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Chapter Thirty-One

In the parking lot we went our separate ways, Turk revitalized and not ready for the night to end, Sugar Boy reluctantly looking forward to a long night at Latham and Latham’s, while I swayed on my feet like weeds beneath a hoe in my common garden-variety exhaustion.

Now I’m in the hallway, black as computer pre-boot-up, heading to my room, when I hear loud bragging hinges. Looking over my shoulder, I see a door heave open, a splash of silhouette that’s unexpected as spray from a killer whale’s blowhole. A woman’s voice gushes, asking, “Who’s out there? Peace Datcher?”

It’s Sophiala.

“Peace? Come on down here.”

Walking through the door, I see the Prodigy sitting on the piano bench. The guitar in its case is propped in the corner and looks abandoned and vulnerable, and two suitcases are in the middle of the floor. Sophiala’s standing next to me by the door wearing a flowered hat of the kind seen on elderly women in rural Pentecostal churches. The Prodigy is wearing the green silk robe and, poking a scale to completion one-fingered as though typing, turns on the bench to face me, Larry on his lap rotating into view.

“Tell him this ain’t the end of the world,” Sophiala says to me. “Tell him just because that white girl’s people slammed doors in our black faces, the world don’t stop spinning. Keeps right on spinning, every day and night. Tell him if that girl been strong in her convictions, she wouldn’t of let them talk her into staying. And all the way there on that plane carrying on about how much she loved him. You tell him that, Mr. Datcher.”

“That’s right,” Larry the dummy mocks, self-mocks, Sigh-mocks, Sophiala-mocks. Why exclude myself? Me-mocks, too. “Tell this big dumb bastard how he doesn’t need me. No, he doesn’t me, even though I’ve been here all along while he was going through his freakhood like he thought it was sainthood. Sigh the martyr. Who went through being Sigh the martyr with him? Put me in the trunk? Keep me in a fucking trunk? Ha-il no. He should have listened to me and put – what was her name? Nova? – put her in the trunk. What would make Sigh the martyr, Sigh the freak, think anybody would want to love him? Satan’s spawn, with a grandfather for a father and a sister for a mother.”

“You ain’t really talking, so shut up. Don’t make me curse you, Sigh. It’s you talking, not that doll on your lap,” Sophiala shouts.

“Already cursed,” Larry says, with less conviction, mumbling beneath his breath. Sophiala turns to me and reaches up and puts both hands urgently and gently on my head, stroking my dreadlocks all the way down to the tense tips. “You tell him. He might listen to you. Tell him just like we left the other day, we can leave again.” She strokes my dreadlocks as though they’re her children. “If I had me a clientele there, we could have stayed, but we didn’t have that much money. Good thing my secret voice told me to buy them tickets round trip before we left. Say it. Tell him if he was all right, returned to hisself even for a little time, he can do it again. He only got to try and do it. Put that puppet down and try.”

But there’s nothing I can tell him that she hasn’t already said. This is not a decision I’m making, though it feels like one. It’s just the way it is.

“We’re right where we belong,” Larry says. “New Orleans, the gumbo and the jambalaya, the hush puppies and the crayfish, French Quarter and the houses that look like history,” Sigh rambles in Larry’s voice, “the Mardi Gras, and the music, the music that never ends, the ragtime and the wine, all that’s got nothing on our little corner of Milwaukee, the girl that kissed him like she invented it – it’s all nothing compared to this.”

Sigh – the Prodigy – sweeps his free arm over the room.

Sophiala walks over to the bench and slowly sits down next the Prodigy. Larry continues with his list, but in a diminishing voice.

They don’t know I’m here, so I leave quietly like I never was.

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