Authors: Adam Rapp
Blacky, what's Mr. Johnson's different name? she asks.
The lights are buzzing over us. Insects have been trapped and are getting roasted alive. There are certain ways light controls people too, I'm convinced of this.
â¦ Blacky? she says again.
I call him Boy, I say.
For a second she looks like she won't say anything else. Like her voice is a toy that you have to wind up.
I say, When I'm Girl he's Boy.
She makes some more notes on the yellow pad. Every time she writes something new it makes my feet itch.
For some reason I start to think about how when that African American baby lived with us I used to feed him liquid carrots and let him clutch my thumb. His fingers were strong and wrinkled. Once I removed his air mask to feed him and he opened his mouth like he wanted to scream. This was one of the scariest things I've ever seen. I loved him and Ma loved him and Cheedle loved him too, but Shay would call him It and treated him like a science project. Shay sometimes calls African Americans niggers and I'm sure this has something to do with her negative feelings about Tayshawn Van.
After a while the Ham Lady says, So, Blacky, did anything happen when you were with Mr. Johnson in his camper home? When you were down at Seiko State Park?
I say, He just gave me some purple wine to help me sleep.
And you drank it?
Only a little, I say. Ma's had enough problems with Shay's drinking.
The Ham Lady writes some of this down and says, Blacky, can you describe Mr. Johnson's room for me? The room at his house?
I close my eyes to look.
Al Johnson's face is huge in my brain. It's so big it almost stinks.
I drew Calvin Coolidge and he drew General George Washington.
Very good, Blacky, Al Johnson said. Excellent eyes. Excellent, excellent eyes â¦
â¦ Blacky? the Ham Lady says.
There were two beds, I say. Two beds on opposite sides.
Were they big beds or little beds?
Little beds, I say. Like bunk beds without the bunks.
She writes again.
I picture her drawing me in one of the beds. My face looks dead and blue.
Anything else? she asks. About the room? Anything at all.
His musket, I say.
She looks up.
She says, His musket?
Yes, I say. He's got a Civil War musket. It's a collector's item. He keeps it in a glass case in front of his bed. It's got this thing called a crosshairs that you look through. He told me he was gonna give it to me someday.
I have to stop talking cause I feel like I'm choking.
I almost have to give myself the Heimlich maneuver to make myself breathe again. We learned about this procedure in Health. There's a colorful poster with the international choking symbol and various first-aid instructions.
The Ham Lady's face goes real still. She says, You okay, Blacky?
I nod again.
Would you like another 7-Up?
No, thank you, I say.
Talking makes me breathe. It's weird how your body can just stop working at the drop of a dime. Your lungs and stuff.
The Ham Lady is writing again.
I imagine that she's drawing the musket now, too. Maybe she's putting it in the bed with me.
So, Blacky, she says, I know that this is very difficult for you, but I really need you to tell me what happened last night. The exact details of what Mr. Johnson actually did to you.
I find the clock on the wall again. It's ticking so loud I can practically feel it in my teeth.
It's suddenly hailing in the window. You can hear it attacking the hospital.
I think there must be a reason for this.
The Ham Lady doesn't register the hail.
Even though she's sitting across the desk it feels like she's so close that she can look into my mouth and see my tonsils.
Blacky, she says, I know you might feel strange talking about this with your mother in the hall, but I want you to know that you can tell me. I want to help you, okay?
Okay, I say.
We want to make sure that whatever happened to you doesn't happen to anybody else.
What are you gonna do to him? I ask.
I picture Al Johnson sitting where I'm sitting. His face is bald and calm. Then some guy wearing a black mask comes in and chops his head off. A Ninja with a sword.
The Ham Lady says, We're not going to do anything to Mr. Johnson, Blacky. That's not for us to decide. The police and the courts will take care of that, okay?
Okay, I say.
The hail is still coming down. Some of it is hitting the window now. It's so white it looks fake.
So let's get back to what happened, okay, Blacky?
So you woke up, the Ham Lady says, and then what?
I woke up and his finger was in me.
Oh, she says. In you where, exactly?
In my butt, I say.
It sounds strange coming out.
Like swallowing a bee and barfing.
What finger? the Ham Lady asks. Can you show me what finger?
I show her my thumb.
It's like I'm holding a weapon.
She stares at it like it's going to get her and then she writes on her pad. Maybe she's drawing that, too? Maybe she's drawing Al Johnson's thumb up my butt?
My brain feels warm and small.
The Ham Lady takes her glasses off and cleans them with a tissue. When they're off her eyes look huge and brown.
Did it hurt, Blacky? she asks.
Sort of, I say.
It felt like pooping but I don't tell her this.
Did Mr. Johnson try and put anything else inside of you?
No, I say.
Are you sure? she asks.
Yes, I say. That's when I was running.
I see, she says. And did he run after you?
No, I say.
Did anyone else see you leaving?
Where was she?
She was downstairs.
What was she doing?
She was at the table drinking orange water. When I ran by her she called me a heathen. Her name is Merle.
I want to add that she hardly ever spoke to me and that she smelled like a dog and that she's so old she looks painted, but I can't cause my mouth feels funny.
The Ham Lady says, Does Merle live with Mr. Johnson?
Yes, I say. She stays in the bedroom on the first floor. Next to the room with all the bird paintings.
She writes this down, too.
And when you got outside what did you do? the Ham Lady asks.
Where did you run to, Blacky?
To the woods.
How far were the woods from his house?
Not far, I say. Just through his backyard.
And you ran all the way home through the woods?
Yes, I say. I walked a little too. And I hid behind a tree when I got tired.
It suddenly occurs to me that when I was hiding behind that tree with the face in it I saw a deer, but I don't tell the Ham Lady this either. The deer froze in some plants. It looked like it was made out of metal. It also looked like it might start singing.
