by Corey Atherley
Immediately I dusted ice particles out of my kinky hair. On doing so, I suddenly coughed and felt nauseous. No blood flowed through my veins, turned to slush. And my hands felt like rocks. Labor was nothing like painting. I got a joy out of stroking a brush and receiving praise. I felt a whole lot better working for a cause. However, unloading frozen pallets and cutting up meat wasn’t my true calling.
It all started three months before my eighteenth birthday. Papa took me for a ride in his truck stating he wanted to talk, man to man. He then gave me a rigid ultimatum to get a job in his window business, join the military or get thrown out. I really had no choice. So like a noble son, I applied to work at the local deli shop on Main Street. Since then I’ve been working full time to support myself as a painter.
Hurriedly, I grabbed the last box out of the fridge to stock on a U-boat. My manager has called me three times to come upstairs, straining his voice. Wondering what the hell he wanted, I marched towards the old rusty elevator doors. While I was doing this I kept telling myself that I better do something doggone else with my life. I would end up a dutiful colored boy working for the white man. Worse, I would end up like papa, driving a truck and selling windows to white folks.
As an artist, I had dreams of making it big. Real big. I didn't know how big, but big. Probably even bigger than the Red Sox's win over the New York Giants in nineteen-twelve. With my artwork, and my dreams of being a twentieth century Rembrandt, I could go places. I could meet beautiful babes and get out of Attleboro. I could live in the poetic, grungy villages of East New York, or hang out in swanky, jazzy nightclubs of Paris. But that day I lived in an inescapable reality. I entered the elevator with my wheeler. I punched the dirty buttons to go from the dank basement to the mezzanine level. I prepared for anything my manager demanded- even if he wanted me to polish his shoes with my tongue.
The elevator stopped as it reached the top level. There the elevator door slid open revealing the Victorian store of wooden tiles, old-world décor and flickering chandelier lights. What confused me the most was the exquisitely beautiful top floor was a far cry from the grisly basement downstairs. It contained nothing but freezers as loud as military tanks. Therefore, every time I came up from the spooky basement I breathed a sigh of relief. I was thankful I went down there and I wouldn’t have to come back soon. Mr. Dooley selected a different clerk each day to go down to the ghoulish freezers and bring up meat.
When I pulled the U-boat of raw meat, and stepped off the elevator, Mr. Dooley cornered me like a mouse. He was a man who liked to stick it to people. He critiqued my job performance just by noting the twenty boxes of meat I brought up. He then squinted with calculation. He rummaged through criticisms in his mind, and I just knew I did something wrong. He would send me right back down to the basement as punishment for incompetence.
"Did you want to see me about something, boss?" I spoke. I frantically wiped mildew and raw meat stains off my frock. I unloaded the boxes off the U-boat and continued carrying them into the steamy, hot kitchen. I did this without a saying a word. Mr. Dooley then followed me with his fat body.
"I want to talk to you about something, Willie. It looks like I’m shortchanged on delivery drivers." Mr. Dooley said while turning away from me and heading back to the counter. As he took a customer's order, he glanced at me and sighed: "Sebastian's spinal cord snapped in half, and he went on medical leave. He won't be driving anymore."
Sebastian was a lanky cat with jet-black hair, and his height was his most distinctive feature. He was also Mr. Dooley's stepson conceived from an extramarital affair with a plane attendant. This was why Sebastian hardly resembled his old man in the looks department, apart from being of Irish heritage. Sebastian had more Mediterranean features and he distinguished from his red haired and brown haired stepbrothers Andrew, Robert and Kenneth working in the kitchen. As far as I knew, I saw Sebastian working in the store now and then, but I hardly ever spoke to him because he worked such ridiculous hours with no flexibility. He worked from day to night delivering cakes, sandwiches, expensive wine, party platters and many stuff. Plus, he always delivered to the same high-hat customers. Out of those customers was a strict, conservative married couple: The Stewarts. They called the store every day just to annoy the Hell out of Mr. Dooley and order the same exact stuff. Sometimes I never saw Sebastian weeks on end. He worked oddball shifts from the rest of us.
In the kitchen, Mr. Dooley’s sons remain at their assigned stations. They cook while shouting orders with their New England accents. Pots and pans clanged while food sizzled on the stove counters making a whirlwind of noise. It disabled me from hearing Mr. Dooley straight. When he looked at me with a serious look, I just saw his lips moving as he approached me and pitifully put his hairy, freckled hand on my shoulder.
"Listen here buddy: I’m all out of drivers so it looks like I only got you to fulfill his shift. That’s why I called you up here."
Blood stopped flowing through my veins. I thought about Sebastian working six days a week with variable shift arrangements. His job needed him to deliver from house-to-house throughout the Bristol County area in which the travel and mileage varied. I felt numb. I searched for consistent sentences to oppose Mr. Dooley’s thoughtless demands. But my boss intimidated me. He pierced his lips and lifted his sunken eyes over his flat nose as if he forbade me to rebuke.
"I put you on for tomorrow. Is that clear, buddy?"
"But tomorrow’s Saturday, Mr. Dooley!" I cried out, rolling my eyes and hissing. Frustrated, Mr. Dooley folded his arms and contorted his wrinkled face. His expression read: ‘I don’t have time for an ungrateful negro’s excuses.’
"With all due respect Mr. Dooley, you always gave me weekends off for school. I got art appreciation classes to attend, plus I got an art thesis I gotta send to my professor Mr. Doherty. With all due respect, can’t you get one of your sons to do it?"
I pointed my tattle-tailing finger towards Mr. Dooley’s sons for emphasis. They stood unproductively wearing their aprons and hairnets. They were waiting on their food to finish cooking while congregating and telling dirty jokes.
Mr. Dooley looked at me crazy. He said: "You think I would give any of those idiots the leadership task of making deliveries?" Mr. Dooley shook his head with a wide, white grin. It was the first time I saw his teeth and gums. Laughingly he added: "My sons couldn’t tell apart their armpits from their asses. They can’t even wrap meat properly! How could I trust them to make deliveries?"
Ignoring me, Mr. Dooley urgently marched over to the cash registers to aid his little niece and nephew: Annabelle and Jonathan. They were stumped ringing up a line of disgruntled customers complaining about their delayed deli orders. With fury causing his veins to pop out through his forehead, Mr. Dooley rushed into the kitchen placing his hands on his hips. He yelled and cursed at his sons to get moving cooking and sending out orders, or face suspension without pay.
With a flabbergasted and astounded look, I just stood staring straight at Mr. Dooley avoiding my plight. I needed more reasonable explanations why he chose me to do the most grueling job out of everyone. I was discontent with the way everyone indifferently went about their business as if I didn't exist.
Soon the customers died down when Mr. Dooley’s three sons finally stopped yakking and put out the orders. Afterwards, they weighed the items on the counter scale. One by one, the mostly female customers took their packaged orders and bid Mr. Dooley farewell. They looked like they were rushing to get home and cook dinner before their flannel suit hubbies punched their time clocks. When everyone blew a collective sigh of relief, the store went back to its normal sluggish pace. Mr. Dooley then took his mind off Annabelle and Jonathan staying at their registers with lethargic looks. Mr. Dooley looked at me with his mouth open as if he stumbled on a thought. He scratched the bald spot in his head. He then snapped his fingers and sighed: "Ah, Willie, I forgot all about you, buddy. Step into my office." Mr. Dooley signaled me to wait until he approached so I could follow him.
Respectfully I followed Mr. Dooley into the sweltering kitchen resounded by pots and pans hitting stove counters. All three of his sons scrambled to get food out. Bobby was fixing up party platters and roasting chicken to put out on display. Kenny was stuck on the pastry station making sandwiches. Andrew was on cheese, cutting blocks of Brie underneath a lethal slicing machine. And soup kettles boiled to the brim while the lids fell off. Mr. Dooley was utterly stunned by the chaos, but he groaned and quietly kept on walking until he led me into his office. He quickly flipped through the calendar for January nineteen-fifty-seven onward. Every Saturday and Sunday circled in bright red ink highlighted the new days I was needed to work.
"This is your new shift, sonny." Mr. Dooley announced. He eyed me in which he hoped I understood without an impulse to protest. "Sorry I got to do this to you my boy, but I'm short on staff. I can’t handle dealing with odd customers and their extravagant orders. They’re more annoying than dogs that lick my face after licking their asses. That's why I need you, Willie. I’ve been looking for a replacement delivery boy. Unfortunately you're the only one reliable."
Anger took hold of me and got my adrenaline pumping. For a moment, I didn’t even think about the repulsive stench coming from the kitchen. Watching my facial expressions, Mr. Dooley raised his eyebrows with indifference and shrugged his shoulders. From the corner of my eye, I saw Bobby, Andy and Kenny over at their stations peering at me. Mr. Dooley then pulled me towards him to whisper helpful advice, or plant a kiss. "Listen buddy, if you want to continue working here, I suggest you accept what you can get and go out there and represent my company in a good way." He said with a stern glint as he wobbled out of the kitchen.
Too many times I've gotten the short end of the stick. I applied to be a meat cutter earning five bucks an hour. I didn't plan to be a delivery boy. Making matters worse I wheeled my U-boat of deli supplies into the kitchen when an incident occurred. I unloaded an eighty pound box of ground beef and dropped it on my left foot. Suddenly as I bended down and reached for the box, squirming in pain, I could hear Bobby laughing at me. He was a doe-eyed, twenty-year-old with no sense of respect or responsibility. All he cared about was making paper airplanes and wasting his father’s money flunking college. The same went for the oldest son Andrew, except Andrew wasn’t a loudmouth kid breaking the law. He was a Korean War army vet showing honor and wisdom. He was a lovable guy who fought for his country. But undoubtedly he was also a pot-smoking, crap-shooting, tattoo wearing greaser. As for Kenny- he was the baby of the brothers, and his mannerisms reflected his appearance. At eighteen, he looked like a prepubescent kid frozen in time.
I paid Bobby no mind as I kicked the dropped box into the storage room when my foot turned numb. All I could hear was his penny loafers trudging behind me.
"So I hear you’re going to be taking Sebby’s job as a delivery boy. Just better hope you don’t have to deliver to the Stewart family."
"If I do, which won’t be permanent, what’s it to you?" I lashed out, unloading boxes and dropping them anywhere in each corner.
Bobby raised his eyes and stopped the blood flow in his pale freckled face. "It’s gonna be permanent if our father says so, Willie! You’ve worked here long enough to know how he is. I just feel sorry for you- that's all."
Processing ground beef from a grinder, Andy glimpsed at me. He chimed in: "Billy, please don't listen to this fucking turd. If Sebastian can deliver to the Stewarts with flying colors, I'm sure you can."
I felt abandoned in the crossfire. Not one person did anything to relieve my fears or my stress.
