Sweety by Ben Bradley
The tape starts and I forget everything else. Sylvia Saint’s innocent face appears on the screen. She is dressed as a secretary, sitting prettily at a cheap particleboard computer desk, her honey blonde hair wrapped in a tight bun. I watch patiently, fighting my urge to hit fast forward. Then Ron Jeremy calls her into his office. Pretty soon Sylvia is pistoning herself up and down on top of him at an inhuman pace. I pretend that I’m Ron Jeremy.
My room is lit strangely, that is, the room is without light except for the TV, making it enveloped with some sort of sickness that almost makes me disgusted with myself. Still, I feel strangely entertained at the notion of watching porn in my old bedroom. Some last stand at rebellion that took me too long to discover. The scar on my chest burns in approval.
I hear something move on the floor at the foot of my bed, and for a split second I forget that my parents don’t live under my bed. I jump up and simultaneously pull up my shorts and click off the movie. I take a look, and of course it’s just Sweety. I reach down and stroke her muzzle, and she lets out a tired sigh.
Sweety and I have the same birthday, exactly five years apart, so she’ll be eighteen this December. She’s the best dog ever. I know that everyone says that about his dog, but I’m telling the truth. She’s the most reliable creature to ever exist. I’ve had my share of depression just like any other teenager, but the difference for me was that I’ve had Sweety. It probably sounds lame to say that now, but I valued her more than anything else. Anything else.
We got her when I was five. She was one of two sisters who had been found on the side of road in a dirty cardboard box. A homely couple had found them and nursed them back to health. My dad almost chose Sweety’s sister, a cute molasses-color
I fed her every morning at 7:15 and ate next to her, sometimes on the floor with her. Come on, I was five years old. It took me three months to get her housebroken, which isn’t that bad considering she’s had considerable stomach problems her whole life, a product of starvation and malnutrition when she was a baby. After that I made her learn how to sit and lie down, and heel, which is damn impressive for (by then) a six year-old kid.
Don’t take me for a loser or anything, but in all seriousness, I didn’t get a date until three weeks into my seventeenth birthday. I guess you could call me a late bloomer. Or an early bloomer, either one. I was five-foot-ten in seventh grade, and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds. Today I’m more like six-foot even and evened out at one hundred and eighty. Maybe one-ninety. We don’t need to quibble over specifics, the point is that until I was at least six months into my sixteenth birthday, I was a butterball. It’s ok, I’m not traumatized over it or anything.
Like I said, Sweety was a great friend, much better than a kid like me could have hoped for. I know she’s just a dog, but I could tell that she understood me. Not just understood me but had the desire to understand me. At that age, I thought I had something important to say and, because of that, had the desire to be understood. Of course, other kids my age also thought they had something important to say, so the result was a neighborhood full of noisy fucking kids. Mostly with their ears glued to the phone.
Hattie Taratulo was not one of those people. Hattie had nothing worthwhile to say, and she knew it. She was still trying to live down second grade, when everyone in school was convinced that her name was “Hairy Tarantula,” and they forced her into having a wedding ceremony with the class’s pet spider, Quagmire. And we’re not just talking some little kids’ imaginary wedding here. We’re talking a fucking congregation. Hell, we even hired Frankie Good (the Pastor’s son, two years older) to perform the ceremony. Adults can’t even fathom the brutality of which kids are capable.
Four years later, when we’d finally moved into middle school, I heard that Hattie had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown. I still don’t know the truth about that, but I didn’t see her again until I was a junior in high school. Hattie had stayed out of public view for nine years, and she had grown some breasts.
These were no ordinary breasts. We thought we had matured since middle school, at least to the point where we could avoid the gawking, but these breasts were fucking magnets. She loved it too. She wore these sweater vests that made her tits look like artillery shells, and I’m not going to lie, I frequently found myself performing the twenty one gun salute in honor of them. Usually right before I went to sleep at night.
She hadn’t gotten much prettier or anything. I mean, those grotesque plastic rimmed glasses she wore for so many years had been replaced with contacts, which was a distinct improvement. She probably got braces at some point, either that or the rest of her grew into her maw. Her face showed small signs of acne, though nothing particularly gruesome ever surfaced. She just simply was not a very pretty girl. She did smile a lot, which was nice, and she was incredibly smart though she usually kept things to herself. When I actually got bored enough to look at her face, I found myself staring at her eyes. I could somehow see everything she was holding back, which was incredibly erotic to me. I felt like I was identifying with her even before I said a word to her.
Of course, by that time I had discovered testosterone and had somehow dropped about a hundred pounds. I was so puffed up from my physical improvement that I assumed that metamorphing into a meathead look-a-like instantly made me cool. Not true. Kids, if you don’t learn anything in your short delays of adulthood, you’d better learn this: if you aren’t born into the in-crowd, you aren’t gonna be in the in-crowd. You can read all of the Sweet Valley High books you want, until you realize that the author of those books was a loser in high school and is just acting out her sick, teeny-bopper wet dreams in the form of “young adult” literature. The point is, if you aren’t sucking on Charlie Sheen’s fingers in the play pen at three days old, you aren’t gonna be doing an eight ball with him thirty years down the road. Social circles work just like professional circles: you get favors from the people you know, and get fucked by everyone else.
Hattie and I were in the same circle in high school, though we didn’t acknowledge each other. That’s kind of how our circle works. Anyway, I had discovered driver’s licenses and masturbation in a span of three months, and I wanted a girl. Hattie was the closest and most reasonable option, considering my parameters. We’ll leave the circumstances leading up to my first date at that.
Sweety watched me as I shaved. I could tell she knew something was up. I told her to go away a couple times, just because I felt guilty putting on cologne in front of her. She still passed by the bathroom door a couple times, checking on me. I liked that she still yearned to understand what was going on, but I had other things on my mind. Before leaving, I made sure to stuff five or six condoms into my jacket pocket. Being dateless up until that point, you probably could have guessed that I was also sexless, and thus, a condom meant about as much to me as a balloon animal. As I went for the front door, I heard Sweety’s toenails clicking against the hardwood floors in the hallway. She was restless. So was I.
