Thursday, 9:30 am, First Week, Carver Street
Sammy sat behind the counter with his coffee, doing a crossword puzzle. Old Testament Count Basie swung over the stereo. The door opening caused him to look up over his horn-rimmed reading glasses. He smiled.
“Hey, baby! I was just thinking about you.”
“Hi Sammy,” Alfonso said. He walked towards him and leaned over to give him a kiss.
“I think I’m all out of coffee.”
“Yes,” said a voice from the stool in the corner at the window. “It’s long gone.”
Alfonso looked up. He recognized the queeny voice.
“Hi, Ashley,” he said.
“Hello, neighbor,” Ashley replied.
“You know the Lizard Queen, eh?” Sammy said.
“Now, now,” Ashley said.
“Watch out, Alfonso. He may look passive, but he doesn’t miss a trick. I thought you were going out of town, Missy?”
“I am,” Ashley said, in a matter-of-fact fashion. “I’m just killing time. Aaron’s still expecting dinner at your place tonight, ‘cause I won’t be there to cook for him.”
Alfonso sat on the orange crate next to Sammy behind the counter. Aaron and Ashley have lived next to his family since he was very little, and yet he barely knew either of them. To his family, they were invisible.
“I’ll be cooking for him,” Sammy said, then he turned to Alfonso. “What brings you by, sweetie?”
“Nothing. Just killing time,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad the week is almost over.”
“You doing alright?”
“Yeah, I’m OK. The first day was as bad as I figured it would be, but I’m still standing. I had a couple of angels help me along the way. One of them you know.”
“Roy. Ran into him on the bus to school after I left here. I’m really glad I did, too.”
Sammy looked satisfied.
“Tonight I face a new trial by fire. It’s the first meeting of the African Students Association.” He didn’t vocalize the wish, but hoped that Angel Bill would be there. He still couldn’t get over how he stood in the men’s room with him until he pulled himself together.
“Oh,” Sammy said. “Is that one of those sididdy groups?”
Alfonso snickered, giving Sammy his answer. “That’s a word I haven’t heard in a while. But I can’t complain about today. This morning started out real interestingly for me.”
“Something good?” Sammy said.
“Yeah. In an organic way. I was sitting in my room, with the door closed as usual, when I hear my sister Belinda bellowing for Lucy, my youngest sister, to get ready for the bus.”
“You’re the oldest, right?” Sammy asked.
“Yeah. Belinda’s always bellowing in the morning, but it was like I hadn’t heard it for a long time. It made me smile. So anyway, I heard Lucy say that she needed to finish a paper that was due today, of course, and Belinda yelled, ‘Well, why didn’t you finish it last night?’” He smiled. “This is a regular morning melodrama in our house.” Sammy nodded. Ms. Ashley stared out of the window, detached. “So, being a regular family melodrama, I knew what came next: my stage entrance. Rather then wait for Belinda to come get me, I get up and open the door. I see her coming towards me, with Lucy’s paper in hand. I’m the proofer, you see.”
“Ah!” Sammy said.
“Right, so I take it downstairs, grab some OJ, and sit at the breakfast counter with the paper. I mark some corrections.”
“Were there a lot?” Sammy asked.
“Enough to bring her down a grade. It was a good paper, just full of typos and shit, you know. So I’m reading it and my mother comes by, stops, puts her hand on my shoulder and looks over at the paper.” He paused and thought about his mother and how her slight, graceful movements and soft voice belied the presence she carried. He thought about how they hadn’t really been communicating recently, not since his blow up after Carlton’s service.
“So anyway,” he continued, “she says to me, ‘thanks for helping your sister, again.’ And gives me a peck on the cheek, you know, then walks off. And I just sit there for a moment and think, ‘Wow. This is what normal feels like.’ I kinda liked it, Sammy.”
“Normal returns, after a while,” he said, nodding his head.
“I mean, you know, things are different. I feel different. But not everything is different, you know what I’m trying to say?”
“You’re in a transition period,” Sammy said. “That’s not uncommon after losing someone close. You’ll come out on the other side with a different perspective. That’s inevitable. But some things will remain.”
Alfonso stared pensively, then faced Sammy. “Do you think Eddie will make it?”
“I pray that he does, baby.”
“I feel bad that I haven’t visited him in the hospital, but it’s just too soon. I can’t do hospitals right now. I loved it when he came over to Carlton’s apartment while I was visiting. I loved seeing the two of them go at it, pouring the tea. And then Carlton would put on some music just so he could see Eddie dance. He’d say, ‘show me what the latest steps are.’ And Eddie would show him. Sometimes Carlton would join him, when he had the strength.”
“Eddie and my husband were the only ones who could come close to Carlton on the dance floor,” Ashley said, while staring out the window.
“Sweet,” Alfonso said. “You know, they both vowed to take me out for my 21st in December.”
“We’ll take you out, sweetie,” Sammy said, then turned to face Ashley. “Right, Miss Thing?” Ashley sat preoccupied in a gaze and didn’t say anything. “What you looking at, Missy?”
“Uh-oh,” Ashley said.
“What?” Sammy said.
“Here comes Henny Penny.”
“Oh, great Dizzy! Is he coming here?”
“Heading straight this way. Now don’t be hiding in the back of the store trying to get away from her, Samuel Turner! That bitch is your friend, not mine!”
“Be nice, will you? Just once?” Sammy said from the freezer in the back.
Alfonso switched his head back and forth between the two of them, until Henny Penny slammed in the store.
“Sammy! Sammy! Where’s Sammy?”
Ashley pointed to the back of the store with a jabbing finger in the air. Henny walked through, ignored Alfonso completely, and saw Sammy bent over behind the open freezer door.
