The screen door burst open. Erlene, a black pony-tailed girl, ran through the house until she reached the kitchen.
"Nana, come see! Smokey is at it again,” and ran out just as fast.
The screen door shut louder than before. Nana didn't stop washing dishes. Not until she towel-dried them and put them into their respective cabinets. That took a minute. After that, she hung up the dish rag and then went outside. Before her was a bunch of badass children in her front yard, in a circle, jeering and cheering at two boys fighting.
Nana descended the porch as deliberate as her body could, went around her sitting granddaughter enjoying an icy cup, crossed the lawn, and swam through a frenzy of colored children. With maternal cruelty, she separated her grandson and some bright-skinned boy. Despite being torn apart, they kept at it. One blow glanced her face. So she warned her grandson to stop, but he ignored her, so it took a swift whack upside his head to get him to quit. Seeing this, Cornbread feared the same. He broke free and ran into the street, but took the time to turn around, grab his private parts, and then flash his middle finger. He loudly told Smokey where he and his granny could put their mouths before running off.
“You better run you coward,” Smokey yelled. “You can't hide. I know where you live, you idiot. Don’t think you're going to get away with that. You—."
Most of the children followed Cornbread, laughing the whole while. The rest tried hanging around, even though the skirmish had ended, in the hope of watching some more fireworks, but Nana shooed them off, telling them they better take their narrow behinds home. There was nothing else to see. Slowly but surely, they left. And once they were all gone, Nana spun toward her grandson. He was busy hand brushing the dirt and grass from his hair and clothes. So he hadn't notice that she knelt down and dug up a fistful of freshly cut lawn.
“Come here,” she told him.
Obeying, he approached. Suddenly, Nana took hold of his jaw and tried to force feed him turf. Taken aback by this, Smokey defended himself, but without fighting back. Instead, he fell to the ground to take a fetal position and used both arms to cover up his face. Right then, that shiny black Lincoln Continental Mark IV convertible drove up. It was Pearl, Smokey's Mama. The top was down, the radio loud. Somewhat confused by what she saw, Pearl twice honked the horn twice, but was ignored. She then laid into it, but got the same response.
“Mama! Mama!" She hollered. "What's going on? What did he do?”
Nana hadn't relented. So Pearl exited the car and raced over to them. She knew that her Mama could get downright mean and evil in her old age and do some strange and foolish things and this could be one of them.
“Mama! Mama!" Pearl pulled her mama off Smokey. She tried to do it nicely without hurting her. But Nana's resistance left her little choice, so she grabbed around her chest and lifted her off of him. "Mama, stop it! Leave him be."
Smokey crawled to safety, leapt up, breathing heavy, but spoke his mind.
“Mama? Grandma’s gone crazy!" He said, "She tried to make me eat dirt.”
“Take your hands off of me," Nana replied, shedding Pearl’s hold. "Don't you ever do that again, baby girl. I mean that. You're not my parent."
"Yes, mama." Pearl replied, "But I —."
"My house, my rules. Understand?" Nana interrupted.
"Yes, mama." Pearl repeated.
"I've had it up to here with that damn boy." Nana replied, "I bet it has something to do with that mouth of his. I’m sick of his foolishness. Every time I look up, he's into something. I sure wish he’d give it a rest. If not, I know what to do."
From there, Nana threw the wad of dirt back to the ground, wiped her dirty hand across her apron, and stormed off. Pearl tried to talk to her, but got only thrown-up hands, as she watched her mama stomp up the porch and go indoors. Erlene was nearly stampeded, but she quickly scooted out of the way. As soon as the door banged shut, Pearl approached her son and snatched him, yanking him closer, so their eyes could lock.
“Out with it!" Pearl scolded. "What have you done? It can't be good when my Mama is out here wrestling with you? You should be ashamed of yourself. So again, what did you do?”
"I didn't do anything," he replied. "I promise you I didn't."
His mother stood akimbo, then bent down and removed one shoe, brandishing it in his face. "What've I told you about lying? Say it again? I dare you. Now! What did you do?"
Smokey had bad options: the shoe; or, the fear of getting two belts. So instead of repeating his innocence, he involved his little sister. Pearl played along, summoning Erlene.
"Erlene, come over here." Pearl beckoned.
Pearl knew Erlene could be a real nuisance. She hung out with and tattled on her brother a lot. So she would know. Plus, she had a ringside sit on the front porch. Erlene got up and skipped over, enjoying a large icy cup, displaying a big grin, with blue lips and tongue.
"Tell it right," Smokey opined.
"You're not my daddy," Erlene replied.
