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Corn Bread, Collard Greens, Hogmaws, and Chit’lins I knew Fancy was a freak when I married her,” Kevin said as we sat chewing hot wings and sucking down brew at a corner table at Fort Dix’s All-Ranks Club. All eyes were on the dance floor, where Kevin’s wife—dressed in a candy-apple thong under a sheer black minidress—was rolling her body all over some twenty-year-old corporal, grinding him into the ground. The beat was slow and funky, and at Fancy’s urging the corporal grabbed two handfuls of her sweetly rounded hips, pulled her close, and dry-humped her like a horny teenager at a red-light basement party.
Fancy was fine, if that was the kind of woman you went for. She had a classic ghetto-fabulous body—junk all up in the trunk, juicy breastesses that looked like two ripe coconuts, tiny waistline with a bright tattoo and a perfectly pierced navel. She was even pretty in the face if you could get past the chewing gum and that bottom lip that stayed poked out all the time, but women like her didn’t raise my pressure. I wouldn’t touch a black woman with a ten-foot pole.
Don’t swell up!
Quincy Jones, Taye Diggs, Wesley Snipes, Kobe Bryant—they were down with me too. They knew the deal when it came to sisters. Corn bread, collard greens, hogmaws, and chit’lins! Mouths too foul, fingernails too long, weave too big, and way too much drama in their blood. Not to mention the ratio of video hos to hoochies. But Kevin was my brother, the only family I had, so I nodded and went along with his program. Still, it had to hurt coming home from a monthlong deployment in Iraq and busting your wife getting her swerve on up in a club.
“I mean”—Kevin licked hot wing sauce from his thumb and shrugged his rationalization—“this is a crazy lifestyle us soldiers live. Marching off to all corners of the world at the drop of a dime. A woman like Fancy needs hands on her. Lots of hands. On her ass, in her hair, between her legs . . . you just can’t put chains on a woman like her and expect her to hush up and hold still.”
I just looked at him. Kevin had always been a little slow, even as a kid. Dig. While his wife was out dancing in the club, I’d driven the fifty miles round-trip to pick him up from the Philadelphia International Airport where he’d been waiting for hours. Thirty days of doing dirt just hadn’t been enough for Ms. Fancy Pants Lawson. Instead of greeting her man with some sweet-smelling hair and a set of clean sheets, she was out there rubbing that stuff on the next soldier.
“So what are you saying, Chief? You’re not going to roll out there and snatch her up? Let her know you’re back from the desert and you’ve peeped her?”
Kevin just grinned and licked more sauce off his fingers. “What for, Emile? I know where my woman sleeps at night. 2651-B Cedar Street. Let her have her fun now. She’ll make sure I have mine later.”
Fools and flies, I thought and put on my hat and scooped up my car keys. I do despise.
These days, the more I trifled with fools, the better I liked flies.
Kevin was real laid back for a man who had just witnessed his wife putting the moves on another man. Why he would even marry a woman like Fancy was beyond me. As if we hadn’t learned enough from Lil Mama and them growing up. How much more of that could he take? Everybody knew Fancy was scandalous. A real skeezer, always running the streets. Hitting on men at unit functions, getting her swerve on in Kevin’s bed while he was away on temporary duty. Rumor had it that she swung both ways, and judging by the company she kept, especially that firecracker Staff Sergeant Sparkle Henderson, I could imagine it being true.
Kevin needed to learn how to put his foot down, but then again he was accustomed to stomaching a lot. We’d both been raised by our foster mother Dirty Sue, a skeezer extraordinaire who was as black and greasy as they came.
I don’t know how the state of Missouri allowed Dirty Sue to get her hands on one orphan, let alone two. She did a job on us in every way imaginable, and since Kevin was a pretty boy and Dirty Sue’s daughters, Lil Mama and Teesha, dug his muscular body, those nymphs just about used it up.
I was a fat wheezing kid, so I wasn’t prone to getting much more than a foot in the ass, but Kevin was their stud. He’d caught the drips twice in the sixth grade and chlamydia in the seventh, and to this day he swears that’s the reason he never fathered any children.
