Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6


Levi began working on the second half of his tuna sandwich. It had taken most of his willpower not to gobble it down. The lemonade was made with real lemons, a perfect blend of sweetness and sourness. He emptied the glass and placed it with the dish on the front of the desk.

"That lemonade is the best I think I've ever had. The pulp sure adds flavor to it. Usually I drink instant lemonade," Levi said.

"You get what you pay for, Cordoba. You buy fresh lemons and you're likely to get fresh lemonade," Terry said.

"My instincts tell me, you've walked down that street a thousand times," Levi said. "How do you explain what happened to you that night. Have you considered that someone might have been laying for you?"

Terry sat with the empty plate in his lap. He stared at Levi. He showed no sign of thinking it over. He reached for his lemonade and drank.

"Everyone has to know you. How'd you get shot a block from home?"

"Because that's where he shot me. I'd have been closer to home if I'd walked farther before he shot me. I'd have been farther away if he shot me sooner. That's where he pulled the trigger. If he knew me, we'll never know," Terry said.

"I guess you're right," Levi said. " Even angry guys don't shoot someone who is making something out of his life and your father's a cop."

"Accidental. I'm somebody down here. I don't do gangs and the gangs know it. I can cross any line, go anywhere and everyone knows Moony Brown. I'm a star, when there are few stars in the black sky. I'd been at practice. I left my gear at school. Too tired to carry it. I jogged two thirds of the way home. I was sweaty. I stopped to wait for the light on the main drag. I was getting cold and after getting across, I put my hoodie up, as I walked toward 2nd Street. I stepped off the curb to cross. I saw motion on my left. I never saw the guy, but I heard the shot. That's all there was. The first person to me was a neighbor and before I could get my senses back, I was at the hospital and then I woke up in a hospital room the next day. They operated on me all night."

"It's worse every time I hear it," Levi said.

"You should be on this side of the desk," Terry said. "It's done. This is what I have, Cordoba. This is what I've got to learn to live with," Terry said.

"For now. You'll walk again. I don't doubt that," Levi said.

Terry stared at Levi. He wanted to believe he'd walk again, but even if he did walk again, it was going to be a long tough road ahead of him. That's a road he'd need to go down alone.

"You've got to believe that, Terry. If you don't believe that, your life is over. The thing you have to live for is the thing that will make you do the work, so you walk and once you walk, no one will be able to stop you from running."

Again, Terry looked Levi in the eyes. There was a coolness there, an acceptance of certain truths and there didn't seem to be wiggle room in his eyes. Terry liked that. He knew Levi was doing his best to be encouraging.

"The day I beat you...." Levi started but didn't have time to finish.

"The day you beat me. I beat you four times. Why don't we talk about that," Terry said angrily.

"Why don't we talk about the times I beat you. There are more of those. You only beat me one time, Cordoba," Terry said, sitting on the edge of the chair like he was ready to race Levi, if necessary to prove his point.

"If you'll shut up, I'll tell you why. The day I beat you, when I came out of the blocks and took those first few steps, I knew it was the best start of my life and no one was ahead of me. You were always ahead of me in the first five yards, Moony, but this time you weren't there and you know the rest. As long as I live, I'll never forget what you did, once I beat you. You walked over to me, stuck out your hand and you said, 'Nice race.' Why did you do that? I've never done that."

"I wanted a close up look at you. It took the race of your life to beat me and I wanted you to know, I wasn't going anywhere. I would always be there and I'd always be faster than you."

"It took more class than I've got. I really don't think much about the guys I race. They're just guys in the other lanes, while I am winning another race."

"And here you are," Terry said.

"Isn't that the truth. Here I am. I wouldn't have talked to you on the track. I don't have anything to say. I'm there for one reason and one reason only. I don't need to talk about it," Levi said. "And that's why I'm here."

"You white folks sure is strange," Terry said.

Levi laughed.

The silence came back. Both boys were deep in thought.

