A MAN OF SALT
7:10 a.m. Monday morning…
Black crows flew in Henry Applewhite’s dreams. Maybe it was a Poe thing? Redemption? Atonement? He crossed his chest, raised the knife above his head. He couldn’t make up his mind whether to cut on a forty five degree angle or slice it horizontally? Butter toast. Ummm!Um! Henry decided to slit it down the middle. He was alone but he wasn’t a winner like Fleetwood Mac—most of his drug dealers were dead.
He liked to smoke crack and reefer together. Many people died for his thirst. He shook salt over his right shoulder every morning to keep the darkness away. He was like a lame duck his seas was always red, black or green and filled with the crows of death. They were always around him; like the raven as the black bird that remained in his dreams, as the fair scavenger crow of death mystified and held out the door of sleep to his casket He used up most of his money to buy dope; he was on crack now, the secret that slipped in his brain by some big tit girlfriend: Tyra, thanks for the memories because weekend after weekend he was dropping off the moon. Sweet coffee awoke him as Honduran nectars awoke him to smells of jealous women. He bites the toast and chews down time as he steps on a filthy cockroach; just like him. Henry checked his watch. On time, cool. Marijuana smoke floated with musk cologne. He worked on his tie knot. He liked reading that Poe shit because death of loved ones was always in his life. The dude was crazy-obsessed with death like him and being a part of this F’d racist country. He died in the streets a broke-crazy Writer. O’ so the Raven. He was weighed down with rejection. Stone cold rejection. Henry flew with the black crow. He checked his silk tie. It was seven-forty-five time to make money and Henry was going down like that.
Henry looked for his keys and briefcase. He had to fly the black crow underground. He hung like a vampire on subway straps, reading his Washington Post and not looking at you. He was lynched again going to some goddamn job. What you want a rock song? Maybe that girl you had last night in the Jungle Bar? Edie smelled like a hot and sweet Mexican taco. In his eyes she was a game of chance. He could still taste her in his throat like a bottle of tequila as he remembered she was honey on a stick.
Henry was clean and fresh. He scanned busted dog ass faces of people going to some goddamn job. All colors in his eyes. He trembled between the Asian girl and old fart of a guy with bald head and sunglasses. All stood on the bookshelves of misery. You welcome mama. Grin and photograph a sleepy black man hanging on a modern day lynch rope to his cotton fields taken over by city buildings with little blue, white patches of sky.
Something was happening, life is hard and the newspaper tells you half-truths about crime, politics and the destruction of the soul. All rise, and got off in front of KFC. No sense being worried with the rest of the Clueless in America. He shrugged and went to his office with women taking control. He was still glad being a man today. New rules of romantic combat in the work place. Henry stared up for a thunderstorm. Women held hands with their lovers sent him over the edge. He was lonely and he needed twenty bucks to get another hit of that coke-straight He wanted to stay home and nurse a comic book but he had to get to his research gig. Military dog that he was, love letters he wanted in this real life as he went in the Cody Building and died till five.
Henry was trying to work things out as he wrote a line of poetry under Colonel Bethesda. He was getting in trouble in front of the pigeons. He wanted to forgive everybody for having to go to some fucked up J.O.B. God help the world of Pocahontas fine women from various Gargoyle warped office buildings. He was through for the day as the dying yellow sun became a dropped ball behind helium green oak trees up and over Pennsylvania Avenue. Vacuum people strolled* reeled, churned towards buses and cabs marched towards comers like new release cuts: Open your nose smell three feet away perfume of loaded women descended with briefcases down stairs of justice, bureaus of evidence, trace evidence of no man, or a husband on pain killers and a search for law suit husbands from redheads, blondes, brunettes, afros go to mulish drinking holes with no charge like search warrants beating your ass in a cage. One more chance as he closed his notebook, not yet finished his poem, his great, great unpublished poem dangled out his ass.
What’s the big deal? He waited at the corner of seventeenth and K, warm kiss blue skies and happy with his work. He couldn’t wait to get home to smoke an el primo.
In a little circle crowded circle on the corner. He huddled with other shoulders across from a frigid red light like he was at a work meeting. He saw some co-workers: Joan Avery, Steve Byrd, Kitty Brown, Big Dave and Shirley McDonald.
