As I've said before, you all are nothing but encouraging on this board, so I thought I'd put the first post to our latest story here for your viewing pleasure. If you want to finish reading you can do so by clicking here: http://forum.soulfullreaders.com It'll be pretty obvious what link you need to click from there. Apartment #202B – Momma’s Boy I knocked on the door before turning the knob and entering through the front door of my parents’ home. They seemed to think they were still living in another century they way they left windows and doors open around here like there were no crackheads strolling the streets just blocks away. I'd tried to warn them several times and even went as far as locking up everything myself, but the next day things would be wide open again as normal. That's just how my parents were though, they believed if something was meant to happen...then it would. I believe if you set yourself up for things to happen...then it would. "Louis...that you?" I inhaled the scent of whatever she was cooking tonight as my stomach started to growl. All I'd had was a bag of chips this morning for breakfast so even without the bodily noise I knew I was hungry. "Louis?" Momma called again in that sweet voice of hers, a voice I could hear in the back of my mind as a teen when thoughts of wrong-doing entered. "Yes, m'am. It's me." "You're late today, baby." I walked by the front living room, with its plastic covered couches and floor model television that now featured more dust then it did channels. The thing didn't even work any more, but I believed Momma kept it there for decoration sake. I glanced up at the cheap looking wooden bookshelves toward the pictures of myself through the years, wondering why my mother had stopped putting up pictures of me after I’d graduated high school less then eight years ago. Seemed like in most of the shots were I wasn’t the only person featured, I came off looking like a giant. I’d been over six foot since I was 14, and my final growth spurt left me at 6’4. Even with my height, I never had any interest in playing on somebody’s basketball court which seemed to disappoint my father who thought he’d live his suddenly found NBA dream through me. Every picture frame seemed to be squeezing in for a space on the shelves—pictures of old prom and homecoming dates, aunts, uncles and grandparents that had passed on and even my parents smiling and acting like they couldn’t imagine not being together. Those always made me smile. Especially since I never got to see those kinds of looks between the two of them when I was growing up. The front living room walls were covered in beige wallpaper with various dull colored butterflies lined in perfect rows. Momma’s decorating skills obviously hadn’t made it past the 70s yet, but nobody (not even me) ever bothered to comment on it. As I got closer to the back where the kitchen and family room (as they called it) were, the television seemed to get louder and louder. I said a hello to my father and he turned and nodded his head in my direction before focusing back on the television and turning the channel again. That’s the father I’d known growing up. All he ever did was work and come home and watch television, so if your conversations didn’t relate to one of those things he usually didn’t have too many words for you. “Hey, baby.” Momma had good ears, so I knew without her even turning around that she’d heard me enter the kitchen. I kissed my mother on the cheek just as she turned to me wearing oven mitts and holding what looked to be a pot roast in her hands. Even on a regular weekday Momma cooked for my dad like it was Sunday. Like I said, they didn’t carry on many normal conversations with one another—didn’t even sleep in the same bedroom, but Momma never forgot her wifely duties, no matter how upset she was with the old man. Momma put down the roast, removed her mitts and picked up a baster, squeezing the pink rubber bulb to suck in the juice that surrounded the meat and then squeezed it again to spread the juice over the meat. “Doesn’t that smell good?” She said, grinning a denture-toothed smile and fanning the scents coming off the meat in my direction. Momma wore a short-styled black wig that she kept in top-notch condition, taking the time to set it on the mannequin head every night before bed and even picking it out with a rat-tail comb every morning. Her makeup was slightly over-done, especially for her to just be walking around the house and although I knew she’d probably just gotten home from her church job a few hours ago, she was still all dressed up with a frilly white apron tied tightly around her waist to make sure no spills got on her good clothes. “You wish some woman could cook like this for you, don’t you boy?” She tapped her hand on the pot roast pan again for me to see how she’d perfectly cut up whole potatoes and carrots to surround the meat. “These young girls can’t compete with me. I even made some gravy over on the stove and it’s not out no package, jar or recipe book either—it’s from scratch, just like my Momma taught me and her Momma taught her.” I smiled at my mother and patted her back, letting her know she had my approval before the speech. “How’d you do on that test last week you were stressing about?” I should have