At that time, I was driving my dad’s 1980 Mercedes, a clunky four-door that I thought was a little too soccer mom for me to mill around in. Hattie didn’t say anything about it though, which made me glad because I had no good come back for something like, “So your parents let you borrow the car.” I don’t know if she didn’t want to embarrass me or if she was just scared out of her mind.
Things were ordinary for a first date. She wore this murrey sweater vest over a navy blue shirt, with a matching knee-length skirt. The skirt made this annoying sound whenever she walked, like a denim swishing, only it wasn’t denim. I resigned not to say anything about it, and in my resignation forgot to compliment her. She wore her mouse brown hair in a bun, which did well in framing her heart-shaped face. I could tell she was wearing a little makeup, but not too much by any stretch. I remember wondering how much time she had put into getting ready.
We went and saw Heat, which turned out not to be an erotic thriller at all. After that, we ate at some family restaurant, Applebee’s or Friday’s or some other restaurant with an apostrophe in the name. There wasn’t much of that nervous banter you usually get on a first date. In fact, there was very little banter at all. All night I wracked my brain for something intriguing to say. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. It reminded me of Sweety when she’d done something bad.
“Do you have a dog?”
It just sort of popped out.
She looked surprised. “Huh?”
“A dog. Do you have a dog?”
I nodded. Sipped my water.
“You?” she asked suddenly.
I think she smiled a little then. “Do you have a dog?”
“Oh, yeah, she’s great.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sweety. She’s a german shepherd-colli
“Neat.” Another little pause. Her dark eyes shifted back and forth, then, “How old is she?”
“She’s pretty old then.”
I frowned at this. “No, not really. I mean, she’s not little anymore─“
“Don’t dogs age like seven years for one of our years?”
“Yeah, it’s something like that.”
“So she’s seventy-seven or so.”
“So she’s pretty old.”
“Can you just drop it please?” I know, it’s a little weird to get so defensive over a dog. I think maybe I hurt her feelings, because she didn’t talk for the rest of dinner.
In fact, we were totally silent up until we reached the front of her house. She reached for the door handle with an un-manicured hand and pulled the gray lever. It took her a couple tries before she realized it was locked, and there was panic in her eyes. I watched these few moments, almost smiling, then suddenly became conscious that she was looking at me.
“Huh? Oh, right, sorry. You have to pull up the little thingie on your side.” She seemed frozen. She was breathing heavily. I took my left hand and reached across her to unlock the door, and as I did, my hand brushed lightly against her nipples. She gasped in surprise. I started to apologize, but the slap jolted my brain clean.
I watched in confusion as she fumbled with the lock a little more, then finally got the door open. She didn’t leave though. She was looking at me again, her breath going in and out in these strange raspy wheezes. All I could do was stare at her chest, heaving up and down. I thought maybe she was going to have a heart attack or something.
Then she kissed me.
If you’re wondering whether those condoms came to good use that night, the answer is a definite no. She made me wait four years, when we were both sophomores at Brown, until she finally gave it up. And it was great.
OK, so maybe I have little basis for comparison, but I swear it was like letting out a wild animal. Our first four years together were nice, I guess, but to be honest I think we stayed together mostly just because we were afraid of being alone. Hattie is a frightened person; that's just the way she is. She goes for the safe investment, and for four years that was me. Then we finally did the deed, and everything changed.
Deke Trimalion was my roommate sophomore year. He was a big Greek bastard, loud, brash, always talking shit. His back was covered with crinkly black hair which creeped up his shoulders and invaded his chest and stomach. It was particularly disgusting because he also had a tendency to shed, leaving tufts clinging to his towels and dirty clothes, not to mention my bed after any of the several times he would get drunk and pass out on it.
There were a couple times I would wake up and feel a heavy, steel wool-covered arm draped over my side. For a moment, in my half-conscious
She would leave her door open for me. I would find her bed in the half-dark, the calm light from the street lamp outside piercing through the mini-blinds above her bed. She always slept on her side, her back to the door. Sometimes I watched her sleep. It was so peaceful, hearing her breath go in and out, watching her body slowly rise and fall, her dark hair draped about her like a shroud. I would touch her back softly, just with one or two fingers, run them down to the edge of the sheet, draw it back and climb in without trying to wake her. It never worked. Soon after I got in, I could feel her squirm against me, and my hand would find hers. I would kiss her neck so that she would let out one of those cute, tired moans that I loved so much. Then she would turn to face me, and we would kiss quietly until she began moving her mouth down my body, and I would be full of that blissful suspense that only a steady boyfriend can appreciate.
In some strange way, I guess Deke helped us with our relationship. Things didn't get horribly fucked up until he got mixed up in drugs and guns.
He had one in the dorm with us. A .38 revolver, nickel-plated, black rubber grip. He kept it in the dresser next to his bed, on top of the unused condoms and porn magazines. He showed it to me once, drunk, full of himself.
"Do you know what this shiny mother fucker will do to you?"
"I got a pretty good idea, Deke."
Before I realized what was going on, he was moving several pounds of marijuana a week out of our dorm room. He had no room for his clothes because every new shipment would fill up his closet and dresser. Pretty soon he was paying me five hundred bucks a week to rent out my dresser space. It was a minor expense for him, considering he could use the space to store several thousand dollars worth of narcotics. I decided to move all of my stuff into Hattie's room, which didn't thrill her roommate but she was never there anyway.
Deke never had to worry about getting caught. The Resident Advisor got a couple bills each week, not to mention all the free bud she could possibly smoke. The whole operation was kept pretty quiet, considering how much weight was actually being moved. He worked with maybe half a dozen classmates. They would come to his room, pick up an order, then go out into campus and get rid of it. Only steady customers, absolutely no strangers. Deke never had to leave his room.
Pretty soon, demand began to spring up for other things. So, Deke set up connections for acid, mushrooms, various prescription drugs. Coke and heroin were only a little further down the line. Deke cornered the market at Brown, there's no doubt about that.
It was a pretty sweet deal for me too, because he always had stuff lying around. Plus, I guess because I was his roommate, he thought we were the best of friends. He would tell me all of his ridiculous stories about these shady characters, some of them among the biggest suppliers in the northeast. He talked a lot about his friend Rahj, some psycho from Africa who believed in all manners of magic and sorcery.
