Authors: Carter Coleman
Copyright © 2005 by Carter Coleman
All rights reserved.
On pages 165, 166, and 232, the words of Jack Kerouac are from ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac, copyright © 1955, 1957 by Jack Kerouac; renewed © 1983 by Stella Kerouac, renewed © 1985 by Stella Kerouac and Jan Kerouac. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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First eBook Edition: January 2005
Mary Carter Hughes Coleman
8 December 1937 to 15 February 2004
his book is a work of fiction. All of the characters, incidents, and dialogue, except for incidental references to public figures, are imaginary and are not intended to refer to any persons, living or dead. Though Cage’s Bend is a real road where my family has lived for seven generations, the Cage family of the book bears no resemblance to the settlers, long departed, who left their name upon the place.
A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never over-come them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.
Memories, Dreams and Reflections
Dad is sad
very, very sad.
He had a bad day.
What a day Dad had!
Hop on Pop
ighty of us crowded behind a chalk line in the shade of huge evergreen oaks draped with a few dying wisps of Spanish moss. In a jumble of uniform colors—powder blue, puke yellow, rising-sun red, Orange Crush—all of us wore old-style basketball tops and bottoms, except for two runners from a New Orleans day school who looked girlish in green ultralight nylon minishorts. I overheard the starter tell the line judge, “Most of ’em white boys look like they come out of a concentration camp.” The line judge laughed. A strong wind kept gusting off the lake and the damp air felt colder than the forty-four degrees on Father Callicot’s key-chain thermometer. Short, balding, wearing a goatee, thin mustache, and a black suit with a clergy dog collar, Callicot stood on the line smiling like an evangelist at the six of us with
in scroll across our gold jerseys. He put the thermometer in his pocket and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You’re the next state champ. I don’t need to tell you a thing.”
“Gee, thanks.” I rolled my eyes and stared down the fairway toward the lake.
“Circle up,” Callicot said, and we formed a wheel, holding our right arms to the center and stacking our hands on top of the coach’s. “Our Father, let us run like the wind ahead of this pack of heathens from across the state of Louisiana.”
“Amen,” the other Knights said automatically as I shouted, “Hallelujah! Running for the Lord!” Everyone laughed except for Father Callicot. We broke the circle and the team formed two lines behind me and my brother Nick.
I smiled at Nick. “Don’t let that coon ass from Point Coupe outkick you today.”
Nick hated these moments before a race. At home, sitting on the roof of our house, he’d prayed it would storm, but the afternoon sky was clear except for columns of smoke rising over the river from the Exxon refinery. Nick said without conviction, “He’s going to eat my dust.”
I just held my fists out in front of me at the edge of the line.
“Runners on your mark.” The starter raised the gun over his head. A handful of students and parents yelled from the sidelines and then there was silence.
I’m going to win. I’m going to go faster than ever before. I’m going to push through the pain. I’m going to win.
Nick looked queasy. His hands trembled. I gave him a fierce look and whispered, “You can take him.”
Lost in the wind: the firing of the blank, the muted cheers of the spectators. Barefoot, Ford led three other black runners from cane plantations to the head of the pack, which funneled from the chalk line into a narrow stream along the center of the fairway.
After the first quarter mile, on the rise of a tee, Ford and I were out front, running side by side.
I glanced back. Nick was twenty runners behind.
“Think you can beat me today, Ford?” I said his name like he did—
“Beat you here last year.” Ford’s head bobbed up and down, almost touching my shoulder.
“You’re natur’ly more powerful than us. That’s what I heard.” I kept my voice from sounding too winded.
“Tell me sompin new.”
“No way any white boy could run barefoot.”
“Too much shag carpet.”
“And you’ve got a big dick and an extra tendon in your leg.”
Ford looked up and grinned. “Yo’ mama knows about one of them things.”
“The dick or the tendon?”
“The tendon.” Ford laughed, breaking his smooth stride.
I accelerated a yard ahead before Ford realized I was pulling away.
Nick was back there watching me gradually shrink into the distance. Nick trained harder than anyone in the state, while I showed up hungover Saturday mornings and kicked his butt. Outclassed by big brother, who knew you so well, even what you were thinking.
