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

Author: James Baldwin

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

TWO: Zion

Fonny is working on the wood. It is a soft, brown wood, it stands on his worktable. He has decided to do a bust of me. The wall is covered with sketches. I am not there.

His tools are on the table. He walks around the wood, terrified. He does not want to touch it. He knows that he must. But he does not want to defile the wood. He stares and stares, almost weep­ing. He wishes that the wood would speak to him; he is waiting for the wood to speak. Until it speaks, he cannot move. I am imprisoned somewhere in the silence of that wood, and so is he.

He picks up a chisel, he puts it down. He lights a cigarette, sits down on his work stool, stares, picks up the chisel again.

He puts it down, goes into the kitchen to pour himself a beer, comes back with the beer, sits down on the stool again, stares at the wood. The wood stares back at him.

“You cunt,” says Fonny.

He picks up the chisel again, and approaches the waiting wood. He touches it very lightly with his hand, he caresses it. He listens. He puts the chisel, teasingly, against it. The chisel.begins to move. Fonny begins.And wakes up.

He is in a cell by himself, at the top of the prison. This is provisional. Soon, he will be sent down­stairs, to a larger cell, with other men. There is a toilet in the comer of the cell. It stinks.

And Fonny stinks.

He yawns, throwing his arms behind his head, and turns, furiously, on the narrow cot. He lis­tens. He cannot tell what time it is, but it does not matter. The hours are all the same, the days are all the same. He looks at his shoes, which have no laces, on the floor beside the cot. He tries to give himself some reason for being here, some reason to move, or not to move. He knows that he must do something to keep himself from drowning in this place, and every day he tries. But he does not succeed. He can neither retreat into himself nor step out of himself. He is righteously suspended, he is still. He is still with fear. He rises, and walks to the corner, and pees. The toilet does not work very well, soon it will overflow. He does not know what he can do about it. He is afraid, up here, alone. But he is also afraid of the moment when he will be moved downstairs, with the others, whom he sees at mealtimes, who see him. He knows who they are, he has seen them all before, were they to encounter each other outside he would know what to say to them. Here, he knows nothing, he is dumb, he is absolutely terrified. Here, he is at everyone’s mercy, and he is also at the mercy of this stone and steel. Outside, he is not young. Here, he realizes that he is young, very young, too young. And – will he grow old here?

He stares through the small opening in the cell door into what he can see of the corridor. Every­thing is still and silent. It must be very early. He wonders if today is the day he will be taken to the showers. But he does not know what day it is, he cannot remember how long ago it was that he was taken to the showers. I’ll ask somebody today, he thinks, and then I’ll remember. I’ve got to make myself remember. I can’t let myself go like this. He tries to remember everything he has ever read about life in prison. He can remember nothing. His wind is as empty as a shell; rings, like a shell, with a meaningless sound, no questions, no answers, nothing. And he stinks. He yawns again, he scratches himself, he shivers, with a mighty eifort he stifles a scream, grabs the bars of the high window and looks up into what he can see of the sky. The touch of the steel calms him a little; the cool, rough stone against his skin comforts him a little. He thinks of Frank, his father. He thinks of me. He wonders what we are doing now, at this very moment. He wonders what the whole world, his world, is doing without him, why he has been left alone here, perhaps to die. The sky is the color of the steel; the heavy tears drip down Fonny’s face, causing the stubble on his face to itch. He cannot muster his defenses because he can give himself no reason for being here.

He lies back down on the cot. He has five cigarettes left. He knows that I will bring him ciga­rettes this evening. He lights a cigarette, staring up at the pipes on the ceiling. He shakes. He tries to put his mind at ease.Just one more day. Don’t sweat it. Be cool.

He drags on the cigarette. His prick hardens. Absently, he strokes it, thoough his shorts; it is his only friend. He clenches his teeth, and resists, but he is young and he is lonely, he is alone. He strokes himself gently, as though in prayer, closing his eyes. His rigid sex responds, burning, and Fonny sighs, dragging on the cigarette again. He pauses, but his hand will not be still – cannot be still. He catches his lower lip in his teeth, wishing – but the hand will not be still. He lifts himself out of his shorts and pulls the blanket up to his chin. The hand will not be still, it tightens, it tigh­tens, moving faster, and Fonny sinks and rises. Oh. He tries to think of no one, he tries not to think of me, he does not wish me to have any connection with this cell, or with this act. Oh. And he turns, rising, writhing, his belly beginning to shake. Oh: and great tears gather behind his eyes. He does not want it to end. It must end. Oh. Oh; Oh. He drops his cigarette on the stone floor, he sur­renders totally, he pretends that human arms are holding him, he moans, he nearly screams, his thickening, burning sex causes him to arch his back, and his limbs stiffen. Oh. He does not want it to end. It must end. He moans. It is unbelievable. His sex trickles, spurts, explodes, all over his hand and his belly and his balls, he sighs; after a long moment he opens his eyes and the cell comes crashing down on him, steel and stone, making him know he is alone.

