Short Stuff by Frederick K. Foote, Jr.
Short Stuff by Frederick K. Foote, Jr.
Nobody in San Juan, California, would have ever predicted how Tuesday Gipson would turn out. She proved the adage, don’t judge a book by its cover. Tuesday was small, lacked social graces, and had a personality that even a mother would find hard to love. However, in the end, Tuesday had what it takes to make; people overlooked a whole lot of personality flaws and defects.
I met Tuesday in the first grade at John Marshall Elementary School in San Juan, California. At JME, they had a first-day assembly. The first graders marched into the auditorium first in pairs. Starting with the shortest boy and girl walking in first. That short stuff pair was Tuesday and me.
“I’m Tuesday Gipson. You’re awful small for a six-year-old boy. I bet you get your ass beat every day.”
“I’m Sugar Hollister. You got an awfully big mouth for such a little girl.”
“Sugar? Your name is Sugar? Sugar is a girl’s name. I’ve never known a boy named Sugar. I don’t know anybody named Sugar. Sugar is a sissy name.”
“Sugar Ray Robinson. You ever heard of him?”
Tuesday’s face screwed up like she was trying to pass a big turd. “Ha, ha, ha. That don’t make you special. You are ordinary. Just plain, old, everyday ordinary.”
I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to start no mess on the first hour of the first day at school. When I didn’t respond to her insults, it really pissed Tuesday off.
“Sugar! I’m talking to you, boy. You better—”
Miss Anderson, our teacher, intervened and took Tuesday by the arm, “Honey, you need to pipe down and listen. This is not the playground.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Tuesday getting what she deserved. But then Anderson turned on me. “You keep your friend in line. Hear me?”
And from that moment on, I got paired with Tuesday. Everyone at school looked at us like we were a pair of shoes or something.
I hated that even more than I disliked Tuesday.
“Mom, Sugar got a homely little girlfriend on the first day of school. They are just adorable together.”
That’s my sister June at the dinner table trying to get my goat. June is in the third grade. She tries too hard at everything.
Mom asks, “Who is she?”
“She’s one of them Jackson Whites. Her brother Nehemiah is in my class.” That’s my sister April she’s in the fourth grade, and everything comes too easy for her.
“Don’t mess with them, Jackson Whites. They are nothing but trouble, Sugar. You hear me?” That’s our dad. He works two jobs most of the time. But he’s like most of the Black men in the projects. They work two or three jobs.
“Yes, Sir, but she was on me like a flea on a hound dog. I don’t think she has any friends.”
“Don’t worry, Sugar. Those Gipson kids come to school about one day a week. I’m surprised that Nehemiah is still in school. He’s smart. Maybe that’s why he’s sticking around.”
That’s our brother, Joe Louis Hollister. He’s in the sixth grade and is the best athlete at JME.
Mom says, “Be kind to her, Sugar, but don’t bring home any fleas, okay?”
On the second day of school, that little jabber mouth was waiting for me as I came in through the south gate with my friends. She ran up and grabbed my arm.
“Sugar, Sugar, I got an uncle named Abraham Roosevelt Jefferson. Ain’t that something? Abraham Roosevelt Jefferson, ain’t that something else? Three presidents. How you like them apples Mr. Sugar Ray Robinson?”
I saw my friends playing on the monkey bars, and I wanted to join them. However, Tuesday had a tight grip on my arm. I remembered what Mom said about being kind.
“Okay, okay, Let go of my arm. I heard you the first time. Good for you.”
“Don’t be jealous. Don’t be mad. Don’t be sad. Just because I have bigger named people than you could ever have, Sugar.”
I sniff the air. I sniff Tuesday.
“Girl, you smell like you’ve been rolling in cat piss.”
Pow! She hit me with a solid right hook to the jaw. I didn’t go down, but that shot rocked me pretty good.
“What the hell is wrong with you, girl? Are you crazy?”
“You mess with me again, Sugar. Come on, sissy. I dare you?”
“Tuesday, if you hit me again, I will break your scrawny neck. I just said you smelled bad. You do. Hitting me ain’t going to change that.”
“Fuck you, Sugar. You ain’t shit. You lower than whale shit.”
She ran off behind the school building with her hands balled up in little fists. I hope she stayed there for the rest of the school term.
At recess, someone came up behind me and put a warm brown arm around me, resting a hand on my shoulder.
I looked up into the face of Dannie Garcia, and her smiling face looked down at me.
°Come on, Hollister, we gonna play tag.”
Dannie had a chipped front tooth and a “u” shaped scar near her mouth’s right corner. She had huge brown eyes with deep black eyebrows. I fell in love right there.
