Read Suder Online

Authors: Percival Everett

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder

Suder (5 page)

I let out a sigh and I turn to see Lou yawn and I says, “You ready to go home yet?”

“Yeah, I guess it's getting pretty late. Too bad about that deer, though.”

“Those are the breaks,” I says.

So, I take Lou home and by the time I get home myself it's pretty late. I walk into the house and the first thing I hear is Thelma pedaling on her exerciser. I don't even go into the bedroom. I just walk over to the stereo and put on that Charlie Parker record and listen to that one song over and over. I just can't seem to get enough of it.

I get to thinking about the saxophone solo on this here recording and noticing how things get built around one melody. Even when the melody ain't played at all, somehow it's there and it's waiting when the saxophone is finished singing. And that's just what that saxophone does, it sings.

I notice all of a sudden that I don't hear the exerciser anymore and I look around to see Thelma. She stands there for a second and pulls the sleeve of her pajamas across her forehead, then she turns and walks back into the bedroom. I hear her climb into bed and I get up to switch off the stereo. The music is off and I'm heading for the bedroom when I hear Thelma get out of bed and start pedaling again.

“Don't you think you're overreacting?” I ask as I walk into the bedroom.

“No.”

“Could you stop pedaling for a second? Think of Peter, he's trying to sleep.”

She stops pedaling and gets off the machine and climbs into bed. I sit on the bed and start to take my shoes off. She lets out a real loud sigh like she wants me to ask her what's on her mind.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Nothing.” She's sitting up in bed.

“Okay.”

“I should have married your brother.”

“Yeah?”

“At least he has a normal job.”

“What do you mean ‘normal'?” I stand up and pull off my britches and climb into bed.

“I wish you were a dentist like your brother.”

“Who wants to stick his fingers in people's mouths all day long?”

“At least you'd be home. You wouldn't have to go out of town to pull teeth. At least you'd be able to—” She starts crying. “You're like your mother, you know.”

I roll over and close my eyes.

“That's it, just ignore me.”

“I'm not ignoring you. I'm tired.”

“Well, it's not my fault. I'm not to blame. There's nothing wrong with me.”

“Of course it's not your fault.” I sit up. “Please try to be patient. Please try to understand.”

“Understand? Understand? It's been two months. I've
been
patient.”

“Okay, okay. It's okay for you to have a headache, but when I say no it's another story. Is that it?”

“So, we're even.”

“Jesus.” I roll over and go to sleep and I wake up with a terrible headache. I throw on my robe and walk into the kitchen. It's late and Peter has gone to school and Thelma's gone, too. I pour some juice and sit at the table and I start to think about me and Lou Tyler driving around those back roads looking for dead animals. Then I start seeing that vulture Lou's got hanging over his desk and I get a funny feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. I remember those dogs lying on Lou's lawn and I picture myself lying there with them. To tell the truth, I think it might be an improvement. Nobody expects nothing from them dogs, nobody wants them to do anything. I finish my juice and I walk into the living room and play that Charlie Parker song. The Song.

Chapter 6

Ma never knew that it was her younger-born that knocked her into unconsciousness in the kitchen. So, she read it as a revelation from the Almighty. She figured it was God who slammed her face into the linoleum. When she came home from the hospital she began to mention God a little more often than usual and gradually she spoke of Him quite a bit, except she referred to Him as Max.

“Maxdamnit,” Ma said. “You will too go to the dentist.”

I didn't say anything. I just stared at her, scared.

“And this dentist is a good Christian dentist,” she added, wiping the perspiration from her face with the coat sleeve.

Martin must have seen it coming because he managed to slip far away from the house early, long before Ma mentioned the dentist. So, it was just Ma and me in the car, silent from driveway to dentist, Dr. McCoy. The waiting room of Dr. McCoy's office was done all in white and there was a picture of Jesus on each wall. Already seated in the waiting room were several other children and their mothers, all white. The white mothers all stared at Ma in her heavy coat and her black high-top sneakers. We sat down and Ma pulled a tissue from her pocketbook and dabbed at the corners of her nose.

