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08 July, 2008

Chronicles of a Lesser-Known Writer - Part VI: "Where There's Smoke" (A Snippet)

Out of the Mouths of Babes...A Moment with 16-year-old Isaiah.

I thought the Colt 45 was going to my head. Thought I was seeing things, for real. I was sitting in the passenger seat of Hood’s ride, bobbing my head to track number seven on Jay Z’s second CD, when dude strolled over to the car like he was planning on hopping in. He stood by the passenger door, staring at me. Hood reached over and turned down the music and we all got quiet. It was me, Hood, and one of his flunkies named Marcus. Hood brought him along because he had a bag full of fire ass weed, ripe for the rolling. That shit was so pungent I could smell it as soon as Marcus spread out in the backseat and started rolling a blunt as thick as my thumb. When dude walked up we all froze like, what the fuck?

He was dressed in black slacks and a matching blazer, with a crew neck dress shirt underneath, looking like one-time, for real. Hood started inching his hand under his seat, going for his piece. We was parked on a back street in the park ten blocks over from my house, behind some trees. Wasn’t nobody around, and Hood must’ve thought he could get a few shots off if he needed to, without too much of a risk. Hood was crazy like that.

Dude noticed the direction of Hood’s hand and stopped staring at me long enough to stare at him.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, youngblood,” dude said. Hood looked at him like he was crazy, but he sat back.

“Man, who the hell is you?” Hood asked dude. He tapped me on the arm and tipped his head. “Zay, you know this cat?”

“Nah,” I said and took another swig of Colt. “I don’t know shit about this dude. He ain’t one-time, though.”

“If you don’t know this motherfucker, then how you know he ain’t one-time?”

“Trust me on this.” I looked up at dude. “You want some of this, old man?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing, Zay. You want some of this?”

I shook my head and laughed.

“Hood, you believe this dude’s name is Smoke? Who the fuck is named Smoke? That’s some of that old Super Fly shit there. Whatchu' want with me anyway, and why you following me around and shit? Ain’t that against the law?”

“Uh, excuse me,” Marcus butted in, sounding silly. I turned around and looked at him. “Anybody mind if I fire this bitch up?” He held up a thick ass blunt in one hand and a lighter in the other. He was a straight up weed head.

“You can light it up, but it’ll fall apart in your hands before you get a good toke off it,” dude said. “You didn’t pinch the head tight enough.”

I stared at dude like he was an alien from outer space. Hood started laughing, covering his mouth like he was about to cough.

“Wait a minute, Zay. This the dude you was telling me about, the one from Indiana?”
I had told Hood about dude busting up in my house trying to clown me and shit, but I didn’t tell him that dude was my long lost daddy. He didn’t need to know all that.

“Yeah, this that cat,” I said. “Running a brotha down and shit. Whatchu' say you wanted?”

“A little of this, little of that. I’m on my way back home. Thought maybe you might want to talk a minute before I left.”

Behind me Marcus fired up the blunt, and smoke slammed into the back of my head like a mutha. I started coughing just on GP. That fool was puffing hard as hell. Hood took the blunt, pulled on it twice, and handed it to me. I shook my head and waved it away. For some reason I didn’t want dude to see me doing my do.

“Talk about what?” I asked.

“A little of this, little of that.” Dude slid his hands in his pockets and grinned at me. Next thing I knew he was shaking his head like I was a bad joke. That made me mad.

“What’s so damn funny?”

“You are. You think you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?”

“I know you ain’t got shit figured out. ’Cause if you did, you would disappear right about now. Vanish like smoke, Smoke.” I thought that was pretty funny and grinned back at his ass. “You feel me?”

“Unfortunately, I do. Check this out, Zay.” He leaned down and spread his hands over the top of the door, staring me down. “I’m thinking I might be back. Are you ready for what I might bring with me?”

“Man, for the last time, you ain’t my daddy, and I don’t give a shit if you never come back, OK? If you planning on coming back next weekend, I ain’t gone have time to be bothered with your shit anyway, ’cause I got a game on Saturday. So don’t waste your time.”

