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[2 of 5] If Beale Street Could Talk - Part Two - James Baldwin (1974)

Author: James Baldwin

“Part 2 of 5.” If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin, 1974.

When there’s nobody but us we eat in the kitchen, which is maybe the most important room in our house, the room where everything happens, where things begin and take their shape and end. Now, when supper was over that night, Mama went to the cupboard and came back with an old bottle, a bottle she’s had for years, of very old French brandy. They came from her days as a singer, her days with the drummer. This was the last bottle, it hadn’t been opened yet. She put the bottle on the table, in front of Joseph, and she said, “Open it.” She got four glasses and then she stood there while he opened it. Ernestine and Joseph looked like they just couldn’t guess what had got into Mama: but I knew what she was doing, and my heart jumped up.

Daddy got the bottle open. Mama said, “You the man of the house, Joe. Start pouring.”

It’s funny about people. Just before something happens, you almost know what it is. You do know what it is, I believe. You just haven’t had the time – and now you won’t have the time – to say it to yourself. Daddy’s face changed in a way I can’t describe. His face became as definite as stone, every line and angle suddenly seemed chiseled, and his eyes turned a blacker black. He was waiting – suddenly, helplessly – for what was already known to be translated, to enter reality, to be born.

Sis watched Mama with her eyes very calm, her eyes very long and narrow, smiling a little.

No one looked at me. I was there, then, for them, in a way that had nothing to do with me. I was there, then, for them, like Fonny was present, like my baby, just beginning now, out of a long, long sleep, to turn, to listen, to awaken, somewhere beneath my heart.

Daddy poured and Mama gave us each a glass. She looked at Joseph, then at Ernestine, then at me – she smiled at me.

“This is sacrament,” she said, “and, no, I ain’t gone crazy. We’re drinking to a new life. Tish is going to have Fonny’s baby.” She touched Joseph. “Drink,” she said.

Daddy wet his lips, staring at me. It was like no one could speak before he spoke. I stared at him. I didn’t know what he was going to say. Joseph put his glass down. Then he picked it up again. He was trying to speak; he wanted to speak; but he couldn’t. And he looked at me as if he was trying to find out something, something my face would tell him. A strange smile wavered just around his face, not yet in his face, and he seemed to be traveling backward and forward at once, in time. He said, “That’s a hell of a note.” Then he drank some more brandy, and he said, “Ain’t you going to drink to the little one, Tish?” I swallowed a little brandy, and I coughed and Ernestine patted me on the back. Then, she took me in her arms. She had tears on her face. She smiled down at me – but she didn’t say anything.

“How long this been going on?” Daddy asked.

“About three months,” Mama said.

“Yeah. That’s what I figured,” said Ernestine, surprising me.

“Three months!” Daddy said: as though five months or two months would have made some kind of difference and made more sense.

“Since March,” I said. Fonny had been arrested in March.

“While you two was running around looking at places, so you could get married,” Daddy said. His face was full of questions, and he would have been able to ask these questions of his son – or, at least, I think that a black man can: but he couldn’t ask these questions of his daughter. For a moment, I was almost angry, then I wasn’t. Fathers and sons are one thing. Fathers and daughters are another.

It doesn’t do to look too hard into this mystery, which is as far from being simple as it is from be­ing safe. We don’t know enough about ourselves. I think it’s better to know that you don’t know, that way you can grow with the mystery as the mystery grows in you. But, these days, of course, everybody knows everything, that’s why so many people are so lost.

But I wondered how Frank would take the news that his son, Fonny, was about to be a father. Then I realized that the first thing everybody thought was, But Fonny’s in jail! Frank would think that: that would be his first thought. Frank would think, if anything happens, my boy won’t never see his baby. And Joseph thought, If anything happens, my little girl’s baby won’t have no father. Yes. That was the thought, unspoken, which stiffened the air in our kitchen. And I felt that I should say something. But I was too tired. I leaned against Ernestine’s shoulder. I had nothing to say.

“You sure you want this baby, Tish?” my father asked me.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “and Fonny wants it, too! It’s our baby,” I said. “Don’t you see? And it’s not Fon­ny’s fault that he is in jail, it’s not as though he ran away, or anything. And-” this was the only way I could answer the questions he hadn’t asked-“we’ve always been best friends, ever since we were little, you know that. And we’d be married now, if—if—!”

“Your father know that,” Mama said. “He’s only worried about you.”

“Don’t you go thinking I think you a bad girl, or any foolishness like that,” Daddy said. “I just asked you that because you so young, that’s all, and-“

“It’s rough, but we’ll make it,” Ernestine said.

She knows Daddy better than I do. I think it’s because she’s felt since we were children that our Daddy maybe loved me more than he loves her. This isn’t true, and she knows that now – people love different people in different ways – but it must have seemed that way to her when we were little. I look as though I just can’t make it, she looks like can’t nothing stop her. If you look helpless, people react to you in one way and if you look strong, or just come on strong, people react to you in another way, and, since you don’t see what they see, this can be very painful. I think that’s may­be why Sis was always in front of that damn mirror all the time, when we were kids. She was say­ing, I don’t care. I got me. Of course, this only made her come on stronger than ever, which was the last effect she desired: but that’s the way we are and that’s how we can sometimes get so fucked up. Anyway, she’s past all that. She knows who she is, or, at least, she knows who she damn well isn’t; and since she’s no longer terrified of uprisings in those forces which she lives with and has learned how to use and subdue, she can walk straight ahead into anything; and so she can cut Daddy off when he’s talking – which I can’t do. She moved away from me a little and put my glass in my hand.” Unbow your head, sister,” she said, and raised her glass and touched mine. “Save the children,” she said, very quietly, and drained her glass.

Mama said, “To the newborn,” and Daddy said, “I hope it’s a boy. That’d tickle old Frank to piec­es, I bet.” Then he looked at me. “Do you mind,” he asked me, “if I’m the one to tell him, Tish?”

I said, “No. I don’t mind.”

“Well, then!” he said, grinning, “maybe I’ll go on over there now.”

“Maybe you better phone first,” Mama said. “He don’t stay home a whole lot, you know.”

“I sure would like to be the one to tell them sisters,” said Ernestine.

Mama laughed, and said, “Joe, why don’t you just call up and ask them all over here? Hell, it’s Saturday night and it ain’t late and we still got a lot of brandy in the bottle. And, now that I think about it, it’s really the best way to do it.”

“That’s all right with you, Tish?” Daddy asked me.

“It’s got to be done,” I said.

So, Daddy stood up, after watching me for a moment, and walked into the living room, to the phone. He could have used the wall phone in the kitchen but he had that kind of grim smile on his face which he has when he knows he’s got business to take care of and when he wants to make sure you know enough to stay out of it.

We listened to him dialing the number. That was the only sound in the house. Then, we could hear the phone at the other end, ringing. Daddy cleared his throat.