He is brought down to see me at six o’dock.

He remembers to pick up the phone.

“Hey!” And he grins. “How you doing, baby? Tell me something.”

“You know I ain’t got nothing to tell. How you?”

He kisses the glass. I kiss the glass.

But he does not look well.

“Hayward’s coming to see you tomorrow morning. He thinks he’s got a date fixed for the trial.”

“For when?”

“Soon. Very soon.”

‘What do you mean by soon? Tomorrow? Next month? Next year?”

“Would I tell you, Fonny, if I didn’t know it was soon? Would I? And Hayward told me I could tell you.”

“Before the baby gets here?”

“Oh, yes, before the baby gets here.”

“When is it due?”

Soon.

His face changes then, and he laughs. He makes a mock menacing gesture with one fist.

“How is it? the baby.”

“Alive and kicking. Believe me.”

“Whipping your ass, huh?” He laughs again. “Old Tish.”

And again his face changes, another light comes into it, he is very beautiful.

“You seen Frank?”

“Yes. He’s been doing a lot of overtime. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“He coming with you?”

“No. He’s coming with Hayward, in the morning.”

“How is he?”

“He’s fine, baby.”

“And my two funky sisters?”

“They’re like they’ve always been.”

“Not married yet?”

“No, Fonny. Not yet.”

I wait for the next question:

“And my Mama?”

“I haven’t seen her. Naturally. But she seems to be all right”

“Her weak heart ain’t done her in yet, huh? Your Mama back from Puerto Rico?”

“Not yet. But we expect her any minute.”

His face changes again.

“But – if that chick still says I raped her – I’m going to be here for a while.”

I light a cigarette, and I put it out. The baby moves, as though it is trying to get a glimpse of Fonny.

“Mama thinks that Hayward can destroy her testimony. She seems to be a kind of hysterical woman. She’s a part-time whore, anyway – that doesn’t help her case. And – you were the blackest thing in the lineup that morning. There were some white cats and a Puerto Rican and a couple of light brown brothers – but you were the only black man.”

“I don’t know how much that’s going to mean.”

“Well, one thing it can mean is that the case can be thrown out of court. She says she was raped by a black man, and so they put one black man in a lineup with a whole lot of pale dudes. And so, naturally, she says it was you. If she was looking for a black cat, she knows it can’t be none of the others.”

“What about Bell?”

“Well, he’s already killed one black kid, just like I told you. And Hayward will make sure that the jury knows that.”

“Shit. If the jury knows that, they’ll probably want to give him a medal. He’s keeping the streets safe.”

“Fonny, don’t think like that. Baby. We agreed when this shit started, that we’d just have to move it from day to day and not blow our cool and not try to think too far ahead. I know exactly what you mean, sweetheart, but there’s no point in thinking about it like that-“

“Do you miss me?”

“Oh, God, yes. That’s why you can’t blow your cool. I’m waiting for you, the baby’s waiting for you!”

“I’m sorry, Tish. I’m sorry. I’ll get it together. I really will. But, sometimes it’s hard, because I ain’t got no business here – you know? And things are happening inside me that I don’t really under­stand, like I’m beginning to see things I never saw before. I don’t have any words for those things, and I’m scared. I’m not as tough as I thought I was. I’m younger than I thought I was. But I’ll get it together. I promise you. I promise. Tish. I’ll be better when I come out than I was when I came in. I promise. I know it. Tish. Maybe there’s something I had to see, and – I couldn’t have seen it with­out coming in here. Maybe. Maybe that’s it Oh, Tish – do you love me?”

“I love you. I love you. You have to know I love you, just like you know that nappy hair is grow­ing on your head.”

“Do I look awful?”

“Well, I wish I could get my hands on you. But you’re beautiful to me.”

“I wish I could get my hands on you, too.”

