Read an ExcerptAFTER the DANCE
By LORI JOHNSON
Copyright © 2008 Lori D. Johnson
All right reserved.
* * *
I had never really paid that much attention to him before, even though he lived right next door. Usually when we ran into each other we'd nod, speak our hellos, and keep on 'bout our business.
Nora, my roommate, was the one who told me his name was Carl. She'd talked to him on several different occasions. She also told me he'd tried to hit on her-like I wouldn't have guessed it. Nora's got this, well, this sluttish quality about her. And I'm not trying to talk bad about the girl or anything, it's just that I don't know how else to describe it. She kind of puts you in mind of some of those girls you see dancing on Soul Train. You know, the ones who look like their titties are about to shake outta their clothes? Or, the ones who are always turning their asses up to the camera? And that's cool when you're twenty-three and under, and don't have the good sense to know any better.
Anyway, according to Nora, our tall, dark-skinned, bearded neighbor was sweet, but not her type. I kind of looked at her sideways when she said that, but I didn't say anything. Me and Nora go way back. I know all about her "type." It's dog. Straight up and down, dog. I'm telling you, she's not satisfied unless some guy's smacking her upside the head, taking her money, whoring all over town, or some combination of the three.
Problem with Nora is that she's still under the impression that there's actually something called love out there, and if she searches long and hard enough, she'll eventually find it. I don't have any such illusions. See, I know ain't nothing out there but game. And having played hardball with the best of them, I also know the secret to winning is knowing how not to get played-something Nora has yet to learn. That's why every other month, just like clockwork, you can find her sitting up in the living room of the condo we share trying her best to kill off a fifth of scotch, looking crazier than Bette Davis did in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and playing them same old sad-ass songs over and over and over again. And Lord knows I'd go to bat for my girl Phyllis Hyman (God rest her beautiful soul) any durn day of the week, but listening to "Living All Alone" fifty times straight on a Friday night, with no interruption, is enough to drive even the sanest sister out of her cotton-picking mind.
And that's how it happened that Carl and I had our first real conversation-if you want to call it that. I had just stepped outside for a break from the music and the madness and was settling comfortably into my patio chair with my pack of Kools, a chilled glass of wine, and a romance novel, when he opened up his back door, stepped outside, and noticed me sitting on the other side of the fence.
He said "Hey" and I said "Hey," and I thought that was gonna be the extent of it before he went on his merry little way. But no! He decided he was going to be sociable.
"Must be Nora in there jamming to Hyman."
I said, "Yes. If it's disturbing you, I'll ask her to turn it down."
He said, "No, I was just wondering 'cause you don't exactly look like the Hyman type to me. No, you look more like a-let's see-Millie Jackson. Yeah, you look like the kind of woman who could really get into some Millie Jackson. Am I right?"
I guess he was banking on me not knowing about Miss Millie, the late '70s and early '80s trash-talking forerunner to the likes of today's Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown.
No, you ain't right, smartass, and you must be blind is what I started to say but didn't. Instead I blew my smoke, swirled the wine in my glass, cut my eyes, and said in my coolest "don't mess with me, man" voice, "Is that supposed to be funny?"
* * *
I knew I was taking a risk when I opened my mouth. My Uncle Westbrook was the first to warn me, way back in the day. "Son," he told me, "you never know how a woman's gonna react to what you say. Sometimes you'll get a smile, sometimes you'll get an attitude."
But really, I should have known better 'cause every time I see this chick, she looks like she's got her jaws tight about something. I mean, we've been neighbors for nearly six months now, and she still acts like she don't hardly want to speak.
Some women are like that, man. If you didn't know any better you'd swear they were born with permanently poked lips. Have to say, though, I've noticed it more in fat women. Not that I have anything in particular against fat chicks. Matter of fact, I've gotten right close to one or two. But a fat chick with an attitude-hey, that's something else altogether.
Yeah, she's one of them feisty big-boned girls, man. She's got a pretty face, though. Actually, she'd probably be a stone-cold fox if she lost, say, thirty or forty pounds and smiled every once in a while. But I guess that'd be asking for too much, huh?
So I was standing there, right, trying to figure out how I was going to work my way out from under this Millie Jackson comment, when Nora came out and got me off the hook by informing the fat would-be-fox with the pretty but unsmiling face that she had a telephone call.
Now, me and Nora, we're cool. She kinda puts you in mind of a young Lola Falana with a double dose of spunk, you know? Though I'll be damned if she ain't always crying the blues over some dude. And this particular evening was no exception. Before I could even get out a proper hello, she'd launched into an all-too-vivid, blow-by-blow account of her latest hellacious affair. I don't know, man, I guess it's just something about me that brings out the worst in a woman. But being the polite fool that I am, I stood there nodding, grinning and grunting in all the right places, until both boredom and curiosity got the best of me and I walked over and picked up the book left by her roommate.
