Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
He looked at me. His eyes were half-closed.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why do you pull on yourself?”
He held up his hand dripping with the stuff. “For this here.”
“What is it?”
He looked at the stuff on his hand and then, without looking at me, he said, “Life.” He laughed out loud. “Life,” he repeated, looking up at me, the corners of his mouth curled slightly up. He pushed his messy hand toward me: an offer.
I ran all the way home. When I walked into my bedroom, Martin was pacing around, sniffing.
“Come in here,” he said. “Tell me if you smell something.”
I inhaled deeply. “No,” I lied to him.
“You didn't even breathe.”
“I did, too. I just don't smell anything. Maybe it's your lip.”
Martin shook his head and left the room.
I pulled the hatbox from beneath my bed and looked inside at my birds. There were a few maggots moving around. I sneaked the box down into the garage and hid it behind a couple of tires in the corner.
So, I'm sitting in the living room and Thelma is beside me on the sofa and Peter's on the floor with his toy truck, even though it's past his bedtime, and neither of them has got much to say to me. The doorbell rings and I get up and let David in.
“Uncle David,” says Peter, running to David.
David picks Peter up and says, “How you doing, pal?” David looks at Thelma. “Hi, Thelma.”
“Hello, David.” Thelma's voice sounds far off and she barely looks at him.
“I'll get you a beer,” I says and I go into the kitchen and come back with two beers. “So, who won?”
“We did, eight-one.”
We sit down in front of the television and watch the late news.
“I was thinking,” says David. “Maybe you should go to the country for a while. That's what I'd do if I had a vacation.”
Thelma's and Peter's eyes turn on me. “Look,” I says, “it's time for the sports.”
On the television the fella runs off some scores and mentions cliff-diving in Mexico and then he says, “A representative of the Mariners said today that the team will play the New York Yankees tomorrow without the services of third baseman Craig Suder, who has been put on the Disabled List. He added that Suder may be out for an extended period. He said that Suder's pulled hamstring muscle needs complete rest.”
My son turns and looks at me and then he gets up and goes to his room.
“I should be going,” David says and stands up.
I see David out and I turn from the door to face Thelma.
“Why didn't you tell me?” she wants to know. “I thought you just had tonight off.”
“I just found out when I got to the park.”
“What does it mean?”
“Nothing. They just want me to rest and get my head together, is all.”
She looks at me and then she walks away and into the bedroom. I take to looking through the records and I find a Charlie Parker album and it's got a song on it called “Ornithology” that I remember liking. So, I put this record on and turn up the volume. I listen to this one song maybe a dozen times. I can't get enough of it. I can't get past it and I'm really getting caught up in the saxophone solo and I get excited and decide to tackle Thelma.
I undress and I'm waiting for her to come out of the bathroom. She comes out and sees me naked with an erection and she smiles and walks over to me. She puts her hand on it and just like that, just like somebody turns a valve, I go limp. She throws my pecker down against my thigh and climbs aboard her exerciser and rides off.
Martin and I were out in the yard. Daddy pushed his head out of a window of his office and asked us to come in. Daddy's office was next door to our house. We walked inside and found Daddy standing beside a sorta heavy fella.
“Boys,” Daddy said, “this is Bud Powell.”
I didn't know who he was. I just looked up at his smiling face. I liked his face.
“Bud Powell, the piano player,” Daddy said. “The famous piano player.”
I didn't know who he was, but if Daddy said he was famous, then he was special.
“Hello, Mr. Powell,” Martin said.
Mr. Powell nodded a hello and smiled again.
I didn't say anything. I was staring at him with wide-open eyes.
Bud Powell laughed really loud and grabbed my hair and pulled my head back. He looked at my face and said, “You remind me of Bird.”
I moved my eyes to Daddy. Mr. Powell was still holding me by the hair.
“Charlie Parker,” Daddy said to me.
I didn't know this name either, but I liked that he'd said I looked like Bird.
