My thanks go to Susan Clement for making the text file.
It was a nice enough Sunday, a late summer afternoon with the flaming sun still big in the sky and the air thick as moss and hard to swallow. We had gone out to the lake, me, Brett, Leonard, John, and John's niece, Cinnamon, to do a little R&R.
Guess I felt I deserved some time off, way I had been working at the plant, going to the University part time, but I'm not a lake person myself and I wasn't all that worked up about going out there and fighting off flies and mosquitoes big enough to steal babies, flicking sweat and brushing away sand. I was just humoring everybody. I hate all that intense sunlight stuff and I'm not all that fond of water either.
Which is not to say I don't bathe or brush my teeth or take long baths with my gal Brett, but water did not amuse me. I don't like to swim in it or ski on it because I think about what's in it and what might be in it. I know there are no sharks in fresh water, but I think about them nonetheless, not to mention piranha, prehistoric monsters and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Fishing from a small boat on a pond or lake is all right, and I like that, and I'll even go as far as to give a thumbs up to a swim in clear water, but I like to draw the line at that.
True, I've done some serious swimming in my life, but I had to do it and I didn't like it. So you can have your water.
I don't care all that much for summer heat either. Sunshine works pretty good on a cold day when it's coming through your window and hitting your bed, but, mostly, as far as summer goes, I had gotten plenty of that with outside jobs, sweating bullets in rose fields, hauling hay and doing grunt work that involved moving objects much larger than me and straining hard enough to swell my balls up big enough to use for knocking over a net.
Anyway, there's lots of things I'd rather do than screw around with too much sunshine and way deep water.
Course, it was getting hard to get me to do anything when I wasn't working or going to the University. I liked to just hang with Brett, read, watch a little TV, go to a movie, or out to eat. For the first time in my life I had extra money for things like that. Could go to a real restaurant. Not just the Burger King, or some choke and puke place with greasy tables, lipstick-stained glasses, and a waiter with boogers on his apron.
With my job, and Brett working as a veterinarian's assistant, we were doing all right. Making pretty good money. We had even bought a new couch, a large TV, and spent time in the Hastings bookstore downtown, buying books, videos, and CDs and even a CD player to play the little bastards on. This kept up, I'd own a DVD player before long, have a gold ring through the head of my dick, and start wearing colored underwear. I had my eye on a large pair of Scooby Do drawers I'd seen. Had Shaggy, Scooby and the Mystery Van on it. Lots of color on a white cotton background. Hard to beat that.
No doubt about it, as of late, I had grown lazy. Being a night watchman over at the chicken plant didn't demand much. All I did there was walk around, play pocket pool, hang out in the break room, drink bad coffee and eat too many doughnuts, talked chickens with folks who had been there all their lives and didn't like it much. But they damn sure knew chickens and mostly hated them. Daytime, I took a few courses over at the college.
As for working out, well, I'd gotten out of the habit. About the heaviest weight I lifted were my legs when I got out of bed.
Cause of that, I'd gained a few pounds and had a gut. That was another thing I had against the beach. I didn't want my belly poking out of a bathing suit in front of a bunch of people I didn't know. Fact was, I didn't want to expose it to a bunch of people I did know. Wasn't that it was scary or anything, but I got my pride, even if I'm middle-aged and have a girlfriend who's the same age and looks fifteen to twenty years younger.
You go out there and look your age, that's okay, that's life, but you go out there and look your age and someone thinks you got your younger sister with you; maybe your adult daughter, that's not so pride building.
Brett was one of those who had gained a few pounds in the last few years but they had wisely settled in all the right places and laid there firm. She was tall, had her hair colored strawberry blonde, painted her toes to match.
One day after she finished dying her hair and painting her nails, I said, what color was it originally. She said, "Hell, baby, I don't remember, but it wasn't black. As for the fingernails, well, they didn't come this color either."
The strawberry color went well with her clean milky complexion and her blazing green eyes. She could probably have shaved her head and looked all right to me.
