Read Suder Online

Authors: Percival Everett

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder

Suder (8 page)

“You're crazy!” screams Thelma. “You're insane!”

I stand over Bill and look down at him. I walk back to my house and collect my record, my phonograph, and my saxophone. I leave home.

Part II

Chapter 10

Sid Willis is an old fella who used to play ball and he's got this boat he all but lives on and I decide to look him up. I drive out to the docks and park and take off along the waterfront, carrying my saxophone, phonograph, and record. There are lots of people milling about and buying fish. The air is full of the smell of fish and the shouts of the men selling the fish. I'm walking along, looking out over the Sound, and the sunlight is bouncing off the water and I think it's real pretty.

There's a great big tent in this parking lot, like the ones they use at revival meetings. I hear something like a blast from a horn and I think it sounds like an elephant. I walk into the tent and sure enough there's an elephant. It really smells in the tent and though they got big fans blowing it's hot and sticky. The elephant lets out another blast. There's a man standing on a platform next to the elephant and he's barking like a carnival man.

“Test your smarts! Test your inventiveness! Test your ingenuity!” he shouts. “Two dollars for a chance at five hundred! Two dollars for a chance at five hundred! If you can make the pachyderm jump up from the ground I'll give you five hundred dollars! Two dollars to try!” He stops and views the crowd. “Test your smarts! Test your …”

People are paying him and walking back to stand in line. These folks are carrying all sorts of things. I'm watching and not really believing it as these people take turns trying to make this elephant jump up. A man with a set of cymbals stands just off to the side of the elephant and slams them together. The elephant doesn't budge. A kid lights a string of firecrackers and tosses it down by the pachyderm's feet. No reaction. I watch as an old woman shoves a hatpin into the animal's hide and I see a little girl let mice out of a shoe box and an old man fire a pistol by one of them giant ears. The elephant doesn't move a muscle, just stands there.

I turn around and walk out of the tent and back to my car, where I open the trunk and pull out my baseball bat. I stow it under my arm next to my saxophone and I walk back to the tent. I left Thelma pretty suddenly, so I ain't got no bucks to speak of. I could use the five hundred and I know just how to get it. I pay the woman two dollars and take a place in line. I wait while a number of people try and fail to make the elephant jump.

It's my turn. I put my saxophone, record, and phonograph down on some hay and take my bat around in front of the elephant. I wave the bat in his face and I walk around to the back of him and I get into my stance, my feet on either side of the big chain attached to his leg. Then I swing like I've been given the green light and hit that elephant flush in the balls and he lets out this god-awful trumpet blast and jumps clear off the ground. Everyone is stunned and quiet.

I flip the bat in my hand like a baton and the man from the platform walks over to me. He stands there for a second with wet eyes, just looking at me.

“Well,” I says, “I did it.”

He doesn't say a word. He just pulls out a great big wad of money and counts me out five hundred.

“Thanks.” I close my fingers around the money and look over at the elephant. The animal is stepping forward and back.

The man turns and walks back to the platform and waves his arms and announces that he is now closed. I put the money in my pants and I pick up all my things and leave the tent.

I walk on down the waterfront and then I see Sid Willis's boat,
The Ugly Lady
. Sid is standing on deck and he turns and sees me when I'm halfway down the pier to his boat. A smile comes across his dark face and his eyes light up under that big bush of a eyebrow that stretches across his forehead and the sunlight is playing on his bald top.

“Hey there, Sid,” I says.

“Craig Suder?”

“Yeah.” I stop in front of him.

“Well, I'll be damned.” He laughs. “Come on aboard, boy.”

I hop onto the boat.

He reaches to grab my hand, but my arms are full. “Put something down,” he says, “so I can shake your paw.”

I put my saxophone and everything down and I take his hand. “It's good to see you, Sid.”

“It's good to see you, boy. I'll be damned. Just come by to chew the fat?”

“No, I've come by to see if I can spend a few days with you.”