Levi spoke first this time.

"A guy spends his life preparing to do a thing he does better than anyone else and in an instant, it's all taken away from him. It's a terrible waste and I don't know what to do about it," Levi said.

"You don't owe me anything, Cordoba. This isn't your fight. You come from a different world. In a few minutes, you'll go home and you'll forget all about me and I'll still be here, sitting in my window."

"I feel like I need to do something," Levi said. "I don't know what. This is so wrong, but I can't do anything about it," Levi said.

" Do you know who shot you?" Levi finally asked.

"Yeah, I knew him. He knew me. He was one of my biggest fans. If I'd have been carrying my gear, he'd have recognized me. If I didn't get cold ears, I'd not have had my hoodie up. I knew better. I'd made it through the white neighborhood. I was on my own turf. I never thought that someone I knew would put an end to me," Terry said, showing the pain it caused him, for the first time.

"Your father's a cop?"

"Yeah! He's a cop. A bit hard-nosed and unforgiving especially when it comes to the rules. There are two kinds of people, he tells me. The ones you ain't got to worry about and then there are the ones who need watching. He sure has kept an eye on me. It's why I'm not in a gang. I'd have probably given into the pressure, if I didn't know what would happen if my father found out I joined a gang."

"He wouldn't have liked that," Levi said.

"How astute? No, I was never tempted to join a gang. If you ever meet my father, you'll understand why."

"He didn't arrest the kid who shot you?"

"Couldn't," Terry said.

"I don't understand. If he's a cop, why couldn't he arrest the guy who put a bullet in you," Levi asked.

"I never told him the name of the boy who shot me. I may not belong to a gang, but I know not to snitch on anyone. It's a good way to find yourself with a matching bullet hole," Terry said, deadly serious.

Levi stared at Terry, not believing what he heard.

"That's wrong," Levi protested.

"Walk a mile in my shoes, white boy, then you can judge me," Terry said.

"He's still out there with a gun?" Levi asked. "You wouldn't feel responsible if he does to someone else, what he did to you?"

"He can't," Terry said.

"If he still has a gun, he can't shoot someone else?"

"He's dead. He was shot to death in almost the same spot where he shot me. They were sending a message. I'm a shining star in Southside. Anyone who hurt me was going to pay for it," Terry said, sounding sad.

Levi stared at him. He began to realize that he did live in a different world. He had nothing to say. The guy who shot Terry, was murdered.

"No gang was going to touch me. For one thing, my father would have them all locked up and he'd have a dozen witnesses who'd testify to anything my father told them to say. No gang wants that kind of trouble," Terry said.

"They killed the guy. While you were in the hospital?"

"I told you, I'm one of the shining stars in Southside. He made a mistake and it cost him his life. I do have to live with that. He shot me. He took away what made me special. He stole my future, you might say. He knew he wouldn't live long, once it got out who it was he shot. I was too busy trying to stay alive, to worry about the guy who shot me, but had I thought of it, I would have tried to stop it. I'd have spread the word, what was done was done, I don't want anyone taking revenge on the guy who shot me, but before I was out of the woods, he was dead," Terry said, coming up short.

"I don't know I'd be quite so generous," Levi said, not really talking to Terry.

"You see, you white folks live such innocent lives, when you ain't whipping up on your slaves, or shaming your servants," Mrs. Brown said, putting a glass of iced tea in front of each of the boys.

"Thank you," Levi said, drinking half the tea down.

"You is welcome," she said, taking the plates and empty glasses with her.

"Your mother is cool," Levi said.

"Me, too. If they was going to drop someone off here, she'll do." [I don't understand that]

Levi laughed. He felt comfortable. At first, he felt awkward. He wasn't sure he was doing something other people might not understand. People like Terry. He felt good about coming. He was glad he made the trip.

"You have a sense of humor. I don't know I would think anything as funny, if what happened to you, happened to me."

"What will you do now?" Levi asked.