We heard, “Mrs. Hunt-? Oh. Good evening, Mrs. Hunt. This is Joe Rivers talking. I just won­dered if I could please speak to Frank, if he’s home – Thank you, Mrs. Hunt”

Mama grunted, and winked at Sis.

“Hey! – How you doing? Yeah, this is Joe. I’m all right, man, hanging in, you know – say, listen oh, yeah, Tish saw him this afternoon, man, he’s fine. – Yeah – As a matter of fact, man, we got a whole lot to talk about, that’s why I’m calling you. – I can’t go into all that over the phone, man. Listen. It concerns all of us. – Yes. – Listen. Don’t give me all that noise. You all just jump in the car and come on over here. Now. Yeah. That’s right. Now – What? – Look, man, I said it concerns all of us. – Ain’t nobody here dressed neither, she can come in her fucking bathrobe for all I care. – Shut up, you sick mother. I’m trying to be nice. Shit. Don’t be bitter – Just dump her in the back seat of the car, and drive, now, come on, man. This is serious. – Hey. Pick up a six pack, I’ll pay you when you get here. – Yeah. – Look. Will you hang up this phone and get your ass, I mean your collective ass, on over here, man? – In a minute. Bye.”

He came back into the kitchen, smiling.

“Mrs. Hunt is getting dressed,” he said, and sat down. Then he looked over at me. He smiled – a wonderful smile. “Come on over here, Tish,” he said, “and sit down on your Daddy’s knee.”

I felt like a princess. I swear I did. He took me in his arms and settled me on his lap and kissed me on the forehead and rubbed his hand, at first roughly and then very gently through my hair. “You’re a good girl, Clementine,” he said. “I’m proud of you. Don’t you forget that.”

“She ain’t going to forget it,” said Ernestine. “I’ll whip her ass.”

“But she’s pregnant!” Mama cried, and took a sip of her cognac and then we all cracked up. My father’s chest shook with laughter, I felt his chest rising and falling between my shoulder blades, and this laughter contained a furious joy, an unspeakable relief: in spite of all that hung above our heads. I was his daughter, all right: I had found someone to love and I was loved and he was re­leased and verified. That child in my belly was also, after all, his child, too, for there would have been no Tish if there had been no Joseph. Our laughter in that kitchen, then, was our helpless re­sponse to a miracle. That baby was our baby, it was on its way, my father’s great hand on my belly held it and warmed it: in spite of all that hung above our heads, that child was promised safety. Love had sent it, spinning out of us, to us. Where that might take us, no one knew: but, now, my father, Joe, was ready. In a deadlier and more profound way than his daughters were, this child was the seed of his loins. And no knife could cut him off from life until that child was bom. And I almost felt the child feel this, that child which had no movement yet – I almost felt it leap against my father’s hand, kicking upward against my ribs. Something in me sang and hummed and then I felt the deadly morning sickness and I dropped my head onto my father’s shoulder. He held me. It was very silent. The nausea passed.

Sharon watched it all, smiling, swinging her foot, thinking ahead. Again, she winked at Ernes­tine.

“Shall we,” asked Ernestine, rising, “dress for Mrs. Hunt?” – and we all cracked up again.

“Look. We got to be nice,” said Joseph.

“We’ll be nice,” said Ernestine. “Lord knows we’ll be nice. You raised us right. You fust didn’t never buy us no clothes.” She said to Mama, “But Mrs. Hunt, now, and them sisters, they got war­drobes -! Ain’t no sense in trying to compete with them,” she said despairingly, and sat down.

“I didn’t run no tailor shop,” said Joseph, and looked into my eyes, and smiled.

The very first time Fonny and I made love was strange. It was strange because we had both seen it coming. That is not exactly the way to put it. We had not seen it coming. Abruptly, it was there: and then we knew that it had always been there, waiting. We had not seen the moment. But the moment had seen us, from a long ways off – sat there, waiting for us – utterly free, the moment, playing cards, hurling thunderbolts, cracking spines, tremendously waiting for us, dawdling home from school, to keep our appointment.

Look. I dumped water over Fonny’s head and scrubbed Fonny’s back in the bathtub, in a time that seems a long time ago now. I swear I don’t rmember seeing his sex, and yet, of course, I must have. We never played doctor – and yet, I had played this rather terrifying game with other boys and Fonny had certainly played with other girls, and boys. I don’t remember that we ever had any curiosity concerning each other’s bodies at all – due to the cunning of that watching moment which knew we were approaching. Fonny loved me too much, we needed each other too much. We were a part of each other, flesh of each other’s flesh – which meant that we so took each other for granted that we never thought of the flesh. He had legs, and I had legs – that wasn’t all we knew but that was all we used. They brought us up the stairs and down the stairs and, always, to each other.

But that meant that there had never been any occasion for shame between us. I was flatchested for a very long time. I’m only beginning to have real breasts now, because of the baby, in fact, and I still don’t have any hips. Fonny liked me so much that it didn’t occur to him that he loved me. I liked him so much that no other boy was real to me. I didn’t see them. I didn’t know what this meant. But the waiting moment, which had spied us on the road, and which was waiting for us, knew.

Fonny kissed me good-night one night when he was twenty-one and I eighteen, and I felt his sex jerk against me and he moved away. I said good-night and I ran up the stairs and he ran down the stairs. And I couldn’t sleep that night: something had happened. And he didn’t come around, I didn’t see him, for two or three weeks. That was when he did that wood figure which he gave to Mama.

The day he gave it to her was a Saturday. After he gave the figure to Mama we left the house and we walked around. I was so happy to see him, after so long, that I was ready to cry. And eve­rything was different. I was walking through streets I had never seen before. The faces around me, I had never seen. We moved in a silence which was music from everywhere. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I was happy and knew that I was happy, and Fonny held me by the hand. It was like that Sunday morning, so long ago, when his mother had carried us to church.

Fonny had no part in his hair now – it was heavy all over his head. He had no blue suit, he had no suit at all. He was wearing an old black and red lumber jacket and old gray corduroy pants. His heavy shoes were scuffed; and he smelled of fatigue.

He was the most beautiful person I had seen in all my life.

He has a slow, long-legged, bowlegged walk. We walked down the stairs to the subway train, he holding me by the hand. The train, when it came, was crowded, and he put an arm around me for protection. I suddenly looked up into his face. No one can describe this, I really shouldn’t try. His face was bigger than the world, his eyes deeper than the sun, more vast than the desert, all that had ever happened since time began was in his face. He smiled: a little smile. I saw his teeth: I saw exactly where the missing tooth had been, that day he spat in my mouth. The train rocked, he held me closer, and a kind of sigh I’d never heard before stifled itself in him.

It’s astounding the first time you realize that a stranger has a body – the realization that he has a body makes him a stranger. It means that you have a body, too. You will live with this forever, and it will spell out the language of your life.

And it was absolutely astonishing to me to realize that I was a virgin. I really was. I suddenly wondered how. I wondered why. But it was because I had always, without ever thinking about it, known that I would spend my life with Fonny. It simply had not entered my mind that my life could do anything else. This meant that I was not merely a virgin; I was still a child.

