Read Reckless Eyeballing Online

Authors: Ishmael Reed

Reckless Eyeballing (6 page)

9

When the three men entered the small stadium, the students were already there. This surprised Minsk because, though he had seen many cars parked in the parking lots, he hadn't seen any people, nor had he heard anybody while entering the stadium. The five hundred or so spectators sat in one section of the small stadium. The other sections were dark. The men wore suits and ties and the women wore white dresses. He looked around and all he could think about were the models on the boxes of soap, with their confident grins. He felt the energy of their eyes upon him so intensely that he nearly stumbled and had to be aided by Watson and Rhodes as they started down one of the aisles and toward the front row. In front of their seats a red, white, and blue banner had been hung, and at the far end of the stadium there stood a large white cross that was blinking yellow from the lightbulbs. Rhodes and Watson sat next to him. He looked about at the crowd, and they were all looking at him. He could see their faces behind the candles that each had lit. He asked for a program and was told that there was none.

“In keeping with tradition, nothing about the ceremony should be written down,” Watson said.

“Ceremony? I thought you said it was a play.”

“Semantics,” Rhodes said and glanced at Minsk. Minsk didn't like the look.

The performance space was shaped like a ring. A man dressed like Count Dracula with his caped arm in front of his face stood at the center. This had to be some kind of joke, but nobody laughed. Dracula said, in a thick Romanian accent, “Blood. I've been vagabonding all over Europe pursuing my tastes. I'm tired of the blood of infidels. It doesn't have that tartness, that sizzle you have in Christian blood. Christian blood tastes carbonated, like cherry cola. I think that I'm going to shrivel up into dust if I don't get some soon.” Another spotlight is cast upon a woman in a negligee lying on top of an oversized bed. Her arm dangles over the side. One hand holds a long-stemmed rose. A canopy hangs over the bed. “Ah, there,” the actor playing Dracula says. “At last. I'll get a good day's sleep tomorrow.” The count begins to creep toward the bed where the sleeping maiden is lying, her blond hair spread to each side of her head. As he bends down and is about to sink his fangs into the maiden's throat, she bolts.

“Get thee back, Jew, in the name of him whose precious blood was shed on Calvary.” The students in the stadium affirmed her pleas with hallelujahs and a-mens. Minsk saw some of them, behind the candles, their eyes rolling about. Others raised their hands. It was at that point in “the play” that he began to examine his options for escape. The actress playing the Christian maiden was still carrying on, spilling out her words of Jew-loathing curses as the vampire began to sink, his eyes protuberant. The audience applauded as the performance area began to turn dark again, with only the outlines of the prop people setting up the next scene to be seen.

“What was the point of all of that—why did you bring me down here to see this anti-Semitic filth?” Minsk protested, only to be silenced by Watson, sitting next to him. In the next scene a caricature of a medieval Jew in a long, black robe and cap creeps onto the set, whose only prop is a wall from which hangs a picture of Madonna and child. The Jew looks both ways, plucks the painting from the wall with his long, sinister-looking fingers, and then hides it under his robe. At that point, a couple of bearded guys in urban cowboy clothes and good old boy caps come running into the area. They snatch the painting, and one of the good old boys twists the Jew's wrist, forcing him onto his knees. He slaps him.

“Don't put that evil eye on me, Jew,” he says as he beats the actor playing the Jew. This delights the crowd. One of the good old boys begins to push a ham sandwich down the Jew's mouth and laughs as he gags. Another one hoses down the Jew. “How'd you like a little baptism, you kike?” he says, laughing.

“Look, I don't want to stay here and watch this shit. Take me back to the airport.” But when Jim rose he felt something hard poking at his ribs. Rhodes had a pistol.

“Sit back down, you son of a bitch. You'll miss the best part.” From the look in his eyes Minsk knew that there would be trouble ahead. There was something hurt, hateful, and wounded in Rhodes' eyes. There was fascination. The hatred had twisted his swinish face.

The only thoughts that Minsk had at that moment were about how to get out of the stadium. It had four exits that could be reached by walking up the aisle, but he didn't want to take the chance of having to run through a gauntlet of these clean Christians, who now seemed out for blood. He would have to leap over the railing in front of the seats and try to reach one of the tunnels located below the stands.

The stadium was lit again from the candles. The lights in the performance area came up. A black man in a dirty shirt and overalls stood in the spotlight. Some of the people in the audience began to weep. This must be the main part of the play, Minsk thought. He could hear his heart beat.

The character, Jim Conley, a janitor in Leo Frank's pencil factory, was being played by Michael Steepes, who'd been done up with black greasepaint and red lips. More people in the audience began to weep; as he began to speak his lines, a hush fell over the audience.

“I reckon I worked for Mr. Frank for a long time. Mr. Frank was a nice, honorable man.” (Some members of the audience hiss.) “Treated us nigras well, and wasn't as hard on us as some of the other white people I worked for, I reckon. He'd built his pencil factory into quite a business. Married high class.