“You don't say. Well, damn.” He runs his hand over his head. “I'd be glad to have you. Stay as long as you like. I been needing some company. Well, damn.” He looks out over the Sound. “Want a beer?”

“Yeah.”

“Come on,” he says and turns and goes down a ladder into the cabin.

I follow. “How come you call your boat The Ugly
Lady?”
I ask.

“Named her after my second wife.” He reaches into the ice chest and pulls out a beer and tosses it to me.

“Thanks.”

He pulls one out for himself. “What you doing here in the middle of the season?”

“Let's say I'm on vacation.”

“You get axed?”

“No.”

“Slump?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you can stay here as long as you like.” He pulls his hand over his head and rubs the perspiration between his fingers. “Let's sit up on deck.” We go up on deck and sit down. “What about things at home?”

I question him with my eyes.

“Things at home okay?”

“Fine.” I finish my beer.

“Damn, you went through that fast. Want another?”

I shake my head. “I just thought I'd come by and pay you a visit and maybe sneak some fishing in.”

“Fishing, it is,” he says. “I got some cod in the cooler right now. You want to head out some and poke around for tuna?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” He looks up at the sky. “Well, hell, we couldn't have asked for a prettier day. What do you say we head out now?”

I nod. “Can I put my things below?”

“Yeah, yeah, make yourself at home.”

I take my things down into the cabin and then I'm back on deck.

“Why don't you untie that there,” says Sid, pointing to where the boat is tied to the pier.

I do as he says and then he cranks up the motor and we're off. I climb up the ladder to where he's steering the boat. I'm looking ahead out the window.

“Not much traffic today,” he says. “I got a great spot.” He pauses and looks at me. “I'll be damned.” He's smiling and shaking his head.

We cruise through the Sound and head three or four miles out. We drop in a couple of lines and just sorta set back and take it easy. The sun is bright and the breeze is good and I get relaxed. I start to drift off into sleep.

“I got one!” Sid says, sitting up straight.

I sit up and see his taut line and then this fish shows himself. “Look at the size of that baby,” I says.

“Yeah, that's a nice-sized one. Nice size.” He lowers his rod and lets the fish run.

I'm standing up and walking around in back of Sid. “Look at that sucker go.”

The line stops feeding out and Sid pulls up on the rod and starts reeling him in. The line becomes really taut again and Sid points the tip of the rod at the fish once more. “You gotta play him right, boy.” He pulls his face across his shoulder. “Do me a favor, Craig, and wipe the sweat off my head.”

I am looking for something to wipe his head with. “What do you want me to use?”

“Take the rag out of my back pocket.” He starts reeling the fish in again. “The sweat's real annoying.”

I pull the rag across that shiny dome of his. “There you go.”

A half hour passes with me periodically wiping the sweat off his top. He's letting the fish run again and he looks up at me.

“Boy, I'm tired,” Sid says. “Take this thing while he's running. He's weakening, I can tell.”

I take the rod and reel and his seat and he takes to wiping perspiration from his face and head. “Play him, boy,” he says as I start reeling. He ducks down into the cabin and comes up with a bottle of bourbon. “Play him, Craig.” He moves behind me. “That's it, bring him in.”

I continue to reel him in.

“That line's looking mighty hard. Maybe you should let him out some.” I push the button and point the rod down and the fish takes off. “My hands are getting real sweaty,” I says to Sid.

He doesn't answer.

I start reeling again. “My hands,” I says.

“That's it, reel him in.” He takes a swig from the bottle. “Let him out again.”

I forget to push the button and I point the tip of the rod at the fish and the whole works is ripped right out of my hands. I close my eyes.

“Damn shame,” says Sid and he walks away and down into the cabin.

I sit there for a long while, just looking at the ocean.

We're starting to lose daylight as we pull into the dock. I hop out of the boat and tie it up. Sid is standing on deck, taking a swig from his bottle of bourbon.

“I've got something I want you to hear,” I says.

“Yeah?” He screws the cap onto his bottle. “What is it?”

