Now I’m embarrassed about how the lady’s face is buried between her friend’s legs, and how they moaning and how it was making me feel fore Momma walked in. I was watching it straight-eyed before she came in and took control of the whole thing—made it a punishment before the whooping. Now I got to watch the rest with her. After that, she gone whoop me. I know she is.
“That’s called gay—Sodom and Gomorrah,” she says without looking at me. “God ain’t no where in that, boy.”
I wish I had somewhere else to look, but she said, since I was looking at it fore she came in, I better look now. Said wrong got to be righted.
When she first stuck her head through the door, rollers in her hair and tired lines on her face, I was sure she wasn’t gone be in here long. I tried to change the channel fore she caught me, but I think that move is what got me caught. Trying to act natural don’t never really work. Natural caught her attention. She went from head-in-the-door to “what was you watching, Naught?”
“I work two jobs,” she say. Her eyes still on the T.V. Now a man standing behind the woman. She still got her head buried in between her friend’s legs and the man moving in and out of her, but I don’t even care no more. I ain’t even taking notes in my head no more. “I don’t work for this kind of mess. I don’t work hard like I do for you to be worried about this kind of mess.” She sound sad. Hurt or something.
I don’t know what to say. I know she think I’m going down to the devil for watching, and I really don’t understand why she making me watch the rest. I guess she done gave up on me and heaven. I wonder if this’ll make me fall deeper into the fire. I was only gone watch a little bit. I was only gone be in a little bit of trouble when it was time to stand fore God. Now I’m in trouble with the God and with her. I wonder if she know she might go to hell for watching it with me. I want to ask her, but the lines around her mouth tell me that ain’t a very good idea.
A few days ago she came in the kitchen, and her gold skin turned bright red when she saw me eating corn flakes from her mixing bowl. I wouldn’t have never ate my cereal out of that bowl if we had some more clean ones—if she would’ve washed them the night before. She didn’t fuss at me for it or nothing. I thought she was going to, but she didn’t say nothing.
All she did was let her beat-up purse slide off her shoulder and onto the counter. She took off her plaid coat—the one she bought from the second-hand store—and laid it on top of her purse. She reached up over her head, and pulled a bigger mixing-bowl from the cabinet and poured the whole box of off-brand corn flakes in it. After she poured a whole lot of milk in the bowl, she picked it up and placed it in front of where I was standing, eating from the smaller bowl.
“Since you woke up feeling all long-eyed, boy. Don’t care nothing bout how hard I work for every box of cereal I bring in here. You eat the whole damn thing, Naught. Just eat the whole damn thing.” And she stood there and made sure I ate every flake. When I was done, I thought I was gone throw up I was so full. She told me to go to her room and bring her the only thing she kept when she took Ruke’s stuff to my granny’s house, the thick leather belt with the snake as the buckle.
“Naught,” she call my name like she panicking or something, but she still don’t look at me. Her eyes still glued to the T.V., and I can’t help but wish the girl on screen shut up with all that hollering. “Anybody ever touch you like they ain’t supposed to, violate you, son?”
“Huh,” I say. I know what she asking. She done asked it before. She been asking me about being touched ever since she taught me to call my dick Mr. Wang. I learned real quick that a dick is a dick when I started P.W. Dastard Middle School, but Momma still call my dick Mr. Wang. Last week, she woke me up to catch the trash man cause I forgot to put the trash out the night before. My dick was standing straight up and she told me flat out, “Fix your Mr. Wang before going out that door, boy. Nasty self.”
“Have anybody ever touched your Mr. Wang, boy?” she ask. I stare at the side of her face for a minute. Her jaw is twitching, and a tear is sneaking down her cheek. I feel bad about the movie. I don’t want to hurt my momma.
“No, ma’am,” I say, letting my eyes drop the scratchy wool blanket covering me from the waist on down.
“You sure? ” she ask, twisting her head to face me for the first time. Her eyes is watery and tired like two wet, rusty pennies, but she still look kind of pretty cause I can remember her smile. I look into them rusty pennies and drop my eyes again. I shake my head but don’t say nothing.
“Cause I can understand this problem if that happened. Just talk to Momma. Tell me if somebody done hurt you, Naught. Pastor’ll pray with us, and we’ll get rid of this old nasty demon.”
I don’t say nothing. Just sit there wishing for all this to be over. Wish I didn’t have no dick and no momma. I wouldn’t wake up wet after them nasty dreams sometimes and wouldn’t be no whoopings. Never.
