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Summer/Fall 2020

Men Wearing Neckties

Mike Burrell

A weird change in the air interrupted his play, and he raised up on his knees in the narrow hallway and listened. An eighteen-wheeler moaned way out on the highway. Somebody a few trailers down had cranked up a lawnmower, and next door, Old Man McWhorter’s ancient weenie dog was kicking up a fuss for some reason. He shrugged. That old dog was always yelping about something. After he got back down on the musty brown carpet with his platoon of green rubber soldiers he realized what was wrong—the TV had gone silent. 

Three raps on the front door rang through the trailer like gunshots. He sprang to his feet and ran to the living room where he found his mama kneeling beside the front window, peeking through a part in the curtains. She wheeled around, and he was frozen by her fierce eyes even before she shook her head and pressed her finger to her lips.

He dropped to his knees and crawled over to her side.  “Who...?” he said before she clamped her hand over his mouth. She pulled him in tight against her, and he snuggled into her arms, breathing in the acrid scent of tobacco that stained her fingers a dingy yellow.

 “Mizz Clayton!” a deep voice boomed from outside the trailer. “It’s Darryl Bullock, Mizz Clayton, from Rental World. I know you in there.”

            “Shh, Davy,” his mama whispered, her lips tickling his ear. “He don’t know shit.”

            “You three months behind on that TV, Mizz Clayton.”

David’s heart thumped all the way into his throat as the man called out his mama’s name and whammed the side of the trailer, rattling the metal like a wind storm. “Mizz Clayton, I’m gonna have to have the back rent or take that TV. You know how this goes.”

He kept banging. More time passed between each blow. And after a while, the force of his pounding diminished into puny thumps. “All right, Mizz Clayton. If that’s the way you gonna play it. I’ll be back,” he called, his voice sounding as if he were growing weary. He pounded the door one last time before stomping off the deck.

His mama released her grip on his mouth and turned from the window. “It’s fun to hide out, ain’t it, Davy?” she said, a smile crinkling the corners of her eyes.

David nodded, too breathless to answer. It was fun. Scary, but fun.

“Look there, Davy. See that man?”

            She peeled back the curtains enough for David to see the man leaning against a long, blue car with a mud-splattered door and a crater-shaped dent in the fender. He was a chubby little man in tan pants and a white shirt, holding a clipboard in one hand while he wrote down something with a pen.

            “See that necktie he’s got on?”

“Yeah,” David said, his attention riveted to the strip of blue and white cloth dangling under the man’s thick neck.

She turned David’s face toward her with the tip of her finger, resting her hands on his shoulders while her brown eyes narrowed into the sharp, penetrating slits that always told him she wasn’t playing. “Davy,” she said. “Any man comes to our door wearing a necktie is after either our money or our souls. And, by God, we ain’t giving ‘em neither one. So anytime you see a man wearing a tie, don’t let him in. Just come tell Mama.”

David believed she could handle any danger that stepped up on their deck. He had seen how her fierce battery of profanities could strike fear on the faces of husky insurance salesmen and send white-shirted Mormons skittering for their bicycles like squirrels.

“You know, I bet you’d be a good lookout?” she said.

“A lookout?” he said.

“Yeah, you know, a really important kinda person who looks out for stuff and warns people of danger.  I want you to do your playing out there in the pasture over by the fence that runs along the street. While you’re playing, I want you to be on the lookout for that car. It’ll take him a while to drive all the way from the street around the block to get in the trailer park. So when you see it, run as fast as your legs’ll carry you across that pasture. Sneak in the back door and tell me he’s on the way. And then we can have some more fun hiding out from old Darryl Bullshit or whatever his name is. Think you can do that?”

David nodded. It sounded like fun.

