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

Author: James Baldwin

“Part 3 of 5.” If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin, 1974.

Fonny got me home at seven. He held me in his arms in the almost empty subway all the way uptown. It was Sunday morning. We walked our streets together, hand in hand; not even the church people were up yet; and the people who were still up, the few people, didn’t have eyes for us, didn’t have eyes for anybody, or anything.

We got to my stoop and I thought Fonny would leave me there and I turned to kiss him away, but he took me by the hand and said, “Come on,” and we walked up the stairs. Fonny knocked on the door.

Sis opened it, her hair tied up, wegring an old green bathrobe. She looked as evil as she could be. She looked from me to Fonny and back again. She didn’t exactly want to, but she smiled.

“You’re just in time for coffee,” she said, and moved back from the door, to let us in.

“We-” I started to say; but Fonny said, “Good-morning, Miss Rivers” – and something in his tone made Sis look at him sharply and come full awake – “I’m sorry we coming in so late. Can I speak to Mr. Rivers, please? It’s important!’

He still held me by the hand.

“It might be easier to see him,” Sis said, “if you come inside, out of the hall.”

“We-” I started again, intending to make up God knows what excuse.

“Want to get married,” Fonny said.

“Then you’d really better have some coffee,” Sis said, and closed the door behind us.

Sharon now came into the kitchen, and she was somewhat more together than Sis – that is, she was wearing slacks, and a sweater, and she had knotted her hair in one braid and skewered it to the top of her skull.

“Now, where have you two been,” she began, “till this hour of the morning? Don’t you know bet­ter than to be behaving like that? I declare. We was just about to start calling the police.”

But I could see, too, that she was relieved that Fonny was sitting in the kitchen, beside me. That meant something very important, and she knew it. It would have been a very different scene, and she would have been in very different trouble if I had come upstairs alone.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Rivers,” Fonny said. “It’s all my fault. I hadn’t seen Tish for a few weeks and we had a lot to talk about -1 had a lot to talk about – and-” he gestured-“I kept her out.”

“Talking?” Sharon asked.

He did not quite flinch; he did not drop his eyes. “We want to get married,” he said. “That’s how come I kept her out so late.” They watched each other. “I love Tish,” he said. “That’s why I stayed away so long. I even-” he looked briefly at me-“went to see other girls – and – I did all kind of things, to kind of get it out of my mind.” He looked at me again. He looked down. “But I could see I was just fooling myself. I didn’t love nobody else but her. And then I got scared that maybe she’d go away or somebody else would come along and take her away and so I came back.” He tried to grin. “I came running back. And I don’t want to have to go away again.” Then, “She’s always been my girl, you know that. And – I am not a bad boy. You know that. And – you’re the only family I’ve ever had.”

“That,” Sharon grumbled, “is why I can’t figure out why you calling me Mrs. Rivers, all of a sud­den.” She looked at me. “Yeah. I hope you realize, Miss, that you ain’t but eighteen years old.”

“That argument,” said Sis, “and a subway token, will get you from here to the comer. If that far!” She poured the coffee. “Actually, it’s the older sister who is expected to marry first. But we have never stood on ceremony in this house.”

“What do you think about all this?” Sharon asked her.

“Me? I’m delighted to be rid of the little brat. I never could stand her. I could never see what all the rest of you saw in her, I swear.” She sat down at the table and grinned. “Take some sugar, Fon­ny. You are going to need it, believe me, if you intend to tie yourself up with my sweet, sweet little sister.”

Sharon went to the kitchen door, and yelled, “Joe! Come on out here! Lightning’s done struck the poorhouse! Come on, now, I mean it.”

Fonny took my hand.

Joseph came into the kitchen, in slippers, old corduroy pants, and a T-shirt. I began to realize that no one in this house had really been to sleep. Joseph saw me first. He really did not see any­one else. And, since he was both furious and relieved, his tone was very measured. “I’d like you to tell me exactly what you mean, young lady, by walking in here this hour of the morning. If you want to leave home, then you leave home, you hear? But, as long as you in my house, you got to respect it. You hear me?”

Then he saw Fonny, and Fonny let go my hand, and stood up.

He said, “Mr. Rivers, please don’t scold Tish. It’s all my fault, sir. I kept her out. I had to talk to her. Please. Mr. Rivers. Please. I asked her to marry me. That’s what we were doing out so long. We want to get married. That’s why I’m here. You’re her father. You love her. And so I know you know – you have to know – that I love her. I’ve loved her all my life.You know that. And if I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t be standing in this room now – would I? I could have left her on the stoop and run away again. I know you might want to beat me up. But I love her. That’s all I can tell you.”

Joseph looked at him.

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-one, sir.”

“You think that’s old enough to get married?”

“I don’t know, sir. But it’s old enough to know who you love.”

“You think so?”

Fonny straightened. “I know so.”

“How you going to feed her?”

“How did you?”

We, the women, were out of it now, and we knew it. Ernestine poured Joseph a cup of coffee and pushed it in his direction.

“You got a job?”

“I load moving vans in the daytime and I sculpt at night. I’m a sculptor. We know it won’t be easy. But I’m a real artist. And I’m going to be a very good artist – maybe, even, a great one.” And they stared at each other again.

Joseph picked up his coffee, without looking at it, and sipped it without tasting it.

“Now, let me get this straight. You asked my little girl to marry you, and she said-“

“Yes,” said Fonny.

“And you come here to tell me or to ask my permission?”

“Both, sir,” said Fonny.

“And you ain’t got no kind of-“

“Future,” Fonny said.

Both men, again, then measured each other. Joseph put his coffee down. Fonny had not touched his.

“What would you do in my place?” Joseph asked.

I could feel Fonny trembling. He could not help it – his hand touched my shoulder lightly, then moved away. “I’d ask my daughter. If she tells you she don’t love me, I’ll go away and I won’t nev­er bother you no more.”

Joseph looked hard at Fonny – a long look, in which one watched skepticism surrender to a cer­tain resigned tenderness, a self-recognition. He looked as though he wanted to knock Fonny down; he looked as though he wanted to take him in his arms.

Then Joseph looked at me.

“Do you love him? You want to marry him?”

“Yes.” I had not known my voice could sound so strange. “Yes. Yes.” Then, I said, “I’m very much your daughter, you know, and very much my mother’s daughter. So, you ought to know that I mean no when I say no and I mean yes when I say yes. And Formy came here to ask for your per­mission, and I love him for that. I very much want your permission because I love you. But I am not going to marry you. I am going to marry Fonny.”

Joseph sat down.

“When?”

“As soon as we get the bread together,” Fonny said.

Joseph said, ‘You and me, son, we better go into the other room.”

And so they went away. We did not say anything.

