“What’s going on?”
I remember waking up. I’m in a car. It’s one of the Crawford cars. I know the car well because every Saturday I wash it. I’m surprised when I see I’m in the passenger seat, slumped over and bloody. August Crawford is driving. He has a focus in his eyes. My voice is weak.
“Chuck and his…his fucking people…they violated you,” he says.
He says it as a matter of fact. He has this depth to him though. When we were young Beau would take out a wrench. He’d twist at the old Mueller fire hydrant until it sprayed out water. The rest of the boys in the neighborhood would run around feeling a relief from the hot Alabama sun. I was always the weird one to try to plug up one of those holes. I’d put my little finger in there and see how long I could hold it. Looking at August I can almost see him doing the same thing as he was driving. He was trying to see how long he could hold it all from coming out.
“Chuck wouldn’t do that…”
“He did goddam it. I saw it myself. I warned you. I tried to warn you.”
I remember flashes. It’s all coming back to me now. I was about to leave for the day when two white boys come in at first. The door is open. I remember hearing the others outside. I remember thinking this is no good. I remember when they question me about Beau, Lil’ Lonny and Shug. I lie. They weren’t getting answers from me. Then more come in and more. They are nice at first, gentleman-like. Until one of them gets mad and hits me. Then it’s a release. It’s like my hand unplugging from the fire hydrant. They all feed off that energy. Wild dogs in the night.
But was Chuck was one of those boys? Would he really have done that to me?
“Where we going?”
“Hospital. Then I’m gonna call the law…”
August looks over at me. He has these innocent eyes. I’d be surprised if he ever met a black person before today. I’d heard about his type. One of those boys from up North who felt like the world was full of mythical creatures and fairytales like the type Old Ma’am used to tell Sissy and Lena when she was braiding their hair for church on Sunday.
“Ain’t crazy. Those boys violated you. I saw it. My own eyes. I push them off. They just kept laughing. I could have killed them. You know that?” August says with his eyes burning red as fire, “I could have killed all them boys. Right there. You know that?”
He looks at me as though trying to prove a point to me.
It’s bullshit. He wasn’t going to kill no goddam body.
“Take me home.”
“You hear what I told you?” he asks, “Those boys violated you.”
I wasn’t in no pain. I remember one time Shug got mad at me for telling Lena about him with another girl. He hit me so hard I spoke with a stutter for three days. That there was a pain. This wasn’t nothin’. Nothin’ those boys could do to me. I was born tougher.
“Cops won’t do shit,” I respond shaking my head, “Not to no damn Crawford. You wanna know what happens to a po’ colored boy telling the law about a Crawford?”
He gives me a look. It’s a concerned look.
“Ain’t no ‘but’. Take me home. Please.”
Reluctantly August takes me home. He looks at me every few minutes checking on me with his eyes. The boy doesn’t speak the rest of the way. I’m terrified the whole time. I feel in the back of my mind that he is so damn dumb to go to the law anyway on Chuck Crawford. I can see it in his eyes. He’s probably only known privilege. Where he was from he didn’t have to worry about the fact that the sheriff was on Crawford’s payroll. Hell one of the most popular judges in Birmingham was a goddam Crawford, some second cousin to Charlie Crawford himself. Ain’t no Crawford going to jail over me. Hell, the police wouldn’t even raise their voice too tough to Crawford.
“I’m taking you in,” he states.
I’m worried. I’m worried about him taking me in. There is only one thing that worries me more though and that is the idea that maybe August would go to the law. I couldn’t let him leave while he was still mad like this. It wouldn’t end up well for me.
“Ok,” I respond.
So, I let him help me. I wrap my arm around him as we get out of the car. He’s so goddamn clean. He smells good. I smell like I’ve been working in the sun all day. I feel embarrassed but he doesn’t seem to mind or notice.
I’m surprised how strong he is when he pulls me out of the car. I’m surprised how toned his body is. This is a boy who probably didn’t have to lift a heavy box a day in his life. He is muscular though, strong and toned, to make up for his handsome face and golden hair like sunflowers cropped on top of his head.
I already know it’s Sissy from the door. She runs over to me helping August as they assist me into the house. She says some other stuff. It’s foul language. It’s rare Sissy curses like this. I don’t even notice the specifics. For some reason, I’m turning over to August. My eyes are set on him. And he is so concerned. I’ve never really seen a white boy show me that kind of concern. Not ever. Not even Chuck.
“We got this,” Sissy says, “Thank you, Mr. Crawford, for bringing him home.”
