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by Jim Dolan
He rolled out of bed, Lisa still asleep, and stretched. The lower back still hurt. Seemed like it always hurt. He went to the living room, dropped to all fours, and did the 'cat-back' stretches he'd been taught, with his back humped up and his pelvis tilted forward. After a while, the back felt better.
He made coffee. He made it stronger than usual, Chock Full-O'-Nuts, same as he drank in grad school. When it was ready, he filled the bottom of a mug with milk, and poured in the aromatic coffee. His favorite blue mug, the one they'd bought in 1976 on a shopping trip to Pier 1 that caused a big fight because she spent almost a hundred dollars.
He sipped, went for the paper. It was late May. The air was thick, been raining for two weeks, off and on. He peeled the plastic off of the paper, and went up on the porch. Setting the mug of coffee down, he pulled the string on the ceiling fan on to keep the mosquitoes off of him. Dalton stretched out in one of the orange canvas chairs.
He didn't want to mow the lawn. He was in rebellion against the lawn. It was heavy and dark green, and needed to be mowed every third or fourth day. It was a real pain. He was also very proud of his dark green, thick, heavy St. Augustine lawn.
He mowed on the diagonal. Mowing on the diagonal was a sign of the true 'yard man' in his book. He thought it made the yard look much neater.
When he was a kid, in the house over on Edgemear, they had a push mower with a wooden handle, and rusted brown blades that made a metallic shirring sound when you pushed it. He could still hear that sound anytime he wanted to.
In the same way, if he wanted to, he could smell Pittsburgh in the late seventies. All he had to do was close his eyes and think about it, breathe in through his nose, and the sulfurous smell filled his nostrils as surely as if he were there.
It was not only the aroma of burning sulfurous coal and the death throes of the mills, but of Bonnie from Cleveland, hearing punk rock for the first time, getting his ear pierced, and doing mushrooms and smoking hash oil. For Dalton, the smell was that of his years of decadence.
Good riddance. He'd been so lost then, and tented in shame so dense, it took him years to understand it. An addiction to orgasm that would eventually change his life. Looking back, he still felt astonishment and a hideous disgust with himself so intense at times it gave him goose bumps. OK, yeah ... addicted to orgasm, who isn't? But how could he have let a student go down on him? How had that happened? He still scratched his head over it. But they let him go because she was eighteen. It had been 'consensual'.
Dalton wrenched his mind from the lost years. A low point in the psyche, which the mind's flow always fills first.
... Ah, the mower. Yeah, the mower they had over on Edgemear. Like something left over from a previous century. It wouldn't mow right if you forgot to oil it before you used it.
He remembered going in the dark garage shot through with light shafts falling through cracks in the roof. Rummaging around in the shelves for the oilcan. The scent of wet straw from the shed in the back where Papa kept his pit bull breeding bitches. He saw again in his hand the helpless little brown and white sack of guts with still closed eyes, which he named Billy Boy, his dog, his dog....
And he remembered Papa bringing two-year-old Billy Boy home dead and eviscerated in a brown-stained duffel bag from a fight in Louisiana and burying him in the backyard. The immense dark and stabbing grief seizing him from below as he saw his dog flop into the hole ... Billy Boy ....
... the mower. You had to oil it, or you would wind up shoving hard and not going far. You dropped oil in the holes around the hubs, and a few squeezes on the blades, then you rolled her back and forth a couple times to loosen her up, and she was just fine.
Papa always told him to turd the yard before mowing, so the turds wouldn't get all mixed up in the grass and the mower. But he ignored him. He mowed the turds. We're on smells today, aren't we, Heaney? Dalton Heaney. Same's the old man. He never really liked the way that sounded: Dalton Heaney. When he was eight, he asked his mother if he could change his name to Francis Marion, after the Swamp Fox on Disney. He thought that sounded much better.
Sounds like a name for a sissy, said Papa. ...
... Green, mowed grass, and dog shit. The very elixir, the extract of summer. Like chlorine. Either one, they both said 'summer' in ways the word 'summer' itself could not.
