A little exercise in slang and dialect drawn from watching the judges on television try cases. This is a mixed race romance. If that bothers you, please read something else.
I was just finishing my lunch and had paid my tab. I was sitting on the sidewalk at a little eatery in a tourist town on the North Carolina coast. She came swinging by, maybe even strutting a little. She was tall, with long raven hair gathered in a silver clasp that nestled near her neck, with the loose strands flowing halfway down her back. Her breasts were bouncing in her red silk top with every step she took with her long stride. She wore tight designer jeans and above average heels.
I watched as she went by, intent to see if she was as attractive from the rear as she was from the front. She was that--attractive, I mean. I glanced around and there seemed to be three older youths who were as interested as I was. Maybe not so much in the woman, but in the black shoulder bag that swung from the long strap over the opposite side. Curious, I stood and followed at a distance. The turned into a parking garage and the youths closed up as she started for the elevator.
I closed up too, and we all entered the lift at the same time. I will say she was a little concerned, but put on a brave face. When we reached the fourth level the lift stopped and she waited for the door to open. The biggest youth turned to me, saying, "You don't get off here." He showed me a knife he had hidden by his side.
"Okay, your call." The door started to open and he turned his attention towards it for a second. That's when I hit him in the kidney with all the force I could. Scooping up the knife that flew from his hand, I followed the two others out to where they were accosting the woman. I saw that one of them also had a knife and was trying to cut the strap of the shoulder bag. The other kid was hanging on to her, and the woman was trying to wrestle out of his grasp. I launched myself into the mix. Immediately I was slashed low down in the side for my troubles.
It hurt and as the knife was withdrawn for another try at me, I extended my arm. No attention was paid to me holding the knife, and he kept coming, running right into it. I was knocked down in the process. The kid went down with blood spurting everywhere. The woman was no shrinking violet, for she used her bag as a weapon and clobbered the third boy in the head. He staggered and then ran for the elevator. I was suddenly weak as I flopped around on the deck. The woman had her cell out and was talking rapidly.
I passed into a welcoming darkness. When I became aware, I was lying on a gurney, being loaded into an ambulance where again the light disappeared.
When I next came to, I was in a hospital room hooked up to wires and tubes. I can't say I was hurting, but I was pretty groggy from my medications. A coffee-colored nurse came in, saw I was awake and said there was a policeman that needed to talk to me. He questioned me and I told him the events I remembered as they happened. When I finished he said that I had killed one person, ruptured the kidney of the one in the elevator and they had the third in custody.
"The woman you defended was cut pretty severely in the arm as the thugs tried to get her handbag. She said she wasn't aware she had a defender until after she had been sliced and the kid was down and bleeding. She will be along to thank you for helping her a little later. Don't feel bad about this. We have been trying to find out who was committing these robberies. This is the fourth one, and we are sure these three are the ones that are doing them. Two out of three of the first victims were injured and one wasn't expected to live for awhile. She will, but she won't ever be the same."
The nurse came in. The policeman eased out when she motioned for him to leave. "Will someone please tell me how badly I am injured? It seems as if everyone has an agenda but me."
She laughed at me. "Wimpy white boy, can't take a little slice and lose a little blood. You're fine." She ran something into my ear.
"Ow, what the hell are you doing?"
She paid no attention and kept on talking, "Hey man, you're hot stuff from what everyone tells me. You stopped a regular crime wave all by yourself. I'll bet if it had been me you wouldn't have gone after them boys. It had to be that beautiful chick upstairs that made you do what you did."
"We'll never know will we? What's your name?" The nurse stopped moving around and looked at me.
"Because I want to ask you for a date. I'll need your name and address so I can find where my date lives."
"Why would you want to do that? Take me out on a date, I mean."
"To prove to you that I think you are just as beautiful in my eyes as the woman upstairs."
"Ha! You just think you can get into this little black girl's panties."
"No harm in trying is there? Now tell me how bad I'm hurt. I want to know so I know how long before you can go out with me."
