Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fiction Series: Melrah: Boys Will Be Boys.




    What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?
    -Langston Hughes


“Suck or smoke?” Develin asked.
Edgar looked him up and down slowly; he knew better than to play with anyone too big for his or her britches. Still, here he was, in love with this fool.
“Neither.” He responded.
Develin laughed, “Oh must be both then?”
Edgar punched Develin in the arm playfully, “Just pass me a smoke fool, for you play around and lose me.”
James had asked them to listen out, for the door, while he ran to the store to pick up some groceries. He’d polished the furniture and spread the beds in the abandoned bedrooms upstairs, so the visitor could choose which one he’d like best, and pulled the “vacant” sign from the front window. The tidying of the brownstone boardinghouse and the absence of the sign meant they had a new tenant arriving. Judging by the whistle between James’ teeth and the spring in his step, it was a fella, and he was probably immersed in the literary too.
Edgar exhaled a cloud of smoke, “You think this one is good-looking?”
Develin hissed his teeth, “Nevermind that, you ain’t supposed to look at anyone but me.”
The two laughed, at the same time. Edgar loved to pull the jealousy from Develin’s lips. It was proof that although he was a flirtatious jester, they belonged to one another.
The sun had dipped itself into twilight, by the time James arrived with a bustle of brown bags. He hurried the two men, high off of life, into the house.
Develin queried, “What’s so special bout’ these here folk anyway? I haven’t seen you so excited about anything since Lola and Bert told you they were getting hitched.”
James tried to ignore the two, with their snide remarks, as he placed the food inside of the refrigerator. He counted the eggs, checked the whiskey levels, and wiped the counter top one last time. Things had to be perfect, especially if perfection was going to stay in his home. He looked over at his two housemates, strapping, and queer in their almost white shirts and suspenders. Develin was a small man but made up for it with his booming voice. He wore his hair in his messy, loose-curl fro and always made fun that his Cuban daddy’s fooling around made him a good haired child. Edgar, his partner, was a tall and gangling man, his ribcage an eerie similitude to bijou valleys. The two loved James, after all, he was their mentor, but they treasured nothing more than to poke and prod him about his meticulousness.
Edgar sneered, “Literary babies! That’s what you said they were gonna have. Those two ain’t making anything but love, young love.”
The doorbell rang and suddenly all joshing came to a cease. The new occupant had arrived. James rushed to the door, with a smile plastered on to his face. The shadows of two figures swayed through the foggy glass that stood in the middle of the vast doors. Edgar and Develin quickened their pace, behind James, so they could catch sight of the arrivals that made their advisor so anxious.
James opened the door, and suddenly his smile deflated. There stood two gentlemen, instead of one, luggage encircling them and eagerness plastered on their faces.
One extended his hand, “I’m Leonard Howell, Mr. Wilson said you’d be expecting me.”
James shook his hand, the shock descending from his face, “Yes, I am, room is all ready. I didn’t know I needed to prepare another.”
He stared at the man next to Leonard; he was sharply dressed, shirt, vest, and slacks, with the most captivating grey eyes he’d ever seen.
Mr. Howell’s acquaintance spoke suddenly, “Hi, I’m Arnold Brown.”
Leonard interrupted, “He wasn’t supposed to come with me. I just so happen to be leaving Missouri for New York City and discovered he was doing the same, at the very last minute. We’re church brothers…”
James stopped his rambling, “It’s okay. I’ve got exactly one extra room. Come in.”
The night flew by:. The smell of whiskey danced around the room, soaking through names like DuBois, McKay, and Toomer. The slurs on their tongues accompanied talk of that whore at The Cotton Club, the sponsors they’d ‘had’, and who’d been in the forbidden room at The Dark Tower.
James couldn’t help but realize that Leonard had kept quiet most of the evening and seemed to check his watch every few minutes. Around 11 pm, he did it once more and announced, “It’s about that time fellas, and I’d best be headed out.”
“Where are you going?” Develin asked in more stupor than solidity.
Leonard pulled on his trench coat and tipped his hat, “Where I’m going. Goodnight gentlemen.”
He headed out of the door and Develin turned to Arnold and inquired again, “Where’s he going, this time of night?”
“Women. Always women. Some nightclub, some Jezebel. I’m sure you’ll hear them creaking around here, before morning.” Arnold said.
The rest of the group looked at Arnold with a heightened curiosity. James was confounded. When Reverend Wilson showed him the picture of his son, he was sure that he was sweet. His notion even corresponded with the Reverend’s words. “Got ways I don’t like. That’s why I sent him south, but he’s about ready to come on up here and do this writing thing.” When James agreed to help out, he just knew he was taking in another soul who’d been hidden or thrown out with yesterday’s sin. It’d been a long time since he’d had a companion and Develin and Edgar came to him a packaged union. He was sure that this young man would’ve been a great cohort. He was undeniably wrong.
            The dark of night cascaded back into the sky, and they all heard the footsteps of a large man and the clicking of heels. Their moans were muffled, through the walls, but there was no refuting that Leonard got exactly what he left to find.