He flopped the paper down in front of him. Traffic blasted past. He started then stopped reading a story about a little boy left locked in a car for eight hours who died from the heat. It seemed like every year, more and more people left their kids in cars in the heat. He could see the news directors at the TV stations meeting with the reporters on Monday mornings: OK, people. It's summer out there. We've got some killer opportunities. I want a little kid locked in a hot car story. Do not come back until you've got one.
On the evening news, they would cover the story from helicopters circling the vehicle sequestered by yellow tape. Bellowing newscasters described the horror of the tot enclosed in the heat blasted car. He thought that in some weird, sick way, people were unconsciously obeying a cultural imperative to supply the gaping, toothed maw of the media with ever more heinous personal behavior.
The lawn. He looked out from the shaded porch at the early morning lawn, still faintly misty. The sun was not yet above the trees, still only a gleaming gold presence hovering in the black mesh of the cedar limbs at the east end of the yard. The sky was a perfect powder blue, with clouds like touches from a delicate brush loaded with palest pink. A gigantic black grackle proclaimed his sovereignty with a sound like that of a broken transmission.
The mower was parked over near the garage, waiting.
He didn't feel like it yet. He needed more coffee. Of course, he knew that the longer you waited, the higher the sun got, the more you sweat. He looked up. The moon's sliver hung on in the west, a Cheshire cat smile, waiting for the rest to appear. Not yet. He picked the paper up again.
In the Fashion! Section, the hunt was on for new models, male and female, to go to New York and appear in a big shoot about Dallas in Vogue magazine. There were photos of idiotic toothy young people strutting down aisles with their cheeks sucked in, appearing for all the world like they thought they were doing something important.
Good God. He hated them.
Fuck them, the morons. He went to the Arts. There was a nostalgic piece about the first time the writer had heard Kinda Blue, by Miles Davis. At last, something worth reading.
When Dalton first heard that album, he was smoking Thai stick with Michael Gismondi in his efficiency apartment on the fourth floor of a brown brick building in Squirrel Hill. Gismondi had a really good Sansui stereo his brother had brought home from 'Nam, and it sounded like Miles and Coltrane and the guys were standing right there in the room with them.
He'd loved that record ever since.
Traffic was getting thicker, which meant it was getter later, and soon, the sun would be over the trees. Time to get going. Goddammit. Didn't feel like it, but he knew that once he got the mower going, he'd get into a rhythm.
He pulled his old yard shoes on, the ones he kept out on the porch. They were crusty and hard and green around the sole from walking through cut wet grass. He walked over to the old Sears mower he'd bought twelve years before, and kept running ever since, and checked the gas tank. Fuck. Needed gas. He filled it. He yanked the rope, it roared to life. Here we go.
When he first started using the old push mower over at the house on Edgemear, he was nine and the handle came just about up to his neck, and he could barely push it through the grass, oiled or not. It took a while for the grass to grow over Billy Boy's grave, and when ever he got near that patch of bare soil, he remembered how Billy would come running over to him whenever he came in the yard, a pup's body perched atop adult legs and feet, as if on canine stilts.
He thought about how Billy Boy had turned into a sleek, hard, muscled young dog after he was about a year old.
Once, a cat somehow wondered into the yard. Billy Boy shot from the turk's cap he'd been resting under and hit the cat like ordnance fired from a gun. He hit the neck, the cat yowling its last sounds, as Billy shook it, crushed it in his jaws, and tore it apart in less than a minute. Papa came out of the house to watch, swirling his bourbon and water in the tall blue iced tea glass, a big smile on his face.
When the cat was sufficiently dead, Billy Boy tired of it, and he stood looking at Dalton and Papa with a blank stare as if to inquire what the hell they were looking at. He lowered his head one more time, sniffed and pawed the dead cat, and then returned to his resting place amongst the turk's cap.
The cat stared blank eyed at the hard sky.
Sumbitch is goddamned moneymaker, no lie, Papa muttered, and went back in to watching the ball game on TV in front of the cooler ...
