Jerry and Batresh go on a date
Entering her room, she saw it had been cleaned, her bed made and her clothes put away. The window was closed. The chamber was sweltering. She walked over to the window and slid it open. Drapes fluttered inside with the cooler breeze. She turned, looking at the newly made bed. Her suit case was no longer there. She walked to the closet and found it laying on the floor. She sighed with relief. The suitcase and the technology within it were her lifeline, her connection to other Tayamni, a way for her to ask for help. Picking it up and placing it gently on the bed, she opened it. Then sliding the panel back, she spoke, “Show me the boy.”
The display activated. A blue square of light floated above hidden instruments. The display resolved into an image of Denny, his mother and father, and several others in the uncle’s front yard. The boy’s father, Edward, sat on the porch, turning a handle on a bucket. Looking closer, Batresh could see the bucket held a rusting, metal cylinder with ice packed around it. The uncle poured rock salt onto the ice. Some men smoked cigarettes and held cans of beer.
The women and Dennis sat in a separate group of chairs under a shade tree. The women were talking. A woman wearing cat-eye glasses slapped her right thigh in laughter. Children ran and played in the still summer air. Dennis sat in his mother’s lap. He was focused on her face and words. Batresh noticed, as the viewer showed more information, that most of the men had beasts attached. The darkest and most powerful of the beasts was around Edward, Denny’s father. Only one of the women, one holding a toddler, had a weapon applied. Batresh had never thought an entire family could be so afflicted with biological weapons. Again, she wondered why the Potacas were active here.
After a time, Edward stopped turning the bucket. From the noise of men talking, and children laughing, Batresh could not understand much conversation. She winced, hearing one of the men use derogatory slang to refer to black people. The men around him burst into laughter. Edward grinned maliciously, as he took another can of Schlitz from a tub of melting ice. One of the boy’s aunts, plump, wearing a green flowered apron, lifted the rusting cylinder from the bucket, brushing ice and salt away with her hands. The other women made their way, slowly, almost formally, towards the porch, continuing conversations.
The only woman to whom a beast was attached, wore a defiant expression. She was Edward’s sister. Batresh heard another woman call her Jezebel. But no one laughed. Batresh zoomed in on her face. She wore heavy makeup. Her hair was dyed a flat black color and teased into a bouffant. Another woman moved close to her to caress the infant she held. She asked who the father was. The one called Jezebel answered she didn’t know.
The brothers, nephews and male cousins standing near the tub of ice, suddenly looked in another direction. The display showed Batresh that the youngest of Edward’s three sisters, was walking towards them. She was better dressed than the others, and wore her hair short and curled. Her skirt was tight around her round hips. She was the only woman who smoked a cigarette. Almost as if teasing, she bent over the ice tub in front of the men. Edward leaned over to his brother and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Only good for one thing.” Batresh sighed at the open unhealthiness in this family.
Edward’s sisters hung back to see his wife, Denny’s mother, walk towards the ice cream bucket. They watched her with mouths drawn into mockery. The one with the infant placed her free hand on her hip and exaggerated the mother’s gait. As Denny and his mother approached, one of the cousins, a boy in high school, looked at Dennis. The teenager stared at the boy with his mouth agape, his eyes narrowed with malicious intent. No one could see that he was remembering seeing Dennis playing with Barbie dolls the day before. No one could see that he was making plans of how he would lock Dennis in his bedroom with him. No one could see that he was planning to show Dennis things no child should ever see. No one could see what he was planning to force Dennis to do.
Denny’s mother took a small dish of ice cream for her little boy.
Batresh was startled by a knock at the door. The bellman announced she had a visitor. “I’ll be right down,” she responded.
When she turned into the lobby, she saw Jerry Means, the man who wore suspenders last evening, standing there. Looking at his open face and dark complexion she was reminded of the desert people from Kemet. Tonight, he wore a loose, white summer shirt. Just as the shirt he wore the night before was too tight, this one was loose.
“Good evening, Jerry,” she offered, happy to see him. He beamed at her. This time, he took the white gloved hand she offered very gently. “It is good to see you,” he said, smiling broadly. “I’m hoping you will have supper with me,” he asked.
Smiling, she responded, “That would be wonderful.” Again, she was surprised at her excitement. Was it because of the downloads? She slid her hand through his extended arm, and they walked out of the hotel.
They drove his older vehicle, windows down in the warm evening. “Where did you say you are from?” he asked.
She allowed a comfortable silence between them, then responded, “I grew up in Virginia. But, my family is from Saltillo.”
He slowed down at a STOP sign, but then, sped up again. “Do you like catfish?” He asked.
“I don’t remember, it’s been a while,” she responded, having no idea what he was talking about. The subject of catfish revealed a gap in the downloads.
“You’re from the South and you don’t eat catfish?” He laughed.
“Maybe you can remind me,” she responded, blushing at the gap in her knowledge.
“Have you been to Shake-Rag yet?”