Sissy wasn’t the type to argue with a Crawford. I know why she doesn’t want him here though. In a matter of seconds, a shadow walks into the room. It’s Beau. Shug and Lonny are with him, of course, but it’s Beau who walks into the room crossing ther room like a beast in the night. When he sees me he has this look. As we got older Beau always frightened me, just a little bit. Shug and I never got along. We fought all the time. It’s Beau that was the intimidating one to both Shug and I. No one ever fought Beau. No one ever tried. Maybe it’s because Shug and I had a limit. We knew when to stop.
I remember one time this dog bit, Beau. It was a neighborhood dog we all knew and loved. It didn’t’ have an owner that we knew of. Beau beat that dog. We all laughed thinking he’d stop after the first few yelps.
He looks over at us and I remember him saying, ‘Don’t let the same dog bite you twice. Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.’
We all thought he would stop after he says that.
Beau didn’t stop.
“The hell is going on?” Beau asked.
“Nothin’,” I respond, “I’m good.”
“He’s not good,” August responds placing me on the couch, “Them boys violated him. They came asking questions about what happened to Carol that night.”
“Are you OK?” Beau asks.
Shug is pacing back and forth. He’s pissed. He’s beyond angry, “We can’t let them get away with this. Look what they did to him! Look what they did to Stevey?”
Lonny starts crying. Shug is getting angry. Beau looks like he’s even angrier.
“We all need to calm down,” Sissy tries to interrupt, “August do you remember who all did this?”
“My cousin Chuck. He has a bunch of other boys with him.”
“Does it matter?” I ask.
Nothing was going to happen to them anyway.
“Fuck…it’s because of us, ain’t it?” Lonny asks.
“I’d never tell them where you guys are hiding out,” I state.
No one in the community was going to tell them where they were hiding out. Most of us knew. They were safe here with Sissy. Sissy wasn’t combative. Sissy was the type of girl that white folks took to. No one would come knocking at her door asking questions for no reason.
“But he will…” Beau states.
Beau stares over at August.
It’s awkward. For a moment Shug stops pacing around. Lonny stops crying and freaking out. For that moment Sissy stops tending to my bruises. We all stare over at August. He sticks out like a goddamn sore thumb in this room. He shouldn’t be here. We’d all forgotten that he was here.
“Listen I’m here for Stevey,” August states, “I just want to stay awhile. Whatever you guys did is between you and the law…”
“Whatever we did?” Beau asks, “Just what do you think we did.”
Silence. More silence.
“Beau, leave him alone,” I state, “I want him here. He was there for me.”
August might have been a little ignorant. He might not have known what was going on but at the same time, he seemed like a good person. He didn’t mean no harm.
“Look, I just want to make sure Stevey is OK?”
“He asked you a question,” Shug states, backing up his family.
They were pressing him. He was in our territory now. All the “sir’s” and ass kissing had gone out of the window. These boys had nothing to do and I was getting scared for August. What would Beau and Shug do if they thought that August would go to the cops and reveal their location?
August is still so ignorant. He looks only half nervous. Didn’t he see the look in Beau’s eyes? Wasn’t he terrified?
“Carol says you boys raped her,” August states.
Lonny breaks out in laughter, “That lying bitch! That lying fuckin’ bitch!”
Beau is just watching August like he was watching that dog he beat to death back when we were kids.
I talk over Lonny’s obnoxious laughter, “You’re a good person August. Let’s just be reasonable here. You saw how she was acting when she came in that bar. You don’t believe that, do you August? Of course, you don’t believe that…”
“I don’t know what to believe,” August states.
I watch Shug look at Beau. Beau doesn’t hesitate to walk to the back room. When he comes back he has a rifle in his hands. My heart drops in my stomach. Beau
“I’m going outside to keep an eye out. Make sure them boys don’t come back to finish Stevey off. I’m going to be guarding this house.”
“Beau, August was about to leave first…” I state.
“Maybe he was right,” Beau states to August, “Maybe it’s best he stay awhile.”
August looks at me. He’s terrified. I can see the look in his eyes. Beau grabbing his gun and walking out to the porch was intimidating as hell. I take the time to follow after Beau. The others aren’t going to question him but I would. Normally I’d let Beau to his own devices but he was scaring me more and more with this sort of behavior.
I get outside and look at him. He’s in the darkness polishing up his rifle.
“Beau we can’t keep him here,” I state, “He’s a Crawford.”
