Freedom Lane

Freedom Lane

Rose stepped out of her New Haven, Connecticut home on Freedom Lane. It wasn’t the most glamorous neighborhood in Connecticut, but being part of the Yale district had its advantages. Crime was low, they had all the shade they wanted under the many elm trees that adorned the street, and her and her life partner, Helen, were never harassed.

Rose pushed a strand of dyed red hair from her face, breathed in the springtime air, and went about her gardening in the front. She was a retired police dispatcher, and earned this little slice of heaven. She was seventy two years old, but didn’t feel a day over sixty five. He wife would be up shortly to make tea for when the gardening was done. A smile spread across Rose’s face. After all these years she was still in love her seventy eight year old lover.

Life was good in the golden years of her life.

Rose went to work busying herself with the flowers when a shadow spread across the green lawn. She looked up to see a rather robust black woman standing there.

“Are you Rose Masters?” the woman asked.

“I am,” Rose said rising. She removed her gardening glove and shook the woman’s chubby hand.

“I’m Jolene Jolie from the Connecticut Department of Child Welfare,” Jolene Jolie said. “Can I have a moment of your time?”

*

Helen Masters robed her chubby shoulders with her fuzzy pink bathrobe, and put on a pot of water for tea. Her curly white hair was still in the plastic cap she wore to bed the night before. She had a little plate of toast on the table to eat when she took her various medicines. She checked the calendar to make sure it was in fact a Tuesday, and pulled back the tab of her medicine dispenser marked with a large T. She popped the menagerie of pills into her mouth and washed it down with a large glass of Metamucil.

Rose came in the room in a rush.

“Slow down, dear,” Helen said giving Rose a kiss. “You’ll pull something.”

“You need to sit down,” Rose said.

“What’s wrong?” Helen asked.

“Remember when we first moved to this little house on Freedom Lane?” Rose asked in a soft tone. “We talked about setting some roots and starting a family?”

“That must have been twenty five years ago!” Helen exclaimed. “Why bring it up now?”

“I never told you, but I filled out the paperwork to adopt a child,” Rose said.

“You what?!” Helen said nearly dropping her cup of tea. “This is what I get for shacking up with a younger gal!”

“We’re both in our seventies,” Rose said. “Does the six year age difference really still matter?”

“Why are you bringing this up now?” Helen said as her slow moving brain finally began putting the pieces together.

“I always thought they never let us adopt because of our same sex union,” Rose said. “But it turns out it was because they lost the paperwork. Helen, they just found it!”

“What are you trying to say?” Helen said.

“Helen,” Rose said as tears of joy filled her eyes. “We’re parents. After all this time we’re finally parents!”

*

Rose and Helen silently entered their sitting room where the newest member of the Masters family sat on their love seat. Rose looked with her hands on her chest while Helen stared with her mouth agape. Their “son” sat on the couch with his feet on their coffee table flipping through the channels of the couple’s twenty seven inch television.

“What is that?” Helen asked.

“A little boy,” Rose said.

“They gave you a colored?” Helen asked.

“Don’t say that!” Rose snapped in a whisper.

“Why not?” Helen asked taken aback.

“Because they don’t like it,” Rose said rubbing her lover’s shoulder. Sometime’s Rose forgot that Helen came from an extremely bigoted Italian family.

“Then what are we supposed to call him?” Helen asked.

“Why don’t we ask him,” Rose said approaching the young black boy. “Hi,” she said turning off the TV and looking at the young boy who couldn’t be more than twelve years old. “What’s your name?”

“Da’Quarius,” the boy said.

“How do you spell that?” Rose asked.

“Fucked if I know,” Da’Quarius said.

“What’s your full name?” Rose asked.

“Da’Quarius Lobsterclaw Sherman,” Da’Quarius said.

Rose noticed the boy’s deformed hand. He had a thumb and two fingers on his left hand. His hand was swollen and misshapen where his ring finger and pinky should have been. Ms. Jolie had mentioned that his mother had given an insulting middle name based on the birth defect. Rose had more class than to ask about it.

“What’s wrong with your hand?” Helen blurted.

“Ten O’ Clubs did dis,” Da’Quarius said quickly holding his left hand in front of his face. “Dey mess up yo left hand so you can’t stab dem in da back. I been in da Ten O’ Clubs gang since I was five.”