She dressed smartly, a little on the sexy side, but nothing trampy. Went to restaurant with her, you could see the guys sneaking glances while their wives looked over the menu. Guy thinkin', what in the hell is that homely motherfucker doing with that big tittied, redheaded, long-legged home wrecker? Where's the goddamn cosmic justice in that?
I know, I've thought those kinds of thoughts myself. Nothing aches a guy more than to see some dish with some fella so ugly he could walk in either direction and seem to be coming ass forwards.
Leonard had gained a few pounds himself. Working at a bakery as security manager meant he had access to some day old cakes and cookies, stuff they would have thrown out. You had to keep tight security on stuff like that, and now and then you had to show that stuff who was boss, snap a few of them down as an example to the others. And in that department, Leonard was no slacker. Had a job and was willing to do it.
One of the things they had in the plant was vanilla cookies, and that, along with Dr. Peppers, were his weakness. He brought a lot of them home, shared them with John. Cause of that, John had porked up to.
Then there was Cinnamon, four months pregnant, a tall, gangly looking black girl with her hair in corn rows, her long legs seemingly without muscle, her face in a constant expression of amazement, as if she had gotten pregnant by immaculate conception and hadn't quite gotten over it; wanted to talk to the deity about using rubbers, maybe some foreplay and a thank you ma'am.
We were on the side of the lake away from the boat ramps. Here it was sandy and shallow and the sand filled the beach and drifted up a hill and into some tall pine trees. There were only a few people around, and all of them were sun worshipers, lying on towels, greased up and being grilled. A few of them looked lean and fine, like some kind of ad you see on TV where people are so excited about some kind of beer they sing. The others looked like one of those National Geographic specials where the walruses come up on the beach to run. Up the hill, away from this clutch of humanity, was a big, split log picnic table under a huge pecan tree that dripped shade like liquid tar. Next to the table was a brick and metal grill. No one had commandeered table or grill, so we hastened toward it, Cinnamon in the lead.
Cinnamon was staying with her Uncle John because her family had thrown her out like a stray cat. She was sixteen and knocked up and her old man, other than getting mad, which is understandable, decided to not only have her hit the road, he disowned her. She ended up at John's house, where he and Leonard lived together.
It wasn't an ideal situation, Leonard told me, having someone else in the house, having underwear and brassieres hanging on the shower rod, the sink littered with makeups and toothpaste blobs, but her being there was the right thing to do, and Leonard thought maybe he ought to go over and visit John's brother, Herman, just whip the living dog shit out of him. But John was against it, didn't like the idea because Herman had been a professional boxer and was ten years younger than Leonard.
I could see his point. Maybe, had Leonard been twenty years older the fight would have been fair.
Unlike Leonard and myself, especially Leonard, John was mature. Used his brains, not his testosterone, and not his muscle. He didn't whip up on people and he kept his head.
I was getting better about it and I was proud of myself. I had had an altercation not long back at the chicken plant, with a drunk, a chicken sexer, and I hadn't killed him. Hadn't even hit him. Guy picked a fight. I don't know why. Bad family business going on. He was feeling kind of tense. Maybe he had sexed a chicken wrong, called a rooster a hen, and somewhere, right at that moment, a manly little was getting corked in the ass by an uncaring, mature rooster.
Words were exchanged. He grabbed my head and I let him hop around and yell like that for awhile, keeping my hands on his hips until he got tired, then I pushed him off. Course, he didn't know what had happened and grabbed my head again. I did the same thing. Then he threw punches and I stepped inside of them, tripped over a trashcan and went down. He thought he was hot then, triumph ran over him like racecars. I came up quickly, poked him firmly, but not too hard, in the throat, and he was ready to quit.
I considered this maturity on my part. No one got hurt. No one got fired. Just a few years earlier I would have hurt him, not even meaning to. Course, several days later I couldn't help but wish I had broken his arm. But it was just wishful thinking. Like how you wish you'd banged that girl you tried to respect in high school, only to discover she was blowing the football team and screwing your shop teacher while wearing a bottle in her ass.
But I was mature this time. I moved on. He quit the plant, got fired for drinking. Couldn't even keep a job with the chickens, who for the most part are upstanding citizens until they get their throats cut, are cleaned and boxed for shipment.
