Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
“What's got you so chipper?” I ask.
“I want you to hear something,” I says to her and I walk over to the stereo. “You have to hear this song.” I put the needle on the record and I turn to find her gone. I sit down and I listen to the song and I'm waiting to hear Thelma start up on her exerciser, but the noise never comes. I get up and walk into the bedroom and I see Thelma getting ready for bed and she's got a big smile on her face.
Daddy was standing in the garage with his hands on his hips, looking around, sniffing the air. I was just outside, peering at him from the corner of the house. Martin was coming up the driveway on his bike.
“Martin,” Daddy called.
Martin hopped off his bike and ran to Daddy's side.
“Martin, take a sniff.”
Martin sniffed and frowned.
“Smells like something dead in here,” Daddy said, “and we're going to find it.” He paused. “Well, start looking.”
We looked around for a good while and then Martin found my hatbox full of dead sparrows. “Over here, Daddy,” Martin cried.
Daddy looked at the decaying birds. “Jesus. Put the lid back on the box.” He looked at the door to the house. “If your mother put them there, we should leave them there.”
“Ma?” Martin asked.
“Yeah,” said Daddy. “I'd say that's pretty crazy.”
I didn't say anything.
“So, you want me just to leave it here?” Martin asked.
“I suppose so.” Daddy scratched his head. “I'll drop a little charcoal in the box and try to soak up some of the stench.”
Martin pushed the box back behind the tires.
“Your mother must be pretty sick to keep stuff like this around. You boys stay away from this.” Daddy headed out of the garage. Martin followed him.
I stood there for a long time, smelling the stench of the birds, feeling afraid because I thought I was crazy. Daddy just assumed the birds were Ma's, so he must have thought putting the birds in the box was crazy. But I put the birds in the box, so I figured I was crazy.
I spend the next few days just sitting around the house listening to the song and watching my son walk from the front door to his bedroom without saying anything. Thelma is in a good mood and this bothers me, but I don't say nothing and I get to feeling a little ashamed for wanting her to feel bad. Peter walks out of his room and quietly toward the kitchen and I ask him if he wants to go to the game with me. He shakes his head and disappears into the kitchen. I walk into his room and get his portable phonograph and I grab my Charlie Parker record and leave for the game.
I'm really early and I go up to Lou Tyler's office and give a knock. Lou yells for me to come in and I open the door and walk over to his desk. I place the phonograph on the desk and start looking for a place to plug it in.
“What are you doing?” Lou wants to know.
“Where can I plug this in?”
“Behind the goat.”
I walk to the corner and I get down on one knee and reach through the goat's legs and push the plug into the outlet.
“What you got there?” He's standing at the bathroom door, buttoning his uniform shirt.
“I want you to hear something.”
“What is it?”
“A song. Sit down.”
He sits down and he's looking at me funny. “You feel okay? Your leg giving you trouble?”
“Just listen.” I put the needle down on the record and watch for Lou's reaction.
His face is blank at first and then he starts to frown. “Ain't there no words?”
“No, just music,” I tell him.
He's silent for a few seconds and then, “Well, thanks for letting me hear that, Suder.” And he gets up and walks into the bathroom, where he stands in front of the mirror combing the few strands of hair he has.
I pack up and walk out and down into the clubhouse.
“What's up, Craig?” David greets me.
“David,” I says, “I've got something I want you to hear.”
He's reaching into his locker for his shirt. “What is it?”
“A song by Charlie Parker.”
“The saxophone player?” He's putting on his shirt.
“Yeah.” I can't find an outlet, so I says, “Come on in here,” and I walk into the bathroom.
“Come on, Craig. I want to warm up.”
I balance the phonograph on one of the sinks in the long row of sinks. “This won't take but a minute.” I plug in the machine and drop the needle down on the record.
“That's great,” David says and walks away.
