Chapter Seven: Jamaican Patties

November

The four boys stood in front of Dickie’s Jamaican Patties’ shop, facing each other like four corners of an imperfect square. They hunched their shoulders and regarded each other warily, with a slight distaste, as they set about with the inquiry.
“Damn,” Mike said, “I know it was Woody that did it. His fingerprints are all over the job.”
Woody stood tall. “If it had been me, I would have told you. I always confess. Hell, I’m proud of them.”
Scott cast an eye over at John. “You know what? Pole-man always looks so damn innocent when this situation arises, but I don’t think his shit smells sweeter than anyone else’s.”
John started to laugh, and simply pointed a finger at Mike, who began a profuse denial. Their voices came together to make a babble.
The commotion drew out the proprietor of the take-out eatery. “An’ what the fuck are you little ‘ooligans up to, eh?” he quavered.
The tone was amusing in itself, a thin reedy warble, incongrous with the three-hundred-pound Jamaican who possessed it. Dickie had a laugh though, that could project itself across stadiums. He took three steps forward and then stopped as if he had come up against a brick wall. He sniffed.
“You sons of bitches!” he said, “You be chasing away my customers with your damn smelly farts.”
“Dickie, I tell ya, it was your nephew Woody,” Scott said. “You see how it’s staying in one place, and not moving around with the wind? Only Woody cuts heavy farts like that.”
“Yeah, it runs in the family,” John said.
Dickie turned to look at John in mock-contempt. “For sure, no puny little white man could cut a mighty fart like that,” he said. He went back inside to the kitchen.

It was the first day in weeks that the sun had broken through the clouds and bestowed a few rays on the city. There had been a rainbow in the east that morning. Now the sun was sinking in scattered cloud, orange turning into pink, ending what had been a good day. Earlier that afternoon there had been a pep rally at Laurentian High in support of the football team. They had clinched second place in the league with a convincing victory over Pearson’s Wolves last Sunday. They had the momentum; the first place team had lost its star wide receiver that same day as well. Coach Robinson was already checking his calendar for visits down south.
“Damn, you gotta admit, we got the best looking cheerleaders in the whole lower mainland,” Scott had said at the rally.
They had been leading the school assembly in the Tigers’ fight song, while the football team had formed an abashed line, scoping the females not fifteen feet away.
“My, my, my, Danielle’s got a nice ass,” Scott said.
“Not for long babe,” Mike answered.
“What’re you telling me?”
“Check her belly man, she’s starting to show.”
“No – aw shit nah – don’t say the evil word man.”
“Pregnant. You’re too late again,” Mike laughed.
Scott’s lust turned to contempt. “Does she know who the daddy is?”
“Damn, you just don’t keep your ear to the ground, do you? The word is that it’s Jim’s boy, or girl, whatever.”
“Jim? That ugly mother… with Danielle? Please it hurts bad enough already, don’t lie to me any longer.”
“Aargh! He’s ugly, but he’s one of Robbie’s boys. You know something? Blow ain’t never gonna stop coming and coming until the chicks stop putting out for it.”
“And now she’s a cokehead too.”
“Nah, not really, just a party girl. You know, you should get your head out of the Bible once in awhile, you know what I mean?”
“You should try reading it yourself, maybe you could learn something.”

While Mike and Scott carried on their conversation sotto voice, John had been making eyes at Debbie, who was down near the end of the cheerleader’s line. Even between the cheers and the somersaults, she managed to make eye contact a couple of times. John had been thinking long and hard about her lately, asking himself why he hadn’t made it a regular habit of sampling her cuisine. It was because of Jennifer, he told himself, who intruded on his thoughts like a bubble of foolish longing in a sea of common sense. Debbie capped off a particularly rousing cheer by doing the splits, and she flashed a wide smile at John. The bubble sank below the depths of the sea, and he smiled back. A rolled up piece of napkin hit John in the side of the head.

“Hey stupid, Ima talking to you,” Mike said.They were sitting in the Patty Shop, waiting for a delicious meal of ground meat wrapped in a thin tangy crust.
“What?”
“I asked why you got that stupid grin on your face.”
“I was thinking, Mike, about something. I was thinking that even though my life ain’t too shit hot, even though I got a lot of problems to work through, I got one strong thing going for me.” “Huh, whassa that?”
“My name ain’t Mike.”
Woody and Scott laughed.
“Keep talking Poleman, I always play better after a meal of white meat.”
Woody grabbed Mike around the shoulders. “That’s it man, get mad, get mean, and clear a wide, wide lane for me so I can just walk my ass into the end zone.”