"My name is Piper Burns, just as the name tag says, but I don't go out with my patients. You really are going to be fine. The knife that got you, sliced along your ribs and down into the muscle of your arm as you turned. It nicked a good sized vein when he pulled the knife out. Actually one going in and one coming out. The sudden loss of blood sent you into shock. Of course hitting your head when you went down didn't help much either." She spent another five minutes writing up my chart and then left.
I watched her as she exited the room. There was nothing alike about the woman I had helped and this nurse. The woman I helped, you would say had class, I suppose. Piper was built more like my Mom. I'm not saying my Mom didn't have class, she was just someone you wanted to hug and when you were hugged back it made all your troubles go away. It was doubtful I would ever get to explain this to Piper and why I thought she was beautiful.
I grew up in a mixed race neighborhood. The first girl I kissed had been black and the first girl I made love to was of a mixed race--Chinese and black. My ex-wife had been white, for I thought, with a little prejudice I suppose, that is what I should look for in a mate. The marriage lasted barely sixteen months before I caught her with one of my neighbors. The vows we had taken apparently meant nothing. No kids, anyway, to get in the way of the divorce, which would be final in less than a month.
I was twenty-eight, earned a reasonably good salary, but had to travel on occasion. That was how I discovered my wife's infidelity. I came off the road early and went looking for her. It was the sounds coming from the neighbor's bedroom window that led me to her and to him. I got a few bruises from that little set-to, but not as bad as the ones my neighbor had to contend with. At least he didn't have a knife. This trip down south was my yearly vacation. Time to think about my life. I was sick of collecting all of these hurts.
Then I remembered a short time ago, I had killed a man. Christ, I didn't ever want to do that again. I dropped off to sleep. When I awoke, the woman whose defense I had gone to was sitting beside my bed. Piper came in and started the ritual of taking my vitals. The woman spoke. "Hi there, savior, I'm Sharon Clones. I came in to compare wounds and thank you. We had us quite a time didn't we?"
"Sharon, nice to meet you. I'm Rick Manning. Yes, we had us a time. I don't suppose you know the song by Bobby Bare, 'I'm The Winner, ' do you? It's a ballad about a man that challenges someone to a fight and the guy gets beat up all the time, but his injuries are short of what he gives the other guy--so he is the winner. That's the way I feel."
"Well, I'm going to make it up to you. Just as soon as you are able I'm taking you out so I can really thank you. And when I set out to thank someone, I go all out."
"That's nice. I must tell you I've made a prior date with someone. It is someone I just met recently and I really want to go out with her. We'll see how that works out before I'll consider meeting you. Just coming in to say thank you was all I expected and I appreciate it."
"That's too bad. I was looking forward to showing how appreciative I can be. Are you going to be here in town very long?"
"Not long. This little session here in the hospital has eaten up most of my vacation and I can't extend it."
"I'm going to leave my address and I want you to call me as soon as you are released. Promise?"
"Okay, I'll call." We talked about different things, including the weather. When Sharon was ready to leave, she came to my bed and kissed me. Piper just happened to come in as this was taking place.
Sharon took my hand and placed it on her breast and kissed me again. "I really do want to thank you properly. That's just a little sample. I'll be in tomorrow to see how you are doing. Bye, now."
Piper lit into me as soon as Sharon was out the door. "Boy, you are a fast worker. You ask me for a date. A woman comes in and insists that you take her out and promises more than a sample of what she is going to give you. And to top it off you already have a date with an unknown woman so you can't collect what she is promising. I wouldn't go out with you--ever!"
"Piper, for your information, that unknown woman is you. As for Sharon, I don't intend to go out with her. I said I would call her and I will, but it will be only to make my excuses. I like to do the asking and I usually turn down those that ask me. Now, when I'm not your patient anymore will you please let me take you out?"
"We'll see. I suppose it wouldn't do any harm. I'm not offering what that other woman is though."
"I know that and I'm not the type that will be asking either. All I'm looking for is a pleasant evening with a beautiful companion."
