Read Suder Online

Authors: Percival Everett

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder

Suder (7 page)

Mr. Powell raised his napkin to his mouth to hide his smile.

“Ben?” Ma tried to call Daddy off.

“Well, Dr. Suder, I just wanted to see what colored folks was like. So, I could pray for you, like real people.”

“McCoy, you half-baked, Bible-headed redneck, just get out of my house.” Daddy stood up. “Get up and get out.”

Mr. Powell stood up, too.

McCoy looked at Daddy and Mr. Powell and slowly pushed himself up from the table. He looked at Ma, but she didn't say anything. McCoy walked out of the house.

I'm sitting in the living room listening to the song and looking out the window when Thelma comes in.

“What time does the drugstore close?” she asks.

“Which drugstore?”

“The one on Maple.”

“Six o'clock.”

“Great. You've got ten minutes,” she says.

“What do you need?”

“Kotex.”

“Jesus, you know how I hate to buy those things. Especially there. I can't stand that old lady.”

She doesn't say anything. She just stands there looking at me.

“Okay, I'll go.” I hop into the car and drive over to the drugstore and all the while I'm trying to think of what else I should buy because the old lady seems to notice the Kotex pads less if they got company on the counter.

I'm in the drugstore and I pick up a couple of boxes of facial tissue with the Kotex and set them on the counter. The old lady comes out of the back room,

“Hello, Mr. Suder.”

“Mrs. Wilson.”

“Is that it?” She picks up the Kotex. “These ain't going to help your leg much.” She laughs. “Sometimes I just crack myself up.”

I drive home and when I walk through the door I see ribbons strung all along the ceiling and a banner that says
HAPPY
BIRTHDAY
.

“Surprise!” shouts Thelma. David Nicks, Lou Tyler, and my brother, Martin, also shout.

Thelma runs to me and kisses my cheek. “Happy birthday, honey.”

I look at each of their faces and then at the cake on the dining room table. The cake's got a baseball diamond on it and the message
HAPPY
33
RD,
CRAIG
.

“It ain't my birthday. My birthday ain't for three days.”

Everyone is quiet.

Then Lou says, “Well, better early than never.”

I smile.

“Let's cut the cake,” says my brother.

“After he opens his presents,” says Thelma.

I turn and see, beside the table, three boxes on top of one large box. I open the gift from Thelma. A pair of silk pajamas. I thank her and kiss her. I open the present from David. An electric razor.

“Thanks, David.”

“Don't cut your throat with it,” David says.

I open the present from Martin. It is a Water Pik. “Thanks, Martin.”

“Open mine,” says Lou.

“Sure is big,” I says.

“Just open it,” Lou says.

I rip through the paper and open the box and I'm looking down at a stuffed dog. It's one of the dogs we picked up on the road. I am speechless.

“Pretty good, huh?” says Lou.

“Yeah, great,” I says and I look at Thelma and she's frowning and I look at David and he's doing all he can not to laugh out loud.

We sit around eating cake and all the while that dead dog is staring right at me. The dog's mouth is sewed shut but his tongue is poking out the side and I really want to put him back in the box.

“Pretty good job, huh?” Lou says.

“Yeah,” I says.

“Look here.” Lou puts down his cake and walks over to the dog and turns it over. He's showing me the belly and he says, “Look at that stitching. That's a job, huh?”

“Sure is,” I says.

“What do you think of it, Nicks?” Lou turns the dog's belly to David. “I should be a goddamn tailor. Look at that needlework.”

“That's something else,” David says softly.

Martin moves to the dog and pulls up on the dog's lips as Lou is holding him and looks at the teeth, revealing the long, jagged sutures keeping the animal's mouth shut.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” says Lou. “I got a letter from Roy Rogers.” He puts the dog down.

“Oh, yeah?” I says.

“He sent me an autographed picture. I don't know what it means. I'm gonna write him again.” Lou looked at the dog. “I wonder how tall he is.”

“That's great, Lou,” I says. “Ain't that great, David?”