I don't call him back because echoes of the song in the bathroom have got me sorta hypnotized. I ain't never heard anything like it, the way it's bouncing off the tiles, and I turn up the volume and sit on the toilet. Pete Turner walks by and looks at the record player and then at me. “You heard this?” I ask.
He doesn't say anything, just walks out.
“Give it a chance,” I says.
So, the game's about to start and I walk out and tonight I head for the bleachers out in left field and I've got my phonograph and record in my lap. I watch the game, but I ain't really paying attention. Everybody around me is jumping up and screaming and carrying on, but I'm just sitting. Butch Backman steps up to the plate and drives an off-speed pitch high and left. I follow the ball up and then my eye catches this bird that somehow has got into the Dome. I follow the bird all over and up into the rafters and around the beams and then I notice the game is over.
I wait for David and the two of us head out for some drinks. We go to this little bar not far from the Dome and sit down at a table. There's a band playing some music and people are dancing and it's pretty crowded. David's looking closely at the behinds of women on the dance floor.
“I love this place,” David says.
The waitress stops and pulls out her pad and scratches her head. “What'll it be?”
“Beer,” David says without taking his eyes off the dance floor. His hand is tapping the table in beat with the music.
The waitress looks at me.
“David, did you like that song I played for you in the locker room?”
“Yeah, yeah.” He's smiling and watching the women dancing.
“That song does something to me. I mean, that saxophone solo â¦ Well, here, I'll let you hear it.” I get up and start looking for an outlet.
David looks at me. “What are you doing?”
I don't say anything. I spot a jukebox across the room against the wall, between the rest rooms. “Over there,” I says and take off.
“Craig.” David follows me. “What are you doing?”
I'm looking behind the jukebox. “They have to plug these things in, don't they?”
“There it is.” I unplug the jukebox and plug in the phonograph.
“There's a band playing,” David says. “You can't come in here and play a record.”
“It's not a long song.” I put the record on the turntable and drop the needle and I turn the volume all the way up.
“Craig, turn that off.” David reaches for the record player.
“Just listen,” I says, blocking him out.
The band stops playing and the people stop dancing and people stop talking and David takes a few steps away from me. The manager of the place comes over and says something, but I can't hear him, so I lift the needle off the record.
“What do you think you're doing?” the manager asks.
“I was just playing a song for my buddy.”
“We've already got music here.”
“Yeah, and they sound swell,” I tell him, “but it ain't Charlie Parker. This here is Charlie Parker.” I point at the record.
“Okay, Charlie,” he says and he's getting mad, “get out.”
David steps in and tries to calm this fella down and he tells me to pack up. He's looking at me with disbelief. Everybody is watching us as we walk out and the band strikes up as we pass through the door.
In the car, David keeps looking over at me. “Have you been drinking?”
He looks at the road. “How've you been feeling lately?”
“All right. Why?”
David looks at me. “No reason.”
There's a long silence. Then I says, “I think Thelma is seeing somebody.”
“Thelma? No, I can't imagine that.”
David looks out the side window. “I don't like your tone.”
“I'm just touchy,” I tell him. “I'm probably just dreaming all this up, right?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Say you ain't the guy.”
“I ain't the guy.”
“I didn't think so.”
David exhales. “Jesus Christ.”
He lets me out at my car.
“Guess what?” Daddy said, slapping his hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Powell is coming back through Fayetteville.”
“Is he coming here?” I asked.
“Yep.” Daddy sat down with me at the kitchen table.
“He's coming to dinner,” Ma said, placing a platter of hotcakes in front of us. “Dr. McCoy is coming, too.”
“Who?” I asked and I looked to see a puzzled expression on Daddy's face.
“Your dentist,” Ma said.
“That man is coming here?” I asked.
“You are joking,” Daddy said.
“No,” Ma said, “I invited him and he accepted.”
“Jesus,” Daddy said.
“Ma, that guy is crazy,” I said. I turned to Daddy. “He prays before everything he does. He dresses all in white. His office is all white.”
