I tell you, when we finally made it to the big black Dodge and the whole ride through my thoughts were spinning madly. As it turned out yes poor Henry's fears had foundation. Solid brickwork. Mama never loved my stepfather, for all his merits he never made the slightest dent in her. This kind, wonderful man never rose above being a tool of convenience in her eyes. She went and fell in love with the snake all right, and do you know why ? Henry never made her do anything. Steve did nothing else. That's how they met, after all, he had her do his nails for him. The thing about women is they can't take men seriously that love them. Those ain't never gonna be two shits in their eyes. Only the guys that put them to work stand out in their eyes, they never fall for anyone else. I know you know better, which is to say that's what you think, anyhow. But take it from ole Bobby here, who's had his foot up more ass than you've ever seen from a distance, and up all the way to the ankle, at that. Black ass, yellow ass, pale white an' ivory ass, it dun make no difference anyhow, they're all the same. So go buy yourself a set of hoops, set them on fire, and have that bitch practicing her prance jump. Starting tonight. There ain't no other way.
Steve's plan was to cop Mama and split for the Windy. The dirty bastard sure as sugar took me for excess baggage, but the way Mama was gulping his con he figured he could get rid of me later. He was wrong, of course. Two bit hustler from Nowhere, Alabama. What did he know ? A little bit of nothing much, though only years later, after finding my place in the world, did I figure out Steve's whole plot, and how stupid he really was. Leave alone how you never wait from a strong hand to cut the barb loose : here this fool had a square broad with her own business infatuated with him, and her progressive square-john husband blindly along for the ride. Her business was getting better all the time. Her sucker husband was loveblind enough the money from his business was wide open to her. If Steve had been clever he could have stayed right there on top of things and bled a big bankroll from both his and hers over a year or two. Instead he pushed the angle that didn't need pushed and waited on the line that you don't wait on. I bet if you gave Steve some shoes to shine he'd have shined the hell out of those laces, you know ?
He could've easily pulled Mama out of there with a helluva bankroll, and then done anything with her. He could've turned her out no problem, if he knew what anything is. He could have sent her back to Tennessee to come back with her younger sisters for it to boot, I tell you she was that hot for him. She had to be insane over the asshole to walk away from all that potential with only twenty-five hundred in cash, which is what they gone and did. Steve blew it in a Georgia-skin game, which is the dumbest form of gambling game anyone ever came up with, and by a margin at that. The whole thing's betting on whether the card in front of the other guy gets matched before your own card is matched. That's all, rank and suit don't mean nothing, everything's face-up, it's a game that only exists so beginner mechanics and people too dull to sharp still have something to ply their miscraft on, like amateur night or politics. Cutting unshuffled decks' still more akin to gambling than to being idiots. It comes as no surprise then that halfass-Steve didn't know any of this as he didn't know any of fuck-all else, and so he found himself two thousand five hundred slats lighter within the week of alighting on West Harrison. That twenty-five hundred though... money's different things to different people. For the rich junkie twenty-five might be what he got from the jews for a pile of jew-elry he stole from his Momma, an hour's work of which most was driving down to pawnbroker row. For the jailhouse punk it might be a whole lot of just his kinda fun, enough to last him the year. For the chilli pimp it could be two-three weeks or so of his one nag busting her busted ass. For Steve though, it was the firesale price of two of Rockford's premier businesses, which he let go at less than two percent. Hell, poor ol' Henry'd have fetched twenty-five big-easy if the year was last century and Steve sold him down the river. He was large and strong enough to pick his price back in cotton within three years nehow.
One scene in my life I can never forget came by that morning when Mama had finished packing our clothes, while Henry lost his inner fight for his manhood. He fell down on his knees and bawled like a scalded child, pleading with Mama not to leave him, begging her to stay. He had welded his arms around her legs, his voice hoarse in anguish, as he whimpered his love for us. His eyes welled up at her as he wailed, "Please don't leave me. You are sure to kill me if you do. I ain't done nothing. If I have, forgive me." I can still see her face then as if it was right before my eyes. Cold as Winternight stars, kicking and struggling to get loose from him. Then she said with an awful grin, "Henry honey, I just want to get away for a while. Darling, we'll be back." In his state I'd say she was lucky he didn't gone killed her and me and buried us in the backyard halfway somewhere. But then again I guess she knew her customer better than I did. Only later did I find out just how many town Mommas out there back then took just this sorta break every year or two, to come back a week or two later ripe with the gift from sweet baby Jesus nine months in the wrappin'. Whole neighbourhoods were populated just this way before the second attempt at a Great War, it was how they went about things back in those days. A guy explained it to me once, he said it's all in evolutions, and it's better kids if there's a lot of dicks fencing inside the woman until she's so full it comes out at the seams and they just push each other's spunk out of her. He said that's why pricks are shaped that way, even, to push the previous guy's spunk out better.