"But Sebastian was a people person, whaddya expect?" Bobby cried out, shrugging his shoulders. "He was the sweet, lovable ‘Leave it to Beaver’ guy that Mr. and Mrs. Stewart adored! The Stewarts lived in this city for years. They’ve shopped here since this store was built in nineteen-nineteen. They're two of the biggest elites you'll ever meet embracing Puritanism."
"Well congratulations Bobby on being obvious, dip shit." Andy chuckled while clapping with sarcasm. "Everyone in this entire town descends from Puritans."
I couldn't stop myself from standing around awkwardly, viewing the back-and-forth brouhaha unfold. Bobby shot Andy a belligerent look:
"Who's the real moron between the both of us Andy? You snuck a woman into your room last night and dad walked in on you two screwing!"
Annoyed, Andy quickly shooed Bobby away with his hand. He turned his back to focus on his duties.
"By the way" Bobby turned towards me with a victorious glint, "as I was saying, just be careful on how you conduct yourself with Mr. Stewart: he comes from old money. His father was a stinking millionaire."
"You forgot to tell Willie one thing, Bobby." Kenny interceded. "Myth has it the Stewarts were so smitten by Sebastian that they treated him like their own son. The more he delivered their groceries to them they grew fond of him and obsessed over him. They even begged him to stay over and have dinner. Sebastian told us that Mr. and Mrs. Stewart wanted to be matchmakers. They thought about setting him up with their neighbor’s daughter!"
"Well, ain’t nothing wrong with that", I replied.
"You’re absolutely right buddy, there’s nothing wrong with it." Bobby said with a wry smirk. "That’s why you must make a good impression when you deliver to them because they're our most valuable customers who knew our father for years. And they’re gonna keep comparing you to Sebastian by your physical features. They’re gonna judge how you dress, walk and talk. They're gonna keep gloating over Sebastian like he's Babe Ruth. You just better know what to expect. Knowwhattamean? Did I mention they….well….I’m sure you’ll know what they’re all about once you get there. Just don’t expect their first reaction to be pleasant once they take one good look at you instead of Sebastian, if you knowwhattamean."
Bobby shot a serious look warning me of potential opposition towards my skin color.
"Wanna know something else that will blow your mind? Sebastian probably broke his back on purpose, just to get away from the Stewarts." Bobby’s stodgy cheeks turned ruddy as he laughed aloud, prompting Kenny and Andy to snicker.
"Who cares?" I retorted. Something came over me when I followed Bobby’s lecherous, grinning face. He wanted me to fail in every turn. I could read his hidden motives like a driver's manual. "I won't know anything until I start working for the Stewarts. You best worry about yourself Bobby. While you’re at it, hire yourself a tutor instead of blackmailing me into doing your college assignments."
"If you were really smart Willie you could’ve just refused dad’s orders, and leave it at that." Kenny exclaimed with a sidelong glance. He grabs a pot of overflowing clam chowder off the stove. He pours it all into soup cups to sell to customers.
"And risk getting fired?" I ask with a cold laugh.
After changing out of my work clothes, I punched the time clock with relief. I threw on my Ivy cap, wool coat, mittens and headed towards the entrance door. I carried my usual canvas with me. And I planned to catch an express bus at a nearby terminal heading to Bridgewater State College. I didn't even say goodbye to Mr. Dooley. I was enraged by the mistreatment I kept on putting up with. But Mr. Dooley still ruffled my feathers. He popped out of the kitchen. His command bounced off my back: "Make sure you come early tomorrow morning. I have about eight deliveries starting around nine a.m. sharp."
The afternoon sunlight and the wind hit me as soon as I opened the entrance door. All of Attleboro hid under crystal white snow: an enchanting image fit for a holiday season card. Snow fell from the rooftops of colonial designed shops and diners down Main Street. It piled more snow on the lampposts and brick sidewalks. Moreover the enormous, sprawling pine trees, looming over the square, turned to ice. The entire scenery looked like a gothic Victorian fairy tale. I stopped daydreaming to watch Mr. Dooley sweeping his store. Winter stress, loneliness and boredom showed in his facial expression. I was always indebted to Mr. Dooley for hiring me and whatnot. However, I analyzed several stuff. I believed that Mr. Dooley only took me in because I was one of the "good Negroes". In his eyes I would do anything I was told like a dog trained by its master.
Entering the college campus I rushed through the main building. I was in the mist of scurrying students, eager to find their classes before getting reprimanded. My arms ached lugging a large canvas of a painting I’ve been working on for months.
midterm season nonetheless, and I had a short amount of time to think of an idea and present it. Otherwise I faced flunking Pop Art and ruining my Liberal Arts major altogether. In class, my professor Mr. Doherty leaned over to critique what I had sketched on my canvas. All the other students diligently sat at their easels, painting the first thoughts in their minds. I left nothing to the imagination.
"What do we have here Mr. Haring?" My professor asked, frowning at me. "Should I give you a passing grade for a blank white canvas? Come, on! You were assigned this project for months! What have I been telling you about putting your heart into your work and thinking outside the box?"
"The deli shop is interfering with my life, sir." I whined, throwing down my pencil. "My manager keeps bussing my balls changing my schedule around and pinning odd jobs on me. I’m stressed out!"
Mr. Doherty looked at me with indifference and went on: "Remember that this is a pop art appreciation course William, so your art must embody pop art. Pop art is....."
"......A representation of satire and an opposition of traditional fine art." I interjected, stealing my professor's testy look. "I get it, Mr. Doherty."
"Well?" Mr. Doherty eyed me. "Let something on your canvas convince me you do."
I stared blankly at my canvas. I was unable to dispute my professor's prolific advice. After raising his eyebrows with a look of pessimism and dissatisfaction, Mr. Doherty turned his back. He continued teaching while I continued to listen.
"Without art, life would be meaningless. There’d be no fundamental humanity and compassion." Mr. Doherty addressed, walking around the class with a pipe in his mouth and a reflective gaze. "There’d be no universe to speak of, as art embodies everything that we see, hear and touch. Art is a statement, a movement, a depiction of the times we live in and its significance in capturing important events throughout time. Art is also a form of rebellion against society smothered in dogma, greed, injustice, human suffering and hypocrisy."
Exhausted, I reached the brown two bedroom family house where I live. I lugged my incomplete canvas and I needed a cigarette to calm down. I dusted off snow residue from my khaki pants and duck boots. Afterwards, I entered the house and went up the staircase towards my room. Between the stressors of work and school, I was in unstable condition. I kept thinking about my lousy job, and the tough challenges I’d face when I return.
Taking off my clothes and slipping into a hot shower, I kept picturing Mr. Dooley's green eyes and chubby face. All I thought about was him lording over me, telling me to do this and do that. And the way he talked irritated me all the more. He ended his sentences with a belittling-natured term: "boy" or "buddy boy".
After showering, I threw on boxers and a plain white tee. I took a pack of Newport cigarettes out of the pants I threw over my bedroom rack. I made sure I had enough cigarettes to last as I placed them in my shorts. I ran down stairs, grabbed my canvas off the couch and headed down to the basement I used as my artistic work space. However, when I heard loud industrial noise I knew my father was down there working. I was petrified to go anywhere near him, uncertain of what mood he was in. Dad and I both agreed to share the basement for our workspaces, as long as I paid him rent every month. Strangely, the basement was our work haven.
where we bonded over the only common interests we had: our work.
I stood on the stairway just watching papa working his fingers to the bones. He poured molten glass through a delivery canal into the fiery furnace. When he was done heating, molding and shaping the glass into flat surfaces, he rested them on wooden tables. His next procedure was to cool them to six hundred degrees Celsius. Window-making was a dangerous, detail-oriented job that gave me chills. One senseless misstep would ultimately be fatal. When my father stopped working, he took his steel mask off. He peered at me with slight annoyance and said: "Willie, I'm working here. Open the door so the heat can air out!"
Without protest, I ran back upstairs to the basement door. I opened it wide once the smoke fumes became unbearably strong and toxic. Afterwards, I paid papa no mind going about my own business. Papa was a fifty-four year old muscular man with melancholic dark eyes and a scowl. He was an unemotional, hardworking man's man. The son of Floridian free slaves who migrated to the North, papa was raised to live in a white world, accept his freedom with gratitude, and be seen and not heard.
I set up my easel and sketched my unfinished canvas of a Georgia cotton field during the Civil War era. I focused on the cotton field near perfection, and whether I wanted to incorporate a disturbing feel to the image. I suddenly had an idea propelling me to dip my water brush in red oil paint and immerse the entire picture in scarlet red. I chose that color to symbolize bloodshed during a savage time of slavery and war. I stumped on another idea to paint images of anguished slaves working in the cotton field. But at that point I was so overwhelmed by bursts of ideas I lost track. I diverted my attention to papa gazing at me. He said: "So how is your work coming along, son? How’s school? How’s the job?"
"Everything is cool, pops; just a breeze. I’m on cloud nine." I said, smiling. My gleeful mood must have rubbed papa the wrong way. He suddenly placed his mask back on and resumed working. He forgot all about me.
I went upstairs, walked out onto the porch and smoked a cigarette, putting me into relaxation. I viewed the landscape of the conservative world I was living in. Dozens of white-faced children sleighed and made snow angels in the deserted street. On our picket fenced street my parents and I lived on, our brown ranch was placed next to a cluster of five houses down the road. Four white families resided: The Winthrops, the Jeffersons, the Murphys and the Hamiltons. And they always had their flock of children running amuck.
Except Mike Murphy, I had no other friends in the neighborhood around my age. I didn’t even talk to my other neighbors. They all had this high-and-mighty aura about them, especially the Winthrops. I attended the same school, Attleboro High, with their painfully shy daughter Martha. We even dated secretly until one day Martha's former boyfriend, a buff wide receiver, caught us kissing under the gym bleachers. The results I faced were more than I could imagine. With vicious intent, Martha’s former lover ran about a hundred yards to Martha's house. Then, he told Martha’s dad he caught her kissing a Negro. My biggest mistake was my existence.
When I paid Martha a visit the following day, I went up the stairs to the porch. And to my utter shock, Mr. Winthrop, a car dealership owner, stood in the doorway. He held on tightly to his Ted Williams autographed baseball bat he pointed right towards my face. He then took swings as I swiftly ducked and twisted my back. Exhausted and nearly passing out, I staggered and fell down the steps.
"Get the fuck out!" He roared, his face turning redder than an apple. "And don't you ever come back!"
I ran down the street sweating and bleeding, subjected to more chastisement as I got home. As I stormed into the living room, I denounced Mr. Winthrop's offense. I had hoped to find sympathy in papa lying on the couch. He took more sips from his beer and remained transfixed on the television screen watching: What's My Line with Jackie Gleason as the guest.
"How many times have I told your hard headed black ass to stay away from that man's daughter?" Papa talked at me, finally shutting off the television. At first I thought he would slug me, but he lazily got up, sighed disappointedly and headed into the kitchen. I followed him like a battered dog to a careless owner.