She stopped what she was doing and faced me. "I don't know if you are just a sweet-talking white boy or if you are as nice as you make yourself out to be. I guess I will find out won't I?" Piper whirled and exited the room abruptly. I was smiling for I knew I had overcome her resistance about me taking her out.
I thought I would be out of the hospital in another three days, but it was not to be. I came down with a nasty infection and that extended my stay three more days. This was painful for me, as that inflicted Sharon's daily presence on me that much longer. She seemed bent on the plan to pay me for saving her. I was feeling so sick this turned me off. I asked the doctor to bar Sharon from visiting me until I was feeling better, but she was back a day later.
Piper, now that she had accepted my request for a date, became a friend breezing in to say good morning and saying goodbye when her shift ended. The day I was the most feverish, she asked for an extra shift just so she could be here with me. The next day Sharon was back. Piper came in with her and cautioned her not to upset me as I was still terribly weak. Sharon of course came and kissed me as was her habit by now. I had to put a stop to this.
"Sharon, listen to me. You know nothing about me. You're offering something as a thank you and I'm sure it would be extremely pleasant. I must refuse. I haven't said, but I'm a married man. True, I'll soon be divorced, but while I'm still married, I'm not about to break the vows I made. They were broken, but not by me. I really appreciate your concern for my welfare, but I don't want anything more."
"You're serious aren't you? I have been coming on pretty strong, but it is the only way I could think of to repay you for what may have been the saving of my life. Maybe when we come back for the trial of the two other thugs, we can get together. You will be divorced by then. I'll go along home. I'm giving you my address so if you ever need anything, you will have someone to call. You're quite a guy. I guess you're my white knight in more ways than one." She kissed me and this time I kissed her back.
As soon as she left, Piper hit me with, "You're married and you still asked me out on a date? When were you going to tell me about that little complication?"
"Before we went out you would have known much more about me, that included. For your information, my divorce will be final seventeen days from today. Another thing, my Mom always told me to pick my friends that I was the most comfortable with. I feel comfortable with you and if you had come on to me as Sharon has been doing, you would have been turned down as well. Are you getting a sense of what kind of a person I am yet?"
"But can I believe you? Lord knows I want to. It isn't normal for a white boy to want to take out a black woman without looking for something."
"But you are willing to go out with me to see if I'm what I say I am, aren't you?"
"I'll risk it."
Two days later I was ready to be discharged. I sat in a wheelchair out on the apron to the hospital, waiting for the taxi I had asked to be called to take me to my motel. I was pretty disappointed that Piper didn't come in to work that day. I had her address and a promise, but I missed her for the moment. It was just a moment, for she spoke from a car that had pulled up. "Rick, I'm your driver for today. Do you need help getting in?"
I was weak, but not helpless. I slid into the seat beside her. "I missed you this morning."
"I was hoping you might. I have a few days off and I knew you would need a ride. I arranged it."
"And where would you be taking me? You don't dare take me to my motel and come up to my room with me."
"No I don't, but we are stopping there for your things. I'm taking you home to Mama. She has a room ready for you. That way if you are thinking of doing me wrong, there will be Mama on your conscience as well as me."
"You're safe. God forbid someone's mama got down on me." I smiled at this. I really didn't think this was the reason I was meeting her mother.
"Rick, you may feel free enough to date a black girl, but there is no escaping the fact we are different. I like you, but you should see what our lives and living conditions are like before you get in too deep. You don't mind me doing this do you?"
"No. I think this is very thoughtful of you. Do you have a father or any brothers or sisters?"
"No father. He left years ago. He was trash and Mama got sick of him and kicked him out. I have a brother, Jackson, but I'm afraid he is on the road to being just like my father. It is sad for I do love the little bastard. I only see him when he comes and begs some money off Mama. I don't think he even has an address."