She struggled to her feet, walked over to the couch and plopped down on the concave cushion where she always sat. “Your daddy,” she sighed, staring at the dark green eye of the TV. “He used to wear one of them ties all the time. Shoot, he had three or four of ‘em. Insurance debit collector, he called hisself. You listened to him, you’d of thought he was president of U.S. Steel. I should’ve suspected something wadn’t right when he started getting all gussied up every day. Got to where he’d spend more time in the bathroom than any three women I ever saw. Then he’d come out, with his hair all shiny and slicked back, smelling like he took a bath in Aqua Velva. Wadn’t for him, we wouldn’t even have this problem. I told him we couldn’t afford that TV. But did he listen?  Noooo. Had to watch the Alabama-Auburn game on the best, he says. Didn’t make but two payments on it before he sneaked his sorry ass out in the middle of the night. Now, I got to figure out what to do about the dang thing.”

At the mention of his daddy, the photograph that once perched atop the TV drifted through his mind. His mama had been much thinner in the picture, and when he closed his eyes he could see her with her long brown hair and smiling red lips, leaned against his daddy’s shoulder. The woman in that picture  flickered before his eyes every time his mama smiled at him. But he had a hard time recalling his daddy’s face, and the feel of the big hand tousling his hair was fading from his memory.

He looked at his mama’s eyes, now scrunched as though she were straining under a heavy weight. She pursed her lips into a tight band and nodded at him. “We still got a little left over out of our check,” she said. “Guess I better run down next week and make a payment. Maybe that’ll cool ol’ Darryl’s  ass down a while.”

She pointed the slender black remote like a wand, and the TV sprang to life, her eyes and mouth adopting the same expression of grave concern etched on the faces of the two women on the screen. The organ music accompanying the story sounded as if it were winding into a tight ball that might explode any minute. The women’s faces were tinted in red, and when they moved, the greens and blues they wore trailed in wavy auras around them. David knew that soon his mama would get up and adjust the little antenna atop the TV before plopping back down on the couch to witness all the brightly dressed people talking and fighting and kissing each other right there in their living room. And after three or four of her PBRs, she wouldn’t just watch the stories—she would participate.

“Can’t you see what a bastard he is?” she shouted at the screen, smoke puffs punctuating each word from the hard drag she had just taken from her skinny cigarette. “He’ll tell you all that bullshit, but before you know it, you’ll be on your own with a kid in a shitty trailer park in Lipscomb, Alabama.

“Davy, would you get Mama another one of her PBRs, Baby?”

He dashed into the kitchen to retrieve one of the cold blue and white cans from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Clutching it in both hands as though it were a treasure, he delivered it into his mama’s grasp.

“Thank you, Sweety,” she said, and she opened the can with a fizzing pop.

Later he was dozing, curled up next to her on the couch when she jarred him awake yelling at Johnny Carson. “You think you’re funny? You’re not funny you mush-mouthed Yankee asshole.”

He awoke again sometime in the night, wondering how he came to be tucked under the covers in the back bedroom with the TV’s muffled music, its scattered laughter, and his mama’s angry voice drifting away from him like a dream.

He found his mama the next morning, stretched on the couch, her face buried deep in the corner between the seat and the backrest. The blousy green pants she wore were wrinkled across her rear end, and the hair on the back of her head was matted in tangles. Beside her, the mound of skinny cigarette butts overflowed the ashtray and spilled onto the coffee table,  which was jammed to the edges with empty PBR cans. When he touched her, the arm resting on top of her hip rose, and her hand began striking the air as if she were shooing away a fly. “Go fix you some Cheerios, and leave Mama ‘lone,”  she said after feebly raising her head.

David finished his Cheerios, slipped on his shorts and tennis shoes, and left his mama snoring on the couch. The first thing he always did when he went out to play was scour the streets of the trailer park for money people had dropped while getting in and out of their cars. Around Mr. Waggoner’s green Dodge Dart was always a good spot. His mama said Waggoner came in most nights drunk as a skunk.  He often left a treasure trove of change and sometimes even dollar bills scattered beside driver’s side door and on the little patch of lawn in front of his trailer. The first time David found six crumpled ones and a ten on the sidewalk, he asked his mama if he should give it back to Mr. Waggoner. “Hell no!” she snapped. Her voice calmed while she explained the rules to him. “See, Davy, if somebody drops money on the ground, it’s God’s way of telling him he wasn’t supposed to have it to start with. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Finders keepers. Losers weepers.’”