A silence falls, and we look at each other. We are looking at each other when the door opens be­hind Fonny, and the man appears. This is always the most awful moment, when Fonny has to rise and turn, I have to rise and turn. But Fonny is cool. He stands, and raises his fist. He smiles, and stands there for a moment, looking me dead in the eye. Something travels from him, to me, it is love and courage. Yes. Yes. We are going to make it, somehow. Somehow. I stand, and smile, and raise my fist. He turns into the inferno. I walk toward the Sahara.

The miscalculations of this world are vast. The D.A.’s office, the prosecution, the state – The People versus Alonzo Hunt! – has managed to immobilize, isolate, or intimidate, every witness for Alonzo Hunt. But it has fucked itself up, too, as a thinned Sharon informs us on the night that Er­nestine borrows the actress’s car, and chauffeur, to bring Mama home from Kennedy Airport:

“I waited for another two days. I thought, it can’t go down like that. The deal can not go down like that. Jaime said that it could, it would go down like that. By this time, the story was all over the island. Everybody knew it. Jaime knew more about it than I knew myself. He said that I was being followed everywhere, that we were being followed everywhere, and, one night, in the taxi, he proved it. I’ll tell you about that another day.”

Mama’s face: she, too, is seeing something she never saw before.

“I couldn’t go around anymore. For the last two days, Jaime got to be my spy, really. They knew his taxi better than they knew him, if you see what I mean. People always know the outside better than they know the inside. If they saw Jaime’s taxi coming, well, that was Jaime. They didn’t look inside.”

Sharon’s face: and Joseph’s face.

“So, he borrowed somebody else’s car. That way, they didn’t see him coming. By the time they did see him, it didn’t make any difference, since he wasn’t with me. He was part of the landscape, like the sea, like the garbage heap, he was something they had known all their lives. They didn’t have to look at him. I had never seen it like that before. Maybe they didn’t dare look at him, like they don’t look at the garbage dump. Like they don’t look at themselves – like we don’t look. I had never seen it like that before. Never. I don’t speak no Spanish and they don’t speak no English. But we on the same garbage dump. For the same reason.”

She looks at me.

“For the same reason. I had never thought about it like that before. Whoever discovered America deserved to be dragged home, in chains, to die.”

She looks at me again.

“You get that baby here, you hear me?” And she smiles. She smiles. She is very close to me. And she is very far away. “We ain’t going to let nobody put chains on that baby. That’s all.”

She rises, and paces the kitchen. We watch her: she has lost weight. She holds a gin and orange juice in her hand. I know that she has not yet unpacked. I realize, because I watch her fighting her tears, that she is, really, after all, young.

“Anyway. He was there, Jaime was there, when they carried the chick away. She was screaming. She was having a miscarriage. Pietro carried her down the steps, in his arms. She had already started to bleed.”

She sips her drink. She stands at our window, very much alone.

“She was carried to the mountains, someplace called Barranguitas. You got to know where it is, to get there. Jaime says that she will never be seen again.”

There goes the trial, the prosecution having fucked itself out of its principal witness. We have a slim hope, still, in Daniel, but not one of us can see him, even if we knew where he could be found. He has been transferred to a prison upstate: Hayward is checking it out, Hayward is on the case.

The prosecution will ask for time. We will ask that the charge be dropped, and the case dis­missed: but must be prepared to settle for bail: if the state will concede it: if we can raise it.

“All right,” says Joseph, stands, walks to the window, stands next to Sharon, but does not touch her. They watch their island.

“You okay?” asks Joseph, and lights a cigarette, and hands it to her.

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

“Then, let’s go on in. You tired. And you been gone a while.”

“Good-night,” says Ernestine, firmly, and Sharon and Joseph, their arms around each other, walk down the hall, to their room. In a way, we are their elders now. And the baby kicks again. Time.

But the effect of all this on Frank is cataclysmic, is absolutely disastrous, and it is Joseph who has to bring him the news. Their hours are, furthermore, now so erratic that he has to bring the news to the house.

Without a word, he has managed to forbid both Ernestine and myself from saying a word to the Hunts. It is about midnight.

Mrs. Hunt is in bed. Adrienne and Sheila have just come in, and, standing in the kitchen, in their nightgowns, are giggling and sipping Ovaltine. Adrienne’s behind is spreading, but there is no hope for Sheila at all.Sheila has been told that she resembles a nothing actress, Merle Oberon, whom she has encountered on the Late Late Show, and so she has clipped her eyebrows with the same intention, but not to the same effect. The Oberon chick was paid, at least, for her disquieting resemblance to an egg.

Joseph must be on the docks in the early morning, and so he has no time to waste. Neither does Frank, who must also be downtown, early.