There was nothing for us to say. Only, Mama said, after a moment, “You sure you love him, Tish? You’re sure?”

“Mama,” I said, “why do you ask me that?”

“Because she’s been secretly hoping that you’d marry Governor Rockefeller,” Ernestine said.

For a moment Mama looked at her, hard; then she laughed. Ernestine, without knowing it, or meaning to, had come very close to the truth – not the literal truth, but the truth: for the dream of safety dies hard. I said, “You know that dried-up cracker ass-hole is much too old for me.”

Sharon laughed again. “That is not,” she said, “the way he sees himself. But I guess I just would not be able to swallow the way he would see you. So. We can close the subject. You going to marry Fonny. All right. When I really think about it” – and now she paused, and, in a way, she was no longer Sharon, my mother, but someone else; but that someone else was, precisely, my mother, Sharon – “I guess I’m real pleased.” She leaned back, arms folded, looking away, thinking ahead. “Yeah. He’s real. He’s a man.”

“He’s not a man yet,” said Ernestine, “but he’s going to become a man – that’s why you sitting there, fighting them tears. Because that means that your youngest daughter is about to become a woman.”

“Oh, shut up,” Sharon said. “Wish to God you’d get married to somebody, then I’d be able to bug you half to death, instead of the other way around.”

“You’d miss me, too,” said Ernestine, very quietly, “but I don’t think I’m ever going to marry. Some people do, you know – Mama? – and some people don’t.” She stood up and kind of circled the room and sat down again. We could hear Fonny’s voice and Joseph’s voice, in the other room, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying – also, we were trying very hard not to hear. Men are men, and sometimes they must be left alone. Especially if you have the sense to realize that if they’re locked in a room together, where they may not especially want to be, they are locked in be­cause of their responsibility for the women outside.

‘Well I can understand that,” said Sharon – very steadily, and without moving.

“The only trouble,” Ernestine said, “is that sometimes you would like to belong to somebody.”

“But,” I said – I had not known I was going to say it – “it’s very frightening to belong to some­body.”

And perhaps until the moment I heard myself say this, I had not realized that this is true.

“Six in one,” said Ernestine, and smiled, “half dozen in the other.”

Joseph and Fonny came back from the other room.

“Both of you are crazy,” Joseph said, “but there’s nothing I can do about that.” He watched Fon­ny. He smiled – a smile both sweet and reluctant. Then, he looked at me. “But – Fonny’s right – somebody was bound to come along some day and take you away. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. But – like Fonny says, and it’s true – you’ve always been together, from childhood on. And you ain’t children no more.” He took Fonny by the hand and led Fonny to me, and he took me by the hand and he pulled me to my feet. He put my hand in Fonny’s hand. “Take care of each other,” he said. “You going to find out that it’s more than a notion.”

Tears were standing in Fonny’s eyes. He kissed my father. He let go my hand. He moved to the door. “I’ve got to get home,” he said, “and tell my Daddy.” His face changed, he looked at me, he kissed me across the space dividing us. “He’ll be mighty happy,” he said. He opened the door. He said to Joseph, “We be back here around six this evening, okay?”

“Okay,” said Joseph, and now he was smiling all over his face.

Fonny went on out the door. Two or three days later, Tuesday or Wednesday, we went down­town together again and started seriously looking around for our loft. And that was going to turn out to be a trip and a half.

Mr. Hayward was in his office on the Monday, just as he had said he would be. I got there about seven fifteen, and Mama was with me.

Mr. Hayward is about thirty-seven, I would guess, with gentle brown eyes and thinning brown hair. He’s very, very tall, and he’s big; and he’s nice enough, or he seems nice enough, but I’m just not comfortable with him. I don’t know if it’s fair to blame him for this. I’m not really comfortable with anybody these days, and I guess I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with a lawyer.

He stood up as we came in, and put Mama in the big chair and me in the smaller one and sat down again behind his desk.

“How are you ladies today? Mrs. Rivers? And how are you, Tish? Did you see Fonny?”

“Yes. At six o’clock.”

“And how is he?”

That always seemed a foolish question to me. How is a man if he’s fighting to get out of prison? But then, too, I had to force myself to see, from another point of view, that it was an important question. For one thing, it was the question I was living with; and, for another, knowing “how” Fonny was might make a very important difference for Mr. Hayward, and help him with his case. But I also resented having to tell Mr. Hayward anything at all about Fonny. There was so much that I felt he should already have known. But maybe I’m being unfair about that, too.

“Well, let’s put it this way, Mr. Hayward. He hates being in there, but he’s trying not to let it break him.”

“When we going to get him out?” asked Mama.

Mr. Hayward looked from Mama to me, and smiled – a painful smile, as though he had just been kicked in the balls. He said, “Well, as you ladies know, this is a very difficult case.”

“That’s why my sister hired you,” I said.

“And you are beginning to feel now that her confidence was misplaced?” He was still smiling. He lit a cigar.

“No,” I said, “I wouldn’t say that.”

I wouldn’t have dared to say that – not yet, anyway – because I was afraid of having to look for another lawyer, who might easily be worse.

“We liked having Fonny around,” Mama said, “and we just kind of miss him.”

“I can certainly understand that,” he said, “and I’m doing all I can to get him back to you, just as fast as I can. But, as you ladies know, the very greatest difficulty has been caused by the refusal of Mrs. Rogers to reconsider her testimony. And now she has disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” I shouted, “how can she just disappear?”

“Tish,” he said, “this is a very big city, a very big country – even, for that matter, a very big world. People do disappear. I don’t think that she has gone very far – they certainly do not have the means for a long journey. But her family may have returned her to Puerto Rico. In any case, in or­der to find her, I will need special investigators, and-“

“That means money,” Mama said.

“Alas,” said Mr. Hayward. He stared at me from behind his cigar, an odd, expectant, surprising­ly sorrowful look.

I had stood up; now I sat down. “That filthy bitch,” I said, “that filthy bitch.”

“How much money?” Mama asked.

“I am trying to keep it as low as possible,” said Mr. Hayward, with a shy, boyish smile, “but spe­cial investigators are – special, I’m afraid, and they know it. If we’re lucky, we’ll locate Mrs. Rogers in a matter of days, or weeks. If not” – he shrugged – “well, for the moment, let’s just assume we’ll be lucky.” And he smiled again.

“Puerto Rico,” Mama said heavily.

“We don’t know that she has returned there,” Mr. Hayward said, “but it is a very vivid possibility. Anyway, she and her husband disappeared some days ago from the apartment on Orchard Street, leaving no forwarding address. We have not been able to contact the other relatives, the aunts and uncles, who, anyway, as you know, have never been very cooperative.”

