Ch. 3: Fear of X (and teenagers playing basketball while listening to Tupac). July 20, 1987.

Ch. 3: Fear of X (and teenagers playing basketball while listening to Tupac). July 20, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

On Mondays, Suzie-Q took piano lessons. Alice’s Mom drove Suzie-Q, in return for Suzie-Q’s Dad driving Alice to her youth group during Mrs. Smith’s hospital treatment and healing vigils. Nobody knew what Mrs. Smith was being treated for, and nobody dared ask. Sometimes after dinner, during prayer time, Calvin Q would ask God to render Mrs. Smith’s treatment efficacious, and to forgive the unrealistic and unbiblical expectations of her pastor. Sam, Suzie-Q’s next-door neighbor, who once walked in on Calvin Q and Suzie-Q’s pious moment by accident, told Suzie-Q later that this was a “scientific prayer.” Mrs. Smith believed in parking angels. One time, Suzie-Q and Mrs. Smith drove round the block of Suzie-Q’s music teacher for twenty minutes, waiting for the parking angels to find time to answer Mrs. Smith’s prayers. They never did.

When Suzie-Q got in the car, Mrs. Smith was playing a Sandi Patti tape. Mrs. Smith was smiling through powder and singing along. “Hi Suzie-Q! Why, I think you’ve gotten some sun!”

Suzie-Q was burnt and peeling. She smiled half-way and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
“… praise to the Lord, come on everybody, stand up and sing one more, A lay lou ya sing your…” Mrs. Smith slowly pulled out onto the beltway while cars whizzed and honked. Suzie-Q tried not to gasp. Mrs. Smith seemed not to notice the danger. She smiled brighter at Suzie-Q and said, “Come on, Suzie"sing with me!”

Secretly, Suzie-Q thought Sandi Patti had catchy tunes, and she sometimes played or sang along at home or with friends. On the other hand, Suzie-Q didn’t like Sandi Patti in the car with the windows down. Suzie-Q also thought Sandi Patti was a little silly for grown-ups to like, and she knew Sandi Patti was Bad Art. Suzie-Q felt embarrassed to have bad thoughts about Mrs. Smith, who was going through undefined hospital treatment, but because she was sunburned she couldn’t blush. This gave Suzie-Q more attitude than usual.

“Can we change the station? I kinda wanna hear the news.”

When they got to Miss Spanky’s house, Suzie-Q got out to ring the doorbell. Suzie-Q listened hard to pay attention to the words blaring from the radio across the street in the roped-off high school parking lot. She thought she wanted to start being open to other people’s music, especially since she was about to have a classical music lesson, to feel less separate. When she thought about “other people’s music”, she really meant “Black people’s music,” but she didn’t want to think that with her conscious mind. She listened hard in order to be open, but then she wished she hadn’t.

"Fat girl!
You’re a fat girl
Fat…fat…fat fat fat fat girl

It’s funky fresh Eazy E new kid on tha block
And already got a fat girl on my jock
Now my story’s kinda simple, so please take it simple
As I tell you a tale bout this big fat pimple…"

Five adolescent boys were playing basketball in the parking lot. Three girls were watching, and one other girl played with them. Two of the girls had babies on their hips. They all had dark skin except Suzie-Q. The words of the song hurt her sensibilities, and it made her feel racist. She kind of wished she hadn’t paid attention.

She rang the doorbell again. Suzie-Q walked back to the car where Mrs. Smith was waiting, sunglasses on, doors locked, lips pursed. Mrs. Smith rolled down the electronic window.

“Miss Spanky is late. But you can go. I’ll be fine waiting.”

“Well, I hate to leave you stranded like this, but I do have my doctor’s appointment.” Mrs. Smith was yelling. “Are you sure you’ll be alright here by yourself?” she added, still yelling, with an uncontrollable head jerk towards the kids across the street.
“It’s okay, I’ll be fine,” she said with a high-pitched strain.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Suzie-Q said with her teeth clenched, almost sounding angry. Suzie-Q knew she would never allow herself to speak that way to her Dad and she could see that Mrs. Smith’s feelings were hurt.