“I don’t think so. What is Shake-Rag?” she asked, wondering about such a title.
“That’s where you can find the best catfish in Tupelo!” he teased. She noted they were travelling north.
Manicured homes gave way to poorly maintained structures with unpainted, clap board exteriors. As the houses and buildings grew poorer, she asked, “Where are you taking me?”
“Right here,” he responded, turning sharply into a dirt yard. “You are about to have the best catfish in the whole state.” He came around to the passenger side, and opened the door for her. He took her hand, to help her out of the vehicle. Walking on the uneven packed dirt, in heels, was difficult. He helped her steady herself, but, almost immediately, she stumbled. Quickly, he took her arm, to prevent her fall. He smiled at the chance to feel the weight of her body.
Meeting his dark eyes, she regained balance. She smiled. “What a gentleman you are, Jerry.”
“Why, thank you, Ma’am,” he laughed. “Now, let’s get some catfish!” he said, as he led her towards a rough looking shack. She noticed that she and Jerry were the only white people there. Facts about the economic disparity between the races at this time began to surface in her consciousness. It was obvious this was a poor part of town. They stood at an opening in the front wall of the shack. The restaurant appeared to be the front porch. Several people stood around talking, not at all distracted by the white couple that had just arrived. Jerry ordered sandwiches and two cokes. Batresh watched an elderly black woman place pieces of fried catfish between slices of white bread, slathering on a reddish sauce and coleslaw, the woman wrapped the sandwiches in wax paper, handing them to Jerry.
He took Batresh to a small bench on the porch where they sat facing the street. There, she tried the first catfish she had ever eaten. It was delicious, a little spicy, but tasting of flavors that were vaguely familiar to her. She could sense the aroma of the river from back home. She remembered standing near the docks at the palace watching a thin man wearing only a loin cloth, pull an enormous fish from the river. It was a big, strong, fish that flailed itself against him. It flopped onto the boards of the dock, and the ground. The man grabbed the head of the fish, and yelled an obscenity, trying to shake the pain out of his hand. He cursed to a friend nearby yelling that the River King had stung him. She looked into Jerry’s face with wonder, hesitated, and then asked, “Can this fish shock you with an electric current?”
Jerry looked at her as if she had asked him to go to the moon. “You’re kiddin’ me, right?”
She looked at the white, pearly texture of the fish, then back into Jerry’s face. “Back home, we have fish similar to this, but they carry an electrical charge.” She took another bite. “Touching them can be quite painful.” She remembered more details, “Do they have whiskers?”
Jerry looked at her as if she was from another planet, and took another bite of his sandwich.
“They grow in the river back home.” She smiled, convinced that she was familiar with this kind of fish. She enjoyed the smooth texture and the complex tastes. She hadn’t imagined, while watching the preparation of the sandwiches, that it would taste so nourishing. She smiled at Jerry, grateful for his attention, and for the experience. He took her ungloved hand in his, and squeezed it gently, looking into her face.
In the distance, she heard music playing. She could make out an electric guitar, bass and drums, mixed with laughter. Jerry somehow knew what she heard and offered, “Want to go dancing?”
She looked at him, laughing, but doubtful. “Mr. Means!” she joked, “I am afraid I would ruin our evening if I tried to dance,” another gap in her instructions.
“I will show you,” he offered, his eyes twinkling. “If you promise not to shock me like your catfish back home,” he laughed.
She followed Jerry down the graveled street, holding his hand. She was trying to remember having seen humans dance. She remembered palace dancers from ancient times, but knew nothing about dancing in 1962. She was aware that dancing could give off sexual signals, and that she, as a young woman in this culture, must be wary. She planned to watch the other women and mimic them. As they walked down the street the music grew louder. She could hear high pitched, female voices shouting above the noise. Jerry knew exactly where to go. She saw a faint glow of light on the street ahead of them. The street grew brighter, and the music louder as they approached the club. It was a crumbling structure, with cracked, red shingles tacked onto exterior walls. Above the door someone placed a hand-painted sign that read, “Red Carpet Lounge.” Cigarette smoke billowed from the open door. Jerry pulled her inside.
“What is your pleasure, Ma’am?” He asked teasingly. She didn’t understand.
He whispered, “We can buy booze here.” He looked around excitedly, “It’s a dry county, but not at the Lounge.” he chuckled.
Again, she was out of her element. Thinking quickly, she responded, “I’ll have a glass of wine.” Jerry smiled and shook his head. He laughed.
“You sure are a different kind of woman.” With a mischievous expression, he took her soft hand in his and moved closer. She could feel the roughness of his cheek on hers as he whispered, “First electric catfish, and now wine at the Lounge.” He kissed her cheek softly, and continued whispering, “We can get beer or hard liquor, but I seriously doubt that they have wine.” Her face reddened with embarrassment.
Hesitantly, she offered, “I don’t think I would like anything very strong.”
