The story is narrated by a 13-year-old boy.
The smell of the liver searing in the pan is heavy in the back of my throat, even
through the bacon grease Pop dribbled on it first. When Pop plates it, the liver
smells, but the gravy he made to slather on it pools in a little heart around the meat,
and I wonder if Pop did that on purpose. I carry it to Mam’s doorway, but she’s
still asleep, so I bring the food back to the kitchen, where Pop drapes a paper towel
over it to keep it warm, and then I watch him chop up the meat and seasoning,
garlic and celery and bell pepper and onion, which makes my eyes sting, and set it
If Mam and Pop were there on the day of Leonie and Michael’s fight, they would
have stopped it. The boy don’t need to see that, Pop would say. Or You don’t want
your child to think that’s how you treat another person, Mam might’ve said. But
they weren’t there. It’s not often I can say that. They weren’t there because they’d
found out that Mam was sick with cancer, and so Pop was taking her back and
forth to the doctor. It was the first time I could remember they were depending on
Leonie to look after me. After Michael left with Big Joseph, it felt weird to sit
across the table from Leonie and make a fried potato sandwich while she stared off
into space and crossed her legs and kicked her feet, let cigarette smoke seep out of
her lips and wreathe her head like a veil, even though Mam and Pop hated when
she smoked in the house. To be alone with her. She ashed her cigarettes and put
them out in an empty Coke she had been drinking, and when I bit into the
sandwich, she said:
“That looks disgusting.”
She’d wiped her tears from her fight with Michael, but I could still see tracks
across her face, dried glossy, from where they’d fallen.
“Pop eat them like this.”
“You got to do everything Pop do?”
I shook my head because it seemed like what she expected from me. But I liked
most of the things Pop did, liked the way he stood when he spoke, like the way he
combed his hair back straight from his face and slicked it down so he looked like
an Indian in the books we read in school on the Choctaw and Creek, liked the way
he let me sit in his lap and drive his tractor around the back, liked the way he ate,
even, fast and neat, liked the stories he told me before I went to sleep. When I was
nine, Pop was good at everything.
“You sure act like it.”
Instead of answering, I swallowed hard. The potatoes were salty and thick, the
mayonnaise and ketchup spread too thin, so the potatoes stuck in my throat a little
“Even that sounds gross,” Leonie said. She dropped her cigarette into the can and
pushed it across the table to me where I stood eating. “Throw that away.”
She walked out the kitchen into the living room and picked up one of Michael’s
baseball caps that he’d left on the sofa, before pulling it low over her face.
“I’ll be back,” she said.
Sandwich in hand, I trotted after her. The door slammed and I pushed through it.
You going to leave me here by myself? I wanted to ask her, but the sandwich was a
ball in my throat, lodged on the panic bubbling up from my stomach; I’d never
been home alone.
“Mama and Pop be home soon,” she said as she slammed her car door. She drove a
low maroon Chevy Malibu that Pop and Mam had bought her when she’d
graduated from high school. Leonie pulled out the driveway, one hand out the
window to catch the air or wave, I couldn’t tell which, and she was gone.
Something about being alone in the too-quiet house scared me, so I sat on the
porch for a minute, but then I heard a man singing, singing in a high voice that
sounded all wrong, singing the same words over and over. “Oh Stag-o-lee, why
can’t you be true?” It was Stag, Pop’s oldest brother, with a long walking stick in
hand. His clothes looked hard and oily, and he swung that stick like an axe.
Whenever I saw him, I couldn’t never make out any sense to anything he said; it
was like he was speaking a foreign language, even though I knew he was speaking
English: he walked all over Bois Sauvage every day, singing, swinging a stick.
Walked upright like Pop, proud like Pop. Had the same nose Pop had. But
everything else about him was nothing like Pop, was like Pop had been wrung out
like a wet rag and then dried up in the wrong shape. That was Stag. I’d asked Mam
once what was wrong with him, why he always smelled like armadillo, and she had
frowned and said: He sick in the head, Jojo. And then: Don’t ask Pop about this.