            It was morning, and something was sizzling. The distinct smell of bacon and eggs sifted into the nostrils of Leonard and he followed it downstairs, to the large kitchen. The cupboards and pantry were a deep mahogany, its beautiful simplicity making the room seem larger than it was. All of the tenants, Edgar, Develin, James, and Arnold, and the young lady he brought home, the night before, sat around a white wooden table, feasting on food that James prepared. Leonard was startled by her presence; he was sure that she’d left in the middle of the night. That’s how he would’ve preferred it. Her name was blurry, but he was sure it rhymed with Tessa. Was it Nessa? Jessa?
“Good morning handsome.” The three words poured from her lips, sultrier than silk.
Edgar and Develin giggled at the scenario, aware of what had taken place between the both of them. Leonard took at seat at the table and started to shovel food into the plate that James set for him.
“Morning.” he said.
Leonard looked at Arnold; he could see the fury dancing in his pools of grey. Arnold was no good at maintaining his emotions; his eyes were always a dead giveaway. His honey skin seemed to pour into the golden piece of bread he held and his hair was neatly wrapped, under a blue cotton scarf. He was as simple as pie, clean as a dove. The girl Leonard brought home, sat next to him, the elephant in the room. Perhaps if she were grey and scaled she’d be less noticeable in her red sequin dress, the shimmer bouncing from plate to plate, as she chewed.
            “Morning? That’s all you got to say to your lady.” Arnold asked.
            “Don’t start,” Leonard replied, a mouth filled with eggs.
            The girl giggled oblivious to what was happening, “There won’t be no fighting over me now. I belong to Lance; he caught me first.”
Arnold scoffed, “Hussy! His name is Leonard! No one is talking to you. What kind of tramp sits at the breakfast table, without shame, after she sleeps with a man she met at moonlight?”
The girl jumped up from the table, her sequins reflecting on everything in the room, “Hussy? Well, I’ll be. Good day gentleman.”
She gathered her dress and flounced out of the room. They heard the front door close seconds later. James seemed unmoved by the entire ordeal; he hadn’t moved his eyes from the newspaper he was holding up. Edgar and Develin watched in delight, excited about a new display of drama in their drab home.
“You always have to say something right?” Leonard spoke.
“She needs to know.”
“Needs to know what Arnold? What does she need to know?”
Arnold dropped his fork into his plate, a deceleration that he was done with more than his meal.
Leonard said again, “Tell me what she needs to know!”
Arnold rose from the table, surrender within his shoulders, “That you ain’t shit.”
In an hour Arnold was packed and ready to go, lugging his suitcase down the three staircases that separated their rooms. Leonard leaned against the highest railing, watching him struggle with his things. Edgar and Develin observed from the second floor and shook their heads while the sound of blues poured from the door of James’ room. A few minutes after Arnold closed the front door, they heard the sound of a car muffler. Leonard took a deep breath, pulled himself up off of the railing and headed back to his room.
Later on that night, the four men sat at the dinner table. Leonard stared at the extra chair, a reminder that Arnold was gone. He pried open his journal and began to write while picking at the chicken James cooked for them. His high cheekbones seemed sunken, and his usually waved and slicked back hair was a mess.
“They say you start writing the soul when it’s withered,” Develin said.
Leonard looked up at him and then back at his writing.
Edgar smiled, “Leave that boy alone. He’s got to learn on his own.”
This got Leonard’s attention, “What exactly do I need to learn?”
His tone was dark and hollow; there was an absence of the hubris he usually afforded them. Develin and Edgar were suddenly afraid to speak, wondering if he might knock them out for meddling in his matters.
James finally spoke up, annoyed with the shenanigans of the younglings who resided with him, “That you’re in love.”
Leonard tried to look through the old man, but failed. He wanted to be firm and quick-witted, but his heart was so broken that it wouldn’t allow him to.
“When you come to terms with who and what you are, only then can you be free boy. You should have run on those front steps and declared today, but you were a coward. I don’t harbor any weaklings, so you’re going to have to find the man in you. Soon. Come to terms with who and what you are or it’ll eat you alive.” James said.
Leonard’s dejection broke, for a second, and he spoke with a clarity that could have left through the crack in the window and bounced off of the churches and congregation ears of Harlem, “Who and what am I James?”
“You are sin and salvation. You are God’s image, an immaculate likeness. You can have anyone else he’s made, but first, you’ve got to be free. And freedom ain't for the feeble. It ain’t never been.”





2 comments:

Deron Hogans said...

That last line. Always love Riv. always

Shanique Roca said...

Wow...just wow...