We got off the train at Sheridan Square, in the Village. We walked east along West Fourth Street. Since it was Saturday, the streets were crowded, unbalanced with the weight of people. Most of them were young, they had to be young, you could see that: but they didn’t seem young to me. They frightened me, I could not, then, have said why. I thought it was because they knew so much more than me. And they did. But, in another way, which I’m only beginning to understand now, they didn’t. They had it all together: the walk, the sound, the laughter, the untidy clothes – clothes which were copies of a poverty as unimaginable for them as theirs was inexpressibly remote from me. There were many blacks and whites together: it was hard to tell which was the imitation. They were so free that they believed in nothing; and didn’t realize that this illusion was their only truth and that they were doing exactly as they had been told.

Fonny looked over at me. It was getting to be between six and seven.

“You all right?”

“Sure. You?”

“You want to eat down here or you want to wait till we get back uptown or you want to go to the movies or you want a little wine or a little pot or a beer or a cup of coffee? Or you just want to walk a little more before you make up your mind?” He was grinning, warm and sweet, and pull­ing a little against my hand, and swinging it.

I was very happy, but I was uncomfortable, too. I had never been uncomfortable with him be­fore.

“Let’s walk to the park first.” I somehow wanted to stay outside awhile.

“Okay.” And he still had that funny smile on his face, like something wonderful had just hap­pened to him and no one in the world knew anything about it yet, but him. But he would tell somebody soon, and it would be me.

We crossed crowded Sixth Avenue, all kinds of people out hunting for Saturday night. But no­body looked at us, because we were together and we were both black. Later, when I had to walk these streets alone, it was different, the people were different, and I was certainly no longer a child.

“Let’s go this way,” he said, and we started down Sixth Avenue, toward Bleecker Street. We started down Bleecker and Fonny stared for a moment through the big window of the San Remo. There was no one in there that he knew, and the whole place looked tired and discouraged, as though wearily about to shave and get dressed for a terrible evening. The people under the weary light were veterans of indescribable wars.We kept walking. The streets were very crowded now, with youngsters, black and white, and cops. Fonny held his head a little higher, and his grip tigh­tened on my hand. There were lots of kids on the sidewalk, before the crowded coffee shop. A ju­kebox was playing Aretha’s “That’s Life.” It was strange. Everyone was in the streets, moving and talking, hke people do everywhere, and yet none of it seemed to be friendly.There was something hard and frightening about it: the way that something which looks real, but isn’t, can send you screaming out of your mind. It was just like scenes uptown, in a way, with the older men and women sitting on the stoops; with small children running up and down the block, cars moving slowly through this maelstrom, the cop car parked on the comer, with the two cops in it, other cops swaggering slowly along the sidewalk. It was like scenes uptown, in a way, but with some­thing left out, or something put in, I couldn’t tell: but it was a scene that frightened me. One had to make one’s way carefully here, for all these people were blind. We were jostled, and Fonny put his arm around my shoulder. We passed Minetta Tavern, crossed Minetta Lane, passed the newspaper stand on the next corner, and crossed diagonally into the park, which seemed to huddle in the shadow of the heavy new buildings of NYU and the high new apartment buildings on the east and the north. We passed the men who had been playing chess in the lamplight for generations, and people walking their dogs, and young men with bright hair and very tight pants, who looked quickly at Fonny and resignedly at me. We sat down on the stone edge of the dry fountain, facing the arch. There were lots of people around us, but I still felt this terrible lack of friendliness.

“I’ve slept in this park sometimes,” said Fonny. “It’s not a good idea.” He lit a cigarette. “You want a cigarette?”

“Not now.” I had wanted to stay outside for a while. But now I wanted to get in, away from these people, out of the park. “Why did you sleep in the park?”

“It was late. I didn’t want to wake up my folks. And I didn’t have no bread.”

“You could have come to our house.”

“Well. I didn’t want to wake up none of you neither.” He put his cigarettes back into his pocket. “But I got me a pad down here now. I’ll show it to you later, you want to see it.” He looked at me. “You getting cold and tired, I’ll get you something to eat, okay?”

“Okay. You got money?”

“Yeah, I hustled me up a little change, baby. Come on.”

We did a lot of walking that night, because now Fonny took me way west, along Greenwich, past the Women’s House of Detention, to this little Spanish restaurant, where Fonny knew all the waiters and they all knew him. And these people were different from the people in the Street, their smiles were different, and I felt at home. It was Saturday, but it was early, and they put us at a small table in the back – not as though they didn’t want people to see us but as though they were glad we’d come and wanted us to stay as long as possible.

I hadn’t had much experience in restaurants, but Fonny had; he spoke a little Spanish, too, and I could see that the waiters were teasing him about me. And then I remembered, as I was being in­troduced to our waiter, Pedrocito – which meant that he was the youngest – that we had been called on the block, Romeo and Juliet, people had always teased us. But not like this.

Some days, days I took off, when I could see him in the middle of the day, and then, again, at six, I’d walk from Centre Street to Greenwich, and I’d sit in the back and they’d feed me, very si­lently and carefully making sure that I ate – something; more than once, Luisito, who had just ar­rived from Spain and who could barely speak English, took away the cold omelette which he had cooked and which I had not touched and brought me a new, hot one, saying, “Senorita-? Por favor. He and the muchacho need your strength. He will not forgive us, if we let you starve. We are his friends. He trusts us. You must trust us, too.” He would pour me a little red wine. “Wine is good. Slow-ly.” I would take a sip. He would smile, but he would not move until I began to eat. Then, “It will be a boy,” he said, and grinned and moved away. They got me through many and many a ter­rible day. They were the very nicest people I had met in all New York; they cared. When the going got rough, when I was heavy, with Joseph, and Frank, and Sharon working, and Ernestine in bat­tle, they would arrange to have errands in the neighborhood of the Tombs, and, as though it were the most natural thing in the world – which it was, for them – drive me to their restaurant, and then they would drive me back down for the six o’clock visit. I will never forget them, never: they knew.

But on this particular Saturday night, we did not know; Fonny did not know, and we were hap­py, all of us. I had one margherita, though we all knew that this was against the goddam mother- fucking shit-eating law, and Fonny had a whiskey because at twenty-one you have a legal right to drink. His hands are big. He took my hands and put his hands in mine. “I want to show you some­thing later,” he said. I could not tell whose hands were trembling, which hands were holding. “Okay,” I said. He had ordered paella and when it came we unjoined our hands and Fonny, elabo­rately, served me. “Next time it’s your turn,” he said, and we laughed and began to eat. And we had wine. And there were candles. And other people came, looking at us strangely, but, “We know the cats who own the joint,” Fonny said, and we laughed again, and we were safe.