“Kathy, I don't believe you invited that McCoy here for dinner,” Daddy said, pulling a few hotcakes onto his plate.
“Where's Martin?” Ma asked.
“Asleep,” I said.
Ma turned to face Daddy. “Why shouldn't I invite him to dinner?”
Daddy didn't say anything. He just pushed some food into his mouth and chewed quickly, leaning on one elbow. “The man's a damn bigot.”
“He saw Craig as a patient,” Ma said.
“So what? He's the worst kind of cracker.” Daddy punctuated his words by pointing his fork at Ma.
“Well, he saw our son as a patient.”
“I don't know why he did. He probably got paid twice his usual fee. Who knows why this sick cracker took Craig as a patient. Jesus Christ, Kathy. Somebody would think that youâ”
“He's coming to dinner and that's final.” Ma dumped the skillet into the sink and stormed out of the kitchen. Then she pushed her head back in. “It's okay for you to invite somebody to dinner. A man who jumps into the river after a catfish.”
“Jesus,” Daddy muttered.
“Why don't you invite Lou Ann Narramore to dinner, too!” Ma screamed.
Daddy ignored her.
“Did you hear me? Lou Ann Narramore!” Ma ducked back through the doorway. I could hear her in the other room. “From down at the drugstore.”
All the kids in the neighborhood gathered around and stared at the sight in our driveway. Parked behind Daddy's Mercury was a white Cadillac convertible with white upholstery and white sidewall tires. Out of the big car climbed Dr. McCoy, wearing a white shirt, white shoes, a white tie. The late-afternoon sun was playing off his white hair. His socks were bright red. He walked across the yard toward the front door. I was beside Daddy at the front window, watching Dr. McCoy approach.
“Jesus,” Daddy muttered.
The doorbell rang and Daddy let Dr. McCoy into the house.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Suder,” said the dentist.
“Dr. McCoy,” Daddy greeted him.
“Isn't this a beautiful day that God has presented us with?”
“Beautiful,” Daddy said.
Ma came into the room wearing her heavy coat and her high-top sneakers. She bounced over to the man in white. “Hello, Dr. McCoy.”
“Mrs. Suder, you're looking wonderful. The Good Lord has blessed you with beauty.” Dr. McCoy looked down at me. “How are you, Greg?”
Martin came into the room and stopped, confused, as he caught sight of Dr. McCoy.
“Come on in, Martin,” Ma said. “This is Dr. McCoy.”
Daddy was watching all of this without any expression. Then the doorbell sounded again. Daddy opened the door.
“Hey there, Doc,” said Mr. Powell.
“Bud.” Daddy stepped aside to let him in.
“New car, eh?” Mr. Powell said as he passed through the doorway. “Pretty fancy.”
“Not mine. Bud Powell, I'd like you to meet Dr. McCoy.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Powell,” said McCoy, extending his hand.
Mr. Powell's hand closed firmly around McCoy's rag of flesh. The contrast was striking. “I was just admiring your machine,” said Mr. Powell. I could tell he didn't know what to make of McCoy. We sat at the table and McCoy closed his eyes and put his hands together.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you for this mealâ¦”
“Just fine,” said Mr. Powell, glancing at McCoy. “It was real hot there. People don't come out when it's hot.”
“And bless these peas and sweet potatoesâ¦”
“Atlanta's going to be even hotter,” Daddy said.
“Lord, help us through these trying â¦”
“Yeah, well, at least people down this way are used to the heat.”
“And Lord God, bless these good colored folks who I'm eating with.”
Daddy shook his head and smiled and Mr. Powell laughed out loud.
“Amen.” McCoy opened his eyes and looked sternly at Daddy and Mr. Powell. “If you folks believed more strongly in God, maybe you wouldn't be colored.”
Daddy sat up very straight and his eyes narrowed. He leaned forward on his forearms. “What are you doing in my house?”
“What?” McCoy asked.
“I want to know why a peckerwood like you comes to a Negro house for dinner.”