Everyone silently watched one another. The woman’s eyes widened as blood ran down her face.
Every day, twice a day, Joan Santi bathed her son in lavender from the soft spot on his head with its wispy hairs to his tiny light brown toes. You could always smell it emanating from every crevice of baby Phil. Consequently, Joan’s hands carried the smell. This was back in the eighties when she was a new mother. That’s what she became known for. That beautiful purple smell. This pudgy woman, occasionally with slight acne and neatly pressed hair or carefully chosen wigs. Who didn’t gravitate toward her in those days?
It was only after the boys had played that last game of basketball that Casey noticed the woman. He was a bit lightheaded from the workout and breathing briskly through his mouth. Casey bent forward, rested his hands on his knees and looked up. She was in the distance—appearing at first, very briefly, like a hallucination—walking round and round, speaking to herself loudly and animatedly. She spoke a mix of Spanish and English and gibberish that people often mistook for French.
Her shirt was dirt-caked and dotted with black smudges. It stopped just above her navel so that her belly flopped over her waistband and hung low. The woman paused and watched Casey and his three friends for a few minutes.
At first they ignored her, making small talk and jokes, and then Casey said, “What she want?”
“A new shirt,” Rich replied.
“She ain’t bothering us,” Wayne said.
When she strode closer, Casey noticed a bulbous pus-filled sac just above the right corner of her upper lip. Curly whiskers grew out of it. Patches of hair dotted her chin and cheeks. She parted her lips and the boys watched the gray and black strays that surrounded her mouth.
“FillafilFillafil…..Fillafil….Fillafil….” she called. Then she walked.
The boys screwed their faces in disgust, chuckling between short breaths. Kwayku was the first to get a hold of his breathing and in a husky, wheezy growl he said: “Look Casey, there go your mother.”
Everyone laughed, except Casey who twisted his brow. If only he had taken more shots instead of listening to Wayne and passing the ball, he could’ve shut Kwayku up by gloating over a victory, but after a loss, or a series of them, there is very little the loser can tell the victor.
The conversation moved along to girls in general, then it turned specific, the boys tossing off names of girls they’d sleep with if ever given the chance, or in Kwayku’s case, boasting of girls he slept with or came damn close. Casey, through everything, stayed fixed on the woman, studying her as she passed. The boys swatted at gnats and dabbed sweat from their foreheads while they discussed female body parts, particular body parts they were all familiar with and had glimpsed through clothing at one time or another: a left breast, a thigh, a few particularly thick butt cheeks, some puffy cleavage that recurred day after day. Marcy’s breasts. More to the point, her ass. It was an outsize thing. An impressive thing. A jutting-outward-and-still-rounded thing. A disproportionate thing when compared to the rest of her. A special and jean-warping thing. Twin planets divided by a crack of slender outer space. And much to the pleasure of boys everywhere it was unable to be hidden beneath a sweater tied round her waist or any other type of thick clothing no matter how she tried.
“Man,” Kwayku said. “If I could be the wallet in them back pockets.”
Times like this, Casey wanted to punch Kwayku right in his wolf smile. Then he remembered that it was all jealousy. Marcy belonged to him, ass and all.
“A white girl with ass,” Kwayku said. “It’s fucking unheard of.”
The bearded woman danced through Casey’s peripheral vision and he was happy to take his mind off Kwayku’s nonsense.
“There that bitch go again,” Casey said.
“Calling your mother a bitch? Have some respect, nigga.”
That woman, that bearded freak, looked nothing like his mother, Casey thought, rubbing the slick sheet of sweat that covered the back of his neck.
She moved purposefully. Staring forward, her head tilted. Casey had seen her before in one of her lucid moments, sheepishly approaching passersby and requesting change. He had seen her angry and belligerent, but most often she was just babbling and confused. Always she was an irritating and bothersome creature, like the stray dogs of the Southside who roamed at night in packs.
“Fillafil…Fillafil,” she said as she made another pass.
“What she saying? Falafel? Why she keep circling the playground, why don’t she go somewhere?” Casey asked. “I bet you she gonna ask for money any minute now.”
“Well, damn Casey, she your mother you should give her some money.” Kwayku said. “At least pay for a shave.”
