Saying what happened over the next few weeks was like a dream would be cliché. I want to say it was more like a bad acid trip, but that also might just be a lie. My only experience with acid has only been from the over embellished stories of gutter punks at late-night coffee houses and after school specials.
Tammy and I went back to the home. There we cried and held each other over Grandma’s body. Tucker would later tell us Grandma was not the first victim of Joseph’s temper or the rest of the home’s staff denial, but she was the one that was easiest to confirm. There had been an ongoing investigation.
“It’s terrible that it took your grandma getting beat to shit and dying for something to finally get done,” he would say to me later. It was terrible, and nothing, not even justice being served, would bring Grandma back, but sometimes, something, like justice being served, is the best you can hope for.
Paul Tucker and I had a long talk about what’d happened with him over the last seven years. The best he could figure as to not being as much of a bigot was working with another former schoolmate named Tyrone Brinkley. Somehow, working together, Tucker began to understand not all dark-skinned people were ignorant criminals. They even hung out a few times, although Tucker kept that little fact from the rest of his family.
“I could never date or marry one of them,” he said. “But they ain’t all bad, I reckon.”
When I would later tell this story to my friends, it would be greeted with eye rolls, disgusted sighs, and the term redneck being used in a less than flattering manner. I understood why; where we lived, compared to where I came from, the only thing that really changed was Tucker wasn’t going to one day dress up in a bed sheet and burn a cross. Still, in a place like Blacksnake, maybe that was just the best you could hope for.
The incident at the home did make the news. The brutality of some of the staff, and the willingness of other staff members, including administration, to cover it up. There were additional resignations and arrests. Tucker said about half of which was done for show as damage control. Along with the rest of the force, he made sure the cameramen and pushy journalists didn’t bother us much as we put Grandma in the ground.
For spending ten years in a home, I was amazed to find out she had anything left over. Being sick in America is never cheap after all. From way back when Papa was still alive, she’d made investments. Those investments were for the grandbabies, no matter what. Tammy had been named the executer of the estate.
“Grandma told me the one of the last times you two spoke, you wanted to travel to Borneo,” she said after the funeral. “Reckon I’ll be getting you the ways and means.”
“Reckon so,” I was too amazed to say much else.
“But you gotta come back for my wedding, Joshie. I want you to be the one to give me away,” Tammy said and I gave her a shocked look. “You think even if my daddy wasn’t in jail he’d walk me down the aisle? You think I’d let him?”
I was staying in Blacksnake for a few more days after the funeral, to help get things sorted. Carmen called me one night, which was kind of nice since, like most my friends I told, she’d already expressed her condolences. Kisshandra sent a brief sorry text, but we’d not spoken since that day at my place when I offered to take her to Borneo. I meant to try and talk to her when I got back.
Carmen basically wanted us to stop trying to go on dates. Considering how our dynamic changed after the morning at Café Nairobi, I was neither terribly surprised or hurt. She still wanted to hang out and everything, mentioning how she did really like everyone I was friends with.
“I guess I’d like to discuss it more when you get back, if that’s okay,” she said.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. “I’m thinking about having everyone over for dinner. You can bring wine.”
Jazz-Cat Johnny Hobbs called a half hour later helped clarified things. One night, at Juke, he was talking with Carmen and histories got brought up; his with Kisshandra’s as well as mine. The question of whether either of us could or would belong to someone. There was what was described as my obsession with Borneo. Carmen and Hobbs started to notice a chemistry between them.
“Are you asking my permission, Jazz-Cat?” I was trying not to laugh.
“I knew Carmen wanted to tell you, Stormy,” he said. “And we’ve been friends for awhile now and I wanted you to know.”
“Hey, if she wants to sleep with someone who can’t even pronounce ‘out’ or ‘about’ instead of someone who sometimes says ‘ya’ll’ and ‘reckon’, that’s her thing,” I said. “I’m cool with it.”
He laughed, and almost told me to go fuck myself over the out or about remark. We discussed the others and jazz records. I extended my budding dinner invitation, which he accepted graciously. He promised he’d get Kisshandra to show up, and told me not to worry too awful much about her not calling me lately.
Finally, I left Blacksnake. It’s been a few days and it feels good to be back at what I call home these days. Good to my word, I arrange a night to have everyone over for dinner. Between Hobbs and Carmen, drinks are covered. Rio had cleaned my place once when I was away, but gave it a polish the day after I got back. Rollins mentioned a few records he found out of Mozambique he thought might trip my trigger and Jules said something about bringing a cake.
I’m in the middle of prepping when I hear my door open. At first, I wonder if it’s the landlord, but then remember I’d loaned out my spare key. I needed someone to come by every so often to look after my bonsai trees. She’s standing in to doorway, almost nervously. It’s strange to see her looking so unsure. She’s never unsure.
“Hey, baby,” I say, looking up from what I’m doing.
“I saw your hometown finally made the news.”
“Ain’t nothing to be proud of,” I say. “I was getting worried. You weren’t calling. Figured you were gonna ditch my number and forget I ever existed.”
“That’s the second craziest thing you’ve ever said to me, Joshua.”
“And what was the first?” I already know the answer. Kisshandra sighs heavily and folds her arms across her chest, trying to regain some kind of composure.
“How serious were you?” Despite her stance, her voice seems so small. I want to ask her about what, but decide against it.
“Reckon it depends on your answer,” I say flippantly. “You tell me yes, and I’m as serious as a heart attack. Tell me no…” I shrug, going back to prepping. “…ain’t nothing to worry about, I was just picking with you.”
“You still thinking about it?” I ask her, not even bothering to look up.
“You asked me to come with you to Borneo,” her voice cracks a little.
“Yes, I did,” I say. “It’s ain’t like I asked you to marry me and have my babies.”
“I guess I should thank god for that,” Kisshandra says with a weak giggle. She’s walking tentatively toward my kitchen area. “It’s just I never imagined you’d even think of asking me to go.”
“Fuck it, why not?” I shrug. “But I understand if you’re still making up your mind and all. I got some time before I have the ways and means to go.” I look up at her briefly and smile. “Maybe go ask Rio or the Jazz-Cat what they think if it’ll help you at all.”
“And what did they have to say?” I ask.
“Rio says I’d be a fool not to go with you,” Kisshandra replies. Despite all attempts, she’s trembling. “John says if either of us belong to anyone, it’s to one another.”
“My bonsais and music collection ‘belong’ to me, Kisshandra,” I say, looking her dead in the eyes. “You don’t and you never will. If you wanna come with me, then come along, but it’s your choice.”
She smiles and then reaches over to give me a hug and deep kiss. I enjoy the moment, but that’s about the length of it. I have dinner I have to get ready, after all.
“I missed you, Joshua,” she says.
“I missed you back, Kiss,” I say. “I’m happy to see you’re coming for dinner.”
“How could I not? Actually, I was hoping to stay for breakfast,” She winks at me and I smile right back at her.
“I think that could be arranged.”