Henry noticed to his right an old woman with shopping cart; holding the world up like Atlas. No one greeted her; they just held their noses. Beat. She was a lost angel. He heard a strong engine. He saw a truck pile into her shopping cart. “HONNNNK! HONNNNK! truck screamed.
The bag woman feet flew back as she looked up into hazel-brown eyes of a guy with a nervous grin gently held her. She dropped in his arms. Beat. She felt weak as if she wasn’t able to breathe. Sirens. Henry just wanted to go home and smoke another el primo. He didn’t want to be part of this American pie. He shoved out through the crowd as they saw him run.
Voices chased him.
Henry melted into a street crowd. He didn’t want to be seen. He felt good, disturbed but good. She would be okay now. He missed the applause of people searching for him. He didn’t care. He was hungry in front of Indian restaurants. He passed a pizza place on 14th and K Street; Ponzi’s. Jazz music popped from swinging doors. He walked red brick cobbled sidewalks as he got closer to home. Henry just wanted a job, a woman and peace between him and his father. Maybe one day?
Metallic screeching Pennsylvanian trains shot like silver arrows over cereal box roof tops, the same kind that killed his mother one drunken night inside this fist raised world-uptown D.C. People, buses, landed by like a Charlie Parker theme song with strings. It was cool, as he went by Howard University, passed the rhapsody of students on bikes or walking or talking about classes with books under their arms. Henry was finished with all that. Henry was finished. He just wanted to smoke his el primo and chill out in his fish bowl of an apartment Man! This was great to be alive, not in jail. He stopped in the bar-b-que joint on the corner of sixth and Lessing Street Sharp butt knocking women walked, talked by the window as his corner buddies sold good dope from South America and all he had to do was wave goodbye. Bobby’s joint smelled saucy, aromatic salt, peppers, hot, spicy southern tones of men and women eating there dinner of corn cob, collards, ribs* sandwiches, chicken, grits^ black eye peas, chitterlings on the side. And don-‘t forget the pork chops. He walked in, people knew him and nodded, he walked up to the counter and smelled it all in. ” Henry,” Martha said, “barbeque sandwich…two?*
” Thanks.” He watched the basketball game over the counter. It was May with cherry blossoms. He watched the uproar by a beautiful brave heart reporter about a life being saved today. He didn’t pay any attention, watched a peach-pie woman come in. She was shaped like an open bottle of coca cola, long legged and radiant. She was a Washington, D.C. cherry blossom.
She came up beside him by the counter.
“I’ll have a rib dinner, to go.”
“Make that two.”
“Hi!” Henry said, he let her get closer to the counter.
She looked at him; he was a few inches taller. His demeanor was studious, teacher or professor? He was cute, with gold-button blue sport coat, white shirt, unloosened neck-tie, grey slacks and tasseled loafers,” Hi, just getting off work?”
“Yeah, that’s all of us,” he said,” my names Henry.”
“Winnie, ” she smiled, “I’m hungry.”
“Hi! Winnie! me too.”
“Henry, I’m going to sit down,” she motioned to a table.
“Okay,” he followed her. She sat at the large front window behind the logo ‘BOBBY’S RIB HOUSE’. It faced the corner where blue and green street busses let people off.
The joint smelled like sweet peppers from her mother’s garden in Louisiana. Brown sparrows sounded like Ray Charles songs. Henry liked her style. She was nice in a blue suit, white blouse, black pumps, leather briefcase, short bang hair. Lawyer? All business in the middle of rush hour. He watched her people shopped at stores, kids ran, police sirens whisked by.
She pointed up at the television.” I wonder who is this hero they talking about?.”
Winnie smiled at him, smiling at her. A man she just discovered checked her out over plates of good smells,” The guy who saved an old lady?”
” I need you to save me.”
” Silly,” she rolled her eyes.
” You have pretty eyes,” he touched her hand.
” Henry, is that line going to get me in your bed?**
” No, but it might get you to come and have dinner with me at my place,” he pulled his ear,” I live round the comer.”