“I’m thinking,” Beau states.
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Beau. He’s a good guy. You don’t have to trust him. Trust me. I can tell he’s a good guy,” I state.
I’m begging at this point. I can see the desperation in his look.
“Is it him?” Beau asks me.
I look at Beau with a confusion.
For the first time in such a long time, Beau looks vulnerable. His masculine, tough face seems to fold. His big lips separate ever so slightly. His dark smooth complexion wrinkles up at the top of his forehead and there is a bit of stress at the corners of his eyes. He’s still handsome but at this moment he isn’t wearing that cold, intimidating exterior that he always has. Beau is revealing a part of himself that he rarely ever shows.
“Growing up I used to watch you,” he states, “I stared all the time.”
“I noticed. You stare at everyone though.”
“No. Not like you,” Beau explains to me, “You guys were there for me when my Daddy died in jail.”
“It was a tragedy.”
“Wasn’t no tragedy. White folk killed him. He was ahead of his time. Daddy wanted a revolution.”
I remember the stories of Beau’s father. He wasn’t the only one. There were a bunch of guys growing up like Beau’s dad.
None of them were around anymore.
“It’s a new day Beau.”
“You sure right. But the past will create the future. You know they got a guy named Bobby Seale. He’s talking about a new party. Black Panther party. Takes everyone’s resentment and makes some action.”
“Ain’t no resentment.”
“Bullshit. You got resentment Stevey. I got resentment. I always resented the fact that you and Sissy were such good folk but you worked for the same white man who worked your Mama to death.”
“Mama dying had nothing to do with the Crawfords.”
“Bullshit and you know it,” Beau states, “You ain’t talkin’ to no stranger, Stevey. I saw them work your mama to death. I loved that lady. I remember when I first met you. I remember your mama noticed me staring at you. She noticed me staring in the way that you never noticed. I was just a kid back then. Back then you were already friends with Shug. You guys used to go run around and I’d be so jealous. You remember that?”
I was friends with Shug first.
I smile, “Yeah I remember. I thought you hated me. I thought that’s why you didn’t ever come around.”
“You made me nervous,” Beau admits with a half smile, “And so I’d just stare. And your mama calls me over to her stoop one day. And she tells me as a black man ain’t nothing going to come easy for me. As a black man ain’t nothing going to be given to me. Everything would be taken. Everything would be expected. Nothing gave back in return. So if I wanted something—I needed to go out and make it happen.”
“Sounds like Mama.”
He nods, “She gave me the courage to walk up to you. She gave me the courage to grab your hand and ask you to come play with me. I never wanted to let go of your hands since.”
I watch how he leans over to me. He grabs my hand at that moment. It’s so sensitive. It’s so sweet. It’s so rare to see Beau let go of all that anger he had built up in him. Even if it’s just for a moment, he was allowing himself to let go of his anger.
“Beau…I’ll always be there for you.”
“Come away with me then,” he states.
“Where? Up North.”
“Fuck the North. Fuck the South,” he states, “I’m tired of these white folk. I want to go back to Africa.”
I laugh at the thought, “You don’t know shit about Africa, Beau.”
“I’ll learn. I’ll learn with you,” He states, “And stop laughing at me. I don’t like that. Don’t goddam laugh, you hear me? I’m serious. Let’s get out of here.”
He was serious. I could hear it in his tone.
“I can’t leave Sissy. Not like Lena did. She doesn’t got no one left but me.”
“She could find a man. Sissy is a beautiful girl. But you…you belong with me.”
I don’t want to lead Beau on. He’s so beautiful. He’s so strong. He’s so willing, but at the same time, he’s not the one. I let go of his hand and step away from him.
“It’s him…isn’t it?” Beau asks, “It’s that white boy in there that stole you from me.”
That’s what he meant by what he said earlier.
“Beau…you sound crazy.”
“DON’T CALL ME CRAZY!” Beau barks at me.
The look in Beau’s eyes is so intense. It scares the hell out of me.
“Beau, I’m sorry…calm down. I was just teasing…”
“Get back in the house,” Beau states, “It’s not safe in these dark nights.”
We are in the house for a while. Lonny and Shug leave. They are going to tell people what happened to me, I’m sure. Black Birmingham was just a grapevine of goddamn gossip. I knew this wasn’t going to be good on either side. I’m irritated with the fact that Beau just lets them do it. Sissy goes to sleep early and with Beau outside keeping guard, I’m left alone with August.