"You have to meet him sometime."
"Sure, man, most definitely."
One night, Hattie's roommate threw a party and everyone decided to show up. A one-room party quickly spread throughout the entire hall. I recognized several of Deke's lackies among the intoxicated student body, selling Loretabs and Xannie bars for ten bucks a pop. Hideously overpriced, but take one of those with a couple beers and you're good for the night. I stopped to say hello to Ron Drucker and he gave me a couple Loretabs for me and Hattie. Ron was a red-haired Jew, one of the first guys to get in on the operation, and he was always especially nice to me. I think it was because he had a bit of a crush on my girlfriend.
Hattie and I popped the Loretabs and nursed a fifth of Jack together, and after a couple gulps I was feeling good. I could tell Hattie was pretty fucked up because she was leaning on me and sighing a lot. I knew it would only be a matter of time before she would pull me into her room, where we would most likely stay for the rest of the night. Then Deke showed up.
It was probably the first time I'd seen him in public in a couple months, and he looked bad. He had a scraggly beard and his hair was greasy from lack of shower. His eyes were frantic, like he was in a hurry to find something, then his eyes met mine and he stopped.
"Hey man, I got a favor to ask."
"What's up dude?"
He grabbed me by the shoulder with a greasy paw and pulled me closer. His pupils consumed his entire eye.
"I need you to come with me on a ride."
I stared at him for a second to see if he was serious. I would have said anything if it meant not going with that crazy fucker.
"Hey man, I'm pretty fucked up."
"I know, I know, but this is important."
"Tonight is not a good n--" He jerked my neck and it shut me up. I could feel his sweaty palm stuck to the back of my neck and I thought I would be nauseous.
Hattie was pretty much out of it. We left her on the couch in her neighbor's room, where someone could help her if she got sick. I think she was ready to pass out anyway.
Deke drove a silver and white '99 Impala, one of several instances he decided to spoil himself. The problem was he kept getting into wrecks, so not only was his driver's license suspended, the car was always kind of fucked up. He didn't care, he'd order new parts and get it fixed. It's not like he had a cash flow problem.
We dodged cars and office buildings with one broken headlight. He insisted on both windows down, even though the wind chill was below zero, and he never stopped talking. He told me the whole story:
Apparently, Rahj had seen a vision and decided to get out of the business. Rahj had a two year old son, though, and wanted to do one final deal to make sure that he would be financially stable. He set up an operation with a couple of Armenians to smuggle ten kilos of seized cocaine out of a police station. It involved bribing cops, which was never a good idea because there was always some guy who found out and wanted to be paid to keep quiet. Eventually, the Armenians got restless and shot two police officers while they were making the drop. They sped away with the coke and now Rahj is out fifty grand.
The more I heard, the more I wished I had stayed with Hattie. I asked Deke what this had to do with me. I told him I wasn't going to kill anybody.
"It's nothing like that. Rahj needs help with a ritual. He's going to put a curse on the Armenians."
Rahj was a short black kid, maybe five and a half feet tall, early twenties. He had a necklace, braided with red and green hemp, with a tiny pewter skull pendant dangling from the center. I remember the necklace specifically, because it was the only bright color glinting against his pitch skin. He was well muscled, like an Olympic runner, and showed it by wearing nothing but a towel. He had scars all over his body.
When he opened the door, he glanced at me and I thought he almost smiled.
"Who's this you brought whicha, Deke?" He had some kind of accent, I guess African, although I couldn't be sure.
"This is the man I've been telling you about," Deke said as he slapped a hairy arm around my shoulder. I pretended that this action was not the least bit disgusting.
Rahj nodded slowly, studying me. "The roommate?" He reached his hand toward me.
I grinned a little. Shook his hand politely. "The one and only." I was pretty fucked up.
"Come in, gentlemen."
His apartment was much nicer on the inside. In the living room, a black leather sectional with matching loveseat, and a brushed steel coffee table with a beveled glass top. The gray carpets were immaculate, just like the tiled kitchen floor. Everything looked new, down to the impressive set of kitchen knives sheathed in a massive wooden block on the kitchen counter.
There was one mask, hanging in the hallway. I studied it as we walked by. The face was smooth, almost peaceful if not for the angry look on its face. Old rope hair fountained from the top of its head. I peered into the empty eyeholes and felt a little sick.
"Is this your mask?" I asked.
"Yes, it is," he said, his back turned to me as he continued down the hall.
"What does it symbolize?"
"He is Umbebwe, my great grandfather."
I glanced at it again as I followed him, and felt better that it had a name. Umbebwe.
We encountered darkness in the next room, a deep, enveloping darkness and a guy named Ricky who had a large African drum strapped to his stomach.
"Have you ever heard of Akan, roommate?" Rahj's voice had deepened.
I looked at him dumbly. "I don't think so."
He nodded slowly, sat on the hard floor in front of some kind of symbol drawn in glow-in-the-da
"Throughout my homeland, the Akan sorcerer is the most feared. He has the abilities to both destroy and recreate."
Deke and Ricky sat on either side of Rahj, who was gesturing at the symbol and speaking. "We cannot look to God for this power. God does not concern himself with the issues of men. For this power, we must look to our ancestors." He waved his hands gingerly above the symbol on the floor. "This is Sankofa. This is what gives us power beyond the mortal plane. The Twi saying is, 'Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yennki.'"
His dark eyes shifted to me, peering through a thicket of dreadlocks. "There is nothing wrong with returning to fetch what one has forgotten." Ricky was now thumping gently on the drum in a droning thump, thump, thump, that seemed to make the room even darker. Rahj pointed a finger at Ricky, his eyes back on the symbol. "The drummer helps to wake the spirits of the ancestors." His hand then moved to Deke, who was looking a little sleepy. "My troubled friend has the spiritual energy to lure violent spirits. And you, roommate..." He pointed a sharpened fingernail at me. "I need your blood."
It's funny, because as I was listening to this speech, I thought I could feel something move behind me. There was a smell, maybe a flower or cologne, blown by my nose like a breeze. Sometimes you just get this feeling of another presence, it can't always be explained.