"Shut it," Pearl replied, the shoe heel softly tapping his nose. "I don't want to ruin my shoe, but I will.”
"Stop that." Pearl told her, "So do you or don't you know what happened?"
"Yes, ma'am. I do." Erlene replied.
"Okay?" Pearl asked. "Out with it."
Smokey could only listen. To speak out of turn would be dumb, stupid even, because he would get it for sure. No doubt about that. All he could do was hope that his sister told it right, from start to finish. Maybe then, Mama would have pity on him and see it for what it is and convey that to Nana.
"Well, I wanted an icy cup. Mama, you know, I like icy cups. So I kept nagging Smokey to take me to the corner store to go buy me one. He finally said: 'Okay, already, let’s go.’ On our way there, we meet Cornbread and some of his silly friends. Now I don't know who said what, but somebody said something smart. Smokey replied and the next thing I know, they were in each other's face going at it. Mama? Smokey used a lot of bad words. He called Cornbread a mo-fo, the b-word, the f-bomb, and used some I never heard of, but I can say them if you want.”
Pearl stared at her son, still quiet. "That's not necessary," then she insisted."Go on."
"Cornbread couldn't come up with any comebacks, so his friends told him to just give it up, and get back at him on another day. So instead of saying the magic word: ‘Your Mama,’ to admit that he lost. He chose to call Nana a flea-bitten old dog. Smokey punched him, like this. Hit him so hard, he fell down. Smokey then stood over him and said: 'Look at you, flat on your butt/Just like your mama looking up at—These Nuts/Now pride will tell you, you didn’t get beat/Yet I’m the only nigger standing on his two feet/Too bad I can’t stay and buttermilk your face/I promised my little sister a icy cup from the snow cone place/So I suggest you stay there and keep your big mouth shut/And obey like a good mutt,’ and then left him there on the sidewalk.
“His friends began wilding out. Once we made it inside the store and I got my icy cup—vanilla blueberry—you know that’s my favorite." Erlene took a break to enjoy her melting icy cup and then she continued. "When we got back to the house, Cornbread and his friends were there waiting. Smokey told me to go sit on the porch and stay there. Next thing I saw was them fighting. So I ran inside and got Nana and she came outside and broke them up. Then I went and sat back on the porch, chewed on my icy cup, and watched. Nana told everybody to go home and got cursed at.”
“By who?” Pearl asked.
“Cornbread.” Erlene identified. “You know, that yellow looking boy. Mr. Williams's son.
"Okay?" Pearl replied. "What else?"
"Nana then jumped on Smokey," Erlene continued, "Then you drove up. That's it.”
Pearl giggled. "Okay? That's good. Now go on inside, I need to talk to your brother."
“Yes ma'am,” replied Erlene. “Thanks for the icy cup, Smokey.”
She left just as she came, skipping across the lawn, but went up the front porch, and into the house. The screen door slammed shut.
“Smokey, where did all this cursing come from?" She asked him, giving him permission to talk.
"I got ears, Mama." Smokey replied. "I hear stuff."
"And so does your sister," she reminded him. "She shouldn't be within earshot of such foul-mouths. So from now on, don’t do it around her, you got it. And stop all that cursing."
"Got it?" Pearl said.
"Yes ma’am," Smokey corrected.
"Better yet, find some better words. Try more English." Pearl warned him. "I'd hate for you to slip up and say one around Nana."
“Yes ma’am,” he agreed. "I'll try."
"You better do better than try," Pearl replied. “Now that I have an idea of what went down, you’re damn lucky I drove up when I did. Although a mouthful of dirt could've done you some good."
This caused Smokey to grimace.
"Stop playing Mama," Smokey replied. “I still don’t think I did anything wrong."
“I know,” she replied. “You never do. As for getting Nana’s blood pressure up from scuffling with her, I’m putting you on punishment for two weeks. House arrest might do you some good. You could use that time making it up to Nana by doing whatever she requests."
“Seriously," Smokey replied, dejected.
He thought it was unfair, but what could he do — complain and to whom? Once Mama ruled, it was a done deal and she never overruled herself.
"Now, what you’re going to do is go inside and apologize to Nana,” Pearl insisted, putting her shoe back on. “You're going to tell her that you were wrong and meant no harm by it, but the fight you had came from playing the dozens and things got out of hand. The other boy couldn't handle the jokes and said something nasty about her, and that made you upset. So you lashed out. Tell her that, okay?”
"Okay," Smokey replied.
Mother and son left the front yard for the house. Pearl placed her son in a loving headlock, assuring him everything will be fine, and all was forgiven, but he better pray Nana listens and doesn't have a belt already in hand. Her house, her rules.