Garcia got about 20 kids from the first and second grades to play. Our tag game disrupted the other kids playing four square, hopscotch, kick and dodge ball. And that was the real point of the game to disrupt the older kids’ activities and let them know that we were here and was a force to be reckoned with.
Once I understood that I was even deeper in love with Dannie, if that was even possible.
Hank Harvey, a fourth grader, grabbed Dannie by the arm.
“Garcia, I told you about messing with us last year.”
Dannie shook her arm free and got in Hank’s face.
“And here it is another year, and you are still flapping your lips.”
Hank was nose to nose with Dannie.
“I’m going to knock you back to Mexico, Dannie.”
“I’m right here, Hank.”
I stepped up beside Dannie.
I said, “We’re both right here.”
They both looked like they were surprised to see me there.
Hank smiled at me. He laughed, shook his head, and walked away.
Dannie started to scold me, but then she laughed and said, “Let’s play tag.”
And we did, and Tuesday stayed the hell away from me for the rest of the day.
God, Dannie, is so beautiful and fearless.
“Your youngest son is going from bad to worst. He and Dannie Garcia almost got into a fight with Hank Harvey.”
That’s June again at the dinner table. It is only the second day of school, and we all are already tired of June’s tattling.
“Okay, I’m just trying to keep Sugar from ending up in the juvie—”
Mom interrupts June, “June, Honey, we appreciate you looking out for your little brother. Did you try to stop him?”
June turns red. “I, I was about to, but it was over so fast. There was nothing I could do.”
Joe Louis reaches for the last piece of chicken, but dad beats him to it. Joy Louis turns to June.
“There wasn’t going to be no fight, and you know it. Hank knows Dannie’s brothers would never let him hurt her. Everybody knows that.”
Everybody but me. I didn’t know that. I didn’t even know Dannie had any brothers.
Dad shares the chicken with Joe Louis. The conversation moves on to politics and President Truman.
After supper, I take my homework to April to review. June is supposed to help me, but I despise the rat fink.
“April, how many brothers does Dannie have?”
“Carlos, in the fourth grade and Pedro, in the sixth grade. But you should see her sisters, Flora and Angela. They’re gorgeous. Dannie is the ugly duckling in that family.”
“No way. Dannie is so pretty.”
“Okay, Tiger. If you say so.”
“April, what are Jackson Whites?”
“Dad says they are mixed black, white, and red people from North Caroline who moved out here thirty years ago. They live in the foothills and keep to themselves.”
“They’re not White?”
“I don’t know. The White people here sure don’t claim them. Nobody really likes them, I think.”
I tell April about smelly Tuesday and our one-punch fight.
“Hey, they have a lot of pride. You really hurt her feelings.”
“Me? She hit me for no reason.”
“Your homework looks good. Go on. I got things to do.”
As I’m leaving her room, April says, “Tuesday didn’t mean to hurt you. I think you might be her first and only friend.”
Tuesday is waiting for me at the gate the next day.
“Sugar, Sugar, look, I got a Snickers for you, okay?”
“I don’t want your candy.”
“Sugar, Sugar, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I kicked your ass, okay?”
“You didn’t kick my ass. You hit me once.”
“Well, I could have kicked your ass.”
“Hey, smell me. I bet I smell good. Sugar smell me. I smell soo good.”
Tuesday is jumping around, pushing her arms in my face.
“Okay, you smell alright.”
We share her Snickers.
“Sugar, you like Mexican girls? I saw you yesterday. She’s not so pretty.”
I shake my head in frustration and walk away—a brown boy with eyes like Dannie’s steps in front of me.
“Hey, you need to stay out of our business. Dannie doesn’t need your help.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Carlos, Dannie’s brother.”
I shrug and start to walk around Carlos. He steps in my way again.
“You made me look bad like I wasn’t protecting Dannie.”
“Where were you?”
“I was there, but Dannie gets pissed if we get in her business.”
Again, I try to step around Carlos, but this time Tuesday is by my side. Carlos stays put this time.
A few minutes later, I get tapped on the shoulder. I turn around, and I’m looking at this golden-brown girl with Dannie-like eyes and a cute face. She is like, like sunshine on a rainy day. I’m speechless.
“Hey, I’m Flora, Dannie’s Sister. Don’t mind Carlos. If he bothers you, come, see me.” She leans down and whispers in my ear, “Dannie thinks you’re cute. Don’t tell her I told you, okay.”
Gosh, I got Garcia overload. I’m still in love with Dannie, but Flora is—Wow!
The next two weeks are pretty uneventful. I mean, nothing truly incredible happens. But there is something new every day. I like learning about the kids at school more than my studies.