“He was a real fambly man. So I thought. My mind about that was changed in a hurry. One Satiddy mo'nin' I was working. I never will forget it. I was sweeping the flo' and who should walk in but Mary Phegan. As fine a young woman as you want to meet.” (People in the audience begin to sob. A second spotlight focuses upon an actress in white ballerina outfit with bridal headdress who begins to spin out to the performance area to the accompaniment of weepy and sad strings.) “She had such a pretty face, that Mary Phegan, kind of looked like Jesus' mother must have looked when she was a little girl. Pretty hair, blue eyes. She was like a sweet little bluebird. Everything about her was sweet.” Minsk turned to Rhodes and then to Watson. They were staring at him, angrily. A woman in the audience rose, lifted her hands and screamed, “For shame, how could he. How could he have done it?” and she fainted and two women dressed as nurses rushed down the aisle to her aid. Minsk looked over his shoulder. It appeared that the whole audience was alternately staring from him to the play. He began to sweat. As soon as the ballerina disappeared, a medium-sized man with big eyes, well-groomed hair, wearing pants with a sharp crease, white and brown shoes, and a striped shirt with arm band came across the stadium toward the lighted area. He was carrying the girl in his arms. Debris began to rain down on the field. People began to shout and scream. Jim Conley, the character that Steepes was playing, turned to the man who was approaching. A soft drink can hit Minsk on the head. Rhodes turned to him. “Sorry about that.” He began to laugh. (Steepes sees the man carrying the girl, drops his broom, and rotates his eyes.)

“Mr. Frank, where you going with…Mary Phegan?”

(With considerable agitation) “Look. It was an accident. You got to help me bury…”

“She dead, Mr. Frank? She dead?” The audience was now screaming, “Death to the Jews” and “Remember Mary Phegan.” Minsk decided that it was now or never. He shot up from his seat and leaped over the railing. He began to run toward the opposite end of the field, toward one of the tunnels leading out of the stadium. He ran through the set, knocking over Steepes, the actor playing Leo Frank, and the girl that he was carrying. Steepes gave chase. Before he entered the tunnel Jim looked over his shoulder. People were rushing down the aisles and leaping over the railings. Midway through the tunnel he heard angry voices coming from the other end. He ran back into the stadium, only to see the mob heading toward him. There was a noticeable absence of brunettes among them. They were heading at him from all directions. Minsk started punching. A few of them fell but the others kept coming. He felt their hard blows upon his body until things went black. Before passing out he could hear them screaming, shrieking terrible and ugly things.

10

Ball had been drunk since he heard of Jim's death on the news. On the third day of his hangover he received a call from Becky that Jim's mutilated body had been found on some deserted road. Ian wasn't home and so she left a message on his answering service. She said that the voice on the service was “terribly annoying,” and that she wanted to meet with him to make a decision about the future of his play
Reckless Eyeballing
. He arrived at the Lord Mountbatten about five minutes before his appointment. Becky's assistant Ickey, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and beige gabardine pants, his figure showing him to be losing his private Battle of the Bulge, told him to sit down and wait. Periodically, Ickey looked up at Ball and chuckled sarcastically. After Ball waited twenty minutes, Ickey finally said that Becky would see him. Ickey escorted him into the office. There were posters on the wall advertising
Wrong-Headed Man
, with a photo depicting the rogue at the top of the stairs, pounding his chest, grinning widely while his victim, the missionary, his wife, who lay at the bottom of the steps, sprawled and weeping. The caption underneath the photo read, “She Was His Slave in Love.”

Today, Becky wore a P.O.W. haircut, khaki-colored blouse, and baggy pants. She was wearing red high heels. He thought of himself relaxing against a bedroom wall, a smile on his face, and arms supporting his head while she raised and lowered herself on his Johnson, grunting and working hard as she tried to “earn” her orgasm, as Clarence Major would write. She wore some jewelry. Turquoise bracelets (fake). She had no lips, feline eyes. He sat down.

“Terrible about Jim,” she said, studying him to get his reaction to her words. “He showed such promise.” Promise, he thought. Jim was one of the best directors on the New York scene and here was this twat saying that he had “promise,” Ian thought.

“I'm going to miss him. We were buddies,” Ian said.

“We're still trying to piece together the details of this tragedy. We tried to get in touch with the college, Mary Phegan, but the Georgia operator said that there was no such college. Would you like to have some coffee?”

“I need some,” he said. She went over to a table that stood in front of a window. Outside, old wavers, new wavers, and future wavers; writers, poets, playwrights, and tourists could be seen strolling down Avenue A.

She had her back to him. “Cream and sugar?” I'd like to cream you, Ball thought. He wanted to go up behind her, rub a stiff erection against her ass, and cup her breasts with his hands. He could imagine her closing her eyes and her tongue sliding over the part where her lips would ordinarily be, but he thought differently. She had a reputation for being difficult to bed. Some had even said that no man's panzer division had ever crossed her tight Maginot Line. She poured the contents of a white thermos into a ceramic cup that had Lord Mountbatten's heraldic shield on it. She gave him a professional smile as she handed him the coffee.

