Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
Martin and I watched as the movers removed the legs of the piano and slipped it into the house. The big grand piano took up most of the living room and we had to detour clean around it to get to the stairs.
Martin and I sat on the stairs, looking down at the piano. “Pretty neat, huh?” I said.
Martin didn't say anything.
“You don't like Mr. Powell, do you?”
“I like him okay.”
Ma came into the living room and started polishing the piano.
“Where are you going?” Daddy asked Ma.
Ma had her pocketbook and was by the door. “I'm going to a meeting.”
“What sort of meeting?”
“Dr. McCoy's Bible group.”
Daddy's palm flew up against the door and he leaned, holding the door tight. “Put your bag down. You're not going.”
“Because you're not getting tied up with that lunatic McCoy.”
“Why not? I'm a lunatic.”
Daddy snatched Ma's pocketbook away. “Go upstairs!”
Ma went running upstairs, crying. Daddy fell against the door and rubbed his forehead. He tossed Ma's bag into the umbrella stand, walked into the living room, and sat on the piano bench.
I sat beside him. “When does Mr. Powell get here?” I asked after a few minutes of silence.
“In the morning,” Daddy said.
“Daddy, is Mr. Powell sick?”
“He's tired. He's coming here to rest.”
Just then, Martin came running into the house. “Daddy! Daddy! Come quick!” he shouted.
Daddy was up and following Martin through the front door and I was close behind. We ran out into the clear night to see Dr. McCoy standing next to our house, looking up into a tree. Ma was in the tree, trying to get down.
“Hey!” Daddy yelled.
McCoy didn't even turn to look, he just ran to the street and climbed into his white Cadillac. Daddy picked up a stone and hurled it at McCoy and then he turned to Ma.
“Come down, Kathy,” Daddy said.
“I can't. I'm stuck.”
“Then go back through the window.”
“Then jump!” Daddy shouted.
“Are you crazy?”
Daddy looked at Martin and me. “It's only a few feet. Jump!”
Ma jumped and rolled across the ground. Daddy helped her up and took her inside. Martin was shaking his head. His eyes caught mine.
“She really oughta be put someplace,” Martin said.
“She's our mother,” I said.
“So? Crazy is crazy and crazy people should be put away somewhere.”
I turned and walked into the house.
The next morning Martin and I left the house and went to the old school yard. We were just standing around with Bucky and Wendell and Fred. They were Martin's age. Bucky was bouncing a basketball against the wall of the building.
“What was all that in your yard last night?” asked Wendell, who lived across the street from us.
“That was their mama,” said Fred, Wendell's twin brother. “Their mama was in a tree.” They laughed.
Bucky caught the ball off the wall. “Your mama is touched, huh, Martin?”
“You take that back,” I said, stepping toward Bucky.
Martin pulled me back. “Calm down. He's right.”
I stared angrily at Martin.
“Well, well, well,” said Fred, looking across the street. “That's Naomi Watkins.” He pointed with his head.
“Word's out that she does it,” Wendell said.
“Oh, yeah,” Martin said, staring.
Bucky stopped bouncing the ball and turned around. “Like that, do you?” he asked, tossing the ball to Martin.
“You don't want any of that,” said Wendell. “They say she's got VB.”
“That's VD, stupid,” Martin said.
“Maybe Craig wants to take her on,” Bucky said.
I was just looking at her. I thought she was real pretty.
“Go talk to her,” Bucky said to me.
“Yeah, go on,” said Fred, pushing me, “little man.”
“Leave me alone,” I said.
Mr. Powell was sitting at the piano, staring at the keys, when I walked into the house. He didn't notice me. He just kept staring at the keys. I slowly walked toward him. I was next to him.
“Hey there, Bird,” he said, turning his face to me.
“Hey, Mr. Powell,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“Looking at the keys.”
“Listen to this.” He started playing. “This is a song called âOrnithology.' Charlie Parker wrote it.”
“I'm playing it slow, but it don't matter. Long as I play it.”
“That's real pretty.”
“That's jazz,” he said, and tossed his eyes to the ceiling, “and jazz is life. Jazz is life.”
