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Authors: Marcus Burke

Team Seven (8 page)

BOOK: Team Seven
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When I heard Pop screech, “Old pirates, yes, they rob I,” the first line of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” rising through the floorboards I knew he must be in one of those thinking kind of moods. A bootleg Rastafarian in my opinion, there was always someone or something holding his broke ass down, or so he said. Me and Nina sat there on the cream pleather couches in our living room both frisking over the
many very accessible hiding spots for our progress reports. Nina tried her hair but after pacing the room a couple times and seeing the tips of white poking out and hearing the paper crunching in her head, she realized that hiding her progress report in the mountain of braids on top of her head just wasn’t going to work out and she settled for her sock. I hitched mine in the elastic band of my boxer shorts.

When Ma started to stir the Kool-Aid, I started to tighten up. Ma’s very precise when she cooks dinner. Making the Kool-Aid was always the last thing she did before it was time to eat. She opened the basement door and yelled downstairs, “Eddy, come up and get some supper.”

I took a deep breath and the countdown was on. As soon as Pop brought his dark lanky frame upstairs it was like pregame warm-ups. When he sat down it was game time. Next call, Ma was going to let me and Nina know the food was ready.

Pop came upstairs with the suffocating aroma of ganja oozing out of him like a glowing force field. Ma sucked her teeth. She wasn’t a big fan of the way Pop blew trees, but her disliking something never stopped him from doing his thing. As we all settled in, I glanced around the table.

“So, Pop, who you think’s going to win the tag team title tonight, the Harlem Heat or the Steiner Brothers?” I blurted out with too much air in my mouth, trying not to sound too phony and overly excited.

Ma and Pop could smell me bullshittin’ like crime-sniffer dogs smell crack. Pop ignored me, leaving his head hung, focusing on his food as he forked up more wild rice. Nina peeped my failed attempt for conversation.

Once Ma blessed the food Nina asked her daily dinner question.

“So, how’d y’all days turn out?”

“It went well, sweetie,” Ma answered.

I tossed in my echo with Pop’s “Fine.”

Then it was back to the food. Dinner wasn’t ever that dry. I felt left out, like everyone was in on something and I wasn’t. Maybe I was the only person who had a good day. Hell, no Fs was a good enough day to me. We ate most of dinner in a very hot, uncomfortable silence. One-word answers and downward gazes. Nina, Ma, and Pop all avoided eye contact, trying to act like they weren’t feeling the heat in the room.

As we ate, my eyes bounced face to face, trying to catch a vibe or anything that could help explain their silence. It wasn’t finger-sucking, bone-biting, tip-your-cap-to-the-chef silence. It was different. It felt guilty. It made me feel like maybe Ma and Pop already knew about the progress report that was now getting sweaty tucked inside my waistband. But it couldn’t be. Nina was in on the act too. She wasn’t saying much. But maybe she knew what they knew and was trying to avoid the trouble that was brewing under all that silence. Whatever it was, I couldn’t call it.

Things started to boil right as Pop started to chew the ends of his chicken bones and began to suck the marrow out. He kicked his skinny legs up in the air, resting his feet up on the edge of the table; bad choice. Pops’s big old brown dingo boots busted up all the eggshells we ate dinner on. Ma was early wit’ it.

“Eddy, take ya nasty doo-doo stomping boots off my kitchen table. It’s evil enough you ain’t putting no food on it, but now you want to help dirty it. Unbelievable!”

Pops raised his head slow. His forehead curled, exposing the community of worry marks living on his face. His bloodshot eyes squinted low, dipping deep into his face. His lips
dropped and got thin as he bit down on his jaw, making the muscles on the side of his face pop out. But no words. He just rustled his feet off the table, shaking the whole meal. The ice in our Kool-Aid glasses clanged together and the serving spoons rung out. When I made eye contact with him the words came.

“Let me tell you something, Ruby. It’s no secret or surprise you stay the way you do. Every time! Every time I come in here and try, we gotta go there. I’ll tell ya what is true. Your encouragement truly helps this situation.”

Yeah, Pop ain’t have no real job that you could collect taxes from. Really, other than playing his reggae music, I don’t know what he does. It seemed like he wasn’t highly skilled at anything other than the art of working the hell out of my mother’s nerves.