"Sit here. Look out the window. Count the cars that go by. Think about races run," Terry said. "Think about races to come."

Mrs. Brown came in the door with a pitcher full of ice tea.

"Your father is working a case. He'll have an hour in a couple of hours and we'll be having an early dinner. Do you think you can eat," his mother asked, filling the glasses with more ice tea.

"Sure, Mama. I can eat. I smell your fried chicken. Be a dark day when I don't want a piece of my Mama's fried chicken," Terry said.

"Ask your friend if he'd consider taking dinner with us poor folk, but you has to tell him, we's all out of watermelon," Mrs. Brown said.

Levi spit a mouthful of tea onto the front of his Letterman's jacket, as his laughter filled the room.

"Sorry about that," Mrs. Brown said. "You can clean me up, but you can't take me anywhere. I'll get a damp cloth," she said apologetically.

Mrs. Brown brought back a dish cloth, wiping the errant tea off of Levi's jacket.

"I don't really know her," Terry said. "She comes in and cooks sometimes. She lives under the porch at the All Saints Church." "Your mother's a hoot," Levi said, after she took his jacket, to do a better job on getting the tea off.

"We like her. Never a dull moment when Mama's around."

Mrs. Brown brought the jacket back.

"Now that you've tried to drown him, you owe him dinner. He'll stay. He ought to be at track practice. I know he don't get home that early," Terry said.

"We have plenty. I'm sure my husband would enjoy meeting you," Mrs. Brown said.

"Thank you. I'd love to try your fried chicken," Levi said. "Smells wonderful."

"Aren't you the charmer," Terry said. "Got to warn you, though. We black folk believe in eating our greens, but with eat them with biscuits. Kind of a tradeoff. Mama makes the world's best biscuits. You'll be glad you stayed. I am."

"I can't wait. My mother knows a cook that makes her own biscuits. We buy them in a can at the grocery store," Levi said.

"Her collards are to die for. Her biscuits would float away, if she didn't wrap them in a towel, so they stay put," Terry said. "Your mother doesn't cook?"

"Not that I've noticed," Levi said. "We order in a lot."

"Sounds dangerous," Terry said.

After only one tuna sandwich, he'd usually eat three or four, Levi was starving. The fried chicken smelled marvelous.

"You should meet my father. He's a Baptist minister. His father was a minister and his father before him," Terry said.

"I thought he is a cop," Levi said.

"He is. It's his calling. He would like he think can stand in between our people and the justice that is dished out from squad cars. He is a peaceful man, but he'd shoot you in a minute if you needed to get yourself shot."

"It's not what I expected. You aren't what I expected," Levi said.

"What were you expecting? I'd have a wife, three kids and shanty of a house?" Terry asked.

"You might find this hard to believe, but I don't know any black people. I've never been in a black family's house before," Levi said.

"Well! do we pass muster?" Terry asked. "I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight, if you didn't think we was up to snuff."

"Your mom isn't that different from mine. Mine doesn't speak in a black dialect, but I bet you guessed that. Mama was smart, went to all the right schools. She was homecoming queen and she went out with the quarterback. She was the valedictorian of her class. She got a near perfect score on the SAT and a scholarship to Illinois U."

"Let me guess. She married the quarterback and they had a son they named after their favorite blue jeans. My mom and your mom are just alike, up until the part where your mom doesn't speak in a black dialect. After that, not so much," Terry said. "And I bet you live in a house twice this size."

"Size isn't everything," Levi said.

"That's cause you're a white boy. Us black folk pride ourselves in our size. Now, when you say, 'Size isn't everything,' you got me wanting to whip it out. I've already showed you my ass, don't think I won't show you my dick," Terry said.

"Not before dinner. I don't think I'd want to see it before I had at least a couple of pieces of your mama's friend chicken."

"How big is it?" Terry asked.

"My dick. I've never had any complaints," Levi said.

"Your house," Terry said.

"It's big. Only two floors, but we have five bedrooms six baths," Levi said.