I laid my hand on Piper's arm, telling her I was sorry. She smiled in appreciation. We soon pulled up in front of a well-kept little bungalow. There were people everywhere on the street and all of them were black. Piper was glancing sideways at me to see how uncomfortable this might make me. Little did she know that I grew up in a neighborhood much like this, a few more whites maybe, but the area was predominately black.
I eased out of the car and by that time Piper was standing beside me. She didn't take my arm, but stood ready to in case I faltered. When she got to the door, she leaned forward and opened it. "Mama I'm home and I have a friend with me." She closed the door behind us and led me into a sitting room. An older lady that could be Piper's sister, stood waiting to be introduced.
"Mama, this is Rick Manning."
I stepped forward and clasped her hands in mine. "You are as lovely as Piper. Somehow I knew you would be. I want to thank you for inviting me into your home. You can't believe how depressing a motel room is when you aren't feeling well. I'll remember your generosity forever."
"Thank you. I'm pleased Piper has a friend. She doesn't go out much. She works all the time."
"I can see that and she is good at what she does. I've never been in the hospital before, but my stay there under her care was pleasurable and it was all due to her. That is after I got by the pain and started to heal."
"She is a child to be proud of."
After a light lunch we sat in the living room again and I told Piper and Mrs. Burns a little about my job. I explained my having to travel about the northeast as I was a maintenance technician for a manufacturing corporation and did follow-up on the machines they sold when there was a problem. I also alluded to the fact that I was still married, but would be free in a couple of weeks. All I said about my previous wife was that she wanted to pursue a different lifestyle than I was comfortable with so we decided to divorce.
I said I was twenty-eight and enjoyed my work. I was down here in North Carolina on vacation. I explained how I happened to get involved in a tragedy that played itself out with me being injured, not knowing if Piper had told her mother. I did mention that a death resulted in the altercation. I was sorry it happened and at some level I regretted it but didn't feel that I was totally responsible. Mrs. Burns knew all of this and agreed with me. We ended the afternoon with me asking her to join Piper and me at our dinner out, but she convinced me to stay in this evening as I must be tired and needed my rest. I didn't object, especially when she put corned beef and cabbage on the table.
I wiped dishes as Piper washed them. "That's a difference in your people and mine. Black men wouldn't think of doing this. You do it just as if it was a normal thing to do."
"Piper, someday soon we will have a black president. Does that mean that your people, as you call them, are in and whites are out? We really should get beyond thinking like that. I know your people have been disenfranchised for hundreds of years, but some of the blame has to rest at your feet. When I take you out, we will go to a black club and you look at your people. I mean really look at them. Some of them you know are successful and others are losers. Then the next day we could go out into the rural section of the state and find a club that caters to the white people. Do you think I'm going to feel sorry for the losers there either? Nope. Are you going to feel sorry for those blacks at the club? You tell me?"
"What's the answer?"
"Who knows for sure. Maybe a stronger family unit, maybe a little less misplaced pride. By that I mean, I see young black men bragging about having got some poor ignorant girl pregnant just so he can say 'my baby's mama' when he talks about her. Then he will go off and leave them to fend for themselves and the cycle begins all over again. Little black boy grows up and knocks up poor little ignorant black girl. If there was only a time out to stop it all."
"Wow, you must have thought a lot about this."
"I know. Someday I might explain myself. Education is the answer of course. You are the perfect case in point. Either your Mama made you keep going to school or you could see on your own that being like your neighbors would trap you into a sad and depressing life. I know I must sound patronizing, but I don't mean to be. It is just that there is so much potential lost in our young manhood."
Mrs. Burns who had been near enough to hear me said, "But none of them will listen. I have a son and he won't listen. He doesn't work and as soon as he reached sixteen and half way through the eighth grade, he was out of school. He is seventeen now and it all looks so hopeless." She shook her head and I knew she was in agony over her youngest child. "Mr. Manning, you must be tired. Piper will show you to your room."
"Thank you. You are so kind."