“But doesn’t it make it look bad for her story,” I asked, “to just disappear like that? She’s the key witness in this case.”

“Yes. But she is a distraught, ignorant, Puerto Rican woman, suffering from the aftereffects of rape. So her behavior is not incomprehensible. You see what I mean?” He looked at me hard, and his voice changed. “And she is only one of the key witnesses in this case. You have forgotten the testimony of Officer Bell – his was the really authoritative identification of the rapist. It is Bell who swears that he saw Fonny running away from the scene of the crime. And I have always been of the opinion – you will remember that we discussed this – that it is his testimony which Mrs. Rogers continually repeats-“

“If he saw Fonny at the scene of the crime, then why did he have to wait and come and get him out of the house?’

“Tish,” Mama said. “Tish.” Then, “You mean – let me get you straight now – that it’s that Officer Bell who tells her what to say? You mean that?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Hayward.

I looked at Hayward. I looked around the room. We were way downtown, near Broadway, not far from Trinity Church. The office was of dark wood, very smooth and polished. The desk was wide, with two telephones, a button kept flashing. Hayward ignored it, watching me. There were trophies and diplomas on the walls, and a large photograph of Hayward, Senior. On the desk, framed, were two photographs, one of his wife, smiling, and one of his two small boys. There was no connection between this room, and me.

Yet, here I was.

“You’re saying,” I said, “that there’s no way of getting at the truth in this case?”

“No. I am not saying that.” He re-lit his cigar. “The truth of a case doesn’t matter. What matters is – who wins.”

Cigar smoke filled the room. “I don’t mean,” he said, carefully, “that I doubt the truth. If I didn’t believe in Fonny’s innocence, I would never have taken the case. I know something about Officer Bell, who is a racist and a liar – I have told him that to his face, so you can feel perfectly free to quote me, to anyone, at any time you wish – and I know something about the D.A. in charge of this case, who is worse. Now. You and Fonny insist that you were together, in the room on Bank Street, along with an old friend, Daniel Carty. Your testimony, as you can imagine, counts for nothing, and Daniel Carty has just been arrested by the D.A.’s office and is being held incommuni­cado. I have not been allowed to see him.” Now, he rose and paced to the window. “What they are doing is really against the law – but – Daniel has a record, as you know. They, obviously, intend to make him change his testimony. And – I do not know this, but I am willing to bet – that that is how and why Mrs. Rogers has disappeared.” He paced back to his desk, and sat down. “So. You see.” He looked up at me. “I will make it as easy as I can. But it will still be very hard.”

“How soon do you need the money?” Mama asked.

“I have begun the operation already,” he said, “of tracing the lady. I will need the money as soon as you can get it. I will also force the D.A.’s office to allow me to see Daniel Carty, but they will throw every conceivable obstacle in my way-“

“So we’re trying,” Mama said, “to buy time.”

“Yes,” he said.

Time: the word tolled like the bells of a church. Fonny was doing: time. In six months time, our baby would be here. Somewhere, in time, Fonny and I had met: somewhere, in time, we had loved; somewhere, no longer in time, but, now, totally, at time’s mercy, we loved.

Somewhere in time, Fonny paced a prison cell, his hair growing – nappier and nappier. Some­where, in time, he stroked his chin, itching for a shave, somewhere, in time, he scratched his arm­pits, aching for a bath. Somewhere in time he looked about him, knowing that he was being lied to, in time, with the connivance of time. In another time, he had feared life: now, he feared death – somewhere in time. He awoke every morning with Tish on his eyelids and fell asleep every night with Tish tormenting his navel. He lived, now, in time, with the roar and the stink and the beauty and horror of innumerable men: and he had been dropped into this inferno in the twinkling of an eye.

Time could not be bought. The only coin time accepted was life. Sitting on the leather arm of Mr. Hayward’s chair, I looked through the vast window, way down, on Broadway, and I began to cry.

“Tish,” said Hayward, helplessly.

Mamam came and took me in her arms.

“Don’t do us like that,” she said. “Don’t do us like that.”

But I couldn’t stop. It just seemed that we would never find Mrs. Rogers; that Bell wouldn’t ever change his testimony; that Daniel would be beaten until he changed his. And Fonny would rot in prison, Fonny would die there – and I -1 could not live without Fonny.

“Tish,” Mama siad, “you a woman now. You got to be a woman. We are in a rough situation – but, if you really want to think about it, ain’t nothing new about that. That’s just exactly, daughter, when you do not give up. You can’t give up. We got to get Fonny out of there. I don’t care what we have to do to do it – you understand me, daughter? This shit has been going on long enough. Now. You start thinking about it any other way, you just going to make yourself sick. You can’t get sick now – you know that – I’d rather for the state to kill him than for you to kill him. So, come on, now – we going to get him out.”

She moved away from me. I dried my eyes. She turned back to Hayward.

“You don’t have an address for that child in Puerto Rico, do you?”

“Yes.” He wrote it out on a piece of paper, and handed it to her. ‘We’re sending somebody down there this week.”

Mama folded the piece of paper, and put it in her purse.

“How soon do you think you’ll be able to see Daniel?”

“I intend,” he said, “to see him tomorrow, but I’m going to have to raise all kinds of hell to do it “

“Well,” Mama said, “just as long as you do it.”

She came back to me.

“We’ll put our heads together, at home, Mr. Hayward, and start working it on out, and I’ll have Ernestine call you early tomorrow morning. All right?”

“That’s fine. Please give Ernestine my regards.” He put down his cigar, and came and put one clumsy hand on my shoulder. “My dear Tish,” he said. “Please hold on. Please hold on. I swear to you that we will win, that Fonny will have his freedom. No, it will not be easy. But neither will it be as insurmountable as it seems to you today.”

‘Tell her,” Mama said.

“Now – when I go to see Fonny, the first question he always asks is always about you. And I al­ways say, Tish? she’s fine. But he watches my face, to make sure I’m not lying. And I’m a very bad liar. I’m going to see him tomorrow. What shall I tell him?”

I said, “Tell him I’m fine.”

“Do you think you can manage to give us a little smile? – to go with the message. I could carry it with me. He’d like that.”

I smiled, and he smiled, and something really human happened between us, for the first time. He released my shoulder, and walked over to Mama. “Could you have Ernestine call me around ten? or even earlier, if possible. Otherwise, she may not be able to get me before six.”

“Will do. And thank you very much, Mr. Hayward.”

“You know something-? I wish you’d drop the mister.”

“Well – okay. Hayward. Call me Sharon.”

“That I will do. And I hope that we become friends, out of all this.”

“I’m sure we will,” Mama said. “Thank you again. ‘Bye now.”

“Dood-bye. Don’t forget what I said, Tish.”