“We still plan to do your play, of course; Jim's death won't change that. I mean, we wouldn't think of scratching a play that Jim had such interest in. We'd like to make one change.”

“Change?”

“Yes,” she said, sipping from her cup and lowering her eyelids. “We think that the play still has some rough edges, and so we'd like to move it from the Lord Mountbatten to the Queen Mother.” She studied him as he formed his response. The Queen Mother didn't have good equipment. Lights were bad, the stage small, and the seats uncomfortable. There was a limited supply of dressing room space, and it seated only ninety-nine people. It didn't have the Mountbatten's prestige.

“We're going to give it a workshop, and, well, if anything comes of it, we'll perhaps—well, there might be some room at the Mountbatten next season.” He rose. He was angry.

“A workshop?” He looked down at her. He saw her finger move to the button that would summon Mr. Ickey. “But, but, Jim thought that it was a major play. Deserving of the Mountbatten. I don't get it. A workshop!”

Becky's assistant Ickey had gotten his mocking smile from her. She sighed. “Look, Jim's dead. I also don't mind telling you that I was against doing your play, originally. It read like a first draft. I was only complying with Jim's request.” Yeah, I know all about it, Ball thought. He brought in all of the grants. He wished that the Flower Phantom would get this bitch, but reproached himself for even entertaining such a thought.

“Well, how do you feel about it? Take it or leave it.”

“I guess that the Queen Mother is better than nothing.” He thought of all of the fellas who weren't even able to get that. You should be grateful, he heard his mother say.

“I'm glad that you see it our way,” she said, more relaxed now. “You know, Ian, you're pretty good. You continue to write and maybe one day you'll be as good as Tremonisha Smarts, and I might tell you that Tremonisha and I feel that you've come a long way from that misogynistic piece of drivel
Suzanna
that all of the male critics applauded.” She looked up. Her assistant was standing in the doorway. He wore a smirk. “Tremonisha is on the phone.”

“Tell her I'll call her back,” Becky said, glancing at her watch. Ball could take a hint.

“Jim said that you were thinking of doing a play about Eva Braun.” She'd returned her attention to the papers on her desk and seemed annoyed that he was still in the room. Probably liked to fuck with the man on the bottom, Ball thought. Probably masturbated to ragas.

“You say something?” She was impatient.

“Yeah. Jim said that you were considering a play about Eva Braun.”

“Oh, yes.
Eva's Honeymoon
. We're going to do it in the Mountbatten.” His mind flashed to the plump blonde who wore her hair like the 1940s Claudette Colbert. She was usually romping about that place in the mountains that Hitler built. Playing with puppies and making home movies. She was always smiling. He thought of what Brashford would say. “Shit, a white woman was married to Hitler.”

“God knows we've heard enough about what the men thought.” She stared hostilely at Ball when she said
men
. “And that little k—Jewish girl, Anne Frank, she's almost discussed in this town as much as the Rosenbergs. So now, Eva will have a chance to tell her side. How she was victimized.” This bitch is incredible, Ball thought.

“Victimized? I don't follow, Becky. I always thought that Eva Braun was a Nazi.” She jumped to her feet. She was shaking, she was so full of rage. “Just like you men! You rehabilitate the Waffen S.S. because they're men. But Eva! No, Eva's a woman! She was an innocent bystander in conflict between Jewish and German men! All of those women, victims in a war of male ego.” She took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. As she did, he thought of the newsreels showing the women crying into their handkerchiefs and squealing as Hitler's motorcade passed, their arms raised in Nazi salutes just like everybody else's. Women throwing flowers, screaming, breaking down, wanting to wrap their legs around the Führer's hips and party all night.

“Yeah. Well, I gotta be going. One thing.” He needed some air.

“What is it?” she asked, stamping a foot impatiently.

“Who's going to direct my play now that Jim's gone?”

“Tremonisha Smarts. She's read your script and will be contacting you. She said that she's having problems with some of your female characters.” Becky said all of this with her head buried in the papers.

“What?” he said. His legs felt weak.

“Tremonisha Smarts is directing your play. Now, I have a lot of work to do. I—” He turned around and walked out of the office.
She's having problems with some of your female characters
. The words, said with a mean, sarcastic smile, stayed in his mind as he stood momentarily outside her door. Soon he heard her voice behind the door. “Hello, Tremonisha. He just left.” This was followed by a triumphant laugh. Ickey looked up at him and chuckled. He looked up at the portrait of Shakespeare. Even Shakespeare seemed to be smiling, mocking him. “Nigger,” the bard seemed to be saying, “who do you think you are, trying to express yourself in English? Don't you know that English is white peoples' language?” He left the theater with Shakespeare's laughter ringing in his ears. Becky, Ickey, and Shakespeare all seemed to be laughing at him, their faces in a heavy-handed montage like in an old film. He left feeling like something that sticks to the soles of your feet and smells bad.

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