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Grown And Sexy
By Phillip Thomas Duck
Kimani PressCopyright © 2006 Phillip Thomas Duck
All right reserved.
The Jeremiah Correctional Institution had been my home for two and a half years. I went in as one man and came out as another, leaving quiet as a rodent living in the eaves of some Baptist or Methodist church. During my exit processing, they gave me the jeans and sweatshirt I'd worn that first day thirty months prior, my Sony Walk-man, and a check for eleven dollars and thirteen cents that I'd earned mopping floors. Thirteen cents an hour. Now that's minimum wage.
I passed through the doors to the outside, a different man.
I'd found the love of He's Sweet I Know inside. He's Sweet I Know, or, From Whom All Blessings Flow, the names I used to reference the Creator. I'd grown up hearing my mother sing those two gospel songs and even more secular songs as she did chores around the house. I'd never heard her say the words "God,"
"Jesus," or "Lord." We weren't church folks. We had a Bible, but it lay dusty and unopened in a cluttered corner of our living room. Needless to say, I grew up ambivalent to the Almighty of those two songs my mother sang. But jail changed that. I was now a believer. Tried my best to be one, I should say. I still had my moments of doubt, weakness, and failure.
Like at that moment of my release.
I was released, and at the same time, needed a release — asexual release. Fornication, that sin of the flesh that men couldn't seem to resist. Some of my "Milkshake." My girl. Myshelle.
On the inside, I'd been used to getting that Milkshake every morning, some time after four when the COs would stroll by to make sure some despondent inmate hadn't turned his six-by-nine into a death chamber by hanging himself with his bed linens. After the COs passed, I'd either pull out my Milkshake's Polaroid, or simply muster up thoughts of her as I yanked on myself. It wouldn't take long for that warm feeling to travel up my legs, settle in my groin, and then spout milk on my fingers and belly. Well, being that I was out, and early at that, I needed the real Milkshake, and not some Polaroid version of her, either. The real thing was what I desired, needed, as much as I needed the air I couldn't see. As much as I needed From Whom All Blessings Flow, whom I also couldn't see, but could only feel, his presence a cape over my shoulders.
If asked, I'd have told anyone that my Milkshake and I had that weak-in-the-knees-R & B-record love that everyone hoped to find once in life. We even had our own anthem, Kelis's "Milkshake," a song I listened to repeatedly in my Walkman's earphones that morning of my release. An infallible love. One of kind. Forever. Soulmates.
I should have known better.
The air outside was hot and sticky that July morning I got out. I stood there at the gates of JCI, which the inmates called "Jackie" to soften the harshness of the prison. I stood there, outside, and squeezed my fingers around the air. It was that thick. But I didn't linger long. I took off on foot to the surrounding town and bummed a ride off some college-age white boy filling his tank at the Texaco that bordered the town. He was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, high-top white Converse sneakers, and baggy skater shorts. I was on a mission to rebuild my budding family.
"Where to, dude?" he'd asked me.
I told him.
"Cool beans," he'd said. He reached forward and cranked the volume on his Hyundai's stereo system. Music flooded my ears that if played backwards would probably have told me to kill the white boy.
We didn't talk much during the ride. He was busy flinging his head wildly to the music, his long blond locks flapping down into his face. A quick swing of his head in the manner of a woman and the locks would move from covering his eyes. I thought of all the inmates I'd encountered during my two-plus bid that would have found the long hair sexy, this white boy even sexier, a surrogate for the women they couldn't have. Thankfully, I'd escaped that added burden of having that homoerotic impulse take my manhood and stomp it out like a cigarette.
All I wanted was my Milkshake. My weak-in-the-knees-R & B-record love. My time in prison had been hard on Myshelle, I knew. She'd be so happy to hold me, kiss me, without the prying eyes of COs standing up against the wall around us.
As the road passed by, too slowly for me, I must admit, I realized it would be only a little bit longer and we'd be together forever. We'd recorded the A-side of our R & B love; now it was on to the B-side.
Since my release, I'd made my moves stealthily, to keep eyes from watching me. Didn't have anyone pick me up at JCI; picked an anonymous white boy with a heart of gold to do me the solid and drive me. I was okay. Everything was right with my world.
When we arrived at Milkshake's little bungalow, the white boy pulled his Hyundai to the foot of her driveway. I looked over at my beaten-down Toyota parked carefully on the blacktop. The tires were sparkling, windows tinted. It didn't look beat up any more, to be honest. She'd taken good care of it, had held me down, had it looking better than it had when the blue boys took me away in handcuffs.
"This is it," I told my driver, the heart-of-gold white boy.
"Cool beans, dude."
"Not much," I said, handing him my Sony Walkman,
"but all I can offer you."
"Nah, dude," he said. "I can't be taking that from you."
"Did Kurt Cobain blow his brains out?" he asked, grimacing painfully at the tragedy of the Nirvana front man's suicide. A personal tragedy to this white boy and millions cut from his same ilk.
"Thanks," I said, touching his shoulder. "You'll be blessed."
"Already am, dude. Already am."
I stepped out, shut the door, and smelled the rubber of his tires peeling off down the road. He's Sweet I Know had been like that for me since the day of my conversion, bringing people like the white boy into my life to offer me the support I needed. Angels, I believed these anonymous souls to be.
I moved to my Toyota. A Playboy model air freshener hung from the rearview mirror. I couldn't remember if it was the centerfold I'd left dangling those two-plus years ago or not. I touched the hood. It was warm, just like the day.
