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Authors: Mitchell Jackson

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The Residue Years

BOOK: The Residue Years
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In memory of Jamal

For Rhonda
For Justice and Jaden

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Acknowledgments

By the Same Author

Every decision you've made has brought you to this moment.
—Lillie Dora Jackson (Mom)

All stories are true.
—John Edgar Wideman

Prologue

We know what
really
happens this visit is this.
—Champ

It's years beyond the worst of it, and it's your time, Mom, a time of head starts and new starts and starting and going and not stopping—of re-dos and fixes, of gazing at full moons and quarter-moons and seeing what before were phantasms for-reals. If this streak keeps up (it will; why not?), you've got the rest of your life, hell yeah it's a life, minus fatmouthing no-accounts. You hope—no, we hope (you and your eldest) that this year, next year, and the years after are an age of heartbeats, steady breath, and a healing for your harms. Smart money says you and I are in for seasons and seasons of pewter sunups and cold-ass sunsets and rain. In this state, who can get away from the rain? Shit, you used to think maybe it was the rain. This will be a time of cruising rainy days by your old bus stops, unsoaked, semi-warm, and daydreaming. To be true, Mom, we'll likely see days upon days of yearning. But hey, this might also be the time, after a long-long trial of bootsie-ass suitors, of your white gown and bouquet; it might be, but Mom, let's keep it funky, if ain't been in forty-plus years, there's a helluva chance it won't. You know I would take care of it all if I could but at present—enough
said, so meantime, you're on your own for new gear: for age-sanctioned tops and blouses; jeans and dresses; khakis and slacks, work suits; until they cut me loose, it's on you to foot new heels and flats and sandals—yep, sandals, but closed sandals, please, for those sacrilegious toes! Plus, Mom, set aside enough to keep spruced, to make this year, next year, and all the ones to come, months of pedicures and manicures, of consistent appointments for weaves, of waxes and peels and scrubs and tweezing, but no foundation. It ain't never, no matter what fly-by-night wannabe beauty expert claims it, the year for caked-on makeup. It's also never, and I mean never-ever times count as high as you like, a moment for punkish men, no Old Joes, none of those grown-ass juveniles I wished far-far away from us when I was young; on the other hand, it's the time for your young bastards—KJ, Canaan, and, despite my predicament, me too. Some say this is the time of love. The suckers always do. You give it and you get it, that's what the suckers say. The born-agains preach we might be upon the Second Coming. We might be, but since we ain't been for eons, best not hold our breath. What else? What else? This has been seasons of long letters, of kites that arrive with their seals broken, handwritten kites with words scratched out or underlined, kites approved and delivered, just a few kites declined.

This has been weeks and weeks of steady visits, of seizing every chance to taunt the superintendent's bunk rules, a miraculous year of Grace and Champ, of mother and son reaching out.

My ex answers your call like shit is sweet, says, Good to hear from you, so fake you want to reach through the receiver. Next thing, she drops the phone minus nary a pardon and leaves you on
an indefinite hold soundtracked by the blare of some rap video cranked beyond good sense. Meanwhile, you carry the noisy cordless into another room, crack the blinds, and watch a pair of baseheads, both thin as antennas, push a half-wrecked sedan down the street. The baseheads, they've got the sedan's doors flung open, and seethe at each other across a scrappy ragtop roof. Farther, they jog their hooptie to a slow cruise, jump in on the run, and sputter off. It's still plenty of lightweight action on the set. The old lady dressed in a who-gives-a-what-about-the-heat getup (down coat, snow boots, thick wool scarf) tugging a shopping cart full of thrashed cans. Down a ways, boys riding wheelies for distance on dirt bikes with mismatched rims.

Finally, our Princess, my baby girl, your grandbaby, picks up. She announces she's doing well, offers up a story about school, and follows her report with a plea for ice cream—beseeching to which you concede. You assure our Princess you'll be there soon, that she should get ready, and hang up hoping her mother, my spiteful ex, will for once keep her word.

Next thing, you search your bedroom closet for an outfit, pick Capri pants and a halter top, and iron them both on a burnt towel laid across your bed. You get the clothes nice and pressed, then model the getup in the same mirror where you keep posted a picture of your boys, my brothers, of which the baby is now a teenage bastard. You try on the clothes, only to decide the granny-still-got-it fit ain't comfortable, not respectable for a day with our Princess, not even close, so you option look after look before settling on a cotton shirt and khakis, which is the best move, since the more skin you show, the more these recalcitrant good-for-nothings make you a show.

Dressed, you collect from under your mattress the fist-sized stash you've been saving for months and peel off a stack of bills. You dump the cash in your bag, grab your keys, and hike outside to where your raggedy Honda is parked too far from the curb for you to have owned a license for as long as you have. There's a trick to starting the Honda, which you've learned after getting stranded beaucoup times: pumping the gas a few times but not so many it floods the engine.