“I won’t. I promise. Tell Fonny I’m fine.”

“That’s my girl. Or, rather” – and he looked more boyish than ever – “Fonny’s girl.” And he smiled. He opened the door for us. He said, “Good-bye.”

We said, “Good-bye.”

Fonny had been walking down Seventh Avenue, on a Saturday afternoon, when he ran into Da­niel again. They had not seen each other since their days in school.

Time had not improved Daniel. He was still big, black, and loud; at the age of twenty-three – he is a little older than Fonny – he was already running out of familiar faces. So, they grabbed each other on the avenue – after a moment of genuine shock and delight – howling with laughter, beat­ing each other around the head and shoulders, children again, and, though Fonny doesn’t like bars, sat themselves down at the nearest one, and ordered two beers.

“Wow! What’s happening?” I don’t know which of them asked the question, or which of them asked it first: but I can see their faces.

“Why you asking me, man?”

“Because, like the man says about Mt. Everest, you’re there.”

“Where?”

“No kidding, man – how you making it?”

“I gotta slave for the Jew in the garment center, pushing a hand truck, man, riding up and down in them elevators.”

“How your folks?”

“Oh, my Daddy passed, man, while ago. I’m still at the same place, with my Mama. Her varicose veins come down on her, though. So” – and Daniel looked down into his beer.

“What you doing -1 mean, now?”

“You mean, this minute?”

“I mean, you any plans, man, you hung up, or can you come on and hang out with me? I mean, right now-?”

“I ain’t doing nothing.”

Fonny swallowed his beer, and paid the man. “Come on. We got some beer at the pad. Come on. You remember Tish?”

“Tish?-

“Yeah, Tish. Skinny little Tish. My girl.”

“Skinny little Tish?”

“Yeah. She’s still my girl. We going to get married, man. Come on, and let me show you the pad. And she’ll fix us something to eat – come on, I told you we got beer at the house.”

And, though he certainly shouldn’t be spending the money, he pushes Daniel into a cab and they roll on down to Bank Street: where I am not expecting them. But Fonny is big and cheerful, overjoyed; and the truth is that I recognize Daniel by the light in Fonny’s eyes. For, it is not so much that time has not improved him: I can see to what extent he has been beaten. This is not be­cause I am perceptive, but because I am in love with Fonny. Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind. And I could not be indifferent to Daniel because I realized, from Fonny’s face, how marvelous it was for him to have scooped up, miraculously, from the swamp waters of his past, a friend.

But it means that I must go out, shopping, and so out I go, leaving them alone. We have a record player. As I go out, Fonny is putting on “Compared To What,” and Daniel is squatting on the floor, drinking beer.

“So, you really going to get married?” Daniel asks – both wistful and mocking.

“Well, yeah, we looking for a place to live – we looking for a loft because that don’t cost no whole lot of bread, you know, and that way I can work without Tish being bugged to death. This room ain’t big enough for one, ain’t no question about its being big enough for two, and I got all my work here, and in the basement.” He is rolling a cigarette as he says this, for him and for Da­niel, squatting opposite him. “They got lofts standing empty all over the East Side, man, and don’t nobody want to rent them, except freaks like me. And they all fire traps and some of them ain’t even got no toilets. So, you figure like finding a loft ain’t going to be no sweat.” He lights the ciga­rette, takes a drag, and hands it to Daniel. “But, man – this country really do not like niggers. They do not like niggers so bad, man, they will rent to a leper first. I swear.” Daniel drags on the ciga­rette, hands it back to Fonny – Tired old ladies kissing dogs! cries the record player – who drags on it, takes a sip of his beer and hands it back. “Sometimes Tish and I go together, sometimes she goes alone, sometimes I go alone. But it’s always the same story, man.” He stands up. “And now I can’t let Tish go alone no more because, dig, last week we thought we had us a loft, the cat had prom­ised it to her. But he had not seen me. And he figures a black chick by herself, way downtown, look ing for a loft, well, he know he going to make it withher. He thinks she’s propositioning him, that’s what he really thinks. And Tish comes to tell me, just so proud and happy” – he sits down again – “and we go on over there. And when the cat sees me, he says there’s been some great misunders­tanding, he can’t rent the loft because he’s got all these relatives coming in from Rumania like in half an hour and he got to give it to them. Shit. And I told him he was full of shit and he threatened to call the cops on my ass.” He takes the cigarette from Daniel. “I’m really going to have to try to figure out some way of getting some bread together and getting out of this fucking country.”

“How you going to do that?”

“I don’t know yet,” says Fonny. “Tish can’t swim.” He gives the cigarette back to Daniel, and they whoop and rock with laughter.

“Maybe you could go first,” says Daniel, soberly.

The cigarette and the record are finished.

“No,” says Fonny, “I don’t think I want to do that.” Daniel watches him. “I’d be too scared.”

“Scared of what?” asks Daniel – though he really knows the answer to this question.

“Just scared,” says Fonny – after a long silence.

“Scared of what might happen to Tish?” Daniel asks. There is another long silence. Fonny is star­ing out the window. Daniel is staring at Fonny’s back.

“Yes,” Fonny says, finally. Then, “Scared of what might happen to both of us – without each oth­er. Like Tish ain’t got no sense at all, man – she trusts everybody. She walk down the street, swing­ing that little behind of hers, and she’s surprised, man, when some cat tries to jump her. She don’t see what I see.” And silence falls again, Daniel watching him, and Fonny says, “I know I might seem to be a weird kind of cat. But I got two things in my life, man – I got my wood and stone and I got Tish. If I lose them, I’m lost. I know that. You know” – and now he turns to face Daniel – “whatever’s in me I didn’t put there. And I can’t take it out.”

Daniel moves to the pallet, leans against the wall. “I don’t know if you so weird. I know you lucky. I ain’t got nothing like that. Can I have another beer, man?”

“Sure,” Fonny says, and goes to open two more cans. He hands one to Daniel and Daniel takes a long swallow before he says, “I just come out the slammer, baby. Two years.”

Fonny says nothing – just turns and looks.

Daniel says nothing; swallows a little more beer.

“They said – they still say – stole a car. Man, I can’t even drive a car, and I tried to make my law­yer – but he was really their lawyer, dig, he worked for the city – prove that, but he didn’t. And, anyway, I wasn’t in no car when they picked me up. But I had a little grass on me. I was on my stoop. And so they come and picked me up, like that, you know, it was about midnight, and they locked me up and then the next morning they put me in the lineup and somebody said it was me stole the car – that car I ain’t seen yet. And so – you know – since I had that weed on me, they had me anyhow and so they said if I would plead guilty they’d give me a lighter sentence. If I didn’t plead guilty, they’d throw me the book.Well” – he sips his beer again – “I was alone, baby, wasn’t nobody, and so I entered the guilty plea. Two years!” He leans forward, staring at Fonny. “But, then, it sounded a whole lot better than the marijuana charge.” He leans back and laughs and sips his beer and looks up at Fonny. “It wasn’t I let them fuck over me because I was scared and dumb and I’m sorry now.” He is silent. Then, “Two years!”

