I am older now, and I bitterly regret my mistakes of the past. Like a black-widow spider spinning a web around her prey, Mama put up enough resistance to make him pitch himself into a sweat then agreed to go back to him. He had thousands of dollars invested in rich clothing and linens. After a week, my hustler uncle brought Steve to visit us, and to case the lay out. My father bought the cousin angle and broke out his best cigars and cognac for the thieves. It was another week before they took him off.
Remember, at the time I had no idea as to what really was going to happen. I would learn the shocking truth only after we got to Milwaukee.
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On that early evening when it happened Mama was jittery as we prepared to visit some close white friends of my father. Too soon it was time to go home. In my lifetime I have seen many degrees of shock and surprise on the human face. His lips flapped mutely.
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Mama stood there in the empty house clinging to him, comforting him, sobbing with real tears flowing down her cheeks. I guess she was crying in joy because the cross had come off so beautifully. Mama missed her calling. She should have been a film actress. With only a bit part, an Oscar a season would have been a lead-pipe cinch for her. Mama told my father we would go to Indianapolis to friends until he could put another nest together. When we got to Milwaukee by train, ninety miles away, Steve had rented a house.
Those lovely things did us little good and brought no happiness. Steve, with his mania for craps, within weeks had sold everything, piece by piece, and lost it across the craps table. He was just so cruel to me. My mother had bought me a little baby cat. I loved that kitten, and this man hated animals.
One day the cat, being a baby cat, did his business on the kitchen floor. The little kitten had hidden under the sofa. He grabbed that kitten and took it downstairs where there was a concrete wall. He grabbed it by the heels. I was standing we lived on the second floor looking down at him; he took the kitten and beat its brains out against that wall. I remember, there was a park behind our house, concrete covered.
There were some concrete steps. I sat there and I cried until I puked. I hate Mama! I hate Steve! I hate him! For many tortured years she would suffer her guilt.
She had made that terrible decision on that long ago weekend. I know my lousy old man deserved what happened to his goods. I know Mama got her revenge and it was sweet I am sure, but it was bitter for a kid like me to know that Mama was part of it. Perhaps if Mama had kept that burglary cross a secret from me, in some tiny way I might have been stronger to fight off that pimping disease. I was your first and only child. I choked up, stopped talking to her beneath the silent sod, and thought about Henry lying rotten, forgotten in his grave. I loved him Mama, I needed him.
I wish you could have seen beyond his ugly black face and loved him a little and stayed with him. Mama, I love you.
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I am not a lawyer as you always wanted me to be, but Mama, you have two beautiful grandchildren and another on the way, and a fine daughter-in-law who looks a lot like you when you were young. I have squared up, I work every day. How about it Mama, Iceberg Slim a square? Maybe my crying is really laughing. About ninety days after Steve smashed my kitten Mama cast off her spell, and one gray April dawn while Steve lay in a drunken, open-mouthed stupor, Mama and I packed what we could carry and moved into a hotel room.
It was complete with hot plate and downthe-hall toilet. On August fourth, my birthday, our old friend Steve, with diabolical timing, made that event unforgettable. Since that chilly dawn in April he had searched the slum streets for his escaped dupes, thirsty for revenge.
Well, she came home all right on the seventh of August, from a hospital, with her broken jaw wired, and her body covered with bruises. Steve had stalked her and attacked her with his fists and feet and then escaped through the grimy catacombs of the Ghetto. All that night and all the next day I crouched in the dark shadows beneath his stairwell gripping a gleaming ice pick. He never came back. He had moved.
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Twenty years later, while idly looking from the window of a plush hotel suite I would see something familiar in the white-haired stooped figure of a garbage collector on the street three stories down. I blacked out, when reason returned I was down there on the street in the bright morning sunlight, clutching a pistol, wearing only a pair of red silk pajamas.
As the garbage truck turned the corner a block away out of range, a small crowd of passersby stood bug-eyed watching the strange scene as Rachel, my main whore, tugged at my arm, pleaded with me to get off the street. Perhaps that beating Mama took was good, as painful as it was. Her eyes would be bright, riveted on the ceiling, she would be in a trance, remembering, still hot for him. After all he had done to us, she still had a terrible itch for the bastard.
That beating was good for her, it cured the itch. Mama had learned a bitter lesson the hard way. The country girl had rolled in the hay with the city slicker and now I saw all of her sorrow and guilt in her eyes. She had destroyed a good man back there, a native son. Henry died a year after we left him.
Until the grave claimed her, Henry would rise from his own to haunt her in the lonely gloom. Mama was desperate to save at least fragments of her image, to hold fast the love and respect I had for her in Rockford.
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I had seen too much, had suffered too much. The jungle had started to embalm me with bitterness and hardness. I was losing, page by page, the fine rules of thought and deed that I had learned in church, from Henry to the Boy Scout Troop in Rockford. I was sopping up the poison of the street like a sponge. Dangerously, I was frantic to sock it into every young girl weak enough to go for it. I had become impatient with the unusual thickness of her maidenhead.
T he slide was greased. I was starting my long plunge to the very bottom of the grim pit. I guess my trip downward really was cinched when I met a petty hustler who was very likeable and we became pals. My hustler pal was called Party Time.
By the time he was twentythree he had done four bits in the joint. On each fall he had been jacked up for either strong-arm robbery or till tapping. He got his moniker hung on him because as soon as he scored for scratch he would make fast tracks to the nearest underworld bar. All you studs stop playing stink finger with these long-cock whores and everybody belly up to the log and get twisted on me. His flat African features were pasted to a skull that could have belonged to a cave man.
He was short, powerful, and shiny black. There was a Fast sheet joint with the trick rooms in the rear, right on the alley. I was peeping one night into one through a frayed shade when I saw Party Time for the first time. My eyes were bugging when I saw the tall viking type white man, his tiny, but voluptuous female white companion and Party Time taking their clothes off. Finally they stood there naked. I could see their lips moving so I pressed my ear and eye sideways against the window that was open a couple of inches at the top to get the sound.
Honey, can you believe the size, the beauty of it! Her eyes were blue fire in her passion. She purred like a Persian kitten and pounced onto the bed. Party Time stood at the side of the bed looking down at her. He was an ebony executioner. His horizontal axe cast a cruel shadow across the snowy peaks, rose tipped.