Outside my ex's crib, the Honda coughs and wheezes and goes mute as you pull the key. You hop out and shuffle into a yard strewn with a pink and purple Big Wheel, hula hoops, and a candy-cane jump rope, stroll up a set of unbanistered steps, and rap a door knocker the size of a prison guard's key ring. You'd have to be blind to miss how they've let the place go, to miss the paint peeling eczema-like from the walls, windows dirtied to damn near dark as limo tint. How you doing? my ex says, with that supercilious smile that used to be a wellspring. She steps aside to let you in and vanishes, leaving you inside a living room packed with shit I bought: leather couches, big-screen, black lacquer coffee and end tables. It don't take long to spot her punk-ass new boyfriend standing shirtless over the stove, a clown with one of those inverted builds: legs like arms and arms like legs, not to mention the sucker's tatted as if he's gangster, when it's a good bet he's weak as one-ply. But hey, who isn't, or hasn't been, at least, some kind of soft, so maybe I should cut him some slack.

Negatory!

Our Princess is all done up in a long dress, frilly socks, and matching pigtail ribbons, and flares her dress jumping the last few steps to a spot near you. You kiss her forehead and fix (relieved
you and me both she didn't inherit your sacrilegious toes) her wrong-footed sandals. She asks again for ice cream and you say sure, swelled up with the fact that, unlike the past, our Princess and all else can double-trust—no, overtrust—your word. Holding her at arm's length, you ask who bought her gold bracelet and matching gold chain. She says his name, and when you repeat it, the punk dips out of sight as if your voice reminds him of his sensitive side, of all the ways he can't measure.

Ain't shit sensitive no more about my scandalous-ass ex. She don't bother to see you off (should've seen it coming, what she'd become, but I was sprung); what she does is yell what time she'll be back and instructs her tissue-tough boyfriend to escort you and our Princess to the door, a feckless half-ass gesture since you're halfway to the car by the time the sucker peeks his tattooed neck outside, and by the time he reels in his paranormal-shaped dome you're working the famous trick to starting the Honda.

You drive with the windows down, hot air whistling, and gospel tunes playing on the tweaked six-by-nines you bought off a neighbor for a jug over what they were worth. You've lost some savvy these years, which is a fair trade, you might say. At a red light, two boys strut by, speed-licking ice cream melting fast in the heat. Logo'd headbands noose the boys' throats; their slouchy striped tube socks are hiked to the calf of their thin bowed legs, and they've got the swarthy skin of youngins who've balled outside all summer. In the crosswalk, the shorter one drops his cone and morphs into a cherub statue till a pileup of cars honk him manic and out of the street. The mother in you eases away checking your rearview, shaking your head.

* * *

Boom!
The Honda backfires in the parking lot of the ice-cream parlor and freezes everyone in earshot, embarrasses you into scanning for witnesses before escorting our Princess past a waist-high pile of bikes to the counter, where workers are crumpling under the weekend's midafternoon crush. The only grown-up in the whole joint is an old man searching for a table with a wrist-thick newspaper tucked to his side.

Our Princess, just tall enough to see into the display, tugs at your Capris with premature strength and whispers her order. Sure, baby, you say. Whatever you want.

Double-scooped sundaes in hand, you find a seat near the old man, stuff napkins in the neck of our Princess's dress, and she half eats/half wipes her face with strawberry-topped vanilla ice cream while you wade through kiddie talk to the nexus of what's what, a part of which is whether or not my ex's punk-ass boyfriend has shacked up full-time. Our Princess spoons a mouthful and confirms the punk goes to sleep every night with her mom.

Hell, yeah, it's a mistake, but who ain't done it? Ask a question that—when posed to a child who hasn't yet learned the value of a white lie—leaves you wide the fuck open. Do you like him? you say, and brace. Our Princess licks sprinkles off her fist (the full extent of her musing) and confirms she likes the punk
a lot
. Well, don't forget your daddy loves you, loves you more than anything, you say, with a voice more limp than you'd like.

After ice cream, the Honda backfires again at the mall,
boom
, and coughs an ozone that panics a couple strolling the lot arm in arm. Soon as you and the Princess make it inside, in so many words, lets you know that, yeah, you might got plans, but she's
got plans too, and her plans include a visit to the toy store and a new summer outfit. Okay, Princess, you say, anything you want, as long as there's time left after we've bought your daddy's gift.

Our Princess names the wrong name.

No—your real daddy! you say.

The stores on the first level are picked over to the utmost, to the point where what's left is not worth mentioning. Worry builds while you browse, a feeling spiked by checking your watch and seeing, beyond the ticking hands, a shotgunned trip that ends with what might be your first time late for last-visit. Our Princess can sense it too. She hurries up the escalator and waits at the top. The two of you flit hand in hand to the next stop, a shoe store where the salesman, one of those cooler-than-thou types, is leaned over a counter. It don't take much to see he's one of those junior clowns who fronts like he's clocking big dough, when it's a good bet his hourly ain't but a buck, if that, over minimum wage; he's a young poser, but to be true, Mom, aren't we all, or at least I am a bit of one most days. (How else to make it?) Young Cooler-Than-Thou offers help and you ask for whatever won't cost you an arm and a leg. He suggests a style, shows you a pair of low-tops in my size, gives you the rundown of color. He segues into the shoe's genesis: a script that's dismissible, but you let him finish anyhow, figuring he's no less than somebody's baby boy trying to flaunt what he knows while he hides how much he don't.

BOOK: The Residue Years
3.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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