He's MY dog, MY DOG! Dalton muttered to himself ...
... He'd created his border cuts, where he mowed around the perimeter of the lawn, and was beginning to make his first diagonal ones. When the grass was this thick and heavy, you could clearly see the results of your work. The un-mowed grass looked dense and disorderly, while the mowed was neat as the trimmed nap of expensive green velvet.
He was getting into it, the artfulness of it, the mundane creation of something.
Papa never would get a power mower, even though their yard on Edgemear was big. Make ya soft, he said. Besides, whaddya do if it breaks? Push mower never breaks. Sharpen it, oil it, and get the job done.
Dalton never saw Papa actually using the mower. He acted like he used it all the time, or had spent years and years using a mower such as that, or perhaps he used it in secret. However, as far as Dalton could tell, the mower was entirely his responsibility.
Papa acted like there was religion involved in yard work. You were saved if you did your yard work, and damned if you didn't. On Saturday mornings, he was in the yard early. He'd already exercised the fight dogs, and fed the bitches and pups. Dalton's mower stood ready and waiting for him in the pea gravel drive, a mechanical penance for the sin of being his father's son.
Papa would be sweating already, wearing a huge pair of rough leather gloves with oversize cuffs that went well past his wrists. He'd say, Well, ya gonna git after it or what? I think it's not getting any cooler out.
The tall blue bourbon filled iced tea glass was never far away. Papa could go all day outside in the summer, doing 'yard work.'
By three in the afternoon, though, it was time to get up on the porch in the shade. Papa sat in the porch swing and rocked, and passed out within minutes. As soon as Dalton saw Papa's head tilted over to one side, he would walk away from the mower where it sat, go inside and wash in the big double bowl kitchen sink with yellowed lace curtains hanging over the window. He could hear his mother in the living room playing her Jackie Gleason records on the new hi-fi.
Dalton would jump on his bike and go over to his friend Zachary's house. There they would lie in the heavy breeze of the ceiling fan blowing the hot air around and sleep and doze the afternoon away in Zack's room, reading Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman comics. Zack had stacks that came up to your knees.
He hated Papa. He double hated him when he brought Billy Boy back from Louisiana dead in a sack. He loved him, too. That was the hard part.
He mowed. He tried the Zen exercise of keeping his mind and attention entirely on the activity at hand. When chopping wood, chop wood; when carrying water, carry water; when resting, rest.
He tried being one with the mower, but wound up thinking of chopping wood.
One of his chores was to go around the neighborhood when he was a kid, and look for deadfall from the trees, or discarded lumber. He would put it in his wagon and carry it home to cut and put it on the woodpile. When he was nine, Papa gave him a hatchet for his birthday, and a whetstone to keep it sharp. It had a leather sheath with a loop in the back for your belt, and it could be carried strapped to the waist. You could undo a leather snap loop and drop the hatchet out of the sheath for use. He felt as if he'd become a seasoned woodsman, and soon the neighborhood was clean of deadfall from trees as Dalton became possessed by the 'woodsman' fantasy and worked constantly with his sharp hatchet to lay in a supply of firewood.
... when carrying water, carry water ... momentarily he was one with the mower, but he slipped again and thought of Lake Cliff Park, the old spring fed swimming pool up on Zangs with the sandy bottom and the shafts of green gold half-light shimmering in the afternoon sun as he dove and hovered in that liquid world so like a fantasy or a dream ... he wished he could have found a tiny underwater castle full of little people living hidden in secret grottoes ... he hoped that one day he could grow up to be a skin diver with scuba tanks, and stay underwater as long as he wanted ... he remembered his first scuba dive in the Caymans back in the mid-eighties, when he and Lisa had their first real trip together, when he felt like what he was doing was something he'd known how to do his whole life ... the water flowing out from under the cupboards onto the green linoleum, threatening to sweep them all away ... the sound of rushing water ... the titanic cascade of the Colorado into Hoover Dam, which he'd seen once on an epic car trip when he was little ... in his dream from long, long ago, they walked across the Houston Street Viaduct with Mother after Papa was killed by the man to whom he owed money and she threw them one by one into the flooded Trinity and he fought against the current trying to save his brother and sister ...