As Leonard, John and Cinnamon sped ahead to nab the table before some else could, Brett leaned over to me, said in her inimitable way, "Damn. I haven't been this hot since I got fucked in the back seat of a Ford mid-summer while wearing nothing but an agora sweater."
"Oh, that's funny," I said.
"Baby, you beat any quickie in the back of a Ford. Besides, your ass gets sticky and hangs on the seats if they're vinyl. And, considering the boys I fell for, they were always vinyl and they always drove old Fords."
"You're such a flatterer," I said.
"You really like jacking with me, don't you?"
"I do. But I only pick at the ones I love."
"You pick at everybody."
"I love everybody."
"Oh, all right, I'm just mean."
We all had packages, standard picnic items, and we unloaded them at the table. Chips and soft drinks, Leonard's Dr. Peppers. He had ordered them from the plant in Waco because he thought they tasted fresher, and they did. Leonard also brought a bag of ice and dessert from the bakery. Vanilla cookies, of course.
Brett and I provided a plastic gallon jug of ice and tea, paper cups, hot dogs, hamburger meat wrapped in plastic, buns for burgers and dogs.
Along with that, we had brought a jug of water, paper towels, some soap and charcoal and lighter fluid, a box of long kitchen matches and a scrub brush.
We cleaned the grill grates by removing them, soaping them down, scrubbing them with the brush and rinsing them off with water from our jug. Then we wiped them down with paper towels. We lit the charcoal and got that going good, and while it heated up, Brett removed the white towel beach robe she was wearing and showed us a bright yellow suit that hid what needed to be hid, but let you know there wasn't that much hiding.
"You got a truck jack under those titties?" Leonard asked.
"As a matter of fact, the suit is jacked up. Pushes up and pushes in. Makes good look better. I also used a little tape to pull them together. Goddamn, I love modern technology."
She trounced out to the beach in her little suit and flip-flops. Leonard said, "I don't know from women, but I suppose she looks pretty good."
"Oh, God, Leonard. You just don't know. She'd make a Greek Orthodox cleric unorthodox."
I watched Brett remove her flip-flops when she got to the sand, which, of course had been hauled in and wasn't any more natural than the suit top she was wearing, but boy, oh boy, who gives a damn.
As she walked along the beach, next to the water, I saw men's heads rise from where they resided on their towels, like periscopes. I saw women's heads lift too. Then the men's heads went down, quickly. Brett walked along the beach and tip toed into the water.
John said, "Cinnamon, why don't you take a dip?"
"I look so big, Uncle John."
"Hey, you're pregnant. People know pregnant. Enjoy yourself. Just don't overdo. A little sunlight, a little water, it won't hurt you any."
Cinnamon had been wearing a kind of net over her suit. It was the sort of thing you wondered why anyone bothered. What's with a net? What's that hide?
Cinnamon removed the net. She was wearing a silver one-piece suit and it set nicely against her dark skin. She looked as if she might one day grow to be about seven foot tall, and maybe gain muscle. Right now, she looked like what she was. A ropey kid who had done what her hormones suggested instead of what she should have done. Used birth control or abstained.
She went down to the water, caught up with Brett and went in.
"Damn, she screwed up," John said.
"Who put the bun in the oven?" I asked.
"Romal's his name."
"Romal?" Leonard said. "Whatever happened to just naming people real names? Is that supposed to be African?"
"He's from Etoil," John said, "but it's supposed to sound African. Or so I think. My brother, Herman. He calls himself Abdul or some such thing. I call him Herman."
"Seems to me," I said, "guy wants to change his name, he ought to be able to do it. Muhammed Ali did it."
"Change it from Herman is okay with me," Leonard said, "but what's with Abdul? He's about as Arabic as I am Jewish. Why can't he call himself something good . . . like Leonard? Besides, Muhammed Ali could have called himself Mr. Pussy and it wouldn't have mattered. I got a guess this Romal is a little less classy than Muhammed Ali."
"Moslem," John said. "He's adopted that religion. That's why the Arab name. Same reason Ali took it."
