A SPECIAL PLACE FOR EVERYONE
Perry “Kipp” Smoot and his wife, Suzy, were seated at their diningroom table having dinner. Their sixteen-year old son, Stevie, was having dinner at a friend’s house.
"Talked ta Eric de uvver day," said Kipp, referring to Eric Johnson, a native and current resident of New York City, who had been Kipp's best friend in the army; they'd remained friends in the years following their respective discharges from the military. In addition to attending Kipp and Suzy’s wedding, he'd also visited Creston on several occasions over the years.
"Good. How's he doin'?" asked Suzy. “When’s he comin’ down?”
"He’s alright. Said he's gonna be in D.C. nex' Friday an' was gon hang out in Creston ova de weeken'." Washington, D.C. was only fifty miles north of Creston.
"We'll have a cookout fo' him, den," said Suzy. "He still workin' fo' dat janitorial comp'ny?
"Yeah, dat's why he's gon be in D.C.," replied Kipp. "Dey bid onna gov'ment contrac', an' he's gotta meetin' wif 'some gov'ment people." The company, for which Eric worked, Booker's Janitorial Services, Inc., had submitted a bid for a contract to clean five government facilities; the locations were all within a twenty-five-mile radius of Creston.
"That'd be nice. Ah’ll haveta let Marsha know about de cookout," said a smiling Suzy, as she scooped up a forkful of mashed potatoes. Marsha Carter, formerly Marsha Carter Bennett, was Suzy’s younger sister.
"Yeah, de two of dem hit it off from de firs' time dey met all dem years back," Kipp replied. "An’ de way thangs was goin’ between um, Ah thought he might make uh move down dis way permant'ly," replied Kipp. "Den ag'in, Ah don't thank Eric was ready ta do de Green Acres thang."
Suzy laughed. "Could be. Eric knew he wasn't ready ta settle down inna small town like-iss. But now dat he’s gittin’ a little older, who knows?”
“Ah really thought thangs was goin’ to work out for Eric an’ Marsha in de beginnin’ when he firs’ started comin’ down hair. But den he stayed in New Yawk fo’ so long dat Marsha got tired o’ waitin’ on ‘im.”
“He was trynta git his life tagevver,” said Kipp in Eric’s defense.
"Well, whatevva his story was, Marsha fine'lly gave his drunken, good fo' nuffin ass de boot.”
“Ah was so glad when she divorced him,” said Suzy. “But, he kep’ hangin’ ‘round tryinta git huh ta take ‘im back. She almos’ lost huh job when huh manager kep’ seein’ Nick hangin’ out in de parkin’ lot an’ inside de 7-Eleven.”
“Ah heard dat, too,” said Kipp. Marsha also confessed to him that Nick had hit more than once. But, because she knew the way in which her family, most especially her father, would react, she begged him not to tell anyone. If her father or brothers knew about the domestic abuse she was suffering, they would’ve hurt him bad.
Unbeknownst to Kipp, Marsha had told Suzy that she and Eric had been telephoning each other since her divorce from Nick. Suzy had a feeling that the two had started communicating as soon as Nick moved out. “Well, dat asshole ain’t been seen ‘round fo’ monfs now, so Ah guess he fine’lly got de message,” said Suzy. “Maybe he’s gone fo’ good.”
“Yep, Ah believe he is,” replied Kipp.
“Nick Bennett’s prob’ly off somewhere chasin’ behine a likka delivery truck on his raggedy ass bicycle,” answered Suzy.”
Kipp was silent.
“Well, Ah’ll start lettin’ people know ‘bout de cookout,” said Suzy.
“Yeah, an’ Ah’ll call Eric later an’ tell ‘im ‘bout it,” said Kipp. “Dat way he cain see evrabody at de same time when he gits down hair.”
“’Specially Marsha,” said a smiling Suzy.
A few days later, on a bright, Saturday morning, Eric Johnson stood looking out the window of his room at the Bullock Inn. He saw the hustle and bustle of people moving about and thought to himself, "I’ll be damned if these country folks don’t get up early." He smiled.