Excuse me!
gon’ tell
? Me, simply pointing out the fact that your jobless behind ain’t taking care of this family is what’s holding you stuck in the unemployed bracket? Get real, Negro. Don’t do me any favors. This house is just a convenient pit stop for you and you know it. Try. My. Ass! You just here ’cause you’re in between”—she looked over at me—“things. And that’s what’s true. You can play the fool if you want to, but don’t put it on me. How the hell you get up in here anyway? I know I been locking that basement door!”

She started viciously sawing her chicken breast. She let out a “Hmmppf” and turned her stare away from Pop and onto me. I darted my eyes away from hers.

“I ain’t no criminal, Ruby. I walked in that basement door the same way I walk out of it,” Pop shot back. Damage was done. Pop tossed down his napkin and stood up, took a couple steps into the hallway, then turned back around and sat right back down.

“That’ll be da day I let a female run me from my table! Kids, how y’all doing?”

The heat was on. I looked over at Ma. Her eyes mirrored pure disgust as she glared across the kitchen. I glanced over at Nina. Her eyes told me she didn’t know if it was our place to be talking either. Ma jerked back and pushed herself out from the table. She stood up and pounded down her glass of Kool-Aid.

“Eddy, in the room!” She fingered toward their bedroom.

At one point their bedroom was our dining room. When I turned about four, me and Nina sharing a room wasn’t going to work out anymore. So Ma got Papa Tanks to put up a set of those paper-thin fake woodprint closet doors. The doors muffled the sounds but from basically anywhere in our apartment if you talked too loud everyone would be able to hear you.

I slid my glass across the table to Nina for a refill. Then Pop rolled his eyes and slowly got up. He let out a deep sigh and headed for the room like a kid that had to come in from the park for dinner before the game was over. When he got out of the kitchen Nina punched her fist into her palm. “OOOOoohhhhh, NIIGGAAAA. That’s fixin’ ta be some shit right there. The bastard. Some nerve!”

Then she pulled out her crunched progress report from her sock and started to wave it around above her head. “We still got these, though.”

I smiled and dap’d her up and she came over and sat next to me. We sipped our Kool-Aid, both of us sitting on the edges of our seats with our heads cocked in the doorway, ears pointed toward their bedroom. It wasn’t long before we heard things get cooking in there. Pop must have been working Ma’s nerves again.

Them paper-thins kept in their voices for a quick second
until Ma roared, “Don’t give me that bullshit! It’s hard for a black man to find work? Not you. It’s hard fa yo ass to keep a job! What happened at the post office, huh? Fired! Or how about the bank? Cloudy piss! Negro, you ain’t ’bout shit. Giggin’ all over Boston chasing the riddims, smoking weed and sniffin’ to the vibes. You got a family, Eddy! How far you think that receptionist money I get working at the health center is gon’ get us? Nina’s in eighth grade and Andre’s in sixth. Do you even talk to them? What are their favorite colors, foods? What are they afraid of?”

There was a short silence. “At a loss for words? Don’t worry, nigga, I’ll wait.” She paused again and lowered her voice, but we could still hear her. “Yeah, I thought so. You don’t know. Bet you know where to find a fix on Blue Hill Avenue. You make me sick.”

“Get ’im, Ma,” I whispered to Nina and we laughed.

“Serves him right. He thinks he can just come through that basement door whenever he wants. And it’s supposed to be all good,” Nina whispered back.

Then I heard the rustling of the leather from the million handbags Ma kept hanging over her ’bout-to-break doorknob. Nina stuffed her progress report back into her sock and flew back around the table and out of Pop’s seat. Ma walked back into the kitchen and sat down. Her eyes were red, but she wasn’t crying. She picked up her fork and took a couple of bites of food and tossed it down. She stared down at the table and started rubbing her temples. Nina took another piece of chicken and got lost in it. Ma looked up with a half smile.

“So everyone’s day was good?”

Me and Nina just sat there and hung in a weird silence. I perked up. Now was go time. “My day was great!” I said and glanced behind me. “Hey, anyone know what time it is? ’Cause
Monday Night Nitro
comes on at nine.” I looked back at the clock and it was seven forty-five. With my fumble on time, Ma sniffed out all the bullshit in my fake excitement. Her next string of questions was the true heat check.

“Didn’t progress reports come out today? How’d you two make out? You two didn’t get any, did you?”

