I looked up when I heard a whistle. I could see Dudley walking through weeds, coming up on us with his grin.
“He know about this place?” I asked, a bit surprised.
“He’s my best friend,” Kyle said.
“How’d I know you were going to bring that girl out here?” Dudley called out.
“She’s okay,” Kyle called back.
Dudley took off his shoes and rolled up his pants and waded out to us. I noticed how the water seemed to glisten on his legs, as though his whole body had been oiled. The water looked like diamonds on his arms shinning in the sun.
“Hi,” Dudley said. “Can I join you?”
Kyle and I moved over and Dudley climbed up. He sat there staring at us for a bit. It made Kyle and I laugh.
Suddenly, Dudley held out his hand. “Dudley James Leroy,” he said. “Me and Kyle are like brothers.”
“Sassy Sweetwater,” I said, shaking his hand. “I guess we weren’t properly introduced.”
“Oh, I’m just part of the landscape, not anyone your grandma is going to want to introduce you to.” He winked at me. “Your family hates the Kennedys so what does that tell you?”
“I’m just part of the landscape, too. Not really permanent, though,” I said.
“You like mysteries, sweet water Sassy?” Dudley asked. He was grinning, of course. He was always grinning. I wondered what he looked like when he wasn’t showing teeth or dimples.
“Yeah, I like figuring things out,” I said.
“Where you been all this time?”
“Glenmora, Louisiana,” I said.
Dudley laughed. “They used to talk about your mama. Never talked about you, though.”
“What’d they say about my mama?” I asked.
“White people only talk in front of Negroes. Did you know that? Negroes don’t hear so they don’t repeat, you understand? And if they do repeat, they know they’ll find themselves in a noose swinging from a tree. Their flesh is cheap. You know any living thing worth less than Negro flesh?”
Dudley kept his wide grin while I stared at him. I wasn’t quite sure how I should react to that.
“Hey, Dud,” Kyle said. “You come all the way out here to toss us a riddle?”
“No riddle,” he said. “Fact. Don’t you know what a riddle is?”
“Want to catch a film later?” Kyle asked him.
Dudley shook his head. “No, I can’t stay long, but I seen you two heading toward the cove. Wanted to make your acquaintance in the proper way.” He smiled at me, and I smiled back.
We sat on the rock tracing nothing in particular with the sticks in our hands and saying nothing at all. After a long while of silence, Dudley suddenly threw his stick far out into the water. Then he stood up and removed his shirt. I saw that he wasn’t skinny at all. He had muscles that made him look strong as an ox.
“What about my Aunt El?” I said to Kyle. “What does she do?”
“Women don’t run steel mills, Sassy. Your Aunt El has taken over the duties of the house, a task worse than death for a woman like her.”
“You know she’s married to Earline?”
“Not married like we could be,” Kyle said.
Dudley slid down the rock and into the water. “You two couldn’t be married, either,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” Kyle asked.
“Look at the two of you, both got different colored hair. Sassy’s is red-gold, Kyle’s is like a lemon. Not a lot of people can say they got hair like that. Got different fathers, I think. But maybe got the same mother, you two. I knew it the minute I saw you Sweetwater Sassy. I remembered how he threw your mama out, even threatened to kill her ’cause of that boy in town, the one she got caught holding hands with. Had hair like flame, too, more than that, his face is stamped on yours.” He looked at me.
Kyle stood up and put his hands on Dudley’s shoulders. “That’s enough, Dud,” he said. “You’ve got no proof of anything like that.”
“Truth don’t need proof.”
I saw the look that came across Kyle’s face. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t understand what Dudley was getting at. Seems he didn’t talk straight, he talked around things.
“No more of this,” Kyle said. “I don’t want to hear this talk. Hair color don’t mean a damn thing.”
Dudley looked at me. “I’m thirty-three years old,” he said. “I remember things. I talk truth, but no one listens to a black man. We got nothing worth hearing.”
“You know that isn’t true,” Kyle said. “I don’t think like that.”
“Gonna be a riot in town, black students marching into Littleton & Son demanding to be served. Whole country is gonna burn up over that ’cause they ain’t taking no for an answer.”
I looked off. I knew what was going on around me, lots of angry heat over black people, but Mama said it’s going to all be ironed out one day and made right.
Kyle laughed. “Good thing Granddaddy is up North or he’d be down here burning crosses.”
“Sure enough,” Dudley said, “just not on my front lawn.”
“Tell me about our family,” I said to Kyle.
Kyle sat back on the rock. “Your Aunt Erin is married to a rich man and doesn’t do a damn thing but smoke cigarettes all day and say nasty things to anyone who crosses her path. Your Aunt Beatrice is a spinster who lives up North and writes mystery books she can’t publish. Oh, and your Aunt Peg is a cuckoo.”
“Yeah, she’s into fortune telling, works a night club in Savannah.”
“I guess she’s the only one I’d be interested in having dinner with,” I said and laughed.
Dudley chuckled. “We’re on the same wavelength, Sassy. Your Aunt Peg is a live wire, sees things like me. I like live wires.”
“What do you have to say about my family?” I asked Dudley.
“Your mama was the prettiest woman I ever set eyes on. I still remember and I was Kyle’s age when she left here.”
“So they never said anything bad about her?”
“Perverted tongues have nothing but foul illusions to spread.” Dudley looked proud of himself and grinned at me some more.
“Who’s perverted?” I asked Kyle. “Aunt El?”
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Kyle said.
“Elvira McLaughlin has no eyes to see. She don’t even know she’s a lesbian. That pretty one just humors her, tells her they’re just being friendly, not to worry.” Dudley grabbed his shirt and pursed his lips, sounding as feminine as he could get, he said, “Just scratch me here, sweetie. I got an itch between my legs is all, but don’t stop scratching me ’til the big bad itch is done. Nothing queer about scratching now, is there?”
Kyle hooted real loud. “You’re a nasty son of a bitch,” he said.
“I got to go.” Dudley put his shirt back on and buttoned it up. “She gave me a shopping list a mile long, the one that don’t know she’s a lesbian.”
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