She was nearly out of sight when Casey picked up a rock, medium-sized and irregularly shaped. Had some heft to it. He didn’t mean to strike her when he threw it, only to scare her, but he did hit her, square in her head. She covered the bleeding spot with her hand.
Kwayku howled sharply. Wayne gasped and Rich followed.
Everyone silently watched one another. The woman’s eyes widened as blood ran down her face. Kwayku snickered and then doubled over in laughter.
The woman was frozen and then she was in motion, running off into the street and then she was gone. The boys spent a half-hour replaying the event, changing it until it was a myth.
“Man, that was fucked up,” Wayne said.
“Shut up, nigga,” Kwayku said. “You was laughing the hardest.”
At the end of the half-hour, they remembered the rock striking as a light thing, an inconvenience to the woman. They forgot the terror in her face. The sinking feeling of fear that wound through their chests. The blood. It became a scene in a slapstick comedy. They renamed her “Lady MacBeard.” Instead of shocked silence, they recalled laughter being stuck in their throats. It was all nothing, but nothing and in brief moments they remembered what they forgot.
When they were all done and “Casey versus Lady MacBeard” was little more than an elaborate story, they walked down the hill to Marcy’s house to watch the Spice Channel as was their custom.
When she returned to work after maternity leave, Joan’s scent would light up every corner of the library. She glowed lavender and purple and fuchsia and plum. Maybe it was from baby Phil. That’s what her husband said as he stood and watched his wife and son from behind his ever-present cloud of smoke. There was no one at the time who didn’t also radiate their own colors when they saw Joan. The librarians she assisted grinned when they spoke about her. The children in the reading room crowded around once a week as she sang them songs and read them picture books. They cooed when she showed them the images and giggled at the different voices she put on for each character.
It was one of those facts lost between childhood memories, but Casey used to be there sometimes, infrequently really, sitting in the front row. Each time she read, she daydreamed one of the children was her Phil watching his mother read from his favorite storybook. One or two times Casey was Phil. And Wayne once was Phil. Every week a new Phil.
Joan loved that place. The smell of the books, for a time, gave her just the highest feeling.
There was a week of heavy rains when the boys didn’t venture from their homes after school. The basketball court sat beneath several inches of water. And even Marcy’s basement, where Casey and his friends went to see naked people writhe about on the television screen, hosted a shallow pool of floodwater. Nothing major, just an irritation, but enough to keep guests out for a while. Then all of that passed away and the boys went back to the basketball court.
The day of their return, a Tuesday, the court was dotted with puddles and when the ball rolled into the grass, it became coated in muddy water. To clean it, Kwayku rolled it off his long black fingers, high into the open air and droplets of brown water went shooting off in all directions.
The atmosphere was damp and heavy with unfallen rain. Wispy gray clouds hung low in the sky. Kwayku spent most of the day telling and re-telling the tale of Casey’s triumph, adding a flourish here, a detail there. Casey laughed, a grin on his face, until Kwayku said: “Man, why you want to do your mother like that?”
“She does look like his mom, doesn’t she?” Richard said.
Casey grew angry.
When the four boys finished their basketball game, Kwayku and Richard were victorious again. Kwayku began his taunts by offering to do Marcy in various sexual positions. Casey noticed Lady MacBeard circling the perimeter. Her head was bandaged. She walked slowly and ignored the boys, mumbling to herself and occasionally waving her arms for emphasis.
Kwayku pointed and said: “Casey, your momma is looking for you.”
Casey looked up and felt his thoughts darken. He threw a rock. It slapped the ground behind the woman with a thud, splashing into the muddy earth. She walked on as if it never happened. Casey dug another from the dirt and lobbed it. It whizzed by her. Then he threw another and another and another until one slammed into her back and fell to the earth. She stumbled forward and then stood still, her face frozen in confusion and horror. Then she ran.
“Yeah, run bitch,” Kwayku said as he curled back his arm and hurled a stone at Lady MacBeard. It fell far short as if he never meant to hit her at all.
Richard timidly collected a handful of rocks and tossed them at the fleeing woman, all of them flying far wide or far short. Wayne sighed and shook his head in disgust at his friend—really a neighbor his mother asked him to watch out for— before grabbing Richard and ordering him to cease. And like that, Richard stopped and looked up at his older friends as if waiting on directions.