“I'll get it. Hold on.” I go down into the cabin and come up with my phonograph and my record. I'm looking around for an outlet and then I look at Sid.

Sid points to the base of a lamp on the pier.

I jump off the boat and plug in the machine and play the record.

“That's real pretty,” Sid says. “Who is it?”

“This is Charlie Parker.” I smile.

“Yeah, that's real pretty.” He looks at the lights around. “What do you say we go scout out some women?”

I pick the needle up off the record and I'm really pleased that he likes it. “Where do you want to go?”

“There're a couple of bars around here.”

“Sure. Let me get my horn.” I run into the cabin and grab my saxophone. I pick up my phonograph and record and we walk away from the boat.

“You need to carry all that shit?” Sid wants to know.

“Yeah.”

We walk along the waterfront until we come to this little tavern. There ain't many people inside and we grab a couple of stools. I put my things on the bar and the bartender tells me I have to move it all. I put my phonograph and record on the floor and I hold my horn in my lap. We down a couple of beers and the place starts to fill up.

This guy hops on a stool in the middle of the floor and he's holding a guitar. He starts to playing and singing, but what he's playing ain't nothing like Charlie Parker.

“Craig,” Sid says, “if you just gonna keep that horn in your lap, it's about as useful as tits on a boar hog.” He pauses. “If you ask me.”

I don't say anything. I just look back at the fella singing. I pick my saxophone up out of my lap and walk over to the singer. I stand there right in front of him and he stops in the middle of a song.

“Yeah?” he asks.

“You know ‘Ornithology'?”

“No, who's it by?”

“Charlie Parker.”

He looks at me, puzzled-like.

“Charlie Parker, the saxophone player.”

“I don't know him or the song.”

“I'll play it for you.” I walk to where Sid is sitting. People in the tavern are grumbling: “Hey, what happened to the music?” “What's the story here?” “Let's have a song!”

“What you doing, boy?” Sid asks.

“I'm gonna play the song for him.” I pick up my phonograph and record off the floor. I walk back to the middle of the floor and I'm looking around for an outlet.

“Hey, friend,” the singer says, “why don't you wait until I finish this set? I'll listen to it then.”

“Well, I don't see an outlet. I guess I'll just have to play it on my horn.” I put the mouthpiece to my lips and start blowing. I'm making a lot of honking sounds.

“Somebody make that drunk sit down!” someone shouts.

“Take that weapon away from him,” says another.

The singer pulls on my arm. “You're upsetting everybody.”

I stop playing and look into all the faces, annoyed and angry faces. I take my things and walk back to the bar.

Sid slaps my back. “That was pitiful.”

The bartender puts a beer in front of me. “Ain't you Craig Suder?” he asks.

I look at him for a long second and then I get up and walk out of the place.

Sid follows me out. “You okay?”

“Yeah.”

Sid slaps me on the shoulder with the back of his hand as two women thick with makeup walk past us into the bar. “You see the way she looked at me?”

“No.”

“She's got eyes for me.”

“You're imagining things. Let's go.”

“No, no, I've got to check this out.” Sid starts back into the bar. “Come on.”

“You go on. I think I'll head back to the boat.”

“Suit yourself.” He disappears into the tavern.

The whole house felt like it was shaking. I crawled over Martin and his bed to the window and saw a big truck parked out front.

“What is it?” Martin asked, sitting up in bed.

“A truck.” I slid into my slippers and ran downstairs.

Ma was standing at the open door in her coat, rubbing a dish towel over her hands.

“What is it?” I asked and I looked out into the yard and saw Daddy approaching the truck from his office. I ran out into the yard. “Daddy, what is it?”

Martin was out of the house now in pants and tee-shirt.

The men from the truck were pulling a great big piano out and down the ramp.

“What's the piano for?” Martin asked.

“It's Mr. Powell's,” Daddy said. “He's going to be staying with us for a while.”

“Why?” Martin asked.

Daddy watched the piano move past us toward the house. “He's taking a little rest here.” Daddy turned and walked back to his office.

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