"I can’t believe what I’m hearing, pops. I was just attacked and you’re telling me to do nothing to defend my pride." I complained in my cracked, sixteen year old voice. "I hate when people feel they can disrespect me and get away with it!"
I viewed papa throwing his beer bottle into the trash to reach into the refrigerator and pull out a fresh one. I stood shaken as he popped the cap of the bear bottle with his thumb and shot his eyes deep into my soul. He got up so close in my face that his breath, dry from being an overworked truck driver, burned my eyes. He pointed his finger at me: "You don’t know a damn thing about the word disrespect, boy. You’ve got it easy. Try being born on a slave plantation like my parents."
I rolled my eyes, instantly. I shied away from enlightenment.
"Boy, now you listen to me. As long as you live in this house, I don't want you going out with that girl, you hear me?"
"Why not?" I pleaded.
"You bet not question me no more, Willie, or I’ll stick my foot so far up yo’ ass you’ll need it surgically removed! Now I said what I had to say and that’s the end of it! Mr. Winthrop and I are good friends and he's a man with a respectable reputation."
I felt nauseous as a headache took over. I advanced to leave but the power of papa's disciplinary tone stifled me.
"Don't you walk away when I'm talking to you."
I waited, impatiently on the staircase as sweat poured down my back. My father drank his beer and lectured me between sips: "I don’t understand how you can be so downright ignorant. Do you know how fortunate you are from other Negro kids? You live in a house, for God’s sake. Why are you trying to destroy the dreams I’ve set for you?"
"When white folks want me to hang under a tree, I’m not fortunate. When white folks cringe at the thought of their daughters slipping their tongues into a dirty Negro, I’m not fortunate. I can't believe you're so blissfully blind. This ain't a cotton plantation, papa! I demand respect, and if I want to see Martha, I have every right."
I observed the bloody lesions on my hands and knuckles from falling down the steps. The living room closed in as papa halted. He held his beer in his hands so tightly that I was expecting it to burst. He didn't keep his repulsed glare off me as placed his hand on the stairway banister.
"Do you know what your mother and I went through buying this house, you ignorant jackass? Your mama nearly died giving birth to you the minute we got out the ghetto, packed our boxes and moved here to create a better life for us. And now here you go acting a damn fool, ruining our hopes and dreams to bring you up straight. Do you really think I should be proud to have an underachieving son perpetuating more stereotypes? Now you're going straight down to Mr. Winthrop's house early tomorrow morning before you go to school, and you're gonna apologize. I bet not hear no more garbage."
Papa dared me to speak another word with an icy glint in his eyes and walked back to the couch to resume watching: What’s My Line. All I heard was my mama’s disgusting and profuse coughs in the background, adding to the morbid atmosphere. Two years since nineteen fifty-four, the flashback was all too painful as I took a last blow of my cigarette. I then discarded the ashes in mid-air.
It was nineteen-fifty-seven and I became a college man who has looked past the hateful likes of Mr. Winthrop. Before I could apologize to Mr. Winthrop, he packed his entire house into moving trucks while the other neighbors stopped to say good-bye. They even went as far to hold a big ceremony in his honor as the longest resident to live on Belington Street. Allegedly Mr. Winthrop and his wife decided to retire in old age and move down South. And their daughter Martha went with them like an obedient daughter. Mr. Winthrop’s idea was to sell his house to his younger brother and his sister-in-law in which the house was soon owned by them. Any ole’ way I really gave no horse’s ass. Although I was heartbroken over losing Martha, she was too much of a pampered daddy’s girl. Her privileged life did not include colored men. Plus, carrying on a forbidden romance with her worried me. I feared getting beaten up, chased out of the town, or killed. Overall, Mr. Winthrop’s departure was a breath of fresh air.
The night suddenly appeared, warning all the kids playing in the street to gather their belongings and head home. Street lights turned on along each side of the street. Buicks and Cadillac cars, covered with snow, eased into their respective drive-ways. I viewed patriarchs get out of their cars to kiss their beautiful housewives waving to them on the doorsteps. I watched and grew more observant of the 'system' I was expected to live in. I was witnessing a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Suddenly the thought of starting my first shift as a delivery boy early tomorrow morning clouded my mind. It caused me to panic greatly. I immediately went inside, shut the door and returned to my work station in the basement. The Civil War canvas still looked empty, but it was fine the way it was. As long as the painting expressed a story, I was confident with my work. I grabbed my canvas, quickly unfolded my easel, put away all of my paints, acrylic stencils and brushes and turned in for the evening.
When I lifted my eyes open all I saw was the white ceiling of my bedroom. Papa kept on hollering out my name to come downstairs. It was Saturday: officially the day I would head back to the deli shop and start my miserable job as a delivery boy. A sharp winter chill crept through my boxers as I leaped out of bed disgruntled. I then looked at my timer on my lamp stand. I marched out of my room, I ran down the hallway and I descended the staircase.
"Willie!!!!!!!" Papa called while holding the phone receiver to his ear. He wore pajamas as his chiseled five foot ten body came into form.
"It's your teacher from school, son. He wants you to know he's sick and you'll have a substitute. He also wants to know how you're doing with your painting."
I replied lazily: "I got this canvas I was working on in the basement, but……"
"But what?" papa narrowed his face.
"Mr. Dooley wants me to work on Saturdays making deliveries: the same days my art classes fall on." I cried out. "What am I supposed to do if he wants me to work: say no? I’ll get fired. Mr. Dooley’s superiority complex is as big as his fat butt and fat stomach."
Papa sat down and shook his head disappointedly. He looked up at me with glossy eyes and preached: "You need to figure out what your priorities are, son. Your education is far more important, and it is the ticket to a better life so you won’t have to work for Mr. Dooley your entire life. What baffles me is that you’re the first person in this family to go to college, but you still don't appreciate the opportunities that your grandparents, born slaves, died for! You better clean up your act while I’m paying for your school otherwise I’ll make you pay for your own tuition. You'll have no choice but to wipe Mr. Dooley’s ass to support yourself. Am I clear?"
"But c’mon, pops….."
Papa searched me, expecting me to finish my insignificant explanation. However, he impatiently slammed the phone receiver on the table.
"Don't stay on too long. I'm expecting a call from the electricity company."
He then walked into the kitchen to finish cooking eggs on the stove. My heart raced as I picked up the receiver. I dreaded explaining to my teacher, Mr. Doherty I would have to drop out of his class and reapply later. My weekends would be spent working as a delivery boy.
Papa didn't bother driving me to work that cold Saturday morning. He was too nervous and afraid, expecting a phone call from the GE billing company. Nevertheless I didn’t have a car of my own to drive, so I bundled up and trudged three miles up the snowy streets to Main Street. Along the way I even managed putting aside my sorrows and grievances. I waved hello and good-bye to my haughty white neighbors shoveling snow off their staircases. The beautiful sun lit up the New England ranches and double-decker houses as I took my sweet time trudging through an unpaved intersection. Finally, I headed right into Dooley's Deli Shop. After I wiped snow and mud from my boots on the welcome mat, my boss hit me with a faraway gaze. He was right over at the counter, upright, attentive and business-like. He was the first man to rise and the last man to sleep. His sons Andy, Kenny and Bobby busied themselves slicing meat and serving it to some white woman carrying a cane like her life depended on it. She exchanged pleasantries with the Dooley family who've welcomed her into their store since it opened. She then said good-bye to everyone, walking pass me with nothing more than a glare. I didn’t let her get under my skin one bit. I reasoned that her prejudices were her problem, not mine.
I walked into the warm store as Mr. Dooley's sons gave me acknowledging nods and winks while slicing and weighing. Mr. Dooley commanded me to "wait right there" as he hurried into the kitchen and hauled a hand truck stacked with ten apple cider cases. He unloaded the cases and he handed each one. The weight of the twelve pack case inflicted sharp pain going down my back. My mind spun out of control. I could not grasp my predicament as I followed Mr. Dooley's lead, carrying the Martinelli cases of cider to the company truck parked out front.
"Now listen here Willie, you’re gonna deliver these wines to the Stewarts." Mr. Dooley announced. When we packed the last Martinelli case in the backseat of the rusty old truck, Mr. Dooley patted me on the back. He straddled me in a condescending way, meaning he was the leader and I was the subject. His face widened as he broke a smile underneath his thick mustache. As he spoke, air flowed through his mouth from the chilly weather. "Be on your best behavior delivering these to Mr. Stewart and come right back so you can make more deliveries." I looked at the truck as Mr. Dooley shut the trunk and wobbled towards his shop. Meanwhile benignant pedestrians walked pass him. They greeted him good morning.
"So what should I know about Mr. Stewart?" I finally got a word in. Although I got bits and pieces of info from Mr. Dooley’s sons, I wanted to hear Mr. Dooley’s credible and less opinionated observations. He stopped in his tracks, folded his thick arms and gazed at me with significance. Mr. Dooley hated small talk as much as he secretly hated hiring a Negro.
"Well if you must know Willie, Graham Stewart and I are best buddies. He is part of the New England societies. His late father happened to be a multimillionaire who passed on his fortune to him. Instead of living off his dad’s fortune, Mr. Stewart went to Harvard Law School in Cambridge. He tried running for Senator until he got completely slaughtered. I reckon such failure humbled him to work as a congressman for the Bristol County district. He soon resigned from his seat and retired to take care of his family. His beautiful wife Carol, a former socialite from my understanding, is a full time nurse who works for a mental ward. The Stewarts are right wing Republicans who value their beliefs and live by Puritan values of tradition, nobility and diligence. They're regular customers who've been ordering from this store for years." Mr. Dooley then gave me pointers on posture, diligence and professionalism and what to say and what not to say. The more I was indoctrinated the more uncomfortable I felt.
"Drive on down to Grace Street, and stop at their ranch. They live on a hilly estate in a large white house with a big garden nestled underneath. You can't miss it."
When Mr. Dooley tossed me his truck keys and reentered his shop, I was on my own to face a day full of challenges and complexities. I trudged through the unpaved sidewalk making footprints in the snow. I entered the truck, fueled the engine, and waved good-bye to my boss before taking off.
On my journey driving from Main Street to Grace Street I watched the tank that was half-full. I turned my eyes over to the moldy glove compartments full of trash and old receipts. While stopping at a busy intersection and hitting a set of lights, an irresistible impulse took over me. I then reach inside the compartment and review the receipt copies. Each receipt was signed by the Stewarts, issued by Sebastian. Through the windshield I looked at the sun rising above the colonial neighborhoods and the lush estates so beautiful they looked like something I would paint. It brought to mind my stupid decision to brush school to the side. I could've been working on my unfinished canvas. I could've been in school with like-minded youngsters who wanted to revolutionize an oppressed society, and change the world through freedom of expression. I got more upset as I drove closer to The Stewarts' large house that stuck out on the left side of the road. From all the info I received on Mr. Stewart, he seemed like a man who’d be too hard to handle.
