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A Few Words

by Telisha Moore

"Well, here it is, man," Flapjack said as he thumped the black gun on the scarred coffee table. It was a .38 snubnose-loaded and well-worn. Wallace slowly moved the gun off the letter he was writing, folded the crisp page, and put it in his pocket. A Few Words From Wallace K. Calb by Telisha Moore MaMaeve, Just a few lines to say hello. Got to the States all right. D.C. just like I left it. Things are going great here, real good. But, I'm thinking of coming back to Samson, the small city life might do me good". "Well, here it is, man," Flapjack said as he thumped the black gun on the scarred coffee table. It was a .38 snubnose-loaded and well-worn. Wallace slowly moved the gun off the letter he was writing, folded the crisp page, and put it in his pocket. Calmly, with his eyes closed, Wallace leaned back in his green velveteen couch, smoking a Salem cigarette in silence. "You said you wanted it, man....Don't back out on me now." Flapjack pulled out a Winston menthol and sat in the other green velveteen chair, not smoking, but tapping it on his twitching knee. That was Flapjack since grade school, all excitement and motion, a flame in the forest of life. Wallace hunched forward over the coffee table, careful of its one lame leg, crunching the half-smoked cigarette into a chipped, blue patterned saucer. "I say I want to back out?" Wallace said, smooth, low and even. He deliberately didn't look at Flapjack's nutmeg-colored face. Flapjack's excitement over this job was already apparent and made Wallace uneasy. "Naw, man. You didn't say you wanted out. I just thought...." But Wallace had already headed for the kitchen, his back to Flapjack as he turned the faucet on, full blast. "I'll see you at eleven-thirty, Flapjack," Wallace said in the same calm, the same death of voice. Flapjack nodded, pulled out of the chair, and left. Flapjack gone, Wallace went back to the living room and sat in his green velveteen chair. He drafted a new cigarette and stared at the black gun on the coffee table. It was dirty, unlike his M-16 used to be in the military. Where had his life gone to? At twenty-one, six feet, three inches and coffee-n-cream colored handsome, he could have had the world combed and styled with a part down the middle. He looked at the peeling dark blue walls, the oil painting of Elvis (he hated Elvis; it had come with the room), the (likewise acquired) furniture, broken or about to be. Wallace swore and pulled the nicotine into his chest. Wallace thought, if only he wasn't black, or had a father who had ever given a damn. If only he hadn't screwed up his knee the last months of the goddamned thankless war in 'Nam, or maybe if MaMaeve had stayed (although he didn't blame her for leaving Pop), maybe if only one of these things had happened, then his life would be okay. But it didn't happen that way. Wallace looked back to the gun. It had come to this. He had come back to D.C. from 'Nam in 1976, broke, with a busted knee, sitting in a dark, one-bedroom apartment, with the rent three months late and due tomorrow. It had come to this, reduced to robbing Leroy Whitaker's convenience store. Unlike Flapjack, Wallace had checked the man out. He still couldn't believe that he listened to Flapjack the fool's suggestion to rob, with a dirty grin, for his daily bread. "Wallace," he said to himself, breathing into his cupped hands, "You ain't got a damned thing." "You're late, Flapjack," Wallace stated, sitting on a crate behind the grey dumpsters. He was wiping the gun and checking it for smudges. "Yeah, man, but I'm here now, right?" "Let's go over the drill, okay Flapjack?" "Yeah, man." Wallace saw Flapjack's glazed eyes, the weak stance, and knew he was high. Well, you can't cry over the milk now, Wallace thought, the rent is due in nine hours. Wallace thought of calling it off and going home to see MaMaeve. She wouldn't turn him out, but he at least wanted the bus fare to get to her. Wallace felt his jean pocket. He had two bus tokens, a life saver, and Carlene Tilen's phone number. "Listen to me, okay." Flapjack made his body resemble a nod. "Listen. When we go in, we wait for the people to leave. When the last one goes, you"їallace bored his finger