“What is it?”
Mr. Powell looked at me and stopped playing. “What is what?”
“What is jazz?”
He hit a chord and held it. “Jazz is one step beyond, one giant step.” He hit another chord. “Charlie Parker is dead now, but not really.”
We were silent for a time while he struck a series of chords that filled the room. Then Ma came trotting through in her coat and she went out the front door. Mr. Powell stopped playing.
“My mother's crazy,” I said. My eyes fell to my lap.
“Maybe not crazy,” said Mr. Powell. “Maybe just different.”
I looked at his eyes. They were tired, somehow distant.
“Why don't you run on now and play.”
“Yeah. I'll see you later, Mr. Powell.” I headed for the door.
“Call me Bud.”
I'm naked under the covers in the cabin of Sid's boat when I hear some voices on deck. I can make out Sid's voice and I can hear at least two female voices and they all sound drunk. They're loud and laughing and I hear them knocking things over. I pull the blanket up around my neck and close my eyes and try to block the noise out. Then the hatch opens and I hear someone stumbling down the ladder and the light comes on. I shade my eyes and I'm looking at Sid and he's swaying from side to side.
“Got something for you, boy,” he says and he raises a hand and helps this woman down the steps into the cabin. “Ain't she something?”
I sit up and pull the blanket across my lap.
“Here he is, gal,” Sid says to the woman, and then to me, “I gotta go back topside. I got two for myself.” He starts up the stairs and then leans back. “I had no idea things would work out like this. Boy, you're my good-luck charm.” He heads out. “Damn!”
The woman Sid leaves with me is out-of-her-head drunk and she's staggering around, talking all sorts of nonsense. “You know Timmy?” she asks.
I shake my head.
“You don't know Timmy? That's too bad. Timmy is some body you should know.” She points a finger at me and takes a step closer. “You're not Timmy.”
“No.” I don't know quite what to do, but dressing seems like a good idea and I reach for my pants, which are on the floor by my feet.
“What are you doing?” she asks, frightened.
“Putting on my pants.”
“No, don't pull a knife!”
I just tilt my head and look at her.
The hatch opens and Sid yells down, “Go get her, boy!”
The woman looks at me silently and then she closes her eyes and begins to sway. Then, just like a felled tree, she topples toward me. I catch her and lay her on the bunk. She's out cold and I look at her face and I think her features sorta attractive. She ain't covered with paint and powder like the women Sid went chasing after and I notice that I have an erection. I look under the blanket at myself and then I look at the woman and she looks even better than before. The next thing I know I'm taking her clothes off and sliding her well onto the bunk. I hold myself over her for a long time, wondering if I should do it to an unconscious woman. Yes. I lower myself on top of her and I'm looking at her face and her eyes open. Her eyes open wide and my pecker goes limp and I roll off of her and stare at the wall.
“What's wrong, Timmy?”
I roll over.
She sees my face. “You're not Timmy!” She looks and finds that she ain't got no clothes on. She screams and grabs her clothes and runs out.
I pull my britches on and step up to the deck and see the woman who was with me running down the pier. Sid is doing pushups and two real-made-up women are watching him.
“How many is that, sugar?” Sid asks one of the women.
“Twenty-something,” she says.
Then as Sid is holding himself up, arms stiff, he vomits.
“Maybe you should stop,” says the other woman.
“Naw,” Sid says and continues to do pushups. He does about four more and his face is coming really close to his mess. Then he passes out and plops facedown into his vomit.
The women look at each other and frown and then pick up their things and leave the boat. I watch them as they stagger away down the pier and along the waterfront. Then I check on Sid. I'm afraid he might drown in his puke, so I roll him over and pull his handkerchief out of his pocket and wipe his face.
Sid comes to. “How many was that?” he asks and then he passes out again.
I toss a blanket over him and then I climb back down into the cabin and go to sleep.
We played church-league baseball. Martin and I were teammates on the First Calvary Baptist Bulldogs. Bud and Ma came to watch us play the Bethel A.M.E. Tigers. Daddy had to work. I was glad Bud had come, but it sorta turned my stomach to see Ma in the stands, with all the other parents, wearing her heavy coat. It was ninety-five degrees.