I didn’t know how to answer because Ma’s tricky. She liked to ask them questions that were liable to get you smacked up three or four times. If we had grades of C-plus or higher in our classes in the Milton public school system, there was no need for one. But Ma, she knew us too well. She knew we both had progress reports, probably even knew the grades on them. When my face lit up with the guilty fear of oncoming danger, I was caught.

“Uh-huh!” She clapped and stomped her foot. “Out with them! Lemme get a look at the two of yous’ quest to underachieve! Y’all are too damn smart to be getting progress reports.”

I reached into my boxers and pulled mine out. Nina grabbed hers from her sock. I looked over at Nina and slid mine to Ma first. When she scanned it, I could just picture her chasing me around the house. Hair all wild-looking, crazy with her hand cocked above her head yelling, “Don’t you run from this whoopin’, little boy,” right before she caught me and palmed my face.

Ma’s Costa Rican. Down there I guess they really like school, because she was a golden little goody two-shoes in her day. She ain’t quite understand how we “new age kids” could do such things like getting an F in gym class. Ma was that girl in the library being quiet, looking smart and shit. When she met Pop, she was in college at BU. He used to hang out around Berklee and float his way around, campus-hopping with his
bands. She stopped going to school freshman year when she got pregnant with Nina and they decided to get married.

When Ma got done looking at my progress report she shot me a look that made me feel like the smallest person in the world. She tossed it down on the table and grabbed Nina’s. When she picked it up I couldn’t help but laugh. When I giggled, Ma shot me another look.

“Somethin’ funny, Dre? Last time I checked your progress report was sitting right in front of your sister’s.”

She put out my fire quick. Even no Fs wasn’t gonna get me out of this one. Ma glided her eyes back across the table to Nina.

“Gym class, Nina? Be serious! Nina, gym class! Really! What you want me to snatch first, that weave out your head or should I just take your whole head off? Sure ain’t using it bringing these grades in my house!”

I heard the rustle of handbags and knew things were about to get way more funky in a second. Ma and all her unnecessary racket disturbed Pop, who I’m sure was still cooling off from his run-in with her. I was actually surprised he was still here. Usually after them two screamed on each other, he’d be gone. Back out the basement door until whenever. But tonight just wasn’t an average night. Pop blazed into the kitchen.

“Ruby, fuck you yelling about now? I’m tired of hearing this shit. It’s always something. Fuck’s the issue?”

Ma grabbed the progress reports off the table, got up, and slapped them into his chest, and started heading back toward their bedroom. As she walked away she snapped off, “Maybe if ya fatha’d ya kids you’d care too. Or do you even know what those are?”

With his card solidly pulled, he looked at the progress reports.

What are these grades? Andre, fuck is the problem here? I didn’t make no dumb picknies. Nina, are you fucking kiddin’ me? What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Then the temperature in the kitchen rose about ten more degrees. Nina’s whole face changed up, her body froze. Her eyes turned to stones as she looked at him. She looked deep, like she was trying to see into his soul. I felt like I should have tiptoed out of the room. But I didn’t. I sat there and watched as Nina boiled over and spewed venom across the kitchen table.

“What, Ed? You want to know why my grades are like this? Well, I want to know where the hell you’ve been these past four months. What were you doing while you weren’t helping me or Andre with our schoolwork? Uh-huh, and you’re right! You ain’t made shit in here. You have no right to comment on anything in this house! Ma’s right, I don’t know you! I hate you and I wish you weren’t my father!”

She began to cry, her voice was small and high-pitched.

“I hate you! You weren’t here, you’ve never been here to help me and Andre with anything. So you don’t come in here and question not nothin’! You’re the worst father alive. Why don’t you go back to Lynn and stay with your other bitch and your other kid. That lil’ bastard ain’t shit to me. I’d spit in his face if I saw him.”

Then she punched down on the table and got up. Staggering, fighting for her balance, she whimpered, rubbed tears from her face, and said, “You’re the worst,” as she stormed out of the kitchen.

It felt like I had fire in my chest. My heart was beating so fast my stomach started to hurt. I was so confused. Lynn? Other kid? Now I really felt left out. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. What I did know was that Nina lost her mind going off like that to Pop. As she staggered away
from the kitchen, I looked at Pop. He stood up and balled his fists. His eyes were glassy and his nose crunched as he started rubbing his balled fist while staring at Nina. She was walking toward her room and talking shit under her breath. I looked down at my empty plate. I could feel him glaring at me.

BOOK: Team Seven
4.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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