"What would you like for breakfast? We have two things, grits and sorghum or sorghum and grits." Mrs. Burns smiled as she said this. I was guessing her larder was about empty. "Grits would be great." Piper apologized for the skimpy choices as she wouldn't be getting paid until tomorrow and would have to go in for her pay envelope at that time. I felt bad for I had really dug into the meal that was served last night. Most likely there would have been hash this morning if I hadn't made such a pig of myself. I said nothing.
"Is there a grocery store near here? I need cigarettes."
"Yes, down and over one street. I don't remember you smoked?"
"See, there is a lot you don't know about me. May I borrow your car?"
"Sure, go ahead. You be careful, you know you aren't well yet."
"Okay, Piper the nurse." I grinned at her and she grinned back.
This was definitely a black neighborhood. I saw only a half-dozen whites while in the store. I bought two bags full of meat and staples. When I came out there was a black teenager standing near the car. I unlocked the car and deposited the groceries in the trunk. I started to get in when he asked, "What you doin' with ma sister's car? She don' let no one drive it."
"Your name Jackson?"
"Get in. I'll take you home. Yo' Mama missin' you."
"You know nothin' 'bout ma Mama."
"I know she got dumb-ass nigger boy fo' son."
"I got bacon, sausage an' egg. Yo' want some? Roast pok' fo' dinna' an' pie."
Jackson got in the car. He stared at me as I pulled out of the parking lot. "Who you? Piper nev-brung no white man home befo."
"Patient of Piper's. We have a date tonight."
"You'll see. How come you hangin' here?" I had seen Jackson diving in one of the dumpsters behind the grocery when I drove up.
"Nothin' else to do."
"Why ain' yo workin'?"
"Nobody hirin' except dealers."
"Yo' wan' work?"
"Up n'oth'. Stepdad has 'im a crew."
"Where I live?"
"Ma' Mama and 'im's got room. Yo' might outa' go. Make yo' Mama proud."
"I think 'bout it."
"I be leaven' 'morrow night."
"Lets yo' kno'."
When I pulled into the Burns' yard, Jackson carried in one of the bags and set it on the kitchen table. I couldn't tell if Piper was glad to see him or not. They squared off. "What are you here for? Mama hasn't any money."
"No, not 'dat. What'cha' doin' with this honky? He say you an' 'im are goin' out on a date. Ain' us-uns good 'nough for yo'?"
"That's none of your business who I date. I'm better than the trash you hang out with. You don't work and probably never will. You quit school remember?"
"Got me job if'en I wan' it."
"What, dealing drugs?"
"No Sis, 'struction. Only thing, I got to leave 'ome. It be up n'oth. Place to live an' ever'thin'. So there."
"I don't believe it."
Jackson turned to me. "Tell 'er."
"He is correct. My stepdad does run a construction business. My mom works for the business as an accountant. She'll put Jackson on if I ask her to. She'll probably make him go to night school to keep him out of trouble. If he turns out lazy, they'll pay his way home, so it is entirely up to him what he makes of this opportunity."
"He's only seventeen and black. Would it be safe for him? You say you travel and a lot could happen to him when you aren't around."
"As far as him being black, there are a lot of blacks on the crew. Mom doesn't allow any harassment. I did just as Jackson will be doing when I was his age and for the same reasons. I think I have turned out okay. He'll be safer there than here with his friends. He hasn't said he wants to go yet."
Jackson turned to his mother. "Wha' yo' think Mama?"
Mrs. Burns turned to me. "Could you call and make sure he has a job before he leaves? I don't want him to get up there and find he won't be hired."
"Sure. I'll ring the company for you and you ask for Betty Wareham. You tell her that I'm staying overnight with you and then I'll ask her to hire Jackson. She'll want to know a little bit about him, so either you or Piper can talk to her."
Mrs. Burns talked to my mother and let her know a little more about my situation than I expected her to. I wasn't going to mention to Mom that I had been injured and I spent five extra minutes explaining what happened. I was fine now I assured her. I then asked her about hiring Jackson. She said they could use him. "Whats kind of a kid is he?"