Frank puts a beer before Joseph, pours a little wine for himself. Joseph takes a sip of his beer. Frank sips his wine. They watch each other for a rather awful moment, aware of the girls’ laughter in the kitchen. Frank wants to make the laughter stop, but he cannot take his eyes from Joseph’s

eyes.

“Well-?” says Frank.

“Brace yourself. I’m going to hit you hard. The trial’s been postponed because the Puerto Rican chick, dig, has lost her baby and look like she’s flipped her wig, too, lost her mind, man, anyway she in the hills of Puerto Rico someplace and she can’t be moved and can’t nobody see her, she can’t come to New York now, no way and so the City wants the trial postponed – until she can.” Frank says nothing. Joseph says, “You understand what I’m saying?”

Frank sips his wine, and says, quiedy, “Yeah. I understand.”

They hear the girls’ low voices in the kitchen: this sound is about to drive both men insane.

Frank says, “You telling me that they going to keep Fonny in jail until this chick comes to her senses.” He sips his wine again, looks at Joseph. “Is that right?”

Something in Frank’s aspect is beginning to terrify Joseph, but he does not know what it is. “Well – that’s what they want to do. But we might be able to get him out, on bail.”

Frank says nothing. The girls giggle, in the kitchen.

“How much bail?”

“We don’t know. It ain’t been set yet.” He sips his beer, more and more frightened, obscurely, but profoundly.

“When is it going to be set?”

“Tomorrow. The day after.” He has to say it: “If-“

If what?’

“If they accept our plea, man. They ain’t got to let us have no bail.” There is something else he has to say. “And – I don’t think this will happen, but it’s better to look at it from the worst side – they might try to make the charge against Fonny heavier because the chick’s lost her baby, and seems to have flipped her wig.”

Silence: the girlish laughter from the kitchen.

Joseph scratches one armpit, watching Frank. Joseph is more and more uneasy.

“So,” says Frank, finally, with an icy tranquility, “we’re fucked.”

“What makes you say that, man? It’s rough, I agree, but it ain’t yet over.”

“Oh, yes,” says Frank, “it’s over. They got him. They ain’t going to let him go till they get ready. And they ain’t ready yet. And ain’t nothing we can do about it.”

Joseph shouts, out of his fear, “We got to do something about it!” He hears his voice, banging against the walls, against the girlish laughter from the kitchen. “What can we do about it?”

“If they give us bail, get the change together-“

“How?”

“Man, I don’t know how! I just know we have to do it!”

“And if they don’t give us bail?”

“We get him outl I don’t care what we have to do to get him out!”

“I don’t, neither! But what can we do?”

“Get him out. That’s what we have to do. We both know he ain’t got no business in there. Them lying motherfuckers, they know it, too.” He stands. He is trembling. The kitchen is silent. “Look. I know what you’re saying. You’re saying they got us by the balls. Okay. But that’s our flesh and blood, baby: ourfflesh and hlood. I don’t know how we going to do it. I just know we have to do it. I know you ain’t scared for you, and God knows I ain’t scared for me. That boy is got to come out of there. That’s all. And we got to get him out. That’s all. And the first thing we got to do, man, is just not to lose our nerve. We can’t let these runt-faced white-assed motherfuckers get away with this shit no longer.” He subsides, he sips his beer. “They been killing our children long enough.”

Frank looks toward the open kitchen door, where his two daughters stand.

“Is everything all right?” Adrienne asks.

Frank hurls his glass of wine onto the floor, it rings and shatters. ‘You two dizzy off-white cunts, get the fuck out of my face, you hear? Get the fuck out of my face. If you was any kind of women you’d be peddling pussy on the block to get your brother out of jail instead of giving it away for free to all them half-assed faggots who come sniffing around you with a book under their arm. Go to bed! Get out ofmyfacel”

Joseph watches the daughters. He sees something very strange, something he had never thought of: he sees that Adrienne loves her father with a really desperate love. She knows he is in pain. She would soothe it if she could, she does not know how. She would give anything to know how. She does not know that she reminds Frank of her mother.

Without a word, she drops her eyes and turns away, and Sheila follows her.

The silence is enormous – it spreads and spreads. Frank puts his head in his hands. Then, Joseph sees that Frank loves his daughters.

Frank says nothing. Tears drop onto the table, trickling down from the palms with which he has covered his face. Joseph watches: the tears drip from the palm, onto the wristbone, to splash – with a light, light, intolerable sound – on the table. Joseph does not know what to say – yet:

‘This ain’t no time for crying, man,” he says. He finishes his beer. He watches Frank. “You all right?”

