A twelve year black boy got up from the bottom bunk of the room he shared with eleven other unwanted children in the Dwight Street Orphanage. The sun shone through the barred windows and he could almost see The Hill area of New Haven through the cracked and stained window. There was no telling what the day would bring him. He longed for the day when he could escape this place and try to make it on his own. He had snuck out from time to time, but he had always ended up back here.
The other kids had gone already, leaving him alone in the room. They didn’t like him for obvious reasons. He was smarter than they were, first of all. Secondly, he had a deformed hand that made him different, and the other kids hated anyone that was different. The only friends he really had were two guys he would meet outside the orphanage on nights he would sneak out. They dealt drugs and weren’t exactly the kind of friends a twelve year old should have, but they were the only ones would talk to him.
His mother had left him at four years old, and he was grateful for that. By four he was making his own cereal and taking care of himself. He had no idea how he was even alive seeing as she had left him alone to go on dates from the time he was eighteen months old. He was sure she didn’t even miss him in the eight years since she left him in the bathroom stall of that McDonalds.
Loud footsteps came up the stairs, and he knew who was coming. “Good morning, Miss Jolie,” the boy said.
“I was told you were still in your room,” Miss Jolie said, looking around the messy room. Miss Jolie was a heavy-set black woman who lost her passion for trying to find the orphans of New Haven homes a long time ago. She saw most of the kids as lost causes, and none more than the one that stood in front of her now.
“Pack your things, Mr. Sherman,” Miss Jolie said. “I think we finally found a home for you.”
“Really?” Da’Quarius asked.
“If you don’t screw this one up,” Miss Jolie said. “Remember the Smiths?”
“I remember dem,” Da’Quarius said. “Bunch a’ uppity white bitches. Dey already had a white daughter. Why dey even want a black boy in dat mix? Someone gonna knock dat little ho up if dey ain’t carful!”
Miss Jolie sighed loudly. “I don’t even know why I bother with you some days,” she said. “Get your bag and come with me.”
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, throwing what little possessions he owned into a beat up old suitcase. He didn’t even care that it wasn’t his suitcase. He would likely be back in a few days anyway. “Where you takin’ me?”
“To a little street in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven,” Miss Jolie said. “A street called Freedom Lane.”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Rose Masters stepped out of the front door of her home on Freedom Lane in New Haven. It wasn’t the most glamorous of neighborhoods 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 yard. 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. Her wife would be up shortly to make tea for when the gardening was done, and the two would share the rest of the peaceful day together. 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,” the woman said. “Can I have a moment of your time?”
Helen Masters robed her chubby shoulders with her fuzzy pink bathrobe. She walked into her kitchen and put a pot of water on the stove 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.
There was a ruckus from the front door and den, and Rose came into the kitchen 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, sitting back in her seat.
“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 repeated 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 asked.
“Helen,” Rose replied, eyes beginning to swim in tears of joy “We’re parents! After all this time, we’re finally parents!”
Rose and Helen silently entered their den 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. The boy wore mismatched clothes that looked like they were somehow too small and too big for him at the same time, and he had a head full of dreadlocks.
“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, apparently 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.
“No!” Helen whispered harshly. “We should let the police…”
“Hi,” Rose said, turning off the TV and looking at the young boy who had just come into her life unexpectedly “What’s your name?”
“Da’Quarius,” the boy said.
“How do you spell that?” Rose asked.
“Fucked if I know,” Da’Quarius said, shrugging.
Rose didn’t know if he was making fun of her or not. “What’s your full name?” she asked.
“Da’Quarius Lobsterclaw Sherman,” Da’Quarius said.
Rose noticed Da’Quarius’ deformed left hand. He only had a thumb and two fingers. A swollen and misshapen mass was in the place of where his ring finger an pinky should have been. Miss Jolie had mentioned that his mother had given him an insulting middle name based on the birth defect, and it was the cause for the other kids to make fun of him. Rose had more class than to ask him about it.
“What’s wrong with that hand of yours?” Helen blurted, finally walking close to where Rose and Da’Quarius were sitting.
“Ten O’ Clubs did dis,” Da’Quarius said, 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 deformed hand until your were five?” Rose said without thinking before she spoke. Suddenly she was embarrassed by her question. She wished she had let Helen ask it instead.
“You Ten O’ Clubs fo’ life,” Da’Quarius said, somehow not offended. “Mamma knew I’d be a hard ass mutha fucka, so 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 exclaimed. “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 this boy doesn’t have a home. Do you really want him sleeping at some bus stop?”
“Better the bus stop than in my guest room,” Helen replied.
“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, giving Helen a sideways look. “Smells like dat one’s full.”
“Why you snotty little bastard,” Helen said coming towards Da’Quarius with her fist raised. “I’ll knock those dreadlocks off your head you little -“
“No,” Rose said stopping Helen’s charge. “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 half the shit that kid said.”