“What kind of game on Saturday?”

“Basketball. Why?”

“Where is it?”

“At the school. Why?”

“What time does it start?”

“Seven-thirty. Why? You ain’t coming no way.”

“Maybe, maybe not. You any good?”

“I might be. Why?”

“What’s up with this dude, Zay? This your daddy or something?” Hood choked out around a mouthful of smoke. Didn’t he just hear me tell dude he wasn’t my daddy?

I felt dude staring at me. Hard. But I wouldn’t look at him. I took a swig of Colt, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, and looked at Hood a long time. Then I said, “Yeah.”

“Oh snap,” Marcus said from the backseat.

“Damn, y’all do look alike now that you mention it,” Hood cracked. He handed Marcus the blunt and looked at dude. “You say you from Indiana. Where bout?”

“I don’t recall saying I was from Indiana, but since you asked, Indianapolis.”

“I got some cousins that live there. You know any people with the last name Knight?”

I looked at Hood like he’d lost his damn mind. No this fool wasn’t getting ready to turn this shit into a family reunion. And why black folks always wanting to know if you know somebody else? Who gave a shit?

“I might. I used to know a few people named Knight years ago. Yogi and Pat from Robinwood. That was before your time, though.”

Hood actually started getting excited. I ain’t never seen that fool smile like that before. Not even when he was getting a blowjob.

“Hold up. I had a cousin named Yogi. He got killed a few years back, though. That cat was straight crazy. You knew him?”

Dude nodded slowly. “Vaguely.”

Hood was on a roll. “His mama is my mama’s sister. I came up there a few times in the summer when I was little. Used to follow that fool around everywhere he went. That was back when Yogi was banking and shit. He was slinging dope like it wasn’t no tomorrow, working for this nigga named—”

“Zeus,” dude said. My head snapped around quick as hell and we stared at each other.

“That’s some wild shit,” Hood was saying. “You know Zeus? Man, I heard all kinda shit about that cat back in the day. Dude,” he looked at Marcus, “Zeus was like a god or some shit.”

“Or Satan,” dude said. Before I knew what he was doing, he snatched my door open and stepped back. “Get out.”


“Get out.” I didn’t move and his eyebrows raised. “You need me to help you get out?”

I got out.

It's a Boy! Alec A.K.A "Smoke" on Finding Out That He's a Daddy...

“A son?” It was a shriek more than a question.

I stopped packing long enough to look at Diana over my shoulder. She was standing behind me, arms folded across her chest, leaning on one foot. She was a pretty woman, even when she was pissed, and I was certain she was aware of that fact. My eyes swept her from head to toe, then I smiled engagingly. She was tall, almost as tall as me, and always on a diet to maintain her slim figure. I secretly thought a few more pounds wouldn’t hurt, but who had asked me? We’d finished making love an hour ago, and she was still prancing around naked.

I reached out and flicked one of her nipples with the tip of my finger, watched it rise and harden, and looked into her wide brown eyes. She was as fine as she wanted to be.

“A son,” I confirmed in a grave voice.

“And you’re just now telling me this?” She pushed her long, relaxed hair from around her shoulders and held it away from her face with both hands. I took advantage of her pose and moved close to cup her breasts in my hands. I kissed her on her forehead softly.

“I just found out myself last weekend. His name is Isaiah, and he’s sixteen years old. It’s funny how much he looks like me.” I squeezed her breasts for a moment longer, then reluctantly eased around her to get to my closet. As much as the idea of taking her back to bed appealed to me, I had a plane to catch and a basketball game to attend.

“What kind of woman doesn’t tell a man he’s a father until sixteen years later? That’s what I want to know.” She plopped down in the middle of my bed and stretched out luxuriously. “And who is this woman, anyway?”

“Just a girl I used to know over sixteen years ago, so stop wigging out.” I figured the circumstances of my relationship with Anne didn’t need to be disclosed. It wasn’t really my business to tell. Plus, I wouldn’t exactly come out looking like Mr. Clean in the aftermath. There were many things Diana didn’t know about me, and I preferred to keep it that way.