Eric showered, shaved and dressed. He put on a Washington Redskins jersey that Kipp had given him for his birthday several years ago, a pair of blue jeans and some sneakers.
After exiting the hotel's parking lot, he drove to the Ross Diner for breakfast. Although he knew that Suzy and Kipp would be a bit upset with him for not coming to their house for breakfast, he always hated showing up anywhere hungry. This was true even if it was the house of people who considered him to be family. On top of that, having eaten at the diner on several other occasions, he'd been thinking about a Ross Diner breakfast ever since he'd left New York.
When he finished eating and left the diner, Eric decided to drive around Creston to kill time - - it was only eleven o'clock - - and to take in the country sights and air. Over the years, he had become quite familiar with many of Creston's main roads and backroads. He planned to stop at the local Safeway supermarket to buy some beer and a local State-owned and -operated Alcohol Beverage Control outlet - - colloquially referred to as the “ABC store” - - to pick up a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka for the cookout.
As he drove along Main Street, Eric, who was listening to Howard University's radio station, WHUR, smiled as he saw that both black and white people, almost all of whom were strangers, greeted him with waves, “heys” and "hellos." This was one of things he missed when he returned to New York City. Creston was a special place and could certainly be his special place.
Now, driving on the outskirts of Creston, he entered Mattaponi, an expansive, heavily wooded area. A large Native American population once resided in this part of Virginia, and had remained there even after European settlers had moved in nearby. For the most part, the Native Americans and the settlers got along well, with each respecting the others’ territories. Eventually, however, all of the Native Americans moved further out west.
During one of his fall visits to Creston, Eric, Kipp and two of Suzy’s brothers, Harold and Junebug, had gone deer hunting in Mattaponi. Eric remembered how during a break for lunch, he'd remarked to them that with all the trees, and hidden nooks and crannies in Mattaponi, you could kill someone, hide the body and they'd never be found.
Kipp laughed and said, "Now, Ah know you really are from New Yawk City. Only a New Yawka could look pass de beauty o’ God’s work an’ see a place ta hide uh corpse." They all began laughing at the mixture of truth and absurdity in what both men had said.
In the early afternoon, when Eric finally arrived at the cookout, Suzy’s parents, Tommy and Anne, were already there. Like a lot of people invited to an event where the majority of the other guests would be younger than they, Tommy and Anne arrived early and left early.
Carrying two large bags, Eric walked over to where Kipp was working to get the charcoal grill started.
“Hey, man, how are ya? Good ta see ya,” Kipp said, as he extended his hand; Eric placed his bags on the ground; the two men shook hands.
“Didja git a good night’s sleep?” asked Kipp.
"Yep. Didn’t get into Creston from D.C. til almost eleven last night. But, slept like a baby the minute my head hit the pillow,” Eric replied. “Must be something about this country air.”
“Good. An’ if thangs work out, you’ll be gittin’ plenty of it,” said Kipp.
“I’ll fill you in later on that. In the meantime, where you want me to put this beer?”
"Dat big blue an' white coola nex' ta de table ova dere," replied Kipp, as he pointed towards a small, rectangular table. “Brang me a cold one an’ git one fo’ yo’self.”
“I’m going to hold off for a bit before I start,” said Eric, walking to the cooler. He began putting the beer inside of it, then reached down through the ice until he found a beer with some chill on it. He walked back towards Kipp and handed it to him.
"Need any help with that grill?” he asked, as he handed Kipp the can of beer.
"Naw, Ah got it," replied Kipp. "But you betta go ova an' say, 'hey' ta Mr. Carter. He's been askin' 'bout-chu."
Eric smiled and walked over to the table where Tommy and Anne were sitting.
"Nice to see you again, Mr. and Mrs. Carter," said Eric, offering his hand to Tommy.
Tommy smiled broadly, stood, pushed Eric's hand aside and embraced him in a hug. "Boy, don't you evva try ta shake ma hand! You fam'ly!" he said in his gravel-voiced loudness.
"Tommy, stop!" said Mrs. Carter. "You gon hurt de man."