Da’Quarius looked around the guest room that Rose and Helen let him stay in, and that as exactly what he felt like in their home: a guest. The room had a huge picture of kittens on the wall facing the bed. There was an old keyboard in the corner on a stand with a chair on the opposite side. The dust on the cover meant it hadn’t been played in quite a while.
Miss Jolie didn’t explain to Da’Quarius what awaited him on Freedom Lane, and he wondered why they would let two old biddies adopt a child to begin with. The red-headed one was nice (she did let him buy whatever cereal he wanted for breakfast from the corner store down the street), but the older one was mean and probably racist. Da’Quarius didn’t know if the two would balance each other out.
The neighborhood was nice, too. It was better than The Hill, anyway. He hadn’t slept with the sound of screaming and gunfire outside of his window since the Smith family sent him back to orphanage. Da’Quarius got under the covers of the guest bed and wondered how much longer he had in this home.
It was only a matter of time before the mean biddy talked the nice biddy into sending him back.
The following morning, Helen awoke before Rose. She got her pink robe on quietly, and ventured downstairs to make a dry english muffin and take her many pills. She was opening up the tab 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 to make sure it wasn’t picking up AM radio stations again, 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 out of one of her bowls, sitting 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, beginning to panic. “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 just 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 freezer 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 comes over for dinner tonight!” Helen said, turning red. “You really want this little moulignon here when Paulie comes by?!”
“Da fuck is Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Oh shit,” Rose said.
The door opened and Rose went to go greet Paulie, who had shown himself in. “Hi, Paulie,” Rose said, giving her brother-in-law a quick peck on the cheek.
“So good to see you, Rose!” Paulie exclaimed, giving Rose a peck of his own. “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 fifteen years younger than his sister at sixty-three. His hair was dark on the top but gray on the sides, and he wore a blue button-down shirt stuffed into his khakis under his small gut.
“Look, Paulie,” Rose said. “Can we talk about something before we sit down to 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 tee shirt on with asian writing on the left side. He wore pants that were two sizes too big, hanging low on his back. His VSTL hat was turned to the side.
“Sup?” Da’Quarius said with a nod to Paulie.
“Whoa!” Paulie said. “I can see your underwear, you little mook. Pull those pants up!”
“I’m sorry I don’t look like I’m outta a JC Penny catalogue like you, gramps,” Da’Quarius said.
“You watch that mouth, kid!” Paulie said, wagging his finger at Da’Quarius. “And take that hat off while your in the house. It’s disrespectful. Rose, what’s the deal with this kid, anyway?”
“Paulie, this is Da’Quarius,” Rose said, beaming. The short exchange between Paulie and her new son seemed not to phase her good mood. “Da’Quarius, this is your uncle, Paulie. He owns Paulie’s Pizza down on State Street.”
“Whoa, kid,” Paulie said. “Da’Whatsis? That name is a mouthful! How do you spell that?”
“Correctly, cracka!” Da’Quarius said. “Where dinner at?”
Helen walked in the room carrying a steaming serving platter and set it on the table. “Hello, Paulie,” She said. “I see you’ve met little Bi’Curious.”
“Da’Quarius!” Rose corrected.
“Are 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 as the plate was set in front of him.
“Hey! Oh!” Paulie said. “You don’t talk like that at the dinner table!”
“It’s broiled chicken,” Helen said putting a small wedge of lemon on top of her own. “It’s good, so eat it or shut your damn mouth!”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You couldn’t fry mine up real quick?”
“Look, Helen,” Paulie said putting his knife and fork down. “I know you and Rose here have an… unconventional relationship, but -”
“You mean dey gay?” Da’Quarius interrupted.
“Da’Quarius!” Rose said dropping her fork on her plate with a clang.
“That’s very offensive!” Helen said scornfully.
“So you two ain’t gay?” Da’Quarius asked. “I thought you guys were gay.”
“Of course they are, you little stunad!” Paulie said, waving a hand and almost knocking his glass over.
“It’s the way you said it!” Helen snapped.
“Cuz I’m a nigga?!” Da’Quarius said with his hands on the table. “It’s the way I said it cuz I’m a nigga, right?!”
“Oh with that N-word!” Paulie said. “Do you know what your people had to go through, and you’re still using that damn word?!”
“Wha’chu know ’bout my people, mutha fucka?” Da’Quarius asked, turning towards Paulie.
“I know a lot more than you, ya little mook!” Paulie exclaimed.
“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. “Wha’chu know now?!”
“Da’Quarius!” Rose said with her hands on her mouth.
“You shoot holes in your Yoo-hoo cans with that little cap gun?” Paulie said laughing. He reached behind him and slammed his 9mm on the table in front of himself. “You got any other toys you want to show me, or are you all done?”