The staccato rhythm of male talk would continue until the food arrived, alternating between mock-bravado outburst and sly or blunt attempts to prick each other’s ego. It was a ritual of testing codified into jazzy improvisations. They seeked unconsciously to test the fibre of themselves and each other. If the fibre was found mutually compatible, a bond would be formed over time. In such ways were tribes, armies, and nations brought into being. Woody looked out the window and nudged Mike with his elbow.
“Check it out, I give her a grade of eight point three for this neighbourhood.”
Mike looked out the window for a long considering moment.
“Ooh, you’re way too harsh, what’s wrong with that pretty little thing? She should be working Seymour Street, the high class district and not this part of town.”

A whore was walking down the opposite side of the street, wearing a tight miniskirt and a blouse that was two sizes too small. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. She had the brassy walk of a hooker on her way to her station. The sun was setting. John furrowed his eyebrows for a moment and then stuck his head out the door.
“Tigers forever, Tigers rule!” he shouted.She glanced over to the Patty Shop and saw the football jackets that the boys were wearing. She raised a clenched fist.
“Yah Tigers, go Tigers, go!” she yelled back, and walked onward to her business.
There was an appreciative ten second delay in conversation while the four boys scoped the departing figure.
“I bet I know why she works the Eastside instead of West End,” Woody said, and without waiting for a prompt: “Pimps rule Seymour Street. Here, she can work solo and keep all the money for herself… if she’s tough enough to keep her station.”
“You know her?” Scott asked John.
“She was in Grade 11 at Laurentian High when we were freshmen. Don’t you remember? You had a crush on her. I think her name is… Beth, or Elizabeth.”
“Ow, shit, she’s aged.”
John did not mention that Beth had been a friend of his ex-girlfriend, and seeing Beth made him wonder what his ex was up to nowadays. He suspected he didn’t want to know.
“You know something Woody?” Mike said, “if you work real hard and graduate from high school in five years time you got the chance to be that bitch’s boss.”
“So maybe you should be nice to me and I’ll give you some work when you’re in and out of the Salvation Army rehab clinic.”
“Gees, can you guys cut it out? You’re depressing the hell out of me,” John said, and he buried his head in his arms.
“Ah, don’t worry about yourself, Pole-man, I fore-see in your future a nice cushy desk job with a cute secretary that swallows.” Woody said.
He had a gleam in his eye, same as a fighter had when he sets his opponent up with a jab. “Why’s that?” John said.
“Because you’re white,” Woody said.
“Because you’re white,” Scott echoed, and the two Jamaicans laughed.
Mike sat up in indignation. “What about me? I’m white too.” “Naw, naw,” Scott said, still laughing, “You’re white-trash white. John is white-white. You know, WASP-white.”
John couldn’t think of anything to say.

Dickie broke through the swinging doors with a massive plateful of hot patties. The boys looked at them with more longing in their eyes than when they looked at the hooker. Dickie set them down on the table and greedy hands grabbed at the meat pies with tangy crust that melted in the mouth.
“Now, who’s going to pay for them?” Dickie cried out, “I’m running a business here, dammit, not a food bank.”
Guilty eyes looked everywhere except at Dickie.
“Heh, heh, heh,” The heavy laughter pealed from the depths. “One of these days, maybe when one of you boys walk in with a pretty thing hanging on your arm, I will grab you by the scruff of the neck and make you wash dishes, in payment of these wonnerful patties.” He walked back to the kitchen, giggling to himself, mumbling “made you look, made you sweat.”
“It ain’t such a bad job,” Scott said. “Owning a little place like this means you never go hungry, and you never go out of business. People always got to eat.”
“Yeah right man, mmmph,” Mike said.
Scott duly noted he was missing out on the food and cut short his pondering. It took less than ten minutes for eight hands to transfer the food to four mouths. Football burned a lot of calories.

After gorging themselves the boys sat back in their seats and let the meal digest. Woody disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and returned with coffee. They relaxed. John felt an urge coming on.
“Uh, boys, ‘scuse for a minute.”
“It musta been a good meal…” Scott said.
“…’cause John’s gotta take a shit,” Mike said.
Woody waited until John’s out of earshot before saying: “If he decides to choke the chicken while he’s in the can, who do you think he’s gonna think of?”
“Gees, thassa tough one,” Mike said, “Everybody in the whole damn school saw him and Debbie undressing each other with their eyes.”