Winnie stared into his soft brown eyes. He didn’t threaten her with that nice mustache. Past problems with men she was under control. She smiled; it could only lead to something good with this guy who needed her to live, to fly with those Ray Charles birds singing some kind of Georgia on my mine song. He was nice; he didn’t pay attention to the t v., only her. He lived around the corner, and around the coiner she left with him and their food.
She liked his one bedroom: It had green plants in the window, large fichus in the right corner under ceiling rack lights. Zebra covered seven foot sofa. A small dining room bamboo table towards the left by the kitchen, African statues on the coffee table with a giant picture of a farmhouse, fields of people He was broader than an average bachelor. Winnie licked her fingers around bookcases, stereo as she sat and ate her food with him. He turned on some music from his stereo as it was getting late and the golden sun from the blinds helped its way in the rooms of blue painted walls. She settled in, kicked her heels off and listened to him talk about his family or his job as a government cookie cutter technocrat
She talked about her career and he talked about his job. Really. His general polices as he licked his fingers about black poverty, black hunger and improving the prosperity of a complex slave world that he couldn’t fix. She recognized his comments were funny. He was funny, and he poured her more wine. She wasn’t going to give him none as she sucked her. thumb and talked about her high class secretary’s job at the Department of Navy.
” You are someone I would like to take out sometimes,” he said.
” We’ll see, but take me home.”
“ Let me get my car keys,” he asked her, ” kiss?”
“Okay, be gentle,” she unfolded her arms. He kissed her slow, waxed his lips slightly touched. She revealed tenderness, as he slightly touched her arms.
She liked him, she bought him closer.
“Thank you,” he smiled.
Henry got his car keys out a coffee can in the kitchen, “Ready.” She took his hand and walked her out his apartment Henry wanted to show her a strong brother. He wasn’t physically big, but a man who wasn’t a drug dealer, a cat who has never been to jail. He drove fast, but tailed off when he got too close to other drivers. If he did get close, he would back off carefully. He looked in the rearview of crawling darkness as night seeped ovenhim and his black Volkswagen.
Winnie touched his hand as he handled the clutch. She was tired. She smiled and stared at him at the red light She didn’t him to know yet, he was just right Not dangerous like she thought, but still a mystery, still a man who had secrets. A quiet man. It would take a while before he opened up to her, but until than she would keep her legs closed and only tell him the good parts about her. She smiled; he bit his fingernail. He wasn’t slick. He was classy. A square who wanted to be John Wayne like a lot of men. “ You nervous?”
“Always on a first date.”
“This is not a first date , this is a get to know you meeting over a chicken platter.”
“I ‘m falling in love with you,” he smiled.
She quietly watched through the car windows of night stars falling from earth. She met a nice guy, less nervous now. He carried himself like a man. Maybe he was an ex-soldier? He dressed nice. She made the right decision to go with him.
Car radio news…
“Ms. FAIRCHILD OF FAIRCHILD INDUSTRIES WAS SAVED TODAY BY A STRANGER…WHOEVER THIS STRANGER IS? THERE IS A HEFTY REWARD FOR HIM…
“I wonder who he is?” Winnie asked.
” Sure not Henry Applewhite,” he laughed.
She directed him to the third apartment building on Lloyd Street.
“You going to call me?”
” I’ll call you, ” he kissed her cheek on her cheek, he got her door.
Henry watched her go inside apartment lobby. He scratched his head as he drove around street corners; excited, but worried as he passed well lighted ma and pop stores showed trails of moon dust towards urban nativity street scenes with little junkie shepherd boys. He went down Upshur Avenue and took a right on 13th. His mother dead, father still alive with a young girl and new family, some aunts and some cousins left around. One uncle still around .like a fruit loop. He shrugged at the white quarter moon over top the Beacon Hill Apartments. He had bills, should he collect his award… will his quiet world be shattered if he showed his face? He liked living under the covers as a patriotic act of human feces.
