While we waited for our table, I noticed the health department rating hanging on a lime green wall. Last quarter, Lonnie’s received a C health rating, not good. Posted next to the C rating, as required by state law, was the latest health department review. I tried to read the review from ten feet away, but I made out only a few words. Someone, I assume inadvertently, smeared ketchup over the summary. I could see the words cockroaches, rodent hairs, and dirty utensils. I stopped trying to read more because I felt a panic attack coming on. The symptoms are always the same, a craving for alcohol, unprotected sex, and a desire to eat pickled eggs. I talked to Mother about this and she claimed I inherited something from my surrogate mother and it will go away if I can get my mind off of what triggered my anxiety attack. I needed a diversion and fast or I might ask Evelyn to have unprotected sex with me. Lonnie can take care of the alcohol and pickled eggs. Fortunately, Lonnie provided the one diversion that can take hold of my mind with a gorilla’s grip. I assume it was Lonnie who surrounded the health department rating with large glossies of ravishing, topless black women who are performing nightly next door at Lonnie’s Saints and Sinners Bar. My daydreaming was stopped faster than a car hitting a brick wall.
“What you staring at? You get your eyes off those women’s breasts or …”
J gently touched her mother’s arm, “He can’t help himself, mama. He was breastfed until he was five.”
“Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy. This splains everything to me,” said Evelyn.
On the way to our table, J told me it might be a good idea not to open the menu. A better idea might be to ask Evelyn if she’d mind ordering for me. I thanked her, but told her I could handle it. J took a deep breath and mumbled something about a disaster date. I knew it couldn’t be tonight. She must be referring to someone in a past life. We sat at a table that hadn’t been cleared. A platter of gnawed ribs sat in front of me. Shrimp peels filled a bowl in front of J, and a plate of four eaten ears of corn were in front of Evelyn. There were a half dozen empty beer cans randomly placed on the table. A young black woman wearing a tight leather skirt that dropped between mid thigh and her pelvic area and a low cut tight gray cami came to clear our table. When she bent over in front of me to reach for the plate, I wondered if I should tell her she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“If it was me, I’d dump him. He don’t miss a pair,” grumbled Evelyn.
As the young woman straightened up and put the dirty dishes, plastic eating utensils, and plastic cups on the cart, I averted my eyes and turned toward Evelyn. I said, “A pair of what?” I asked honestly not knowing what she was talking about.
Evelyn grabbed hold of the ketchup bottle and jabbed it at me. “You. You can’t take your eyes off of a woman’s breasts. How do you think that makes a woman feel?”
“Mama, drop it. The young woman purposely flaunted herself.”
“Why you sticking up for him? He got to have a woman fight his fights for him?”
I said, “J, you’re doing fine. You go girl.”
J muttered what I thought was a prayer. “Dear Jesus. I thought it would be a good idea to have M meet mama. Bringing them together is like pouring gasoline on a fire, adding habanero peppers to a mild sauce. Lord I pray for the strength to survive this evening.”
I felt J’s prayer was incomplete without asking to spend the night with me. The chivalrous dude that I am wanted to help J, I said, “I’m ready to order.” Actually, I wasn’t and there was nothing on the menu that passed the healthy food test. Hell, I decided to take one for the team.
“What you going to order?” Evelyn said more of a demand than a question.
I decided to go for the aphrodisiac, I said, “I want roasted oysters.”
“That all? You think the oysters going to give your sperm a jolt? Nothing can help you.” Said Evelyn.
“Mama!” said J. “You are impossible tonight. What’s got into you.”
“I tell you what’s got into me. I was sposed to have a romantic dinner with Deter. He even got his blue pill prescription filled. You so thick, you can’t take a hint I don’t want you in the apartment. How do you think I’m going to feel walking in front of Deter with my lingerie on and you watching me be seductive.”
I’m trying to imagine Deter and Evelyn in this scene. I tried to imagine Evelyn in skimpy lingerie, and Deter half naked, but the images that came to mind were terrifying.
“Oh my God,” said J. “He’ll break your pelvis.”
“At least I’ll die happy,” snapped Evelyn.
I understood in that moment, no one was going to get the last word with her. Not even my black Venus.
We were saved by a tall, thin black man carrying a notepad. “You folks ready to order?”
I saw him checking J out. She was mine and he better not have designs on her or I’ll sic Oscar on him.
Evelyn spoke up, “What you think of my daughter dating this white man?”
The waiter looked at me, then over at J, then back to Evelyn. He said, “If they’re happy, it’s okay. You got to get with the times old lady. Race is no barrier to relationships. Maybe you can find a rich old white man and you will be his black trophy.”
Evelyn a trophy? How about Pettibone? A perfect match made in hell.
Evelyn muttered something so low none of us heard. I saw J give the waiter a smile and I took the opportunity to slip my hand under the table and give J’s hand a gentle squeeze. I wasn’t quite sure how she’d react to the squeeze, but she turned a bit toward me and smiled.
I couldn’t help myself. My heart took control of my brain. I said to the waiter, “I’ll have the chicken and dumplings and shrimp and grits, collard greens, and fried pickles.”
“You got one big appetite man,” He said.
J jumped in, “He ordered for all of us.”
I wanted to smother J with kisses, money, stock fund tips, and no limit credit cards. Evelyn sat with her arms folded and didn’t say a word. If here eyes were guns, I was a colander with more holes than a screen door.