John had to pass through the kitchen to reach the broken down broom closet that passed for a bathroom in the Patty Shop. Dickie’s place was small enough to escape the municipal regulation requiring public his-and-hers. The big Jamaican chastised him: “Now don’t be stinking up my throne room too bad. Just do your business and no funny stuff.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” John said, and shut the door. “Hey Dickie, do you still have that filthy magazine in here; whaddaya call it? Big Boobs or something like that?”
“Dammit, don’t you be reading that – you’re too young – and don’t be doing any unnatural acts in there; you know what I mean.”

John chuckled a few times and wondered why when guys got together they talked so much about bathroom functions. He remembered to check for toilet paper. One time Dickie had stripped the bathroom of paper and Mike had been caught taking a dump with nothing to wipe his arse. It had been hilarious to see Mike stagger out of the can with his pants around his ankles and a dirty bum, begging for just a few sheets. Unfortunately, when John had pulled the trick at home Rachel had not found it so amusing. Neither had John’s father for that matter.

When John came out of the washroom he noticed Dickie was giving a funny look.
“What’s up man, did I forget to zip up or what?”
“Nah, nah, mon, just come over here. Uncle Dickie wants to just have a little talk with you.”
I hope he doesn’t wants to grab my nipples and give me a tit-twister, John thought, I hate it when he does that.
“What’s up, big guy?” Dickie moved closer and lowered his voice, in a friendly sort of way. “So what’s up with my little nephew, eh?”
John cocked his head and gazed at the far wall, as if he was deeply considering the question. “Not much. He had a nice game last week – too bad you missed it – it looks like his back has healed up real nice.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” Dickie laughed, “that’s good to hear but I think you know that’s maybe not what I’m fishing for, eh? But’s that good the way you answer the question. You’re tricky, yes, I think you should be called Tricky John.”
John smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Dickie was a good friend but he was also an adult. It’s a code every teen instinctively goes by: parents and guardians must not know. Maybe Woody was screwing up his life but John was not to judge, nor to tell. Woody was also in process of forming an identity, of making himself a complete person. John unconsciously understood that process in such a way that every person over the age of twenty-one forgets. Parents and guardians, if they were to come in possession of such private information, could only screw up the process.

Dickie continued: “I know Woody is a good boy deep inside but his Mama, she spoils him, treats him like an angel. But all boys his age are little devils, full of mischief, and too silly to help but get into trouble, mmmmm?”
“He ain’t so damn little. What do you want me to do Dickie? If I see him smoking a doob, do you want me to knock it out of his hand and come running to you?”
“No – shit, a little ganja never hurts anybody and I already told him that – but lately he has been acting weird. Paranoid, like. You try a little trick on him. He can’t stand for anyone to be behind him. He is always sitting in the goddamn corner of the room.”
“Huh, maybe he thinks he’s knocked up some girl, and he scared shitless that her old man is gonna come after him.”
Dickie thought for a moment and broke into a wide grin. “Yah, damn, that’s probably it. The boy can’t help but run into pussy problems – it’s in his blood.”
John laughed and made to leave but Dickie put his hand on his shoulder. “Can I ask you a favour maybe? You keep an eye out for my crazy nephew?”
“Crap, Dickie, he outweighs me by forty pounds!”
“Thassa not important. My crazy nephew thinks because he has big biceps the world is gonna roll over for him like a bitch in heat. But it don’t work that way in this white man’s world.” “Man, it seems everybody has a problem with the colour of my skin today and it’s starting to piss me off.”
“Mon, don’t get pissed off. We don’t mean to say that way. I know some Jamaican who are whiter than you’ll ever be mon, even if they know the words to every friggin’ song Bob Marley ever wrote. White don’t mean complexion, white means money and knowledge and hunger for power, ‘specially the last one. It also means being able to walk wherever you want to. Mike is just as likely to get a cop’s nightstick up his bum as my crazy nephew. There’s some little shit -I think Rob is his name – I don’t trust that honkie as far I can throw my left nut. But you boy, you got the hunger for something better. You wanna go upscale maybe?”
“Who doesn’t?”
“Lots of people boy. This whole damn neighbourhood is full of people who want only a tight pussy and a warm place to shit. Those that want something more are too dumb to realize that thieving leads only to the Okalla pen. Be the eyes for my nephew along with Scott. He’s got the hunger too.”
“Woody’s a teammate. It’s in the code that I gotta look out for him anyways.”
“And he will take care of you as well. If he doesn’t, I will.”
“Thanks Dickie.”