"I hate all religions," Leonard said. "Especially ones that have to do with people changing their names to Abdul. You're Arab and named Abdul, that's all right, but what's a good old fashioned black kid doing calling himself Abdul? It's enough to make a man want to join the Klan."
"Leonard," I said, "you are a jackass."
"Hey, I'm black. I can get away with it. Look at Al Sharpton. He's an idiot everyday."
"None of that business in front of Cinnamon," John said. "She's got enough on her plate, and she doesn't understand your humor. For that matter," John said, "I don't understand your humor."
"I know what you understand," Leonard said.
John smiled. "Is that right?"
Now, I've known and been around Leonard a long time, and I don't have a thing against gays, outside of the fact I was raised Baptist, and even thought I jettisoned that business ages ago, it still makes me nervous to see men making sex talk, putting their hands on one another in a romantic manner, kissing, that kind of stuff. It's not that I think it's wrong. I'm just not used to it, and in East Texas you don't have a lot of opportunities to see it and get accustomed to it. Fact is, I'm not all that crazy about seeing heterosexuals get overly familiar in public. I guess, deep down, I can be kind of prudish.
I went over to the grill and started fanning the charcoal. Leonard and John sat at the table and held hands and joked with one another the way lovers do, and I tried to find a way not to look at them. I found all I could do was fan that charcoal.
When the charcoal was going good, I got the hamburger meat out, the hot dogs, put them on the grill. The charcoal was good and hot, so it didn't take long.
Brett and Cinnamon came up while I was turning the hamburgers, and within minutes we were eating.
When we finished out late lunch, I was read to go. The heat was getting to me, and some kind of little bug had decided I was the sweetest thing since chocolate cake and had taken to my neck.
I decided to hang in there for awhile, because everyone else seemed to be having so much fun, and Leonard was breaking out the vanilla cookies. I eat vanilla cookies, but I'm not the nut for them Leonard is, and I noticed, as he doled them out, when he passed equal amounts to all of us, it seemed to be breaking his heart.
"If you don't want them," he said, "don't just toss them. I'll take them home."
"Oh, I'll keep mine," I said. "I like to make little artistic sculptures out of them."
"Don't jack with me, Hap," Leonard said. "You start jacking with me and my cookies, well, it won't be a pretty sight."
I laughed, and Cinnamon said, "I'm going to go swim some more."
"Aren't you supposed to rest for an hour after you eat before you go swimming?" John said. "To keep from cramps?"
"I'm not going out in the deep water, Uncle John. Mostly just wading. Up to the waist at the most. I'm not much of a swimmer anyway."
"All the more reason not to go in right after lunch."
"No, I'm fine. Really. I'm just going to wade, not swim."
"Oh, all right."
She went back to the lake.
Brett said, "She's such a cutie."
"That's what her boyfriend thought," John said. "But when she got knocked up, he decided she was too young for him."
"How old was he?"
"Yikes. Isn't that statutory rape or something?"
"Can be," John said. "But my brother settled for just beating him within an inch of his life. The boy and his father threatened law suit, and Herman threatened statutory rape, so I think it's a stand off."
"Sex at that age isn't that uncommon," Brett said. "But rubbers aren't uncommon either. I don't know why kids don't understand that. And if they're going to be sexually active, why not the pill?"
"My brother wasn't going to buy his daughter pills, prophylactics, or even give her information. His idea was, they don't know, they won't do it."
"Oh, they'll do it," Brett said. "I should know. I did it. And did it. And did it."
"They get pregnant lot of times even when they know about that business," I said.
"Yeah," John said, "but at least you can rest assured you did the best you could by giving them the information and warning them. All you can do, really. That or stand over them twenty-four hours a day for the rest of their teenage years."
"My daughter," Brett said, "I told her everything, explained to her the birds and the bees. With her it took good. She became a professional, does it for money, so I guess I got no room to be self-righteous. I tried, but didn't have any luck. My baby took the Sawyer's natural love for fucking to the highest level. She doesn't care who's paying. That's what blows my mind. She just takes any slobbery guy, lets him mount, gets a few dollars, wipes her ass and gets ready for the next one."