“You still haven’t told me what kind of woman she is, Alec. I mean, should I be packing a bag, too?”

“You jealous?” I folded a pair of Levi’s and laid them in the suitcase. I was taking a few pairs of boxers from a drawer when it occurred to me that she hadn’t answered my question. I meant it as a joke, but her silence told me that it wasn’t one. I looked at her curiously.

“Should I be?”

By comparison, Diana was Vogue material to Anne’s Health & Fitness type flair. She was like a sleek sports car while Anne brought to mind a sturdy sedan with luxury options. Diana was everything I liked in a woman—always well groomed and sweet smelling, soft and ultra feminine. I didn’t think I’d ever seen her sweat, even though she taught PE at my school and professed to work out on a daily basis. An image of Anne huffing down the street, jogging with no bra crossed my mind, but I pushed it away and focused on the soft bush of hair between Diana’s thighs. Should she be jealous? Hell no.

“I’m going to see my son, to spend time with him, so I would have to say the answer to your question is no. His mother and I aren’t interested in each other like that.”

“Still, maybe I should go with you.”

“Not this time, OK? I need to focus on Isaiah right now. We’re still feeling each other out. And you, my dear, would be a distraction.”

“When will you be back then?”

“Sunday night,” I said. Or maybe Monday, I thought. Isaiah had mentioned something to me about the two of us possibly hanging out on Sunday. Actually, I had mentioned it, but he hadn’t refused me outright, and I chose to take that as a definite maybe.

“You sure you don’t need a little something-something to tide you over until then?” She smiled seductively and parted her thighs for my viewing pleasure.

I took the sight in leisurely. Then I glanced at my watch. “I would love to, baby, but my flight leaves in two hours. I need to get a move on.” She wasn’t pleased with my response, but I had visions of witnessing jump-shots and slam-dunks dancing through my head. Missing my flight and having to catch a later one was not an option, no matter how good the pussy was.

And it was good. I conceded that, but I was never the kind of man to get waylaid by something as simple as good sex. I’d had all kinds of sex during my thirty-six years on earth, and by now I knew the answer to the great mystery many women still labored over to this day. Good sex and a pretty smile did not keep a man if he didn’t want to be kept. He might linger for a time, but ultimately he could be lured away if it looked like something better had come along.

After six months of dallying with Diana Daniels, I had come to the conclusion that she was still laboring over the great mystery. My students called her a dime-piece, which meant she was extremely good looking. Whenever she drummed up an excuse to strut into my classroom, it was always a production, and the boys usually went on full alert while the girls resorted to teeth sucking and darting meaningful glances at each other. I sat back and watched the dynamics, secretly amused and slightly put off. She was a siren and her sexuality walked ten feet ahead of her like a sultry prelude to the real thing.

Diana was a near carbon copy of my wife. Excuse me, my ex-wife. At twenty-three, I’d married a sleeker version of Diana because the great mystery was still a mystery to me, and nine years of high maintenance headaches was what I got for my trouble. She hadn’t wanted children because pregnancy would ruin her figure. She hadn’t wanted to work outside of the home because it was beneath her, even though she was constantly pushing me to earn more money. She liked to spend her days shopping and socializing with the other military wives, and she would not even consider the possibility that I would eventually sever ties with Uncle Sam and join the civilian world. She couldn’t understand why I would pursue something as mundane as a teaching degree when I could be doing something more exciting and lucrative, like finance or law. But the sex was hotter than hot, and for a time I was blinded to everything except the mind numbing orgasms I enjoyed on a regular basis. Then I got my sight back, miraculously, and decided I needed a divorce.