“Why’d your mother give you that middle name if you didn’t have the hand until your were five?” Rose said without thinking before she spoke. Suddenly she was embarrassed by her question.

“You Ten O’ Clubs fo’ life,” Da’Quarius said. “Mamma knew I’d be a hard ass mutha fucka, so she knew I’d have da claw sooner or later.”

“Can we call you something for short?” Rose asked.

“You can call me Dee-Quizzy,” Da’Quarius said. “Mutha fuckas on da street been callin’ me dat since dis little nigga was outta diapers. Bitches all know dat Dee-Quizzy is da shit.”

“I will not call you by that obscene name!” Helen shouted. “That boy is a potty mouth, and I want him out of my home immediately!”

Rose got up suddenly and went to Helen. “I know this is hard,” Rose said. “But his boy doesn’t have a home. Do you really want him sleeping at some bus stop?”

“Better there than in my guest room!” Helen said.

“Da’Quarius,” Rose said ignoring her life-mate. “Why don’t you and I go to the grocery store and you can pick out whatever cereal you like.”

“Best get dis old biddy some diapers too,” Da’Quarius said.

“Why you snotty little bastard,” Helen said coming towards Da’Quarius with her fist raised.

“No,” Rose said stopping Helen. “Da’Quarius, why don’t you meet me by my car.”

Helen turned and went back into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers.

“What are you doing?” Rose asked.

“Looking for a hearing aid battery,” Helen said. “I couldn’t understand a damn thing that kid said.”

*

The following morning, Helen awoke before Rose. She got her pink robe on quietly, and ventured downstairs to make dry English toast and take her many pills. She was opening up the tap on her medicine carrier marked “W” (after checking the calendar to make sure it was in fact Wednesday) when she heard something from the living room. After checking her hearing aid, she peeked in.

Helen stared horrified at the sight. There was a young black boy she was sure she’d never seen in her life eating cereal on her couch watching cartoons. She snuck back into the kitchen and picked up the phone. She very slowly dialed 911.

“911,” the woman on the other end said. “What’s your emergency?”

Helen poked her head back into the living room to make sure he was still there and not a figment of her overactive imagination. “There’s someone in my den,” Helen said. “A little colored boy.”

“Excuse me?” the operator said. “A what?”

“You know,” Helen said. “One of the coloreds. A little one. He’s in my den eating cereal. I don’t know how he got in.”

“We’ll send someone right away ma’am,” the operator said. “Can you tell me your name.”

“He’s looking at me,” Helen said. “Oh my God! What do I do?”

“Calm down, ma’am.”

“He’s handing me the cereal bowl! I’m an old lady! I can’t defend myself!”

“What’s going on?” Rose said from behind Helen.

“Hide!” Helen pleaded. “There’s a colored in here. The police are on their way.”

“Da fuck you say, biddy?” Da’Quarius asked. “You call da five-o on me?”

*

“I’m sorry, officers,” Rose said as the two policemen left. “My wife is old and gets a little confused sometimes. It won’t happen again.”

“It’s quite alright, ma’am,” the officer said with a nod. “Have a good day.”

“Fuckin’ pig,” Da’Quarius said under his breath.

“How could you?” Rose said turning on Helen. “We talked about this yesterday! You met him!”

“I woke up to a strange kid in my home!” Helen said. “How do you know he’s not waiting for us to die so he can store our bodies in the basement and cash our social security checks?”

“You’re being ridiculous!” Rose said. “He’s only been here a day!”

“Well get rid of him!” Helen said. “Send him back.”

“We can’t send him back!” Rose said.

“Why not?” Helen asked. “You returned that sweater I bought you for Christmas last year, and I didn’t say boo!”

“This is different and you know it!” Rose snapped. “He’s a boy. A human being. You just can’t put him back out on the streets!”

“Well he’s not staying here when my brother, Paulie, comes over for dinner tonight!” Helen said turning red.

“Da fuck is Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Oh shit,” Rose said.

*

“So good to see you, Rose!” Paulie exclaimed as he entered the home on Freedom Lane. “Where’s my big sis?”

“She’s getting dinner ready,” Rose said taking Paulie’s coat and hanging it on the coat tree next to the door. Paulie was nearly fifteen years younger than his sister. His hair was dark on the top but gray on the sides. He wore a blue button-down stuffed into his khakis under his small gut.

“Look, Paulie,” Rose said. “Can we talk about something before we sit down and eat?”