It’s so weird to see him sitting on Sissy’s couch. I’d never seen any white person sit on this couch before. It shouldn’t be weird. He’s a human just like me. But it is. It’s weird.
“Am I a prisoner here?” August asks.
“Of course not,” I respond.
It was a goddam lie. I had no idea what Beau would do if August got up and left. I didn’t know if I want to know. For a second he does seem nervous and I find myself sliding up next to him on the couch. He was there for me and I wanted to be there for him for a while.
“Your friends don’t seem to like me.”
“Relations here aren’t so good.”
“Really, because you seem to have a close relationship with Chuck,” he states, “You don’t believe that he was one of the boys that did what they did to you, do you?”
“Chuck wouldn’t do that.”
He seems irritated when I say that.
“Why do you think he’s a good guy. Chuck is the devil.”
“See this house?” I ask, “When Mama died, the bank was going to take it back. It’s been in our family since they were freed from slavery way back when. I know it doesn’t mean much.”
“It means everything,” August corrects me.
I smile that he notices that, “Exactly. Well long story, short, Sissy couldn’t afford to keep it. That’s when Chuck stepped in. He bought it for us. Handed it over.”
“In return for what?” August asks.
“You insinuating something, Mr. Crawford?”
“Not about you. About him,” August states, “I know you think I’m ignorant and I don’t know shit. But up North, there are powerful men too. And when they see a young attractive person that they like…they use what they have to get what they want. That isn’t a regional phenomenon.”
“Chuck is a piece of shit,” I state, “But when a piece of shit puts money in your pocket and a smile on your sister’s face…it doesn’t stink so much.”
“You deserve better than a piece of shit,” August tells me.
He looks over at me. He stares at me in the darkness. It’s that same look of expectation that he has always had. What did he expect to happen when he looked at me like that? What did he want to happen? Lord knows this white boy was handsome as all hell. Lord knows there were white girls all over Alabama who would denounce their Gods to have a chance with a man like August Crawford. He was the most handsome Crawford and somehow managed to be a good person through all of that.
“Chuck started having sex with me two years ago,” I admit out of nowhere.
I’m not sure why. This wasn’t something that people talked about.
“Sex. Like I said.”
August gives me a look, “Like I said. You deserve better than that.”
“Whose going to give it to me, Mr. Crawford?”
August slides towards me. He isn’t afraid. It frightens me the power in his action that he’s able to muster. No one had been that abrasive…not even Chuck when we first had sex and he stared at me like a nervous boy for ten minutes giving subtle hints about how attractive he felt I was. August had managed to surpass all of that boyishness at this moment.
At this moment I didn’t think I was staring at someone who was ignorant and immature. That seemed to all melt away.
“ A real man,” August states.
“Chuck wouldn’t appreciate you staring at me the way you are staring at me.”
“You said it was just sex.”
“I’m still his, Mr. Crawford.”
“Slavery ended a long time ago,” August tells me, “You don’t belong to anyone. You know what that means? That means I’m free to kiss those lips if I wanted to. But then again…maybe you still feel like you belong to Chuck Crawford.”
I don’t know why this turns me on. Here we were, this white boy in the 60’s having the audacity to speak to me about my freedom and challenge it, none-the-less.
And that’s when I take him up on his offer. I kiss him. My lips lock next to his lips. It’s a quick kiss. Far too short. Somehow though we managed to collide our chests together. Both of us wanting this embrace more than we are willing to admit.
We’re interrupted though.
He walks in the house, rifle in hand and anger enlightened in his eyes. There is anger, but there is no surprise.
“It’s time for you to go,” Beau tells August.
August looks at Beau. Then he looks at me.
“You going to be OK?” August asks.
This wasn’t the right time. Not with that look in Beau’s eyes.
August gets up. He walks past Beau. Beau doesn’t give him another look. I wish Beau was like Shug. I wish he’d explode with anger like Shug would. Hell Shug would probably smack me around a little bit. He’d let it all out until he wasn’t angry anymore. Beau wasn’t like that.
Beau just saw me kissing a boy. A white boy, at that!
“He’s not the enemy,” I whisper to Beau in the silence.
“They all are the enemy.”
The way he says that and walks towards the back room scares me. I follow Beau into the backroom desperate to understand what he is talking about.
“Beau,” I plead, “What are you going to do Beau?”
“Tired of hiding out here. Time to stop hiding,” he states.
“What’s that mean?”
Beau repeats the same words he’s said before in a darker way.
“Don’t let the same dog bite you twice. Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.”