Before I could register what Rahj was saying to me, something had pinned my arms behind me and thrown me to the floor. I was now face-to-face with the neon green eye of the crane, staring coldly at me. I tried to struggle as I felt telephone cord wrapping around my wrists and ankles, but it all happened in a couple seconds, before my inebriated brain could comprehend it. I think I must have been screaming because Deke was patting my cheek, trying to calm me down.
“It’s OK,” he was saying. “They don’t want to hurt you.” I could feel the heat of his breath on the back of my head, and it made me think of those times he would crawl in bed with me.
“Fuck you,” I said, and swiftly cracked my head into his chin.
He screamed obscenities, then a couple drops of warm liquid splashed onto my neck. “Mother fucker made me bite my tongue in half.”
“Shut up, Deke.” It was Rahj speaking, his voice as even as the throbbing in the back of my head. “I don’t think roommate will give us any more trouble.” His fingers touched my arm, dry and rough, but so soothing that I thought I might fall asleep. My forehead touched the hardwood floor, and all I could see was the green of the crane’s eye, and smell the acrid paint, and Deke sniffling tears and gargling blood. All this time, Ricky’s thump-thumping droned on in such an even meter that it seemed to become part of the room itself, and maybe now the crane’s eye was fluxing in and out, throbbing like the back of my head, waxing and waning, opening and closing slowly like a flower in rhythm with Ricky’s drum. Then I could hear a cap unscrewing, and a small splash on my back, but it was cold. I smelled alcohol, and Rahj was speaking:
“Knocking. God drink, Thursday Earth drink.
The ninety-nine gods of Berekusu drink.
Abena Larbi drink, Mante drink.
Asiebe Kotoko drink, Otutu drink.
I, priest Rahj, I stand here
With my full bottle of gin, which is fit to be
Presented to the Adontehene, to welcome
Our ancestors who are coming to discuss
Akom with me.”
I turned my head and found myself staring into the eyes of my assailant, the one who was waiting behind me. He was a larger black man with a shaved head. One of his eyes was dark but the other was milky white, and there was a pink scar trailing from the crest of his forehead, over his eye, down to his lower lip. He had the bottle of gin in his hand. He lifted it to his lips and took a big gulp, the clear liquid running in fingers down his chin. He smirked at me and passed the bottle to his right. Deke took the bottle, drank, and then gave me the finger.
“With great respect,” Rahj continued, “if you practice Akom
And you don’t gain anything, it is a taboo,
Therefore don’t let any evil befall us in our discussion.
An evil person, with an evil eye and bad medicine,
Will set eyes full of fire on me
So that whatever I do becomes useless,
Then Otwereduampon Kwame, from Berekusu to Apirede
Akonodi and her children and Yaw Bediako.
Opirim, I am begging you
Such a person be exchanged for rain.”
With this, the bald man turned me onto my back, and I was staring into the face of Umbebwe perched upon Rahj’s sweaty shoulders. Ricky’s drum was faster now, as Rahj reached down and ripped my shirt down the middle. He had one of those kitchen knives in his hand, which was now slowly drawing down the center of my chest, a line of blood following the sharpened steel point to my solar plexus. The pain shot up to my head and out from my mouth in a scream that made the other parishioners jump in surprise. As much as I tried to struggle, Rahj’s hand never wavered as he slowly sculpted my flesh into Sankofa, that bird with the pulsing eyes.
“Don’t let us say anything,” said Rahj, his voice soft, “that will bring us trouble.
Let us say something that will bring peace to this house.”
I could see my blood seep from the symbol drawn into my chest, trickle down my side and touch the floor. It was almost beautiful, the dark red staining my white flesh, stretching over me like a warm blanket.
“Bring us peace.
This is what we are after.
Any person who will think evil upon us,
Let him be exchanged for the rain.”
My vision blurred while watching my blood fall to the floor like cherry honey.
“Let him be exchanged for the rain.”
The crane’s throbbing eyes were washed with my blood.
“Long life to me also, the priest.”
* * * *
I awoke in a comfortable bed with blue sheets and a thick silver and black comforter. The room materialized around me and for a moment I’d forgotten about last night. Then I touched my chest, felt that it was taped and bandaged. I gently removed my covers, careful not to disturb my wound, and climbed out of bed. I could see strong rays of sunshine fighting to break through the tall navy blue curtains. I checked my wrist and noticed my watch was gone. I found it on the dresser next to the bed. Three in the afternoon. Then I noticed I was naked. I found a pair of black boxer briefs, a knit Versace sweater and black pants draped over a chair, and they were all a good fit. I walked barefoot out into the hallway, and there was Umbebwe hanging in his usual place, with his usual stern expression. I could hear laughing and yelling in the living room.
I found Rahj, Ricky, Deke, and the bald guy sitting in the living room in front of the TV, playing video games and smoking a blunt.
The bald guy glanced at me and grinned. “Hey everybody,” he said in a deep voice, “motherfuckin’ Sleeping Beauty has awakened.”
“Oh shit,” said Rahj, and he left his game to come talk to me. He smiled and patted me on the back, and I didn’t know how to feel about that. “Did you enjoy my bed, roommate?”
He laughed. “Gimme that blunt, Deke.”
“Motherfucker, I ain’t done hittin’ it yet.”
Rahj slapped Deke in the back of the head, making him cough a couple times. “Give it.”
“Fine, Rahj, damn.”
“Here, roommate,” he handed it to me. “We just got this in last week, haven’t relinquished it to the public yet.”
I pulled on the blunt gently, letting the sweet smoke fill my throat. I sucked it down into my lungs and held it, and Rahj was staring at me with a little grin. He looked like a child with a new toy. I exhaled as I handed it back to Rahj, feeling that numbing calm wash over me.
“It’s nice,” I said. “What are you letting it go for?”
“By the pound?”
“No,” I said, “like for a quarter.”
They all giggled. Rahj was still staring at me. “I’m sorry, roommate, you must have mistaken me for a chump.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“I got two hundred and fifty pounds of this shit in my closet, and you want me to sell you a quarter?” They laughed at me for a while and I was starting to get a little pissed. “But hey,” he continued, “fuck all that shit. You and me have more important things to discuss.”
He took me back into his bedroom and opened the closet.
“I guess you like the clothes.”
I looked down at myself, and back at him. “Yeah, not bad.”