My marriage ended right around the time my third tour of duty ended. She decided that she liked being a military wife, and I decided that she should continue to pursue that ambition for herself. Meanwhile, I was out. The trouble was, somehow, I’d managed to get myself back in. With Diana. I knew she wanted more from our fledgling relationship, and probably even expected it. By now I should’ve been simpering at her feet and doing my best to hold on tightly to a good thing while I had it. And I did hold tight to it, while it was in my bed, but I had no trouble releasing it when the sun came up.

It sounded callous, but in reality, I cared about Diana, and the thought of cheating on her never crossed my mind. Well, hardly ever anyway. I just didn’t allow my second head to cloud my judgment where she was concerned. It hadn’t escaped my notice that she was eerily similar in looks and personality to my ex-wife, which suggested that I wasn’t quite as evolved as I liked to think. But every day was a work in progress, right?

I listened to the sound of Diana’s blaring silence during the drive to the airport. She was pouting because I hadn’t invited her along, and I wasn’t caring. I sent her off with a generous kiss and boarded my flight with something like anticipation rolling around in my gut. My thoughts were already just outside of Chicago, wondering what my son would say to me when he saw me again. I was almost looking forward to another verbal sparring.

Last Sunday he’d lit into me good after I made him get out of the car with his no good buddies. He was embarrassed and mad as hell, and no sooner than we were ten feet away from the car he had started in, talking pure bullshit to me. I let him rant and rave about how I had no right to interfere in his life or to tell him what to do. I listened patiently while he assured me that if I ever tried to put my hands on him again, I would regret it. I think I might’ve even smiled at that point, envisioning myself putting his little ass in a sleeper hold and taking him down real quick. He was absolutely livid, and I couldn’t blame him. I would’ve been just as indignant if my mother had suddenly sprung a father on me that late in the game, and I said that to him. Then I said something else that still humbled me every time I thought about it. And I had thought about it many times over the last week.

“Can I talk now?” I asked Isaiah. He was still huffing and puffing, looking so much like my mother that I wanted to kiss him. I was past due for a visit with her, and with him standing there frowning exactly like she did when she was pissed, guilt washed over me. I’d missed the past two Sunday dinners and I needed to call her soon for atonement. She would get the shock of her life when she set eyes on him. That she would set eyes on my son was a foregone conclusion. He just didn’t know it yet.

“You can talk, but that don’t mean I have to listen,” Isaiah said. He looked off toward the street and kept his eyes there. I kept my eyes on his face. He knew I was staring at him, and it made him uncomfortable. After a while he met my eyes defiantly. “What?”

“I didn’t know about you,” I said.

“I got that.”

“If I had known about you, I would’ve been in your life from day one.”

“So it’s all my mama’s fault?”

I thought about that for a few seconds and shook my head. “Not all her fault. It was a crazy time, a complicated situation. She didn’t know what to do, and I—”

“She was cracked out. You ain’t gotta sugar coat the shit for me. I know the deal.”

“You ain’t gotta curse at me either,” I told him. “I know you’re angry. Hell, I’m angry too. But as men we need to figure out a way to deal with this situation.” I doubt he was aware that there were tears in his eyes. I stopped myself from reaching out to him, knowing that wasn’t what he needed right then. He wanted me to, though. I could feel it coming off of him in waves, and I told myself that one day soon I would give him what he wanted. When he was ready to accept it.

“You mad ’cause you got a kid you didn’t want by a crackhead?” His voice lowered noticeably and he shot a nervous glance toward the car. I had my first peep into what part of his problem was.

“I never liked that word.” I let that statement hang out there between us. “I’m mad, as you put it, because I’ve got a son that I didn’t have the privilege of seeing grow up. I’m mad because I don’t know what your favorite color is. Or what your favorite food is, or even if you have a girlfriend that I should be pulling your coattail about.” I stepped closer to him, close enough that he could smell the onions on my breath, leftover from the burger I’d wolfed down for lunch. “I’m mad because it was my job to take you for haircuts and talk to you about the birds and the bees and to knock you upside the head when you got out of line. All that shit and more. That’s what I’m mad about.”

“My mama handled her business.”