As much as Eric liked and appreciated Tommy's demonstration of affection, he did feel as if he were being crushed. Tommy relaxed the hug and released him. After catching his breath, Eric shook Mrs. Carter's extended hand and leaned to kiss on her on the cheek. When Eric looked over his shoulder, he could see Kipp grinning.
Stevie came out of the house with a bag of ice in each hand. "Hi, Uncle Eric."
"Hey, Stevie! How’s my main man?" said Eric, crossing to where the boy was walking.
He and Stevie exchanged handshakes.
“Man, oh man,” said Eric, “You’re getting so tall. You’ll be taller than me an’ your father by Christmas."
Stevie blushed and replied. “Maybe. Ah’m goin’ out for the basketball team in de fall.”
“Tell ‘im de uvver good news,” said Kipp, with pride in his voice.
“Oh yeah. Ah got ma driver’s license las’ week,” said Stevie.
Eric grabbed the boy and gave him a hug. “Congratulations! You’ll probably be a better driver than your father.”
"Ah heard dat, you troublemakin' New Yawker," shouted a grinning Kipp. “Now, Ah’ll nevva git ta drive my own car.”in' New Yawker," shouted a grinning Kipp. “Now, Ah’ll nevva git ta drive my own car.”
Eric reached into his pants pocket and handed Stevie a ten dollar bill. "Here’s a little gift to celebrate."
"Dat's alright, Uncle Eric," said Stevie, “You don't haveta gimme anythang."
"Boy, you'd better take this ten spot, before it ends up in the cash register at the ABC store when we need another bottle of booze." Eric laughed. The boy smiled and reluctantly took it.
“Ah should git halfa dat,” said Kipp. “Who do ya think was in de passenger seat whennat boy was firs’ learnin’ howta drive an’ was runnin’ all up in people’s front yards over dere rosebushes an’ lawn furniture?”
Eric, Kipp and Stevie laughed. A blushing Stevie said, “C’mon Dad. You didn’t haveta tell dat part.”
Eric rubbed Stevie’s head and said, “Don’t pay no mind to that old man.” As Stevie began putting ice in the coolers, Eric walked back to where Kipp was working at the grill.
“Hey, Eric!” shouted Suzy, as she emerged from the house, with the front porch screendoor slamming behind her.” She walked down the three porch steps and placed the aluminum foil-covered tray she was carrying on a picnic table. She gave Eric a hug.
“That was a gentler hug than the one your father gave me,” said Eric. “I might need back surgery if he hugs me again.”
"How'dja meetin' go yestaday?" asked Kipp.
"Got good news. I was savin’ it til I saw y’all in person," Eric replied. "My company won the contract to clean those military installations.”
“You crazy bastard,” said a grinning Kipp. “You shoulda tole us dat over de phone. Congratulations!” He and Suzy walked to where Eric was standing and hugged him simultaneously.
“I'll be relocating to Manassas as Regional Director." The town of Manassas was located twelve miles north of Creston.
"That's great! You'll be closer ta us," said Kipp. "An' Marsha, too." He smiled and winked at Eric."
"Behave yo'self, Perry Smoot," scolded Suzy. "How'd j'all hair 'bout de contrac' in de firs’ place, Eric?"
"One of them full o' shit politicians in New York is drinkin' buddies with my boss," Eric replied.
"Dem D.C. gov'ment folks can be a real piece uh work sometimes," interjected Kipp. "So much burro'cratic bullshit."
They turned towards the sound of a white, Chevrolet Nova pulling into the dirt and gravel driveway; it was Marsha's car.
“Ah was ‘bout ta give up on you, girl,” shouted Suzy, as she grabbed Eric by the arm and they both began walking towards the car.
Kipp, who had filled the top shelf of one grill with pieces of seasoned chicken, decided to take a break. He sat down in a lawn chair and reached for his beer bottle.
“Damn if it ain’t gittin’ hot out hair,” he thought to himself, as removed the top of the bottle with an opener.
He was smiling as he watched Suzy, Marsha and Eric talk and laugh.
Kipp’s mind began to drift back to a little over a year and a half ago, when he was coming out of Safeway and into the shopping center’s expansive parking lot, pushing a shopping cart filled with bags of groceries. As he was loading the bags into his truck, he heard someone shout, “Hey, bruvv-law. Wair ya headed?”
