The Joker slept in the concession stand at Tutwiler Field when his old lady wouldn’t put him up. It was far out, past the Jitney Jungle but convenient to the trailers she lived in, and other than the weekly grass cutting that messed with his sinuses, he had no real issues with his spot. One morning, on the way to the bathroom stalls, he looked out on the track and saw two stallion-like men hoofing it around the gravel track. By the time he came out, the men were holding slightly to each other and kissing like it was going out of style. One was vaguely familiar, but the other had to be from out of town or something because the Joker knew everybody. He knew it wasn’t none of his business and none of his place to judge, especially in a line of work that demanded as much flexibility as his did. Shaking his head and chuckling, he made his way back to the concession stand to prepare to shoot up.
Wonderboy had gone from dapping the stranger up after an impromptu race to standing with a tongue crashing about in his mouth, stirred by the fiery complexity of how foreign and familiar the musky sweat of this other man was. Man! Man! Man! It thunderbolted in Wonderboy’s head what was going on, and he tore his mouth away as his stomach revolted. Stuff was splashing out of him, hot bile, food from last week it seemed like. He heaved down to his knees. The stranger put a hand on his back to help, but Wonderboy slung his arm and almost knocked him down. As the man escaped, Wonderboy’s body coughed up its last, and he collapsed to the gravel, weeping.
The Joker had come out to search for his lighter when he saw the Bishop Winfrey’s boy on the ground, crying like his dog and his Mama had died on the same day.
“Looka what we have here,” he said, chuckling again. He wanted to tell the boy that there were a lot of worse things that he could and would do in his lifetime, but the Joker’s line of work had also taught him to strike while the iron was hot. He walked around in front of the bleachers and said, “Un-unh…Imma tell your daddy you messing with them boys.”
“What you say?” Wonderboy said, cold terror running through him.
“You heard me. Imma tell your daddy—unlessen you got some money on you. You got any money?”
The man’s smile was sly. Wonderboy flew off the ground and threw his weight into the man. The Joker buckled, stunned, into the bottom bleacher. There was a sound like ice cracking; he yanked the Joker from where he had landed. The smile had drooped off his face. He put his hands up.
“It ain’t got to be all this. I’m over here fucked up in the head from malnourishment and shit. I swear I didn’t see nothing, son.”
“Son? Son?” Wonderboy was screaming.
He pulled his arm back like an arrow and drove it into the man’s face. The Joker fell unconscious. When Wonderboy began to strangle him, the man flashed alive, weaker but with much fight. The Joker’s arms were swinging wildly, and Wonderboy pressed all the force of his body onto the man’s throat, squeezing until the Joker gave up the ghost.
It was before 7:00 a.m., but Yancey Scott was near the intersection of 4th and Issaquena, leaned up against the fence circling the VFW lounge, sucking on a cigarette.
“You want to make a couple of hundred dollars, man?” Wonderboy said
Yancey got in the truck.
Wonderboy had come out to sweep the walkway in front of his daddy’s barbershop. His khaki pants were pressed, and his light blue button down shirt was crisp and bright. He was fourteen and stout, smooth-skinned, and confident. Ivy and Mack were already outside, standing with Officer Artie Nabors and Brother Billy Trout, both of whom were on their way in the shop for a haircut. In the middle of their little crowd was the Joker wearing brownish pants and a brownish undershirt and looking and smelling like a difficult decision as he did his usual running off at the mouth for laughs.
“So, while the candy guy is eating cheese in the club, and the pimps is wearing linen after Labor Day, Nuggy’s busy sending flowers to the Princess Diana and making her old man mad.” The men and boys were whooping it up at him.
“What the hell is this ‘head talking about?” Wonderboy said, swaggering up. All of the older men whooped again at Wonderboy’s bravado.
“This is your brain on drugs, boy,” Officer Nabors said, pointing. “Now, Joker, you better dance if you want this money.” Officer Nabors held out a five dollar bill, and for it the Joker dipped and swirled like James Brown, all the while making various Michael Jackson sounds. Wonder had seen this man before, doing these very moves, telling these very jokes, had even laughed at him before. This time, hatred was sour in his mouth, and he had to spit several times as he watched the Joker coon.
“Fuck, man. What the fuck happened out here?” Yancey asked.