I had never seen Fonny outside of the world in which I moved. I had seen him with his father and his mother and his sisters, and I had seen him with us. But I’m not sure, now that I think about it, that I had ever really seen him with me: not until this moment when we were leaving the res­taurant and all the waiters were laughing and talking with him, in Spanish and in English, and Fonny’s face opened in a way I’d never seen it open and that laugh of his came rumbling up from his balls, from their balls – I had certainly never seen him, anyway, in the world in which he moved. Perhaps it was only now that I saw him with me, for he was turned away from me, laugh­ing, but he was holding on to my hand. He was a stranger to me, but joined. I had never seen him with other men. I had never seen the love and respect that men can have for each other.

I’ve had time since to think about it. I think that the first time a woman sees this – though I was not yet a woman – she sees it, first of all, only because she loves the man: she could not possibly see it otherwise. It can be a very great revelation. And, in this fucked up time and place, many women, perhaps most women, feel, in this warmth and energy, a threat. They think that they feel locked out. The truth is that they sense themselves in the presence, so to speak, of a language which they cannot decipher and therefore cannot manipulate, and, however they make a thing about it, so far front being locked out, are appalled by the apprehension that they are, in fact, for­ever locked in. Only a man can see in the face of a woman the girl she was. It is a secret which can be revealed only to a particular man, and, then, only at his insistence. But men have no secrets, ex­cept from women, and never grow up in the way that women do. It is very much harder, and it takes much longer, for a man to grow up, and he could never do it at all without women. This is a mystery which can terrify and immobilize a woman, and it is always the key to her deepest dis­tress. She must watch and guide, but he must lead, and he will always appear to be giving far more of his real attention to his comrades than he is giving to her. But that noisy, outward open­ness of men with each other enables them to deal with the silence and secrecy of women, that si­lence and secrecy which contains the truth of a man, and releases it. I suppose that the root of the resentment – a resentment which hides a bottomless terror – has to do with the fact that a woman is tremendously controlled by what the man’s imagination makes of her – literally, hour by hour, day by day; so she becomes a woman. But a man exists in his own imagination, and can never be at the mercy of a woman’s. – Anyway, in this fucked up time and place, the whole thing becomes ridiculous when you realize that women are supposed to be more imaginative than men. This is an idea dreamed up by men, and it proves exactly the contrary. The truth is that dealing with the real­ity of men leaves a woman very little time, or need, for imagination. And you can get very fucked up, here, once you take seriously the notion that a man who is not afraid to trust his imagination (which is all that men have ever trusted) is effeminate. It says a lot about this country, because, of course, if all you want to do is make money, the very last thing you need is imagination. Or wom­en, for that matter: or men.

“A very good night, Senorita!” cried the patriarch of the house, and Fonny and I were in the streets again, walking.

“Come and see my pad,” said Fonny. “It ain’t far.”

It was getting to be between ten and eleven.

“Okay,” I said.

I didn’t know the Village, then – I do, now; then, everything was surprising. Where we were walking was much darker and quieter than on Sixth Avenue. We were near the river, and we were the only people in the Street. I would have been afraid to walk this street alone.

I had the feeling that I maybe should call home, and I started to say this to Fonny, but I didn’t.

His pad was in a basement on Bank Street. We stopped beside a low, black metal railing, with spikes. Fonny opened a gate, very quietly. We walked down four steps, we turned left, facing a door. There were two windows to the right of us. Fonny put his key in the lock, and the door swung inside. There was a weak yellow light above us. Fonny pushed me in before him and closed the door behind us and led me a few paces down a dark, narrow hall. He opened another door, and switched on the light.

It was a small, low room, those were the windows facing the gate. It had a fireplace. Just off the room was a tiny kitchenette and a bathroom. There was a shower; there wasn’t any bathtub. In the room, there was a wooden stool and a couple of hassocks and a large wooden table and a small one. On the small table, there were a couple of empty beer cans and on the large table, tools. The room smelled of wood and there was raw wood all over the room. In the far comer, there was a mattress on the floor, covered with a Mexican shawl. There were Fonny’s pencil sketches pinned on the wall, and a photograph of Frank.

We were to spend a long time in this room: our lives.

When the doorbell rang, it was Ernestine who went to the door, and Mrs. Hunt who entered first. She was dressed in something which looked very stylish until you looked at it. It was brown, it was shiny, it made one think of satin; and it had somehow white lace fringes at the knees, I think, and the elbows, and – I think – at the waist; and she was wearing a kind of scoop hat, an up­side down coal scuttle, which hardened her hard brow.

She was wearing heels, she was gaining weight. She was fighting it, not successfully. She was frightened: in spite of the power of the Holy Ghost. She entered smiling, not quite knowing at what, or at whom, being juggled, so to speak, between the scrutiny of the Holy Ghost and her un­steady recollection of her mirror. And something in the way that she walked in and held out her hand, something in that smile of hers, which begged for mercy at the same time that it could not give it, made her quite wonderful for me. She was a woman I had never seen before. Fonny had been in her belly. She had carried him.

Behind her, were the sisters, who were quite another matter. Ernestine, very hearty and upbeat at the door (“Only way to get to see you people is to call an emergency summit meeting! Now, don’t you know that ain’t right? Come on in this house!”) had shuttled Mrs. Hunt past her, into Sharon’s orbit: and Sharon, full of grace, delivered her, not quite, to Joseph, who had his arm around me. Something in the way my father held me and something in his smile frightened Mrs. Hunt. But I began to see that she had always been frightened.

Though the sisters were Fonny’s sisters, I had never thought of them as his sisters. Well. That’s not true. If they had not been Fonny’s sisters, I would never have noticed them at all. Because they were his sisters, and I knew that they didn’t really like Fonny, I hated them. They didn’t hate me. They didn’t hate anybody, and that was what was wrong with them. They smiled at an invisible host of stricken lovers as they entered our living room, and Adrienne, the oldest, who was twenty- seven, and Sheila, who was twenty-four, went out of their way to be very sweet with raggedy- assed me, just like the missionaries had told them. All they really saw was that big black hand of my father’s which held them at the waist – of course, my Daddy was really holding me at the waist, but it was somehow like it was them. They did not know whether they disapproved of its color, its position, or its shape: but they certainly disapproved of its power of touch. Adrienne was too old for what she was wearing, and Sheila was too young. Behind them, here came Frank, and my fa­ther loosened his hold on me a little. We clattered and chattered into the living room.

Mr. Hunt looked very tired, but he still had that smile. He sat down on the sofa, near Adrienne, and he said, “So you saw my big-headed boy today, did you?”

“Yes. He’s fine. He sends his love.”

“They ain’t giving him too hard a time? – I just ask you like that because, you know, he might say things to you he wouldn’t say to me.”

“Lovers’ secrets,” said Adrienne, and crossed her legs, and smiled.

I didn’t see any reason at all to deal with Adrienne, at least not yet; neither did Mr. Hunt, who kept watching me.

I said, “Well. He hates it, you can see that. And he should. But he’s very strong. And he’s doing a lot of reading and studying.” I looked at Adrienne. “He’ll be all right. But we have to get him out of there.”

