And when the question was asked of Etta she hesitated for just a second, less than that. And I remembered those boys Mouse had told me about; the ones that killed rats on the docks down in Galveston. I wondered how well Etta would stand up to Mouse’s harsh life but I was still happy for her. She was taking her chance and that’s all we can do in this life.

The party moved to the social club across the street. Flattop’s trio played music of the modern age: jazz. And we danced and drank hard until the milkman came to join us. Some people left the party to go to morning service in the church.

Etta kissed every man twice and Mouse got a chair and just watched her. He was so calm and so happy that it was hard for me to remember him desperate or mean.

‘Hey, Easy,’ Otum Chenier said to me when the party had just begun.

‘Hiya, Otum.’

‘Mouse say you two took my car down to Pariah fo’a week.’

‘Uh...’ I didn’t know what to say.

‘He give me the money.’ Otum opened up into a smile. ‘I guess you did right, I mean I could use that twenty- five.’

He laughed and I did too.

‘How’s yo’ momma, Otum?’

‘You know that’s what get me. Luanda got that call ‘bout Momma but when I got down there they said they didn’t call. I had me a good time though. You know what they got up here cain’t compare to the food they got down there.’ He patted his solid potbelly.

I said, ‘Drink up, Otum, whiskey gonna run all night.’


The party was right. People came from all over Fifth Ward and beyond. There were churchgoers and gangsters, day labourers and cotton choppers from the farm. There were Mouse’s best friends and people we never knew who just heard about the party somewhere and came by to help us celebrate.

‘... an’ help themselves,’ Mouse said with a smile.

Everyone said that it was the best party that they had ever been to; it was even more than that for me.

I was feeling romantic that night. It wasn’t that I was looking for a woman; I had lost my wild passion for young girls after that night with Jo. Jo showed me something about love. She showed me that I didn’t know what it was... But I wasn’t feeling romantic toward a woman; I felt that way about my life - the life I had lived in Fifth Ward for years.

All of my friends, and people who could have been my friends, were dancing and drinking. Some of them were around Mouse, listening to his wild stories. It was so beautiful but it was my last night there. It was Mouse’s wedding party and it was my goodbye.

I couldn’t live with those people anymore. They were living on the edge of despair; like those two friends fighting on my street. I had the image that we were all, all of us in Houston and Pariah, living between Miss Dixon and Mouse. It was a deadly line we had to walk and the only thing that kept us going was some kind of faith. Either you believed in God or family or love. I didn’t believe in any of those things anymore. Maybe I never had.

So I had a ticket for Dallas, Texas, and a hundred dollars in my pocket. I was as happy as I could be at that party because I felt safe. I felt safer with that ticket in my pocket than I would have felt with a gun.

They couldn’t hurt me anymore. Mouse couldn’t come banging on my door in the middle of the night. Married women and old witches couldn’t seduce me on dirt floors.

I needed a place where life was a little easier and where nobody knew me. I knew that if I could be alone I could make it. All the people around me dancing, having a good time; they were just holding me back, wanting me to be the same old poor Easy — not a nickel in my pocket or a dream in my head.

I didn’t have a thing, just like everybody around me; all the money I had was in my pocket and all the clothes I had were on my back. That’s how life was back then. You couldn’t hold me responsible for anything because I didn’t have anything. And, realising that, it was time for me to go.

‘Hey, Easy.’ Mouse strolled up, pleased as he could be.

‘Sumpin’ else, man.’

‘Ain’t it.’ He flashed a smile. ‘I’m really happy you stood by me, Ease.’

‘I wou’n’ta missed it, Raymond.’

We shook hands.

‘I’ma take me a little trip after the weddin’,’ I said. ‘Gonna see what it’s like back east.’

‘Uh-huh.’ He watched me closely. ‘You think they got sumpin’ out there you want?’

‘We’ll see.’ I was looking him directly in the eye.

‘You take care, Easy,’ he said. Those were the last words we spoke.

Texas by train is a real desert. They have miles of flat gray stone and tumbleweeds blowing and plenty of nothing.

I watched the desolate earth through my reflection in the window with a deep feeling inside me. I was the only one who cared about my leaving. No mother or father to wonder where I was. I could be dead; Mouse could have shot me for refusing his gift and who would have known? He would come back to Houston and Etta would ask him, ‘Where’s Easy, baby?’ and he would answer, ‘Easy say he gone up to California, babe.’ And that would be it. I’d just be a corpse mouldering under some bridge or an ornament on Jo’s mantel.

Poor men like me are no more than a pair of hands to work, if there’s work to be had.

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