The bathroom at Tutwiler field smelled ferocious. Blood smudged the dirt-stained floor. In the third stall, the Joker’s body had flopped backwards on the grimy toilet. A t-shirt had been tied around his head, and it was all a big mess to Yancey. He fished around in his packet of Kools, found a match, and lit up. He inhaled and blew the smoke up his nose.
“I don’t know what to do with him,” Wonderboy said.
“Shit, nigger, I didn’t know this is what you wanted. Take me back home. I won’t say nothing. Why you do this? Joker wasn’t no bad guy.”
Wonderboy said, “You’re out here now, and my daddy got enough money to get me off if push comes to shove. What do you got? Now tell me what to do with him.”
“Did you check his pockets?”
“I doubt crackheads carry ID,” Wonderboy said but patted him down anyway. He found a browned and curled notebook. On the first page, an old person had printed the name Midas Jackson. He stuffed the notebook in his pocket and pulled his truck as close to the bathroom as possible. Yancey’s idea was to drop him in Moon Lake, and it seemed like a good idea to Wonderboy. He had tarp in the back of the Wrangler. The boys rolled the Joker up in it and carried him out like a log. Wonderboy drove through Clarksdale, where outside of the Double Quik on 61, Wonderboy tossed his soiled pants in the dumpster. At Moon Lake, they couldn’t find anything to hold the Joker down in the water, so Wonderboy drove into a woodsy area not too far away that didn’t entertain much traffic until deer season rolled around.
“Don’t get nothing in my damn truck,” he said to Yancey.
They toted the body, moving quickly but careful not to trip over a root or step on a snake. Light, dark, light, dark; cool brown trees: a resting place for the Joker. Ready to be done with it all, Wonderboy dropped the Joker’s feet in the first secluded-looking spot, but Yancey laid his head down carefully and with respect, considering that under the tarp the man’s face looked like meatloaf.
Wonderboy was glad he had recruited help. By 8:30, Yancey was sweeping the last of the bleach into the drainage hole, and it smelled better than it had ever smelled in the Tut Field bathroom.
In his mind, the series of events dipped and changed and grew. He saw himself dusting this faggot on the track and felt the faggot’s swallowing mouth. Wonderboy’s mind went too far, to where he was pulled down to the warm gravel and…and what? What would they have done next? He imagined doing to the punk what he had done to the Joker. The guy had decent size, but Wonderboy knew he could easily have taken him. It troubled Wonder—this thing that had made the sissy choose him. A sissy would never have tried his father or his brother, Mack. Mack would have thrashed the man; Mack still scared Wonderboy sometimes.
Faggot faggot faggot punk sissy punk sissy punk.
Wonderboy knew he was all those words. He came in the back door of the house and snuck up the stairs. Showering made him think of jail. The jailhouse was full of faggots. He would kill Yancey before he went to jail. He would kill himself. He had to erase this from his head. It was over and done with. He and Yancey had cleaned up good, and all was well. No jail for anybody. Besides, he knew Yancey didn’t want no trouble with the law. Wonderboy soaped and rinsed his body seven times because it seemed like a good number. He gargled Listerine for as long as he could stand it, rinsing out the taste of cigarette and man’s mouth. He fell across his bed and slept for the next ten hours.
His mother was a bird, pecking and fluttering in and out of the room as he slept.
“Leave me alone, Mama,” he grumbled, heavy with sleep.
“Oh, Emanuel,” she chirped. She pressed her slim hand to his forehead and hmmphed like a doctor with a challenge. She returned with water and orange juice, a cup of soup. When she tried to rustle him up to eat, he had to keep from swatting her. At least her spurts of mothering woke him up before certain events could come together in his dreams.
“I want to see—make sure you love me,” he told Lady, fitting his hand between her legs.
She was thrumming beneath his hand. He replaced his hand with his lips and tugged her into his mouth. He pulled her up by her bottom; her legs were shaking. He was as hard as granite under his shorts. Faggot? What faggot? She was breaking open for him. He held her by her forearms, and she was moaning like a dog and breaking open for him.
Addie Citchens is a fiction writer from Clarksdale, Mississippi. Her work covers the performance of blackness, sexuality, sexual violence, generational trauma, and personal healing/liberation/triumph. Her art has been featured in the Oxford American, Callaloo, and Mixed Company. Her first novel, The Fire-Starter, was recently independently published on Amazon.