Call me a proper bourgeois if you want to, but I still say you can tell a lot about a person by what they read. And it wasn't like I was expecting the big sister with the bad attitude to be into something as heavy as Fanon's Wretched of the Earth or anything, 'cause I'd seen her sitting out on the patio enough times with her head propped up behind a Harlequin to know better. But yet and still, I wasn't at all prepared for anything on the level of a Jungle Passions either. I mean, the title alone was a bit much, but on the cover was this crazy Tarzan-looking character who's got this even crazier-looking, big-breasted blonde wrapped up in one of those back-breaking, humanly impossible embraces. And you know me, I wasn't about to let something like that pass without comment.
"Excuse me for interrupting, Nora," I said, "but might this be the type of relationship you're looking for?"
She glanced at the book and rolled her eyes. "Honey, don't even try it! I'm into real-life, flesh-and-blood romances, not paperback ones. But yeah, Faye, she's always reading that junk. And then got the nerve to tell me I live in a dream world. Ain't that a blip?"
* * *
I heard them out there talking about me. Didn't faze me any more than him taking the book did. Yeah, girl, when I went back out there the next morning, the book had mysteriously vanished into thin air. Nora tried to play dumb and acted like she didn't know what I was talking about when I asked if she had seen it anywhere. I guess the way they had it figured, I'd eventually get around to asking him-you know, Carl-about it. Give me a break. Like I said before, I know all about games, and anybody with half a brain could peep that one a mile away. And as far as my indulgence in romance novels is concerned, let it suffice to say that I read them purely for their entertainment value, and I'm perfectly capable of distinguishing the carefully drawn lines between fiction and reality.
I didn't bother to listen long enough to find out, but I'm pretty sure their trite little conversation concerning moi ended somewhere along the lines of "Poor, poor Faye, if only she had a man ..."
Yeah, I've heard it all before and really couldn't care less. It's not hard to get a man-if that's what you want. I just don't happen to want one-not to keep, anyway. To me, having a man is about as emotionally satisfying as having a fish in an aquarium or some other kind of pet. I'm not into pets. That's not to say that I don't have, well, certain needs and desires. Yes, there are those times in a woman's life when all the tender finger-stroking in the world just ain't gonna get it. Okay? But I've yet to meet the man whose stuff was so good I wanted to trade my heart in for it. Uh-huh, when I go out, I do what any sensible woman would-I leave my heart at home, locked away for safekeeping.
Really, it's better that way. It evens out the exchange. And in my book that's about all a relationship boils down to anyway-a simple exchange of goods and/or services, a sexual contract, if you will. I think my deal's a pretty simple and fair one. I don't expect them to take me out to expensive places or buy me gifts. I don't expect any displays of affection outside the bedroom. And they don't have to worry about any discussions having to do with commitment, babies, or the like. In turn, I fully expect them to come equipped with adequate protection. I expect them to make an honest attempt to satisfy my sexual needs. But most important of all, I expect them to exit my life promptly after the contract's expiration, which with absolutely no exceptions is after the third lay.
Why three? Well, to be perfectly honest, after the third time, the thrill of it all has begun to dissipate. And if you think about it, that's about the point at which most guys want to try and take the game to another level. I don't play that. So I'm very careful about whom I choose to negotiate with.
* * *
We've bumped into each other a couple of times since the night of the infamous Millie Jackson comment, but she has yet to say anything to me about the book. I know she knows I have it. The chick really baffles me, man. There's something 'bout her game I haven't quite figured out. As it stands now, I'm putting my money on split personality because the last time I saw her she did an almost complete about-face.
It was another Friday evening, right, and I was just getting back from the video store with a weekend's worth of entertainment-a soft porn flick, a couple of Eddie Murphy movies, and something educational for the kids to watch when they came over Saturday night. I was getting out of my ride with my goods when I saw homegirl hunched down beside her car trying to change a tire.
So, thinking man that I am, I paused and deliberated on the situation a moment before deciding upon an appropriate course of action. Like, should I (a) do the honorable thing and offer my humble assistance? Or (b) keep on walking and pretend like I don't see her big ass all pressed up against the curb? Yeah, you know me, man, sucker city all the way, I went for (a) and asked the chick if I could give her a hand.
Instead of thanking me with a big pretty smile and a few kind words, she said-without even looking up, mind you-"I'm perfectly capable." Can you believe that?! "I'm perfectly capable." You know I wanted to cuss, man, but hey, I played it off like a gent.