When Kipp turned towards the voice he saw that it was Nick Bennett walking towards him. He wished he could just get in his car and drive away, but it wasn’t in his nature to be nasty and rude.
“Hey, Nick,” he replied. “Jus’ headin’ home. Need a ride o’ sumfin?”
“Naw, bruvv-law,” he said when he was closer. Although he and Marsha were officially divorced, Nick still referred to Kipp as brother-in-law.
“How’d ju get out hair?” asked Kipp.
“Ah got ma bicycle.” Months earlier, Nick’s driving license had been revoked, because he’d been caught driving intoxicated one too many times. Now, he either walked, hitchhiked or rode his bicycle around Creston. “Ah could use a little help gittin’ a bottle, if ya got it.”
Kipp reached into his pocket and handed Nick a five-dollar bill.
“Thanks, bruvv-law. Ah really ‘preciate dis.”
Kipp got into his car, started the engine and rolled down the car’s driver window.
Nick continued. “Tell Suzy dat afta me an’ Marsha work thangs out, we gon’ have y’all ova fo’ dinna ta celebrate, okay?”
Kipp said, “Will do. An’ you be careful out hair. Deese young boys are simple as hell. Rob an’ hurtchu ova nuffin.”
“Okay,” said Nick, as he waved, turned and walked in the direction of the ABC store.
Kipp shook his head, put the car in reverse, backed up and then drove out of the parking lot.
When he ran into Marsha a few days later, she told him that Nick’s drinking had gotten totally out of control. He’d shown up intoxicated at her job a few times and started fights with a few customers. Then he’d start crying and begin begging her to forgive him and take him back.
Even more importantly, while in a heated argument outside the 7-Eleven where she worked, he had punched her in the stomach, making her vomit onto the pavement outside the store. She pleaded with him not to tell Suzy or anyone else in the family about the incident. He reluctantly agreed to what she asked of him.
Not long after hearing Marsha’s story, late one Sunday night, Kipp, in his pick-up truck, was driving home from Alexandria after taking one his elderly aunts home; she had come to he and Suzy’s house for dinner.
As they weren’t as well-lit as the bypass highway, using the backroads between Creston and Alexandria was somewhat dangerous. These roads, however, had shortcuts and had less traffic, thereby shaving over twenty minutes off the trip between the two towns. As he rounded the bend on Prager Road, Kipp saw a lone figure walking along the embankment; he soon realized it was Nick.
When he was alongside Nick, he pulled over to the side of the road. “Hey, Nick,” Kipp shouted. Upon hearing the pick-up truck’s driver’s voice and recognizing it as Kipp’s, Nick jogged up to the passenger side window.
“Bruvv-law!” said Nick. “Wair you comin’ from dis time-a night?”
“Had ta drop off ma Aunt Virginia down in Alexandria,” replied Kipp. “Git in.”
Nick climbed into the pick-up truck’s cab. The smell of alcohol, barbecue charcoal and body odor suddenly filled the truck.
After driving back onto the road, Kipp asked, “Whatchu doin’ prowlin’ ‘round out hair dis time-a night onna Sunday?”
“Ah was down-at a cookout in Bristol,” responded Nick; his speech was slurred. Bristol was a small town several miles outside of Creston. “Hadda a few drainks wif some frens, but dey ran out of booze, so Ah was goin’ ta Duke’s ta see if Ah could get a bottle or two on credit,” Nick replied with a mischievous grin; his breath reeked of alcohol. Parker “Duke” Sharp was one of the area’s bootleggers.
“Wair’s ya bike?” asked Kipp.
“Caught a flat tire an’ hadta leave ma bike in some bushes back-air.”
“Hell, it’s damn near eleven o’clock,” said Kipp. “You sho’ Duke’s still up?”
“Yeah,” said Nick. “Ah didn’t call ‘im, cause Ah figgered he’d be more inclined ta help out a man who had walked all de way down hair ta see ‘im.”
Nick continued. “Den Ah figgered Ah’d head on out ta de 7-Eleven ta try ta talk some sense inta yo’ sista-in-law ‘bout dis whole damn divorce thang. Her shift starts at eleven.”