He steered right on Meredith Street with tortured thoughts, parked his car in back of his building and sleep tonight as a government blue blood. He said his prayers…
Now, I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep…
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take…
Thursday afternoon after work. Henry stood in his kitchen drinking a beer, thinking about his heroism and coming out from his closet typewriter. He listened to some Coltrane. He played like it was going to be a blood bath and no boxing gloves, his phone rang. His cousin, Mike was in the same building. Two floors down. He came up with a sweet potato gal. She had on a long brown jacket, black mini skirt, raised big tits that burned through a white cashmere v neck sweater. With5 brown cat eyes like she was sleepy, but she was hot like an Arizona wind. They hugged. Mike his favorite cousin, he was taller; and Henry really liked him. He was wise and like a tattoo on his life. They grew up together around D.C, They went out drinking and dancing around the Jeffersonian town. But it was Tuesday night and Henry couldn’t go out to forget about winning an award and moving around and chilling and having people with a lot of guts asking him for attention, money or his blood.
“Henry let me introduce you.to Kelly.” .
“Hey, Kelly,” Henry nodded, “having a beer, getting ready to smoke an el primo.”
Mike pulled out a joint from his shirt pocket.
“Okay…” Henry got the matches, Kelly was on the couch, watched his tiny color t.v. and faced north like a Kansas jay hawk.
” Hey! man, who was that girl I saw you with?” Mike crossed his arms, leaned on the refrigerator. He glared at him like he had caught something nice to prepare himself for. ‘
“Winnie,” smoke was getting him to slow down his thinking-mellowed jazz in the apartment as trumpet came in peace. He passed him the joint” Nice.”
“Minnie?” he handed him marijuana cigarette.
Henry shook his head, “Winnie.”
“How you like it?’”
“Good.” he handed it to him. He watched him puff as if he was going to suck up the whole goddamn planet in his lungs.
“Yeah! like us!”
He slapped him five.
Henry held the power of the weed down his throat. The room spun, and he wanted to cry and sing about all the shit in his life.
“You okay Henry?” Mike took the joint.
“Just tired,” he moved to the living room where the girl was, “I see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow, ” Mike handed him the joint.
“Mike, thanks^” he opened the door.
“Come on baby, my cousin got to get up in the morning.”
“We all do,” Henry scratched his head.
“Okay! bye! Henry!” Mike asked his girl. “hungry baby?”
“What you want?”
“I got a taste for some chicken,” she snuggled against him, “I think Mister Wings is still open.”
“Night cuz! Okay! baby!” Mike winked, closed the door.
Wednesday morning a diamond sun opened his eyes. Henry stretched from his six o’ clock dreams, his yawn mixed with thoughts of cream and sugar in his coffee. He liked his peace, his silence with his thoughts. His thoughts. Not being bothered, uncomplicated and less than his medical deductible. He made his bed, went to the bathroom and took a teaspoon of olive oil. Sneezed, wrapped his red and gold tie through his button-downed collar Mirror. He reminded himself of his father of course he didn’t want to be like him. Not on speaking terms, never a day he didn’t think about him thought . Henry and him were close when he was a little boy. Memories. Big Bill used to take them to McDonald’s every Saturday evening, his sister and his mother.
His mama Sweet Betty Applewhite died of bad judgment and a taste for bad men. She died of pneumonia and Henry died in that grave with her, probably his father did too. But Big Bill had to go to jail for seven years. It killed his mother. Big Bill killed her old boyfriend. It was a Bob Dale. Nigger already had two wives. What he want with his mama? After that he kind of lost him, especially after Henry and his sister went off to college. He turned the television on and watched WDDC.
Time for tanned, muscle face, Nordic newscaster in a grey two-button suit gives his news update…
“There was a shooting at Mister Wings Restaurant last night. Police apprehended the suspect, but sadly three people died in the shoot-out before it was all over…”
“Damn!” Henry got his cup, “welcome to the real world.” He shook his head, reached and flipped through his Time magazine. He read an article on the mysteries of the Supreme Court He smiled at the fart face old men scratching themselves under their robes. “These old guys are mil of shit,” than his phone rang. He snatched it off the kitchen wall.
“Henry this is your Aunt Beth,” she asked, “did you see the news?” She was sitting in her cushy rocking chair, her round upright body shook as she scrunched tissue in her fist.
“Mike was killed at that restaurant.”
“Killed!” his chest became heavy as the phone got hot in his hands. He fell against the wall, to his knees. He dropped the phone in his hand. ” Nooo! Noooo! Nooooo!” he screamed.