Frank was about to say something when Sheila said, sharply, “If he’d done his reading and stud­ying when he should have, he wouldn’t be in there.”

I started to say something, but Joseph said, quickly, “You bring that six-pack, man? Or, I got some gin and we got whiskey and we got some brandy.” He grinned. “Ain’t got no Thunderbird, though.” He turned to Mrs. Hunt. “I’m sure you ladies won’t mind-?”

Mrs. Hunt smiled. “Mind? Frank does not care if we mind. He will go right on and do what pleases him. He ain’t never thought about nobody else.”

“Mrs. Hunt,” said Sharon, “what can I get you, sugar? I can offer you some tea, or coffee – and we got ice cream – and Coca-Cola.”

“-and Seven-Up,” said Ernestine. “I can make you a kind of ice-cream soda. Come on, Sheila, you want to help me? Sit down, Mama. We’ll get it together.”

She dragged Sheila into the kitchen. Mama sat down next to Mrs. Hunt.

“Lord,” she said, “the time sure flies. We ain’t hardly seen each other since this trouble started.”

“Don’t say a word. I have been running myself sick, all up and down the Bronx, trying to get the very best legal advice I can find – from some of the people I used to work for, you know – one of them is a dty councilman and he knows just everybody and he can pull some strings – people just got to listen to him, you know. But it’s been taking up all of my time and the doctor says I must be care­ful, he says I’m putting an awful strain on my heart. He says, Mrs. Hunt, you got to remember, don’t care how much that boy wants his freedom, he wants his mother, too. But, look like, it don’t matter to me. I ain’t worried about me. The Lord holds me up. I just pray and pray and pray that the Lord will bring my boy to the light. That’s all I pray for, every day and every night. And then, sometimes I think that maybe this is the Lord’s way of making my boy think on his sins and sur­render his soul to Jesus-“

“You might be right,” said Sharon. “The Lord sure works in mysterious ways.”

“Oh, yes!” said Mrs. Hunt. “Now, He may try you. But He ain’t never left none of His children alone.”

“What you think,” Sharon asked, “of the lawyer, Mr. Hayward, that Ernestine found?”

“I havent seen him yet. I just have not had time to get downtown. But I know Frank saw him-“

“What do you think, Frank?” Sharon asked.

Frank shrugged. “It’s a white boy who’s been to a law school and he got them degrees. Well, you know. I ain’t got to tell you what that means: it don’t mean shit.”

“Frank, you’re talking to a woman,” said Mrs. Hunt.

“I’m hip, and it’s a mighty welcome change – like I was saying, it don’t mean shit and I ain’t sure we’re going to stay with him. On the other hand, as white boys go, he’s not so bad. He’s not as full of shit now, because he’s hungry, as he may be later, when he’s full. Man,” he said to Joseph, “you know I don’t want my boys life in the hands of these white, ball-less motherfuckers. I swear to

Christ, I’d rather be boiled alive. That’s my only son, man my only son. But we all in the hands of white men and I know some very hincty black cats I wouldn’t trust, neither.”

“But I keep trying to tell you, I keep trying to tell you,” cried Mrs. Hunt, “that it’s that negative at­titude which is so dangerous! You’re so full of hate! If you give people hatred, they will give it back to you! Every time I hear you talk this way, my heart breaks and I tremble for my son, sitting in a dungeon which only the love of God can bring him out of – Frank, if you love your son, give up this hatred, give it up. It will fall on your son’s head, it will kill him.”

“Frank’s not talking hatred, Mrs. Hunt,” Sharon said. “He’s just telling the truth about life in this country, and it’s only natural for him to be upset.”

“I trust in God,” said Mrs. Hunt. “I know He cares for me.”

“I don’t know,” Frank said, “how God expects a man to act when his son is in trouble. Your God crucified His son and was probably glad to get rid of him, but I ain’t like that. I ain’t hardly going out in the street and kiss the first white cop I see. But I’ll be a very loving motherfucker the day my son walks out of that hellhole, free. I’ll be a loving motherfucker when I hold my son’s head be­tween my hands again, and look into his eyes. Oh! I’ll be full of love, that day!” He rose from the sofa, and walked over to his wife. “And if it don’t go down like that, you can bet I’m going to blow some heads off. And if you say a word to me about that Jesus you been making it with all these years, I’ll blow your head off first.You was making it with that white Jew bastard when you should have been with your son.”

Mrs. Hunt put her head in her hands, and Frank slowly crossed the room again, and sat down.

Adrienne looked at him and she started to speak, but she didn’t. I was sitting on the hassock, near my father. Adrienne said, “Mr. Rivers, exactly what is the purpose of this meeting? You have­n’t called us all the way over here just to watch my father insult my mother?”

“Why not?” I said. “It’s Saturday night. You can’t tell what people won’t do, if they get bored enough. Maybe we just invited you over to liven things up.”

“I can believe,” she said, “that you’re that malicious. But I can’t believe you’re that stupid.”

“I haven’t seen you twice since your brother went to jail,” I said, “and I ain’t never seen you down at the Tombs. Fonny told me he saw you once, and you was in a hurry then. And you ain’t said a word about it on your job, I bet – have you? And you ain’t said a word about it to none of them white-collars ex-antipoverty-program pimps and hustlers and faggots you run with, have you? And you sitting on that sofa right now, thinking you finer than Elizabeth Taylor, and all upset be­cause you got some half-honky chump waiting for you somewhere and you done had to take time out to find out something about your brother.” Mrs. Hunt was staring at me with terrible eyes. A cold bitter smile played on Frank’s lips: he looked down. Adrienne looked at me from a great dis­tance, adding one more tremendous black mark against her brother’s name, and, finally, as I had known all along she wished to do, lit a cigarette. She blew the smoke carefully and delicately into the air, and seemed to be resolving, in silence, that she would never again, for any reason, allow herself to be trapped among people so unspeakably inferior to herself.

Sheila and Ernestine reentered, Sheila looking rather frightened, Ernestine looked grimly pleased. She served Mrs. Hunt her ice cream, set down a Coke near Adrienne, gave Joseph a beer, gave Frank a Seven-Up, with gin, gave Sheila a Coke, gave Sharon a Seven-Up, with gin, gave me a brandy, and took a highball for herself. “Happy landings,” she said cheerfully, and she sat down and everybody else sat down.

There was, then, this funny silence: and everyone was staring at me. I felt Mrs. Hunt’s eyes, more malevolent, more frightened, than ever. She was leaning forward, one hand tight on the spoon buried in her ice cream. Sheila looked terrified. Adrienne’s lips curled in a contemptuous smile, and she leaned forward to speak, but her father’s hand, hostile, menacing, rose to check her. She leaned back. Frank leaned forward.

My news was, after all, for him. And, looking at him, I said, “I called this summit meeting. I had Daddy ask you all to come over so I could tell you what I had to tell Fonny this afternoon. Fonny’s going to be a father. We’re going to have a baby.”