Kipp felt himself go cold, as he continued driving.
“Ah know she didn’t mean ta do it, cause she knows how much she loves me,” said Nick. “If she takes me back, Ah’ll show huh what a good man Ah cain be.”
“You sho’ you wanna go out dere ta talk to huh?” asked Kipp. “She might git inta some kinda of trouble or sumfin.”
“Yeah, but Ah know it’s de onliest place she cain’t walk away from me, cause she’s workin’ an’ hasta stay in de place.”
“What about de customers?” asked Kipp. “You don’t want dem all in y’all’s private business like-‘at.”
“Ta hell wif ‘em,” exclaimed Nick. “Ah couldn’t give two shits if dem muvvafuckers innat sto’ or not. Ah want ma damn wife back!”
“Marsha might call de Sheriff on yo’ crazy ass,” said Kipp. “Didju evva think ‘bout dat?”
“Yep,” she did it de las’ time Ah was out dere. But, dey didn’t do nuffin except make me leave an’ promise not ta come back in de sto’. So Ah jus’ walked up de bypass a little bit ‘til dey lef’, waited awhile, an’ den went back innair.”
“What happened den?”
“De bitch’s - - ‘scuse ma French - - manager came out, gave me a few dollas an’ made me leave,” answered Nick. “He hadda pistol on his hip, too. Ah thank he useta be a Deputy Sher’ff at one time or anuvver. Cracka bastard.” Nick laughed. “So, Ah walked on downta Big Kellogg’s ta git a bottle.” Big Kellogg, like Duke Sharp, was also a local bootlegger.
Nick continued. “Den Ah walked over ta Knotty’s, had a few drainks wif him an’ spent de night sleepin’ on his old, raggedy ass couch.”
As they neared Duke’s house, both men could see that all the lights in the house were off. It was pitch black in the surrounding area. The sound of crickets could be heard coming from the darkness. Kipp drove the truck off to the side of the road and came to a halt in front of Duke’s house.
“Shit!” exclaimed Nick. ”Well, Ah’ll be damned.”
“Whatchu gon do now?” asked Kipp.
“Guess Ah’ll swing by Kellogg’s,” said Nick. “He’s always up all time-a night doin’ sumfin.”
Kipp guided the truck back onto the small, narrow, dirt road and began driving again.
“’Sides dat,” continued Nick, “It’ll be easier fo’ me ta walk ta de 7-Eleven frommair.”
Kipp felt his body go tense. “Why ‘on’t chu jus’ git yo’ bottle an’ go on over ta Knotty’s. Let Marsha alone tanight.”
“Cain’t do dat,” said Nick. “Wanna show huh how serious Ah am ‘bout gittin’ back tagevver wif huh. But you know, ‘tween you an’ me, sometimes deese women jus’ don’t wanna listen. Dat’s when you gotta fine uvver ways uh gittin’ dere attention. Know what Ah mean, bruvv-law?”
It was after that last statement that Kipp made his decision. “Befo’ Ah drop you off at Kellogg’s, Ah need ta swing by Scottie’s near Mattaponi ta pick up ma fishin’ pole Ah lef’ in de back of his truck. Ah tole ‘im Ah’d come by on de way back from Alexandria. Said he’d be up late.”
“No problem,” answered Nick. “Marsha’s shift don’t start til eleven, so Ah’m jus’ gon res’ ma head back an’ think ‘bout what Ah’ma say ta huh.”
“Alrighty den,” said Kipp, as he drove towards Mattaponi.
Kipp saw Suzy begin walking back to where he was sitting.
“It’s nice ta see dat,” she said, when she reached Kipp. “Dey might fine’lly be gittin’ demselves tagever.”
“Ah hope so,” Kipp replied. “De way de two uv dem keep touchin’ each uvvers arms.” He grinned broadly.
“Ah jus’ hope dat drunken bastard, Nick don’t come back an’ ruin thangs fo’ ‘em,” said Suzy.
“Baby girl, Ah tole you Nick ain’t comin’ back,” said Kipp. He then thought to himself, “He’s in his special place.”
# # #