Today, Waggoner’s old Dodge was parked neatly in its marked-off space instead of sideways or across the sidewalk. David looked really hard, but there was no money anywhere in sight. Farther down the street he found two scruffy pennies. He prowled around the mailboxes in front of the park for a good while before spotting a mangled dime.  He was kicking through the gravel to see if he could turn up some more money when Jeff  turned into the trailer park on his bike. 

Jeff was a blue-eyed towhead who lived in a squatty clapboard house across the rusty woven wire fence from the trailer park. “Whatcha doing?” he said.

Not wanting to let anyone in on his scavenging scheme, David said, “Looking for uh...arrowheads.”

“Arrowheads? You’re crazy. No Indians ever hung around these ratty old mailboxes.”

“No,” David said. “But Old Man McWhorter dropped a couple arrowheads out of his pocket. They was real valuable. He said he’d give five dollars to anybody who found ‘em.”

Jeff swung his leg off the bike and propped it on the kickstand.  He bent over, examining the ground while kicking gravel around as if he were angry at it. “He lost them here?”

“Yeah,” David said. “He said he could of lost ‘em here. But he might have lost them over by the fence at the other end of the pasture. I was going over there in a minute. Wanna go?”

“Mama told me not to play with you.”

Jeff’s words made the inside of David’s throat feel all raw. He took a deep breath and swallowed real hard. “We wouldn’t be playing,” he said. “We’d be like working. You know, looking for treasure and stuff. Your mama wouldn’t care about you working. Hey, we could split the reward, and there’s another five dollars if we spot a blue car out on the street.”

“A blue car?”

“Yeah,” David said. “A dirty long one with a mushed in side. McWhorter wants me to warn him about that car. I think McWhorter might be a spy or something.”

“McWhorter. He lives in the trailer park?”

David nodded.

“Mama said nothing but trash lived in the trailer park.”

“He’s giving  five dollars to tell him the car’s coming,” David said. “That’s all I know.”

Jeff always believed anything he said.  Just as David thought he would, Jeff followed him like a loyal soldier through the gap in the fence and around the trailer park to the tight strands of barbed wire that bordered the field where the owner of the trailer park pastured his cattle. The boys crawled under the wire and charged down the hill toward the copse of sycamores that shaded the creek.

            They slowed to a tiptoe when they approached the water and snuck up on three crawfish patrolling the sandy bottom of a shallow pool. The sight of one crawfish would have been enough to make them forget about arrowheads or a blue car, but three of those clawed monsters skittering through the sand kept them from hearing Jeff’s mama call from the top of the hill. Jeff splashed into the creek behind David with his shoes on, causing the crawfish to scoot under the smooth rocks. By the time David trapped one specimen as long as his hand, Jeff’s mama hovered over them on the bank, brandishing a switch she had stripped from a young sapling. “Didn’t I tell you to stay away from this trailer trash?” she screamed. “Just look at your shoes. You come out of that water right now.”

            Jeff waded toward his mama, breaking into tears as if he already felt the sting of the switch on his flesh. “And you, you little trailer-trash devil,” the woman screeched, now waving her switch at David. “If I catch you in my yard or near my boy again, I’ll call the police to you.”

            David dropped his crawfish and stepped out of the water, giving the woman and her switch a wide berth. He watched the woman bend to grab Jeff’s shoulder and swing her arm in a wide arc. When she brought her arm down, the switch whapped against Jeff’s bare legs, leaving a red stripe on the skin on both of his calves. David ran up the hill, listening to the rhythmic squishing of his feet inside his wet shoes and Jeff crying behind him.    

When he got home, he kicked off his wet shoes and left them to dry on the deck.  His tee shirt was all sweaty, and the air-conditioning chilled him as he stepped inside the trailer. His mama was no longer on the couch, and he could hear water running in the bathroom. Soap and his mama’s sweet perfume now mingled with the usual scent of stale beer and tobacco wafting through the vents. 

“Davy, is that you, baby?” his mama called, stepping into the narrow hallway.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

She walked into the living room wearing a pair of loose fitting blue pants and a beige top, both waffled by the heat of the clothes dryer. “I’m going down to the store to get some PBR and Virginia Slims. You want to go?” she said, wincing as she plowed through the tangles in her hair with a plastic brush.