“You can keep them, I’m sorry for ruining your shirt like that. I got a little carried away. But hey, that goes with the territory, y’know?”
I didn’t answer. He dug in the closet for a minute until he found a shoebox with a thick rubber band around it. He snapped off the rubber band and lifted the lid. It was filled with money, stacked neatly and wrapped with paper strips, like what they do at the bank. He took out a couple packs and handed them to me.
“That’s ten grand, roommate, for your services last night.”
I flipped through the money a couple times. The bills were crisp and beautiful.
“Do me a favor, don’t tell Deke about this.”
My eyes traveled from the money to Rahj’s face, perfectly serious. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
He nodded. “That’s settled then.” He put his arm around me and led me out into the hallway. “I’m an honorable man, roommate. Don’t think I’ll forget about this. If you ever need, y’know, a special favor, don’t hesitate to come to me.”
He offered his hand, I shook it, and Deke and I were gone.
“He paid you, didn’t he?” Deke asked me in the car on the way back to Brown.
“What makes you think that?”
“Don’t fuck with me.”
He didn’t scare me. I glanced at the fresh, ripe bruise on his chin and grinned. “I don’t think it’s any of your business, Deke.”
“Rahj doesn’t give a shit about you, you know that, right?” He was trying to be tough but it came off like a jealous girlfriend. “I mean, don’t get ideas that you two are friends now or something.”
“Deke, do you understand what happened last night?”
He fell silent.
“You introduced me to your superior,” I told him. “We don’t have anything to say to each other ever again.”
He didn’t react.
“It was your idea to introduce us. I was the one that did him the favor, not you. He’s indebted to me because of you. How does that feel?”
Luckily, we were only a couple blocks away from campus so I walked the rest of the way. It felt good to fuck with him.
It’s a good thing he kicked me out when he did, because the police were waiting for him back at the dorms. I caught a glimpse of his head being pushed into a police car, and Hattie was standing on the side with a blanket wrapped around her. Apparently, Deke and I had missed a lot. She told me the story:
We left Hattie on the couch because we figured nobody would fuck with her with lots of people around. Less than an hour after Deke and I had left, this girl Shannon saw Ron Drucker practically carry Hattie out of the room, heading for the stairs. Ron must have figured that my room would be more private, and of course Hattie had my spare key. Then I guess Ron didn’t want to take no for an answer. It’s a cliché college date rape story, except for the fact that Hattie is no lightweight. She wasn’t as fucked up as Ron wished. When she struggled, he tried to knock her out with Deke’s cell phone charger. But Hattie remembered Deke’s gun, sitting in the drawer underneath all the porn magazines. She shot Ron three times in the crotch, then kicked him in the face on her way out.
Her face was covered in dried blood from her head wound. I held her and she cried on my shoulder. Her tears mixed with the blood and ruined my new sweater. She had called the police and told them all about Ron’s dealings with Deke. She asked me to forgive her, and I thanked her. I told her about Rahj and the ten grand. We decided to get away for a little while.
Home is in Acadia, Maine, a nice-sized house in the suburbs. I didn’t tell my parents about my dealings with Rahj, and only the necessities of Hattie’s encounter with the red-haired Jew. My parents are absolutely in love with Hattie. They have this obsession with thinking that I’m depressed, which I’m not, and that Hattie’s responsible for making me a happy person.
The six hour drive was mostly silent. My mom was out front planting winter flowers, and Sweety was lying down next to her in the monkey grass. Hattie got out and hugged my mom, and I went and saw Sweety. She looked a little older; more gray around her chin, her eyes a little bit cloudy from the threat of cataracts, and it made me think of Rahj’s friend with the blinded eye. I talked to her a little bit; asked her how she’s been, whether Mom has been feeding her the diet dog food so she wouldn’t gain any more weight. I asked her how her stomach has been. She looked into my eyes and I could tell it wasn’t good.
“Cancer,” said Mom. “In her stomach.”
“I thought it was just ulcers.”
“That’s what everyone thought until we took her to Dr. Silver.”
It made my stomach tighten up to think about what she was feeling. “Well…are they going to operate or something?”
“They did once already. Dr. Silver said they will probably have to go in at least one more time, but it took her this long just to recover from the first one.”
“She’s almost eighteen, Mom, she can’t take major surgery like that.”
She sighed. She could see the hurt in my eyes. “Well you know what the alternative is.”
Just hearing it made my eyes tear up.
Hattie spent a lot of time with my parents, just hanging out mostly, shopping, helping around the house. I stayed with Sweety. All she did was lie around, whimpering softly. I rubbed her head and scratched her ears, and she liked that, but anywhere else on her body seemed to be too painful to enjoy. Sometimes the whimpering, that dull whimpering was almost too much to bear. I stuck through it though. I know that my being there helped her feel a little bit better.
Hattie and my parents were worried about me. They had dinner together every night while I ate on the floor next to Sweety. One night Hattie came into my room and started crying in front of me.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” she was saying.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m worried about you, jeez, isn’t it obvious?” Jeez. That was a bad habit of hers. She said jeez whenever she was mad and I was supposed to know exactly what it was. I still felt bad though, and I would be in trouble with my parents if they found out I made her cry. So I went out to dinner with them.
Dad brought the paper to the restaurant with him, as always, and read as Mom and Hattie talked about social reform. I stared at the other people and sipped my water. I thought about how stupid and trivial everything was. Just being in a bad mood for its own sake.
“What’d you think of Providence, son?”
I couldn’t believe he’d called me son. “It was ok.”
“Did you get downtown a lot?”
He made some animal noise in recognition. He shook his newspaper. “Did you hear about the two dead Armenians?”
“The dead Armenians in the paper. Apparently, these two kids from Providence shot and killed a couple cops when they were trying to steal some cocaine from the evidence room.”
“Turns out the coke was bunk. The kids got home, snorted a line each and went into shock. Died at the hospital a couple hours later. Poetic justice, no?” My dad had a fun way of summing things up.
I was haunted by the story for the rest of dinner. I wasn’t sure what it meant, whether the dead Armenians was Rahj’s doing, or a great coincidence, but then, what the hell is a coincidence anyway? Then I thought of Sweety, and I remembered Rahj talking about healing. That an Akan sorcerer could heal as well as destroy.