My heart stopped beating the moment I spotted Mr. Stewart- a tall, slack jawed, spectacle wearing man with platinum gray hair. He descended his porch in a fashionable bathrobe. Exuding eminence and privilege through his swagger, he confiscated his newspaper on his front lawn. He then glimpsed at my truck heading in his direction. Even when I honked my horn he did nothing. He froze momentarily while scratching his head. He showed signs of sleep depravity as he absentmindedly turned and walked up the hill towards his house. I struggled to decide where I should park Mr. Dooley’s truck, but I stopped over-analyzing and I put the truck in reverse. I parked the truck in any ole spot near his shrubby, green estate. I had plenty of other things on my to-do list.
I rushed around the truck, lifted open the trunk, pulled out the hand truck, and piled the Martinelli cases on top of one another. Wiping sweat from my brow under exhaustion, I felt cold on the inside as my body temperature dropped. The wintry air plunged into my bare hands, creating frost bites as I carefully hauled the load behind me and sprinted to the fence. To my shock, the fence was left open to which I effortlessly eased through. I hauled the hand truck of cider cases while climbing the hill and going through the yard towards the house. Before me was a looming white house which distracted the sun and created this aura of mystery. I stood underneath the marble arches of their porch. I parked my boots on the welcome doormat that showed a famous Norman Rockwell painting. When I composed myself and thought about everything Mr. Dooley preached on proper mannerisms, the front door cracked open. I was frightened so much I flinched and leaned my head back. The outlines of a soft, feminine, fair-skinned face appeared through the polarizing slit. Behind the door, the resentful voice matched the blurry image in the darkness: "Michael, is that you?"
I looked at my watch carefully which read ten o’clock a.m. It was the same time Mr. Dooley warned me to show up. And he reminded me of the swift penalties for breaking the time limit: ‘If you even show up at ten-o-one a.m. you better not show your face at their doorstep’, he said.
When the door slid wide open, I saw the home owner in full form. She was a curvy, worn-out, middle-aged woman with a tensed look about her. Her skin was as pale as the crystal snow covering her garden. Her emerald green eyes brought emphasis to her blonde mane. She was dressed in her nursing uniform. She paired a pink-collar blouse with a conservative white skirt flowing down to her ankles, inches above her orthopedic shoes. She worked in a profession that required mental and emotional endurance and many sleepless nights. I reasoned this- judging by the bags and aging lines that started to pour out once she tried to move her stiff face and crack a smirk.
"You’re not Michael," the icy looking greeter exclaimed. "I sent him down the street to get a fresh carton of milk a half an hour ago and come right back!" she went on, biting her lipstick-red lips. She then scowled at me as though I rained on her parade. My whole purpose was to deliver the Martinelli apple ciders she sought and be on my merry way.
"I take it Michael must be your son, ma’am?" I asked, but I really didn’t care.
"He sure is." Mrs. Stewart said without smiling or flinching. She stood holding the door with a reluctant gesture. "And you must be…."
"Sorry about the wait time, Mrs. Stewart. I know I’m a little late. But my name is William Haring junior. My friends call me Willie or Billy for short." I waited for Mrs. Stewart to relax a muscle and smile. I took off my hat covering my slick crew cut and explained: "I understand you have been a favorite customer of Mr. Dooley for years and have always sought Sebastian Dooley to deliver your groceries. However I’m deeply saddened to deliver bad news: Sebastian is no longer in good health to perform his duties."
"I heard what happened…" Mrs. Stewart interrupted me with unrecoverable sadness taking over her face. Her eyes welled up. "Mr. Dooley told me everything. I nearly cried because he was such a sweetheart. Sebastian was not just a deliverer he was like another son of mine: do ya’ hear what I’m saying?"
Momentarily I viewed the interior of the luxurious house facing me. I saw the bottom of the steep stairwell that led two floors up. I observed tons of family portraits down the deep hallway. They showed an entire ancestral line going back to the Mayflower. Then my eyes turned to the bright living room where the long hallway led. The sunlight brightened a grand piano in the center, with a cluster of leather couches and European furniture. I snapped out of my subconscious as quick as an arrow when Mrs. Stewart impatiently asked: "Is the order correct? I ordered about ten cases."
I looked at the ten cases of cider stacked on my hand truck. I shot a puzzled look towards Mrs. Stewart:"They're all here, ma'am: good and ready."
"Are they the right flavors?" Mrs. Stewart asked me. The question was obnoxious because of the cold look she gave me. When I assured her that apple cider was just what it was: ‘apple cider’, Mrs. Stewart quit bugging me. She then jumped the gun by sliding in a wisecrack: "Well, you sure aren’t tall and handsome like Sebastian, either."
I lifted my hand truck and wheeled it inside the house. After Mrs. Stewart slammed the door behind us, she pointed out: "Sebastian also had enough consideration to take a shower before entering someone’s home. He didn’t smell like a bucket of cigarettes had been dumped all over him." Mrs. Stewart’s words bounced right off my skin as I focused on the physical, rather than emotional, part of the job. I was confident knowing I had taken a long shower before coming to work. As for cigarettes, I smoked a joint in my truck. My addiction was something I couldn't control nor overcome.
I pulled the hand truck down the hall full of paintings and statues. Afterwards, I entered the large living room that looked like a reception room. Finally, I made my way into the custom kitchen. I took my time lugging the cases without dropping them on the shiny floor. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stewart just stood in the background fixing her hair. She then compulsively opened and closed the entrance door, hoping her son Michael would show up.
After a moment, Mrs. Stewart diverted her attention. She caught me browsing around the living room. When I took it upon my spontaneous self to sit near the enormous piano and fondle the keys to play notes, Mrs. Stewart reprimanded me. She asked what time would I come over the next day to drop off apple ciders. I was utterly soaking in sweat underneath my coat not knowing how to answer. I went into the kitchen to finish unpacking the apple cider cases onto the floor. I then looked Mrs. Stewart squarely in the face.
"I’ll arrive sometime tomorrow morning. I don’t know what time."
Mrs. Stewart changed up her expression. She raised her eyebrows and stretched her eyes. She exuded thoughtfulness and human concern: "Are you in school, young man?"
"Yes indeed. I’m completing my sophomore year at Bridgewater State College."
For a moment I heard the toilet flush upstairs assuming it was Mr. Stewart. I heard loud coughing and groaning with the symphony of flowing water. When the door busted open, the coughing came nearer strengthening the strong male voice behind it. Then the stairs creaked with sharp pounding of masculine feet. My fears increased.
Mrs. Stewart studied the stairs above our head. She rolled her eyes like an unhappily married woman. She said: "It's my husband Graham, as I'm sure you are aware. Now- here's eighty bucks for those ciders." Mrs. Stewart reached into her tiny purse to pull out four hearty twenty dollar bills. I respectfully thanked the misses, took the money out of her hands and tipped my hat to bid good day. Then the footsteps approached. When Mrs. Stewart led me to the front door, Mr. Stewart’s gruff voice shot me in the back: "Oh for the Lord’s sake Carol, get outta the doorway. Whattaya doing?"
"You have no concerned bone in your body, Graham Oliver Benedict Stewart!" Mrs. Stewart lashed out at her husband. "Go back to your cave. I’m worried about my child."
"Well your child is going on fourteen years old so stop coddling him!" Mr. Stewart exclaimed while yawning as loud as an injured leopard. "You want him to grow up to be a sissy mama’s boy? That’s what coddling him will do."
Mrs. Stewart signaled me to leave and stay out of grown folks’ business which was no skin off my back. The quicker I escaped being around two filthy rich, self-obsessed bloodsuckers, the better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave.
I was instantly captivated by the notorious man standing in the background. He stood upright in his masculine six foot form. He wore his bathrobe like a king, placing his foot on the last block of the stairwell. He commanded a presence even with a five-o'clock shadow and messy platinum hair exiting from his angular face. He wore spectacles looking like the scholarly gent he was when I saw him earlier. But the dirty cigar that hung from his lips didn't do him any favors. It reduced the value of his spectacles and revealed the ruthless, alpha-male millionaire he truly was.
"Well, look what we have here. Wicked pissah! We’ve got ourselves a young visitor."
Mr. Stewart raised my hairs with his overpowering voice. It was strengthened by expensive alcohol and cigars.From the start he judged me with subtlety. He held back as he scanned me up and down while puffing his fat joint. I was dazed and confused. I felt sweaty, dizzy and nauseated from driving around all day making deliveries.
The room was eerily silent while the Stewarts cast blank looks. Then Mr. Stewart pulled the cigar out of his mouth, looked straight at me and interrogated: "So chief, tell me: how good was your snow plow? Did you remove the snow from our front and backyards? My wife and I want to start planting apple trees, but I have no way of doing anything with all the fucking snow ruining the crops." Politely, I wanted to tell Mr. Stewart I was not a groundskeeper. I wasn’t bold or bright enough to communicate with such an imposing fella beyond, "yes sir and no sir". Mrs. Stewart, or Carol, as I was just informed, beat me to the punch.
"This is William Haring, Graham." Mrs. Stewart said in a patronizing tone. "He is our new deliverer who came to drop off our ciders. And he was just leaving."
Mr. Stewart is shocked and alarmed: "And where is Sebastian?"
"Sebastian will no longer work for you, sir," I immediately cut in. The Stewarts both looked towards me with stony looks. "He’s on paid medical leave. Until further notice I will take over his job, but most likely it will be permanent."
Mr. Stewart made crinkles in his forehead. He dropped his jaw in disbelief.In a tone of power and entitlement he complained: "That just can’t be! Who’s gonna compete with me over a game of pool? Who am I gonna teach to shoot a gun and aim a bayonet? Who's going to be my losing competitor at a high-stakes game of Pinochle?"
Annoyed, Mrs. Stewart dug into her purse and handed me a ten dollar tip for my time. She then led me out and shut the door. I was left standing on the porch, with my hand truck, in the blistering cold. I heard the last remnants of their trivial arguing: "Sebastian no longer exists, Graham. Will you get over it already?"
As I turned from the door, the sun just poured over me. It caused me to stand still and dissect what the heck I just experienced. When I slowly gathered my truck to walk down the hill, I encountered a teenage boy trudging in the same direction I came from. In his hands were dozens of shopping bags containing what I figured to be milk. It was Michael. Even when he looked at me and timidly nodded hello, I knew. I pieced together the hereditary features of his green eyes, Anglo nose, dotted freckles and dirty blonde hair crediting to Mr. and Mrs. Stewart. They were all physical qualities of a Trust Fund kid.
When I warmed up the truck and entered, I turned on the radio. I switched to a local radio station broadcasting Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration speech after he was sworn into office. But I wanted to listen to some music to lift my mood. I turned to an alternative music station playing Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" and Chuck Berry's "Maybellene". As the music soared my eyes followed the dapper adolescent in his parka and winter hat. He ran quickly towards his house until his mother stormed out the minute he walked in. She painfully grabbed him by his arm, snatched the bags out of his hands, and made many belligerent gestures.After several minutes I was tired of eavesdropping. I drove off and burned rubber.