“Well, I don’t get it then, Naught,” she say. Then she just sit there for a second. “This Ruke fault. I wish I’d have been smarter than to let his dope-dealing self get me pregnant with you. Should been smart enough to know he couldn’t never be no daddy,” she say, turning back to the television. “That on that screen,” she say, pointing a lazy finger at the small screen on the rickety dresser. “Ain’t nothing you need to worry bout.”
I just nod my head and think about the whooping that’s coming.
“Go out yonder and get you a baby, how you gone feed it?” she ask, without looking at me. I lift my eyes and look toward the screen. Then I move them to a crack in the wall above it when I see the man holding his dick over one of the women’s mouth. She holding her tongue out beneath him to catch his juice.
A roach crawl out from the crack and start crawling down like it’s gone go behind the T.V. I wonder if Momma see it, or if she looking at the man juicing in the woman mouth. She hate roaches, but we can’t seem to rid of them on the count of our neighbors. Momma say them folks nasty, and roaches follow nasty.
“I been working extra hours to get you a new bike. Get you out this house some time. Thirteen-year-old boy need to be doing something. Idle mind be all the devil need to do something like this,” she say.
I think about my last bike and try to remember if it was powerful enough to make me forget about my dick. Maybe so. I didn’t think about girls and wake up hard and wet when I still had it. I was ten back then. I fixed that bike up all on my own. Before she brought that old sorry looking thing home from the thrift store, I had almost gave up on the idea of ever having a bike of my own. I bought things one at a time. The sandpaper to get the pink paint and princess power off. The gray paint because I like that color. The seat. The pivotal. Didn’t have no manual or nothing. Took me a whole year to get that thing rideable. I built that bike from the ground up, and then somebody from this old raggedy complex stole it off the back porch. Momma whooped me. Said she spent ten dollars on that thing, and I should’ve had better sense than to leave it outside and give it away.
“This how you say thank you. While I’m working, you letting sex demons in my house,” she say, standing up. She looking at the roach now. I can tell by how still her head is, and how mean her voice done got. He done stopped like he listening to her fuss at me. All things go quiet when Momma speaking.
The arms of her wool housecoat is cut off cause it used to be mine. She had to cut them off to make the housecoat fit her. When it was mine, I wouldn’t never wear it. She wear it every night. It’s been washed so much it look paper thin. The blue look dull and ashy. She look dull and ashy. She still pretty though. To me she pretty and smell like cinnamon, and she good at helping with my math. Even when she don’t know nothing bout it, she try.
She stand in front of the T.V., and I can’t see it no more. The man moaning loud, and that’s almost as bad as me being able to see him.
She look around the little room. Her eyes don’t even touch me. She turn her body and squeeze through my bed and the wall toward my closet. I think about the belt hanging up in there. All of sudden I want the movie to last longer, but words is running up the screen. I fix the cover on me. Make sure everything that need to be covered is covered. Make sure I won’t feel a thing.
“Where you get that shit from, Naught? Who give you something like that to watch?” she ask, bending her upper body toward the floor of my closet. I’m scared cause Momma don’t never cuss. She pray hard and loud, specially at church. She got a mean shout, too. Almost look like she dancing on Soul Train or in a Big Daddy Kane video. She be moving like she free and done forgot everything. She holy. She talk tongues. She don’t cuss.
I think about pushing her into the closet, and jumping off the bed and running away. I grew taller than Momma last year. She always say Ruke tall, but I never really paid attention. He was always sitting down when we used to visit him at the pen in Lamesa. Even when we stood up to take pictures, I ain’t notice. Everybody was taller than me the last time I saw him. Everybody was tall to me back then.
I think about what I’m gone do when I make it out the house, after I push her down in the closet. What I’m gone eat. Where I’m gone live. I wonder what she gone do without me here. I think about her smile when she give me stuff. When she gave me the housecoat she wearing, she was proud. Told me bout how she ain’t never have one when she was a girl. How she want me to have more than her. Be better than her. I stop thinking bout pushing her. I stop thinking bout running.
My heart start beating fast when she stand up with my size ten converse in her hand. She whooped me with shoe when I was ten. I peed in the breezeway of the G building, and Ms. Meddalton caught me. Ms. Meddalton whooped me with a switch cause Momma was still at work when she caught me doing it. Momma got me with a shoe when she came home. Said just cause the breezeway already smell like pee don’t mean I got and make it stronger. That whooping hurt worse than a switch, or a belt or a extension cord even. She couldn’t hit me how she wanted to cause of the grip she had on the shoe, so she hit me in the head, on the back, everywhere.