John went out to the dining area to find Mike and Scott staring glumly at the walls.
“Where’s Woody?”
“He’s outside with Rob,” Mike answered.
John went outside, ignoring the coldness at the pit of his stomach. He saw Woody giving the same amount of attention to Rob that a one-year-old puppy might give to his master. Rob stared straight at John while Woody ignored him.
Do you want to go out to a nightclub or do something tonight? Woody asked Rob. I don’t know, Rob replied. There’s some pizza in the car, can you get it Woody? Woody scuttled about to the other side of Rob’s Trans Am and opened the passenger side door.
“Hi John,” Rob said.
“Eh, Rob, what’s up?” John said.
“Not much. You ready for the big game this week. You getting hyped up?”
“Oh yeah, I feel like I could kill someone right now.”

Rob laughed. Woody returned with a pizza box and opened it for Rob. Inside were three small pieces, and they all looked stone-cold as day-old turds.
Hmmm, Rob said, I’m just not hungry for pizza, maybe you want some Woody?
Yeah sure Rob, Woody said, and he took a piece out of the box. He walked a few steps away from Rob and started to munch. Rob stared at John, and vice-versa.
“Son-of-a-bitch, did ya see all that pussy at the school assembly today. I tell ya, it’s all ours anyways, but they’ll do damn well anything for us if we take home the city championship,” Rob said.
John shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll take them.”
Rob looked away from John, toward the Patty Shop window, at the sky, at the street. His left hand strayed toward his shirt pocket, and then darted around his jeans.
“Damn, I’m outta smokes, I’ve got a nic fit and I’m outta smokes,” Rob said. He looked at Woody. “Hey, can you get me some smokes from the store down at the corner. Here’s a fin.”
Woody said okay, sure Rob, and trotted away holding the five in his hand.

John stared at the departing back of Woody. He tried hard not to look disgusted, but failed. Rob read his expression and laughed in a quiet sort of way.
“Lemme ask you a question John, and give me a honest answer.”
“Shoot,” John said in a dull monotone. He had changed his face back to a blank slate.
“Nice, John, can’t read you now. That’s a good poker face you got there.”
John didn’t reply, and Rob continued. “Anyways, have you thought about the future? I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’m outta this dump, onward to bigger and better things. Graduation and I’m gone. Not bad considering all the res-ponsibities I got, getting a diploma and helping out on the football team, eh?”
“You’ve got the respect of the school.”
Rob slammed his fist down on the hood of his car. “You’re damn right I do! You don’t know how it used to be before I came on the scene. The school used to be a toss-up between the Red Eagles and the Bandidoes. That new hotshit prinicipal struts around like he’s responsible for keeping peace in Laurentian – my ass!
“It used to be fucking war as soon as you entered the school parking lot; had to keep a bat in your locker if not a blade. If it hadn’t been stopped, well, you’re looking at inner-fucking-city Detroit. You don’t know, you can’t. And now I’m leaving this school – this franchise that I paid a heavy price for – but it was worth every damn penny.”
“And now the wanna-bees are lining up to kiss your ass,” John said.
“You’re quick, yeah, you know what’s what. Maybe you’ve already figured out that an ass-kisser don’t have the balls to mind the store, know what I mean? I need men of respect, not junkies,” Rob said, and he pointed his thumb at the direction Woody had taken, and sniffed. “The answer is no,” John said.
“Of course it is,” Rob said in a satisfied way, and he tried to stare John down. He failed.
“It’s only the beginning of the school year, John, and you’ve got a lot of time to think about the money, the pussy, and the power that comes from being the man. Oh look, my faithful servant has returned.”

They both cast their eyes down the street to look at Woody, holding a pack of cigarettes in one hand, wearing a big shit-eating grin on his face. He handed the smokes to Rob.
I feel like going to a nightclub and taking care of some business, Rob said to Woody.
Hey, sounds like a great time to me, Woody replied. They both got into the car, Woody in the driver’s seat. Rob rolled down the window.
“Life is soooo short, Pole-man, but it can be soooo sweet,” he said.The Trans Am zoomed away with a short squeal of the tires.

