The first time Tammy ever wore make up was in forth grade. Naturally, I was curious. When I asked her, she said she was trying something new. She wanted to look like a grown-up. I believed her. After all, I was trying to convince my parents to let me get contacts because I thought it would get me to look more adult.
After lunch and recess, I found out the real reason for the make up. It was Mister Jensen who discovered it; a bruise on the right side of her face being concealed by fading layers of base make up. Tammy looked ashamed when she was asked about it.
“I fell off the swing at home,” she said, and I knew it was a lie. There wasn’t a swing set at Tammy’s house.
First, I told my daddy. Then, I told Grandma. That was when I found out my Uncle Joseph might not be such a nice person. It was then I found out how he and my daddy, who always seemed to get along so well in front of me, in fact, often argued like Cain and Able. Grandma got after Joseph. Threatening to, and maybe actually, slapping Aunt Shelly around was one thing.
“But you do not put hands on your daughter like that,” she said. “You ever do that again, and I’ll give you a beating like back when you were a boy.”
And Joseph disappeared for a few years afterward. If the rest of the family knew where he went, they never told me or Tammy. Shelly certainly seemed happier. He didn’t come to my parents’ funeral, but Grandma said that was okay. She said he needed to be gone for a while.
When Shelly got cancer so bad the doctors had to cut her tits off, Joseph came back. He said he was changed man. But there was a rumor he beat the holy living out Shelly the night before she died. Tammy wanted the law to get involved, but that was when Paul Tucker first got on the force.
Back in school, Tucker ran with the supremacist boys. I got into more than one fight with him simply because I like the blues and that made me a race traitor in his eyes. When he first got on the force, if he couldn't find a way to put every crime in Blacksnake on those people than he wasn’t interested. If Joseph Storm was putting hands on his wife it wasn’t a big deal. At least he was white.
The door to Joseph’s house is wide open. It’s a hot day and there was never air conditioning there. Out of habit and courtesy, I knock on the doorframe as I let myself in.
He’s sitting on the couch in front of the television. There’s an open bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the coffee table that’s about half gone. I’ve never liked Jack Daniel’s. It makes me mean. Part of me wants to ask him if he just started that bottle today. I dismiss the question quickly, remembering the message I sent to Tammy as I left the home;
Your daddy and I are gonna have a come to Jesus…
“When did you get into town?” Joseph asks me. The slur in his voice lets me know he’s been drinking. His tone is dismissive. He’s never really liked me since I told my daddy and Grandma about the time Tammy had the bruise on her face.
“A few hours back,” I say. “Tam-Tam told me Grandma’s fading.”
“That old bat ain’t never gonna die,” Joseph says as he takes a drink of Jack straight from the bottle.
“She seemed pretty convinced of it at the home,” I say.
“She’s been ‘pretty convinced’ the last couple years,” Joseph snorts. He holds up the bottle. “Wanna drink?”
“I’ll think about it,” I say, taking the bottle. I’ve never liked Jack Daniel’s. It makes me mean. “Y’know, Grandma looked pretty…rough.”
Joseph is suddenly standing. He’s trying to tower over me, like he was able to when I was growing up. The thing is, I’m taller than him now. He’s swaying slightly. I can smell the whiskey on him.
“That old bitch shits herself and expects me to clean it up!” He snaps. “And she’s laughing at me! All telling me how she used to change my diapers and now we’re even…”
I take a good long pull from the bottle, as if to steel myself from what I’m hearing. It feels like I’m drinking kerosene. When I drink whiskey, it’s good scotch with Jazz-Cat Hobbs or fine Irish with Rollins, when he doesn’t want tequila. I’ve never liked Jack Daniel’s. It makes me mean.
“You gonna have another drink there, boy? Or are you gonna give me back the bottle?”
And I smash the bottle across his face. There’s the musical sound of breaking glass and the spray of sour mash whiskey and blood. I’d feel bad about the waste of liquor, but it’s only Jack Daniel’s. Joseph is screaming indecipherable obscenities as he falls backward. Before he can start to get back up, the toe of my right boot catches him in the ribs, sending him rolling across the floor.
“My daddy taught me you do not put hands on a woman!” I yell, kicking him again. “Especially not your own mother!”
He tries to get up, but my left fist slamming into his nose solves that problem. A rational man might feel bad for beating up his drunk uncle. Right now, I’m pretty far from rational. I find I’m almost enjoying myself.
“You better kill me, boy!” Joseph roars. “’Cause otherwise I’m gonna kill you!”
I kick him in the ribs again. There’s a wet snapping sound that tells me I’ve broken bones. I realize I still have the pointed remnants of the Jack Daniel’s bottle in my right hand. Something between a smile and a snarl forms on my face as I realize I’m not going to have a problem cutting his throat.
Someone’s grabbing my right wrist, forcing the jagged glass from my hand. I’m being pushed to the floor. My left arm is being grabbed too. There’s a metallic click as handcuffs are fastened behind my back. I look up to see Paul Tucker. There are other men in uniform with him; another Blacksnake pig and what looks like an EMT.
“You’re confused, Tucker,” I growl. “Ain’t no colored folk here to nightstick. Just a friendly family discussion.”
“Keep your mouth shut!” He orders and then turns his attention to the EMT. “Check him.”
The EMT goes over to help Joseph sit up. There are cuts and bruises. It looks like his nose is broken. I’m simultaneously impressed and sickened by what I’ve done to him.
“Looks like he’ll live,” the EMT says.
“Too bad,” Tucker mutters. He gestures to the other officer. “Cuff him and put him in the car.”
“What the hell?!?” Joseph exclaims. “I’m the one who got assaulted!”
“Shut up, Joe!” Tucker snaps. “I done saw what you did to my fiancée’s grandma.”
“’Fiancée’?!?” Things have now taken a turn for the surreal. “What’d you do, Tuck? Put a gun to her head and tell her she was gonna marry you?”
“Now ain’t the time to talk about this, Josh,” he says with remarkable clam. “And unless you wanna share a cell with your uncle you’re gonna stay quiet now.”
I watch the other officer handcuff Joseph, whose glaring daggers at me. He’s getting his rights read as he’s ushered out the door. Tammy’s walking in, her eyes swollen and bloodshot from crying. Once the EMT walks out, Tucker unlocks the cuffs. Even as they’re removed, I can still feel the cold metal biting into me.
“This is a helluva way to find out you went Eva Bram, Tam,” I say, rubbing my wrists.
“Mind your mouth, Joshua!” She snaps. “Now ain’t the time.”
“That’s just what the Gestapo here was saying,” I shoot back. At any other time, I might’ve found it strange how Tucker visibly shudders at my remark.
“Joshua Allen!” She starts crying again. I expect her to lay into me for what I did to her daddy. But instead; “Grandma…she’s…gone..”
All fall down…