“Yes, baby, yes! Henry, he was killed in that chicken restaurant robbery.” Her right leg shook, “Henry come over to grandma’s house for the wake.” She clutched the phone.”
” Okay aunt Beth, okay,” he swiped his eyes,” bye!” He hung up. The sorrow in him was terrible. He wanted to die too. He wanted to die with all the sorrows of the world; He didn’t want to be on this earth anymore as he slapped his tears. He called his job,” Good morning, Mrs. Bent.. .this is Mister Applewhite,” tell Mrs. Carlton I won’t be in work today. I got death in my… in my family.” Henry ached like an enemy tore him apart. He felt like he was robbed, he was lost-screwed as his cousin was gone.
He tried to concentrate on her voice,” I am sorry Henry, I’ll tell her.” He hung up, wiped his eyes, looked around and fell on his bed before he could see his family. He was weak, tired and didn’t understand why? He recalled; rushed to the cookie jar on the table as he slapped his eyes. He examined the moon smiling porcelain face of the jar. It was a nice piece of craftsmanship he used to hide money, or memories of his life. He opened the jar top, sat down at the table and pulled papers, money, drug paraphernalia and photos of him, Mike, Eddie, Roy, Jerry, Duck, and Boo Peters. One photo had them sitting under a giant honeysuckle tree. Year end, they would go to a summer picnic in Rock Creek Park or one picture of them hugging up on midnight. women at a New Year’s Eve party. He wasn’t satisfied “Why Mike?” He smiled, filtered his fingers over the photos of Mike and him tussling in the snow, leaning on a hilly lawn at a barbeque, sold the lives, footloose. It was about time they owned the sun, the whole fuckm* world. Two cousins grew up together like a Kenny Logan’s song.
They were black crows pecking the flesh of the earth with respect and a low legacy of old pictures and smart afros; them sitting with their grandma
Two bookends in the business of growing up together, eating up the world. Not knowing, not knowing before they moved on to their own worlds like music not fitting in. Just working, going into the world and playing with it like a ball of yawn. Play right, play hard. They were heavy into everything from 1966 to 1968. Jazz man, jazz. He thought about * it and remembered Mike falling drunk asleep in a hot club, how he had to get him out before some pretty woman picked his pocket Mike saved him one time when he was stuck in the snow in Detroit with some voodoo woman, got him the money to get him out of the icy fingers of her love. “Why Mike?” Damn, he wished jie was there to save him one more time. ..one more time. Henry started to write a poem on a piece of paper to Mike, he wanted him to know
that he understood him, he walked with him as they were like tight roots from the God’s
Henry folded the poem, stuck it in the cookie jar. He was hurt and mad, ripped off his
tie like it was all the possessions he had and he didn’t give a shit anymore.
Ivy vines branched around his grandmother’s house as he parked his car on a street of dwarf chestnut oak trees. It was a quiet street of proud black folks, a street he grew up on, now he had to come back for a funeral.
Henry kissed his little cousins playing. Catch me and tag the kid in the chest when you run out of time. Down you go. He smiled, and went inside the house that tackled his heart Go deep as he looked to his left in the living room
white French doors. He reached down and squeezed his aunt Beth like a ball of love.
” Hi, baby,” she said,” you okay?”
” I’m fine aunt Beth,” he hugged her,” he’s still with us, he’s with us,” tears fell. He didn’t want them too. He went and hugged his sister tight, his cousin Sheila, his cousin Debbie, his cousin Mark, Tim, Russ and cousin Kirk, his friends Sharon, Jackie, Teddy, Riley the green sisters, Jackie Harris, Ronnie and Uncle Drew and more. They were all their with his Uncle who was gray like the clouds in the house a tragedy like this made everybody older, physically hurt Mike was a handsome, nice guy with always a twinkle in his eye as if he had a smile for you or anyone. He was a couple of years older like a ship floating. This was too much; his cousin His sister gave him a glass of wine.
“Henry how you holding up?”