It was four-thirty p.m. after delivering my last order. Physically and mentally exhausted I parked the company truck in front of Dooley's Deli Shop. I was in a hurry to give my boss his dough so I could go home. After a moment of breathing and collecting my thoughts, I immediately shut off the engine. I looked through the windows viewing the gas lit village of Attleboro square. The image of the Stewart family stuck in my mind while I gathered my belongings and exited the truck. The store was lit up and nearly empty. Only one customer remained, with her awestruck children browsing the cakes, pastries, cheeses and whole meats in the glass cases. Mr. Dooley stood behind the counter omitting the trays out of the registers to tally up the store’s profits. While introducing himself and engaging with the white, female customer about Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, Mr. Dooley gazed at me: "How did it go, chief?"
I confidently but somberly walked up to the counter. I greeted the customer who cast a disapproving look, pretending to browse. She protectively grabs her children as they all move aside to browse other stuff.
"Great." I said mechanically. I reached into my coat pocket. I took out a crumbling array of checks and cold cash I received from customers. "Listen boss is there any chance I can take Saturdays off? I really need to dedicate myself to my art classes."
Mr. Dooley didn’t like the whiny tone I delivered, but he nodded understandably. He respected my reasonable explanations. However, the altruistic light in Mr. Dooley’s green eyes quickly went out as he accepted the money I gave him. It totaled seven hundred dollars. I immediately noticed there were envelopes lying on the side of the counter beside Mr. Dooley. He then handed me my paycheck. He looked through me as he stuffed the envelope in my hands.
"Thanks, boss." I said with deep gratitude.
Mr. Dooley’s smile appeared haughty as if I should praise my master like a coon. Worse, I performed the stereotypes that Mr. Dooley would expect of me. When he turned his back to help a customer, I jumped up and down when I looked at the high amount on my check stub: four hundred dollars. I couldn’t grasp the numbers I was reading. I easily forgot all about dropping my weekend art classes. Every Saturday at Dooley’s Deli Shop was payday which made my life better. Working weekends not only increased my income but it gave me the advantage of earning my money quicker. I’ve gotten used to working Saturdays despite the drawbacks.
"As far as working weekends are concerned, I’m afraid it's gonna have to stick. I also have to make unfortunate cuts to your schedule."
"When you say cuts, what do you mean, sir?"
I knew damn well what it meant. But I wanted my boss to explain his motives in making my life more difficult. Too many times I let him off the hook.
"Willie listen, you are working Saturdays including Sundays, which is time and a half and more money. I have to reduce hours to aid all my workers. I’m facing a terrible dilemma. I reduced your hours to Saturdays and Sundays, eight am to five pm. You will get one-hour lunch breaks during your shifts."
"What’s the big idea, boss? I applied to this job to work as a full-time meat cutter and now I’m demoted to a part-time deliverer?"
"This is my store and I make the rules, buddy." Mr. Dooley snapped, the whites of his eyes turning red. "Now if you don’t like part-time then it's no time at all. Don’t let the door hit your ass like a whip."
I tried to lower my voice to keep the weary customer from looking at me. "Please don’t think I’m unmindful of all the good deeds you done for me, Mr. Dooley. But how am I gonna live off eighteen hours when I gotta pay my classes and textbooks for school? I may as well drop out of school altogether!"
Mr. Dooley took the toothpick out of his mouth and searched me asking: "Ain’t your daddy paying your school, boy?"
"He’s paying temporarily! What’s he gonna say when I tell him I’m only working eighteen hours a week? He’s gonna think I’m a lazy, sorry excuse for an offspring! He’s gonna force me to look for another job, and if I don’t he’s gonna throw me out of the house!"
I could’ve bawled like Shirley Temple. I held in my tears like a man, instead. I viewed the room shake as I got dizzy and nauseous from my bouts with anger. Mr. Dooley avoided me while counting money from the registers. He said: "I’m afraid I gave your hours during the week to Bobby, Kenny and Andy who need money to pay off their expenses. Kenny needs his braces removed which is gonna cost an arm and a leg. Plus my oldest boy Andy is saving up to rent an apartment and buy a car with the cash benefits he received from the G.I Bill. But he only received a small amount he can’t live on. He needs more money to cover his expenses and I gotta give him your hours. That’s the way cookies crumble, Willie. In this tough situation, I gotta choose my family first."
Mr. Dooley stopped and read my expression to make sure his statement resonated. He looked at me with lament: "With Sebastian gone, I’m holding your feet to the fire to fill in for him on weekends, because I know others won’t. That’s how skilled you are. I’m not doing this just to bust your balls, Willie! If I thought you were as useful as pig shit, I would never have hired you."
The customer roaming the store with her snot-nosed kids finally paid for whatever she bought. Mr. Dooley merrily greeted the customer and her children good-bye. Afterwards he regained his ‘Irish-American tough guy’ personality. He said: "Are you okay with your new schedule or not, buddy?"
"I’m okay, Mr. Dooley."
"Good. You’re on for tomorrow, eight o’clock sharp and don’t be late or early. You’re gonna deliver to the Stewarts first. Afterwards, you will deliver to the O’Neils and the Giffords. I got exclusive orders from them, so come prepared with your game face." After Mr. Dooley closed all the registers he discovered there were no more customers. He went over to flip the "sorry were closed" sign on the entrance door. The radio on the counter playing Frank Sinatra’s "Don’t Make a Beggar of Me" added to my despair. I wanted to say something about the Stewarts. However, Mr. Dooley tucked his paperwork underneath his armpit and wobbled back into his office.
Dinner was a bizarre affair. After my parents and I said our graces, we ate silently. Mama was a sickly woman who sat at the end of the dining table eating her mashed potatoes. Her eyes were red from coughing and vomiting all day. Her cheeks were as puffy as cotton. Her lips were chipped and cracked. It's been about five years since mama was diagnosed with leukemia, and each day her symptoms increased. All that was presentable about her was her hair in which she designed into an elegant bubble cut. But her catatonic facial expression revealed that her mind and soul were destroyed. Papa and I couldn't help but show our concern and pessimism while gazing at her. I studied my plate of mash potatoes, steak and corn cobs and imagined their bold colors in my head. Suddenly, mama snatched me out of my subconscious and asked: "So how was work today, son?"
"It was okay as usual, mama. I delivered several groceries all-day long."
Mama pretended to care by slightly lifting her chin. Sickness had taken over her.
"What about your artwork?" Papa questioned with calculation. He looked at me with a wide-eyed expression as always. He even stopped cutting his steak to expect my response. I struggled trying to find a right answer when there were so many wrong ones.
"I'm still attending school on weekends, pops." I said without thinking. I then resumed eating. The more I ate I didn't have to engage in small talk with my mouth full. My father squinted, still staring at me with skepticism. He wasn’t yet done with me.
"School is very important, William." My mother said softly, wheezing and clearing her throat.
"I hope you’re telling your boss that you’re in school and you can’t work too many hours."
"Your mama's right", papa said with a commanding bass in his voice. "And shouldn't your classes start in the mornings instead of the evenings? The initial plan was for you to live on campus and follow a regular semester. If I’m able to buss my behind selling windows five days a week, why can’t you attend school full-time?"
"It’s my decision, dad." I shot back. "I don’t want to live on campus. Why does it matter? I show up to class every day regardless. I haven't failed in one class since starting my sophomore year."
"Our neighbors: Mrs. Jameson, Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Hamilton put flyers on our door today." Mama interceded, staring at papa. "They want me to join their neighborhood watch club."
"And what tricks do they have up their sleeves recruiting a Negro?" Papa snapped. His anger was meant to be directed towards me. "What the Hell will you benefit from, Mary? These women you’re referring to are the same senile bitches watching us when we moved here. You ought to find better things to do with your time."
Mama glared at papa and fired: "Just eat the dinner I cooked William senior, and stop being a fool."
I was confused when papa ‘went ape’ and condemned mama for being naive. He was the same man who defended Mr. Winthrop, after he had racially assaulted me for kissing his daughter. I wanted to leave the table and go to my room. Instead, I noted the evening darkness flowing through the kitchen windows. I viewed the chandelier lights. I stared at the washing machine. I stared at everything.
After dinner I took a shower and wandered down into the basement. The heavy darkness created an eerie experience until I flicked on the light. I marveled at all the blank white canvases placed in a corner in my side of the basement. They were waiting to come to life with my brilliant imagination.
I viewed my half-done canvas of a Georgia plantation covered in a protective white sheet. I was crazy to choose my dead-end job delivering groceries over my artwork. When I set up my easel, attached my canvas and took out many cans of paint, I viewed my artwork. I thought of other ideas to express symbols of human suffering. I thought about what I could add to the oil painting. I wanted to add movement to it. I impulsively sketched figures of slaves to the cotton field and then outlined and toned the images with auburn paint. It blended perfectly with the crimson backdrop. Adrenaline released in my body the moment I was in my zone. I was thirsty for art and what the smell of oil paint did for me. It ignited my senses. It made me reflect on the reason I lived.
I immediately ran upstairs without even cleaning up the spill and shut the basement door. I watched papa sleeping on the couch wrapped in his blanket. He was snoring to high heavens like a giant mountain bear. But I didn't care about disturbing anyone as I frantically ran upstairs. After taking a quick shower, I looked at my watch: seven-forty a.m. I thought about the lectures I was likely to hear from my boss, besides the ire I would draw from my stone-casting co-workers. I stood before the bathroom mirror staring at my cheekbones, brown eyes, thick lips and flat nose. I applied Palmer's pomade onto my slick black hair, brushing my teeth afterwards.
Papa sat at the kitchen table reading his newspaper and eating oatmeal when he peered at me. He said: "Mr. Dooley called. He complained that he was stumped with special orders to be delivered. He would like for you to get to his store as quickly as possible."
I locked eyes with my father and said: "Since you don’t work on Sundays do you mind if I use your truck? I really hate walking in the snow."
Papa glanced at me, not knowing how to respond with a sympathetic "yes" or a bitter "no". He formed a pained facial expression, with no way out of his predicament. He was hearing too many voices in his head coaching him on what decision to make. He then said: "What are you going to do with my truck if you're going to use the company truck that Mr. Dooley provides for you?" A solution came to papa as he slammed down his spoon and his newspaper simultaneously. He finally understood my question and he said: "Go wait in the truck while I get ready."
Papa led me from Belington Street to Main Street. When he parked down two car spaces from Dooley's Deli shop he stopped the truck, turned off the ignition and looked me dead in my face. He asked: "So you're delivering Graham Stewart's groceries, eh? He's a scumbag which comes as no surprise. He was born using his rich father as his cash cow." My father then chokes up laughing: "He ran for senator in nineteen forty-eight and lost with just fifty votes. I got hair on my ball sack greater than that pathetic number."
"No shit, pops." I utter. My heart was beating. I wanted to laugh at papa's remarks but I kept thinking about the big day that lied ahead. Nonetheless papa made me more nervous just by speaking of the devil.