... he wasn't doing very well, he kept slipping back ...
When resting, rest ... He seriously considered a break, but he hadn't even finished a section. He never rested until he'd finished mowing at least a section. He thought about resting. Resting in the afternoon, and resting in the winter and resting in the summer, and resting during yard work and resting afterwards. He remembered rest periods in Mrs. Klaczak's class in kindergarten ... his worst subject, he couldn't keep still ... he hated 'resting', your head down on the table, pretending to be asleep ... he hated taking naps at home, looking at the cowboys in the wallpaper, pretending that they were moving like Hop-A-Long Cassidy and the mountains in the distance were real, and if you looked hard enough you could see the clouds move and the distant eagles soaring sideways and down in huge S shapes across the background ... .and resting when he broke his leg playing football against that team of gigantic farm boys from Electra when he was in high school, and the doctors gave him morphine. Oh, he rested all right. It was wonderful to be so hurt and so peaceful, and to know that everything he was supposed to do was at least temporarily forgiven him and all he had to do was 'rest', which was not too hard, as he'd never had anything so fine as morphine ... and he rested after an orgasm, almost as well as with the morphine ... he thought about the old punk song by the Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict ...
They brought him in and told him that Uma had tried suicide and left a note talking about their 'affair' ... .he thought, One person causing another one to have an orgasm was an affair? Yeah, he supposed so when the one causing the orgasm was a girl of eighteen.
The Superintendent brought him before a board of inquiry, and he had to answer questions about the 'affair', but that was after he'd had to tell Lisa that he would probably lose his job at the Whitman School because he'd had a liaison (he actually used that word- liaison-to describe what happened, stupidly hoping she wouldn't ask any questions) with a student.
He told her what happened, on a Friday night in late summer 1978 while they waited for a table at the old hippie restaurant, El Dorado. They were two large glasses each into a half gallon bottle of Gallo Chablis. She got up and crookedly walked away from their seats stumbling across the lawn to the car, just as the girl with long straight black hair came out to call them to their table.
... God ... .
... Dalton mowed. Sweat pouring from his head as from a spigot. He'd always been a heavy sweater. He had these two places right above his ears on either side of his head that just poured sweat when he got hot. It poured.
He mowed. The mower moved along in front of him, as if self-propelled. He'd always wanted a self-propelled mower, saw one once at Sears and almost bought it, but left empty handed. Sure would come in handy with this yard of his now.
Lisa almost made it to the car when he caught her. He grabbed her shoulder. He knew the people on the veranda were watching. He didn't care.
When she turned to face him, she looked down, her face splotched and red, her green eyes clouded over. Her hair was divided in the middle of her head and descended either side of her face almost like a nun's habit, so thick, so heavy. To know he'd let her down like this was a cleaver to the sternum. In a moment, he knew what it was to feel suicidal.
You had a 'liaison' with a student? That is the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard. Did you hear yourself say that? A 'liaison'? Just what the hell is a 'liaison' for Christ's sake? Why can't you just say what happened? What was it, some kind of goddamn 'soixante-neuf' or something? She looked away, rubbing at her cheek with her thumb.
She whirled back.
I know what it was-it was a goddamn blowjob, wasn't it? You let a KID give you a blowjob!!
She wasn't a kid; she was eighteen, a senior.
He caught the flash of her fist coming soon enough to dodge it, almost. It caught the side of his nose, and a flash of light went off behind his eyes. The cartilage popped and he dropped to his knees, the blood pouring from his nose onto the just mowed grass on the restaurant's lawn.
Are you all right man? She caught ya, hunh? Musta been a doozy.
A man's voice. The manager, bent over above him, his shoulder length hair hanging down like the ears of an Afghan hound.
I'm fine, he said, lying. Lying like a motherfucker. They called him an ambulance. Lisa refused to visit him while in Parkland. The kept him two days for a broken goddamn nose. He let a student give him a blowjob. His wife broke his nose. What the fuck?