told her I earned an ‘A,’ especially since I’d been funding my own education for the past five or six years with no help from the government or anybody else for that matter. I’d researched and earned a few scholarships my first two years but when those were gone, I ended up having to drop out of school to work two jobs back to back to save up enough money to pay the rest of my way through. My parents tried to help as much as they could, but didn’t have much to give. “I got an ‘A’” “Oooooh!” Momma clapped her hands together once before covering the grin that had spread across her face. “That’s so good, Louis.” She hugged me like this was the first ‘A’ I’d ever made in my life. Truth be told, I’d never made lower then a B- in all my years in school and even then I’d only earned that because I’d gotten sick. “I was telling those women at church today, Louis is gonna be finished with school soon and he’s going to be solving murders in a crime lab just like that little black boy on that tv show—what’s the name of that show, Louis?” “CSI, Momma.” “No, that’s not it. The other one.” “CSI, Momma.” “I said that’s not it.” She flapped her hand at me and gave me an eye like I heard her the first time. “Anyway, I still don’t know why you’d settle for something like that when you could have been a doctor or lawyer or anything.” “Being a crime lab analyst is more interesting then any of that stuff. I’ll be investigating murders, rapes and eventually producing the evidence to bring criminals to justice.” “Sounds scary to me. What if one of those criminals come after you?” “They won’t.” “You don’t know that.” Momma turned away from me and begin stirring her gravy again as it began to bubble slightly. “Is that you I smell?” “What?” I sniffed my business shirt and tie and then sniffed toward both armpits, but all I could smell was that pot roast she’d cooked. “Hmph. You must still be chasing down those buses, smelling like that.” “Smelling like what?” I let out an embarrassed laugh, still sniffing again. “Musky. You should stop buying that cheap generic deodorant and you won’t have those problems.” “I don’t smell musky.” I sniffed myself one last time wondering what she was talking about. “Let you tell it. I’m about to slice up one of these raw potatoes and let you put it under them pits of yours. That’ll solve the problem.” I laughed again at my mother’s country home remedies and then reached over for one of the carrots from the pot roast. “Uh-un, boy. You can wait. Don’t nobody want your nasty hands all over their food.” Momma swatted at me with one of the oven mitts and gave me a nasty glare like I should know better. “So I take it that car is still in the shop, huh?” “Yes m’am…still in the shop.” “That car has been in the shop for the past two months now, when are you gonna get it out?” She put her fist on her hip and turned to me like she hadn’t asked me this same question twenty times before. “When I get some money.” “I thought that woman would have gotten it out by now…She buys you everything else. Probably bought you that little outfit you’re wearing right now.” Momma mumbled to herself turning off the stove and moving the pot to a cooler stove eye. “How is she anyway?” “Vanessa?” I smiled, knowing Momma didn’t care for her since she was eight years my senior. Personally, I didn’t see what the big deal was. We both liked each other so what else was there to it? Who cared what anybody else thought? “I don’t know anybody else that you’re seeing so I guess that’s her name.” “She’s okay, still on bed rest though.” Momma grunted and turned her back to me again. “She think she don’t need you to raise that baby? She’s gonna be in for a real surprise. I don’t know why she waited this late to have a baby anyway.” “You had me when you were--” “Thirty-four years old. That’s right! And I had four miscarriages before that and the doctors wanted me to give up, but your Daddy wasn’t having it. Then finally we had your stank butt tail and I never got my shape back!” I thought I heard her say a few more words but didn’t bother to question her about it since I figured she didn’t want me to hear her anyway. “But you and that woman ain’t married and if you ask me she has some serious issues that need to be dealt with before she goes off trying to bring a baby into the world. Think cause she got that fancy job and all that money she can just live her life any old kind of way…” “Momma…” I said, trying to stop her chatter before it got started. “I’m through with it.” She turned around, rubbing her index finger across bottom part of the wooden spoon and then sticking her finger in her mouth to taste the gravy. “How’s that job?” “Boring.” I responded thinking about how all I did all day was retrieve and return court files from all over that dimly lit file room as the hours dragged on by. There was no internet access, no speakers on that antique computer for me to play cds…just me, the file cabinets, files and a telephone for people to call and ask me for information from particular files. Most the time I didn’t even verify who I was talking to, I just gave out the information and tried to stay busy until it was time for me to go home. “At least you’re working. It’s a lotta’ people who wish they had a job these days.” “Well, they can have mine—seven