“So she’s not just a crackhead?” My eyebrows rose as I studied him. He blushed and shuffled his feet in the grass. Silence stretched out and I knew I’d made my point. Still, I said, “One of these days I’ll take you to see some real crackheads, and then you can see for yourself what the dope life is like. You can see all the little dirty, hungry children and the filth. I promise you you’ll come home and kiss your mother’s feet.”

He heard what he wanted to hear.

“Man, you ain’t taking me no place, and you know it.”

“Oh, but I am. That is, if you want to go. I don’t want to force myself on you, Isaiah.”



“My friends call me Zay.”

“We’re friends now?”

“Nah,” he waved a nonchalant hand. “I don’t know you like that.”

“You want to know me like that?”

“Why you wanna know me? That’s what I want to know.”

“Well, it’s not because of your winning personality, that’s for sure. I’ll be back next weekend. Let me think about that question during the week and I’ll have an answer for you when I get back.”

“You gotta think about it?” He was outdone, looking at me suspiciously.

“I’ve got a lot of shit to think about, just like you do.” I slipped a folded piece of paper from my pocket and held it out to him. “These are my home, work, and cell numbers. Call me if you want to talk before then.” He made no move to take the paper from me, but I wouldn’t take it back. Couldn’t. “Take the paper, Zay,” I said softly.

He took it, but he hadn’t used it during the week. I knew because I was monitoring all three phones diligently, checking for messages every free second I had, and there were none.

The plane was circling around Chicago, preparing to land when my cell phone rang. A passing stewardess shot me a veiled look and I shook my head at her. No, I’m not going to answer it when you just told us to turn off our cell phones and make sure our seatbelts are secure. I’m a good little passenger, my look told her. She moved on down the aisle.

A good little passenger who suddenly had to pee. I hurried to the restroom at the rear of the plane and pulled out my cell phone as soon as I closed the door behind me.

“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone. The reception was shitty, but I could still make out the sound of a woman’s voice in the background, something about taking the trash out before it started stinking up the whole house. Anne. Which meant that my caller was . . . “Isaiah?”

“I’m playing ball tonight. You coming?”

“My plane is about to land now. What’s up with the trash?” I leaned against the steel sink and listened to him groan theatrically, and smiled.

“I’m bout to take it out. I keep telling her to give me a minute, but she thinks a minute is ten seconds.”

“Consider yourself lucky. My mother thought a minute was five seconds.” Actually, to my mother a minute was a minute, but telling her to give me one was unthinkable. She said do it, and I did it. Period. “Take it out so she can stop fussing.”

“Whatever. Why you talking all low?”

“Because I’m not supposed to be on the phone while the plane is landing. I don’t know what the hell difference it makes, though. Why are you mumbling?”

“Because I’m not supposed to be on the phone at all. She catches me and that’s another two weeks added on. I risked it to call you. Don’t you feel special?”

“We’re going to have to do something about that mouth of yours,” I said.

“Whatever. You coming to the house?”

“Do you want me to?”

“You do what you want to do. I’ma be here till about six, and then I gotta jet to the school for practice before the game.”

I wondered if he really thought he was being slick. Then I remembered that he was sixteen, so probably so. I filed the particulars of his agenda in the back of my mind and checked the time. It was a little after three.

“I still need to pick up my rental and drive out there, so it may be around six or so when I get to my hotel.”

“Isaiah!” Anne shrieked in the background. Another theatrical groan.

“Cool,” he said. “I’ll see you when I see you.”

“Whatever, youngblood. I’ll be there in a little while. Take out the trash.” He did just what I was expecting him to do and hung up on me. I slipped out of the restroom and resumed my seat.

“I was beginning to think you’d fallen in,” the stewardess drawled as she came to lean over me. I sat still while she unnecessarily checked my seatbelt. Her breasts were practically in my mouth.

“I had to take an important phone call,” I told her.

“Oh? Your wife or girlfriend?”

“My son,” I said with more than a little pride. I was starting to like the feel of those two words on my tongue, starting to like the sound of them coming out of my mouth.

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