Dirty Sue and her brood had tortured me too, but in different ways.
Every evening at five thirty I’d listen through the screen door as she marched up Brunson Hill Road, dressed in her housekeeping clothes and messing up my name. Our house was at the end of Catfish Row, and neighbors on both sides of the street would sit outside on their porches, fanning themselves and enjoying the Dirty Sue Revue.
She’d be mad to the max. Cussing the whole neighborhood out because the state required foster parents to have their own source of income, and thus some type of gainful employment. “Emil-Leeeee!” she would holler. “Emily! Em-ill-Lee! You hear me calling you, you corn-fed, crispy-critter, dark-vader, liver-lipped sonna-bitch! Answer me with your wide-ass self. You better have my goddamn dinner ready by the time I climb this hill, boy!”
Humiliated, I’d leave the pork chops simmering in gravy and stand out on the porch wheezing and biting the insides of my cheeks until my mouth filled with blood.
Almost twenty years later I could still feel those cheap rings on her fingers as they swung past and dotted my eye. I still pictured that nasty combination of bacon, chicken, and pork-chop grease congealing in a coffee can on top of the stove. My nose stung at the scent of black smoke as she dipped a hot comb in a can of Royal Crown pressing oil, and then wiped it on an old cloth and country-fried her nappy hair. My heart crawled into my throat when I heard her voice, juiced up and deep in her cups, making Emily out of Emile and screaming for every underfed bully in the neighborhood to have a go at the fat foster kid. Yes, Dirty Sue had done a job on us, and some things never changed.
As I drove into the military housing area I glanced at my foster brother and best friend from the corner of my eye. Our country was at war with Iraq, and as one of the army’s top demolition instructors, Kevin’s expertise was in high demand. He’d recently been handpicked to deploy to Tikrit as part of a special explosives ordnance team, and had spent the last month traveling all over Iraq training coalition soldiers on the detection and removal of land mines, booby traps, and other unexploded ordnance.
My status as a soldier was a little different. I’d taken advantage of being an orphan and earned a free ride to the state university, where I majored in chemistry. During college I met a pretty redheaded girl from Wisconsin who introduced me to the joys of healthy eating and physical fitness, so I took up running and weight training, lost the extra seventy pounds that had had my ass dragging the ground, and then joined Kevin on active duty as a college-optioned infantry officer who went through basic combat training and then straight into Army Officer Candidate School.
I’d kissed all the right asses and landed a great position at the Twelfth Army NCO Academy, where I commanded a company of Noncommissioned Officer Educational System instructors. Commanding at the academy came with its fair share of issues. You know the deal. If soldiers ain’t complaining then they ain’t training.
Especially that troll who ran my supply shop. Staff Sergeant Sparkle Henderson. Stupider than a damn soup sandwich. Ate the hell up! Had training profiles coming out of her cargo pockets and skipped out of work early every other day, but the way Kevin treated her you would have sworn she was that Beyoncé girl or somebody. Come to think of it, the two of them did favor each other. Between the blond weave and their asses hanging out everywhere, Sparkle Henderson and Beyoncé could have passed for sisters.
“Thanks for picking me up, man,” Kevin said as I pulled up outside his base quarters. He got his duffel bag from the trunk of my car and I waited until he slammed it closed.
“You straight?” I asked, hoping he didn’t go inside and pull out a couple of bouncing bettys, then set up an ambush for his nasty wife.
Kevin nodded and slung his duffel bag over his shoulder. “I’m good, my man. I’m just gonna go inside and get a shower and wait on my honey to get in. Say hi to Becky Ann for me.”
I smiled at the mention of her name, and suddenly I couldn’t care less how much crap Kevin took off of his wife. I drove away with a weak feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about my princess and how right she was for me. Becky Ann Grantley. Freckled nose, clean, strawberry-scented blond hair that hung down to her waist, even teeth, slim hips. Just perfect. Kevin might not have learned anything from living with the likes of Dirty Sue, but I sure as sugar did. There were too many trifling and confused black women running loose, and I, for one, could do just fine without them.
From the Trade Paperback edition.