"Mom, he is about like me when I was his age. His mom is nice and his sister is very nice. She was my nurse when I was in the hospital. She invited me home for a couple days of extra care and that's why I'm here. Yes, she is here and you can talk to her. You ask her about her brother. She probably knows him better than his mother." I passed the phone to Piper.
I guess Mom told Piper my life story for they talked forever it seemed. Every once in a while Piper would look at me, and I knew Mom was passing on some secret about me. I finally took the phone out of Piper's hand and said, "You have to hang up now Mom. I'll be home tomorrow night about midnight. I'll bring Jackson over the next morning. He can sleep at my apartment and I'll see you in the office when we get up. Love you."
I turned to Jackson. "It looks like you have a job, just as I promised. You'll be gone three months before you see your folks again. I have to be down here for a court date. I'll arrange for you to come home for a few days at that time."
"How come yo' have ta' be in court?"
"I was in a fight. That's why I was in the hospital."
"What's yo' name? Nobody said."
"O shit. You killed some 'un. I 'erd 'bout it."
Piper and Mrs. Burns took up for me immediately, telling him how I was protecting a woman and that I was wounded before I hurt the other person. Piper finally went and got a newspaper that she had saved telling about the fight. He was so excited she had to read it to him. When she finished reading, Jackson was looking at me as if I was a celebrity. I hoped I wasn't going to have trouble over this.
Jackson had one more question for me. "How come yo' talk like I do?"
"Simple, I grew up in a mostly black neighborhood. That was my first language. I didn't learn to talk correctly until I was about your age. I changed for where would I be if I tried to get a good job talking as you do? That will be part of your job--learning to speak correctly. Maybe I forgot to mention it, but my stepdad has a little church and he helps people where and when he can. He is a quiet kind of man and you'll find yourself wanting to hear some praise from him. You'll have to earn it though."
"What he goin' say when he find out you done kill a man?"
"He won't like it. He will question me closely about my feelings, both when it happened and how I felt afterwards. Sometimes he appears to be able to look deep into your soul. There is no use trying to lie to him or cover something up, for he will know. In all honesty, I believe in another time he would have been a great man. For now, I'm just thankful I know him."
Mrs. Burns went about preparing the roast I had purchased. The only thing she said by way of thanks was a quiet thank you. More and more I was coming to appreciate this woman. Piper though, burst out with, "I don't see any cigarettes." I just grinned at her.
I laid down in the afternoon. Mrs. Burns still wouldn't join Piper and me for the evening out. Piper was dressed in a dark brown suit with red facings. It was not evening wear, but she was extremely attractive in it. I asked Piper to choose where we would dine. She chose a nice restaurant and we were very comfortable dining among the mix of interracial patrons.
When we came out I asked her to choose a club that had live music. "Are you sure you would feel okay at a black club?"
"Let me turn that around. Will you be comfortable being there with a white man?"
"I can handle it if you can."
"Okay, let's go."
There were a few white people scattered about the club, although there seemed to be more white women then white men. As the evening wore on, the crowd was becoming more and more boisterous. Piper and I sat and watched the men strut their stuff out on the dance floor. I didn't feel up to it, but I knew I could do as well when I felt better.
Suddenly a white woman grabbed a chair from the next table and swung it in next to mine. "Well what do you know, if it isn't Rick Manning."
Sharon Clones was the last person I wanted to meet and her partner or date was a large man several sizes bigger than me. She was dressed to show off her body. Whatever class I had attributed to her had disappeared. It got worse. With a questioning look at Piper, she asked, "Who is this? She looks familiar."
I was sharp, for Sharon should have recognized her. "This is Piper Burns. She was my nurse in the hospital." Just then the man came and stood next to Sharon. He was taller than I was by about three inches and weighed several pounds more than I did. He spoke, "Hi Piper. Is this white boy your date?"
"Yes he is Brian. Rick, meet Brian Turley. Brian and I went to school together. This is Rick Manning. If you want to know a bit about Rick, I'm sure Sharon can fill you in. Sit with us if you'd like. You don't mind do you Rick?"