“Mr. Powell is playing over at Fort Bragg,” Daddy said.
“You're not sick?” I asked. He was still holding my head back.
“Naw, I'm okay,” he said.
“Mr. Powell,” Daddy said.
“Okay, Bud.” Daddy smiled. “We're going fishing tomorrow morning and I was wondering if you'd like to join us.”
“Aw, gee,” said Mr. Powell. “Thanks a lot for the offer, Doc, but we're leaving early in the morning for a gig up in New Jersey.”
“Well, maybe next time,” Daddy said. “Why don't you boys run on along.”
Mr. Powell let go of my hair and Martin and I went back into the yard.
“I like him,” I said to Martin, looking back at Daddy's office.
Martin didn't say anything. He just started off.
“Where are you going?” I asked, following him.
“I'm going to shoot sparrows.”
I stopped. I didn't go with him.
The next morning the bell rang and Ma jogged to the door and opened it. It was Mr. Powell and he was confused to see my mother wearing a heavy coat, running in place.
“Who are you?” Ma asked.
“Mr. Powell,” I said, running to the door.
“Mrs. Suder,” he greeted Ma.
“Come in,” Ma said. “Ben!” she called Daddy.
“Hey there, Bird,” Mr. Powell said to me.
“Bud,” said Daddy, walking into the room.
“Hey there, Doc. I decided to take you up on the fishing.”
Daddy rowed the boat out into the middle of the river. With the four of us it was a tight fit. The sun was strong and the mosquitoes were thick. Mr. Powell seemed real happy to be with us. Daddy and Mr. Powell were sitting at either end of the boat.
“This is my special spot,” Daddy said. “I can guarantee you the big ones.”
Mr. Powell laughed. “All right, Doc.” He looked at me. “I can't get over how much you look like Bird. Round the eyes. Round the eyes.” He grabbed my face and tilted it from side to side, looking. “The mouth, too. Doc, your boy got lips like Bird.”
I put my finger to my mouth and traced the outline of my lips. He let go of my face.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked Mr. Powell.
Martin and I looked at him.
“What about you, Marvin?”
Mr. Powell nodded.
“I want to be a dentist.”
Mr. Powell was silent for a second as he looked out over the water. “What about you, Bird?”
“A ballplayer, I guess. Baseball.”
“No, you should go into music. You should pick up the saxophone. You've got the lips for it. Lips just like Bird.”
I looked at Daddy and saw him smiling at me. He was sliding his hook through a nightcrawler. “Maybe you should think about that, Craig,” Daddy said. “About taking up the saxophone.” Daddy dropped his line in.
“Why was your wife wearing that coat, Doc?” Mr. Powell slapped a mosquito on his neck.
Daddy sighed and then he looked at Mr. Powell. “Well, Bud, I'll tell you. She's crazy.”
Mr. Powell laughed and then he stopped. He just watched as Daddy attended to his line.
“What you got, Daddy?” Martin asked.
Daddy pulled in a catfish. “I told you this was a great spot,” Daddy said.
A few minutes later Mr. Powell snagged something. His line got tight and he started pulling and reeling. “Jesus,” he said. The tip of his pole curved around to point toward the water.
“What you got there?” Daddy asked.
“I don't know,” Mr. Powell said, “but it don't seem like no catfish.” He pulled the line in and at the end of it was a sack.
Martin reached over and grabbed the line. He pulled the sack out of the water, over the edge, and into the boat.
“No,” said Mr. Powell, “don't open it. Don't open it.” He sat up straight and frowned.
Martin stopped and looked at Mr. Powell. “Don't open it?”
“Don't open it,” Mr. Powell repeated.
Martin hesitated, then he grabbed the sack and dumped what was inside onto the bottom of the boat. It was kittens, little kittens, little, wet, dead, decomposed kittens. And a rock.
“Damn,” said Mr. Powell, turning his head.
“I didn't know what was in there,” Martin said, anticipating a reaction from Daddy.