It took me five hours to get back to Providence that night, and another two hours to find Rahj’s apartment. I was working from memory, and an inebriated memory at that. Rahj looked surprised to see me at the door with a large German Shepherd in my arms.
“I need a favor.”
I laid her down in the dark room at the end of the hall. The symbol on the floor was gone, but the one on my chest was burning. She was crying again, too weak to move. I felt tears well up in my eyes and I saw that Rahj was looking at me.
“She means a lot to you,” he said.
“There isn’t much I can do, roommate.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, I know what you can do.”
He sighed. He could see the madness in my eyes. “The truth, roommate, is that the power to heal can only come from one thing.”
I watched his face, perfectly serious. “Love?”
“Do you have love for her?”
“Then the power is yours, and yours only.” He led my hand to the knife handle. “You must carve Sankofa into the infected area and ask your ancestors to heal her.” Sweety’s crying had become louder, and Rahj put a hand on her stomach. After that, the room was silent.
Slowly, I led the blade of the knife to Sweety’s abdomen. I gently pressed the point into her flesh, and that first drop of blood slid down her belly, in between the long black hairs on her body. She twitched at first, but settled once it got going, as if the pain of the knife was somehow soothing. I saw the scar where the doctor had cut her open, and made it into the neck of the crane.
“This has to work,” I said to myself.
I could feel Rahj’s eyes on me. “Power is like an egg, roommate. Hold it too tightly, and it breaks. Hold it too loosely, and it falls and breaks. You have to believe.”
At that moment, I did believe.
We got back to my parents’ house just before sunrise. Hattie was in the great room on the pullout couch because the beds in my room and in the guest room were too small for two people. I decided to take my room for the night and let her sleep.
I sat up for a while, looking at all of the old things I had stored in the file cabinet in my room. Stacks and stacks of papers from my drawing phase, even more from my writing phase. Strange collections of books, on psychology, forensics. I dared not compare myself to these books, like I had so obsessively growing up. Then, at the very bottom of the cabinet, behind old drawings, I found a videotape without a sleeve or label. It was one of my first pornos, with Sylvia Saint and Ron Jeremy. I put it on before I went to sleep. Some old adolescent rebellion. It seemed so ridiculously innocent. Nothing truly abhorrent to feed Sankofa, which burned hunger and unrest.
Deep inside my head, somewhere horrible, behind consciousness, something had snapped. I could feel it whisking my brain as I slept. I thought about Hattie and my parents, about Deke and Rahj, about Sweety, and they were all mixed up together like some bizarre gene-splicing experiment. I could see Rahj holding the knife, only his right hand was severed and my hand was stitched on with a shoestring. A woman, tits like Hattie, wearing Sweety’s head and barking, then whimpering, then screaming like a child. My parents crying underneath a street lamp, cradling the dead Armenians in their arms, and looking at me as if to say, “Why?” And Sweety was in my arms again, but she was scrambling to get away, and I held onto her so tight that she broke in half. I couldn’t understand why she was so scared.
I’ve heard from Hattie and others that I’m not very fun to sleep with. I toss and turn, and often talk in my sleep. Lots of times I have trouble getting out of a dream once I wake up. That’s why I was so confused when I woke up the next morning. The first sensation I had was scratching hair all over the bed, which reminded me of Deke, but there was an arm draped over me, something very smooth and soft like Hattie. I touched this arm without opening my eyes, and I could feel a sigh into my ear. Definitely not Hattie’s.
I slowly maneuvered out of bed so that I could see what I had been sleeping with. It was a girl, or a woman maybe, naked, with shoulder length black hair. She was a lot prettier than Hattie, I could tell that already. Her body was much tighter, and with fewer blemishes. She rested on a cushion of long, black hairs, mixed with softer white hairs. Sweety’s hairs. Then the girl opened her eyes.
She squinted at first, as if testing new eyes. She locked on my stunned face, and she smiled. The girl reached above her head in a full body stretch. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. She tried to scratch at her back, and all at once became aware of her body. She looked at me in amazement. I wet my lips.
She sat up and looked at me, those same eyes that had looked at me for eighteen years. And there, on her stomach, was Sankofa, just where I had carved it the night before. A real girl.
“Ok…um…yeah. How’s it goin?”
She just stared and smiled.
“Alright then. I’ll be right back.” I started out and looked back. “Stay.”
I checked outside my door for any activity before coming out of my room. The house was silent. I checked the kitchen and found Hattie’s note: “Taking the ‘rents to the Botanical Gardens. Be back by 5. Love, Hattie.” I checked the clock on the wall. Two-thirty.
Sweety was still sitting on my bed when I returned. She was checking out her new body in my mirror.
“We’re gonna need some clothes for you.”
I started digging in my closet. I threw her a pair of Mickey Mouse boxers and a Brown University sweatshirt. I was looking for a pair of pants when I felt a hand on my back. I jumped in surprise, turned and there she was.
“Jesus, you scared me.”
She was smiling again. She touched my lip, moved her mouth like she was trying to imitate me.
“Can you talk?” I asked.
“I think so,” she slowly stuttered out.
“How do you know English?”
Her smile widened. “I’ve been listening.”
I watched her eyes, those innocent eyes that had never known about evil or sin. “Really? This whole time?”
She nodded. Then she licked me on the nose.
“Y’know,” I said, “that isn’t how people do it.”
She laughed. “I know.” What a perfect face; full lips, cute little nose, high cheekbones. Her skin looked smooth and untouched. Reborn.
The first thing I did was call Rahj, but there was no answer. I’m not even sure if I remembered the right number. Then I called my old friend Sammy and asked if he could put Sweety up for the night.
“Who is this girl anyway?”
“I dunno, just some girl. You’ll like her, she’s very nice.”
“Is she hot?”
“She’s off limits, Sammy.”
“Bullshit, motherfucker. You made your bed with Hattie, now it’s my turn.”
“I’ll see you in ten minutes.”
I grabbed a trash bag from under the kitchen sink, filled it with Sweety’s hair. I used up half a dozen sheets off of my dad’s lint roller to get it all up. I found Sweety in the study. She had a block of resin in her hand.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s my dad’s paperweight.”