Casey scratched at his neck, a few stray hairs had started growing in. The boys threw the ball toward the hoop and, tiring of that, walked off to watch pornography at Marcy’s house, speaking of the thing that was her ass the whole time.
The next day, just as Kwayku rained a perfect three-point shot past Casey’s outstretched hand, Marcy showed up, her blonde hair shimmering in the sun. Casey smiled and waved at his girlfriend. Sweat covered his dark face. She smiled back, standing at the edge of the court where the blacktop met the grass, saying nothing. And she looked down to the ground, swaying. She greeted Richard and Wayne and ignored Kwayku. He nodded at her as he threw the basketball at Casey’s chest. It smacked into his torso. He gasped, letting the ball drop to the ground.
“Your ball,” Kwayku said with a growl.
“Let me show you how to play,” Casey said tearing his shirt from his sweaty back and slapping the ball against the hard, black playground court.
“This fool want to take off his shirt when his girl show up,” Kwayku said. “Put the bird back in the cage.”
Casey charged the basket, leaping off the ground and letting the ball rise from his fingers into the air. With little movement, Kwayku reached his ropy black arm to the sky and slapped the ball to the earth.
He screamed like a beast.
“Get that shit out of here, boy,” Kwayku said. “What you think this is?”
“Stop showing off and pass that shit!” Wayne screamed.
Casey looked over at his girlfriend. Their eyes met and she grinned and shrugged. He looked away, pretending Marcy wasn’t there even as he felt her eyes on him. She clapped and shouted Casey’s name, which made him more conscious of his own existence, the physical space he occupied.
“Whatever Kwayku,” Casey said. “Let’s see you do that again.”
Kwayku slapped down Casey’s shots three more times. Richard, after each block, snatched the ball and tossed it into Kwakyu’s waiting hands. In a single swift motion, Kwayku pulled up and each time released a perfectly placed shot that would have swished in the net had there been a net. And just as he released the ball, he dedicated each shot to Marcy, who accepted Kwayku’s sentiment by playfully blowing kisses in his direction. Before long, it was over for Casey and Wayne. Kwayku snatched his baseball cap from the ground and slapped it onto his head, declaring it his crown.
“I’m the king of basketball!” Kwayku screamed. “And Richard is my deputy. Everybody address me as ‘Your Highness.’ Forget that sucker, Marcy, you could be my queen.”
“No thanks, Your Highness,” Marcy replied.
Casey strode to the edge of the court, ignoring Kwayku and Richard’s trash talk and put his arm around Marcy.
“I don’t need your sweat all over me.” She pulled away.
“Shoot,” she mumbled. “When I ask you to touch me…” She sucked her teeth. Casey shot her a glance that was supposed to look angry.
Kwayku bawled and clapped his hands. The massive, heavy things slapping together sounded like hooves clopping along the ground.
“Yeah,” Kwayku said. “You stink.”
Then he laughed louder. Richard and Wayne joined him.
“Damn, your girl dissed you,” Kwayku said, his words riding waves of laughter.
“Whatever,” Casey mumbled.
“Marcy, you know you don’t really want to be with him.” Kwayku said. “Come holler at me.”
Casey frowned. Marcy said nothing. She smiled though.
“You got a donkey girl,” he continued. “Casey don’t know how to handle that.”
“Shut up, Kwayku,” Marcy said. “Stop talking about my ass. You’re just jealous that Casey got this ‘donkey’ and what you got?”
Then there was quiet until Kwayku said: “Hey Rich, she told that nigga he stink. She said: ‘Get the hell off me, nigga you stink.’ ”
“She ain’t say that,” Casey said.
“Man, everybody heard her,” Richard said.
“Y’all need to stop instigating,” Marcy replied. “Casey know I said nothing like that.”
The back and forth went on for several minutes. Lady MacBeard circled the playground slowly, as if on a mission, though no one noticed.
“Watch, Marcy gonna be laying up with me today,” Kwayku said. “Ain’t that right, Marcy?”
“Whatever,” she replied.
“Can’t stop talking shit, huh?” Wayne asked.
“What, I’m just saying…she know she want to,” Kwayku replied.
“Man, Kwayku, that’s enough,” Casey said.