“Oh well, I’ll leave you be!” Mrs. Smith looked like she might cry, through pursed lips and wounded eyes, but she smiled and waved rolling up the window.

Suzie-Q felt guilty. She felt awkward with Mrs. Smith and awkward with the kids across the street. Mrs. Smith drove away. Suzie-Q felt mean for thinking Mrs. Smith was racist, and racist about feeling awkward with the kids across the street. Suzie-Q wondered how Mrs. Smith would feel if she knew that Suzie-Q thought she was racist. Mrs. Smith would probably be surprised. Suzie-Q wondered what Sam would think if he knew how awkward she felt now with the Black teenagers across the street. Suzie-Q thought Sam wouldn’t be surprised.

“Hey red,” one kid yelled, and threw her the basketball. Suzie-Q panicked. She didn’t know how to catch a ball. Suzie-Q didn’t respond fast enough, and the ball hit her in the head. It hurt. Suzie-Q knew her face had held a look of terror when she heard the girl yell at her, and she wanted to make up for it by laughing at herself, but now she was hurt. She didn’t cry, and she even tried to smile, but the smile was fake.

“Look what you gone and did now girl, go help that kid!” One of the older boys started running over to see how she was, and the girl went off after the ball, but that’s when Suzie-Q heard the sirens. Five police cars shrieked up to the parking lot ropes. The girl and the kid running toward Suzie-Q both took off down the street. Two policemen ran after them. The other eight policemen and women got out of their cars to feel down the kids who hadn’t run. Up against the car, rough hand to the neck, like in the movies. The two younger girls with babies looked on, impassive, bored.

Suzie-Q couldn’t move. She didn’t know what this was about, but she had a terrible feeling it had something to do with her. Suzie-Q had been standing there paralysed and confused for some minutes, trying to figure out what she could do, when the two dispersed policemen came back with the older boy in handcuffs. He looked Suzie-Q in the eye.

“The girl got away,” yelled one policeman. Suzie-Q, her heart pounding, thought she had to say something.

“What’s this all about?” she asked meekly, after noiselessly approaching the commotion.

“Been a report through,” said one policewoman.

“What kind of report?”

“Verbal and physical harassment,” said the policeman holding onto the older boy in handcuffs.

“But I’ve been standing here for twenty minutes, and I didn’t see anything.”

“Maybe you didn’t notice.”

“Look, there has to be some kind of mistake. This boy tried to help me.” Suzie-Q smiled her sweetest, Christian girl smile. Nobody seemed to notice.

“How’s that?” said the cop, shoving the teenager in the car.

“Well, the ball accidentally hit me, and he came over to see if I was hurt.” The cop slammed the car door on the boy who had his eyes locked on Suzie-Q’s, boring a hole through her head, and then the officer put his hand on Suzie-Q’s shoulder and began to speak slowly and emotively at her face in a stage whisper, like a concerned father. Suzie-Q stiffened, but couldn’t move.

“What’s your name?”

“Suzie-Q.”

“Look, Suzie-Q, this kid has got a criminal record. He deals, he steals, he kills. He’s dangerous. He’s gonna be taken down to the station, questioned a little, and if they have nothing on him"they’ll let him go. Do you understand?”

“No,” said Suzie-Q.

The policeman frowned, but he patted Suzie-Q on the shoulder a couple of times. “That’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to.”

The cops all got in their cars and drove away. One of the teenagers ran to pick up the basketball where it had landed after hitting Suzie-Q, and threw it back to the others. They started playing. Not a word. The two girls with babies and the other girl said nothing either, and they didn’t look at Suzie-Q. Suzie-Q wanted to say something. Suzie-Q didn’t know why they didn’t share that with her. Suzie-Q didn’t know what burning rift cut through the ground at their feet. Why their faces looked with total indifference on Suzie-Q’s shock, the excruciating banality of what they just witnessed, how many times, how just the way Suzie-Q spoke to the cop like she couldn’t speak to them, like she belonged in his world. How he spoke to her.