“I know, but what’s inside?”
“Oh…” I took it and looked. “This is my umbilical cord.”
“Y’know when babies are inside the womb, they have to be fed through a cord connecting it with the mom?”
“Well…this was what connected me to my mom before I was born. My dad decided to keep it.”
“That’s a little strange.”
“Parents are crazy these days,” I said to my dog that was now a human.
I took my dad’s old Mercedes. On the radio, there was a preacher raving about redemption and forgiveness. “God keeps a library,” he was saying, with applause following every sentence. “He’s got a file on all of us. Think about it, friends. Every sin in your lifetime, every lie, every cheat, every injustice, is carefully documented in the land of God.” Jesus, I thought. I looked at Sweety in the passenger seat, and she looked confused by what the man was saying.
“Why is he so angry?” she asked.
“What’s my name?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…you can’t call me Sweety anymore, right?”
“Right, I guess not.” I turned into the parking lot for Sammy’s apartments, shut off the car. “Well…what kind of name do you want?”
“I dunno,” she shrugged.
I thought about the night before, when she caught me watching the porno. “How about Sylvia,” I said.
She thought for a little and agreed.
The door to Sammy’s apartment was open. I remembered him saying something about his roommate breaking the lock so that it couldn’t close all the way. There was no answer when I went inside and called his name.
“He must have just run out,” I told Sylvia. “I’ve gotta go back home and make sure everything’s ok.”
“You’re leaving me?” Her voice was small and frightened.
I sighed. “I’m sorry. I have to. I’ll be back tonight to check on you.” She didn’t look convinced. “Just sit tight. It’ll be fine.”
I was back home at five-thirty, and everyone was already there. My mom and Hattie were in the kitchen cooking. They were blasting Rachmaninoff from the living room, where my dad was immersed in one of his murder mysteries. One big happy family. Hattie gave me a hug and a kiss when I walked in.
“Where’ve you been?”
“Went and saw Sammy.”
“Oh, how is he?”
My mom was doing the sausage while Hattie was boiling the Capelli D’Angelo.
“You could use some good Italian cooking,” Ma said for the fiftieth time since I’d come home. “Oh, and what’d you do with Sweety?”
“Sweety? I decided to take her in to the doctor’s.”
“At midnight last night?”
I hesitated. Both of the women were staring at me, only it wasn’t with their eyes. Women are tricky like that. “She was crying a lot. I couldn’t sleep. I thought maybe I could get the doc to put her on a drip, so she wouldn’t have to be in pain so much.”
“An IV drip for the dog?”
“Oh, yeah, they’re doing all kinds of crazy stuff these days.”
Hattie was quiet, but my mom was sympathetic. “Aww, I’m sorry, honey.”
“I’ll be ok, I guess. When’s dinner?”
“Half an hour.”
“Ok, I’ll be in my room.”
I emerged long enough for dinner, which was excellent, then I went back into my room to call Sammy.
“Hey, how’s Sylvia?”
“The girl, I dropped her off at your apartment when you were gone.”
“There’s no girl here, dude.”
“What do you mean?”
“What the fuck do you mean, there’s no fucking girl here.”
“Do you remember talking to me earlier?”
“Yeah, I figured you decided to take her someplace else.”
“Shit.” I hung up and started to put on my shoes when I heard knocking at the front door. I ran out of my room, down the stairs in time to cut off my dad and get out the door before he could see who was on the other side. It was Sweety, or Sylvia, crying.
“I’m sorry,” she was saying between sobs.
My dad started to open the door. “Who is it, son?”
I lunged for the knob so that he couldn’t open it any further. I held the door open just enough to poke my head in. “It’s ok, Dad, it’s one of my friends. I need to talk to her alone for a second, ok? And don’t let Mom or Hattie out here either.”
I took her across the street to the restaurant where my mom went into labor. We sat outside where I could talk to her without being disturbed.
“I’m sorry,” she kept saying.
“What the hell happened?”
“I waited there for a while, but I started thinking about what Sammy was like, y’know, how he used to bring his dog to play with me.”
“Yeah, and that dog was always so mean to me.”
“That was ten years ago.”
“Well excuse me if my perception is a little fucked up right now.”
“Ok, just calm down.” I could feel eyes on me from other parts of the restaurant. These other diners liked to listen to what was going on while pretending to be engrossed in their own affairs. “You can’t stay at the house anymore, ok? It just won’t work.” Then I leaned in and whispered, “You aren’t a dog anymore.”
“So I need you to work with me here. Sammy will put you up long enough for me to figure something out.”
She had a puppy dog look on her face. “I don’t wanna go back there. Can’t you put me somewhere else?”
“Where do you want to go?”
I had to run home first and get the ditty bag where I had put the money. I dished out three hundred dollars for a suite at the Hilton, and another thirty for room service.
“Tomorrow I’ll go out and get you some clothes.” Then I left.
I got home and went straight to my room.
Hattie came in later and laid in bed with me while I was watching Scarface. She held against me like a frightened child. I could tell she was worried about me. Soon she was kissing my neck, and I didn’t have the energy to resist. She worked her way up to my face, and I opened my mouth to her. I returned her kiss, hard. Her hands were searching my body, under my shirt, she touched my scar and I jumped in surprise.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said, and I pushed her away so hard that she fell off the bed with a dull thump. I didn’t mean to push her that hard. When she picked herself up, she was on the verge of crying.
“What is wrong with you?” I was getting tired of hearing that.
“Just get out, ok?”
“We’re worried about you, Tommy.”
The name. It made my eyes burn with rage. I screamed Get the fuck out and pushed her through my doorway. I could hear her slump to the floor on the other side. I didn’t care. Al Pacino was about to be killed in his own house. I could sympathize, mang. I downed two Xannie bars and passed out with clenched fists.
I woke up at two in the afternoon and could hear laughter in the dining room. When I came in, unshaven, no shower, the laughter stopped. I was radiating awkwardness. Hattie and my parents seemed afraid to look at me.
I shrugged. “What the fuck, guys, good morning.”
“Good afternoon,” said my mother.
I scoffed at her. “Whatever, I’m going out.”
“When will you be back?” My dad.