Kwayku walked over to Casey, standing so close to him that they traded body heat. He had nearly a foot on Casey. Kwayku’s voice rumbled, where everyone else’s squeaked.
“Who you talking to like that, boy?” Casey didn’t respond. “Dog, I’ll smack the shit out of your little ass.” He paused. “Just because you can play some ball, don’t mean I won’t smack you.”
Casey looked down at the rocks on the ground. In the distance, Lady MacBeard made another pass and Casey noticed her for the first time.
“Watch, man, I’m gonna fuck your girl. What you think about that?”
Casey didn’t respond.
“Man, that ain’t a rhetorical question. I’m gonna stick my dick in that ass. What you gonna do?”
Marcy was as still as a plastic doll or, rather, a mannequin from the department store window. Her face was just as hollow, though grave. Richard and Wayne chuckled, yet they didn’t smile.
Casey looked around at each eye. They were fixed on him, hungering for his reaction. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Huh? You forget how to talk?”
“Man,” Casey said slowly and quietly. “I don’t care. Do what you want to do.”
“Kwayku, man, why don’t you leave him alone?” Wayne said.
“Casey’s my nigga.” Kwayku flashed a smile and put his arm around Casey. “He know I’m just playing with him.”
In the distance, there was an animal-like bleating: “FillafilFillafilFillafil,” Lady MacBeard screamed. Her voice echoed throughout the neighborhood.
Marcy and the boys looked at her. Kwayku’s smile broadened and he glared down at Casey.
“Man,” he said. “I ain’t even gonna say it this time.”
The group walked slowly to Marcy’s house, with only awkward asides cutting into the silence. Marcy was in front of the group, her arms wrapped around her torso, speaking only when addressed and then her reply was just one or two words.
She was on display as usual—one of the only white girls at District Central Senior High School, and the only attractive one; a member of one of the only completely lily white families in Cross River. And sometimes she hated, she had told Casey on the Saturday after the heavy rains had passed, being a star; the older guys who spoke to her with unsaid words hidden behind their words; all the expectations and mistaken assumptions about who she was. Casey, timid and understated, was a change of pace from the world she, as an oddity, a display-piece, was expected to inhabit. She told Casey this, except when she said it she said: “Casey, I like you because you’re so laid-back, you’re a thinker…but sometimes I want you to take action, be more assertive…like you know…those guys who hang out in the afternoon by the bus stop sometimes.”
“What do you mean?” Casey asked. They were alone in her basement, yet they sat far from one another on opposite sides of the room. “You want me to yell about how much I want to ‘hit that’ when you walk by?”
“Grow up, Casey. That’s not what I mean. But you know, you could grab a handful of ass sometimes instead of waiting for me to make a move. Don’t you want to do that?” she asked, walking over to him. She pressed Casey’s left hand to the soft cushion behind her. “Objectify me.”
They kissed and fondled for a while and then he left with a dull ache burning beneath his waist. Casey described his pain to Marcy as the two made small talk by her front door and she responded with: “It’s your own fault.” Then there was a blank, lingering and tortuous silence that he was learning to get used to.
Marcy, he felt, was slipping from him.
Three out of the four Christmases Joan was employed by the Cross River Downtown Library, she played Joan Santi Claus, handing out slim paperback picture books to smiling children who had spaces where their baby teeth once were. Casey, even as a teenager, still had his book. It was about an Italian witch with a magical cauldron that produced endless pasta. That’s how everyone regarded Joan, as magical. Unruly hellions became docile and sweet in her presence. Even when she began to miss work and generally faded into her own world, children, librarians and parents all regarded her as the good witch. They couldn’t help it; she inspired smiles and conversation. The good witch from over there on the Southside of Cross River. It’s a shame what’s happening to those neighborhoods over there. She just nodded when people said that. Nodded as if to a beat. Not like how her uncle and his friends nodded. She used to watch them and promise to never lose control that way. “That herr-on, Joan,” her uncle would say and then shake his head and rub his swollen scabby hands.
That September—on the second Thursday of the month—before her last Christmas at the library was the first time since maternity leave that storytime was canceled. Phil was nearly a year old. She called that morning as she would many times after that. She felt so sick, she told her boss following a long night in her Southside townhouse. In those days, it was always a party. Passed bottles and joints. Her husband one night laid out a line of white powder and made it disappear inside his vacuum cleaner nose. Joan observed him like a scientist day after day and he was the same man going off to his job at the Cross River Public Works Department and coming home to play with Phil before welcoming the neighbors for a drink and a card game. One night, she closed her eyes, blocked her right nostril and disappeared a coke line that burned the space inside her face just beneath her eyes.