Frank’s eyes left mine, to search my father’s. Both men then went away from us, sitting perfectly still, on the chair, on the sofa: they went away together, and they made a strange journey. Frank’s face, on this journey, was awful, in the Biblical sense. He was picking up stones and putting them down, his sight forced itself to stretch itself, beyond horizons he had never dreamed of. When he returned, still in company with my father, his face was very peaceful. “You and me going to go out and get drunk,” he told Joseph. Then he grinned, looking, almost, just like Fonny, and he said, “I’m glad, Tish. I’m mighty glad.”

“And who,” asked Mis. Hunt, “is going to be responsible for this baby?”

“The father and the mother,” I said.

Mrs. Hunt stared at me.

“You can bet,” Frank said, “that it won’t be the Holy Ghost.”

Mrs. Hunt stared at Frank, then rose, and started walking toward me; walking very slowly, and seeming to hold her breath. I stood up, and moved to the center of the room, holding mine.

“I guess you call your lustful action love,” she said. “I don’t. I always knew that you would be the destruction of my son. You have a demon in you -1 always knew it. My God caused me to know it many a year ago. The Holy Ghost will cause that child to shrivel in your womb. But my son will be forgiven. My prayers will save him.”

She was ridiculous and majestic; she was testifying. But Frank laughed and walked over to her, and, with the back of his hand, knocked her down. Yes. She was on the floor, her hat way on the back of her head and her dress up above her knees and Frank stood over her. She did not make a sound, nor did he.

“Her heart!” murmured Sharon; and Frank laughed again.

He said, “I think you’ll find it’s still pumping. But I wouldn’t call it a heart.” He turned to my fa­ther. “Joe, let the women take care of her, and come with me.” And, as my father hesitated, “Please. Please, Joe. Come on.”

“Go on with him,” Sharon said. “Go on.”

Sheila knelt beside her mother. Adrienne stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray, and stood up. Ernestine came out of the bathroom with rubbing alcohol and knelt beside Sheila. She poured the alcohol onto the cotton and rubbed Mrs. Hunt’s temples and forehead, carefully taking the hat completely off and handing it to Sheila.

“Go on, Joe,” said Sharon. “We don’t need you here.”

The two men walked out, the door closed behind them, and now these were these six women who had to deal with each other, if only for a moment. Mrs. Hunt slowly stood up and moved to her chair and sat down. And before she could say anything, I said, “That was a terrible thing you said to me. It was the most terrible thing I’ve heard in all my life.”

“My father didn’t have to slap her,” said Adrienne. “She does have a weak heart.”

“She got a weak head,” said Sharon. She said to Mrs. Hunt, “The Holy Ghost done softened your brain, child. Did you forget it was Frank’s grandchild you was cursing? And of course it’s my grandchild, too. I know some men and some women would have cut that weak heart out of your body and gladly gone to hell to pay for it. You want some tea, or something? You really ought to have some brandy, but I reckon you too holy for that.”

“I don’t think you have the right to sneer at my mother’s faith,” said Sheila.

“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit,” Ernestine said. “You so shamed you got a Holy Roller for a mother, you don’t know what to do. You don’t sneer. You just say it shows she’s got ‘soul,’ so other people won’t think it’s catching – and also so they’ll see what a bright, bright girl you are. You make me sick.”

“You make me sick,” said Adrienne. “Maybe my mother didn’t say it exactly like she should have said it – after all, she’s very upset! And she does have soul! And what do you funky niggers think you’ve got? She only asked one question, really-” She put up one hand to keep Ernestine from inter­rupting her-“She said, Who’s going to raise this baby? And who is? Tish ain’t got no education and God knows she ain’t got nothing else and Fonny ain’t never been worth a damn. You know that yourself. Now. Who is going to take care of this baby?”

“I am,” I said, “you dried up yellow cunt, and you keep on talking, I’m going to take mighty good care of you.”

She put her hands on her hips, the fool, and Ernestine moved between us, and said, very sweet­ly, “Adrienne? Baby? May I tell you something, lumps? Sweetie? Sweetie-pie?” She put one hand very lightly against Adrienne’s cheek. Adrienne quivered but did not move. Ernestine let her hand rest and play for a moment. “Oh, sugar. From the very first day I laid eyes on your fine person, I got hung up on your Adam’s apple. I been dreaming about it. You know what I mean-? When you get hung up on something? You ain’t never really been hung up on anything or anybody, have you? You ain’t never watched your Adam’s apple move, have you? I have. I’m watching it right now. Oh. It’s delicious. I just can’t tell, Sweetie, if I want to tear it out with my fingers or my teeth – ooh! – or carve it out, the way you carve a stone from a peach. It is a thing of beauty. Can you dig where I’m coming from, sugar? – But if you touch my sister, I’m going to have to make up my mind pretty quick. So” – she moved away from Adrienne – “touch her. Go on, please. Take these chains from my heart and set me free.”

“I knew we shouldn’t have come,” Sheila said. “I knew it.”

Ernestine stared at Sheila until Sheila was forced to raise her eyes. Then, Ernestine laughed, and said, “My. I must have a dirty mind, Sheila. I didn’t know that you could even say that word.”

Then real hatred choked off the air. Something bottomless occurred which had nothing to do with what seemed to be occurring in the room. I suddenly felt sorry for the sisters – but Ernestine didn’t. She stood where she stood, one hand on her waist, one hand hanging free, moving only her eyes. She was wearing gray slacks and an old blouse and her hair was untidy on her head and she wore no makeup. She was smiling. Sheila looked as though she could hardly breathe or stand, as though she wanted to run to her mother, who had not moved from her chair. Adrienne, whose hips were wide, wore a white blouse and a black, flaring, pleated skirt and a short, tight, black jacket and low heels. Her hair was parted in the middle and tied with a white ribbon at the nape of her neck. Her hands were no longer on her hips. Her skin, which was just a shade too dark to be high yellow, had darkened and mottled. Her forehead seemed covered with oil. Her eyes had dar­kened with her skin and the skin was rejecting the makeup by denying it any moisture. One saw that she was not really very pretty, that the face and the body would coarsen and thicken with time.

“Come,” she said to Sheila, “away from these foul-mouthed people,” and she had a certain digni­ty as she said it.

They both walked to their mother, who was, I could suddenly see, the witness to, and guardian of their chastity.

Mrs. Hunt rose, then, oddly peaceful.

“I sure hope,” she said, “that you’re pleased with the way you raised your daughters, Mrs. Riv­ers.”

Sharon was peaceful, too, but there was a kind of startled wonder in it: she stared at Mrs. Hunt and said nothing. And Mrs. Hunt added, “These girls won’t be bringing me no bastards to feed, I can guarantee you that.”

“But the child that’s coming,” said Sharon, after a moment, “is your grandchild. I don’t under­stand you. It’s your grandchild. What difference does it make how it gets here? The child ain’t got nothing to do with that – don’t none of us have nothing to do with that!”