Frank says, finally, “Yeah. I’m all right”

Joseph says, “Get some sleep. We got to move it early in the morning. I’ll talk to you end of the day. You got it?”

“Yeah,” says Frank. “I got it.”

When Fonny learns that the trial has been postponed, and learns why, and what effect Victoria’s disaster may have on his own – it is I who tell him – something quite strange, altogether wonder­ful, happens in him. It is not that he gives up hope, but that he ceases clinging to it.

“Okay,” is all he says.

I seem to see his high cheekbones for the first time, and perhaps this is really true, he has lost so much weight. He looks straight at me, into me. His eyes are enormous, deep and dark, I am both relieved and frightened. He has moved – not away from me: but he has moved. He is standing in a place where I am not.

And he asks me, staring at me with those charged, enormous eyes,

“You all right?”

“Yes. I’m all right.”

“The baby all right?”

“Yes. The baby’s fine.”

He grins. It is, somehow, a shock. I will always see the space where the missing tooth has been.

“Well. I’m all right, too. Don’t you worry. I’m coming home. I’m coming home, to you. I want you in my arms. I want your arms around me. I’ve got to hold our baby in my arms. It’s got to be. You keep the faith.”

He grins again, and everything inside me moves. Oh, love. Love.

“Don’t you worry. I’ll be home.”

He grins again, and stands, and salutes me. He looks at me, hard, with a look I have never seen on any face before. He touches himself, briefly, he bends to kiss the glass, I kiss the glass.

Now, Fonny knows why he is here – why he is where he is; now, he dares to look around him. He is not here for anything he has done. He has always known that, but now he knows it with a difference. At meals, in the showers, up and down the stairs, in the evening just before everyone is locked in again, he looks at the others, he listens: what have they done? Not much. To do much is to have the power to place these people where they are, and keep them where they are. These cap­tive men are the hidden price for a hidden lie: the righteous must be able to locate the damned. To do much is to have the power and the necessity to dictate to the damned. But that, thinks Fonny, works both ways. You ‘re in or you ‘re out. Okay. I see. Motherfuckers. You won’t hang me.

I bring him books, and he reads. We manage to get him paper, and he sketches. Now that he knows where he is, he begins to talk to the men, making himself, so to speak, at home. He knows that anything may happen to him here. But, since he knows it, he can no longer turn his back: he has to face it, even taunt it, play with it, dare.

He is placed in solitary for refusing to be raped. He loses a tooth, again, and almost loses an eye. Something hardens in him, something changes forever, his tears freeze in his belly. But he has leaped from the promontory of despair. He is fighting for his life. He sees his baby’s face before him, he has an appointment he must keep, and he will be here, he swears it, sitting in the shit, sweating and stinking, when the baby gets here.

Hayward arranges the possibility of bail for Fonny. But it is high. And here comes the summer: time.

On a day that I will never forget, Pedrocito drove me home from the Spanish restaurant, and, heavy, heavy, heavy, I got to my chair and I sat down.

The baby was restless, and I was scared. It was almost time. I was so tired, I almost wanted to die. For a long time, because he was in solitary, I had not been able to see Fonny. I had seen him on this day. He was so skinny; he was so bruised: I almost cried out. To whom, where? I saw this question in Fonny’s enormous, slanted black eyes – eyes that burned, now, like the eyes of a prophet. Yet, when he grinned, I saw, all over again, my lover, as though for the first time.

“We got to get some meat on your bones,” I said. “Lord, have mercy.”

“Speak up. He can’t hear you.” But he said it with a smile.

“We almost got the money to bail you out.”

“I figured you would.”

We sat, and we just looked at each other. We were making love to each other through all that glass and stone and steel.

“Listen, I’ll soon be out. I’m coming home because I’m glad I came, can you dig that?”

I watched his eyes.

“Yes,” I said.

“Now. I’m an artisan,” he said. “Like a cat who makes – tables. I don’t like the word artist. Maybe I never did. I sure the fuck don’t know what it means. I’m a cat who works from his balls, with his hand. I know what it’s about now. I think I really do. Even if I go under. But I don’t think I will. Now.”

He is very far from me. He is with me, but he is very far away. And now he always will be.

“Where you lead me,” I said, “I’ll follow.”

He laughed. “Baby. Baby. Baby. I love you. And I’m going to build us a table and a whole lot of folks going to be eating off it for a long, long time to come.”

From my chair, I looked out my window, over these dreadful streets.