I said, "Well, I can see that, Ms. Fix-it, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a couple more hands on the job. Or would it?"
Chick hoisted her big butt off the ground, tightened her grip on the wrench she'd been using, looked me dead in my eye, and said, "Look, the name's Faye, okay?"
Now, I could see the sister was 'bout ready to go into this nut act on me, so I backed up a bit, but I wasn't about to be deterred from my program. I said, "Okay, Faye, okay! I'm Carl. Nice to finally make your acquaintance. So tell me, Faye-are you planning on handing me that wrench or smacking me with it? No offense intended, mind you, just thought I'd ask."
So I was standing there waiting for her to take a swing at me, when the miracle happened. I'm not lying, man, the chick actually smiled. Came right out of nowhere! And it was so quick I almost didn't catch it. But it was definitely a smile. Okay, if that wasn't strange enough, after we'd finished the job, she actually thanked me and invited me inside for some lemonade.
Heck, yeah, I accepted-though out of curiosity more than anything else. I think deep down a part of me really wanted to be there when she morphed back into Dorothy's wicked witch of west Tennessee. But no, she was cool. We even chit-chatted a bit-general stuff like car repairs, the weather, our jobs. And get this, man, I was helping the sister take her things inside when I noticed the "Dr. Abrahams" name tag pinned to the front of the lab jacket she'd given me to carry. Come to find out ol' girl is a pharmacist, of all things. She's only been out of school a little over a year and she works up at the veterans hospital. The fact that she deals with old and crazy, doped-up vets on a daily basis might certainly account for her funky little mood swings, huh?
Anyway, I followed her inside, had a couple tall glasses of lemonade, and had more than a few slices of some of the best carrot cake I've ever had in my mouth. But not wanting to overstay my welcome, I got up to leave after twenty minutes or so. I was in the living room and almost out the door when I realized I'd left my videos in her kitchen. While she went back to get them, I mosied on across the room and started browsing through the bookcase that housed a huge CD and album collection and covered one of Faye and Nora's living room walls. Now as you well know, what a person listens to says as much about them as what they read. So I'm busy trying to figure out how all these Al Jarreau, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Rachelle Ferrell numbers fit in with Nora's round-the-way-girl personality when Faye comes back in with my package of videos. Completely forgetting my previous musical misinterpretation, I say right off the top of my head, "Nora's got quite a selection of music here."
Faye gave me one of those looks sisters are famous for around the world and said, "Those aren't Nora's. They're mine. And if you look closely I'm sure you'll notice there's not a Millie Jackson, a Lil' Kim, or a Foxy Brown in the bunch."
So to get out of it, what did I do? Quite naturally the next fool thing that comes to mind, which for some reason was to invite her over to watch the flicks with me. Of course she promptly refused with one of those "thanks, but I don't think so" lines and ushered me out the door. But get this, man, later on that evening when I was going through the tapes trying to decide which one to watch first, I noticed my porn flick was missing. Now, what do you make of that?
* * *
Yeah, I took his ol' nasty flick-Wanda Does Watts-just to even the score and show him that two can play that game. Now I'm wondering what he's got up his sleeve to do next. I told you about his latest ploy, right? How he's been inviting me over to watch videos with him?
You know, the first time he asked, I didn't take him too seriously. Videos? I mean really, hasn't everybody with an extra ninety-nine dollars to spare gone out and bought themselves a DVD player? Still, I figured he was just trying to be nice and what have you. But then he asked a second time the following week, and again I politely declined. Well, last night he up and asked again. He was like, "Check it out, Faye, it's gonna be a Spike Lee night tonight-I'm talking classics like She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn-better join me."
Girl, please, who wants to sit up and look at all that old, tired mess? It's not that I've got anything against Spike. I'm just saying, if the brother had really been out to tempt a sister he would have skipped the Forty Acres and a Mule section altogether and come at me with something along the lines of a Taye Diggs, Boris Kodjoe, and Morris Chestnut kind of sampler. You know what I'm saying?
Anyway, I told dude I had laundry to do-a couple of loads, as a matter of fact. He gave me one of those "Yeah, right, tell me anything" looks and said, "Well, showtime's at eight if you change your mind."
Really and truly, I had no intention of going. But it just so happened that Nora came home that evening in one of her Friday black-and-blue moods. Walked in the door reaching for the vodka with one hand and my Aretha albums with the other. Yeah, I could tell by the looks of things it was going to be another one of those "Ain't No Way," "Chain of Fools," "The Thrill Is Gone" nights-and I was most definitely not in the mood.
Excerpted from AFTER the DANCE by LORI JOHNSON Copyright © 2008 by Lori D. Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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