“I’m okay sis,” he sat down on the silk red and gold sofa under a giant fleur de leis gold. frame mirror. The room of apples and nice perfume from well-dressed folks bringing in food amongst the house plants and big picture window looking out on the cobbled streets where they all grew up and lost and found each other. Henry sighed, hugged his sister. He rocked her like they were kids all over again. Tears nodded around as other friends of the family, neighbors bought flowers and condolences over. No music. Cake, chicken, salads spread across the table in the dining room of pictures, friends talked quietly with steadied approaches to Aunt Betty as she kept her feet up on a stool. Old friends came over to the house. Sun drowned them in the living room on such a terrible day. Henry saw his old girlfriend. Wait. He watched his true love come in the house. Barbara Rainey graced the room she came over to him with a hug. Friends we could never love enough. And sadly they could never be together. She was afraid of him, afraid of his power over her.
“Barbara, how you been?”
u Okay,” she hugged him,” you?” It was difficult for her to see him. Henry was so handsome. No regrets from the young man she left when they were sixteen. She didn’t want him. She didn’t want his baby. She would have to give him everything. Barbara missed him. She wanted Henry to hold her. She was too afraid, because his love would drown her and she couldn’t swim.
“Let’s go outside.”
“Okay!” she hugged a few more friends of the family.
They went out front by the fence, as his little cousins were still playing on the streets playing hopscotch. Sparrows plucked crumbs, the garden was filled with sunflowers that made her look even more beautiful with her dark eyes, her African-Indian hair, her yellow skin in her blue dress that was tight in the top, and flowery loose down the bottom. She was still a wonder to behold and he could never look at her in the. eyes, because he would simply become lost
” We always meet at a funerals.”
She swung on the fence.” Remember this fence?”
” I remember us swinging on it at night…we had fun.”
He moved the fence with his knee, ” Yeah fun…you married yet?”
“Do you see my husband idiot?”
” When are we going to get serious?”
” You,” Henry got closer, held her.” You not ready yet”
” I’m not?” she laughed and swung herself off the fence.
“More like you, not ready yet.”
She gave him her phone number,” When you get serious.”
He bawled the number. He kissed her. She hugged him like good medicine for her as tears came up from heir stomach and eyes.
” I’m glad you came,” he said.
” Me too,” she stepped back, sniffed over this mess with Mike and meeting him over their, life that they could never decide like an old item that would take care of itself
” You okay?” he thumb tears from her big brown eyes.
” I’m okay,” she slapped her cheeks.
” Take a walk around the block with me,” he took her hand, lifted it over little girl cousins skipping rope and counting all the way to ten.” I want to see what new families have come in the neighborhood.”
“I missed the place.”
Barbara wiped her eyes, “I do too.” She hugged him, laughed as they took a little walk to clear the air, and their own imperfect lives as she knew that after this day they wouldn’t see each other again for a while. It was how it was, and how it was meant to be as they listened to cars, busses and birds sound off in a blue and pink morning.
Sunshine followed them from corner street lamp posts under electrical wires. Brick colored houses slapped tight with short step stoops and small gardens in a small-big city that exploded worlds; you could see the dome of the D.C capitol from backyards to help you live a better life. They went across the street, made a right on M Street towards grocery stores that . use to have the names of Abe’s, Nathan’s, Hymies, or Goldberg’s grocer. What’s the gag, it happened one evening when King died. Punch line, get the joke—Henry thought we were all black Jews now, as they laughed back to Ramparts Street
Sunshine bloomed into a red onion as angel shaped clouds drifted over children playing in front of their houses. A car blew his horn at her. Yes! she was all that. Henry held Barbara’s hand as if they were children but filled up with the sadness and a good place in their heart for a friend. Handcuffed to the past when they all chased each other around the big old oak tree. They played cowboys and Indians on small comer streets that swallowed them and spit them out to become strong tree trunks except for some like his cousin and we keep dying too young. When Henry entered the house with Barbara he saw his father by the chimney mantle beside his aunt Rose. With a short scotch in his hand; he had on denim overalls and the smell of dust, smudged red mud across his chest, and canvas work boots on—a dusty hard working man with arms the size of cedars. He was still at work with the gloss of 1-95 highway construction site in his concrete face. Henry hugged him up.
Big Bill hugged him, “How you doing son?”
” Okay,” Henry nodded,” I see you on the job.” He could smell the drunk coming up in his father’s skin.