The baby asked,

Is there not one righteous among them?

And kicked, but with a tremendous difference, and I knew that my time was almost on me. I remember that I looked at my watch: it was twenty to eight. I was alone, but I knew that someone, soon, would be coming through the door. The baby kicked again, and I caught my breath, and I almost cried, and the phone rang.

I crossed the room, heavy, heavy, heavy, and I picked it up.

“Hello-?”

“Hello – Tish? This is Adrienne.”

“How are you, Adrienne?”

“Tish – have you seen my father? Is Frank there?”

Her voice almost knocked me down. I had never heard such terror.

“No. Why?”

“When did you see him last?”

“Why -1 haven’t seen him. I know he’s seen Joseph. But I haven’t seen him.”

Adrienne was weeping. It sounded horrible over the phone.

“Adrienne! What’s the matter? What’s the matter?”

And I remember that at that moment everything stood still. The sun didn’t move and the earth didn’t move, the sky stared down, waiting, and I put my hand on my heart to make it start beating again.

“Adrienne! Adrienne!”

“Tish – my Daddy was fired from his job, two days ago – they said he was stealing, and they threatened to put him in jail – and he was all upset, because of Fonny and all, and he was drunk when he came home and he cursed everybody out and then he went out the door and ain’t nobody seen him since – Tish – don’t you know where my father is?”

“Adrienne, baby, I don’t. I swear to God, I don’t. I haven’t seen him.”

“Tish, I know you don’t like me-“

“Adrienne, you and me, we had a little fight, but that’s all right. That’s normal. That don’t mean I don’t like you. I would surely never do anything to hurt you. You’re Fonny’s sister. And if I love him, I got to love you.Adrienne-?”

“If you see him – will you call me?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Please. Please. Please. I’m scared,” said Adrienne, in a low, different altogether tone of voice, and she hung up.

I put down the phone and the key turned in the lock and Mama came in.

“Tish, what’s the matter with you?”

I got back to my chair and I sat down in it.

“That was Adrienne. She’s looking for Frank. She said that he was fired from his job, and that he was real upset. And Adrienne – that poor child sounds like she’s gone to pieces. Mama” – and we stared at each other; my mother’s face was as still as the sky – “has Daddy seen him?”

“I don’t know. But Frank ain’t been by here.”

She put her bag down on top of the TV set and came over and put her hand on my brow.

“How you feeling?”

“Tired. Funny.”

“You want me to get you a little brandy?”

“Yes. Thank you, Mama. That might be a good idea. It might help to settle my stomach.”

She went into the kitchen and came back with the brandy and put it in my hand.

“Your stomach upset?”

“A little. It’ll go away.”

I sipped the brandy, and I watched the sky. She watched me for a moment, then she went away again. I watched the sky. It was as though it had something to say to me. I was in some strange place, alone.Everything was still. Even the baby was still.

Sharon came back.

“You see Fonny today?”

“Yes.”

“And how was he?”

“He’s beautiful. They beat him up, but they didn’t beat him – if you see what I mean. He’s beauti­ful.”

But I was so tired, I remember that I could hardly speak. Something was about to happen to me. That was what I felt, sitting in that chair, watching the sky – and I couldn’t move. All I could do was wait.

Until my change comes.

“I think Ernestine’s got the rest of the money,” Sharon said, and smiled. “From her actress.”

Before I could say anything, the doorbell rang, and Sharon went to the door. Something in her voice, at the door, made me stand straight up and I dropped the brandy glass on the floor. I still remember Sharon’s face, she was standing behind my father, and I remember my father’s face.

Frank had been found, he told us, way, way, way up the river, in the woods, sitting in his car, with the doors locked, and the motor running.

I sat down in my chair.

“Does Fonny know?”

“I don’t think so. Not yet. He won’t know till morning.”

“I’ve got to tell him.”

“You can’t get there till morning, daughter.”

Joseph sat down.

Sharon asked me, sharply, “How you feeling, Tish?”

I opened my mouth to say – I don’t know what. When I opened my mouth, I couldn’t catch my breath. Everything disappeared, except my mother’s eyes. An incredible intelligence charged the air between us. Then, all I could see was Fonny. And then I screamed, and my time had come.

Fonny is working on the wood, on the stone, whistling, smiling. And, from far away, but coming nearer, the baby cries and cries and cries and cries and cries and cries and cries and cries, cries like it means to wake the dead.

[Columbus Day] Oct. 12,1973 St. Paul de Vence

DMU Timestamp: October 19, 2020 19:17