“By the balls,” says Fonny.

“Yes,” says Daniel – after the loudest and longest silence either of them has ever known.

When I come back in, they are both sitting there, a little high, and I say nothing and I move about in the tiny space of the kitchenette as quietly as I can. Fonny comes in for a moment and rubs up against me from behind and hugs me and kisses the nape of my neck. Then, he returns to Daniel.

“How long you been out?”

“About three months.” He leaves the pallet, walks to the window. “Man, it was bad. Very bad. And it’s bad now. Maybe I’d feel different if I had done something and got caught. But I didn’t do nothing. They were just playing with me, man, because they could. And I’m lucky it was only two years, you dig? Because they can do with you whatever they want.Whatever they want. And they dogs, man. I really found out, in the slammer, what Malcolm and them cats was talking about. The white man’s got to be the devil. He sure ain’t a man. Some of the things I save, baby, I’ll be dream­ing about until the day I die.”

Fonny puts one hand on Daniel’s neck. Daniel shudders. Tears stream down his face.

“I know,” Fonny says, gently, “but try not to let it get to you too tough. You out now, it’s over, you young.”

“Man, I know what you’re saying. And I appreciate it. But you don’t know – the worst thing, man, the worst thing – is that they can make you so fucking scared. Scared, man. Scared.”

Fonny says nothing, simply stands there, with his hand on Daniel’s neck.

I yell, from the kitchen, “You cats hungry?”

“Yeah,” Fonny yells back, “we starving. Move it!”

Daniel dries his eyes and comes to the door of the kitchenette and smiles at me.

“It’s nice to see you, Tish. You sure ain’t gained no weight, have you?”

“You hush. I’m skinny because I’m poor.”

‘Well, I sure don’t know why you didn’t pick yourself a rich husband. You ain’t never going to gain no weight now.”

“Well, if you skinny, Daniel, you can move faster and when you in a tight place, you got a better chance of getting out of it. You see what I mean.”

“You sound like you got it figured. You learn all that from Fonny?”

“I learned some things from Fonny. But I also have a swift, natural intelligence – haven’t you been struck by it?”

“Tish, I been struck by so many things that I really have not had time to do you justice.”

“You’re not the only one. And I can’t really blame you. I’m so remarkable, I sometimes have to pinch myself.”

Daniel laughs. “Td like to see that. Where?”

Fonny mutters, “She’s so remarkable, I sometimes have to go up side her head.”

“He beats you, too?”

“Ah! what can I do-? All my life is just despair, but I don’t care-“

Suddenly we are singing,

When he takes me in his arms,

The world is bright, all right.

What’s the difference it I say I’ll go away

When I know I’ll come back On my knees someday For, whatever my man is I am his,

Forevermore!

Then, we are laughing. Daniel sobers, looking within, suddenly very far away. “Poor Billie,” he says, “they beat the living crap out of her, too.”

“Man,” Fonny says, “we just have to move it from day to day. If you think too much about it, you really are fucked, can’t move at all.”

“Let’s eat,” I say. “Come on.”

I have prepared what I know Fonny likes: ribs and combread and rice, with gravy, and green peas. Fonny puts on the record player, low: Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On.”

“Maybe Tish can’t gain no weight,” says Daniel, after a moment, “but you sure will. You folks mind if I drop by more often – say, around this time?”

“Feel free,” says Fonny, cheerfully, and winks at me. “Tish ain’t very good looking, but she can sure get the pots together.”

“I’m happy to know I have some human use,” I tell him, and he winks at me again, and starts chewing on a rib.

Fonny: chews on the rib, and watches me: and, in complete silence, without moving a muscle, we are laughing with each other. We are laughing for many reasons. We are together somewhere where no one can reach us, touch us, joined. We are happy, even, that we have food enough for Daniel, who eats peacefully, not knowing that we are laughing, but sensing that something won­derful has happened to us, which means that wonderful things happen, and that maybe something wonderful will happen to him. It’s wonderful, anyway, to be able to help a person to have that feel­ing.

Daniel stays with us till midnight. He’s a little afraid to leave, afraid, in fact, to hit those streets, and Fonny realizes this and walks him to the subway. Daniel, who cannot abandon his mother, yet longs to be free to confront his life; is terrified at the same time of what that life may bring, is terri­fied of freedom; and is struggling in a trap. And Fonny, who is younger, struggles now to be older, in order to help his friend toward his deliverance. Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? And why not every man?

The song is old, the question unanswered.

On their walk that night, and many nights thereafter, Daniel tried to tell Fonny something about what had happened to him, in prison. Sometimes he was at the house, and so I heard it, too; some­times, he and Fonny were alone. Sometimes, when Daniel spoke, he cried – sometimes, Fonny held him. Sometimes, I did. Daniel brought it out, or forced it out, or tore it out of himself as though it were torn, twisted, chilling metal, bringing with it his flesh and his blood – he tore it out of himself like a man trying to be cured:

“You don’t know what’s happening to you, at first. No way to know it. They come and got me off my stoop and they searched me. When I thought about it later, I realized that I didn’t really know why. I was always on that stoop, me and the other cats, and they was always passing by, and, while I wasn’t never on no shit, they knew some of the other cats has to be – you know they knew it. And they could see the dudes scratching and nodding. I think they dug that. When I thought about it later, I thought to myself, the motherfuckers really dig that shit. They go on into headquarters and report, Everything’s cool, sir. We escorted the French connection while he made his rounds and the shit’s been delivered and the niggers is out of it. But this night I was by myself, about to go on in, and they stopped the car and yelled at me and pushed me into the hallway and searched me. You know how they do it.”

I don’t know. But Fonny nods, his face still, his eyes very dark.