The first time Martin stepped up to bat, Ma ran down the bleachers and to the high fence behind the catcher. Her fingers grabbed the chain-link fence like she was a caged animal. She yelled at Martin. “You pull on yourself, Martin!” She moved along the fence. “You're a disgusting person, Martin! My son, the pervert!” Martin looked ahead at the pitcher. “Clench that bat, Martin!” Ma shouted. “Wrap those nasty fingers around it. Is that how you hold it, Martin?”
Martin swung wildly at three pitches and was out.
“You're out, Martin! You're out! Now you can do it on the bench!”
Bud came down and grabbed Ma and pulled her back to the bleachers.
Then I came up to bat. “Come on, Craigie!” Ma screamed. I slapped the ball into an empty spot in left field and started for first. All of a sudden I realized that I wasn't alone on the baseline. Ma was beside me. “Come on,” she said, “hurry up, move it.” I stopped running and looked over at Mr. Jeffcoat, the manager of our team; his face was in his hands. I looked at Bud and he shrugged his shoulders. The left fielder held the ball and looked on. Ma was at first base now, yelling for me to come in. I trotted on to first. The umpire asked Ma to leave the playing area. She nodded and walked back toward the bleachers.
On her way to the stands, Ma stopped at the Bulldog bench to yell at Martin. “Your brother got a hit, Martin. Why couldn't you? Does the hair on your palms make the bat slip?”
Martin got up and ran away. I just stood with my foot on first, my hands resting on my knees and tears rolling down my face.
Soon the game was going again. I tried to endure the embarrassment, but I failed. As soon as our side was out, I slipped away and ran home.
Martin was lying facedown on his bed, crying, when I walked in.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He sat up quickly and glared at me. “Just go away. Why don't you and Ma just go away?”
“I didn't do anything.”
“Leave me alone.” He ran out of the room.
I stretched out on my bed and looked at the ceiling. I tried to hate Ma, but I didn't understand enough to hate her. I was just confused. I wondered if the fact that I didn't hate her meant that I was crazy.
That night we sat around and listened to Bud play the piano. Daddy and I really enjoyed it, but Martin seemed annoyed. He was upset about the game and not thrilled at all by Bud Powell's presence.
“Play that song,” I said, âOrthinology.'”
“That's âOrnithology,'” Daddy corrected me.
“I'll play it for you, Bird.” Bud played it. I could feel the push of the song, a tension. It seemed like Bud was going somewhere he wasn't supposed to go.
I was looking for Martin. I walked down to the pond and kicked a couple of dead sparrows. Then I went looking around Wendell and Fred's house across the street. There was an old toolshed in their backyard that the fellas used as a clubhouse. I could hear laughing and so I peeked inside through a space between two boards. Sitting on the only chair was Naomi Watkins, her dress pulled up and held under her elbows, so her lacy panties showed. But I could only look at her face. She had a real pretty face. I could see Martin and the twins. Then somebody grabbed me from behind. It was Bucky.
“You oughta be ashamed of yourself, peeking in at people.” He pushed me inside. “Look what I found.”
“Hey, hey, just in time,” said Wendell. He winked at his brother.
Martin looked at me angrily. He was still upset about Ma and the baseball game. It didn't matter to him that I had been embarrassed, too. “Make him touch it.”
I fought Bucky's hold and then Fred helped him control me. Wendell grabbed my hand and pulled it toward Naomi's crotch. Wendell moved the back of my hand against the smooth panties. I looked right into Naomi's eyes. Her eyes were soft, vacant in a way, somehow stupid.
“No, make him touch it, really touch it,” Martin said and then he yanked Naomi's underwear to her knees.
I struggled, but slowly Wendell pulled my hand down again. I closed my eyes tightly as my fingers pushed against the soft hair and soft flesh. I opened my eyes and found Naomi smiling a stupid smile. I screamed and ripped away from their grasp and ran out of the shed. I ran home and into the bathroom, where I held my fingers under the running water for a long time.