“Just put them in the sack and toss it back in the water,” Daddy said.
“With my hands?” Martin whined.
“You dumped them out.” Daddy raised his eyebrows.
Martin pushed the kittens back into the sack, and also the rock. Then he dropped the sack over the side. Martin put his hands into the water and rubbed them together.
Not too much was said about the kittens. As the morning passed, Daddy caught a few more fish, Martin caught one, and I pulled in two, but Mr. Powell didn't catch a single one.
“Well, damn,” said Mr. Powell. “I must be doing something wrong or else you fellas are fishing with cheese.” Just then his line went tight.
“You've got one, Mr. Powell,” I said, standing up. I was excited for him. Daddy pulled me down.
“Look at the size of that thing,” Mr. Powell said. Then his line snapped and the pole flew back like a whip. Mr. Powell looked quickly at me and then stepped out of the boat into the water.
Daddy stood up. “Bud!”
The water came up to Mr. Powell's chest. He was searching around with his hands for the fish. He put his hands, palms down, on the surface of the water and looked around. “Damn,” he said. “Damn.”
The next night I ask Peter if he wants to go to the game with me and he shakes his head and I go alone. I sit in the stands behind our dugout and watch the game. I watch third baseman Manny Ortega initiate a double play and hit a double and clobber a lazy change-up over the right-field fence. I just sorta scratch my head and start feeling uneasy. The Yankees get beat.
After the game, Lou Tyler comes over and spits some tobacco juice and asks if I want to ride home with him.
“I've got my car,” I tell him.
“But I ain't got mine.”
So, after he changes, we go get into my car, but he don't want to go straight home. “Just where do you want to go?” I ask.
“Find a nice little country road. Get out of town.”
We drive off and he pushes a cigar into his face and starts asking me how things are at home. I tell him that everything at home is just fine.
“How's your boy?” He blows some smoke out and then spits out the window.
“David tells me things are sorta tense around your house.”
“Things are fine.” We're out of the city pretty much by now. There are houses, but less lights. “How far out you want to go?”
He sits quietly for a while, gnawing on his cigar. “You know, I really hate that Dome.”
“Yeah? Why is that?”
“I don't know. It's big. It's ugly. It ain't a ball park. You know what I mean?”
“It just ain't a ball park. Stop the car!” he shouts and he's excited and he's pointing over to the left side of the highway.
I stop the car. “What is it?”
He's out of the car and across the road and I'm out and after him. “Great,” he says. “Terrific.” He's looking down at a dog that's been run over. He bends over and looks at the dog real close. “Good shape.”
“What are you talking about?”
He's down and picking up this German shepherd dog. “Well, help me,” he says. “This ain't no little dog.”
“What do you want with this dog?”
“I want to stuff it. Now, help me put it in the car.”
“I don't see another one. Come on, grab the back legs.”
I bend over and take the back legs in my hands. I look at all the blood and guts running out of the dog's middle and I feel a little sick. The dog's head is hanging loose next to Lou's leg and we walk across the road to the car.
“You want to put him in the back seat or the trunk?” Lou asks.
“I don't want to put it in at all.”
“We better put it in the trunkâmight smell a little.” We put the dog in the trunk and get back into the car. Lou's eyes are searching the road and the bushes and he's sitting up close to the windshield.
“What are you looking for?”
“Road kills,” he says matter-of-factly, “like the one in the trunk.”
“You're not filling my trunk up with dead dogs. I'm sorry.”
“They ain't gonna hurt nothing. Where else am I supposed to get specimens?”
I stop the car and we get out and pick up another dead dog and toss it into the trunk. I got blood on my hands and I don't like it. I'm getting just a little bit upset. “I hope you're satisfied. I can smell them up here.”
“There!” he yells and grabs the steering wheel and the car swerves and we just miss this deer running across the road.
“Jesus!” I screamed. “What are you doing!”
“Shit, we missed.”
“You mean to tell me that you really wanted to hit that deer?”
“No, but I need one.”