dollars an hour and all.” “You better hush before God takes back that blessing and you get evicted from that little apartment of yours.” “They can have that too.” “And while you’re complaining, that little seven dollars an hour is what’s gonna get that car out of the shop so you better hush your ungrateful mouth.” She paused and glanced back at something before speaking again. “Now go grab two of those wooden trays for you and your Daddy to eat on and get out of my kitchen.” Momma flapped a dishtowel toward my behind as I took my time following her instructions. Carrying the trays with little ease, I took another look at Momma and the wrinkles that were now starting to cover her sixty-year old face. The smile lines that surrounded her mouth, the laugh lines that surrounded her eyes and the way her skin looked a little loose all over her face. She titled her head to the side as if she was wondering what I was looking at and I just smiled, knowing that even with the few wrinkles she did have she still looked ten years younger then she actually was. Like she said, after I was born she never lost any of the weight she’d put on, but I’d never considered her to be even slightly overweight. “My, my, my…” Daddy said, leaning forward in his leather recliner as I unfolded the wooden dinner tray and set it in front of him. “Get out the way!” He shouted, bopping me with the remote as I stepped aside to get a look at what he was willing to beat me down to get a better view of. “Look at how they’re moving around that stage in those little tight clothes.” I stared at the 36” chrome-colored television to see what he was talking about and watched as three girls sang and danced around the stage, looking like they were having a better time then most of the acts I’d witnessed live. They were all wearing little mini-skirts and boots, each showing off bodily shapes and curves I usually imagined in my mind as I rubbed myself to sleep at night when I was alone. They were singing something about understand this or whatever and for a minute I was tempted to grab the remote from Daddy’s hand to turn up the volume. When they were finished, Free & AJ came out on stage and commented on how talented they were and how they were so glad they had time to not only introduce their new video but to perform for the 106 & Park audience. “They look good, don’t they? Sound good too.” Daddy said, pointing at them with his remote and nodding his head. “Remind me of this group I used to like when I was growing up--The Terrell Sisters, ‘cept they ain’t never make it big--but those girls could sing and they was nice on the eyes too. Just like those three.” He waved the remote again. “If I had a few extra dollars I’d go buy that CD, ‘cept they probably got some of that rap crap on there. Shoot, these little acts now days don’t have the talent that little skinny one has in her pinky toe.” I laughed, listening to Dad go on and on about how talented this group, Soulfull Shades was. Already I had grown bored with Free & AJ’s interview and was ready to turn the channel. “’Bout time for some Jeopardy, huh boy?” Daddy peered over the top of his eyeglasses and stared over at me. “Yes, sir. You ready for your usual butt whooping?” “Who? Where? Boy, you ain’t never beat me at no Jeopardy! You wish! Think cause you go to college you smarter then somebody now. Ain’t nobody around here impressed—well, maybe your Momma, but not me.” Daddy grunted and leaned back in his chair as I glanced back to see if Momma needed any help bringing out our plates. She normally didn’t, but today I just wanted to make sure for some reason. “…Beat me at Jeopardy…” Daddy was still mumbling as he pressed a button on the remote until he came across the channel showing the last few minutes of Wheel of Fortune. “You growing your hair out?” I gave my Dad a strange look as I turned all the way toward him, wondering if he was really attempting to make regular conversation with me. “Don’t be looking crazy, I asked you a question.” I ran my hand over my hair and nodded my head before looking away. “Don’t nobody understand no head nods around here.” “Yes, sir.” “So you trying to be a pretty boy with your pretty gray eyes and pretty curly sandy brown hair?” Daddy cracked up laughing and slapping his thigh as Momma came in carrying two plates full of food with her. “So pretty…” “He looks just like you, so what’ so funny? You have those same eyes, hair color and hair texture.” Daddy didn’t respond to Momma’s comments, just sat up straight in his recliner again and started looking over his plate. He turned the plate in a circular motion, giving it a full inspection, folded his hands, closed his eyes and moved his lips in prayer fashion and before taking a small taste. Momma was right though. We used to look just alike, almost like twin brothers, but now there was an obvious age difference. Dad’s hair was totally grayed now and he’d grown out a beard making him look like a good candidate for Santa Claus. “And he is a pretty boy. Always has been.” Momma patted my head like I was still a little kid and smiled at me before wiping her hands on her apron and disappearing back into the kitchen. As we ate, the Jeopardy music came on and Alex Trabek did his usual introductions before introducing the categories. Playing