I don't know about any of that, though for damn sure it's still what the party girls do, today just like back then, so maybe there's something to it after all. As the cab drove us away to the secret rendezvous with Steve sitting in his old Model T, I looked back at Henry on the porch, his chest heaving as tears rolled down his hopeless face. There were too many wheels within wheels, too much hurt for me to cry. After a blank time sauced in distance we found ourselves in Chicago. Steve had vanished, and Mama was telling me in a drab hotel room somewhere about the Southside that my real father was coming over to see us, and to remember that Steve's her cousin. Steve was stupid all right, but cunning in his own way, like farm animals and old-timey Niggers get. These days it's farmer whiteys doing the same stupid shit, it must be in the land somehow, the smarts of stupidity coming into them from the very earth they bother all day long, like farts from eating beans. Mama, you see, at Steve's instruction, got in contact with my original father weeks before, through a hustlin' brother of Mama's just out of the calaboose. Maybe it was Dearborn, I don't remember.
When my father came through the hotel room door reeking of cologne and dressed to kill, all I could think was what Mama had told me about that morning when this tall brown-skin joker had tossed me against the wall. They didn't talk about any of that, though. Mama was all smiles, not speaking much. He took a long look at me. It was like looking in a mirror. His deep down guilt must've puffed him, he grabbed me and squeezed me to him. I was stiff and tense in the stranger's arms, but I had looked in that same mirror too when he came in, so I strung my arms limply about his neck. When he hugged Mama, her face was toward me and stony, like back there with Henry. My father strutted about that hotel room boasting of his personal chef's job for Big Bill Thompson the mayor of Chicago. He told Mama and me, "I am a changed man now. I have saved my money and now I really have something to offer my wife and son. Won't you come back to me and try again? I am older now, and I bitterly regret my mistakes of the past."
Like a black-widow spider spinning a web around her prey, Mama put up enough resistance to make him pitch himself into a sweat, then agreed to go back to him. My original father's house was crammed with expensive furniture and chunks of gilt silver posing as art pieces. He had thousands of dollars invested in rich clothing and linens. This somehow made sense to him, though I wasn't around him for long enough to partake in the wisdom of it. After a week, my hustler uncle brought Steve to visit us, and to case the lay out. My father bought the cousin angle and broke out his best cigars and cognac for the thieves. It was another week before they took him off. At the time of course I had no idea as to what really was going on. I would learn the shocking truth only after we got to Milwaukee.
On that early evening when it happened Mama was jittery as we prepared to visit some white friends of my father. I had a wonderful time getting acquainted with the host's children, two girls around my age. It's a wonderful thing nobody knew about back then, but children were all but invisible in those days. We had a blast playing ponies together, where I rode on their backs all around, first on one, then on the other, then back again. They were falling all over themselves and each other for praise and to be prized ponies, like they do. Too soon it was time to go home, and then it was always too late to ever come back again.
In my lifetime I have seen many degrees of shock and surprise paint themselves on the human face. I have never seen on any face the traumatized disbelief that was on my father's when he unlocked the door and stepped into his freshly emptied house. His lips flapped mutely. He couldn't speak. Everything was gone. Everything. All the furniture and drapery, all the vases, bowls, statuettes, everything. From the percolator to the pictures on the wall, even my Mama's belongings. They took her underwear, her slippers, she stayed in her party dress because there was nothing to change into, and nowhere to change anyways. Wouldn't that have been a sight though, to clean the house bare except for her things. I guess Steve was lucky he had a partner with a little more experience this time, otherwise who knows.i
Mama stood there in the windy house clinging to him, comforting him, sobbing with real tears flowing down her cheeks. I guess she was crying in joy because the cross had come off so beautifully, because she was finally off the hook. Mama missed her calling. She should have been a film actress. All she needed was a bit part to turn an Oscar season into a lead-pipe cinch for her. Mama told my first and maybe real father we would go to Indianapolis and stay with friends until he could put another nest together. Can you imagine the cheek on her ? That bum of hers had nothing to say to this, no "Bitch, get on your hands and knees and make that fucking nest for me out of your god damned hair if it comes to it, strand by strand", nothing at all. She would've, too. If only he knew what to say, and when, to whom, and how.