“No,” he said. “I’ll stay and watch cartoons.”

“I’ll get you some Oreos and potato chips. And when I get back, I’ll fix us a sandwich.” 

After she left, David turned on the TV and realized he was too late for cartoons. So he turned the TV off, dropped down on the floor and rolled his truck from under the couch. He had worn his knees sore pretending he had driven across the country and back again when he was startled by a knock at the door. The knock sounded just like his mama when she forgot her keys. He was afraid she would get angry if he left her too long in the hot sun.

He swung the door open to a smile that stretched across a broad, clean-shaven face and ended in dimples as deep as wounds on each of the stranger’s cheeks. The man stood tall and lean on the deck of the trailer with damp circles darkening the underarms of his white shirt. A black leather satchel as big as a suitcase was propped against his leg, and he had the dark coat of his suit slung across his shoulder like a cape.

            “Your folks at home?” the man asked through the smile.

            David shook his head.  He glared at the tie hanging from his loosened collar—all yellow with blue dots.

            “They gonna be back soon?”

            David nodded, thinking he should slam the door and run, but there was something about the smile on the man’s face that held him.

            The man chuckled. “What’s your name, pal?”

            “David.”

            “David?” the man said, shaking his head as though David had just said the most amazing thing he ever heard. “Boy, have I got a story for you.” He bent over, unlatched the top of his satchel and removed a thick, black book that took both his hands to lift. He thumbed through its shiny pages until he came upon a full-page colored picture of an armored giant wielding a sword at a hillside full of people. A small boy stood in front of the giant, swirling something over his head.

“This giant named Goliath came to take over, and all these soldiers,” he said, pointing at the people on the hillside, “were scared to death of him. But this boy wasn’t afraid. Do you know why he wasn’t afraid?”

David shook his head.

“Because God told him to be brave, and to go out and sling a rock at that giant. And look what happened.”

The man turned the page to a picture of the boy standing on top a dead giant, bleeding from a small hole in his forehead.

“He killed the giant?” David said, touching the picture where the giant’s blood glistened from the slick colored paper.

“He did. And you know what that boy’s name was?”

David shook his head.

“He was named David, just like you. I’ll bet you’d like to take a closer look at this book, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah,” David said, holding his hands out.

“Why don’t we go inside and wait for your folks? We can look at the book till they get back.”

David backed away from the door, keeping his eyes glued on the book the man cradled under his arm while he bent to pick up his satchel with the other.

“Whew!” the man said after stepping into the cool air inside the trailer. “Man, it—is—hot—out—there.” He parked the satchel on the floor, his nose crinkling at the overflowing ashtray and the jumble of beer cans. He eased himself down with the book in his lap and patted the seat next to him. 

David joined him on the couch, and the man opened the book to reveal other pictures of this David. In one of them he was playing a harp, and in another he was watching a bunch of sheep. David didn’t care much about harps and sheep and was anxious to get back to the giant killing. The man flipped a couple of pages to the pictures he had shown before. He was telling David all about the sling the boy used when David’s mama stepped up on the deck.

The door swung open and she walked in calling, “Davy,” before spotting the salesman. “Who the hell are you?” she snarled, stomping across the room and dropping a brown grocery bag down on the kitchen table.

“Ma’am,” the salesman said, standing and dropping the book behind him on the cushion. “My name is Russell Hutton, and I represent the Eternal Light Publishing Company. I was just showing your boy one of our most popular volumes of illustrated Bible stories.”

Her chest heaved as if she’d been running, and her face was flushed as red as the coiled eyes on the electric stove. Before she could explode, he sprang to his feet and ran to her side. “Mama,” he said, “it’s a real cool book. It’s got pictures of this kid named David killing a giant.”

David squeezed her hand, speeding through the story the man had told him while she looked down on him, her eyes going soft as they always did when he spoke to her. When her breathing subsided and her face faded from red to pink, David asked, “Can I have it, Mama?”

“How much is it?” she snapped, her narrowed eyes now returning to the salesman.