He smiled now, looking back. It seemed insurmountably horrible at the time.
He had let an eighteen-year-old kid go down on him. When it was over, she left his office, saying only this: I hope you don't mind ...
I hope you don't mind ... . What the fuck? He would have been better off if she'd come in the office and stomped on his instep.
Uma, where are you now?
It took him a long time to be able to even leave his office. He'd never really known what real shame could feel like. The only other time he'd ever felt so ... completely fucked, was the day he found out Papa was dead. And that was somehow akin to the way he felt when Uma walked out of his office ... there'd been a death, a shattering, a breaking, an ending, a tragedy that began the moment their flesh met.
Bending over the mower, he shuddered. The psyche, flowing to its lowest point.
He finished a section without even knowing he was finished. He shut the mower down.
Lisa was standing on the steps, a cup of coffee in hand, waving at him. They'd stuck it out, somehow. They brought him in front of the investigative committee and he had to answer questions about what happened with Uma. He had to look at a table full of adults and describe what happened.
Their hard, stony faces, the skepticism, the disbelief. The same people that had recruited him from the University, because of his academics, because of the novel he'd published while still in undergrad, because of his recommendations and reputation. These people had expected much from him, and now, he had to explain to them how he had managed to let one of their students 'perform a sex act' on him. He knew some of them wanted to hit him, to hurt him, to make him suffer.
There was no legal case to make. Uma never claimed to have been forced. In the eyes of the law, she was an adult. He'd only made the ethical violation, the faculty code violation. He'd never work in a private school again. He would have to make it on his writing, he could never rely on teaching again. He was fucked.
He decided to go to grad school, if he could.
Lisa walked out in the yard, came over to him, the wet grass clinging to her bare feet.
You're sweaty, she said. God, it's so humid out. Better watch out for the skeeters. Then she slapped one on her arm, another on his neck. God, I don't know how you stand it out here, it's miserable. I'm going inside.
It's not so miserable when you come out, he said. She gave him one of her, Yeah, right looks and turning back to the house and the air conditioning, said, I'll make ya some breakfast. She went back, turning once to wave over her shoulder, looking no older to him now than she was in 1978. Twenty-five years ago.
They split up for a while after the deal with Uma. His plan had been to take his degree in English from the University, which he did; get a private school teaching job, which he did; and write a sequel to the novel he wrote in college, Calpurnia. Even then, he knew the sequel would be called The Revenants.
He moved to Pittsburgh after getting kicked out of the Whitman School, and began his graduate program. Going to school was the only thing he could think of. That burning smell in Pittsburgh. It always made him sad. He thought he'd gone to hell, for a while. It seemed like the whole city was a place for those who'd missed the boat.
He bent and pulled the rope on the mower, sweat pouring off his nose and dripping onto the air cleaner on the mower. He began another section. Mowing always, always, made him think of Papa. His memory held Papa in no other way than coated with sweat, grass clippings, dirt, and reeking of Jack Black.
They found him at his shop, in the back, covered with a pile of paint cans from the shelf he'd pulled down when he fell. He was twelve, Papa was forty. Mother told him that some bad men had wanted his money, but he was brave and fought them, and they killed him.
He knew she was lying. She was concealing her relief. He could see something glossed over in her hazel eye, the freshness of her makeup. She kept looking over his shoulder at a mirror behind him and touching her bangs back from her brows.
When he was twenty-five, he read the police report and discovered that they knew who did it, but could tie no material evidence to the crime scene, no case was ever made. There were no witnesses other than the victim. Everyone but Dalton seemed to know it was Tommy Monroe, that guy with a blonde pompadour and a big titted wife from Louisiana who was always around when Papa was getting the dogs in the truck for a fight weekend.
The police report said that 'material suspect Monroe was a known associate of victim Heaney, and familiars have reported that a feud between the two was growing over monies owed to Monroe for the purchase of an (illegal) fighting dog by the victim, Heaney.'