On the third week of school, everything changes.
Tuesday tells me a story about trolls at lunchtime. It is a fantastic story. Funny, scary, and full of surprise twists and turns.
“Tuesday, that was out of sight. Wow! I loved it. Tomorrow I will tell you a story.”
“Sugar, I know a lot about trolls and werewolves and vampires and monsters. I will scare you so bad you will be sleeping with your mama with the lights on and a gun and a cross by your bed.”
The next day at morning recess, Tuesday and I were standing on the playground talking. Nadine Campbell, a sixth-grader, is chasing a ball and plows into Tuesday and flattens her.
Nadine kicks Tuesday.
“You stupid hillbilly!”
I leap at Nadine and catch a right to the nose.
There was a deep growling sound. When I looked for the source, I saw something leap from the ground where Tuesday was. It had long thin arms and legs with claws and a mouth with teeth like a shark. It wrapped its arms and legs around Nadine and bit down on her shoulder. The creature was there for just a split second. And then there was Tuesday instead of the monster.
I don’t know if that’s what I saw. I think that’s what I saw. I really don’t know. I know that there are parts of the attack I don’t remember. I’m terrified of remembering.
Myron Croft, another first-grader, was right next to me. Later that day, he told me he saw a monster attack Nadine, too. But Myron would never talk about that again.
Everybody who saw what happened didn’t want to talk about it or lied and said they didn’t see what happened.
I tried to pull Tuesday off of Nadine. Nadine was in shock and trembling like she was really cold. I couldn’t budge Tuesday.
It took two men teachers to get Tuesday off Nadine.
They called an ambulance for Nadine.
They took Tuesday to the office. But somehow, my friend got away.
They kept all of us in the auditorium for the rest of the day. They played movies, but nobody watched.
“Sugar, where is your little psycho friend—”
I yelled at June, “Shut up! You shut up.”
Dad excused me from the supper table.
I ran to my room I shared with Joe Louis.
My brother and then my mother came to check on me.
April brought me my pudding dessert.
Dad gave me a hug on his way to work.
Two weeks later and Tuesday had not returned to school.
I was determined to go up in the foothills and find her.
Early Saturday, I was sitting at the kitchen table writing a note to Mom to let her know where I’m going.
I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grabbed an apple, filled my thermos with water, and put it all in my school backpack.
I turned around, and June was standing there reading my note. I wanted to strangle her right there on the spot.
“You can’t go up there, Sugar. People go up there in the foothills and never come back.”
“Go away, June. This is none of your business, tattletale.”
“If you go, Dad will tan your behind good.”
“June, get out of my way.”
“I will wake Dad if you leave. I will tell. You know I will.”
I’m so mad I’m about to cry.
“Wait here, Sugar. I’ll be right back.”
June is back in a few minutes, dressed and carrying her school backpack She grabbed some crackers a Coke and the jar of peanut butter.
“Okay, Sugar, let’s go. I can’t let you go up there by yourself.”
We don’t get far up the hill where Tuesday lives.
A shirtless man in dress shoes, suit pants, and suspenders walking a Pit bull with a chain collar and a chain leash warns us away.
“Ain’t no Tuesday Gipson up here. And you ain’t welcome up here. Come up here again, and I’ll sic this dog on you. Git. Move on.”
Halfway home, Dad meets us in his old pickup. He doesn’t take us home. He drives into town and treats us to an ice cream cone. He drops us by the house on his way to work. Not one cross word from him the whole time.
Twenty-five years later, I was at an Academy Awards after-party. I was there because two other writers and I were nominated for but didn’t win an award for the best documentary.
She entered the room, and the beautiful people created a buzz that grew into a tide of mummers.
It wasn’t just the beauty of body and face. It was the way she walked like she was the king of the world, indifferent to the effect she was creating. She didn’t need admiration or affirmation or any of us. The crowd parted for her, and she acknowledged no one.
The whole thing was stunning and electric and unreal.
I stood to get a better look. She looked in my direction. Our eyes met. There was instant recognition, a fierce embrace. “Sugar Hollister, you owe me a story.” She grabbed my hand and led me toward the door. A man about 6″ 5″ and well over 250 pounds stepped in our path. She didn’t slow down at all. For a second, I felt this ferocious hunger, this imperial rage, just for a second.
The big man felt it too. He stumbled backward out of our way.
At that moment, I remembered Tuesday ripping off a bloody chunk of Nadine’s shoulder, chewing it, swallowing it, licking her lips, giggling.
I didn’t think that was a personality flaw I could overlook but she was holding my hand so damn tight.
Copyright Frederick K. Foote, Jr. 2021