“Well,” the salesman, said. “This book is part of a four-volume set. What I would have to do is take your order, and when the publisher ships the set to me, I’ll bring them back.”

“I don’t want to hear about no set,” she said. “How much for that book right there?”

“This book is just a sample, ma’am. I have to use it to show my customers.”

“If you sell me anything at all, it’s going to be that very book right there. And it’s gonna be now ‘cause you ain’t coming back, sneaking in here when I’m not around, getting my boy all excited. Now, how much?”

“I guess I can let you have it for fifty dollars,” the salesman said, shrugging.

“Fifty dollars?” she yelled. “For a goddamn book?”

“Ma’am, the entire set is two-hundred-and-forty-nine dollars. The volume is chocked with beautifully illustrated colored pictures. I’m giving you a deal on that book.”

“Deal?” she said. “Hell that book’s been used already. No telling how many people’ve fingered through it. I’ll give you fifteen for it.”

“I’m not really allowed to do this, but the boy is so taken with it and all, I guess I could let it go for thirty. That’s as low as I can go. I’m taking a loss on it at that price.”

“Davy,” she said, her voice now pleading. “This is just too much, Honey. I was going to make one of the TV payments. Remember?”

“Yeah,” David said, but his throat burned when he swallowed. When the tears welled up in his eyes, he turned away to keep the salesman from seeing him.

She pulled him to her leg and held him there for a moment, patting his back. Then she stomped to the kitchen counter, cursing under her breath as she opened a drawer. She walked over to the salesman and handed him a wad of bills. “There!” she said. “Now get out!”

After the salesman had gone, David crawled back up on the couch and slid the big book across his lap. He could hear his mama pacing the floor, talking to herself. And he looked up from his pictures when the volume of her voice rose from her grumbling.  “Didn’t I tell you not to ever let anybody wearing a necktie in this house?” she yelled.

“You not gonna hit me, are you Mama?”

“Hit you?” she said, walking over where he sat and wrapping her arms around him. “I ever hit you, baby?”

“No.”

“You can just get that out of your little head ‘cause I ain’t ever gonna hit you. But you gonna have to learn to do what Mama says.”

            Every time his mama walked by the book she snarled down at it as if it were a vile character in one of her TV stories. But sometimes, he was able to charm her into muting the TV long enough to hoist the big tome up onto her lap and read to him. He liked the coat of many colors story and was thrilled by the strongman, Samson. But he always wanted to get back to the boy who killed the giant.

            “Not that old thing again,” his mama groaned.

            “Just one more time, Mama,” he said.

            “You can read this thing yourself. Heck, you ought to know it by heart, by now.”

            “I like it better when you read it.”

            So she read it to him, again and again. She even fashioned a sling for him, lopping off the fingers from one of his daddy’s old leather gloves, punching two holes on each side of the remaining palm and tying long shoestrings in the holes. The first time he tried the sling,the rock whapped him on the arm. Before long, he had rocks flying all over, bouncing off the ground, sailing into the trees, and once he had to run and hide when one of them popped against the window of old man McWhorter’s trailer, cracking a spidery pattern in the glass.

            With the homemade sling swinging at his side, he walked along the fence bordering the street as if he were a soldier on sentry duty. He pretended the cows were the Philistines from the book, and he slung rocks at them till he got bored. He leaned against the creosoted fence post, trying to think up another story he could act out when  he saw the blue car he’d been looking for rolling along the street.  With his heart whacking away, he scattered the cows as he ran through them and took out across the field in a dead run. He splashed through the creek, and ducked under the rusty barbed wire. Old Man McWhorter’s weenie dog yelped at him as he ran around his trailer.

            The TV was blaring away when he charged in the back door. He was so breathless he could barely gasp “Darryl...”

            His mama looked up. “Darryl’s coming,” he said.

            “Oh, shit!” his mama said.  She jumped up and clicked off the TV. She grabbed David’s hand and pulled him out the backdoor. They snuck around Old Man McWorter’s, the weenie dog kicking up a fuss. “Shut up,” his mama said to the dog. “That thing’s blind as a bat. Ain’t got no idea what he’s even barking at.”

