hair. He could look at it, and see that it was lose. He had wanted to shout, "Mama, your bead is about to come out," but he had opened his mouth and sucked down on his thumb.

In a new conceived manner, Antonio had tilted his head to the side in wild wonder. He had never seen this side of his mother before. In that place where childhood memories breed feelings of complication was a man would not live to hear his mother look up to God and say, "Take good care of him." Legs swaggered back and forth in a motion that reminded him of two dogs that he had seen at a kennel once.

Antonio giggled thinking of those two dogs, one lying very still, and the other moving back and forth furiously. His friend with him had been irritated at the deliberate slowness of Antonio's understanding of what the animals were doing.

"They not havin' fun, dog," his friend had said.

Antonio then swallowed hard at the realization of what his mother was doing. Snorting back snot, he slowly unraveled at the request of the beast inside him. The man then licked his mother's face. "Oh, you fuckin' black bitch," the man said, with his wide-spaced toes leaving butchered razor marks in the peach-orange quilt that his mother's last friend, his favorite friend, had given her as a present. "Bitch," Antonio whispered as his sponge-filled eyes connected with the man's half-rusted, half-steel knife.

Robinson was not pleased at what he saw. Dimmed by her tears, Anne held onto the apple with the strength of an army captain in enemy territory about to die.

Jeannette got up from the stoop, where she had been pacing back and forth, and walked over to Antonio.

"Antonio, this ain't fun anymore."

"Aww shut the hell up, Jeannette."

"If something happens to my sister, I'll kill you."

"You ain't gonna do nuthin' except be the neighborhood skank."

Perhaps it was the disturbing swagger of Jeannette on the boys' game or the windows slighting rattling, or the bruised pride of Anne as Antonio narrowly missed

hitting her in the eye. However, the precision with which he held the leather strap over his shoulder and was able to pull the trigger with the forced stillness of an army bed. Though the gun was capable of shooting much farther, Antonio was less than one hundred yards from Anne.

With each trigger blow, his measurement of the exact target shadowed the uncertainty that hung in the air. Echoed sounds punished the eardrums of both Jeannette and Anne. Samson high-fived Antonio with the necessary presence of evil, Jeannette and Anne's mother looked out the window. Her weekday punishment consisted of ignorance, taking a bath of salt water, and revenge steeped in lust for her daughters. She enjoyed watching their pain. Their eyes filled with vulnerability and mother-like wit, which made her face twitch.

"My babies, "she said, her fingers wiping the dirt off the windowsill with a handkerchief. "My babies are in Africa," she said. Jeannette threw herself on the ground and Anne. Remembering every strand of Anne's hair, she resigned herself to bathe in week-old bathwater. As a child, Anne's rough hair she brushed with the dulling presence of bristle-hair stubs. During the hair combing process, nappy hair bored her. Made her feel that she had done something wrong as a mother. Jeannette's very fine hair smelled of lemons and did not sass her. Anne asked of her once, "Mama, why you like combin' Jeannette's hair and not mine," she asked.

"Because I can control it, baby."

"So you cain't control my hair?"

"It's not that. I can control your hair; it's just that I have to try harder. With Jeannette, it's always been much easier."

"But Mama if you put that stuff on my hair, then it combs through. And you can braid my hair. You cain't braid Jeannette's hair unless you put that stuff in it."

"Anne, I'm sorry. That's just the way it is."

Looking down on the girls, she saw Jeannette lying on the ground. Anne was too scared of messing up her hair. Jeannette was full of the sweet ripeness with the echo of bedsprings in the back. In a realm of black-and-white words, their mother saw the ugliness of the world every time her girls came in. Every disappointment felt like seaweed in her bathwater. Not even the mildewy smell in the basement could get her to leave that window. A real punishment involved moving beyond the kitchen or when her daughters would not come right when she called them and she had to walk near the stairs.

Her bathwater was beginning to steam, so she closed her bedroom door. The windows began to fog. She drew a heart with an arrow through it, the same heart that had given Jeannette the itch. Unbeknownst to her, at the exact identical moment that she drew the arrow, Antonio was poised to shoot his BB. Anne's heart skipped a beat when she saw the heavy leather strap fall to the crook of his arm. "Go, Antonio, Go," said Samson. "No, Antonio, no,' said Jeannette.

Antonio opened the same leather pouch that his grandfather gave him, and pulled out a BB gun. His finger curled under the cocking lever and pulled back.

Samson thought at that moment about a dream he had. In the dream, Samson's father had his back turned and he was facing the front door. The suitcase in his right hand was stamped Mexico, and he was blindfolded. His mother was standing in the kitchen, also blindfolded with a suitcase. Greater than the need for mothering or fathering was the need to say something. A kind of smiling complex in memory but filled with the patient expression of a wrinkled face. Through the reflection of the hallway mirror, he could see the blue-and-black expression on his face and he went to say something, but nothing came out. A big blockage lodged in his throat, sound and round like cotton candy, prevented him from saying anything else. Tears came down his face like snowballs down a mountain, and somewhere inside of him, a voice said, "I must be important after all."
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