A tall man, a white man all dressed in white, stepped into the room. His complexion was pale, his eyes were powder-blue, and his hair was white. He pulled his palms together in front of his chest. “Let us pray,” he said in a soothing tenor voice. All the white people bowed their heads. I looked at Ma to see her head also lowered. “Our heavenly Father, give us strength to endure the dental trials which lie before us. Give us a steady hand in the wake of deep cavities and let us wade safely through the drainage of abscesses. God, and let us be good little patients, sitting still through every step of the procedure. Amen.”

“Amen,” the voices in the room mumbled.

The dentist pointed a long crooked white finger at me. Ma put her palm against my back and pushed me into standing. I followed Dr. McCoy through a white hallway, past white nurses dressed all in white, and into an examination room all done in white except for the bright silver of the instruments resting on the counter and hanging above and beside the chair. I sat down and the nurse fastened a white bib around my neck and handed me a tissue.

I looked over at the nurse to find her head lowered and her eyes closed. I turned to see that once again the dentist had placed his palms together. “Let us pray,” he said. “Dear God, please let everything go well with this little colored boy.” He switched on the light above my face and looked into my mouth. He pulled back and stood erect. “Lord God, this boy has a cavity that must be filled. Give us a steady hand.” I looked at the nurse. Her eyes were still closed. “Amen.” Dr. McCoy opened his eyes, grabbed the drill, and gave it a couple of whirs.

“Ain't you gonna give me a shot?” I asked.

“No shots here, son. This is a dental office of the Lord. No shots here.” He put his fingers in my mouth and pried it open. He pushed cotton into my cheeks and hung this metal thing over my lip which sucked up my spit. Then he started drilling. I closed my eyes. It all hurt very much and he was none too fast. I gripped the arms of the chair tightly, digging my nails into the vinyl. He stood up, finished. “Thank you, Lord.”

The nurse pulled the cotton from my mouth. I was breathing rapidly.

“You drink Coke?” Dr. McCoy asked me.

“Huh?”

“Coke is real bad for your teeth. I put a tooth in a glass of Coke once and left it overnight. Next morning the tooth wasn't nothing but dust.”

I just looked at him.

“Drink milk, boy. Lots of milk.”

The afternoon sun is burning hot like a cheap cigar and the traffic is heavy and I'm reaching back to roll down the window behind me because I can't get the air conditioner working. I'm going downtown to see my brother at his office and I spend half an hour looking for a place to park. I decide to pull into a space marked for the handicapped and I look up and standing on the sidewalk is a cop. He's looking right at me and I think about getting out of the car and limping, but I decide to back out. I find a space three blocks away.

I walk through the heat into the building and into the elevator, where I press the fourth-floor button. I'm all alone in there and the doors start to close and this fat hand pulls them open again. In steps this great big fat guy and he's followed by an enormous woman and an obese young boy. I glance up at this plaque on the wall above the buttons that says just how much weight this machine can hold. I start to do some estimating and figuring and then the elevator moans and I take a step toward the door. The doors close and the elevator slowly starts up. Then there's this weird noise and we ain't moving.

The fat man says something to the fat woman in German and then he says to me, “The machine is broken?”

“Yeah, it stopped,” I says and I push the alarm button. The alarm is sounding and I look over at the woman and she smiles and she's sweating profusely. All three of them are sweating heavily. After a few minutes I says, “I figure somebody's heard it by now.” I stop pushing.

The kid is staring at me and then he gives a tug on his father's coattail. The man leans over and the kid whispers in his ear and then they both look at me.

I push the alarm again. After about ten minutes the elevator starts to move. I press the fourth-floor button.

“It was very nice to speak with you,” the fat man says as I step out of the elevator.

I walk down the hall and into my brother's office. He's standing there leaning over the desk of his receptionist, talking real low. He stands up straight when he sees me and presses his white jacket with his hands.

“Hi, Craig,” he says.