            He and his mama stood across the street between the Green’s and the Brasher’s trailers snickering together as Darryl banged on their door and yelled out, “Mizz Clayton! I know you in there. I need a payment or I’m gonna have to take that TV.”

            Like before, Darryl gave up. And after he drove off, his mama smiled down at him and said, “We pulled it on him again. Didn’t we Davy?” David wished they could pull it on him every day.

That night he saw his mama swallow the last of her PBRs. She turned her eyes to him and said, “See what I was telling you? Because of you and that ol’ Bible salesman, I can’t make a payment on the TV. I can’t even get no more PBRs till we get our next check.”

After a few days, she stubbed out her final cigarette in the ashtray. She sat restlessly watching TV for a while. She jumped up and rambled through the trailer, emptying the shelves and drawers and pacing the floor like a prisoner. “I know I left half a pack around her somewhere,” she said. “God!” she said, stretching her arms far apart. “I could smoke a Virginia Slim this long.”

            The next morning David woke to the sound of rattling cans. He walked into the living room where his mama was clearing the cans from the coffee table and the floor and dropping them into a long plastic bag. He wiped the sleep from his eyes as she sprayed a lemony fog over the table and wiped away the blanket of white cigarette ashes. “If I can’t smoke, I gotta be doing something,” she said.

While she worked she kept the volume on the TV turned up so loud it sounded as if the people in the stories were shouting at each other. Sometimes their shouts lured her back to her place on the couch. For a while she lowered the volume, furrowed her brow, and watched the images move across the screen as she always had. But more and more she interrupted her cleaning to stand by the window and stare at the street.

“You still watching for Darryl?” she asked, a threatening frown clouding her face.

David nodded. But he’d forgotten all about Darryl.

At noon on the day Darryl came back, his mama stopped cleaning long enough to slather a slice of white bread with ketchup and mustard and wrap it around a weenie she had boiled in a sauce pan until it was all fat and gnarly the way David liked them. She poured him a glass of milk and sat at the kitchen table, looking on as he attacked the food like a wild thing. “You want another one?” she asked when he crammed the last of the sandwich in his mouth.

David shook his head. His cheeks puffed from the wad that filled his mouth as red and yellow juice trickled down his chin. “Then you’d better get back out there and do your job. Ol’ Darryl could be sneaking up on us any minute.”

He wiped his face and hands, and by the time he stepped out on the deck with his sling, she had dragged the old vacuum cleaner from the closet and had it moaning over the carpet like a lonesome train.

He searched for coins all the way to the park entrance without finding any. He watched the cars rumble along the street as the electric chatter of cicadas rose and fell in the trees. The clatter of a screen door and the laughter of children captured his attention.  He dashed between the row of trailers in the direction of the commotion and sneaked around the trees beside the fence.  Through the rusted wires, he could see Jeff and four other boys kicking a ball around in the yard. He slipped through the fence and shouted, “Hey! Me and Jeff and Ronny’ll play the rest of you.”

The boys stopped playing, and Jeff bounded up the steps to the backdoor of his house. He came back out behind his mama. “You get out of here,” she screamed as she stepped into the yard.

David didn’t have to ask who she was screaming at, and he squirmed back through the hole in the fence. “And don’t ever come back,” she yelled.

He backed away from the fence and walked toward home with a burning in his throat and tears in his eyes. He wanted to get home quick because he knew his mama would make him feel better. Halfway to his trailer, the burning in his throat was extinguished by a cold chill spreading through his chest. A white van was parked in front of his trailer. On its side was Rental World written across the picture of a big blue globe.

Darryl stood on the deck, his evil red tie hanging from the collar of his white shirt. Two other men in tee shirts and jeans stood in the yard with their backs leaning against the trailer. David could hear a commercial for Tide washing powder blaring from the trailer while Darryl rapped on the door. “I hear you in there, now, Mrs. Clayton,” Darryl shouted. “You might as well come on out.”

David snuck all the way to the end of the trailer before they noticed him. “You live here, son?” Darryl asked.