“Sure,” Paulie said sitting down with a concerned look on his face. “Everything OK? Helen alright?”

“Oh yeah,” Rose said. “Helen’s fine. We’re good. I’ll just come out and say it. We’ve adopted a child.”

“What did you say?” Paulie said spinning his pinky though his ear. “They let you two old birds adopt a kid? Are you shittin’ me?”

“No,” Rose said. She turned her head towards the staircase adjacent to the den. “Da’Quarius, come on down. Dinner is almost ready.”

A moment later Da’Quarius came down the steps. He had a bright red shirt on with asian writing on the left side. He wore pants that were two sizes too big hanging low on his back. His hat was turned to the side.

“Sup?” Da’Quarius said with a nod to Paulie.

“Whoa!” Paulie said. “I can see your underwear, ya little mook. Pull those pants up!”

“Paulie, this is Da’Quarius,” Rose said beaming. “Da’Quarius, this is your uncle Paulie. He owns Paulie’s pizza down the block on State ST.”

“Whoa, kid,” Paulie said. “That name is a mouthful. How ya spell that?”

“Correctly, cracka!” Da’Quarius said.

Helen walked in the room to announce dinner was ready. “I see you’ve met little Bi’Curious,” she said.

“Da’Quarius!” Rose corrected.

“You getting along with my baby brother, Da’Quarius?” Helen asked.

“Baby brother?” Da’Quarius said with a smirk. “Mutha fucka look like he older than Jesus.”

*

Rose successfully gathered everyone to the table to eat the dinner Helen had made. She passed out chicken and potatoes on four plates.

“Da fuck is dis?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Hey! Oh!” Paulie said. “You don’t talk like that at the dinner table!”

“It’s broiled chicken,” Helen said putting a wedge of lemon on top of her own.

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You couldn’t fry mine?”

“Look, Helen,” Paulie said putting his knife and fork down. “I know you and Rose here have an unconventional relationship, but -”

“You mean they gay?” Da’Quarius interrupted.

“Da’Quarius!” Rose said dropping her fork on her plate with a clang.

“That’s very offensive!” Helen said scornfully.

“Cuz I’m a nigga?!” Da’Quarius said with his hands on the table.

“Oh with that N-word!” Paulie said. “Do you know what your people had to go through, and you’re still using that word?!”

“What you know about my people, mutha fucka?” Da’Quarius asked.

“More than you, ya little mook!” Paulie said.

“Keep talkin’ shit, ya old biotch,” Da’Quarius said. He reached behind him and pulled out a small revolver. He slammed it on the table.

“Da’Quarius!” Rose said with her hands on her mouth.

“You shoot your Yoo-hoo cans with that little shooter?” Paulie said laughing. He reached behind him and slammed his 9mm on the table in front of himself. “Ya got any other toys?”

Rose reached out and snatched Da’Quarius’ gun from the table. “That is not a toy!”

“Put that away, Paulie!” Helen shouted not trying to hide her smile. “Can’t we have one meal without you taking that thing out!”

*

Rose walked back into her home after burying Da’Quarius’ gun in the backyard the morning after the eventful dinner. She walked into her living room to find Da’Quarius flipping through an old photo album.

“That’s a good one,” Rose said looking over Da’Quarius’ shoulder. “That was Helen and my life ceremony?”

“Da fuck is a life ceremony?” Da’Quarius asked.

“We weren’t allowed to marry back then,” Rose said. “So we made up our own little ceremony. My idea.” Rose was nearly blushing.

Da’Quarius flipped past a picture of a picture of Rose and Helen eating some cake. “You got summa dese from when you were like nineteen?” he asked. “Maybe kissin’? Touchin’ her nipples with your nipples?”

“That’s really offensive, Da’Quarius!” Rose said with her hand on her breast. “And we didn’t meet until we were in our fifties.”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Don’t get all like dat. I’s just playin'”

“I’m not playing any more,” Helen said entering the room from the kitchen. “I just got off the phone with that Jolly Jolene lady from the Child Welfare. You left her card on the fridge, Rose. She’s coming over tomorrow morning to take Da’Quarius back to the orphanage.”

“No,” Rose said. “How can you do that? Why would you do that to him?”

“He’s rude!” Helen snapped. “He’s crass. He’s foul. I don’t want him in my home!”