I wave. “Just thought I'd stop by.”

“Good day for it. Business is slow. Come on back.” He knocks on the desk and winks at his receptionist and leads the way to an examination room.

I walk over to the counter and start messing with some instruments.

“You look flustered,” Martin says.

“Naw, nothing. Fat Germans in the elevator.”

He looks at me funny.

“Never mind. You know, you ought to get somebody to do something about that elevator. Getting stuck.”

“Sit down in the chair and let's have a look.”

I sit down in the chair. “I want to talk to you about some problems.”

“What are older brothers for?” He pulls my head back and starts probing around in my mouth. “You know I'm always here to help you with your problems. Open wider.”

I pull his hand out of my mouth.

“What do you say we clean them today.”

“I really just want to talk.”

“Well, what's wrong?” He's over to the counter grabbing tools and stuff.

“I've been in sort of a slump lately.”

“I've heard something like that.” He's back and standing over me. “Open wide.” He puts this metal thing with a hose attached to it in my mouth and it's sucking up my spit. He starts cleaning my teeth. “Yeah,” he says, “things are tough all over. Take Juanita. She went out the other day and spent seventy dollars on two blouses. Two blouses! Rinse. That's nothing compared to the money she spent having the backyard landscaped. And it looks pitiful. You told me the winters are mild out here but you didn't tell me it rains all the goddamn time. But do I get upset? No, not me. Rinse. Your problem—you need to brush a little better in the back—your problem is that you don't relax enough. You've got to learn to take it easy. Rinse.”

The receptionist comes in and tells Martin there's a patient outside in the waiting room. Martin raises the chair and smiles.

“I'm really glad you came by,” he says.

“Me, too.”

I smile and walk out of his office and wait on the elevator. When the doors open I'm looking at those enormous Germans. So, I take the stairs.

As I'm walking down I start to think that maybe I'm asking too much for anyone to listen to my problems. I mean, maybe people can't listen and understand if they're busy expecting things of me. This matter of expectations is really getting to me and I begin to have an identity crisis of sorts. I don't know if I'm Craig Suder the ballplayer, or Craig Suder the husband, or Craig Suder the fellow talking to the fat Germans in the elevator.

Downstairs in the lobby I run into the Germans again. “Are you on TV?” asks the man.

I look at him and I says, “I am Craig Suder and if you don't like the way I play ball, you can … you can … suck my bat:”

The fat man opens his eyes wide and I walk out into the street. I head down the street toward the park, where I sit and watch the pigeons. I sit there watching them walk around and this kid starts chasing them and they fly away.

I looked out the window in the living room at the front yard. Ma was resting on her knuckles at the edge of the driveway. Martin came and stood beside me. Ma pushed her butt into the air, leaned forward, and took off in a sprint across the yard. Her coat became full with the wind as she dashed. Daddy came and stood behind us.

“What do you think?” Daddy asked.

Martin and I turned to face Daddy.

“I want to talk to you boys about something.” He paused. “Do you think that your mother would be better off in a hospital?”

Martin looked back out the window.

“She's not sick,” I said.

“Not that kind of hospital,” Martin said.

“You mean the crazy house?” I opened my eyes wide.

Daddy nodded.

“No,” I said. “No.” I got real excited and my eyes watered up.

“Okay,” Daddy said, calming me down.

Then Ma came running in. She was really sweaty and her coat was soaked. She was panting. “Around the city,” she said. “I'm going to run around Fayetteville. It's twenty-three miles.” She pulled her hair out of her face. “And I'm going to do it.”

The night of my visit to my brother I'm home sitting alone and Thelma comes in. She's singing.

“Where have you been?” I ask.

“Just out.”

“Where's Peter?”

“He's here.”

“No, he's not.”

“Peter!” she calls.

Peter appears in the hallway.

“Why didn't you come when I called you?” I ask.

“I didn't hear you,” he answers.

“Time for bed, sweetheart,” Thelma says. “It's eight o'clock. Camp tomorrow.” She points and he walks back to his room.

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