Sunny Days Excerpt
Once upon a time living the American Dream meant owning a modest home in a quiet suburb. It meant that Dad worked while Mom managed the home. It meant having one car. One television. You knew your neighbors and were on a first-name basis with the mailman, the milkman and local merchants. It meant having minimal debt because you lived within your means.
Craig Jackson and his wife Sheryl are living the Dream. At least that’s how Craig’s cousin Donnie sees things when he visits Craig in his new suburban home in an out-of-the-way town called Springdale. Craig seems to have it all: the home with all the amenities in a great neighborhood, a new car and a job that allows him to pay for the good life while Sheryl manages their home with an apron over her dress, high heels and pearls.
In Donnie’s opinion his cousin Craig lives a life too good to be true. And perhaps it is. It’s 2008, and yet Craig paid 1950s prices for his home and car. Gasoline and store goods in Springdale sell at decades-old prices too.
Craig tells Donnie that he and his fiancé Keisha could move to Springdale. They could have their piece of the American Dream.
But there are conditions.
The question Donnie and Keisha must ask themselves is if they’re willing to do what it takes to live the Dream.
In this tale straddling the line between the past we believe existed and the present day The Black forces us to consider the questions: Was the American Dream ever real, and would we be willing to do whatever takes to have it again?
SUNNY DAYS EXCERPT
Somewhere in America June 2008
“Okay, that’s Willow Road right there, “Keisha said. “She glanced at the written directions—directions that hadn’t shown up on MapQuest—and said, “His directions say turn left, and then go two miles. And then we’re supposed to see the sign for Springdale.”
Donnie followed Keisha’s direction and turned left.
Willow Road was just that, a two-lane country road bordered on either side by tall willow trees. Their drooping leaves cast the road in deep shadow, blocking out the late day sun.
“Man this is like driving through a tunnel,” Donnie said.
“Looks kinda spooky to me,” Keisha said. “I’d hate to be out here by myself at night.”
“Hell, being here alone in the daytime isn’t too cool either,” Donnie laughed.
Two miles down the road the tunnel of trees ended. They drove out of the shadows into the light of the afternoon sun. As if waiting for them specifically a roadside billboard greeted:
Welcome to Springdale
America’s Future, Then and Now!
Reading the directions, between pops of gum Keisha said, “Willow Road dead-ends at Main Street. Take a right on Main, go down three blocks and take a left on Elm Street. That’s where they live.”
Donnie followed the directions provided by his cousin Craig, who they were going to visit. He turned left on Elm Street.
“Okay,” Keisha said, “His house number is 26. Damn, your cousin lives in a nice neighborhood. He make a lotta money?”
Donnie shrugged. “He works in a bank. He does okay, I guess. I mean he must, because I don’t think his wife works.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Keisha said. “Find you a nigga that’s gonna take care of you. Is she nice?”
“I haven’t met her, just talked to her on the phone,” Donnie said. “She seemed nice on the phone—real polite.”
“How long they been married?”
“About a year, I think.”
“Well, I hope she ain’t one a them stuck up bitches,” Keisha said. “Just ‘cause she live in a nice house and shit.”
Donnie looked at her. “Come on Keisha, you haven’t even met her yet. Let’s not go in there with your attitude, okay?”
Keisha clicked her tongue and chicken-bopped her head at him. “Look, you said yourself you ain’t seen your cousin in a few years. You don’t know what the hell he married. I’m just saying I ain’t gonna let some stuck up bitch lord it over me just ‘cause she ain’t working and live in a nice house. And what the fuck you mean, my attitude?”
“I’m just saying there’s no need to assume something about people before you even meet them, that’s all.”
“Nigga, if you don’t like my attitude then what the fuck you marrying me for?”
Donnie let that question go without answering. But he thought, sometimes I wonder.
They rode in silence down Elm Street until Keisha said, “You know what’s funny? All these houses kinda look alike. I mean, different colors and all that, but they all look almost the same.”
“It’s probably one of those developments put up by one builder,” Donnie said. He was glad they were on a new subject. When Keisha went off with her rusty razor-edged tongue she sometimes left scars that never fully healed.
“It’s not just that,” Keisha said. “Everybody got their grass cut all neat and shit. And ain’t no trash lying around. That shit is weird.”
“What’s wrong with having a neat neighborhood?” Donnie asked. “Why do people have to turn where they live into a hood?”
“Well, I’m just saying. I bet there ain’t a lot of us living up in here.”
“Oh yeah? Well, check that out,” Donnie said, tilting his chin toward the sidewalk on his side.
Two boys who looked about ten years old rode their bikes along the sidewalk. One boy was black, the other white. Both kids waved at Donnie’s car as they passed.
“Damn, don’t they know not to be waving at strangers?” Keisha snapped as if they could hear her. “For all they know we could be child molesters or some shit.”
“This neighborhood looks pretty safe,” Donnie said.
“Nah, I bet what it is is them little motherfuckers probably hustling,” Keisha said. “Probably got some rocks or some reefer they trying to deal. Just like on The Wire.”
Donnie was checking house numbers as Keisha talked. “Hey that’s his place right there.” He slowed and angled to the curb in front of the house with address number 26.
The house was a white two-story colonial with green shutters. Just like all the other homes in the neighborhood his cousin’s lawn was perfectly manicured, right down to having the edging along the sidewalk cut as neatly as a slice of cake. A white picket fence lined with yellow zinnias and pink moss roses bracketed the carpet-like lawn. Donnie figured Craig’s wife Sheryl must have a green thumb.
Donnie noted the open single car garage with a new Chevy Impala parked inside. There wasn’t another car in the driveway or in front of the house. He wondered if either Craig or his wife wasn’t home. Craig said he got off work at the bank at five, and that he worked here in town. It was 6:30 now. Well, maybe one of them had to run out for a minute. After all, who lived in the suburbs these days and only had one car?
As they got out of the car and headed for the walkway leading to the front porch a small red ball bounced across their path, followed a moment later by a black and white cocker spaniel. Keisha gripped Donnie’s arm and hissed, “Whoa, shit!”
A boy who looked about eight ran around from the side of Craig’s neighbor’s house. He was a tousled-headed kid with coppery hair and a face sprinkled with freckles. A little girl of about four appeared next. She had curly blonde locks, bright blue eyes and rosy cheeks.
The boy stopped in front of them. “Gee, sorry mister,” he said to Donnie. “We didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No problem,” Donnie said.
Keisha let out a ‘humph’ and kept her eyes on the dog which had just bounded back to where they stood on the sidewalk, proudly carrying the ball in its mouth.
The dog dropped the ball at the boy’s feet and looked up expectedly with round eyes and its tongue lolling out happily. The boy scratched it behind its floppy ears and said, “Good boy.” Then he looked up at Donnie. “My name is Ted, sir. Ted Sanders. That’s my sister Suzy. And this is Spots,” he said, indicating the dog. The dog wagged its tail. “Are you guys visiting the Jacksons?”
“My, we sure are nosy, ain’t we?” Keisha said.
The boy blushed. “No ma’am, just saying hello.”
Out of the side of his mouth Donnie said, “Chill, Keisha.”
“Well, you folks have a good day,” the boy said. He picked up the ball and tossed it back into his own yard. Spots bolted after it as if shot from a cannon.
The little girl named Suzy laughed and clapped excitedly. She smiled up at Donnie and Keisha, pointed at the running dog and said, “See Spots run. Run, run, run!”
Donnie stared at the little girl as she scampered after her pet. Aw hell, no, he thought.
COMING NEXT WEEK