"Son, are you going to school every day?" Papa suddenly asked, frowning at me. "I really hope you're not lying because the last thing I want is for you to spend your life working for a white man. I want better for you, Willie. I want to give you what I didn't have growing up in the slums of East Boston. I used to be a numbers' runner working for hustlers and prostitutes. I got into trouble with the law more times than I can count when I turned to gang-banging. I lived in an environment with no opportunities for black men and no good role models. I was raised by penniless, illiterate sharecroppers who knew nothing about city life when they came up to the North."
The significant look in my father's eyes gave me chills. His facial expression carried a desperate plea to raise his family in an equal society. I said no word as I nodded agreeably to papa's philosophies. Afterwards I unlocked the passenger door to get out. I could never compare my life to papa’s life. I was a fortunate, middle class Negro living in a house.
In the store, Mr. Dooley questioned why I had arrived at eight-twenty. I was reminded of his order echoing in my brain: "Be here at eight o'clock sharp. Don't come too late and don't come too early." After I explained myself, Mr. Dooley presented two stacked U-boats. One U-boat comprised a dozen Martinelli cider cases and the other comprised packaged special orders. The last time I pissed in my pants, I was a child. However, when I looked at all those orders piled to the damn ceiling I caved in. Hot urine kept running down my legs producing a biting smell of everything I drank that morning and last night. I closed my legs together, I smiled, and I looked natural. My boss searched me: "Are you sure you can handle this, Willie?"
I still pressed my hand on my crotch while the last drop of urine slid down my legs. It was a given I wore inconspicuous black pants that day. I was unprepared for a fate that would make it necessary for me to wear them.
Immediately I grabbed the U-boats despite my drenched pants sticking to
my legs. Meanwhile Mr. Dooley kept on coaching me on how to do this, do that
and how to present myself satisfactorily while making deliveries. I clung on to
his every word. As I piled all the cider cases and special orders into the
company truck, Mr. Dooley stood over me. When I closed the trunk and fastened
it securely, my boss searched me and got a good whiff of me. He looked wholly
It was the smell of my urine turned to crust by the frigid New England weather drying my pants. I ignored Mr. Dooley's comments by shrugging my shoulders and walking to the passenger door.
"It’s nothing to worry about, boss." I said. "I just ate something and spilled it on my clothes before I came to work today."
"Well make sure you wear cologne before you go around anyone smelling like you do. Represent my company well."
"And before you go, Willie" Mr. Dooley commanded, "Take this." My boss reached into the pockets of his overalls and handed me a picture of Mr. Stewart. I reckoned it was taken at the start of the century during the First World War. It was an eerie worn out newspaper photo of him in his late teens. He was a young, dandy man with slick hair parted in the middle. He wore a well fitted ROTC uniform. And he smiled cooperatively for the photographer while buying something inside Dooley's Deli Shop. The photo suggested significance because Mr. Stewart was one of the first customers during the store's grand opening. The event was the biggest news story of Attleboro shown in the newspaper. Also, the photo was a reminder of Mr. Stewart's eventual notoriety as a running senator and congressman.
After staring at the tiny photo in my hands for a whole minute, I gave it back to Mr. Dooley. The heavy fog invading the previously sunny sky showed gloom heading my way. The thick layers of clouds did nothing to lift my spirits as I prepared for another long day visiting The Stewarts.
"I wanted you to see that photo so you’ll know how important The Stewarts are", my boss stated. "They contribute to the history of my store. They have long time connections to my family."
"How important?" I stopped and asked.
As Mr. Dooley inspected his truck for any damages, he guffawed at my question as though I had a lot to learn.
"My father, Martin Dooley senior founded this shop before he died and handed it over to me." Mr. Dooley continued. "He used to invite the Stewarts to shop here all the time. Graham Stewart's father Thomas Stewart got rich by finding the Fall River Railroad. However he grew up here in Attleboro so he was simply proud to see the rise of a new business in his hometown. To let you in on a bigger secret: Thomas donated plenty o' money to my father's shop and he sponsored it big time. So it's important that you understand this as my employee, Willie. It's important that you understand that status means everything to me because we are one of the oldest, most influential stores in this state who have catered to high profile people. When you make deliveries, especially to The Stewarts, you must grasp an elitist image that we've projected for years. And because you aren’t white, there's added pressure. Everything you do will be judged as a regularity of your people, and your actions will also reflect my store. If you act thuggish and shameful, I will get a bad reputation for hiring a Negro. And I don't want that to happen, Willie, because I love you like you're one of my boys."
I felt punched in the gut but I took Mr. Dooley’s statements in stride. He was sentimental towards Negroes and I gave him some credit. He was a man who has dealt his share of hardship as an Irish Catholic white man, inferior in the eyes of wealthy Protestant whites. Thus, I took his advice despite how painful it was to swallow. I trusted him, and he was man of credibility.
"You got that?" Mr. Dooley eyed me, crinkling his brow. "Listen buddy, I'm not the one who sees things this way, although I was raised to adapt the same mind-set. Several fucking scumbags in this community still oppose the Thirteenth Amendment."
My boss's logics didn't escape my mind all-day long. After making deliveries to different families, all with the same biases towards me, I made my last stop to Graham Stewart's house. I felt my heart reducing speed as much as I needed to refuel the truck. I was given grueling, exhausting routes from Attleboro to North Attleboro to Dartmouth to Swansea and then finally back to Attleboro. When I parked the company truck and backed up so I would slide perfectly near the estate, I turned the radio off. A string of hit songs by Bill Haley and His Comets played, followed by breaking news about the Soviet Union.
When I unlocked the driver's door, I rushed to the trunk. I grabbed each of the twelve cider cases, hoping to leave them on the doorstep and run away. I had no time to engage in frivolous chatter with Mr. Stewart or his equally obnoxious wife.
It was four thirty p.m. when the overcast turned slightly blue. Later a full moon shed light above the three houses and estates in the neighborhood. And when darkness hit, the temperature dropped. The blistering wind gave me frost bites, even as I was bundled up from head to toe. I felt ceaseless muscle tension as I rolled my hand truck up the hill. When I entered Mr. Stewart's wide front yard, I viewed the American flag flapping on top of his roof. I even staggered and nearly dropped the one hundred pound stack of cases as thoughts kept me from focusing and keeping my balance.
After going through the maze-like yard and pulling the ten cases up the stairway, I tapped Mr. Stewart's door knocker three times. I looked all around me noticing the sheer quietness and desolateness of the sleepy New England landscape. All I heard were sounds of crickets mating and birds still flying and singing before evening set in. While waiting, I took a cigarette out of my coat pocket and lit it. Feeding my overwhelming addiction, I took five deep puffs sending me into euphoria. But before I put out my cigarette, I was caught red-handed like a kid stealing from a cookie jar. Abruptly the locks unbolted and the door cracked open. It was Mr. Stewart dressed in a bathrobe as usual. He looked wholly dismayed as I quickly stuck my burning cigarette in my pocket and smashed it with my hand. He said nothing, which was even more hostile. Apart from his refined nose and platinum hair, his ferocious blue eyes spoke volumes. And his smoke pipe was custom-made, protruding through his firm lips. He extended no pleasantries while studying me like a lab experiment. I wasted no time properly introducing myself and presenting the Martinelli cider cases. I hurriedly went over his order and explained the amount in price.
"I take it you must be William." Mr. Stewart uttered, but I didn't know whether he was asking me or telling me. He was preoccupied with his thoughts, his desires, and his hidden motives just looking at me. The fumes from his smoke pipe invaded my personal space.
"Yes indeed sir, my name is William Haring."
"I’m Graham Oliver Benedict Stewart, but I assume you already know since your boss talks about me all the time. Marty junior and I have been friends since we were little sons of bitches running around, chasing girls, playing baseball and getting into mayhem. Both our dads were dear friends. My old man shopped there all the time. He’s deceased, God rest his soul, but man oh man we’ve all had good memories."
"Oh, yeah I heard about that. Well, Mr. Dooley told me to give you the message that he always appreciates your business."
I felt I was talking to a wall. I was still scanned. Mr. Stewart looked exasperated, lowering his bottom lip. He dismissively said: "Well you certainly aren't Sebastian. You aren't tall, you're not that muscular, you certainly aren't Irish....."
Standing underneath the archway in the blistering cold, I developed a cough. It interrupted Mr. Stewart's attempt to reach for an insult. To my astonishment, my interrogator suddenly winked and lapsed into belly aching laughter. His face turned red.
"I'm just busting your balls, pal. Just drag those cases right on in here, chief."
Mr. Stewart continued to laugh rancorously while slapping me on the back so hard I felt my bones rattling.After he took out his wallet and paid me ninety bucks for the ciders, he asked: "How long did it take you to get here, son?"
"Well sir, I had to make stops at ten different houses to deliver stuff, so you're my last customer."
"I'm well aware, but how long did it take you to get to this house?"
"I'd say about forty five minutes, factoring in traffic."
Mr. Stewart showed contempt while looking at his gold wristwatch. He said: "Humph. Sebastian always arrived early to deliver my orders. I was number one on the priority list. He was a diligent, well astute young man, that fella."
I hauled the Martinelli cases down the familiar long hallway. The area attracted heat because of the living room furnace. Not only was I pulling a load, but the added pressures of the humidity and Mr. Stewart’s intimidating presence made me light-headed. I felt Mr. Stewart’s fierce gaze bouncing on my back as I kept my focus on the statues in the hall. They were all stone busts of historical presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. I didn’t even have time to stop and marvel. I continued hauling the cider cases. The five presidents shot grim looks towards me as I passed.
"You like what you see, Willie?" Mr. Stewart yelled. His pipe hung from the side of his mouth as he trudged behind me in his robe. "Those men inspired me to become a politician. I look up to those guys. Sebastian wanted to buy one of those statues from me. I told him: come up with a thousand dollars, and I’ll personally wrap one with a red ribbon and send it to your house with a complimentary fruit basket."
"I don't think Sebastian is coming back, Mr. Stewart." I said out of nowhere. I was just tired of hearing about Sebastian.
Mr. Stewart’s face turned tomato red as he snatched his pipe out of his mouth.
"What are you, busting my balls, kid?" he yelled. He stepped beside me and held on to my shoulder. I was so close to Mr. Stewart like never before. His neck gave off the stench of Old Spice cologne mixed with brandy and cigars. He looked haggard wearing his bathrobe.
"Say it isn't so?" Mr. Stewart exclaimed. "I absolutely loved that boy! He was like a son to me. He was the ideal young man of every father’s hopes."
I continued to pull the load and forward my steps.
"Without meaning to be nosy and whatnot sir, I ran into your son the last time I came over here. He looked troubled. I reckon his name is Michael."