"You white folks sure must like to bathe," Terry said. "We've got two bedrooms and one bathroom, except this is my father's study. We currently have three bedrooms, minus a study. I manage to stay clean with just one bathroom."

"My house smells like Spic & Span and Pledge. Two maids come in twice a week to do the floors, dust and clean the kitchen, make the beds, do the laundry," Levi said.

"Our maid lives here. I call her Mama," Terry said.

Levi laughed.

"Yours smells like flowers. And fried chicken. The only time my house smells like fried chicken, is when one of my parents brings a bucket of chicken home. I can't remember that last time my mother made me a tuna sandwich or made lemonade. Actually, I do remember. She's never done that."

"Every conversation between teenage guys, sooner of later, degenerates into some kind of sexual competition," Terry said thoughtfully.

"You think so?" Levi asked. "I guess I don't have the right friends. Sex does come up, during our conversations, but nothing I'd call unusual."

"Exactly. It isn't unusual, but it is always on our mind," Terry said. "Psychologically speaking."

"You don't take much seriously. I mean, I can see you got that from your mother. It does keep me off balance," Levi said. "My father cooks better than my mother, but I prefer dinners we order in. I wouldn't know home cooking if I fell over it," Levi said.

"You'll enjoy dinner then. As you see, Mama is a housewife. Her mother was the best cook in Shreveport. Mama learned from her," Terry said.

"If I was paralyzed, I'd be in the convalescent home," Levi said. "My mother has too much to do to be taking care of me."

"What does your mother do," Terry asked.

"Whatever she pleases. She belongs to a lot of clubs. She's a member of the school board and she heads the Ladies Aid Society."

"What the hell is that?" Terry asked.

"Near as I can figure, they're ladies who aid someone," Levi said.

Terry laughed. He sensed his mother wasn't the only one who put people on.

"I guess us black folk don't have it so bad, after all," Terry said.

"Our house might be bigger, but it doesn't look lived in. The only time my house smells like your house, is right after the man brings dinner to the door. You house smells nice, ours smells sanitized," Levi said. "You're lucky, Terry Brown."

"I see we are back to talking about size. Like I said, when two guys talk, every conversation degenerates into a sexual competition. Don't you think?"

"No, I don't think that way," Levi said.

" Cause you white guys got small dicks? Less to talk about?" Terry asked "If black guys didn't talk sex, it would cut out ninety percent of our conversation, but everyone knows that us black guys have plenty to talk about."

Levi laughed.

"You're going to make me have to stand up for my white brothers. I don't usually take my dick out in public," Levi said. "But I will if I have to and that would give us plenty to talk about."

"I only take mine out in public. Did I tell you how I got the name Moony?"

Levi didn't know why it sounded funny, but it struck him as funny and he was glad to be able to laugh. He was happy to see Terry laugh.

They both laughed at nothing in particular.

The atmosphere had grown lighter, as time passed. It wasn't like they were strangers an hour ago, but if they didn't know each other before, each knew of the other, closing any distance between them in short order.

"I haven't laughed so much in a while," Levi said.

"I was planning on studying psychology. I wanted to know what makes people tick. For all the quibbling about who is civilized and who isn't, men are brutal creatures, who'd rather kill you than talk to you, if you're the least different from their particular peculiarities," Terry said.

Levi thought Terry sounded profound. It was an astute observation, not unlike thoughts he'd had himself. The wrong people always seemed to be in power, they clung to power like they owned it. They fought to keep it, because power put you close to the wealth and power and wealth go hand in hand if you are clever enough to get your hands on either.

"You get good grades?" Levi asked.

"It's all relative. If I like a class, I will get an A. If I don't like a class, I'll get a B, because I feel like I need to try to like it, even when it is as boring as hell. Why we are forced to take so much crap we'll never use is beyond my ability to reason it out," Terry said.

"Ain't that the truth," Levi said, having had the same thought.

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