into Flapjack's chestѢwatch the door and don't let nobody in." "Yeah, man. All right." Wallace swore. But it had to be done now before Leroy put the money in the safe, or before johnny law made their sweep at twelve. It was eleven-forty-five now. The convenience store was small, just a grand closet really. The register was at the front door. Flapjack stood at the magazine rack reading a magazine upside-down and then sideways. Wallace hoped it was Playboy. Wallace, himself, was by the baby foods. Five people, including Leroy, Wallace, and Flapjack, were in the store. Of the last two, one was a cop. The other was a fat black lady fussing with Leroy about the price of tomato paste. "I ain't going to pay this, Leroy. A dollar ten for a can of tomato paste. It's only sixty-nine cents at Food King. You lucky that Food King is across town. I tell you another thing...." Wallace released a breath as the cop left. "Well, lady," Leroy said, "How about looking at something else, 'cause I close in 10 minutes." Wallace knew that fake smile. It meant look somewhere else. Fat Lady marched to one of the four aisles. Wallace stared at Leroy. He was a dark, heavy, old man with a wife and a girlfriend. He wore two or three gold rings on his left hand and drove a dove-grey Caddie. Still, he kept hiking up the prices for this neighborhood. Turning around, Wallace frowned. He couldn't find Flapjack. Fat Lady was still choosing between Chef Boyardee and Ragu. "Damn lady, carry yo ass," Wallace muttered. But Wallace knew it was too late. It had to happen now. Already, the Marlboro Light's clock read eleven-fifty-eight. Flapjack was still missing when Wallace stepped, gun in hand, to the counter. "All right, man. Put your hands on the counter." Leroy's eyes narrowed and his lips compressed. Wallace thought Leroy was slow in moving, so he put the gun to Leroy's temple. Fat Lady dropped Ragu and Chef Boyardee with a loud crash and started screaming. Wallace, surprisingly calm, turned quickly. "Get out, lady, or die." Fat Lady ran. Her hips knocked the dry foods aisle as she swung from side to side. As he turned back to Leroy, Wallace noticed she had three cans of tomato paste under her arm. Leroy stared back at Wallace, his eyes cold and familiar. Wallace, for some reason, got angry. He hated the indifference on Leroy's face. He pressed the gun closer to Leroy's temple. "Okay, give me the money." Leroy didn't even fight. He just got a paper bag, pulled the cash drawer completely out and dumped it on the table. Leroy started putting it in the bag. "I knew the moment you walked in here that you won't no good. You got that look about you, boy. You ain't never going to do no better or be better for no one else. You needed a strap to you as a child. Now, if I was you daddy"." And then Wallace forgot, he forgot that Leroy was just some fat black man with too much lip and too much pride to get robbed of his earnings quietly. But it was too late now. Crack. The gun sounded as it creased Leroy's head and his lip tore. Leroy fell to the floor and Wallace looked down at him, changed. Wallace's eyes were hard and hot. Gone was the calmness. This voice was gravel and glass. "Well, you ain't my daddy. But screw him, too." Leroy said nothing. He knew death when he saw it. Wallace grabbed the bag and left the store, defeated. A squad car passed him on the way home, but kept on going. Wallace walked now, because life was now different. Sure he had the money. Rent would be paid and he would eat. Before the money ran out, he could find some job, bum leg or not. But, he could never go back. He would keep the gun, though. His future had been confirmed. Wallace made his apartment in thirty minutes. Once again, he sat in the green velveteen chair, smoking Salems in silence. The phone rang. "Yeah, Flapjack, I know. You straight now. Yeah, I did it, but something went wrong and I didn't get much. I can give you a twenty." Wallace hung up. Screw Flapjack, he didn't do squat anyway. Wallace leaned back into the chair, staring at the blue walls. Sometime or another he would go to sleep, but not now. "Well, I've changed my mind. The city just picked up. Not that it wasn't good. But now, it's just different. I'm always gonna be a city boy, I guess. Nothing changes. Love, Wallace.