"No shit. What a joke." Mr. Stewart snapped. I reckoned he was more disappointed in himself for taking essential part in producing Michael. "Here I am living my legacy through Michael and trying to instill Puritan values into the kid. Well, to my surprise I catch the little bastard smoking reefer up in his room. I gave him the worse unimaginable Hell he’d ever experienced in his thirteen years on this planet! I had originally blamed that rock and roll music junk he listens to as an influence of his misconduct. But I’m running out of patience psychoanalyzing that kid. I was later informed by the mother of some other little punk in Michael’s hockey team, that her son had given Michael the pot. What happened to this generation of defiant, underachieving boys? I wouldn't even look at my father the wrong way, let alone betray his trust, which meant everything."
I silently allowed Mr. Stewart to continue rambling as he stared at me, blowing tobacco smoke in my face. "Say Willie, in all my years as a congressman, I never dealt with too many colored people like you and their social and economic issues. But I visited a pantry in a ghetto one time."
"I would’ve never guessed." I said. I tried to avert my eyes to study the statues in the hallway. I pretended to show disinterest in Mr. Stewart’s life story, and eagerness to finish my job.
"You wanna know something, Willie?" Mr. Stewart continued. "I grew up in an English-American Christian community right here in Attleboro, Massachusetts. My father was a co-founder of the Fall River Railroad and he would force me every morning at three a.m. to go out, rain or snow, and help his assembly crew lay down tracks. In addition, every Saturday he would demand me to walk four miles down the road of our house to buy milk. After I caught my son smoking reefer I thought: hmmm, what punishment can I possibly give him that will knock his socks off? Moreover in that moment, a light bulb turned on inside my head! I told Michael: from this day forward you will get up every Saturday morning, walk three miles to the store and buy milk until your sixteen years old. The rule is effective immediately."
I pictured the day I ran into Michael carrying bags of milk. His scorned face still terrified me.
"White American fathers in those days were real men: real patriarchs and disciplinarians." Mr. Stewart went on. "They would glare at their children and clench their fists. That was considered real parenting. The advice my father gave me still resonates. When I got suspended from school for fighting, he angrily pulled me aside that day. He said: "son, a man needs to live by seven principles. They are: intelligence, diligence, honesty, responsibility, bravery, compassion, and leadership. Without these qualities, you should be castrated."
Mr. Stewart burst out wild laughter while choking on the fumes of his cigar. "I still remember all the shit my father used to say. I can’t make this stuff up."
A large display case in a corner of the hallway caught my eye. I stopped and viewed what the case contained. Mr. Stewart read my horrified expression and he formed a knowing grin. The top shelf contained a distorted copy of The Declaration of Independence. On the second shelf was a bunch of Mr. Stewart’s congressional pins and awards. But shock waves ran through me when I viewed the third shelf. My mouth hung open in utter bafflement. Mr. Stewart pointed to a small whip made from the bark of a lace tree- and right next to the whip was a pair of rusty brown chains made from iron.
"My great-great-great grandfather was a Puritan who owned fifty slaves." Mr. Stewart proclaimed bluntly. "What you see are heirlooms. They were passed down through generations."
"Heirlooms?" I asked incredulously. "With all due respect sir, an heirloom is something that epitomizes beauty and uniqueness."
I studied Mr. Stewart’s baffled expression. He was proud of his family history dating back to the first settlements. He showed offense to my unprofessional remark. I was in his house to work, not to be a bigmouthed little Negro who didn’t know his rightful place. But he was more tolerant with me than I expected. He hinted with his annoyed expression to drop the subject. "I’m a fifty-five year old man. I have absolutely nothing to do with the way my ancestors thought, and why they believed in such a satanic philosophy and practice. But I vowed to undo the vicious cycle in this family. I teach my son to love thy neighbor as God preached in the Old Testament."
I kept thinking about Mr. Stewart's son- forced to walk three miles to a store every cold Saturday morning. And his harsh punishment made sense. I connected it all to the Stewart family's history of abuse, violence and chastisement. I did all these assessments as I resumed tilting and rolling the hand truck of cider cases. Mr. Stewart lovingly placed his hand on my wrist, walking beside me and posing more endless questions.
"Tell me something Willie: are you the type of man who strives for excellence or perfection? Would you rather eat for a day, or eat for a week? What if I released you from prison and instead of leading you to a buffet table I offered you a farm with pigs, chickens, sheep, cows and apple trees instead? Which goes back to my posing question: are you a fool who’d rather eat for a day, or a king who’d rather eat for a week?"
When I got through unpacking the cases in the kitchen as Mr. Stewart instructed, he walked into the laundry room. I was relieved to be alone. When I snuck into the living room I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The décor was everything I expected from a big shot. The leather furniture set was pushed back against the wall. It added wide space for an easel and a half finished canvas parked in the center of the room. It stood atop a paint-stained drop cloth. The easel also contained a palette of different shades of oil paint: exquisite and colorful.
The empty space drew even more attention to the intoxicating Monet, Picasso and John Singer Sargent paintings and the sensuous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The gold framed paintings hung on the wall under the tinged light of the chandeliers. The beautiful piano I enjoyed playing during my prior visit was no longer in sight as it was tucked away in the entertainment room, with the pool table. Inappropriately, I even touched the iconic paintings on the wall. I studied all of their movements, textures, contours and richness. Remarkably they all expressed, from a paintbrush, the human condition of each time period. As a little kid I studied these legendary paintings and their greatest living composers. My obsession for art hit me as hard as a wrecking ball. If I couldn’t paint, I may as well be dead.
In the background I heard Mr. Stewart sneezing and I immediately corrected my posture to be nothing less than productive. He put his arms around me and offered me a glass of what could’ve only been apple cider. I gratefully accepted his generosity and I consumed the cold, refreshing cider down my dry throat. I didn’t know what to do with the empty glass afterwards, so I put it on the marble kitchen counter. Mr. Stewart went back to what he was doing painting a portrait of his wife and son: mysteriously absent on a Sunday evening. He tipped his brush trying to stress the facial expressions of his family. He struggled with his concentration as he painted and highlighted each line carefully. He then cursed aloud and savagely threw his paintbrush towards the fiery furnace. Mr. Stewart changed his disposition like night and day the moment he gazed directly at me.
"Painting is another undying passion of mine with politics. Are you an unbridled lover of art, Willie?" Mr. Stewart asked in a husky voice. He didn’t even wait for me to answer. He continued brainstorming what to paint while sitting in his chair.He then looked at me and stated: "The paintings you see on that wall, young man, are not knock-offs. They’re originals. The Monet painting and the painting of Adele were recovered from a destroyed museum when Germany was bombed. My father bought them in Berlin while business traveling. I bought those paintings from my old man just days before he died in nineteen forty-seven. And just in case you ask: they are worth millions, my boy."
"I’m a painter myself, sir." I said, feeling dizzy. I saw stars. I felt faint and sleepy since I had that drink.
"You are, are ya?" Mr. Stewart chuckled. "Well that explains why you’ve been staring at those paintings for a good twenty minutes. You must be an art enthusiast."
I couldn’t take much more of my brain cells declining and my entire body losing grip. I nearly fell to the floor. Anyone could’ve chopped my arms and legs off and I would’ve felt no stimuli: that’s how numb I was.
"I’m more of a contemporary artist." I went on, forcing out my words unintelligibly. I slurred my words when my tongue suddenly numbed: "But I love the classics from the antique period, to the Renai….Renai..."
"….Renaissance!" Mr. Stewart interjected laughingly with a pearly white smile across his face.
"I also like the Baroque period and so forth…." I nodded my head, staggering and then recomposing myself. "But I want to create something that speaks to my generation of today: you know, like commercialism, poverty, discrimination, teenage angst….in a post-World War era."I heard the rustling noise of Mr. Stewart scratching underneath his chin. He watched me significantly. I couldn’t shake Mr. Stewart. He was the strong, powerful, silent type. He knew what to say and when to make the right moves like a game of chess.
"So what do you paint?" Mr. Stewart questioned, leaving his painted canvas to dry under the light.
I shrugged my shoulders and said: "Well, I’m working on a painting- it's on an image of the Civil War."
"My grandfather fought in the 51st regiment." Mr. Stewart stopped me with a sense of self-importance. "But go on……"
"I’m not done with it but I want it to depict slavery. I’m stumped with too many ideas."
The evening darkness flowed through the windows, clashing with the living room light. I felt under intoxication as I saw nothing but blurriness. When I asked to use the restroom, Mr. Stewart ordered me, with distrust and coldness in his eyes, to use one of the five bathrooms upstairs. I reentered the living room feeling relieved that I took a much-needed piss. But the dreariness and numbness and heaviness I felt still hadn’t worn off.Meanwhile Mr. Stewart was heavily at work.
I lost breath, lost balance, and lost circulation in my brain. When I drifted, I felt many hands: more hands than I had felt from any girl I’ve been with. Something grabbed my testicles, picked me up like a dog and carried me. I lost control of my body and mind. I kept floating…. and floating.
When I came to and lifted my eyes, my face was buried in icy snow. I had been frostbitten for hours as my skin met the below negative, gusty winds. My coat, hat and gloves were thrown over my head as though I’ve been dumped like trash. I cursed in full-blown outrage as I brought myself up off the snowy porch floor. I looked all around the menacingly dark landscape. I blocked my eyes from the fluorescent porch lights shining in my face. I did the arithmetic. The front door was shut and secured. I was cruelly and unjustly locked out and left lying unconscious in the dangerously cold weather.
My mind raced trying to connect dots and form an analysis: what in doggone Hell just happened? Where was I? I looked at my wrist watch upon hearing noisy crickets in the wilderness. I recovered from comatose as I deciphered the hands that displayed six o’clock. I instantly thought about my boss Mr. Dooley going bat shit crazy over my absence. I imagined him venting to his other employees to search for me, and calling the police. I pictured him flipping over his "sorry were closed sign" and seeing no image of me or his truck parked in front of his store. I angrily placed my coat, hat and gloves on to prevent getting sores from the cold. Knocking on the front door several times, I became malicious. I was ready to enact confrontation and revenge. The recapturing image of the drink Mr. Stewart offered me never waned. It just kept going on and on inside my head as the front door immediately cracked open.
Lo and behold: Mr. Stewart discredited my entire existence glaring at me without his glasses. "What the Hell do you want boy?" He asked in a vicious tone. "You delivered my cider cases, I paid you, now leave. You can't plan to stay in my house forever, nigger."
I got up in Mr. Stewart's face and never held back. Fireworks set off within me. I met his delightfully menacing stare with my own. "I didn't plan to stay in your house, you cracker!" I yelled with agony in my strained voice. "You carried me out and threw me out, which is assault!"
"Well you got that part right, nigger!" Mr. Stewart barked. "It’ll teach you to show respect. The next time you arrive here to deliver my orders, you show up early and on time just like Sebastian did. And don't you dare smoke a goddamn cigarette on my property- ever again! I don’t know if you’ve gotten the memo buddy, but disrespect is not tolerated on my turf. Your people aren’t welcomed in this city anyways."