“Yeah, great,” says David.

We sit in silence for a little while. Then I get to thinking about the song and I get up and start toward the stereo.

“I want you all to listen to something,” I says. I drop the needle down on the record. “Listen to this. You're going to love it.” I listen for a second. “Ain't that something?” I close my eyes and listen to the saxophone solo.

One by one, Lou, David, and Martin excuse themselves. And so, I'm all alone with Thelma and the stuffed dog.

Thelma starts clearing things off the table.

“I suppose Peter's at your mother's,” I says.

“Yes.” She takes the dishes into the kitchen and comes out pulling her sweater on.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“For a walk,” she says.

“This time of night?”

“It's not late.”

“Where are you going?” I step in front of the door.

“Craig,” she whines.

“I want to know where you're going.”

She starts taking off her sweater. “Noplace.”

“Who are you going to meet?”

“I'm not going anyplace.” She sits.

“Who have you been seeing?”

She picks up a magazine. “You're being ridiculous.” She gets up and shuts off the music. “You're not well, Craig.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This music, this paranoia. You're like your mother.”

I open the front door.

“Where are you going?”

“For a walk.” I leave.

Chapter 9

Ma draped the wool blanket all over me. This was after she made me curl up on the floor in the back of Daddy's Mercury.

“Stay down,” Ma said.

“Ma, it's hot.” I was already sweating profusely. I started to rise.

She pushed me down. “Stay. Craigie, I'm depending on you. When your daddy stops at the drugstore, you get out and sneak in and then you'll see. You'll see them in the act.”

I could taste the salt of my perspiration in my mouth and all I could see were a couple of stripes of light crawling under one edge of the blanket. “But—”

“I'm depending on you. You'll see. That Lou Ann Narramore.” She closed the door.

All the windows of the car were rolled up tight and I was good and soaked. Then the driver's-side door opened and Daddy got in. I wanted to get up and tell him of my presence, but Ma's words echoed in my head: “in the act.” It was a short, uncomfortable ride to the drugstore. After Daddy got out I waited a few seconds and then I tiptoed from the car to the drugstore door. I opened the door slightly and pushed my hand inside, grabbing the bell which dangled from the inside door handle. I slid the rest of me inside. I crawled down the aisle of colognes and hair tonics to the end so I could see the prescription counter.

Daddy was standing there, waiting. Then a pretty young woman with a bright smile came from the back room with a couple of bottles. Daddy looked at the bottles.

“Thank you, Miss Narramore,” Daddy said.

“By the way, Dr. Suder,” Lou Ann Narramore said, “Mrs. Jordan came in earlier today and she said—”

“She's not to have that prescription refilled,” Daddy said.

I retreated into the aisle. They hardly knew each other. I was relieved, and shocked that Ma could be so wrong. Then I heard the bell on the door and I looked back at the counter to find Daddy gone. I knocked something off a shelf and became afraid. I ran for the door, threw it open, and plowed right into someone.

It was Virgil Wallace. He fell back and hit his enormous head on the sidewalk. His hands moved quickly up, grabbing his skull. I was on top of him. I stood to find the lower front of my shirt and the front of my pants covered with a milky substance. I rubbed the stuff between my fingers and screamed. I felt sick. Virgil Wallace was rolling all over the ground now, still holding his head. I could see a little blood creeping out from between his fingers.

I ran all the way home, through the front door, and up to my bedroom. I sat on my bed, out of breath and scared.

“Well?” Ma asked, bursting into the room.

“Nothing,” I panted.

“What do you mean?”

“They hardly even know each other.”

Her eyes caught the front of my clothes.

I glanced down at the mess and began to shake with fear.

Ma walked to me and stroked the front of my pants and then rubbed the thick substance between her fingers. For the most part it had dried. She looked at me through narrow, angry slits. “Craigie!” she screamed. “I thought you were a good boy!”

“I
am
a good boy.”

“No, you're not. You've been pulling on yourself.”