Sylvia and I went shopping at Prada and Saks, and I dropped another couple grand so she could fix herself up. She loved trying things on. She loved for me to watch her try things on. After a while it got a little embarrassing.
“Could you come in here and help me with this, pleeeease?” She was so cute I might have puked.
I looked over at the girl who worked there. “Is it ok?”
She shrugged. “Whatever, man.”
I sighed. “Ok, I’m coming in.”
She was just so flirty, so physical. I felt like a pimp. It wasn’t long before I had to take her back to her hotel room.
She was really sexy, though. Something about the way she moved. I could tell all the guys were jealous, the ones in the mall, the ones in the hotel lobby. It made me feel powerful.
When we got up to her room, she immediately started removing her clothes.
“What are you doing?”
“I feel better this way.”
“Fine.” I noticed a block of resin sitting on the end table. “Is that my umbilical cord?”
She laughed. “I’m sorry, sweety, I couldn’t resist. Is it ok if I keep it?”
“I dunno, my dad will probably notice that it’s gone.”
She walked up to me and smiled. “Please?”
She gently ran her hand up my arm. I found myself lost in her touch. Deep and soothing, like Rahj’s had been the night I received Sankofa on my chest. Her soft fingers went up my shirt, touched my scar, traced along the crane’s sloping neck. My fingers wrapped around her neck, and I pulled it against my lips. I sucked and nibbled, and she moaned pure pleasure.
She got on her hands and knees and begged for me. I couldn’t tell what I was feeling anymore beyond the visceral need for release, from God and ancestors and the immortal library of sin. I held her by the hips and inhumanly pistoned away, and I was silent save for a loud pounding heart. She whimpered in love and ecstasy, and I watched her face, her closed eyes, her pursed lips. Sweety, my Sweety. What was she doing to me? No thought, no emotion. Only physiology, primal like the avaricious wolf stalking the gates of hell. Sweety, my Sweety. My companion for eighteen years. My pet. My pet. My dog. Sweet, my dog Sweety. Sweety is my dog. I am fucking my dog.
And all I could feel was violence. I had something in my hand, the paperweight I had given her, the one that held my umbilical cord, and I was bringing it down on her head. She screamed at the impact of the first hit, but did not try to run. Two more hits and she fell motionless. I kept hitting her until the back of her skull was mushy.
I kneeled there for a minute, silence save my heart, which seemed fueled by the burning Sankofa, its eye fluctuating in and out with the rising and falling of my chest. I watched the blood leak from her head and stain the sheets, one hand on her hip, the other clinging to my umbilical cord.
Then, slowly, Sweety’s body began to change. I saw her mouth, those perfect lips lengthen into a maw, her teeth pinching into fangs. Her body began to grow hair, sprouting in between my fingers where my hand was holding her hip, and I pulled back in horror. Her hands and feet bent in, her nails stretched into claws. I was staring at Sweety, my dog, her head bashed in, slowly leaking blood into the hotel carpet.
It’s funny, because Hattie says that she had been knocking for several minutes before I actually heard it. The police finally burst in to see me sitting on the floor, naked, a blank look on my face, clinging to a block of resin dripping with blood. She had followed me the whole day, through the mall, back to the hotel. She thought I was cheating on her. I guess I was, in a way.
That pretty much brings us up to date. This deposition is my version of the truth, which may or may not be worth anything to anyone on the outside. Mostly, I’m hoping that Hattie can read this and eventually understand, even just a little, about where I was coming from. Maybe I don’t know what love is, but Hattie does, and she loved me. For that I can say thank you. It’s funny what we learn to appreciate after it’s gone. Anyway, that’s the story. That’s it. Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yennki. Long life to me also.
[name and address withheld upon request]
we'll take a brief pause on Bitter/Sweet #4, because i've got an assignment. i'm doing a fun little "scarie tale" for Bambalyna...th
ahhh, yes, #4....this means we're a quarter of the way through. that's pretty fucked up.
so it's finally time to introduce Calico. i know it's a little late to bring in such an important character, but jesus, i haven't found an opening for him yet.
i've got some friggin' beautiful ideas for Skyler's funeral. not only that, but we're gonna get to see Sweet kick some ass. not to mention see the God of Darkness for the FIRST time. it's about god-damn time.
this is my big test with Frank...to see if i can make him into an extraordinary character. he's already good...interes
#3's done and it's long as hell. we'll see what we can do.
couple good breakthroughs on #3, i believe i'm now about 3/4 of the way through it. yay, a sweet subplot. not only is it sweet, but it's about sweet. she really needed some more focus. after all, the title is Bitter/Sweet. i'm very happy to have enlisted (hopefully) a couple more artists. but i need more! anyone who's got a spare moment, an opening for a free portrait, whatever, it'll be going in a proposal, so anything you do for me will be circulated, and of course you'd get full credit for your work. ta da!
yeah....let's tack on another two artists to that list i'm referring to down there. they're dropping like flies! someone come save me.
AAAGGH! what is it about artists that make them the flakiest people on earth? ok, so maybe flakiest isn't a word....and i'm generalizing. it's just very frustrating. hmm..let's see.....how many artists have i gone through since i started this story? at least a dozen. it's ridiculous. yes, i AM very forward about my project. i like to talk about it, get people interested, and there's nothing greater than to see my creation realized through an artist's interpretation
in heaven, Vinos has a pot belly because his ectoplasmic representation
#3 is coming along. Still in the outline stage, but it's getting better. Sweet, the Goddess of Love....she is a very tough character. I'm trying my best to pull her out more, so that she's less of a supporting character. She's the only one of the main characters that I really haven't focused on at all (Steve and Frank, the two cops have gotten plenty of screen time, Johnny is probably a close second and Bitter at least has his own subplot). I really like her too, I just have trouble getting inside her head. The same is true for all of the gods, but mostly the female ones. Oh well, keep plugging away. Once again, if anyone wants to take a look, feel free to ask.
number 2's done too, and it is so very very sweet. anyone who wants to take a gander should just ask. i'm a huge believer in workshopping and feedback.
anyway, number 3 is in the works, and it isn't going as smoothly as the first two, because i'm trying to work on characters that need some attention. it'll come out though.