John went back inside the Patty Shop. He went to the the phone that was sitting on the countertop and made a quick call. He then sat down with Mike and Scott, who looked as if they hadn’t twitched since John went out to talk with Rob.
“So how did it feel? Can you fart now without making a sound?” Mike asked.
“Ay, I didn’t bend over,” John said.
“Naw, you didn’t, we watched you. We were ready to back you up if Rob was to try anything,” Scott said.
Mike’s eyes grew wide for a moment. “Oh yes of course, we were quite ready to dash out and get our heads kicked in because John wanted to play Big Man with Mighty Cock.”
All three laughed, short and bitter.
“Why did you go outside John? You were right before, nobody can help Woody except Woody,” Scott said.
John thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I guess I wanted to prove that I still ain’t scared of him.”
Mike looked upward as if in supplication to the angels. “Oh please baby Jesus, tell me this boy is just possessed, and he’s not really saying these things.”
“Ah, you boys all worry too much, Rob’s gonna forget he even came here after he gets fucked, and fucked up tonight. Anyways, I gotta go,” John said. He got up to leave.
“Ciao, baby,” Mike said.
“Get your beauty sleep baby, we’re going to war pretty soon,” Scott said.
John made a sign of the fist and left. Mike spoke in an urgent tone not three seconds later. “What gonna happen after the game, man? There’s a truce on ‘cause we’re all members of the same team, but what happens after football season?”
“I don’t know, bro, I just don’t know.” Scott said.

* * *

When John reached the main thoroughfare of E. Hastings Street he turned right, and walked in the opposite direction from his home. It was dark now, and he looked up to see if he could pick out one or two stars that had not been blotted out by the city lights, He reached a Seven-Eleven corner store and went inside to play a video game. A familiar car pulled up, John exited the store and climbed into the Honda Crx. “Babe, babe, baby. Howzit going?” Timothy said by way of greeting. He looked cheery. John smiled back and clenched the offered hand in a power shake. “So I see Momma let you play with one of her toys tonight.”
“Oh man, she loves me. I am her reason for existing,” Tim said, and they both laughed.
Tim stepped hard on the gas to accelerate away from the curb. He took a tight corner, too fast. “Nice,” John said, “but my first car is gonna be something nice and roomy, maybe a Cutlass Supreme or a Ford Ltd. You know, something that can take six chicks in the back seat.”
“Arrgh, American cars are shit,” Tim said. They drove around for a bit longer and Tim spoke again. “Did you see that article in the newspaper?”
“No, what?”
“Another priest in Manitoba was charged with diddling.”
“No, God, not another one.”
“Yeah, this one happened at some sort of academy and from what I can tell of the article, the whole frigging staff is under suspicion.”
“Man, that shit makes me puke.”
“It’s a different ole world then from what they told us in Sunday school, ain it?. It reminds of when we were both altar boys, when during the service we’d hide behind the sanctuary and try to pull up each other’s robes, you know, pretend we were queer.”
John laughed. “God, that was funny as hell, one hundred people less than twenty feet away praying and singing and you trying so hard not to laugh your head off. So many times we came close to catching holy shit.”
“Don’t seem so funny now, does it?”
“What, ah relax, you’re no more a fairy than I am.”
“That’s not what I meant.” John thought for a minute. The humour had come from the sacriliege; that’s why it had been so funny, so exciting. Their adolescent teasing paled in comparision with what was being uncovered now.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“You still believe in God?” Tim asked.
“Oh yeah. And I believe he’s pissed off too.”

Tim drew out his wallet and tossed it onto John’s lap. John counted out a number of bills and shoved them into his pocket. He reached inside his inner jean jacket pocket.
“I haven’t dealt with this dealer before so I don’t know about the quality. I have good hopes though.”
In the palm of John’s hand were the Thai sticks he had bought from Debbie. Tim took them and carefully put them in the left breast pocket of his shirt. They said nothing more about the transaction. Just before dropping John off at his house, Tim asked John if he was going to the party that Tim was having a week from Saturday.
“Oh yeah, football season will be over and I’ll be in the mood to loosen up, I guess.”
“I think you will want to be there babe,” Tim said, “All the right people will be there, if you know what I mean.”
As John got out of the car Tim winked. “Come as a conquering hero, champ.”
John held up a closed fist. “Tigers forever.”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply