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Excerpt from Cheeseburger
It’s been three months since any pitch forks and moons have appeared on Mama’s picket fence. Ain’t no boys been hangin’ around it. I don’t have to hold my head down when I walk by the fence, pretendin’ I don’t see Cheeseburger and Polo Mack. They really ain’t there no more. Mama still fussin’ at me. She’s fussin’ at me ‘cause my best friend Thelma is dead. The whole town is talkin’ about Thelma’s death. My Mama, every night, gets down on her knees and thanks God it wasn’t me. She prays hard. Her dress breaks out in patches of sweat. Then she gets off her knees and turns to me with her black finger stiff as iron in my face and says, “See what ol’ no good nigguhs will do to you? I used to see you bouncin’ yourself in front of them boys. You couldn’t even walk shoulder to shoulder with Albert Brown, but you sure knew how to bounce around in front of them thugs. I’d pray to God that nothin’ happened to you. Thelma’s Mama oughta have kept a tighter rein on her girl. Lord, have mercy. Raped and then stabbed that child fifteen times! Lord, have mercy. I’ll bet them nigguhs that hung around that fence did it. They would have done you like that, but I kept a tight rein on you. I didn’t let you run here and yonder.” “Mama, anybody could have done it. People got raped before them boys moved down here.” Mama frowns at me. “You talkin’ about what Ida Mae said that man done to her?” Mama snorted: “That man didn’t rape Ida Mae. He just didn’t pay for what he got from her. That’ll happen to any ol’ prostitute. And fool, didn’t you see what the paper said Thelma said before she died? She kept callin’ somethin’ like “Hamburger” over and over, like it was somebody’s name. Seems like I heard one of them thugs use that name.” I get a hot and burnin’ feelin’ inside my stomach. For some reason, I have to open my mouth and fend off Mama’s words. “Mama, lots of boys have nicknames. Franklin that goes to our church, they call him ‘l1D’ ‘cause his feet ...” “All right, fool,” Mama cut me off and lapsed into her sad voice. “Lord, Thelma sure had a sad funeral. I thought they were goin’ to have to dig a grave for her Mama too, the way she carried on. Poor thing. All them tears won’t bring her Thelma back. She should’ve kept a tight rein on her.” I slip off to my room and lay in the dark while Mama rambles on about them tight reins. Mama gets too heavy to take sometimes. I hear her voice comin’ from the kitchen. She half sings and half talks to herself while she doin’ the dishes. I think about Thelma. I think about our fuss and me slammin’ the door in her face. Then I see her layin’ in her casket. She’s black and ashy, like she’s been dusted with white powder. Her eyes look like they want to come open. She wears a satin white gown. For a minute I think she’s breathin’. I wonder if she can come back and scare me. Then my mind drifts to Cheeseburger. If he could sleep with me at night, wouldn’t be scared. I’d wrap my arms around him and he would love me. I wonder why he don’t hang around the fence no more. He didn’t rape Thelma. It’s probably that ol’ Polo Mack who did it. And he night be done killed Cheeseburger to keep him from tellin’ it. They gonna find Cheeseburger dead. I’ll be a widow like my Mama. And I’ll never marry again. Mama should’ve called the police on Polo Mack for hangin’ around her fence. The police would’ve put him in jail, but they would’ve left Cheeseburger alone. And Mama would’ve found out Cheeseburger was a good boy, and tol’ me I ought to one day marry a boy like that. But then, I wouldn’t have wanted Cheeseburger after Mama said that. I would’ve taken Prince away from Thelma.