Rose reached out and snatched Da’Quarius’ gun from the table. “That is not a toy!” she said, running into the kitchen with the gun held out as far away from herself as possible.
“Put that away, Paulie!” Helen shouted, not trying to hide her smile while she scolder her brother. “Can’t we have one meal without you taking that thing damn thing out at the dinner table? Madon!”
Rose walked back into her home after burying Da’Quarius’ gun in the backyard the morning after their eventful dinner. She walked into her den to find Da’Quarius flipping through an old photo album. She had every intent on scolding him for bringing the gun into the house and pulling it on Paulie (Helen once again wanted to call the police and have Da’Quarius thrown out of her home, but Rose was able to calm her down before bed). Now that she saw him flipping through the old photos of her and Helen, her heart warmed once again.
“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, deciding to ignore his obscene language until the fiasco with the gun was smoothed over. “So we made up our own little ceremony. It was my idea.” She was nearly blushing as she took the seat next to Da’Quarius.
Da’Quarius flipped past a picture of a picture of Rose and Helen eating some cake together. Helen had frosting all over her face, and Rose looked as if she was about to pass out from laughter. “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 forties.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Don’t get all like dat. I’s just playin’.”
“Well I’m not playing any more,” Helen said, entering the den from the kitchen. She had a very serious look on her face. It looked as if her left eye was only half open. “I’ve had enough of that brat in my home. 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, getting up from the couch and approaching Helen. “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, did you?” Rose asked. “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 about our eventful dinner!”
“I recall your brother bringing his own gun!” Rose snapped back. “And I recall you being just as rude and crass with Da’Quarius the second you met him!”
“Don’t make that colored little shit the victim!” Helen shouted.
“Don’t call him colored!” Rose shouted in return.
“He is colored!”
“He’s African American!”
“I guarantee you he’s never been to Africa in his life!”
Helen and Rose were so busy arguing that they didn’t even notice that Da’Quarius put his coat and boots on and left through the front door.
Da’Quarius heard this noise all too often. Some white 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. It happened with the Spencers, it happened with the Petersons, it happened with the Smiths, and now it had happened with the Masters. The Masters had been the strangest family he had been set up with, but they still turned him away just like the others. For the first time, he felt something in his gut that he wasn’t familiar with as he faced being tejected by another family.
He didn’t know where he was going. He just started walking and watching the sidewalk pass his worn out boots that were donated to the orphanage in a black trash bag with a few dozen other pairs of old shoes. He wasn’t familiar with the East Rock section of New Haven. He was more familiar with the parts with barking pit bulls and spray painted fences, not flower beds and yappy lap dogs.
Before Da’Quarius knew it, he was all the way on State Street walking past Paulie’s Pizza. He knew if he kept walking towards Downtown he would eventually figure out where he was and find The Hill neighborhood, where the orphanage was located. He weighed the options of going inside or to keep walking to the orphanage so he wouldn’t see Rose or Helen as Miss Jolie took him away. He decided to go inside, unsure whether Paulie would shoot him for what happened the night before or not.
“Hey!” Paulie yelled, looking 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 and thin man with greased, black hair stuck his head out from the other side of the counter. He was drying his hands on a filthy apron and nodded his chin in Da’Quarius’ direction. There was no way he wasn’t a Tony. “This the kid?” Tony asked, sounding forcefully unimpressed.
“No,” Paulie said. “It’s his freakin’ muddah! A’ course it’s the kid, you bubble-head. Get him a slice or two, will ya? Madon!”
“I ain’t got money,” Da’Quarius said, his hands still in his jacket pocket.
“Family eats free,” Paulie said, putting the newspaper on the seat next to him. “Always been my policy, kid. Sit down and relax for a bit.”
Da’Quarius snorted. “Family,” he said under his breath.
“Something bothering you, kid?” Paulie asked. “It’s an awful long way to walk just to say hi.”
“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 if you’d like.”
“It’s ’bout Rose and Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey fight a lot?”
“Not usually,” Paulie said, shrugging. “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 to da orphanage tomorrow.”
“Damn, kid,” Paulie said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s my own fault,” Da’Quarius said, not wanting to look Paulie in the eye. “I didn’t think I fit in wit da biddies, but now I think I may actually miss dem. Is dat weird?”
“Look, kid, I like you,” Paulie said. “It takes a ton of 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 kind of stuff to an old school broad like that.”
“I know,” Da’Quarius said, still looking at the table. “I didn’t wanna be dere wit a couple of old biddies, but I don’t wanna see dem fight either.”
“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 up in Havenville Women’s. 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 and his entire crew,” Paulie said. “The rest of our family turned their backs on her after she hooked up with 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. He somehow never thought of how hard they had it just for wanting to be themselves.
“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. She got a second chance, after all. Maybe she’ll do the same for you.”