with Dad, I knew he needed certain categories to be on the Jeopardy board to do well, but all I needed was a few choice questions in every category and I could blow him away with my answers. He really hated that… I forked a forkful of pot roast into my mouth and dropped my fork back to my plate as I rubbed my hands together and glanced over at Daddy to let him know what time it was. “Name this European city and you’ve named a Las Vegas hotel.” Alex read the question that appeared in white letters on a completely blue screen before flashing back to the contestants. “What is Monte Carlo?” “Monte Carlo!” Daddy shouted at the screen. “You too slow—you can’t be yelling answers after me. And you didn’t even say it in the right format.” I waved my fork in his direction before filling it with another bite of meat and vegetables. “Just shutup, boy.” The person on television answered a few more questions in that category (along with my help) and then changed categories. “This woman’s new book, “The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice,” is a collection of speeches and essays on legal history.” “Who is Sandra Day O’Conner?” “Now don’t nobody know or care about that.” Daddy said in a matter of fact tone as Momma came back in the room with a plate of her own and sat next to me on the couch. “Travis you haven’t even touched your food yet.” She spoke, staring at Daddy’s plate with what appeared to be a hurt look on her face. It was amazing how she still looked for and needed his approval for little stuff like how well her dinners tasted. “I did eat some and I’m waiting on you to bring me some salt and pepper.” Momma put her plate down on the coffee table and got back up to get Dad some seasoning for his food. “When Einstein made his famous comment, "God does not play dice with the universe," he was expressing doubts about this theory of matter.” My eyes focused back on the television reading along with Trebek as he said it aloud. “What is Quantum mechanics.” I answered rolling my eyes, hoping we’d eventually get to some hard questions. “You don’t know, quit yelling out any ol’ thing.” Daddy shouted, getting upset like he always did. “Dad, I play this with you almost once a week—you know I know all this stuff.” “Hush! I’m trying to hear the next question!” “Quantum mechanics is correct. John, your next selection.” Alex Trebek’s voice filled the room again as Daddy grabbed the salt and pepper from Momma’s hands and began seasoning up his food like it didn’t have any flavor to begin with. When he was finished, he tasted a piece of the meat and then seasoned the food even more, staring ahead at the television the entire time. “Complete these lines taken from Martin Luther King's tombstone. Free at last/ Free at last/ Thank God Almighty . . .” “I’m free at last!” Daddy shouted at the screen with a mouth-full of food. “Who doesn’t know that?” I said, laughing. “Be quiet boy, I marched with Martin. Them white folks don’t know it.” He said pointing at the television again with his fork. “What is ‘I’m free at last.” John, the white man who had been dominating this round answered in no less the time that my father said the contestants didn’t know it. Momma and I laughed hearing Daddy being proved wrong. “I marched with Martin!” Daddy shouted again, like that made a difference. “That’s before your time, you don’t know nothing about it.” He said to me. “Travis, calm down.” Momma shushed him and took a nibble of her food. “Well, I did! I stood for something back then.” “Are you gonna talk about Martin Luther King or are we going to play Jeopardy?” I asked, purposely trying to aggravate him. “I was there! You wasn’t even thought of yet!” “Okay, Travis. Enough.” Momma shook her head and tried to continue eating in peace. "He is the author of these lines: He gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake. / The only other sounds--” “Who is Robert Frost.” I answered before the host finished. “You don’t know! They don’t even know, look at them sitting there being quiet.” “Robert Frost.” I repeated in case Daddy hadn’t heard me the first time. “Time’s up, the correct answer is Robert Frost. Robert Frost.” I tried to hide my smile because I knew what a sore loser Daddy was, but I was use to hearing his mouth when it came to me blowing him away at this game so it was no big deal. “They need to pick that King category again, them white folks don’t know none of them answers, watch what I tell you.” Just as he said it, the contestant John chose that category again and Alex proceeded with the question. “The name of this Southern city appears both in a 1953 Manifesto and in Dr. King's "Letter from a Jail.".” “What is Birmingham.” Daddy shouted at the screen as I twisted my lips to the side and rolled my eyes. “Who wouldn’t know that, Daddy?” “I know it, boy! I told you I knew King—before you was even thought of I was out there with King marching and singing. Matter of fact I was in the jail across from him in Birmingham when he was writing all those letters, helping him spell words and proofreading that stuff for him. Did I get any credit for it? No!” “Travis, please.” Momma said wiping her mouth with a paper napkin and shaking her head. “That’s enough. Just turn this game off and you two watch something where you