“That child,” said Mrs. Hunt, and she looked at me for a moment, then started for the door, Sha­ron watching her all the while, “that child-“

I let her get to the door. My mother moved, but as though in a dream, to swing the locks; but I got there before her; I put my back against the door. Adrienne and Sheila were behind their moth­er.

Sharon and Ernestine did not move.

“That child,” I said, “is in my belly. Now, you raise your knee and kick it out – or with them high heel shoes. You don’t want this child? Come on and kill it now. I dare you.” I looked her in the eyes. “It won’t be the first child you tried to kill.” I touched her upside down coal scuttle hat. I looked at Adrienne and Sheila. “You did pretty well with the first two-” and then I opened the door, but I didn’t move – “okay, you try it again, with Fortny. I dare you.”

“May we,” asked Adrienne, with what she hoped was ice in her voice, “leave now?”

Tish,” said Sharon; but she did not move. Ernestine moved past me, moving me away from the door and delivering me to Sharon. “Ladies,” she said, and moved to the elevator and pressed the button. She was past a certain fury now. When the elevator arrived and the door opened, she merely said, ushering them in, but holding the door open with one shoulder, “Don’t worry. We’ll never tell the baby about you. There’s no way to tell a baby how obscene human beings can be!” And, in another tone of voice, a tone I’d never heard before, she said, to Mrs. Hunt, “Blessed be the next fruit of thy womb. I hope it turns out to be uterine cancer. And I mean that.” And, to the sis­ters, “If you come anywhere near this house again in life, I will kill you. This child is not your child – you have just said so. If I hear that you have so much as crossed a playground and seen the child, you won’t live to get any kind of cancer. Now. I am not my sister. Remember that. My sister’s nice. I’m not. My father and my mother are nice. I’m not. I can tell you why Adrienne can’t get fucked – you want to hear it? I could tell you about Sheila, too, and all those cats she jerks off in their hand­kerchiefs, in cars and movies – now, you want to hear that?” Sheila began to cry and Mrs. Hunt moved to close the elevator door. Ernestine laughed, and, with one shoulder, held it open and her voice changed again. “You just cursed the child in my sister’s womb. Don’t you never let me see you again, you broken down half-white bride of Christ!” And she spat in Mrs. Hunt’s face, and then let the elevator door close. And she yelled down the shaft, “That’s your flesh and blood you were cursing, you sick, filthy dried-up cunt! And you carry that message to the Holy Ghost and if He don’t like it you tell Him I said He’s a faggot and He better not come nowhere near me.”

And she came back into the house, with tears running down her face, and walked to the table and poured herself a drink. She lit a cigarette; she was trembling.

Sharon, in all this, had said nothing. Ernestine had delivered me to her, but Sharon had not, in fact, touched me. She had done something far more tremendous; which was, mightily, to hold me and keep me still; without touching me.

“Well,” she said, “the men are going to be out for a while. And Tish needs her rest. So let’s go on to sleep.”

But I knew that they were sending me to bed so that they could sit up for a while, without me, without the men, without anybody, to look squarely in the face the fact that Fonny’s family didn’t give a shit about him and were not going to do a thing to help him. We were his family now, the only family he had: and now everything was up to us.

I walked into my bedroom very slowly and I sat down on the bed for a minute. I was too tired to cry. I was too tired to feel anything. In a way, Sis Ernestine had taken it all on herself, everything, because she wanted the child to make its journey safely and get here well: and that meant that I had to sleep.

So I undressed and curled up on the bed. I turned the way I’d always turned toward Fonny, when we were in bed together. I crawled into his arms and he held me. And he was so present for me that, again, I could not cry. My tears would have hurt him too much. So he held me and I whispered his name, while I watched the streetlights playing on the ceiling. Dimly, I could hear Mama and Sis in the kitchen, making believe that they were playing gin rummy.

That night, in the room on Bank Street, Fonny took the Mexican shawl off the pallet he had on the floor and draped it over my head and shoulders. He grinned and stepped back. “I be damned,” he said, “there is a rose in Spanish Harlem.” He grinned again. “Next week, I’m going to get you a rose for your hair.” Then, he stopped grinning and a kind of stinging silence filled the room and filled my ears. It was like nothing was happening in the world but us. I was not afraid. It was dee­per than fear. I could not take my eyes away from his. I could not move. If it was deeper than fear, it was not yet joy. It was wonder.

He said, not moving, “We’re grown up now, you know?”

I nodded.

He said, “And you’re always been – mine – no?”

I nodded again.

“And you know,” he said, still not moving, holding me with those eyes, “that I’ve always been yours, right?”

I said, “I never thought about it that way.”

He said, “Think about it now, Tish.”

“I just know that I love you,” I said, and I started to cry. The shawl seemed very heavy and hot and I wanted to take it off, but I couldn’t.

Then he moved, his face changed, he came to me and took the shawl away and flung it into a corner. He took me in his arms and he kissed my tears and then he kissed me and then we both knew something which we had not known before.

“I love you, too,” he said, “but I try not to cry about it.” He laughed and he made me laugh and then he kissed me again, harder, and he stopped laughing. “I want you to marry me,” he said. I must have looked surprised, for he said, “That’s right. I’m yours and you’re mine and that’s it, ba­by. But I’ve got to try to explain something to you.”

He took me by the hand and led me to his worktable.

“This is where my life is,” he said, “my real life.” He picked up a small piece of wood, it was about the size of two fists. There was the hope of an eye gouged into it, the suggestion of a nose – the rest was simply a lump of somehow breathing wood. “This might turn out all right one day,” he said, and laid it gently down. “But I think I might already have fucked it up.” He picked up another piece, the size of a man’s thigh. A woman’s torso was trapped in it. “I don’t know a thing about her yet,” he said, and put it down, again very gently. Though he held me by one shoulder and was very close to me, he was yet very far away. He looked at me with his little smile. “Now, listen,” he said, “I ain’t the kind of joker going to give you a hard time running around after other chicks and shit like that. I smoke a little pot but I ain’t never popped no needles and I’m really very square. But-” he stopped and looked at me, very quiet, very hard: there was a hardness in him I had barely sensed before. Within this hardness moved his love, moved as a torrent or as a fire moves, above reason, beyond argument, not to be modified in any degree by anything life might do. I was his, and he was mine – I suddenly realized that I would be a very unlucky and perhaps a dead girl should I ever attempt to challenge this decree.

“But,” he continued – and he moved away from me; his heavy hands seemed to be aftempting to shape the air – “I live with wood and stone. I got stone in the basement and I’m working up here all the time and I’m looking for a loft where I can really work. So, all I’m trying to tell you, Tish, is I ain’t offering you much. I ain’t got no money and I work at odd jobs – just for bread, because I ain’t about to go for none of their jive-ass okey-doke – and that means that you going to have to work, too, and when you come home most likely I’ll just grunt and keep on with my chisels and shit and maybe sometimes you’ll think I don’t even know you’re there. But don’t ever think that, ever. You’re with me all the time, all the time, without you I don’t know if I could make it at all, baby, and when I put down the chisel, I’ll always come to you. I’ll always come to you. I need you. I love you.” He smiled. “Is that all right, Tish?”