The two were silent as Tony came out with two slices of steaming pizza for Da’Quarius. “Bon appetit, kid,” he said. “Shout if you need something while your keeping the only other guy that can fill orders from cooking. Please. I’d appreciate it.”
“Oh!” Paulie shouted, turning towards Tony’s back. “Don’t forget whose name is on the sign! Maybe you think you’re at one of the eleven pizza places in New Haven called ‘Tony’s’!”
“Quit your belly achin’!” Tony called from the kitchen. “I’m just winding you up. It’s Thursday afternoon! You see a line goin’ out the door?”
“Friggin’ stunad,” Paulie said, rubbing his hands down his cheeks.
DaQuarius laughed through a mouthful of pizza. “Can I axe you somethin’ else?” Da’Quarius after he swallowed.
Paulie stared at him, smiling.
“Fine,” Da’Quarius said with a sigh. “Can I ask you somethin’?”
“Shoot, kid,” Paulie said.
“Does mook mean nigga?” Da’Quarius asked.
“No,” Paulie said, chuckling. “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 kids of my own, and Tony would run this place into the freakin’ ground. That gagootz got mozzarella for brains! You come in here for a few hours every Saturday, and I’ll teach you the business. You have to 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 you out of the lost and found. Don’t tell nobody.” He came back out with a NY Giants hat in his hand. “You a Giants fan by chance?”
“Naw, man,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m a Jets fan.”
“The Jets?!” Paulie said shocked. “Get da fuck outta here with the Jets! You hear this kid, Tony?!”
“No!” Tony yelled. “Some of us are working and can’t bullshit all day!”
“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. I don’t have a clue who my father is!”
“Yeah,” Paulie said, laughing. “You got me good. I like you, kid. You’re a good ball buster.”
“I like you too, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said.
“Uncle Paulie,” Pauile mused. “I like the sound of that.”
“Hey, Uncle Paulie,” Tony said. “You feel like doing anything today? The sign says ‘Paulie’s Pizza’ after all.”
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 anyway. He knew Rose was in the garden avoiding Helen at the moment, so he took the opportunity to try and smooth things over.
“Mornin’” Da’Quarius said, entering the kitchen. “How’s it goin’?”
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 dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Helps make you regular,” Helen said, taking a large sip.
“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. An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
“That Jolie woman can’t get here quick enough,” Helen said, looking at the clock on the wall. “I hope your garbage bag is packed.”
“I don’t wanna go back,” Da’Quarius said, remembering what Paulie had told him the day before. “I have no future dere.”
“You have no future here,” Helen said. “What’s the difference?”
“I know I did wrong,” Da’Quarius said. “But dat’s why I like you an’ Rose. Especially you. You’re not gonna hold back when I do somethin’ fucked up like pull a gun at da dinner table.”
“Don’t tell me you feel bad about that now,” Helen said. “I know it’s a lie.”
“Dat’s not what I feel bad about,” Da’Quarius said. “Da only thing I feel bad ’bout is hurtin’ Rose. She just tryin’ to help me. All I did was get you two in a fight an’ say some stupid ass shit to make her upset. I didn’t mean dat shit. I don’t even know why I said it. I’m just stupid. I just wish I had another chance to prove dat I’m sorry.”
Rose walked in with Jolene Jolie from the Child Welfare Office. “Good morning, Miss Masters,” she said. “What seems to be the trouble with young Da’Quarius?”
Helen looked at Da’Quarius, who was staring at the table. “Nothing,” she said, looking up at Miss Jolie. “I just wanted to let you know that we are going to keep him.”
Jolene looked taken aback. “I was under the assumption you had 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, Miss Jolie. I am so sorry for the inconvenience.”
“This will be your final chance,” Helen whispered when Rose and Miss Jolie 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 the rest of her Metamucil.
“B-5!” Father McKraken shouted to the crowd of old ladies in the Bingo Hall. Rose and Helen never missed Bingo Night every other Friday. Luckily, Paulie agreed to watch Da’Quarius for them.
“I-27!” Father McKraken shouted loudly. He wanted to make sure those who forgot their hearing aids could hear him.
“I’m so glad we’re keeping Da’Quarius,” Rose said dabbing her Bingo card with her marker. Helen dabbed three of her six cards in quick succession.
“He just needs to learn some discipline,” Helen said. “I hope you’re up for it.”
“I think I am,” Rose said. “Only one way to find out, right? Oh, I’m one away from Bingo!”
Helen looked over at the woman on her left and saw her about to dab O-71 and yell ‘BINGO’. She opened her purse slightly and moved so the woman could see the handle of the gun that she had dug up from the garden. The woman put her marker down, shaking.
“Didn’t think so, biotch” Helen whispered.
Rose jumped out of her seat. “BINGO!”