Miss Spanky drove up, her windows rolled down by hand and a big smile. “Oh, Suzie-Q, sorry I’m late. I see you’ve made some friends!” she yelled through the passenger window as she leaned over to roll it up.

Miss Spanky was dressed in a fifty’s cut white dress with very large red peonies on it. The dress looked silly. She got out of the car and Suzie-Q nearly choked. Her big straw hat had fruit on it, and so did her matching sandals. Suzie-Q didn’t know anyone who dressed as weird as Miss Spanky, and she sometimes wondered how she didn’t die of embarrassment leaving the house.

“Well, say goodbye to the girls now, Suzie-Q"we better hurry!” As she said the word “hurry!” Miss Spanky leaned over and put her hands on her knees in an exaggerated motion.

“Bye,” said Suzie-Q shyly to the girls she had been standing next to saying nothing. The one closest turned and looked her straight in the eye, like the boy had done from the cop car. “Bye,” she said. Suzie-Q felt something release deep inside her soul, like a fountain in her soul.

When she got inside with Miss Spanky, Suzie-Q had ants in her pants. She had too much to tell. It occurred to her for the first time that Miss Spanky might be someone who could listen.

“Now, do you need to stretch, or are you in harmony with your body?” asked Miss Spanky, as she always did at the beginning of lessons. Suzie-Q never felt in harmony with her body, so she usually answered, “We can stretch if you want.” Of course Miss Spanky didn’t want one thing or the other, which is what she usually replied, ending with, “but I think you want to.” Today, however, Suzie-Q burst into speech.

“Miss Spanky, the police came and took one of those boys away in handcuffs!”

“Yes they did, didn’t they. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Suzie-Q wanted to tell Miss Spanky what happened, but she suddenly realized that to tell the whole thing, she would have to tell the “Hey red” part, and that part made her embarrassed. It made her embarrassed for her, and it made her embarrassed for the girl who said it, and she thought for some reason that to tell that part would make her seem racist, and she couldn’t figure out why. She thought maybe it was because it made the girl sound worse than she was, and Suzie-Q thought that however embarrassed she might feel, the girl had probably only done it as a kind of joke and test, which Suzie-Q might have passed, but white people in general had failed"since handcuffs were never put on white kids who yelled “Hey black” or worse things to Black kids, throwing a ball at their heads or worse. When Suzie-Q thought “or worse things” in her conscious part she was controlling, she actually thought the word “n****r,” but since she was too polite to think such words, Suzie-Q covered over that word with the expression “or worse things” in her conscious brain, as if maybe God would be upset and think her not a very nice girl if he picked up the word “n****r” on his word radar, even though she was thinking it in a negative way. This made Suzie-Q think of some people she met in good Christian churches when she was on choir tour, who used the word in a hateful way without seeming at all ashamed before God. Suzie-Q didn’t really understand that. She thought that Original Sin was the only way to explain things like that. She thought that she shouldn’t judge people too harshly even for such hateful things as that, because if she did her own filthiness would soon show itself before everybody, and she would be ashamed.

All these thoughts went through Suzie-Q’s head quite quickly, and she finished by thinking that if she was already blushing through her sunburn, it really wouldn’t make any difference whether she told the whole story to Miss Spanky or not. She also had a suspicion that Miss Spanky could tell the difference between a neutral telling of the “Hey red!” part and a condemning one, and she even thought she might be able to say the word “n****r” with Miss Spanky if she absolutely had to in a factual way, without being misunderstood. Suzie-Q told Miss Spanky what happened.

“Well, this girl yelled something at me and threw me the ball…”

“What did she yell?”

“Hey, red!”

Miss Spanky let out a torrent of giggles. “Well that would be right"especially with the sunburn!”

Suzie-Q felt encouraged. She laughed too, a little nervously. “So only then, I couldn’t catch the ball, and so it hit me in the face.”

Miss Spanky laughed even harder. “I bet you never can catch balls, can you? Neither can I!” Then she suddenly went serious. “You weren’t hurt, were you?”

“Well, not really, just a little, but then…”

“Oh that’s good. What does all this have to do with the handcuffs?”

Suzie-Q wasn’t sure it did, but it was too late now. She fumbled through the telling. “Well, this boy yelled at the girl for hitting me, and started toward me to see what was wrong…”

“Wasn’t that nice!”

“…when the police cars came with sirens on"five of them"and…”

“Oh it’s that damned Mrs. Heartly…”

Suzie-Q stopped short, shocked. She had never heard Miss Spanky swear before. Miss Spanky didn’t apologize.

“…she’s always meddling. Said they had a harassment report, did they?”

“Yes,” said Suzie-Q.

“Happens every week. Damned shame. Now, arpeggios Suzie-Q.”

“But Miss Spanky…”

“What, Suzie-Q?”

“They said he was a drug dealer. They said he killed people. The nice one who tried to help me, who they took off in handcuffs.”

“Well?”

“Well is he?”

“Well if he isn’t yet, he soon will be. Damned shame. Now, arpeggios.”

Suzie-Q began to play her arpeggios, triads and scales, and she began to get in touch with herself. Her hands woke up the rest of her. They danced with her elbows. She got in touch with herself much more quickly than usual, and Miss Spanky picked up on it. Miss Spanky skipped the serious stuff. She asked Suzie-Q to play something romantic and empty her heart out.

Suzie-Q emptied her heart out on the piano. She poured and poured and poured, until there was nothing left. She poured it all out and then kept going. When she thought she had emptied it all out, she found she had only just arrived at the most deeply poignant part, and she had to dig deeper than that. She stretched and dug and she thought she might die. She thought the beauty of the sadness of that heart-rending part might blow her insides out if she kept going, but instead she found that it was like as if she was actually crying through the music, like as if the release of tears gushed and gushed in torrents through the music and she was able to reach into some place of sadness in herself that she had believed to be shut up forever with a sealed stone, and then she realized that the torrents of rain pounding out through the entire frame of her body and reverberating in her brain had turned to joy"more like silence or love than like music. The joy did not go away quickly but kept lingering and lingering until Suzie-Q could barely stand to feel it any longer, and at this point it began to trail away quietly and delicately just when she thought she would explode from the intensity of its beauty, and as the silence engulfed what remained of its glimmering, Suzie-Q knew she had been as fully at one with her body as she could be, and that she was wet. This last piece of information coming from her brain and going straight back up to her brain brought her ecstasy abruptly to a halt.

Suzie-Q looked at Miss Spanky. Her eyes were shut. It seemed to Suzie-Q that Miss Spanky had been able to maintain contact with the phenomenon of intolerable beauty considerably longer than herself. Miss Spanky had allowed the engulfing silence to carry her light years away on its back, and she had not yet started her return. Suzie-Q didn’t dare interrupt.

The upstairs neighbor turned the stereo on. It was really loud. Suzie-Q couldn’t hear the words, but she felt the bass shake the walls and floor. The music sounded crass to her. It made her feel racist. The bass shook her piano bench. Suzie-Q, being in such a sensitive state of oneness with her body and soul, felt the bass shake her piano bench and body with particular force. The rhythm seemed aggressive and abrasive, but as she chose with her conscious brain to open up to it she discovered she was sensitive to its effect as she had never been before. She sat there feeling the bass move her on the piano bench until a strange pleasure overtook her. She looked at her piano teacher, whose eyes were still shut. Miss Spanky seemed to be in a trance. Suzie-Q closed her eyes again and went back to meditating. She hoped it wouldn’t stop right away. She entered into this new feeling with great concentration, and then she was thinking about what it was like to have Sam’s two fingers on the bare skin of her waist, and then suddenly she needed to go to the bathroom.


© 2011 Gee Roughin


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Added on August 27, 2011
Last Updated on October 19, 2011
Tags: paranoia, fear, america, 80s, racism, music, paranoid wasp


Author

Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt



About
Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..

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