David was thinking about the story of the boy killing the giant, but he felt more like one of the frightened people on the hillside in his storybook than the brave young warrior with a sling. His hands trembled as he bent to gather a thumb-sized rock.

“Did you hear me, boy?” Darryl shouted as David placed the rock in the pocket of his sling.

David whirled the sling over his head as the men looked on. One of the strings slipped from his sweaty hand, and the rock shot out in front of him like a missile, careening off the side of the trailer with a sharp ping before skipping across the top of the white van.

 “Shit! Look out!” Darryl shouted. “Get that little bastard!” One of the men in the yard grabbed David before he could load another rock in his sling.

 “Let me go! Let me go!”  David screamed, thrashing around in the man’s arms.

The front door swung open, and his mama charged out on the deck. “You let my boy go, you son-of-a-bitch,” she snarled.

She knotted up her fist and took a hard swing at Darryl, and the momentum of her punch spun her around. Darryl grabbed her from behind. “Calm down, now, Mizz. Clayton,” he said as she struggled and cursed. “Everything’ll be all right when this thing’s over with.”

He held her until her curses lost their venom and she fell limp in his arms. When he finally released her, she trudged off the deck to take David from his captor.  

“Get the TV,” Darryl commanded.

His mama stood and held onto his hand as the men rushed into the trailer. When they came out lugging the TV, she squeezed his fingers so tight he almost cried out. When the men swung the TV into the van, she loosened her grip while emitting a sigh that sounded like a wounded animal.

 Some of the neighbors ventured out on their decks and stoops, and a few peeked around the corners of their trailers.

“Let’s get away from all these snooping eyes,” she said.

David followed her inside. The room felt so empty it made him wonder if the TV had been much bigger than he remembered. This whole thing wasn’t turning out like it had for the boy in the book, he thought as he watched his mama run her finger across the table where the TV had rested. She stared at the line she had drawn in the gray veneer of dust before wiping her finger on the leg of her pants and making her way over to her place on the couch.

“I slung a rock at Darryl, Mama,” he said as she collapsed on the cushion. “But I missed him.”

The little smile on her lips quivered as if it were having a hard time staying on her face. “You was trying to be like that David in the book, wadn’t you?”

He nodded.

“Well, see that David had a big ol’ giant to chunk  rocks at. Shoot anybody can hit one of them. Darryls? Now Darryls  are a heap harder to hit. They’re slippery as all get out, too.  Even I couldn’t’ve  figured he’d show up in a white van.”

“Are we trash, Mama?” he said.

 “Trash?” she snapped. Her eyes narrowed, her face flashed red, and the deep breaths she took snorted through her nose. “Who said we was trash?”

“Jeff’s mama said I was trailer trash, and nobody lived in this trailer park but trash.”

“Jeff? He the one lives in that little ol’ house beside the park?”

David nodded.

She motioned for him to come closer, and she cupped his face in her hands. “Davy, they ain’t nothing about you that’s trash, baby. You’re just as good as Mr. Anybody. Shoot, you’re better’n anybody. A person’d call you that is saying it ‘cause she’s mean and small. She’s trying to take some of the shine off of you and make you feel as small as she is. In the morning, I’ll go over there and have me a little talk with Jeff’s mama. When I get through ‘splainin’ the situation to her, I bet she won’t ever call you that again.”

She sat for the longest time, her eyes so focused on the space where the TV had been she looked as if she were remembering one of the stories that had played out on the screen. David sat down beside her, thinking the story had to be a sad one because she kept wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. As always she’d made him feel better. He was wishing he could do something to keep her from being sad. “I’m sorry they took the TV, Mama,” he said. “When I get bigger I’ll buy you a T.V.”

“Ah,” she said, wiping her eyes, sniffling. “We’ll get us another one. Next one’ll be one we can make the payments on. Shoot, I got something better’n a TV. I got a smart boy who can read me a story. I wish you’d read me one right now.”

He sprang from the couch and hefted the book from the coffee table. He sat back down beside her. “Which one you want me to read?” he said as he flipped pages.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Why don’t you surprise me.”

 

[Check out Mike Burrell's back porch interview]