All those books, she thought the next morning debating whether to go to work or stay home, How could I possibly stand the scent of all those books?
In Marcy’s basement, they crowded around the glowing television set. Marcy sat on Casey’s lap for a bit, before moving to the floor. Naked body parts and nondescript faces writhed about the screen. Soon though, the sound of fucking smothered all speaking, except the words Kwayku dashed off as he sat on a bean bag chair in the corner laughing a raspy laugh and slapping his thigh. The group though, barely heard him, engrossed as they were in the sweaty gyrations on the television screen. Kwayku took his hat from his head, leaned forward and placed it on Marcy’s. She clutched the brim and pulled it down.
“This looks good on me. Don’t you guys think so?” she asked and all responded with mumbled, distracted affirmatives.
There was a figure on the screen who was more penis than man.
“He call that little thing a dick?” Kwayku said pointing at the screen. He unfastened his belt. The metal buckle jangled. “That ain’t a dick.” He unbuttoned his pants and clawed at his zipper, pulling it down slowly. Marcy stared, her mouth open. Casey leaned forward. Wayne frowned. “This is a dick.” He shoved his hand into the opening at his crotch.
“Kwayku!” Wayne yelled.
Kwayku eased his hand out of the opening, leaving his penis inside. He laughed and pulled his zipper up. It sounded as if he was barking.
“Man,” he said in a gruff growl “I was just joking.”
“Kwayku boy,” Marcy said, shaking her head and smirking a bit. “You’re out of control.”
Wayne stood, “Man, I’m getting the fuck out of here before I see some shit I don’t want to see.”
Casey also rose. “Yeah, man; I’m out of here.”
Kwayku nodded at them. “Peace out.”
“Rich, you coming?” Wayne asked.
“Man, we watching the show,” Kwayku said.
“Yeah, we watching the show,” Richard mimicked.
“My parents aren’t gonna be home for a couple hours,” Marcy said.
“I gotta get home,” Wayne said. “What are y’all staying here for?”
“Aww, these niggas want to ruin our good time,” Kwayku said, rising from the bean bag chair. Richard also rose. The group ascended the staircase, making their way to the front door, Marcy at their backs.
“You guys don’t have to leave,” Marcy said again as the boys stood outside her front door.
“So, um, yeah, uh, I’ll see you in school tomorrow, Ms….um…what’s her name’s class,” Casey said.
Behind him Kwayku and Richard mumbled to each other. Richard bounced the basketball against the concrete before throwing a mock shot to an imaginary basket.
“Bye Casey,” Marcy said, leaning toward him. The edges of their lips collided. She hugged Wayne, Richard and Kwayku and the group walked off.
Somewhere during the silent stroll, Kwayku noticed that his head was bare and he let out a howl.
“Damn, I forgot my hat at Marcy’s house.”
“Get the shit tomorrow,” Wayne said.
“Naw dog, I need my hat. Rich, come back up the street with me.”
“Why don’t you call her and have her bring it to school?” Casey asked.
It seemed Kwayku and Richard were halfway up the street by the time Casey had finished his sentence.
‘Rich,” Wayne called. “You better get your ass home. When your mother calls I ain’t lying for you.”
“See y’all tomorrow,” Kwayku said. The sound of the basketball tapping against the ground became lighter and lighter before it faded.
Casey thought of Marcy’s face and realized that instead of the kiss he had received, he would have preferred a hug. Her hugs were deep and soulful. That’s simply the way she hugged, solidly with her entire body pressed tightly against the other person. It was a nice hug.
Soon Casey and Wayne passed the playground.
“Ain’t that your mother?” Wayne asked Casey as they cut across the basketball court. Casey looked up expecting to see his mother, instead Lady MacBeard slowly strolled by. Casey dropped his backpack in a rage, scrounging through the dirt at the edge of the blacktop for the perfect rock.
