Excerpt from THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
The book in which Lucas from The Professional first appeared.
Long Branch, New Jersey May, 1963 Saturday Afternoon
Myrtle was Johnnie’s wife. I thought she looked nice enough, but I also thought she was a little bit stuck up. She acted like just because Johnnie was light-skinned and had good hair that she did too, just because she was married to him. But she didn’t; not the light skin or the good hair. But she looked nice enough, in my book. Myrtle was about forty, even though she tried to act like she wasn’t. I knew for a fact that Johnnie was thirty, a year older than me.
Bernice Jackson nodded her head in agreement of Myrtle’s statement. “Girl, that’s sure the truth,” she said and popped her Juicy Fruit. She was always chewing Juicy Fruit. You could smell it the minute she walked into a room.
Bernice was married to Oscar. They’re that couple that seemed so tight that people said they even looked alike. And their two kids looked just like both of them, which was a damn shame.
Francis Turner said, “I’m surprised Janice Everett would even rent to her. This is a good, Christian neighborhood. A young girl with a child and no husband ought to be over in Garfield Court or Grant Court with those other people living off the state.”
Francis was Jimmy’s wife. But I thought that she wore the pants in their house, otherwise Francis wouldn’t be like she was. Let me put it this way: Marilyn Monroe turns it on and off, depending on what movie she’s in. In some movies she acts like she was born yesterday and doesn’t even know she’s sexy. In other movies she acts like she’s been locked in a cage, and is just dying to get out and jump on the first man she sees. Francis is the latter version. She acted like she was always ready to jump a man, and Jimmy let her get away with it.
The women were sitting in the shade of the screened-in back porch of Doctor Montgomery’s house. I’d just arrived at the cookout, and had stopped at the back porch to say hello to them before going over to the grill with the rest of the men. But the women were talking about my new next door neighbor Alicia, and since I lived the closest to her, they’d roped me into their gossip.
I had one foot on the porch step and one on the grass, looking for the chance to make my break and get away from the noise. But then Eunice Montgomery – the wife of Doctor Harold Montgomery and the hostess of the cookout – looked at me. She said, “Cameron, is she on welfare?” She whispered “welfare” like it was a curse word.
I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I don’t talk to her that much. I work nights, so I don’t –“
“Maybe she’s divorced,” Donna Schmidt offered.
Donna was married to Ted. She was the only white woman sitting on the back porch. Even though Dr. Montgomery always invited everyone on our block on Spruce Street to his cookouts, Ted and Donna Schmidt were the only white people to show up with any regularity. I figured that most of our Caucasian neighbors only showed up at the cookouts once a summer or so for appearance’s sake, so they wouldn’t seem like they didn’t want to come. I also figured that Dr. Montgomery only invited them so that he could remind them that he was the wealthiest resident on our block, colored or white.
“Cam, does she wear a ring?” Francis asked me. “Did you see a wedding band?”
I didn’t know why these nosy ass women figured that just because I lived next door to Alicia in our rented duplex house that I knew her life story. And besides, she’d only moved in with her little boy two weeks ago. How much was I supposed to know about her in two weeks?
I looked over the heads of the playing kids, across the yard to where the other men were watching the grill, sipping beer, and probably talking about things that made sense. I didn’t see Jimmy, but I heard the metallic ring of a hammer hitting a horseshoe stake, so knew he was getting the pit set up. I wanted to get away from those cackling hens. I shrugged again. “I don’t know. I didn’t –“
“And what kind of name is Alicia, anyway?” Bernice asked, somehow managing to pop her gum and speak simultaneously. “That doesn’t sound like a good Christian name. Sounds like some little floozy’s name, or some white folk’s name, if you ask me. Oh, excuse me, Donna.”
Donna said, “Well, maybe she was married and her husband died in the war. A lot of women lost their husbands in Korea.”
“Girl, what kind of arithmetic did you learn in school?” Bernice snapped. “The war ended ten years ago, and that boy ain’t but four or five years old. How old is that child, Cam?”
“I don’t know –“
“She must have had that boy when she was a teenager; still in school,” Myrtle said. “She looks like she’s barely out of her teens right now. She must not have been raised right. It’s just a shame.”
Francis shook her head and muttered, “Mmph-mmph-mmph!” as if just the thought of such a thing was too scandalous to contemplate.
“You were over in Korea, weren’t you, Cam?” Eunice asked.
I nodded. “Yes, in ‘52.” Now I really wanted to get away from the porch.
“You must have been a baby over there,” Francis said.
Francis gave me that smile of hers, and I knew for sure that it was time to get away. I could never be around Francis too long before she started flirting. And Jimmy was right across the yard. “I was nineteen then,” I said.
Francis said, “Mmm-hmm,” and looked me up and down like she wanted me to get naked and prove my age or something. Probably or something. She had dark makeup around her eyes that reminded me of the movie posters I’d seen of Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra. Either that or some kind of hungry cat. I wondered if Francis had ever stepped out on Jimmy, or only always just acted like she wanted to.
Donna said, “Oh! Speaking of the Army, did anyone see “Bye Bye Birdie” yet? Ted took me to see it at the drive-in in Eatontown last weekend. It’s about this singer who’s kind of like Elvis Presley who gets drafted and –“
“Yeah, I saw that mess,” Myrtle said. “Me and Johnnie saw it downtown at the Baronet. What in the world they got that Ann-Margaret woman trying to play a teenager for? I bet she ain’t seen her teens since before Eisenhower was president.”
“I thought it was good,” Bernice said. “That Paul Lynde tickles me. He sure is funny.”
“Yeah, he’s funny all right,” Myrtle said. “’Bout as sweet as grandma’s pecan pie.”
Now that the women had found something to talk about besides my new neighbor Alicia, I made my escape. I weaved my way through the kids and across the yard to the sanity of the men.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR