I’ve always hated carnivals. They were always too crowded and the food and the rides were always overpriced. Every line 20 minutes long. I never understood the point of playing those impossible games. The gigantic stuffed pink animals looked ridiculous. They never fit in the car. I guess that is why I found it interesting that I ran to the Catonsville Street Festival. Yale G. Cannon had put six bullet holes in my bedroom door, and I jumped out of the bedroom window. I was on the run. I spent hours walking around the street festival, because that is what the robot-sounding at 911 told me to do.
* * * * * *
There was nothing spectacular about the way Yale and I met. He was working as a dishwasher at the community college cafeteria where I took classes. He spent the five minutes I was in line waiting for my cheese and green pepper omelet blowing me kisses and winking his tiger colored eyes. He came over to my table and asked me for my phone number. He probably won’t call I thought, but I wrote it down anyway.
The phone rang that same night; it was 8:45pm.
“This is Speed,” said a melodious voice, “whutcha’ doin’?”
I recognized him instantly. He came over that night. We had talked briefly before he whispered, “I like big girls.” We talked about my major and the kinds of foods he would cook for me. He gently stroked my thigh while we talked. Then we made love. He was very skilled in bed. We were an instant item. He would go to work, I would go to class, I would visit him at work, he would come over, we would make love, and then we would go to sleep. I was so excited that I actually had a boyfriend that I didn’t mind that he never went home. I didn’t mind that his calls came to my house. It didn’t bother me that I came home immediately after classes, because Yale was waiting for me. I didn’t bother me a lot that my friends stopped having lunch with me, I didn’t bother me that he started asking me my whereabouts and following me to my classes.
“Tell me about yourself Mr. Cannon,” I inquired one evening while we were lying in bed after having sex.
“What do you want to know?” He was mesmerized by Monday Night Football. “I dunno, why do they call you Speed?”
“Cause I am fast, baby.” He pulled me to him and kissed me. I forgot to ask him where he lived and how come I never saw him with friends.
My mother once said that the hardest things to see in life are the things that are right in front of you. My friend Terri Newsome tried to get me to really see Yale. She wanted me to see the Yale that was standing in my face. Terri knocked on my front door one afternoon a month after I began seeing him. “She lives,” she said feigning surprise. “What the hell is going on with you?”
I tried to sound hurt. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t give me that [censored]. What is going on with you and this dude? I mean you have stopped calling folk, nobody sees you around anymore.” She looked past me and into the front door. “Damn! Can I come in?”
Instead, I quietly shut the door and came outside. I learned to do things quietly after I started seeing Yale. I missed sitting on my front step in the middle of the afternoon. Yale didn’t like to do that. He said it was ghetto. The sky had a hazy, azure color and I wanted to soak it up. I sat down on the front step. “Terri, I’ve been busy.” I gave her a sheepish look which seemed to make her more irate.
“Busy sexin’ with that Negro you’ve been seein’.”
Yale walked up the walkway and kissed me on the cheek. He was earlier than I had expected. “Doesn’t my tall, handsome, bowlegged man look good Terri?”
“Oh yeah, he’s a natural bomb, girl.” Of all my friends, Terri was the best at telling you in five words what your mother couldn’t tell you in eighteen years. She left that afternoon after giving me a hug and sticking a letter that Yale had written to her the day before in my pocket. I really didn’t want her to go, but Yale said it was time to go inside. I read the letter in the bathroom later that night after Yale went to bed. I pretended to have an upset stomach. I’m really feeling you…the letter said. When can we get together? I’m a private guy…keep this on the down low. I got back in bed after I read the letter. I couldn’t fall asleep so I stared at the ceiling and made a mental list of the errands I needed to run the next day.
I talked to Yale’s mother once during the time that we saw each other. I came out of the shower and he was on the phone. “Huh,” Yale said as he shoved the phone in my direction. An un-naturally soft sounding voice was on the other end. A voice that sounded like it was recovering from a really bad bout with laryngitis. “My son says that you are so beautiful. He says that you have been takin’ real, real good care of him.” I was shocked and flattered. Before I could answer, the voice on the phone continued, “Ya know, I jes’ got out of the hospital. You both should come and see me.” We talked for about five minutes before Yale took the phone and told her we had to go.
I continued thinking about the sound of Yale’s mother’s voice later that night. I didn’t have anything else to think about because Yale was grunting while he was bouncing up and down on top of me. I was trying to decide if his mother was really ill or if she was really an effeminate man.
* * * * * *
A jazz group had taken the main stage at the street carnival. The crowd just continued to scream. The group started their set without saying the usual “Hel-lo Bal-ti-more.” The aroma of fried dough slowly invaded my nose and I realized that I was hungry. The smell was too overpowering to have been coming from the food area, so I turned to investigate where the smell was coming from. “Scuse me,” a man with a stuffed mouth said. He moved to his right after spilling lemonade on my t-shirt. “I love them, they are so soulful.” The man managed to continue talking about the groups strengths and weaknesses, all the while swallowing very large bites of fried dough. He had a large birthmark on the side of his eye. It was shaped like the state of California. It reminded me of the mark Yale had put on my face because I came home late.
* * * * * *
I had cut my classes one Thursday afternoon and decided to meet Terri and a bunch of friends for happy hour. Happy hour lasted a bit longer, so I decided to have dinner and catch up on the latest gossip. Yale was sitting in the Lazy Boy with the remote in his hand when I returned home.
“Hey.” I reached over to kiss him. He didn’t blink. His eyes never left the TV.
“You are late. Where have you been?” His eyes were glazed over.
“I told you I was going to happy hour in the note.”
“People get that dressed up for happy hour, huh?” His voice sounded warped.
“You don’t wear old jeans,” I tried to reason.
Yale stood up and walked over to me. He smiled and then I smiled. He came closer and I prepared myself for him to kiss me. I was stunned and confused when he punched me. I put a cold washcloth on my face and came up with justifications for Yale’s reaction to my late arrival. I decided that I did get home at 9:30 p.m. when I promised to be home at 7:30 p.m. I decided that I would just be better about coming home when I said I would. Maybe get home earlier. I covered the bruise I received for my mistake with make up.
Another one of my mother’s famous sayings is that you could find out what was important to a man by the contents of his wallet. I could hear her overbearing Jamaican accent saying, “Any man wortah dime, will hava picture of his ooman.” She always had un-welcomed pieces of advice and I always seemed to remember them when my subconscious was looking for answers. I guess that is why I looked through Yale’s wallet on the dresser one evening after another round in bed. His wallet contained the usual ID, a monthly bus pass, a piece of hair, a wrinkled dollar, and his Maryland State Department of Corrections Parole Identification Card.
I made Yale breakfast the morning after my discovery and kissed him good bye. I called Terri and told her what I had found. She was on her way. Terri would know what to do. “Tell the police that he is threatening you and that he will not leave you alone.” She kept saying it over and over again. Her advice really didn’t make sense. All I know was that I was embarrassed. I had been dating an ex-con. My mind raced with ideas about what he was convicted for doing.
At the precinct, Sgt. Ernest Powell, who looked like he had been sitting behind his desk for fifteen years, told me over gold-wired reading glasses about Yale’s sordid past. “Yale and the law go back quite a bit,” he said as he adjusted his stomach over his paper filled desk. “How did a young lady like yeerself get hooked up with the likes of him?” According to Sgt. Powell, Yale had been released early after serving six years of a twenty-five year stint at the men’s facility in Jessup. He was in for attempted murder of a woman (apparently he had slashed her throat) and assault of a police officer. The best Sgt. Powell could do was put a restraining order on Yale to stay 500 feet or more away from me. They would serve him at work. Sgt. Powell didn’t think Yale was dumb enough to violate his parole.
* * * * * *
Night came quickly to the Catonsville Street Festival. Smells of cut grass, beer, and trash hovered in the air. I was hungry but didn’t want to go home. I couldn’t call anyone because I didn’t want to beg for money in order to use the phone. I didn’t bring money for the phone. I walked around the carnival and stopped by each of the craft booths. I touched books, caressed wooden carvings, I smelled bottled oils, and wondered if Yale would look for me here. I spotted a police officer talking into his shoulder radio. He looked directly at me. Something on his radio made him recognize me. He walked over to me and asked, “What’s your name, dearie?” I was relieved when he told me that he would take me to the precinct. Apparently, Yale had been picked up after being spotted running from my house with a gun.
When I arrived at the precinct, Sgt. Powell was waiting for me. “Are you hungry? I have corned beef. It’s on rye.” I was starving, but I decided that my stomach would have to wait. I needed to see Yale. I thought he would look different after being picked up by the police. I signed one affidavit after another. I was assured that Yale would not bother me again. He had to finish his sentence after being picked up with a gun.
“You can finish school without worrying, he’ll be gone a while.” Sgt. Powell assured me. “Do you want to press charges?”
“I actually want to talk to him.”
“Huh? Suit yourself.”
I was led behind a double swinging door, where recently arrested individuals waited to be processed. The 8×10 foot room smelled like someone who needed a bath after not taking one for a day or two. Brown benches were placed against each wall of the room. A silver bar rested above each bench. The center of the room was empty. Yale was sitting on one of these benches, each of his wrists handcuffed to the silver bar. The handcuff made him look like he was on display. He was waiting for me.
“They say you are going back to Jessup.”
“Probably Hagerstown,” he managed to reply matter of factly. His eyes had that glazed-over look.
I didn’t ask why he tried to shoot me. I didn’t ask Yale if he loved me. I backed out of the room, so I could really get a good look at him. He looked kind of ordinary. He wasn’t the handsome, bowlegged guy I thought he was.
Sgt. Powell gave me a ride home. We drove by the entrance to the street festival. “I hate those festivals,” he said, trying to make conversation, “just a bunch of overtime.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You can let me off here.” Sgt. Powell dropped me off two houses away from my house.
“Call me if you need anything, ya know, if you want to talk. OK?”
I walked up to the front steps of my house and sat down. I was exhausted. I felt really old. I sat there for a long while. I could hear the faint sound of the festival. The sounds like warped records playing and muffled voices, made me chuckle. The slight breeze carried the scent of fried dough past my nose. An old Chevy Hatchback went by. The rear bumper barely cleared the road. In the back seat sat a very large, yellow spotted stuffed giraffe. The child sitting next to it looked smashed against the car door.