Lady MacBeard sidled up to the boys, swaying back and forth, her face old and drooping. Casey rose without a rock. He scowled at her, watching the yellowish bump on her lip and the long wavy hairs that curled into her mouth.
The woman’s head was still bandaged and there was a red spot where she had bled through the gauze. She emitted a scent like rotting cheese.
“Y’all know where Sycamore Lane is?” she asked. “I’m trying to find Sycamore Lane.”
“No ma’am,” Wayne said. “I’m sorry. Sycamore Lane ain’t around here.”
“This bitch want a falafel?” Casey said to Wayne.
“Shut up,” Wayne replied.
“There’s no need to be rude. I’m looking for my boy Philly Phil. Have you seen Philly Phil? Philly Phil. Fillafil Fillafil Fillafil Fillafil…”
“Can’t say that I’ve seen him ma’am,” Wayne said.
“Bless your hearts,” she said walking off. “Y’all look just like my Philly Phil.”
When she was again in the distance looking something like a spectre, Casey bent and snatched a smooth, heavy rock from the ground.
“Bet I can hit that crackhead bitch right in her fucking head.”
“Man, Casey,” Wayne said as he walked. “Stop being stupid. Ain’t no one here to show off for.”
Casey stood upright, dropping the rock, and followed his friend.
Everyone, including Joan, blamed her decline on what happened to Phil. His baby heart stopping suddenly in the middle of the night as if he were an old man with a poor diet and a pack-a-day habit. That was in the October before her last Christmas at the Cross River Downtown Library. Really, it started before that—long before—in the basement of her Southside house. The place was always in motion. What times those were. The people that came in and out. The jokes. The drinks. The music. That smoky basement. Just as the party started getting old, Joan’s husband came one day with tiny white rocks, a butane lighter and a glass pipe. What a brief intense dizzying derangement. Imagine slipping off from yourself for a few moments. That’s how she described it and little by little, each time, less and less of her returned.
Soon after Phil left, her husband disappeared into the wilderness of the Southside. He’d be gone for days at a time. The parties ceased and the people who had once come in and out passed the house without so much as a glance. Once in a while, Joan would spot them when she peered out the window and they’d just shuffle by.
But mostly, Joan sat for hours in her favorite spot of their old living room couch where she breastfed Phil. It felt sometimes like he was resting in the crook of her arm. And other times, her breasts would drip milk and she’d sit with a throbbing ache in her chest. Her husband returned twice a week, a different person each time as if trying on new identities: laughing, angry, sedate, stoic. Sometimes he brought the rocks with him. Sometimes Joan would have to go out on her own looking for them.
Joan returned to work and seemed normal until one day she no longer glowed lavender.
Bit by bit, her husband stripped the house of everything from copper wires to the front door. There’s a market for anything if you look hard enough.
At work, Joan heard the librarians whisper, not like their normal whispers, these whispers were sharp hisses. The whispers were ice picks at Joan’s eardrums. Why didn’t they just pull her aside, grab her, shake her, say what they had to say? Instead they whispered until whispering would no longer do.
“Why don’t you take some time,” said the gray-haired librarian who managed the branch. “Phil just…I don’t think you’re ready.”
Joan’s wig was crooked and her eyes red and watery. She didn’t smell like lavender; she smelled like a rough Southside night. She wanted to say that she was Joan Santi Claus and the kids needed books from Santi Claus to live, but it seemed like a silly thing to say. Who needs books to live? Even those kids didn’t really believe Joan Santi Claus was the real thing. Even Joan Santi felt like a mythical being. Like she always had been just that, unreal.
Joan wanted to speak her thoughts or at least acknowledge them in some way, but she found she couldn’t. She spoke in a knotted bullfrog croak and could only mutter her son’s name.
Casey had thought all night about the previous day. The hat. Kwayku’s grin. Marcy’s flirtation with him. Kwayku’s back as he walked up the street back to Marcy’s house. It all provided motivation for him as he gripped the orange sphere and breezed past Kwayku’s bony form.
“Watch, Casey I’m gonna fuck your bitch,” he said as Casey eased a lay-up into the waiting hoop.
“That’s game,” Casey said through short breaths.
“Wow, you won one. It don’t matter. I’m still gonna fuck Marcy. I’m gonna flip her white ass over and next time you fucking her, you gonna see pink fingerprints on that ass. That’s me. Remember that.”