don’t have to shout at the television and fight with one another. You’re giving me a headache.” “Well, go to bed then. We don’t wanna hear your mouth either, woman.” Momma didn’t say anything, just picked up her half-empty plate and mine and went to the kitchen. “You want some Peach Cobbler, Louis?” She shouted back to me once she’d arrived. “No, ma’m.” I answered back. “Well, I’m gonna wrap some for that girlfriend of yours since she liked it so much the last time she came over. You going over there when you leave here?” “Didn’t I tell you to be quiet while we’re watching Jeopardy? Now I don’t ask for much, do I, Grace?” “Oh shutup. I just wanted to fix the boy--” “Then just do it and be quiet. We don’t wanna hear about who liked it and who wants the biggest piece. Just wrap the boy a piece up and sit down. You getting on my nerves tonight—got my blood pressure up already.” “Your blood pressure ain’t up cause of me, it’s up cause of all that salt you put on that food--” “Woman, will you hush?” Daddy gripped the recliner arms and twisted around in his seat to get a good look at Momma and I knew it was about time for me to leave before they began to fuss. “It’s getting late, Momma. I’m gonna get out of here.” “You just got here, Louis.” “I know, but I don’t wanna be on that bus too late.” “I’ll, give you a ride back to your apartment. Just stay for a little while.” “I can’t, Ma. I gotta study and--” “You see how you always run the boy away, Travis?” “Oh hush. If anybody runs him away, it’s you trying to baby him all the time.” Momma came rushing back into the living room, slipping back on her dress shoes that were lying under the coffee table and grabbing her keys from off the end table. “Come on, Travis. I’ll take you home.” She patted my hand and gave me a genuine smile before making her way to the door. After saying my goodbyes to Daddy, I wasn’t too far behind. * * * * * “Look, it’s not much but I know it’ll help.” Momma had reached inside her bra and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill for me. “I have a little money.” I lied, waving my hand no and trying to climb out of the car before she made me take it. “No, here. Maybe you can pay a bill with it or something.” She insisted, reaching over me into the glove compartment and pulling out a small envelope of something else. “And I keep forgetting I got this for you…” I lowered my brow, wondering what else she could possibly be trying to give me beside money. “It’s a bus pass.” Momma confirmed, like she knew what I was thinking. “Thanks, Ma.” I leaned over and kissed her cheek as she patted my head again and smiled. “I want you to remember something, Louis. The bible says, The Lord is close to all who call on him, to all who call on Him sincerely and if you ever need anything or get into any trouble and your father and I aren’t around to help you, just remember to call on the Lord.” She smiled as I stepped out of the car and said a final love you and good night and made my way up the steps of my apartment building. There were a few empty beer bottles out on the lawn and it looked like the grass hadn’t been cut in weeks. A strong breeze blew outside and the chimes that someone had hung near the front door were clanging making a little more noise then I felt like hearing right now. I wondered why somebody even bothered to put those chimes up in the first place. The building was already practically falling down so those retarded chimes weren’t adding any sort of beauty to it. I glanced over at the busted window on the first floor apartment and the new windowpane that sat right outside below it, convincing myself that this building may have needed a few repairs here and there, but it definitely wasn’t the projects or section 8. With the tool box sitting near the windowpane, I knew that most of the stuff I had noticed would be taken care of in the morning. I shifted the Tupperware container filled with Momma’s peach cobbler to my left hand and shoved my hand into my jacket pocket to dig out my keys. Not finding them there, I switched the cobbler to another hand and then repeated my search for keys, this time successfully. Having had my book bag stolen a couple of times before, now I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder as I slid my key into the door, slightly shivering from the cool air I was enduring outside. Jiggling the key in the lock a few times, I finally got it to turn in the door and entered letting it slam closed behind me as I climbed the creaky steps two by two. I walked by the apartment across the hall from me and heard a female’s loud laughing and talking like I normally did. Funny how I always heard noise coming from the apartment but rarely saw the person who actually lived there. I’d seen the girl who lived downstairs from me a couple of times, but she was always in such a big rush that I never got too good a look at her. If she committed a crime, I’d never be able to identify her not that they’d come asking me anyway, but who knows. After jiggling the key in the lock on my house door and kicking it a few times to get it to open, I went inside my apartment and began to close the door behind me just as someone across the hall peeked out of their door and then quickly slammed it back shut once they saw me looking.