There were lots of mosquitoes, I tell the Ham Lady.
Did you have any clothes on?
No, I say. I found a newspaper but it was wet and it kept falling apart.
How are those cuts on your feet doing? she asks. Do they still hurt?
A little, I say.
Then the Ham Lady takes a drink from her coffee cup and looks inside of it for a moment like there's something in there.
Did Mr. Johnson do anything else, Blacky? she asks. Anything besides touch you with his thumb?
I say, He kissed me.
She writes this down.
I add, He was teaching me how to kiss.
She writes this, too.
After she finishes she stares out the window and says, Oh my God, it's hailing.
The Ham Lady watches it for a moment. I can feel her wanting to go to the window.
If she does this I will leave. I will get Ma and go.
But she doesn't get up.
For some reason I keep thinking about that deer. How its eyes were big and brown. They were the only parts that didn't look metal.
Why are you standing, Blacky? the Ham Lady suddenly asks.
I didn't even realize that this happened. My legs just stood on their own.
Are you okay, honey?
Yes, I say, I'm okay.
Do you need to use the restroom?
No, I say. I didn't â¦ I just â¦
The Ham Lady says, You just what, Blacky?
But I don't finish. I just stand there and stare at the hail in the window.
You have to wonder about the environment. All that stuff with the greenhouse.
You can sit back down if you'd like, the Ham Lady says.
But I don't sit. I feel better standing.
I say, You're not going to give him capital punishment, are you?
No, Blacky, she says. Mr. Johnson won't get capital punishment, I can promise you that.
We recently learned about this subject in Social Studies. How the electric chair works. All the volts and stuff. I imagine Al's eyeballs exploding on her desk. She'd have to do a thorough job of cleaning cause there's lots of grossness inside us. All types of different snots and liquids.
We're sixty percent water.
Mr. Prisby wrote that on the board in Life Science. Sixty percent, he said, putting the chalk down.
I spent the rest of the day looking at my hand and wondering where all the water was.
In my mind I can hear the electric chair panting like an animal.
I imagine black holes where his eyes were.
Blacky, the Ham Lady says, I want to ask you one more question. It has to do with your mother.
I say, Okay.
I understand that they had gone on a few dates. Did Mr. Johnson ever say anything about her?
Anything. Anything at all.
I say, Once he told me that he was gonna marry her so he could be my father.
Would you have liked that, Blacky?
Yes, I say.
Do you think your mother would have liked that?
Yes, I say again.
And your brother and sister?
Shay didn't like him but Cheedle did cause he would listen to his stories.
Did you ever see your mother and Mr. Johnson expressing affection for each other?
What's that? I say.
tion, Blacky. Emotions. Did you ever see them kiss?
He kissed her on the cheek once, I say. They just got back from Burger King. They were in the kitchen.
She writes this down and then she starts squeezing the blue ball again.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell me? she says. You can tell me anything you'd like, Blacky.
I say, His mouth tasted like a car.
She writes this, too.
For some reason I imagine the Ham Lady naked. All the parts of her body. Her armpits are hairy and her face is all made up like a circus clown's.
I nearly get a boner. It makes me want to run through the window.
Hail in October, the Ham Lady says. Strange.
She watches the hail for a second and then it suddenly stops like she was controlling it.
The hospital feels like it's breathing.
I picture myself hooked up to a bunch of machines with tubes and dials.
The Ham Lady says, Please sit, Blacky.
I don't sit, though. I feel better standing. I'm like a cow.
You sure you don't want another 7-Up? she asks.
I'm sure, I say, staring at the clock. It's 9:07 now.
The minutes feel like forever.
That clock knows more than most people, I think.
Don't hurt him, I say.
For some reason it's like I'm saying it to the clock.
The Ham Lady says, No one's going to hurt Mr. Johnson, Blacky.
I say, If you hurt him I won't say nothin else.
I promise you he's safe, Blacky. The authorities have him now and he's safe.
Then the door opens and one of the policemen makes a private gesture at the Ham Lady.
She nods and says, You can go now, Blacky. Thanks for cooperating. Your mother's waiting for you in the hall.
Come on, son, the policeman says, reaching his hand toward me. I can see the hair on the tops of his knuckles.
I feel stuck again.
Ma's standing in the doorway too now. She's still holding on to the crumpled tissues. There are red streaks all over her arms.
Come on, honey, she says, let's go home.
Your legs are okay, I say to myself. Your legs are good.
When we get home Cheedle's in the living room watching a kung fu movie and writing his novel about a boy raised by a Wisconsin grizzly.
The boy's name is Glen and he is originally from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and his parents lost him on a fishing trip while they were eating hamburgers and macaroni salad.
Ma got the typewriter at a garage sale on Larkin Avenue for ten bucks. Cheedle puts it on the coffee table and types sitting Indian style. He spends so much time with it I wonder about his relationship to machines. He got that way with Tayshawn Van's air tank. He knew how to refill it and everything.
He types so fast it sounds like a war.
Hey, I say.
He says, Hey.
Ma walks to the back of the house and closes her bedroom door. In the car she kept trying not to cry but there was a dog on Black Road that got hit and when she saw it she couldn't hold back. The dog was orange and it looked like it was smiling.
What's wrong with her? Cheedle asks, talking while he types.
Nothin, I say.
He says, Unusual entrances always make for good theater.
It's weird when your nine-year-old brother has super-powers. One day Ma took him to Chicago to get tested and later that night this woman named Dr. Evelyn Bush from Northwestern Hospital called and told Ma that Cheedle is a certified genius.
He's a certified genius! Ma announced after she hung up the phone. Your little brother's a genius!
Now Cheedle goes to the Joliet Children's School on Theodore Street. This particular school is for the unusually gifted.