Casey ignored him, tossing the basketball against the backboard. It clanged over and over as the ball struck the orange square in the center.
“Have you even fucked her yet? Been with her how long and you ain’t even hit that? You must be gay, man. You the only one that ain’t hit it. He a virgin, that’s why he be throwing rocks at people.”
“Man, that don’t even make no sense,” Casey said.
“It’s from the Bible,” Kwayku replied. “ ‘He who is without sin can cast the first stone.’ ”
Kwayku’s friends erupted in laughter, even Casey chuckled. Kwayku stood stoically waiting for the laughter to die down before he continued: “Dog, I fucked your bitch.”
“Check the scoreboard,” Casey said. “I was raining jumpers all over your ass.”
“What you expect? I’m still tired from raining all over Marcy’s big ass.” He paused. “Rich hit it too.”
He stopped talking for a moment to make sure his audience paid rapt attention. They were silent, eyes widened, waiting for the next word.
“Yeah, Richard fucked her too. Ain’t you Rich?”
“She let us run a train,” Kwayku said, then he stopped speaking for a moment. He was a brilliant public speaker, pausing for effect, letting the silence hang heavy. “Dog, I was hitting that shit doggie-style. I was watching that shit bounce and shake. She ain’t a girl, she’s a receptacle. All I could see was these two round globes.” He paused again. “With ripples all on them. I love that shit, man. Sexy ass ripples.”
Casey frowned, the thick flesh back there did have ripples on it. He had seen the ripples—kissed them even—before something invariably stopped the proceedings. He remembered pulling down her panties for the first time and marveling that her ass wasn’t smooth like the asses in the magazines, but the meat of her ass was choppy and dimpled. And this knowledge, he felt, let him into some sort of secret club and the truth of her flesh was pleasantly disquieting and arousing.
“Game’s over,” Wayne said. “Y’all lost. Could y’all stop the trash talk? You do this every damn game.”
“It ain’t trash talk, it’s reality,” Kwayku said. “Me and Rich was rocking that shit like ungh-ungh.”
Kwayku did a little dance, closing his eyes and twisting his face into a tortured expression; he clenched his fists and thrust his hips back and forth. As he danced, like clockwork, Lady MacBeard strolled by, crying her son’s name, loudly, wistfully.
“Your mother’s here,” Kwayku said.
Casey closed his eyes in frustration.
“She don’t never learn her lesson,” Casey said. He cupped his hands around his mouth: “Hey Lady MacBeard, go somewhere. Don’t nobody want you here.”
She continued walking as if she didn’t hear him. Swaying, swaying, though stepping methodically like the stroll were her mission.
“Misses-Casey’s-momma, you’re looking mighty dirty today,” Kwayku said.
Casey frowned. Even on his mother’s worst days, this woman looked nothing like her. He dug a rock from the loose dirt and lobbed it, striking her in the head just as he had so many days before. Then he picked up another and another. The woman covered her head with her hands as stones rained down on her.
Casey had rocks in both hands when Kwyaku started pelting rocks in her direction. “Go on, get!” Kwayku said lobbing a handful at the woman. All flew far past her. “Get on back to your sideshow.”
Wayne threw one and so did Richard. A barrage of rocks landed in her direction, plapping against her body and the soft earth.
She simply stood there, holding up her arms as if calling on divine intervention. This made the boys pause. Blood streamed down her face. Wayne dropped his rocks and took off, jerking Richard’s arm. Richard followed, speeding down the hill and away from the playground. Casey reached for another rock.
“Stop!” Kwayku yelled. “Stop!”
Casey cupped his hand around a large one with curved lumps. He cocked his arm back. Kwayku reached for his friend, throwing his entire body into Casey’s path and tackling him to the ground. It didn’t matter though, Casey had already released the rock into the air. The stone landed in between her open hands and struck the top of her forehead.
The woman collapsed. She lay on the ground unmoving, a wet spot expanding outward from her crotch.
Casey looked into Kwayku’s face, hoping to see something other than what he saw: a stare of revulsion and pain; it looked like a fright mask, forever molded into an expression of rubbery distress. And Casey couldn’t help it, or even explain it, but it brought him laughter. He laughed like hell until burning water spilled from his eyes onto his cheeks.
Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University.