The thing was this. I wasn’t gonna have no damn mulatto baby running around my carnival. It made no never mind to me that the boy was sprinklin’ the sheets with Katie. Long as he kept it straight during the day, it made no difference to me how bent he got at night or if won the bedroom bingo with my girl. If the carnies worked hard in the light of day, they went harder at it at night. I knew this when I brought Katie to the bus’ness. I’m sure the boy wasn’t her first, even if’n he turned out to be her last. She was a thing I had to give up.
I needed her to make the whole thing go. A black man in the white man’s world in the ’50’s was nothin’ more than a nigga. Hell, the white folk didn’t even know the traveling show was mine. Griswold was long dead. Knifed in his sleep. Mornin after, I stood forward. Carnies didn’t care my color or nothin’ else other than were their envelope gonna have somethin’ in it come Friday morning. And if the kid and other newbies thought I was Griswold, it all worked for me.
The Elastic Girl did things that made the white ladies gasp, but I knew this. While their women were shocked, the white men were thinkin’ only one thing. That’s what kept the tent full and allowed me to charge an extra two bits for her show. I seen it in the shine of their eyes and the way their mouths hung open. Those men, who thought nothin’ of sayin’, “out of the way, ya nigger,” when they hustled out of the tent and brushed past me, couldn’t take their eyes off’n my Katie. As black as the night she was, but there are certain things that no skin color gonna matter. And one of ‘em is men and they cocks. I saw in their eyes their dreams of havin’ her legs wrapped aroun’ their hips while they did the boogie-woogie. I’m sure a few of ‘em wouldn’ta minded seein’ Katie in a good ol’ cootch show, but I had my limits. Asides, I’da lost the payin’ ladies if I put her in a cootch show.
So, yeah, I used my Katie, but I was always there. Watchin’. Makin’ sure none of the crackers got outta hand and when her show was over, I let my girl do whatever. I owed her that, dint I?
The best part ‘bout those days was the special shows we put on for the black folk. Nary but a few of ‘em could scrape together enough jangling coins or crumpled bills to enter. We did ‘em one better tho’. A free show our first night in town. Five or ten miles outta on some ol’ uncle’s pasture so the white folk didn’t know, we’d put up one tent and give ‘em a show. A whole lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, singin’ and dancin’, we’d do whateva’ come to mind. Maybe even in the wee hours of the night give ‘em a little bit of the scramble egg treatment.
My carnies didn’t care. Besides what twas in their envelope, they cared about havin’ fun. Rippin’ it up and tearin’ it down wheneva’ they had the chance. Those shows for the negroes, well, those were what the carnies woulda done if they could. Each and every day. So help me, that’s the Lord’s truth.
So, ya gotta see it my way. Things were in a balance and goin’ good. If it kept on keepin’ on, I mighta been able to roll up the tents for good, find misself a little spot o’ land back home in Georgia and stop the travelin’. I’da be able to keep Katie there, too, among her own folk. Mebbe I’d no longa see the sparklin’ eyes of all those white men in my dreams anymore.
The boy, Sallie, tol’ me a story. A bunch o’ cock and bull ‘twas. One day, I hear a man call him Sallie and I pult him to me. “Wassup with that?” I ask. “Why you let him call you Sallie? You tol’ me your name was Frank.”
The way he looked at me, I knew sumtin’ was up. “Ah, it’s nothing,” he say.
“Nuthin’.” I stepped back from him. “You almost a man now, you can’t be lettin’ ‘em call you Sallie.”
“It’s no problem at all,” he say again. “Just a name I picked up on the rails. An ol’ blind tramp called me it. I told one of the fellas and I guess they just call me it for fun.”
“Well, you oughta stick up for yaself.”
I went on my way, puzzlin’ in my head why a boy would let that happen and why this boy wouldn’ta look me in the eye. I liked the kid. What little he told me, his Pa was a hard one, who thought nothin’ of bein’ even harder on his own kin. I wanted to give him a chance. But I din’t like the way he scurried away that mornin’.
I’s slow, but I put it together when Katie came to me one mornin’.
“Yeah, baby.” I smiled at her. Couldn’t help it, she just was my sunshine.
“I gots somethin’ to tell you.” She hesitated. “I is scared to, though.”
“Well, you just tell me. No reason to be scart.”
“Papa. I think I’m with child.”
“You what?!” I had no right, truth be told. I know’d what was goin’ on. Shit on the shock. I laid it out for her. “It’s that boy, idn’t it?”
“Y-y-y-esss,” Katie stuttered out.
“Well, we’ll jus’ have to take care of it.”
You see, a mulatto baby runnin’ ‘round, pullin’ at Katie’s skirts would mean too many questions. Who the father? Too many crackers coulda done it and I had no mind that the boy would stand up. Asides, I couldn’t have no pregnant Elastic Girl. Afore Katie had a chance to say yay or nay, I went into town and found the white doc. Paid him good money to have the thing taken out of her.
And if that was all, I’d have let the boy alone. The thing was this. That night, I found my Katie in the donniker, all bled out. Yeah, the boy had to run agin.
*** End ***
Next up, I may go back to Sallie. Or I look to you, my reader, to tell me what you want to see next. Somebody else to take the story to its next step. Your call, if you want to help me make it.