“No, I haven't. Really, I haven't,” I cried. “I ran into Virgil Wallace, the waterhead boy.”

She didn't hear my words. She looked at my clothes again. “Come, you have to take a bath.”

I agreed.

“If we don't hurry, you'll go blind.” She looked at me, shaking her head. “Undress.”

I pulled my clothes off and then she led me by the hand into the bathroom.

“Sit!” she screamed, pointing at the tub.

I sat in the dry tub. Then Ma turned the cold water on full through the shower. I yelled and tried to crawl out, but she pushed me back.

“You must learn to be good!'', she screamed. Then she made the shower very hot. “Promise me you won't do it again!”

“I promise! I promise!”

A couple of days walk by and most all I've been doing is listening to the song.

I'm walking around downtown and I pass a music store. I look through the window at the saxophones and then I go inside.

“What can I sell you?” asks the clerk.

“I'm interested in a saxophone.”

“What kind?”

“The kind Charlie Parker plays. I think it's an alto.”

“An alto.”

“How much do they cost?”

“There's a whole range of prices. How much are you willing to spend?”

“I hadn't thought about it.”

“They start at about three hundred dollars.”

“Can I see one of those?” I asked.

“Sure can.” The clerk turns and looks at the saxophones in stands on the shelf behind him and pulls one down. “This one is four hundred dollars.”

“Is it hard to play? I mean, to learn?”

“Piece of cake.”

“I'll take it. Do I need anything else?”

“Just a reed.” He puts a reed on the mouthpiece. “Goes right here. You just tighten these.”

I nod.

“You gotta remember to suck it, though.”

I look at him.

“The reed. Get it soaked.” He pauses. “Bite down and don't blow out your cheeks.”

I look at him.

“The mouthpiece.”

“Should I have a book?”

“Naw, you don't need a book.”

I write him a check for four hundred dollars.

He looks at the check. “Craig Suder, the ballplayer?”

“No.”

“I've seen you on television.”

I leave. I go to the park and spend a few hours trying to blow through the horn. Then I head home.

When I get home I don't see Thelma or Peter. I look out the window and across the street at that white guy's house. Bill, that's his name—I remember it now, Bill. His front door opens and out steps Thelma and my jaw drops and I watch as she walks toward the house. I open the door.

“So, I was right,” I says. “Jesus, Thelma, why him? Why some white guy?”

“What are you talking about?”

“What am I talking about?” I'm pacing. “I'm talking about adultery, fooling around, you carrying on with the neighbor, Bill.”

“I've never seen you just this way before.”

“You've never seen
me
just this way?”

“I was borrowing some paprika, see?” She holds up a little tin.

“Paprika? You can do better than that. Paprika? What kind of single man keeps paprika in his house?”

Thelma walks to the kitchen. “He's very nice.”

I follow her. “I'm sure. Who borrows paprika?”

“Are you through?”

I don't say anything. I just walk out of the kitchen and pace around the living room. Then I go back to the kitchen. “I know how to get to the bottom of this.”

“What?”

“I'm going to have a word with Bill.” I head off to the front door.

“Craig, no.” She's behind me.

I open the door. “Yes.”

Thelma follows me across the yard and she's pleading. “No! Please. Nothing's going on. I swear, Craig.”

“We'll see. We'll see.” I ring Bill's bell.

Bill pulls open the door.

I slap him flat-palmed in the chest and he rocks back. “What's the story, Bill?”

He looks at me and then at Thelma. “What's going—”

I interrupt him. “Let's have it, Bill.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I'm talking about you and my wife.” My hands are in fists.

“Bill,” says Thelma, “I'm sorry. He's crazy lately.”

I turn to Thelma. “Crazy? I'm not crazy and I'm sure as hell not blind.”

“Let's talk-” begins Bill.

“Are you ready, Bill?” I ask.

“What for?”

I punch Bill in the face and Thelma jumps on my back. I shake her off and chase Bill across the room and I tackle him. His head hits the doorframe and he starts to bleed.

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