“Of course it’s all right with me,” I said. I had more to say, but my throat wouldn’t open.

He took me by the hand, then, and he led me to the pallet on the floor. He sat down beside me, and he pulled me down so that my face was just beneath his, my head was in his lap. I sensed a certain terror in him. He knew that I could feel his sex stiffening and beginning to rage against the cloth of his pants and against my jawbone; he wanted me to feel it, and yet he was afraid. He kissed my face all over, and my neck, and he uncovered my breasts and put his teeth and tongue there and his hands were all over my body. I knew what he was doing, and I didn’t know. I was in his hands, he called me by the thunder at my ear. I was in his hands: I was being changed; all that I could do was cling to him. I did not realize, until I realized it, that I was also kissing him, that eve­rything was breaking and changing and turning in me and moving toward him. If his arms had not held me, I would have fallen straight downward, backward, to my death. My life was holding me. My life was claiming me. I heard, I felt his breath, as for the first time: but it was as though his breath were rising up out of me. He opened my legs, or I opened them, and he kissed the inside of my thighs. He took off all my clothes, he covered my whole body with kisses, and then he covered me with the shawl and then he went away.

The shawl scratched. I was cold and hot. I heard him in the bathroom. I heard him pull the chain. When he came back, he was naked. He got under the shawl, with me, and stretched his long body on top of mine, and I felt his long black heavy sex throbbing against my navel.

He took my face in his hands, and held it, and he kissed me.

“Now, don’t be scared,” he whispered. “Don’t be scared. Just remember that I belong to you. Just remember that I wouldn’t hurt you for nothing in this world. You just going to have to get used to me. And we got all the time in the world.”

It was getting to be between two and three: he read my mind. “Your Mama and Daddy know you’re with me,” he said, “and they know I won’t let nothing happen to you.” Then, he moved down and his sex moved against my opening. “Don’t be scared,” he said again. “Hold on to me.”

I held on to him, in an agony; there was nothing else in the world to hold on to; I held him by his nappy hair. I could not tell if he moaned or if I moaned. It hurt, it hurt, it didn’t hurt. Ir was a strange weight, a presence coming into me – into a me I had not known was there. I almost screamed, I started to cry: it hurt. It didn’t hurt. Something began, unknown.His tongue, his teeth on my breasts, hurt. I wanted to throw him off, I held him tighter and still he moved and moved and moved. I had not known there was so much of him. I screamed and cried against his shoulder.

He paused. He put both hands beneath my hips. He moved back, but not quite out, I hung no­where for a moment, then he pulled me against him and thrust in with all his might and some­thing broke in me. Something broke and a scream rose up in me but he covered my lips with his lips, he strangled my scream with his tongue. His breath was in my nostrils, I was breathing with his breath and moving with his body. And now I was open and helpless and I felt him every­where. A singing began in me and his body became sacred – his buttocks, as they quivered and rose and fell, and his thighs between my thighs and the weight of his chest on mine and that stiff­ness of his which stiffened and grew and throbbed and brought me to another place. I wanted to laugh and cry. Then, something absolutely new began, I laughed and I cried and I called his name. I held him closer and closer and I strained to receive it all, all, all of him. He paused and he kissed me and kissed me. His head moved all over my neck and my breasts. We could hardly breathe: if we did not breathe again soon, I knew we would die. Fonny moved again, at first very slowly, and then faster and faster. I felt it coming, felt myself coming, going over the edge, everything in me flowing down to him, and I called his name over and over while he growled my name in his throat, thrusting now with no mercy – caught his breath sharply, let it out with a rush and a sob and then pulled out of me, holding me tight, shooting a boiling liquid all over my belly and my chest and my chin.

Then we lay still, glued together, for a long time.

“I’m sorry,” he said, finally, shyly, into the long silence, “to have made such a mess. But I guess you don’t want to have no baby right away and I didn’t have no protection on me.”

“I think I made a mess, too,” I said. “It was the first time. Isn’t there supposed to be blood?”

We were whispering. He laughed a little. “I had a hemorrhage. Shall we look?”

“I like lying here like this, with you.”

“I do too.” Then, “Do you like me, Tish?” He sounded like a little boy. “I mean – when I make love to you – do you like it?”

I said, “Oh, come on. You just want to hear me say it.”

“That’s true. So-?”

“So what?”

“So why don’t you go ahead and say it?” And he kissed me.

I said, “It was a little bit like being hit by a truck” – he laughed again – ‘but it was the most beau­tiful thing that ever happened to me.”

“For me, too,” he said. He said it in a very wondering way, almost as though he were speaking of someone else. “No one ever loved me like that before.”

“Have you had a lot of girls?”

“Not so many. And nobody for you to worry about.”

“Do I know any of them?”

He laughed. “You want me to walk you down the street and point them out to you? Now, you know that wouldn’t be nice. And, now that I’ve got to know you just a little better, I don’t believe it would be safe.” He snuggled up to me and put his hand on my breast. ‘You got a wildcat in you, girl. Even if I had the time to go running after other foxes, I sure wouldn’t have the energy. I’m re­ally going to have to start taking my vitamins.”

“Oh, shut up. You’re disgusting.”

“Why am I disgusting? I’m only talking about my health. Don’t you care nothing about my health? And they’re chocolate covered – vitamins, I mean.”

“You’re crazy.”

‘Well,” he conceded cheerfully, “I’m crazy about you. You want we should check the damage be­fore this stuff hardens into cement?”

He turned on the light and we looked down at ourselves and our bed.

Well, we were something of a sight. There was blood, quite a lot of it – or it seemed like a lot to me, but it didn’t frighten me at all, I felt proud and happy – on him and on the bed and on me; his sperm and my blood were slowly creeping down my body, and his sperm was on him and on me; and, in the dim light and against our dark bodies, the effect was as of some strange anointing. Or, we might have just completed a tribal rite. And Fonny’s body was a total mystery to me – the body of one’s lover always is, no matter how well one gets to know it: it is the changing envelope which contains the gravest mystery of one’s life. I stared at his heavy chest, his flat belly, the belly button, the spinning black hair, the heavy limp sex: he had never been drcumdzed. I touched his slim body and I kissed him on the chest. It tasted of salt and some pungent, unknown bitter spice – clearly, as others might put it, it would become an acquired taste. One hand on my hand, ome hand on my shoulder, he held me very close. Then he said, “We’ve got to go. I better get you home before dawn.”

It was half past four.

“I guess so,” I said, and we got up and walked into the shower. I washed his body and he washed mine and we laughed a lot, like children, and he warned me if I didn’t take my hands off him we might never get uptown and then my Daddy might jump salty and, after all, Fonny said, he had a lot to talk to my Daddy about and he had to talk to him right away.

DMU Timestamp: October 19, 2020 19:17