"Always threw me way women used that ass term," Leonard said. "Queers know an ass, and they know it's the end with the asshole, but women call their vagina's their ass too. So do heterosexuals. 'Got me a piece of ass.' 'What a piece of ass.' You hear it all the time. Mostly I hear it from Hap."
"You do?" Brett said.
"I wouldn't say that," I said.
"I think you would," Brett said.
"But I only talk about yours now."
"Oh, no dear. Just to you."
"Anyway," Leonard said, "don't you think that's weird? Which is it, the ass or the vagina they're talking about when they say ass?"
"Guys really don't care," I said. "It's like this whole thing with women saying, 'well, she's had a breast job, those aren't her real breasts', you know. Like that makes a difference, like guy gives a shit. He don't know from real or boosters, and doesn't give a damn. It's like that bathing suit top. It doesn't matter it pushes you up, makes you bigger than you are, that it's an illusion-"
"Hey," Brett said. "It's not that big an illusion."
"-guy don't care. Guy likes tits or the illusion of tits. Even if he's not, specifically speaking, a tit man. Which I'm not. Which is not to say I don't like them . . ."
"You're just getting deeper and deeper, buddy," Brett said.
"Hey," John said, "look at that."
We looked where he was pointing. The lake. There was a boat moving toward us, coming fast. It was a decent distance out, but it was really pouring on the steam. I could see two figures in it, a man and a woman. The woman's dark hair was flying in the wind.
"It's coming in too fast," Leonard said.
And it was, churning water, cutting straight toward shore.
"They're not supposed to come over this far," John said. "This is the swimming area."
"You might ought to get Cinnamon out of the water," Leonard said.
"Yeah," John said.
I looked down at the beach. People in the water had noticed the boat and were coming out quickly. I looked for Cinnamon. She was out in the deeper water, right where John told her not to go. She was out near the rope that divided the swimming area from the place where it was too deep and dangerous to swim.
John started quickly toward the lake, yelling Cinnamon's name.
The boat was plowing forward, on a straight path for her.
We all ran toward the lake, yelling Cinnamon's name.
I looked up, saw the boat was not going to invade the swimming area, it was going to beach itself. In that glimpse I saw the woman in the boat was bare breasted. Her hair coiled around her head like thousands of tiny, dark snakes. The man, who was at the wheel of the craft, had his head thrown back, as if taking a nap.
John waded into the water. He was screaming. Leonard suddenly leapt in after him, grabbed him around the neck, jerked him back, dragged him out.
I yelled, "Cinnamon."
She finally heard, turned, paddling in the water, looked at me. I was screaming now, "Dive under."
She put one hand to her ear.
I pointed toward the boat.
She looked at me curiously.
Leonard dragged John on shore. John got to his feet, began to fight with him. Leonard let him throw a couple of punches, stepping inside of them. He finally slipped John into a hammer lock, and pushed him down. About that time, I looked up and saw the boat was nearly to shore.
It was deadlocked on Cinnamon.
"Dive, Cinnamon." I was screaming now.
She slowly turned in the water, saw the speed boat coming.
Oh, Jesus, I thought. No.
The boat jumped the rope, hit Cinnamon head on with a sound like someone dropping a huge stone on a pecan, and she disappeared from view.
People on shore had taken up yelling for Cinnamon too, but when she was hit they knew the boat was going to make land, and they flurried like quail.
The boat struck the shore, bounced six feet high, came down, the blades on the outboard plowing sand like a blender mixing an ice cream float. And it just kept coming. It went up the hill, wavering, spewing sand, then it shot into the air, came down on its nose with a crunch, spun sideways, smacked into a line of small closely planted pine trees, and went still. The motor kept running, plowing the propeller into the dirt. Then the blades froze, the motor groaned, howled, locked, and went dead.
The silence in the air was as painful as a blow.
I looked back out at the lake, saw Cinnamon floating face down. I could see immediately the top of her head had been split open by the bow of the boat. The water darkened around her. I let out a noise. It just came out of me, as if it had escaped. And as if on cue, a woman somewhere on the shore behind me began to scream.
Then John began to scream.
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