“Sammy I need your help!”
“What else is new?” Ashley said.
Henny turned and glared at Ashley. “You are so evil. Why you got to be so evil all the time? I’m having a crisis!”
Resigned, Sammy stood upright to face him. “What’s wrong, Curtis?”
“Everything’s wrong! It’s all wrong! I gotta get ready for this man coming over and I have to have food on the table or he’ll walk out on me, I just know it!”
“Chicken Delight is up the block,” Ashley said.
“Can’t you cook me up something real quick, Sammy? It ain’t gotta be fancy. Just some meat and potatoes. You know, those garlic ones that you make.”
“Curtis, I’m working right now and this evening I’ll be cooking dinner, but not for you. You expect me to leave the store and go home and make a dinner for you and some man you’re bringing home?”
“It ain’t just some man, Sammy! He’s the man! Sammy, my searching days are over!”
Sammy walked to the counter to sit down. Alfonso sat wide-eyed. Ashley sat propped up against the window with his arms folded at an angle.
“That’ll be the day,” he drawled.
“Will you shut up!” Henny snapped at Ashley. “Sammy, I told him I would make him this nice, homemade dinner. Come on, Sammy. Where’s Harold? He can run the store.”
“You told him you’d cook a meal, so why ain’t you at home cooking it?” Sammy said.
“Girl! You know I can’t cook! I burn pots boiling water.”
“So,” Ashley said, “you told this trick of yours . . .”
“He ain’t no trick, Ms. Ashley!”
“Like I was saying,” Ashley continued, “before I was interrupted, you told this trick of yours – that you met only God knows where – that you’re gonna make him this great homemade meal. And now, when you actually gotta do it, you’re running down the street like the Henny Penny you are, ‘cause your little world is falling apart on account of you can’t cook your way out of a gunny sack. And you expect Sammy to bail out your sorry tail? Well, honey, you need to let the sky fall right on you and knock some sense in that Henny Penny head of yours.”
“Sammy!” Henny screamed. “Why you let him talk to me that way! You know how sensitive I am! And stop smiling, Ashley! I am not a Henny Penny! I’m not!”
“Henny . . . uh . . . Curtis, Curtis, don’t go postal in my store, please,” Sammy said. Ashley smiled with feathers in his teeth while Curtis glared at him in a heavy pant. Alfonso was literally biting his lower lip and quivering.
“Curtis, honey, look,” Sammy said, “I don’t have time to go home and cook you no dinner. But here’s what you can do. You can go to the A & P and get yourself one of their nice barbecue chickens. They’re fresh every day. And you can get mashed potatoes at the deli counter. Buy some rolls and a can of string beans and you’ll have a nice little dinner for the two of you, okay? Harry ain’t around. Today’s his day off, okay?”
“You can let her run the store,” Henny said, glaring at Ashley. “She don’t do nothing anyway, except act nasty to people.”
“Curtis, Curtis, no, I can’t. Ashley is not the storekeeper. I am. If I left him here, he’d scare away all my customers.”
“You got that right.”
Ashley just rolled his eyes.
“So go to the A & P and you can get everything you need.”
“But Sammy, I can’t make no string beans. Can’t you at least make me some of those string beans you make? You know, with the pearl onions and everything. You got a hot plate in the back.”
Sammy rolled his eyes.
“Alright, I’ll make the string beans. And that’s it.”
“Oh thank you Sammy! Thank you so much! This is going to be great! He’s gonna come over, and I’ll have dinner on the table, and he’ll be so happy!”
“As long as he don’t see them A & P labels on his homemade dinner,” Ashley said.
“Don’t start! Don’t start on me again, Lynwood Ashley Taylor!” Curtis said, walking towards Ashley sliding his head side to side. Alfonso had tears coming from his eyes.
“Curtis!” Sammy bellowed. “Go get the food, so it will be ready. Come back in a half hour and I’ll have the string beans ready.”
“Alright Sammy. Thank you. At least there’s one gentleman on this street.” He walked passed Ashley as he went through the door. “And I may be a Henny Penny, Missy, but at least I ain’t no Loosey Goosey!” And he huffed out the door.
“That girl shouldn’t talk no Loosey Goosey shit,” he said.
Alfonso finally let it all out in gasps and spasms. He couldn’t remember laughing so hard. He even caused jaded old Ms. Ashley to giggle a bit.
“So that was the famous Miss Henny Penny!” he said, still gasping for air.
“Yes,” Sammy said, “Miss Curtis ‘Henny Penny’ Whitfield. You can see how he got the name. Hell, it ain’t even noon yet, and she’s going on about some damn dinner.”
“Oh God!” Alfonso said. “Carlton and Eddie talked about him all the time! Carlton would be all, ‘So what’s that fool Henny Penny done now?’ And Eddie would be like, ‘Girl, you don’t wanna know!’ And then they’d go at it for a half-hour or more. But seeing him live, that’s the shit! I’d pay real money to see that.”
“Save your money, Alfonso,” Ashley said. “Just show up here often enough and you’re bound to see a performance.”
“So what’s his story, anyway?”
“Oh, just another lost puppy that ended up at my door step,” Sammy said. “If you think he’s a mess now, you should have seen him back when. Right, Missy?” Ashley rolled his eyes and stared out the window again. “He had it pretty rough, though. His father literally threw him out of the house when he was still in high school.”
“Literally?” Alfonso said.
“Uh-huh. Picked him up and tossed his butt out the door and onto the sidewalk.”
“Yeah, it was pretty nasty.”
Alfonso sat still for a moment. “I wonder if he talks to his father now,” he said.
“Doubt it,” Sammy said. “He turned the page on his family.”
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.