“And I had just picked up this grass, it was in my ass-pocket. And so they pulled it out, man, do they love to pat your ass, and one of them give it to the other and one of them handcuffed me and pushed me into the car. And I hadn’t known it was going to come to that, maybe I was a little high, maybe I hadn’t had time to think, but, baby, when that man put his handcuffs on me and pushed me down the steps and on into the car and then that car started moving, I wanted to scream for my Mama. And then I started getting scared, because she can’t hardly do nothing for herself, and she’d start to worrying about me, and wouldn’t nobody know where I was! They took me down to the precinct and they booked me on a narcotics charge and they took everything I had off of me and I started to ask, Can I make a phone call? and then I realized that I didn’t really have nobody to call, except my Mama, and who she going to call this hour of night? I just hoped she was sleeping, you know, like she had just figured that I was out late, and, by time she woke up in the morning and realized I wasn’t there that maybe I’d have figured out – something. They put me in this little cell with about four or five other cats, they was just nodding and farting, and I sat there and I tried to get my mind together. Because what the fuck am I going to do? I ain’t got nobody to call – I really don’t, except maybe that Jew I work for; he a nice enough dude, but, man, he ain’t hardly going to dig it. What I’m really trying to figure is how I can get somebody else to call my Mama, somebody who’s cool, who can cool her, somebody who can do something. But I can’t think of nobody.

“Morning came and they put us in the wagon. There’s this old white motherfucker they picked up off the Bowery – I guess – he done vomited all over himself and he’s looking down at the floor and he’s singing. He can’t sing, but he sure is stinking. And, man, I’m sure grateful I ain’t on no shit because now one of the brothers is started to moan, he got his arms wrapped around himself, and sweat is starting to pour off that cat, like water down a scrubbing board. I ain’t much older than he is, and I sure wish I could help him but I know I can’t do nothing. And I think to myself, Now, the cops who put him in this wagon know that this dude is sick. I know they know it. He ain’t supposed to be in here – and him not hardly much more than a kid. But the mothers who put him in this wagon, man, they was coming in their pants while they did it. I don’t believe there’s a white man in this country, baby, who can even get his dick hard, without he hear some nigger moan.

“Well, we get on down there. And I still ain’t thought of nobody to call. I want to shit and I want to die, but I know I can’t do neither. I figure they’ll let me shit when they get ready, in the mean­time I just got to hold it best I can, and it just pure foolishness for me to think of wanting to die be­cause they can kill me any time they want to and maybe I’ll die today.Before I shit. And then I think of my Mama again. I know she worried by now.”

Sometimes Fonny held him, sometimes I did. Sometimes, he stood at the window, with his back to us.

“I can’t really tell you much more about it – maybe there’s a whole lot of shit that I won’t never be able to tell nobody. T’hey had me on the grass, and so they nailed me on the car – that car I ain’t seen yet. I guess they just happened to need a car thief that day. Sure wish I knew whose car it was. I hope it wasn’t no black dude’s car, though.”

Then, sometimes, Daniel would grin, sometimes he would dry his eyes. We would eat and drink together. Daniel was trying very hard to get past something, something unnamable: he was trying as hard as a man can try. And sometimes I held him, sometimes Fonny: we were all he had.

On the Tuesday after the Monday that I saw Hayward, I saw Fonny at the six o’clock visit. I had never seen him so upset before.

“What the fuck we going to do about Mrs. Rogers? Where the fuck did she go?”

“I don’t know. But we’ll find her.”

“How you going to find her?”

“We’re sending people to Puerto Rico. We think that’s where she went.”

“And suppose she went to Argentina? or Chile? or China?”

“Fonny. Please. How’s she going to get that far?”

“They can give her the money, to go anywhere!”

“Who?”

“The D.A.’s office, that’s who!”

“Fonny-“

“You don’t believe me? You don’t think they can do it?”

“I don’t think they have.”

“How you going to get the money to find her?”

“We’re all working, all of us.”

“Yeah. My Daddy’s working in the garment center, you’re working in a department store, your Daddy’s working on the waterfront-!”

“Fonny. Listen-“

“Listen to what? What we going to do about that fucking lawyer? He don’t give a shit about me, he don’t give a shit about nobodyl You want me to die in here? You know what’s going on in here? You know what’s happening to me, to me, to me, in here?”

“Fonny. Fonny. Fonny.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I don’t mean none of that for you. I’m sorry. I love you, Tish. I’m sorry.”

“I love you, Fonny. I love you.”

“How’s the baby coming?”

“It’s growing. It’ll start showing more next month.”

We stared at each other.

“Get me out of here, baby. Get me out of here. Please.”

“I promise. I promise. I promise.”

“Don’t cry. I’m sorry I yelled. I wasn’t yelling at you, Tish.”

“I know.”

“Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. It’s bad for the baby.”

“AH right.”

“Give us a smile, Tish.”

“Is that all right?”

“You can do better than that.”

“Is this better?”

“Yeah. Give us a kiss.”

I kissed the glass. He kissed the glass.

“You still love me?”

“I’ll always love you, Fonny.”

“I love you. I miss you. I miss everything about you, I miss everything we had together, every­thing we did together, walking and talking and making love – oh, baby, get me out of here.”

“I will. Hold on.”

“I promise. – Later.”

“Later.”

He followed the guard into the unimaginable inferno, and I stood up, my knees and elbows shaking, to cross the Sahara again.

That night I dreamed, I dreamed all night, I had terrible dreams. In one of these dreams, Fonny was driving a truck, a great big truck, very fast, too fast, down the highway, and he was looking for me. But he didn’t see me. I was behind the truck, calling out his name, but the roar of the motor drowned my voice. There were two turnings off this highway, and they both looked exactly alike. The highway was on a cliff, above the sea. One of the turnings led to the driveway of our house; the other led to the cliff’s edge and a drop straight down to the sea. He was driving too fast, too fast! I called his name as loud as I could and, as he began to turn the truck, I screamed again and woke up.

The light was on, and Sharon was standing above me. I cannot describe her face. She had brought in a cold, wet towel and she wiped my brow and my neck. She leaned down and kissed me.

Then, she straightened and looked into my eyes.

“I know I can’t help you very much right now – God knows what I wouldn’t give if I could. But I know about suffering; if that helps. I know that it ends. I ain’t going to tell you no lies, like it al­ways ends for the better.Sometimes it ends for the worse. You can suffer so bad that you can be driven to a place where you can’t ever suffer again: and that’s worse.”

She took both my hands and held them tightly between her own. “Try to remember that. And: the only way anything ever gets done is when you make up your mind to do it. I know a lot of our loved ones, a lot of our men, have died in prison: but not all of them. You remember that. And: you ain’t really alone in that bed, Tish. You got that child beneath your heart and we’re all counting on you, Fonny’s counting on you, to bring that child here safe and well. You the only one who can do it. But you’re strong. Lean on your strength.”

I said, “Yes. Yes, Mama.” I knew I didn’t have any strength. But I was going to have to find some, somewhere.

‘Are you all right now? Can you sleep? ’Yes.”

“I don’t want to sound foolish. But, just remember, love brought you here. If you trusted love this far, don’t panic now.”

And, again, she kissed me and she turned out the light and she left me.

I lay there – wide awake; and very frightened. Get me out of here.