Jerry recalled a thought he had earlier. He had not heard a local woman use the vocabulary she used. Nor had he seen a woman carry herself so gracefully. He was attracted to her meticulous pronunciation of words and her intelligence. He believed she was from a higher social class. He worried that coming to the Lounge might have been a bad idea. He looked around at the sexually charged environment and dancers. “Is it OK to come here?” he asked.
Without hesitation, she responded, “It looks like fun.”
“Stay here, I’ll be right back.” He walked to a table where a woman was selling glasses of liquid.
Looking around the room, Batresh was fascinated. The lights were dimmed. Strings of yellow, red and green Christmas lights were tacked to the ceiling. The lights snaked around the room, and looped down above their heads. Batresh enjoyed the way swirls of cigarette smoke, colored by the lights, created twisted, glowing halos of humid air around them. The smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke was strong. She was aware that other men were watching her. Unabashedly, their eyes went from her hips, to her breasts and her face. Rather than being embarrassed by the attention, she smiled, taking note of the culture, the movements of the people, their clothing and open faces. They seemed to be less guarded, and more easily sexual with each other. Jerry returned offering her a glass of cool liquid. “Try this,” he said.
She tested the drink, tasting a combination of a strong, stinging chemical, combined with syrupy sweetness. “I put a little coke in it for you,” he explained.
“Thank you,” she offered as she sipped the drink. Taking her hand, he pulled her towards the center of the room. Placing his own drink on a table, he took hers from her. He moved her hand to the right in the space between them, then to the left, and gestured to his feet. She was grateful to learn. She was a quick study.
After a few hesitant steps, she was a beginner. Looking at the other women, she moved her hips. Jerry looked at her with surprise. “Well, you do have some moves there,” he smiled. He was a bit confused. She seemed to be more sexual now, moving her hips in ways that few white women would. He enjoyed the heightened sensuality she displayed, but it was inconsistent with what he understood of her. He kept hold of her hand, then taking both hands, he whirled her around. The first time, she stumbled, surprised at his direction, then on the next spin, she maintained her balance. “You are good!” he stated. He focused on the movements of her body as they danced. He watched her hips, and the slow, curving movements that seemed natural to her. Looking back at her face, he saw that she observed him. She knew he was looking at her body. She was neither embarrassed nor angry with him, but seemed pleased. The song ended.
They stood back from the dancers. Jerry leaned against an unadorned wooden post. They sipped drinks, watching. He was losing inhibitions, he slid his right hand around her waist and pulled her close to him, as if he intended to whisper. As his face moved closer to hers, he grazed her lips with his mouth. Then, he looked to see her reaction. Again, she was not embarrassed or angry. He enjoyed the heat of the room, the swimming feeling in his head, and the beautiful woman beside him. Looking at her, he was amazed at his luck. How was it that a woman so beautiful, intelligent and educated would respond to him? She was either putting on an act, or she was innocent.
Batresh noted and filed away for future processing, images, sounds and the smells of this environment. She wondered why Jerry’s imperfections attracted her. She compared him to Amun, tall, muscular, learned, and handsome, superior to her in many ways. And Jerry, overweight, wearing ill-fitting clothes, a creature limited to this planet, culture and time. What was it about him that thrilled her?
The music changed, and a slower song played from the record player. A man was singing “I can’t stop loving you.” Jerry took the cue. He placed his empty glass on the table, and took her half empty one from her. “Let’s dance,” he whispered, his face against hers. This time, the couples were dancing slowly, holding each other. Some were kissing. Jerry pulled her to the dance floor. He stopped and she moved closer to him. Mimicking the other dancers, she pressed her body against his. He felt a rush of adrenaline. The feeling of her body against him was delicious. He smiled, closing his eyes. But, then, suddenly afraid he would become too excited, he pulled away.
“This is fun,” she offered, smiling softly.
He did not want to kiss her now, this early in their acquaintance, while he was intoxicated. He simply looked at her full lips, and her light colored eyes.
“I am glad you like this place. I was afraid it might be too much.” He grinned and winked.
She was confused by his expression, but she continued. “I am not familiar with this subculture. It is fascinating and quite open.” The alcoholic beverage caused her to lose the linguistic caution she had been careful to employ. He thought her statement seemed clinical, but brushed it off, enjoying himself too much to think about it.
The rest of the evening was a blur. She was not used to consuming such strong drink. She remembered walking back to the car, and sitting against him on the front seat. She fell asleep during the drive. When she awoke, the car was parked at the hotel. Her head lay in his lap, and her legs rested on the seat. He still sat at the steering wheel, but was asleep. She lay there, allowing herself to drink in the experiences of the night, and the strong, friendly man beside her. She sat up, and Jerry awoke.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered groggily.
“Thank you for a wonderful night,” she whispered. She then reached over, and kissed him gently on the cheek. “Good night, Jerry.”
“Good night, hunny,” he responded.
She managed to open the door and walk to the entrance of the hotel. He watched her as she walked away from him.