Aunt Beth fanned herself in Uncle Joe’s arms, he rocked her steady to Mahalia songs in the angels flapping wings.
” I came through after I heard the news, ” he winked at Miss Rolle who still lived across the street.
” Where’s Miss T?” Henry asked this out of respect.
” My wife had to go to work tonight at the hospital, Henry she wanted me to tell you, hello.” Bill went around and shook old friends” Son, you need some money?
” Pop I’m okay, give Pat some money. I’m working for the Energy Department.”
Pat kissed her father and her brother. “Hi! Dad.”
“Hi! Honey, how is law school?”
“Fine dad,” she hugged him, “make sure you make it to my graduation.”
“I will baby.”
“I’ll tell Miss T,” she winked over at Henry, “and what my brother been doing?” She noticed him entranced with his old girlfriend, “same thing.”
Henry watched Barbara standing with her sister Diane in the vestibule. They whispered. Time would never be right for them. Memories of swinging on the fence together would die as a memory. Life made him a fool and he would figure it out one day. With her or without her. Time would never go back for him. He watched his aunts and cousins crying, hugging each other as the church nurse got smelling sauce out.
Henry felt alone. He reflected on the death of his mother when he was a little boy. Nobody could help him, he had to pull himself through it alone. Alone.
Henry watched his father Big Bill kissed and hugged all the sad beautiful women. Henry mother was a woman who was too sweet and loved too much. Love can kill. A woman who had a touch for the drink, his son barely touched the stuff. He looked like him with a wide spread buffalo nose and deep dish brown eyes that said; give me the world, give me the world now. Henry was strong and would never give up, never quit through all the shit coming his way. ” Have a drink with me.”
” Okay Pop,” he got a beer and stood with him.
“How you been dad?”
“Great, got to have my prostate checked.”
“Get it checked.”
“Yes, Mr. Applewhite,” he laughed.
“You held up well, since…”
“Okay! dad! cut! I know what you mean.”
Henry watched over the mourners like angels on high. He smiled through tears, hugged friends, laughed at Mike’s yesterday’s jokes, kissed old friends to be here or send flowers for a sad song.
Reverend Peters was a worldly man with a voice like a boom box and wind. He came to give prayer, solace to the family and calmed things down as they each must go towards the light alone. He wiped his face with a handkerchief, waved his hand like a poster child for God.
uOle’ lord help this family to get through this trial of losing a good man, a good son because these times will always be rough, will always be rocky…we just have to stand together with you lord! And see it through! Ride it! Swim it! through better times with you ole’ Lord here on this earth, Amen!”
Aunt Ester waved a church fan over Aunt Betty’s face . The Reverend dabbed his brow and’ sipped a cold glass of lemonade after his prayer. His father left after this. He slipped Henry some money. Big Bill left in his black Ford pick-up and drove off as if he won the battle of love between the both of them. In the midst of baked macaroni, potato salad, pork chops, salad, apple pie, fried chicken, smoked neck bones and collards filled up his belly. Tearful friends of the family continued to visit in the house of the black crow. Henry saw from the comer of his eye inside the living room a familiar face and long wild white hair of a woman approached his Aunt Betty. They hugged and cried.
It didn’t make any sense? He stood alone and sipped his punch, caught a glimpse of this woman generate a hug of kindness from his aunt sitting with her feet propped up. She wore a long pleated blue dress of white lace collars, pearls, silver white hair, big beautiful watery blue eyes. She was in her eighties . She glanced up and stared at him through the crowd, “You!” Henry couldn’t believe it. He almost couldn’t believe it wasn’t some crazy dream; his aunt was a maid in many white folks home. Miss Fairchild was one of them. Henry cringed. “I’m the one.” He listened as the room of family and friends stared at the old woman’s gold tip cane at his chest.
‘Miss Fairchild this is my nephew Henry,” Aunt Beth said.
“Henry, come here.” Miss Fairchild smiled.
“Yes, mam.” She hugged him. Henry thought she smelled like summer flowers. He hugged her around her body frozen in time.
“Thank you Henry Applewhite,” she felt so good that she had found him.
Henry felt many pats on his back in the middle of a black and white sea.