I remembered women I had known, but scarcely looked at, who had frightened me; because they knew how to use their bodies in order to get something that they wanted. I now began to real­ize that my judgment of these women had had very little to do with morals. (And I now began to wonder about the meaning of this word.) My judgment had been due to my sense of how little they appeared to want. I could not conceive of peddling myself for so low a price.

But, for a higher price? for Fonny?

And I fell asleep; for a white; and then I woke up. I had never been so tired in my life. I ached all over. I looked at the clock and I realized that it would soon be time to get up and go to work, un­less I called in sick.But I could not call in sick.

I got dressed and went out to the kitchen, to have tea with Mama. Joseph and Ernestine had al­ready gone. Mama and I sipped our tea in almost total silence. Something was turning over and over and over, in my mind: I could not speak.

I came down into the streets. It was a little past eight o’clock. I walked these morning streets; these streets are never empty. I passed the old blind black man on the corner. Perhaps I had seen him all my life. But I wondered about his life, for the first time, now. There were about four kids, all junkies, standing on the corner, talking. Some women were rushing to work. I tried to read their faces. Some women were finally going to get a little rest, and they headed off the avenue, to their furnished rooms. Every side street was piled high with garbage, and garbage was piled high before every stoop along the avenue. I thought, If I’m going to peddle ass, I better not try it up here. It would take just as long as scrubbing floors, and be a lot more painful. What I was really thinking was, I know I can’t do it before the baby comes, but, if Fonny’s not out by then, maybe I’ll have to try it. Maybe I better get ready. But there was something else turning over, at the bottom of my mind, which I knew I didn’t have the courage to look at yet.

Get ready, how? I walked down the steps and pushed through the turnstile and stood on the subway platform, with the others. When the train came, I pushed in, with the others, and I leaned against a pole, while their breath and smell rolled over me. Cold sweat covered my forehead and began to trickle down my armpits and my back. I hadn’t thought of it before, because I knew I had to keep on working up to just about the last minute; but now I began to wonder just how, as I be­came heavier and sicker, I was going to get to work. If I should pass out, these people, getting on and getting off, would simply trample me and the baby to death. We’re counting on you – Fonny’s counting on you – Fonny’s counting on you, to bring that baby here, safe and well. I held the white bar more firmly. My freezing body shook.

I looked around the subway car. It was a little like the drawings I had seen of slave ships. Of course, they hadn’t had newspapers on the slave ships, hadn’t needed them yet; but, as concerned space (and also, perhaps, as concerned intention) the principle was exactly the same. A heavy man, smelling of hot sauce and toothpaste, breathed heavily into my face. It wasn’t his fault that he had to breathe, or that my face was there. His body pressed against me, too, very hard, but this did not mean that he was thinking of rape, or thinking of me at all. He was probably wondering only – and that, dimly – how he was going to get through another day on his job. And he certainly did not see me.

And, when a subway car is packed – unless it’s full of people who know each other, going on a picnic, say – it is almost always silent. It’s as though everybody is just holding his breath, waiting to get out of there.Each time the train comes into a station, and some of the people push you aside, in order to get out – as happened now, for example, with the man who smelled of hot sauce and toothpaste – a great sigh seems to rise; stifled immediately by the people who get on. Now, a blond girl, carrying a bandbox, was breathing her hangover into my face. My stop came, and I got off, climbed the steps and crossed the street. I went into the service entrance and punched the clock, put my street clothes away and went out to my counter. I was a little late for the floor, but I’d clocked in on time.

The floor manager, a white boy, young, nice enough, gave me a mock scowl as I hurried to my place.

It isn’t only old white ladies who come to that counter to smell the back of my hand. Very rarely does a black cat come anywhere near this counter, and if, or when, he does, his intentions are often more generous and always more precise. Perhaps, for a black cat, I really do, too closely, resemble a helpless baby sister. He doesn’t want to see me turn into a whore. And perhaps some black cats come closer, just to look into my eyes, just to hear my voice, to check out what’s happening. And they never smell the back of my hand: a black cat puts out his hand, and you spray it, and he car­ries the back of his own hand to his own nostrils.And he doesn’t bother to pretend that he’s come to buy perfume. Sometimes, he does – buy some perfume; most often he doesn’t. Sometimes the hand he has brought down from his nostrils clenches itself into a secret fist, and, with that prayer, that salutation, he moves away. But a white man will carry your hand to his nostrils, he will hold it there. I watched everybody, all day long, with something turning over and over and over, in my mind. Ernestine came to pick me up at the end of the day. She said that Mrs. Rogers had been lo­cated, in Santurce, Puerto Rico; and someone of us would, have to go there.

“With Hayward?”

“No. Hayward’s got to deal with Bell, and the D.A. here. Anyway, you can see that, for many, many reasons, Hayward can’t go. He’d be accused of intimidating a witness.”

‘But that’s what they’re doing-!”

“Tish” – we were walking up Eighth Avenue, toward Columbus Circle – “it would take us until your baby is voting age to prove that.”

“Are we going to take the subway, or the bus?”

“We’re going to sit down somewhere until this rush hour’s over. You and me, we’ve got to talk anyway, before we talk to Mama and Daddy. They don’t know yet. I haven’t talked to them yet”

And I realize how much Ernestine loves me, at the same time that I remember that she is, after all, only four years older than I.

Mrs. Victoria Rogers, nee Victoria Maria San Felipe Sanchez, declares that on the evening of March 5, be­tween the hours of eleven and twelve, in the vestibule of her home, she was criminally assaulted by a man she now knows to have been Alonzo Hunt, and was used by the aforesaid Hunt in the most extreme and abomi­nable sexual manner, and forced to undergo the most unimaginable sexual perversions.

I have never seen her. I know only that an American-born Irishman, Gary Rogers, an engineer, went to Puerto Rico about six years ago, and there met Victoria, who was then about eighteen. He married her, and brought her to the mainland. His career did not go up, but down; he seems to have become embittered. In any case, having pumped three children out of her, he left. I know nothing about the man with whom she was living on Orchard Street, with whom, presumably, she had fled to Puerto Rico. The children are, presumably, somewhere on the mainland, with her rela­tives. Her “home” is Orchard Street. She lived on the fourth floor. If the rape took place in the “ves­tibule,” then she was raped on the ground floor, under the staircase. It could have taken place on the fourth floor, but it seems unlikely; there are four apartments on that floor. Orchard Street, if you know New York, is a very long way from Bank Street. Orchard Street is damn near in the East River and Bank Street is practically in the Hudson. It is not possible to run from Orchard to Bank, particularly not with the police behind you. Yet, Bell swears that he saw Fonny “run from the scene of the crime.” This is possible only if Bell were off duty, for his “beat” is on the West Side, not the East. Yet, Bell could arrest Fonny out of the house on Bank Street. It is then up to the accused to prove, and pay for proving, the irregularity and improbability of this sequence of events.