But she don’t even look my way now. She stand up and get in front of the T.V. again. She short, and her body wide and flat in the back. Her hair smashed like she been laying on it, and I can see some of her scalp through her thin hair. She moving her head around like she looking for something, and that make me remember the roach. It make me itch, and I want to pull the covers off of me to make sure ain’t none in my bed. Sometimes they climb up here and wake me up, and sometimes they already chilling in my bed fore I get in it. I don’t. But I ain’t pulling nothing back long as she got that shoe in her hand.
I hear a crash and stop thinking about the roaches under my cover.
“Thought I didn’t see you, didn’t you?” she say, looking around the dresser. She done smashed the roach and dropped the shoe. “There you is,” she say. Then she just drag herself out my room on her old house shoes. She don’t even look at me.
I look at my shoe laying on top of the VCR and think about jumping out my bed and hiding it. I think about closing my door and getting under the cover with the other roaches. I think about not getting no whooping at all. I hear her sliding back to my room. When she come through the doorway, she got a wad of tissue in her hand. She headed toward the VCR, and my eyes is on her. She notice and stop right where she at. She looking at me, and I’m looking at her. Her lips start quivering, and her eyes get real watery. I drop my head.
“Look at me, Naught,” she say. She sound soft and not at all like my momma. I look at her. I’m ashamed cause I’m nasty, and I can’t control it.
“Stop. Just stop. Okay?” she say, nodding her head. “This kind of stuff is so ugly, baby.”
I nod my head and feel like I’m gone cry.
“I mean… if you have a question that you need to ask me, I’m here, Naught, but baby…” she stop talking, and I look up at her. She grabbing her lips with the tips of her finger. Tears is really coming down her face and when she open up her mouth again, I can hear them in her throat. “Baby, you can’t want to do stuff like this. This is the devil’s mess.”
I nod my head, and she start looking blurry to me. Momma tears always bring mine. “I won’t do it no more, Momma. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I do this kind of stuff.”
She nod her head and wipe her eyes. She start making her way back to the T.V. She clean up the dead roach with tissue and eject the tape from the VCR when she finish. She put the balled of tissue down on the dresser and open the flap on the videotape. She start pulling out the film like a mad dog or something. She toss the destroyed tape on the edge of my bed.
“Return that to whoever you got it from,” she say. Ain’t no more tears in her voice.
Momma turn back to the T.V. and pick up the tissue paper. Then, she reach over and grab the shoe off the top of the VCR. I grip the edge of the cover and get ready to scream. I always start screaming fore she even hit me. On her way over to the side of my bed, where I’m getting my tonsils ready for her, she put the balled up tissue in the grocery bag I use for trash hanging on the inside of my doorknob.
She stand directly in front of me and do something that really shock me. She just drop the shoe—drop it right there on the floor.
“Momma,” I say. “Wh—”
“Maybe you got questions that need answering, Naught. Maybe you do. But sex ain’t okay, you hear?” she ask. “I’m gone give you this one time to know everything you need to know cause ain’t nobody never do it for me. After this, don’t you never bring up this nasty mess again,” she say and look at me like she waiting for me to say something. “You bet not close your eyes, and you bet not turn away,” she finally say, messing with the knot on her robe-belt. “You loose my baby, Satan,” she scream as loud as she can, making me jump a little bit.
She start chanting it over-and-over again, and I get nervous cause she got the same look on her face that she get when she start shouting at church. She close her eyes and keep saying, “You loose my baby, Satan. You can’t have him.” She still saying it when her belt come untied, and she still saying it when she begin to ease the robe off her shoulders. She still saying it when her robe hit the floor, and she standing there naked. And she still saying it when she open her eyes and look me in mine.
I’m too scared to close my eyes or look away. She got a serious look in her eyes. I can’t keep looking in them, so I drop my own to her breasts. They long and flat against her chest. My eyes trail down because her sand-dollar nipples pointing that way. Below her belly, which look big and jiggly like the inside of a bucket of pork chitterlings, is a thick, tangled afro. I think about how much I hate chitterlings and afros and whoopings.
She getting blurry to me again, and my eyes burn like somebody chopping onions. After a while, she stop chanting and bend down to pick up the old robe. She wrap it around her and tie it back up.
“That demon ought to be gone,” she say. “Don’t let it back in my house, boy.”
She walk out the door and leave me sitting there. When I hear her shoes sliding down the hallway, I slide down from my bed onto the floor. I kind of ball up on my knees and have a real good cry. Then, I get in praying position next to the bed.
And I pray for myself long into the night.