There were close to forty tables in Lonnie’s Diner. Not an empty one in the place. From thirty-nine tables happy chatter rose like steam off a boiling pot. At one table, the sounds of silence. We may as well have been packed away in a sound proofed room and ordered not speak or face a firing squad. I kept gazing at J who was staring at Evelyn who was scrutinizing the contents of her purse. She placed her purse on top of the table directly in front of her. I’m not familiar with the black culture in the US. I didn’t know if this was a sign she wasn’t hungry, a sign she wanted to pay for the meal, or a sign she wanted to make sure she didn’t forget her purse when we left.
I decided to break the ice. I said, “Nice choice. I can’t wait to try the fried Snicker’s candy bar for desert.”
You’d think I inadvertently stepped on a rattlesnake. Like a cloud to ground lightening bold, Evelyn spoke, “You a damn fool. You a bigger fool than a damn fool. You trying to patronize me making me think you can handle a fried Snicker’s bar? You can’t handle a deep fried donut. You can’t handle a baby French fry. You not man enough to eat grits.”
Evelyn had a point, maybe more than one point. I was playing for high stakes, J’s love, and I wasn’t going to back down. I said, “No ma’am. I’m trying to get a conversation started. You said you were going to test me. How about testing me now?”
J lightly touched my arm. Her touch sent a lightning bolt straight to my brain, the one in my skull, which then sent a red alert signal to my other brain.
J said, “Mama. Watch your language. M is asking you to play nice. Ask him your questions.”
Evelyn snorted like she was the lead bull in the running of the bulls in Spain. She gave J a look only a parent can give a child. The looks tells it all and it’s not good. Evelyn said, “You don’t tell your mama how to talk. I been on the planet long enough to know I can say what I want, when I want, and how I want.”
“Mama, did you take your pill this morning?” asked J.
“I flushed them down the toilet.”
“You’re supposed to take your pills. They keep you calm and keep your blood pressure down. You don’t want a stroke do you?” asked J trying to bring Evelyn temperature down to near the boiling point.
“I flushed them because I ain’t listening to no white man who claims he’s a doctor no more.”
“Mama, how long did you watch cable news yesterday?” ask J.
“I watched it from the second I woke up, till the second I went to bed. Know why I sat and watched it and watched it and watched it?”
“No, mama, why did you sit and watch cable news all day?” asked J politely. With every word J spoke I fell more deeply in love with her. There is no turning back for me. I’ll stop living if she doesn’t marry me.
“You better listen, girl. No one called. No one visited, not even my children. Now, Dante got an excuse cause the white man locked him up. My daughter, I don’t know what she’s up to. She hardly calls me or visits me.”
“That’s not true mama. I call every day. I called you and you said not to call you were watching CNN News. I visit you every weekend and take you out for lunch after church on Sunday.”
“That don’t make no difference. You probably got it wrong. This white man fill your head with crawfish and bed bugs to make you so crazy you don’t remember who you are. Now, I going to ask my first question to him and don’t help him. “What you watch when you watch TV?”
J had her right elbow resting on the table. Her right hand stroked her forehead. Her eyes had the kind of glaze you see on a honey baked ham. “TV? Oh, TV. Mother only allows Public Broadcasting, the business channel, and only news stations that promote the Republican agenda.”
I hadn’t finished when Evelyn cut in, “Just what I thought. You watching only the shows that filthy rich white people watch. How come you not watching Oprah or reality television or Family Feud?”
I never heard of Oprah. Did she mean opera? I personally hate opera. Mother and Father are patrons of the city opera and symphony. When they die and I have all their money, I’ll make sure the opera gets nothing. I can’t understand them and I hate the tiny binoculars you have to carry. I wonder if I can become a patron of …
My thought was interrupted by my conscience, “Don’t think it or say it. I know what you are thinking and going to say. What will J say if you’re married to her and you tell her you want to become a patron of strip clubs? Well?”
“It’s a form of art,” I argued.
“You moving your mouth, but I can’t hear you,” said Evelyn.
J pivoted her head, now resting on the palm of her hand, toward Evelyn. “M is having an private conversation going with an imaginary friend. Let him alone.”
I perked up, “I hadn’t finished. I do not watch those shows, so you can’t put the blame on me for that one. I’m too busy going to bars and trying to hook up. What’s the next question?” I don’t know what I said that made J rub her forehead again. I’m trying to be honest.
Evelyn shook her head like she was trying to shake the dust out of a blanket. “That was an easy question, now I’m going to give you a hard question. How many baby mama’s you got. I can tell if you lying.”
I turned toward J, “What’s a baby mama? Did she mean baby llama? We don’t have animals on our property unless you call birds animals.”
“You heard right. Let me put it this way to you. Have you fathered any children?” Evelyn didn’t give J a chance to help me.
I turned back toward Evelyn. “I always use a condom, so I don’t have any.” Evelyn was about to come back at me when my conscience whispered something in my ear. I nodded and said, “Evelyn, let me continue.”
“Hah! I knew it. Now you going to confess to having baby mamas.”
“Honestly, I don’t have any baby mamas. What I want to say is if J decides to marry me and make the happiest man in the world, I will buy you and Deeter a beautiful home. It will be yours free and clear. And, I’ll toss in a gardener.”
Evelyn squinted at me, her eyes looking like those on a ravenous wolf. I wasn’t sure if she was going to strike me, fall asleep, or die. Then she spoke, “You toss in a weekly maid and you got a deal. Hell you can take her home tonight.”
“Deal,” I said.
J jumped in with both feet. “Not so fast. Mama I will marry who I want to marry. I am not going to spend the night with M.”
“Do you hate your mama? Do not blow this deal for Deeter and me. Don’t sign a prenup. He’ll toss you out and you have to come and live with Deeter and me. I already raised you once. I don’t want to raise you again.”
I whispered to J, “There will be no prenup.”
J rolled her eyes. Dinner flew by. Even Evelyn opened up and started telling stories about growing up in Chicago. I paid and left a generous tip. When I drove Evelyn and J back to Evelyn’s apartment. I helped Evelyn get up the incline and almost fall into Deeter’s waiting arms. J stayed back by the car.
When I came back to the car, J took hold of my hand and said, “Thanks M. You turned a disastrous evening into a great one.” She leaned over and kissed me lightly on my lips and before I could engage her in an open mouth kiss, she let go my hand and turned and headed toward the sliding glass doors. I will not wash my hand or face tonight. My hand still tingles from the warmth of her hand. I’ve been branded with mark of J on my body. More than anything, I want the feel of J’s lips on mine to linger.