Overhead, a chopper circled into the hospital nearby. Dalton stopped, looked up, wiped sweat. He tried to imagine what might be wrong with the patient, seeing in his mind a scene out of ER with IV bags swaying and lovely young female doctors pulling the sheaths off of syringes with their teeth while leaning over the patient and yelling orders to assistants in the background.
He killed the mower again.
Fuckin' tired, man. Like ta fall out! An old joke, going way back to the beginning. Whenever he came in from mowing the yard, in mid-summer, Lisa would ask him how he was. He would quote a co-worker from many, many years ago. Darnell, a black lady from South Dallas with gold teeth in front, one with a star cut-out, the other a crescent moon. When Darnell got tired, she said she was like ta fall out ... .
... he wrote The Revenants while in grad school and blew off the program. It picked up where Calpurnia left off. Sort of. A Jungian analyst drops his practice to go to Africa and is infected by an illness that cannot be diagnosed, but not before he meets an Icelandic missionary and falls, not in love, but something other than love, no less compelling.
At the end of the book, you find out that the hero and the girl are ghost victims of the plague scourging the sub-continent and their story plays out in a dimension of existence not known to either the living or the dead ....
... Papa, if you could see me now. He thought of Papa in the old Army Boxing program publicity photo, leaning over the ropes of a practice ring in El Paso, pretending to be interested in whatever it was the guy in the foreground with his back to the camera was saying.
Papa, if you could see me now, you still wouldn't give a shit.
He tried and tried to not care about this, to be indifferent to Papa's indifference, to give as good as he got, to mount a defense, but he never could. To this day, it still mattered to him, what Papa thought, and he realized he would never really be able to completely let it go.
Last time he saw Uma, she had gained about forty pounds, and was far from the heart stopper she'd been when eighteen. She had her twins with her. The Revenants had just been released, and she came to a signing he was doing at some pathetic bookstore in Evanston, Illinois. She waited around and they talked afterward. She apologized, her gray eyes giving away her insincerity.
Last time he heard from Uma, she'd been indicted for the murder of a man she was with at the Adolphus after she called police to a crime scene she had falsified so amateurishly they arrested her on the spot. She was calling because her attorney had told her to start rounding up 'character' witnesses.
Yeah, sure Uma. Whatever.
Someone was coming up the drive. A tall man. Black. Emaciated. Wearing a pair of checked Bermuda shorts. He held a pack of Kools in his left hand. A lit one in the right. A yellow Cat Diesel gimme cap, greasy filthy, rested on his head, tilted back and awry over the thick mat of unkempt hair.
Dalton felt the usual mix of guilt, compassion, fear. The dude wanted something, obviously. Dalton checked to see where Lisa was, if the door was still open. It wasn't. She was gone inside.
He stuck his hand in the pocket of his cut-offs to see if he had any dough to give the guy. Three singles. Perfect.
G'morning! He said. Keep it neutral. Read the guy. See which way he's going.
Yess'uh, how you dis mo'nin? 'nything kin hep ya wid dis mo'nin?
He considered. His visitor looked in his direction without making eye contact with him. Mostly, he looked down. He half expected him to take his hat off and hold it in both hands in front of him while making his request.
Well, now, Dalton spoke, looking around at the just mowed lawn steaming in the late, late spring sun. Glossy green hibiscuses shouted up their hot red blossoms; impatiens were calm and cool in the shade of dense cedar.
... 'preciate your asking, but I think I am pretty well set ... ..
All ride'den. Well, lemme ax you if you gots 'nything gainst alkyholics? The eyes darting wildly, begging, supplicant. Ungh, c'mon man, quit beating around the bush, he thought.
Alcoholics? No ... Why do you ask?
Well, suh, caus'n I's one mysef, but I's hop'n you don't know never mind ... .
No, I don't mind, it's an affliction like any other. Mmmm, to himself, where are we headed here, felluh?
Well, suh, if you don' mine, I gots sump'n I wanna sho you ... .