When we got to Milwaukee by train, ninety miles away, Steve had rented a house. Every square inch of that house was filled with my father's things. Those lovely things we spent a little while crammed in with did us as little good and brought no happiness. Steve, with his newfound mania for craps, liberated us of it all within a few short weeks. He sold everything, piece by piece, and lost it in back alleys on his knees. Mama worked long hours as a short cook, which is what people do in a restaurant kitchen that can't really cook. Mama's just the sort of woman to take a maid job in a brothel. Her ministrations to her half-assed approach to life left Steve and I by our lonesome quite often. It must be sweet to always have someone else to blame. It must make life so easy. He'd say to me "You little mother-fucker, you. I'm going to beat your mother-fucking ass. I am telling you, if you don't run away, I'm going to kill you." and I always thought if he did, he'd fry for it, not her. They weren't going after the top mobsters in those days, and they're still not going after the bitches, nor I guess will they ever. They should, though. Over the years many mamas, mine and others', kept asking me when I'm gonna quit pimping, with those airs of invincible superiority they put on because nobody ever fries them no matter what so they end up figuring their farts must come up roses or something. I always told them : when they strung up the last one of your lousy kind by the guts of her dumb mother, that's when. I was right, too, though I guess I'm never gonna live to see that miracle with these two eyes. Maybe you do.
Meanwhile Steve was outright cruel to me and everything reminded him of me in any way. Mama brought me a little baby cat one day. I loved that kitten, which pushed Steve to discover he hated animals. One day the cat, being a baby cat raised by Niggers who don't know any better, did his business on the kitchen floor. Steve said, "Where is that little mother-fucker?" The little kitten hid under the sofa. He grabbed that kitten and took it downstairs where there was a concrete wall. He grabbed it by the heels. I was standing (we lived on the second floor) looking down at him; he took the kitten and beat its brains out against that wall. I remember, there was a park behind our house, concrete covered. There were some concrete steps. I sat there and I cried until I puked. All the while I kept saying like a litany, "I hate Mama! I hate Mama! I hate Mama!" And, "I hate Steve! I hate Steve! I hate him! I hate him!"
I know my lousy old man deserved what happened to his goods. Everyone ever does. I guess Mama got her revenge, must've been sweet and all that, but it was bitter for a little kid to know his Mama had her part in it. After that cross Mama just didn't seem like the same honest sweet Mama that I had prayed in church with back in Rockford and, come to think of it, no building ever seemed like a church either. I went to her grave the other day and took a piss. I go now and again to do that, maybe two dozen times all in all. That was the last time, though. I told her while I did it, I said "Mama, you were a dumb country girl when you was born, you were a dumber town mama when they buried you. What a waste of a lifetime supply of chickenfeed!" It's true, too. I sometimes think of Henry, lying rotten, forgotten in his grave. He had no close family. He had no one, and who's to blame for that ? He should've beaten her to death.
As for me, I was already playing Steve's favorite game in the alleys after school. I wasn't nearly as bad as he was, but that's because the dumb asswipe couldn't make a pass to save his life. I made out okay, a buck or two here and there, but mostly because playing with kids it's easy to avoid bad beats by welshing out of them. That's really all you need to score over time. A mother's game, too, that's all they do all day long : stay out of playing bank against others' long odds, stick to the middle range by and large, taking up the long odds against another's bank now and again, when they judge it soft enough to cry their way out of a loss if need be.
Dangerously, I was frantic to sock it into every young girl smart enough to go for it. I had to run for my life one evening, when an enraged father caught me on his back porch astraddle his daughter, whom he rightly deemed a virgin. I do believe it was not for lack of foregoing attempts, but because she was so leathery thick and hard down there, I had to cut her open later to finally do her in. That was a sight, I stuck that knife in her like gutting a fish. It was all honey and milk riding her ass from there on though, and I especially enjoyed how much she bled, and how bad she said it hurt her. She wouldn't stop though, she'd just cry and complain, but beg me to keep on at her too. It made me so crazy I couldn't spend, we were at it for hours and hours until she was so tense and taught I couldn't even move inside of her anymore. Then we passed out.
With that, the slide was greased. I was starting in earnest my long plunge to the very bottom of the grim pit they call this life.———
- This is a brilliant idea for general practice, though. Empty the place except for one room, and let them figure it out. [↩]