"For your information, I was born and raised in this city!" I fumed. I picked up and grabbed my hand truck off the ground. "I won’t deliver any more ciders to this shit pit. If I ever do come back, I will deliver your ciders laced with arsenic."
"You know something Willie," Mr. Stewart began, laughing gruffly. He leaned against the doorway leering at me. He was impressed with his power to oppress the weak. He dumped the ashes from his smoke pipe onto the welcome mat and folded his arms.
"I gotta hand it to you, Willie. You exhibit typical aggression from an animal. All along that’s just what I expected. You've just proven to me that niggers can't be trusted."
Mr. Stewart then squinted at me with despise and menace. He pointed at me, saying: "You know something, boy: if I were smart enough I never would’ve let you step into my house. My great-great-great grandfather did the right thing chaining all you niggers up. The world is a safer place without niggers."
"Don't put your rotten hands on me anymore, Mr. Stewart......" I warned.
"Or what, boy? You'll harm me, is that it?"
I dodged Mr. Stewart’s attempt to attack me. He grabbed my coat collar pulling me closer to his face. He enjoyed every minute of my torment while chuckling and turning his face red. Instantaneously, I struggled to throw a punch and both of our elbows interlocked.
"You better not put your hands on me anymore, Mr. Stewart!" I yelled, backing away.
Mr. Stewart continued laughing rowdily. He followed me with his creepy
gaze as I exited the porch. His terrifying blue eyes poked out through his
skull. He continued ranting:
"I'm only gonna tell you one time I give no rat’s ass about you." I said, carrying my hand truck as I descended the porch stairwell. "As far as ordering me to do something, go tell Mr. Dooley your damn self, cracker!"
Mr. Stewart guffawed like a demon sent from Satan: "Oh, I will. You bet your ass I will. Don't you worry about it, nigger."
I paced myself walking down the dark hill, as fast and as far away as possible. Mr. Stewart then called after me: "Do what's best for ya, Willie. Get on outta here!"
Mr. Stewart's disgusting voice finally withered. In no time I reached the large white fence down the hilly estates. Halfway to the gate I stopped and viewed a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud enter, pull up and park in front of the house. I saw the always unhappy and pitiful Mrs. Stewart exit out of the expensive car. She lugged shopping bags while her scowling, repressed son Michael followed suit. He gripped an adult golden retriever on a leash. I struggled within my damaged soul to express pleasantries after I was just dehumanized. They hollered greetings and I played along hollering back. However, the nightfall blurred out our facial expressions and made our greetings disingenuous. Mrs. Stewart approached me with a stern and weary expression.
Well, I'm certainly glad to see you again, William." said Mrs. Stewart, "I'm sure you've met my son Michael."
Tugging my coat while hanging on to my hand truck I nodded in concurrence. "Yes I have, Mrs. Stewart. Hello Michael."
Michael peered at me with a timid and resentful frown. "Hi", he utters. He then turned to his diffident mother, tugging her coat sleeve.
"Mom, what happened to Sebastian?" he said in the most thin, whiny voice. His dog overshadowed him, barking relentlessly. The eager golden retriever jumped up to my chest to sniff me. Mrs. Stewart swiftly scolded Michael to take his dog and go back in the house.
"Well, we appreciate your business William, and stop by again anytime we need more apple ciders." Mrs. Stewart told me with a bizarre half-smile.
I remained silent to let Mrs. Stewart know there was no chance in Hell. I didn't look her in the eye to acknowledge her gratitude. I pressed my lips, formed a scowl and headed for my truck. I had no desire to cross paths with her, or her psychotic family again.
While driving I decided to pull over in a far right lane on the Interstate Ninety-Five highway. I immediately stopped the engine, and I cried like a girl as if my life depended on it. I balled my fists and banged them repeatedly on the steering wheel until I gave up hope trying to regain my manhood.I reflected on every offense that Mr. Stewart made towards me, mightier than a bullet to the brain. Soon, I wiped my eyes and I looked through the windshield. I was reminded by angry drivers honking pass me to move it along. From my rear-view mirror, I followed beamed lights coming near me. I was a cursed man, and that night I felt it in my heart and soul. A police officer suddenly closed in on me while riding a motorcycle. The young white officer was disguised in a black bomber jacket and black shades. He studied me long and hard while chewing gum. He then yelled over his loud motor:
You waiting for someone in particular buddy? You gotta get off the highway if you aren't driving, pal. Otherwise you'll get a ticket."
"I’m not waiting for anyone sir", I responded. Immediately I put my foot on the gas pedal and burned rubber.
It was nine PM. I finally drove back to Attleboro and parked Mr. Dooley's company truck in front of the store. At that point, I cared less about the repercussions I faced. I viewed Mr. Dooley in the store having a long discussion with a husky police officer. The tired officer busied himself jotting down every piece of information on a notepad. He upheld a puzzled expression as Mr. Dooley kept yapping without letting him get a word in edgewise. The funny part was: I didn’t care. I was Hell bent on revenge and consumed in my anger. I was tired of working under people, taking their abuse. That night, I planned my liberation. I thought about the two results I could shape for myself: quit or get fired. Whatever the result, I knew for sure that I would bid good riddance to Mr. Dooley before the night was over.
I couldn’t even plead my case because the damage was already done. Mr. Dooley called me to his office to announce that Mr. Stewart called the store: I allegedly didn't deliver his wine cases at all. When I did arrive I was thuggish and 'intoxicated out of my mind.'
"So what the Hell did you do with those apple ciders I told you to deliver, Willie?" Mr. Dooley screamed out. He went nuts. Spider veins formed in his forehead and cheeks. His green eyes popped out of their sockets. I expected steam to flow through his ears at any minute.
"I told you, Mr. Dooley, I was at Mr. Stewart’s house!" I raised my strained, swollen voice. I was still under a dizzy spell. "Furthermore I delivered those apple ciders, but you wouldn't believe me anyhow. My plight warrants no compassion, only ignorance and insensitivity."
Wild with fury, Mr. Dooley advanced towards me as though he wanted do me in: "You fucking bastard! I send you to do one simple task and you embarrass me and tarnish my company's reputation in return. What am I gonna do with you?"
The pale faced police officer stood in the background glaring at me. He broke his silence and questioned: "Mr. Stewart claims you also assaulted him. Is that true Mr. Haring?"
My body went numb, more than I could stand that night. I felt as if I've been pummeled to the ground and kicked in the face, stomach and rib cage a thousand times.
"No, officer" I muttered, lowering my face as tears rolled down my cheeks. "But whether I’m honest or dishonest doesn’t matter. As long as I’m colored and perceived a common criminal, my side of the story has no credibility."
The dour police officer responded by rolling his eyes: "Now hold on just a second, boy! I’m only going by what I was told, so don’t make this more difficult by flapping your gums. You’ll be relieved to know that Mr. Stewart dropped all charges against you out of kindness. However, I’m giving you a warning buddy: you are banned from any contact with that man again. Mr. Stewart doesn’t want you anywhere near his house. If you are caught, you’ll be fined up to nine hundred dollars, or thrown in jail. The law is effective immediately. Got it?"
"I wouldn’t want to go back to that freakish house, anyways!" I yelled, causing my manager and the policeman to drop their jaws. Mr. Stewart told salacious lies about me. Therefore I was gonna beat him at his own game. Making a childish, frightened expression I continued: "When I visited Mr. Stewart’s house, I smelled human flesh sizzling on his kitchen stove. Not to mention all of his rooms were filled with photos of naked children. You excuse a murderous pedophile like Mr. Stewart, yet you incriminate an innocent man like me all because I’m brown-skinned. I’m outraged, sickened and bewildered, officer!"
The policeman gave me a look that killed.
Mr. Dooley slid his fat body off his chair and rose in rage: "So I should believe your defamatory bullshit over a respected congressman: is that what you’re saying? Help me out here Willie, because I don’t want to assume you’re this crazy enough to get fired!"
My boss challenged me to answer by raising his eyebrows. But I didn’t even give him the benefit of telling me I was fired. I turned, dizzy, sleepy and aching all over. I heard the repulsed gasps from the policeman and my manager as I silently led myself out.
I was in my dorm room finishing my Civil War era canvas for Mr. Doherty that has drained the life out of me. I finally reached a concept by sketching Mr. Stewart’s face, a face that would always haunt me. I drew his image over the plantation field of working slaves. I applied white paint to the red background to form his face and baby blue paint to emphasis his eyes. I then sketched the smoking pipe that always hung from his mouth. Afterwards I painted it black. Finally, I painted devil horns to his platinum hair. I wanted the painting to look satirical and cartoonish. I finished with a deep sense of joy and accomplishment that only years of hardship could reap. Suddenly when my white roommate barged in wearing his football jacket with his brown hair formed in a pompadour, he took a moment to stare at my painting. He was completely bedazzled while taking off his spectacles.
"Nice painting, buddy! That’s some heavy shit, my man. I love the richness and tone."
"Thanks, Ralph." I said, grinning with pride. "I always appreciate your opinions."
"It really conveys social disorder that is still prevalent." my roommate continued. "But say: who’s the funny looking man with the pipe? Didn’t he run for senator of Massachusetts years ago?"
I locked eyes with my quizzical looking roommate. We shared each other’s sentiments with our repulsed expressions. We knowingly shook our heads. Afterwards, my roommate walked to the television to turn on the news as it broadcast a Patriot’s Day parade. It marched through Bridgewater while several soldiers, police officers and city officials joined the festivities. The parade also celebrated former and current Massachusetts congressmen. Thus, Graham Oliver Benedict Stewart was present, in full form. Driven by vengeance, I rushed down the halls of my dormitory with a large canvas under my armpit.
I was dressed in nothing but a bathrobe. I burst through the entry doors with unstoppable fury as the chilly weather stung me. I pushed past the integrated college crowd of nerds, jocks, preppies, party girls, beatniks and politically conscience hippies already protesting the ultraconservative parade around the campus. Eagerly, I climbed up a tree as everyone glimpsed and pointed at me in shock, amusement, disbelief and admiration. My feet slid on the large trunk before I clung onto a thick tree branch. I then flexed my body until I stood on top of the tree branch and waved my canvas. No sooner than when the city officials passed by marching and waving did I see Mr. Stewart swaggering. His face was shaved and undisguised: revealing his sleazy, inhumane grin. And he donned a three-piece gray suit like a man valuing vanity.
"How dare you show your face, Mr. Stewart! You’re a supremacist!" I growled. I was pumped with overwhelming adrenaline. I held up my painting of Mr. Stewart’s satanic face overseeing his slaves. He looked up at me in horror as his pipe fell out of his mouth. He immediately cursed and whistled at police officers to detain me. He violently grabbed his elegantly dressed wife as they dropped underneath a car. They hid their faces from swarming, suspicious reporters zooming in with their cameras. An annoyed campus police officer ordered me to get down from the tree. Boldly I refused.
"I don’t know if you’ve gotten the memo", I continued shouting at Mr. Stewart, "but disrespect is not tolerated on my turf!"