Wary, careful, Dalton said, Yeah, sure, whatcha got? Now a little trickle of adrenaline starts. Not much, just enough to notice. He knew he was entering a maze, and he began mentally dropping his bread crumbs in case he needed to find his way back out.
The tall skinny man stepped up the retaining wall off the street, and stood looking square at Dalton. He looked down at his leg, then back at Dalton again, directing his gaze down to his leg. There were three large, roughly round, irregular scars on his legs, two on the right, one on the left. He has a noticeable limp, on the left side, as the tibia was obviously twisted and re-grown, shattered and repaired.
Now, back in 1987 I went out to the Cowboys training camp, out in Thousand Oaks, he began. Missah Landry say he wants to see me run, cause I was a fass muthah fuckah, no'm sayin?
Dalton didn't move. He chose no response as his best. If he said, Yeah, I know ... the guy might go in a direction he didn't want to go. If he said, No ... again, this might open possibilities unknown. He remained impassive. His guest went on.
Dass right, I tried out for the Cowboys, but they didn't want po ole Peabody heah. Dey didden wan no fass nigga, dey want a biggun, and ... .he started to laugh, tries I mights, I'm a fass nigga, but not a biggun ...
He stopped to look at Dalton to see if he was getting anywhere. Dalton remained unmoved. He was still trying to remain in command of the conversation, without simply running the guy off.
How'd you get them leg scars?
Peabody looked him through for a long time. For a moment, Dalton thought there was gold light flaring around Peabody's head, and his eyes seemed to smolder. Here it comes, thought Dalton. He tensed. He prepared.
The effect faded. Dalton thought it was maybe the heat, or dehydration.
Ole lady shot my ass UP one night a few yeah ago. I done gone to smoking onnat rock, and drinkin up some forties, an went to whuppin on her ass, and she rare back on me with a gun, and said Niggah, you done me dat way de lass time, and she went to poppin caps off in my ass ... ..
He stopped to check Dalton out again. Did sparks like tiny lightning bolts seem to be shooting from his eyes? A jolt of naked fear out of the blue shot through him.
He stayed still. It was getting hot out. The mosquitoes gathered in whining clouds around his ankles, and he stood on one foot then the other, slapping them off. Traffic was thick. Peabody held his gaze, his eyes glassy and hard. The gold radiance was there again. Dalton's ears rang. An invisible spring was stretching to its limits ...
... he was suddenly in the air, looking down on the two of them, standing in his front yard on a day in late May ...
Peabody said, Everything I have just spoken is true. Dalton thought he could smell Peabody's hidden parts rotting.
He came back to himself.
How much you want this morning, Mr. Peabody? Peabody ... is that right? Peabody seemed normal again.
Peabody's face was stiff, indignant. His eyes burned in wordless condescension. Why you axin' me what I need? You think I'm flim flammin' you?
That caught him off guard. Way off guard. Now what? For a moment, he thought Peabody was getting ready to be violent, the thing all white people fear when a black man, uninvited, approaches. He loathed himself for being such a lame honky, but he couldn't help it. He was scared.
In a clear, firm voice, he said, I am not assuming anything, Mr. Peabody. I am just wondering ...
Peabody drilled him with his bloodshot and pupil-less eyes. Need cigarette money and bus fare ... .
The eyes, man, the eyes! There was no doubt at all about who was in charge here.
Dalton was pulling the three bills from his pocket as he spoke. A stiff, crackly, ringing silence.
Have a good day, Mr. Peabody, said Dalton, holding the wet, folded money out for him to take. Hoping. Hoping he would take it.
The thin brown hand appeared like a bird hovering a moment in the air between them. How thick was the shame enveloping them both?
Peabody turned, the bills folded into the cellophane wrapping on his pack of Kools, his right hand raised in offhand farewell.
Fear dissolving into sadness, leaving him oddly clean and empty, Dalton whispered to himself, So long my friend. So long.
He turned, bent over and pulled the rope on the mower. It fired up, coughing out a cloud of blue smoke. It really was a good old mower.
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