Ernestine and I had sat down in the last booth of a bar off Columbus.

Ernestine’s way with me, and with all her children, is to drop something heavy on you and then lean back, calculating how you’ll take it. She’s got to know that, in order to calculate her own posi­tion: the net’s got to be in place.

Now, maybe because I had spent so much of the day, and the night before, with my terrors – and my calculations – concerning the possible sale of my body, I began to see the reality of rape.

I asked, “Do you think she really was raped?”

“Tish. I don’t know what’s going on in that busy, ingrown mind of yours, but that question has no bearing on anything. As fax as our situation is concerned, baby, she was raped. That’s it.” She paused and sipped her drink. She sounded very calm, but her forehead was tense, intelligent, with terror. “I think, in fact, that she was raped and that she has absolutely no idea who did it, would probably not even recognize him if he passed her on the street. I may sound crazy, but the mind works that way. She’d recognize him if he raped her again. But then it would no longer be rape. If you see what I mean.”

“I see what you mean. But why does she accuse Fonny?”

“Because Fonny was presented to her as the rapist and it was much easier to say yes than to try and relive the whole damn thing again. This way, it’s over, for her. Except for the trial. But, then, it’s really over. For her.”

“And for us, too?”

“No.” She looked at me very steadily. It may seem a funny thing to say, but I found myself ad­miring her guts. “It won’t be over for us.” She spoke very carefully, watching me all the while. “There’s a way in which it may never be over, for us. But we won’t talk about that now. Listen. We have to think about it very seriously, and in another way. That’s why I wanted to have a drink alone with you, before we went home.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” I was suddenly very frightened.

“Listen. I don’t think that we can get her to change her testimony. You’ve got to understand: she’s not lying.”

“What are you trying to tell me? What the fuck do you mean, she’s not lying?”

“Will you listen to me? Please? Of course, she’s lying. We know she’s lying. But – she’s – not – ly­ing. As far as she’s concerned, Fonny raped her and that’s that, and now she hasn’t got to deal with it anymore. It’s over. For her. If she changes her testimony, she’ll go mad. Or become another woman. And you know how often people go mad, and how rarely they change.”

” So – what are we to do?”

“We have to disprove the state’s case. There’s no point in saying that we have to make them prove it, because, as far as they’re concerned, the accusation is the proof and that’s exactly the way those nuts in the jury box will take it, quiet as it’s kept. They’re liars, too – and we know they’re liars. But they don’t.”

I remembered, for some reason, something someone had said to me, a long time ago – it might have been Fonny: A fool never says he’s a fool.

‘We can’t disprove it. Daniel’s in jail.”

“Yes. But Hayward is seeing him tomorrow.”

‘That don’t mean nothing. Daniel is still going to change his testimony, I bet you.”

“He may. He may not. But I have another idea.”

There we sat, in this dirty bar, two sisters, trying to be cool.

“Let’s say the worst comes to the worst. Mrs. Rogers will not change her testimony. Let’s say Da­niel changes his. That leaves only Officer Bell, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. And so what?”

“Well – I have a file on him. A long file. I can prove that he murdered a twelve-year-old black boy, in Brooklyn, two years ago. That’s how come he was transferred to Manhattan. I know the mother of the murdered boy. And I know Bell’s wife, who hates him.”

“She can’t testify against him.”

“She hasn’t got to testify against him. She just has to sit in that courtroom, and watch him-“

“I don’t see how this helps us – at all-‘

“I know you don’t. And you may be right. But, if worse comes to worst, and it’s always better to assume that it will – come to worst – then our tactic has to be to shatter the credibility of the state’s only witness.”

“Ernestine,” I said, “you’re dreaming.”

“I don’t think I am. I’m gambling. If I can get those two women, one white and one black, to sit in that courtroom, and if Hayward does his work right, we ought to be able to shatter the case, on cross-examination.Remember, Tish, that, after all, it isn’t very much of a case. If Fonny were white, it wouldn’t be a case at all.”

Well. I understand what she means. I know where she’s coming from. It’s a long shot. But, in our position, after all, only the long shot counts. We don’t have any other: that’s it. And I realize, too, that if we thought it were feasible, we might very well be sitting here, cool, very cool, discussing ways and means of having Bell’s head blown off. And, when it was done, we’d shrug and have another drink: that’s it. People don’t know.

“Yes. Okay. What about Puerto Rico?”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. Before we talk to Mama and Daddy. Look. You can’t go. You’ve got to be here. For one thing, without you, Fonny will panic. I don’t see how I can go. I’ve got to keep lighting firecrackers under Hayward’s ass. Obviously, a man can’t go. Daddy can’t go, and God knows Frank can’t go. That leaves – Mama.”

“Mama-?”

“Yes.”

“She don’t want to go to Puerto Rico.”

“That’s right. And she hates planes. But she wants your baby’s father out of jail. Of course she doesn’t want to go to Puerto Rico. But she’ll go.”

“And what do you think she can do?”

“She can do something no special investigator can do. She may be able to break through to Mrs. Rogers. Maybe not – but if she can, we’re ahead. And if not – well, we haven’t lost anything, and, at least, we’ll know we’ve tried.”

I watch her forehead. Okay.

“And what about Daniel?”

“I told you. Hayward is seeing him tomorrow. He may have been able to see him today. He’s calling us tonight”

I lean back. “Some shit.”

“Yeah. But we in it now.”

Then, we are silent. I realize, for the first time, that the bar is loud. And I look around me. It’s ac­tually a terrible place and I realize that the people here can only suppose that Ernestine and I are tired whores, or a Lesbian couple, or both. Well. We are certainly in it now, and it may get worse. It will, certainly – and now something almost as hard to catch as a whisper in a crowded place, as light and as definite as a spider’s web, strikes below my ribs, stunning and astonishing my heart – get worse. But that light tap, that kick, that signal, announces to me that what can get worse can get better. Yes. It will get worse. But the baby, turning for the first time in its incredible veil of wa­ter, announces its presence and claims me; tells me, in that instant, that what can get worse can get better; and that what can get better can get worse. In the meantime – forever – it is entirely up to me. The baby cannot get here without me. And, while I may have known this, in one way, a little while ago, now the baby knows it, and tells me that while it will certainly be worse, once it leaves the water, what gets worse can also get better. It will be in the water for a while yet: but it is pre­paring itself for a transformation. And so must I.

I said, “It’s all right. I’m not afraid.”

And Ernestine smiled, and said, “Let’s move it then.”

DMU Timestamp: October 19, 2020 19:17