“He’ll die on the streets!” Rose pleaded

“He should have thought about that before he pulled a gun on my brother at my dining room table!” Helen said motioning to the table as if Rose wasn’t aware of where it happened.

“You didn’t tell her about the gun?” Rose asked. “Did you? He’s from the streets! He doesn’t know any better. It’s our job to teach him!”

“I didn’t tell her about the gun,” Helen said. “Yet. I want to see the look on her face when she hears!”

“I recall your brother bringing his own!” Rose snapped back.

“Don’t make that little shit the victim!” Helen said.

Helen and Rose were so busy arguing that they didn’t even see Da’Quarius sneak out of the front door.

*

Da’Quarius heard this noise before. Some couple picked him up from the orphanage, took him in because they felt bad about his mangled hand, and eventually sent him packing when he got too real for them.

He didn’t know where he was going. He just started walking and watching the sidewalk pass his worn out sneakers. He wasn’t familiar with this part of New Haven. He was more familiar with the parts with barking pit bulls and spray paint on all the fences. Not the flower beds and little yappy dog part of the City.

Before Da’Quarius knew it, he was on State ST walking past Paulie’s Pizza. He decided to go inside.

“Hey!” Paulie yelled as he looked up from his newspaper in a booth near the counter. “Tony, it’s little Da’Quarius. The little mook from last night that pulled his piece on me. Come out here and say hello!”

A tall man with greased back hair stuck his head out from the other side of the counter. There was no way he wasn’t a Tony. “This the kid?” Tony asked unimpressed.

“No,” Paulie said. “It’s his freakin’ muddah. A’ course it’s the kid, you bubble-head. Get him a slice, will ya?”

“I ain’t got no money,” Da’Quarius said.

“Family eats free,” Paulie said. “Always been my policy, kid. Sit down.”

Da’Quarius snorted. “Family,” he said under his breath.

“Something bothering you, kid?” Paulie asked folding his paper and pushing it aside.

“Can I axe you something?” Da’Quarius asked.

“If you are asking me if you can shape a piece of wood into something for me using an axe; then no, you cannot,” Paulie said. “But you can ask me a question.”

“It’s about Rose and Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “They fight a lot?”

“Not usually,” Paulie said. “Are they fighting now? Is that why you’re out on your own?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey fightin’ ’bout me. Dey gonna send me back.”

“Look, kid, I like ya,” Paulie said. “It takes moxie to pull a piece on me like you did last night, but you gotta now something about my big sister. You came into her house dressing like Stevie Wonder on crack, talking like a drunken sailor, and disrespecting her and her wife. She’s old school. You don’t do that, kid.”

“I know,” Da’Quarius said looking at the table. “I didn’t want to be there wit a couple a old biddies, but I didn’t wanna see them fight neither.”

“It’s not too late,” Paulie said. “If it’s one thing my sister understands, it’s respect. Plain and simple. She learned that in slammer.”

“That old biddy did hard time?” Da’Quarius said looking up.

“Oh yeah,” Paulie said with a wide smile on his face. “Did eight years of a twelve year sentence. How do you think she got to be such a tough old bull dagger?”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “I shoulda known.”

“She’s had it rough after our father got plugged for squealin’ on his boss,” Paulie said. “The rest of our family turned their backs on her after she hooked up wit’ Rose. But that happens to a broad in prison, ya dig?”

“I guess,” Da’Quarius said feeling worse about his comments to Rose over the photo album.

“Like I said: It’s not too late,” Paulie said. “Show my sister you can respect her and she’ll show you the same in return.”

The two were silent as Tony came out with a slice of steaming pizza for Da’Quarius.

“Can I axe you something else?” Da’Quarius asked.

Paulie stared at him smiling.

“Fine,” Da’Quarius said with a sigh. “Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot, kid,” Paulie said.

“Does mook mean nigga?” Da’Quarius asked.

“No,” Paulie said with a chuckle. “It doesn’t.” 

“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “Good.”

“I got a proposition for ya, kid,” Paulie said. “You go back to my sister’s house and make nice with her. You show her respect and get her to take you back, and I’ll give you my pizza place. After I’m gone, that is.”

Da’Quarius choked on his pizza. “You serious?” he asked after he caught his breath.

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “I ain’t got no kids of my own, and Tony would run this place into the freakin’ ground. That gagootz got mozzarella fer brains. You come in here a few hours every Saturday and I’ll teach ya the business. You gotta go make things right with my sister first, though!”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “I mean I’ll try.”