The sun smiled down on me as I paused by my car, a sign of good things to come, I imagined, and some birds chirped in the distance. I could smell burning firewood that tinted the air with a rich aroma. It felt good to smell something other than the smells I'd become accustomed to for the past three years. You know: urine, musty armpits, rotting teeth, and on bad days, blood.
I moved past the car and down the sidewalk path to Milkshake's front porch. I strutted up the steps and rapped a knuckle against the door. The main door was open, but the screen door was locked tight. I hadn't told Myshelle I was coming, but kept this whole release thing a secret. I knew that was my best bet. The letters I'd been getting in prison, threatening letters, had me on guard.
I heard her footsteps, slippers scraping across the hard-wood floors. I got my smile ready. Ready to record our duet for the B-side of our R & B-record love.
But Milkshake didn't appear in the doorway. Some man stood before me in the screen, half my size, double my skin shade, and nappier about the head. In boxers and a T-shirt, and big fluffy slippers you wouldn't catch me in when death came knocking. Chewing on a chicken wing.
"Myshelle in?" I asked him, trying to catch which features this man shared with my Milkshake. One of her cousins, I figured. She had so many. Folks here in North Carolina, but also in Virginia, Maryland, and out west in Oakland and Sacramento. And a few that had found their way to New Hampshire, of all places.
Milkshake's cousin slid the chicken wing from his mouth and twirled it between two fingers stained the color of soot. "Onliest thing you got claims to here, nigga, is that Toy-yoda out there. I fixed her up for you. Couldn't be driving Melly around in a bucket, ya heard."
He wasn't a cousin. I didn't know him. But he knew me. "I need to see Myshelle," I insisted. I could feel my hands fisting. I tried to open my fingers but couldn't.
"She's buck naked at the moment," he said. "Waiting on me to finish this here wing. And you know you ain't seeing none of that."
I reached for the screen door and pulled on the handle, hard. It didn't budge.
"I ain't stupid," he told me, grinning, stray pieces of chicken lodged in his teeth. "Melly thought you might try this surprise route, seeing as those Ruffin boys got you all shook. We've been waiting on you to get out. It's hot so I got to keep the door open. But I make sure I keep the screen door locked. I know you been getting all Arnold Schwarzenegger for the past two years while I've been getting my fingers greasy and black with motor oil. Sweatin' my little ass off in that garage. Uh-uh. You ain't getting in this house, nigga."
I didn't like him. He talked too much.
That chicken wing morphed before my eyes to a plastic cup emblazoned with the Dairy Queen insignia, its contents a thick milkshake. I blinked my eyes a few times and tried to make that image disappear. Or maybe, tried to keep my eyes from watering. Weak-inthe-knees-R & B-record loves weren't supposed to crash and die like this.
I gripped the screen door's handle again and jiggled it, harder. It still didn't budge. The man I desperately wanted to be Milkshake's cousin chuckled at me.
"You can have the Toy-yoda back," he said. "That's only right. And I ain't touch a dollar in that shoebox you got in the trunk tucked by the doughnut. Melly told me that's cash from your dead mama and I don't believe in messing with a man's money anyhow. But you ain't getting nothing else on this here prop-per-ty, ya heard? Keys under the driver side mat, Governor." He slammed the main door shut.
I knocked but then gave up that ghost after several failed attempts, walked around to the side of the house, and peered into a window that overlooked the bedroom. It was just a screen but held those bars people used to childproof their windows. Those bars made me recoil briefly, but then I remembered that Milkshake was inside, my R & B love, with some other man. I peered in again. I couldn't see anything through the darkness, but I could hear muted voices. Couldn't make out words, but did hear someone cackling. Him.
Then I heard the creak of the bed's joints. Grunting. Moaning. More grunting. Louder moaning. I smacked my hand against the screen in disgust and collapsed there, crushing some flowers Myshelle had planted on the side of the house. Didn't care.
After some time, I found my way back to my feet and stumbled to the Toy-yoda. Chicken Wing was true to his word: the keys were under the mat and my shoebox of cash was still in the trunk, undisturbed.
I drove off in a daze but called the next day around noontime, figuring Chicken Wing was working. Myshelle, I knew, didn't work Mondays at the beauty salon.
"Hello?" Her voice was husky, a-pack-of-Newport-a-day husky. A bad habit we'd argued about constantly. I couldn't think of anything else that was a source of friction between us. So why had she done me this way?
"I'm at a YMCA over in Fayetteville," I told my Milk-shake. "Come see me. We'll talk this through."
"Nothing to talk through," she said, matter-of-fact with her tone. "I'm not going to beg," I said, emboldened with pride.
"Good. That would hurt me to hear."
She hung up. I called back. And called. And called. Gave up calling after two weeks of that nonsense, and sat around in my pay-by-the-week room trying to figure out a way to move on with the next phase of my life. Counting the money in my Nike shoebox, I convinced myself I hadn't been burned. I'd gotten my ride pimped, after all. That accounted for something.
But I couldn't get my mind truly away from Myshelle. Where had we gone wrong?
I shook my head. Prison. So many of my hopes and dreams had withered away in the belly. Prison had killed the old me. It had destroyed my weak-in-the-knees-R & B love, too, and had turned my life upside down. No way, having faced that, I couldn't be a bit bitter. A bit bitter was a mouthful, but where I was just the same. From Whom All Blessings Flow kept me from being worse, from taking out my frustrations on the society that had put me away to begin with. So I talked to Him incessantly, and thought.
Excerpted from Grown And Sexy by Phillip Thomas Duck Copyright © 2006 by Phillip Thomas Duck. Excerpted by permission.
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