“Hey,” Paulie said getting up and going behind the register. “I got something for ya out of the lost and found. Don’t tell nobody.” He came back out with a NY Giants hat. “You a Giants fan?”

“Naw, man,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma Jets fan.”

“The Jets?!” Paulie said shocked. “Get da fuck outta here!”

“My dad plays for da Jets,” Da’Quarius said.

“No shit?” Paulie asked dropping his smile. “Which one is he?”

“Naw, man,” Da’Quarius said laughing. “I got you.”

“Yeah,” Paulie said laughing. “Ya did. I like ya, kid.”

“I like you too, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said.

*

Da’Quarius got up the next morning scared of losing a home for the first time in his life. The prospect of living with two women in their seventies didn’t seem like a dream come true, but Da’Quarius was willing to fight to keep it. He knew Rose was in the garden avoiding Helen at the moment, so he took the opportunity to try and smooth thing over.

“Mornin'” Da’Quarius said entering the kitchen.

Helen grunted from the table where she was stirring a fresh cup a Metamucil.

“Ya’ll got Tang?” Da’Quarius said excitedly. “Can I have a cup?”

“This isn’t Tang,” Helen said giving Da’Quarius the stink-eye. “This is Metamucil.”

“What’s that?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Helps make you regular,” Helen said.

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “It’d take a lot more than that to make you regular.”

Helen huffed and started sorting out the pills from the F compartment in her pill caddy. Da’Quarius meant his last comment as a compliment, but it came out wrong. The uncomfortable silence filled the room.

“That Jolie woman can’t get here quick enough,” Helen said breaking the slience.

“I don’t wanna go back,” Da’Quarius said remembering what Paulie had told him the day before. “I have no future there.”

“You have no future here,” Helen said.

“I know I did wrong,” Da’Quarius said. “But that’s why I like you and Rose. Especially you. You’re not gonna hold back when I do something fucked up like pull a gun at the dinner table.”

“Don’t tell me you feel bad about that,” Helen said. “I know it’s a lie.”

“That’s not what I feel bad about,” Da’Quarius said. “The only thing I feel bad about is hurtin’ Rose. She just tryin’ to help me. All I did was get you two in a fight and say some stupid ass shit to make her upset. I didn’t mean that shit. I don’t even know why I said it. I’m just stupid.”

Rose walked in with Jolene Jolie from the Child Welfare Office. “Good morning, Ms. Masters,” she said. “What seems to be the trouble with young Da’Quarius?”

“Nothing,” Helen said. “I just wanted to let you know that we are going to keep him.”

Jolene looked taken aback. “I was under the assumption you already agreed to that,” she said.

“Oh did we?” Helen said. “I’m sorry. My mind isn’t what it used to be. I haven’t even taken my pills yet.” She shot Da’Quarius a little wink.

“Well, Ok,” Rose said looking queerly at Helen. “Allow me to show you out, Ms. Jolie. I am so sorry for the inconvenience.”

“This will be your final chance,” Helen whispered when they were out of earshot.

“You all right, biddy,” Da’Quarius said smiling.

“Fuckin’ right I am,” said Helen tossing her handful of pills in her mouth and washing it down with her cup of Metamucil.

*

“B-5!” Father Flanagan shouted to the crowd of old ladies in the Bingo Hall. Rose and Helen never missed Bingo Night on Fridays. Luckily, Paulie agreed to watch Da’Quarius for them.

“I-27!” Father Flanagan shouted loudly. He wanted to make sure those who forgot their hearing aids could hear.

“I’m so gad we’re keeping Da’Quarius,” Rose said dabbing her Bingo card with her marker. Helen dabbed three of her six cards.

“He just needs to learn some discipline,” Helen said. “I hope you’re up for it.”

“I-17!”

“I think I am,” Rose said. “Only one way to find out, right? Oh, I’m one away from Bingo!”

“O-71!”

Helen looked over at the woman on her left and saw her about to dab O-71 and tell BINGO. She opened her purse slightly and moved so the woman could see Da’Quarius’ gun that she dug up from the garden. The woman put her marker down.

“Didn’t think so, biotch” Helen whispered.

“G-47!”

Rose jumped out of her seat. “BINGO!”

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2 thoughts on “Freedom Lane

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