At the half-mile mark Father Callicot squawked in his high voice, “Right on time!”
Rounding a corner coming out of magnolia trees, I looked over my shoulder and I was ten yards ahead of Ford and twenty ahead of the pack. Nick was idly picking off the competition, composing a poem for the school mag:
Hemmed by runners on every side,
Pain ingrained on every face,
I hurt more with every stride,
I must increase the pace.
Breaux, the tall Cajun from Point Coupe, was loping along behind Nick, using him to break the icy headwind off the lake. Nick had never beaten the Cajun, though the last three races he’d been within seconds. Nick lacked the killer instinct—he didn’t believe he could beat him and therefore he didn’t.
I led the first lap around the golf course with nobody pushing me. Ford was my only competition and I’d broken his spirit by beating him the last five races of the season. There was no one left but the clock.
By the third lap the pain had set in for even the strongest. This was the pain Nick dreaded from the night before. This was much worse than the pain of practice which Nick dreaded through every school day during fall cross-country and spring track season. Nick wanted to turn down the pain, slacken off just enough to secure fourth place, and ride out the last five minutes of agony. Nick distracted himself from the pain by reciting his poems. I burned it like gasoline, turned it into rage.
Father Callicot yelled my time at the two-and-a-half-mile mark. Dad was dressed just like Callicot. Mom wore a plaid wool coat. Little Harper had on my letter jacket, which hung to his knees and hid his hands in the sleeves. Dad cupped his hands, yelled, “You’re breaking the record!” My girlfriend, Robin, was hopping up and down in her cheerleader getup.
Long rolling strides glided me along the fairway. A half minute back Nick and Breaux were crossing the creek. Ford had gained a yard, so I turned, fixed my eyes on the fluttering plastic ribbons of the chute, and switched into overdrive. The kick was the consummation of the pain, a purity beyond thought. I gave a rebel yell and leaned forward, my mind filled by an imaginary sheet of liquid flame racing before me across the grass. The tape broke across my chest, the judge shouted a new state record, and I raised my arm in the Black Power salute like the brothers who lost their medals in the ’68 Mexico City Olympics, then careened through the chute, tripped, and almost knocked down one of the cane poles at the end. I picked myself up, turned around.
Ford was decelerating down the chute, hadn’t even bothered to kick. Smiling as he reached me, I stuck out my palm for a soul slap but he looked away and jogged off toward a couple of black coaches from Ascension.
I limped along the edge of the fairway toward the long string of runners. Nick and Breaux were shoulder-to-shoulder coming down the homestretch. Nick was drowning in the pain of his lungs and arms and legs all shrieking, begging him to slow down. Breaux broke away, doubled the length of his stride, gained a yard.
“Kick, Nick! Kick! Kick! Kick!” I shouted, sprinting toward him, just out of bounds. “You can take him! Take him! Kick!”
Nick screamed a lame-ass version of my rebel yell and pulled even with Breaux, who was wavering, flapping his arms like broken wings, while Nick’s were pumping smoothly like pistons. Both their faces were twisted, their tortured breathing audible across the fairway.
“You’ve got him, Nick.” I was running flat out trying to stay with him.
Neck and neck, twenty yards from the chute with Breaux not slowing, Nick’s pain fused into a sense of inevitable defeat. He just couldn’t outkick Breaux. He never could. Black spots floated before him in the gray air. He felt faint. My voice was hoarse from shouting. “You can take him, dammit! Don’t give up!”
“Go, Nick!” Mom yelled from the finish line.
“Come on, son!” Dad yelled.
“Go, dammit, go!” Little Harper squealed, and Mom did a shocked double take.
Nick heard the cheering as from a long distance and forced his knees higher. The black spots bloomed bigger, obscuring the mouth of the chute. We were all out of focus. He heard me yell, “Breaux’s fading. Now, brother! Now!” Suddenly believing he could take him, clawing deeper than ever before into the primal instinct, Nick broke through the pain and edged past Breaux into the chute. His momentum carried him a few feet more, then he nearly tumbled but caught himself and moved along like a blind drunk. I grabbed him before he fell coming out of the chute.
I took him out!
” Nick gasped.
“Yeah. You dusted him.” I slapped him on the back. “I been telling you all season you could beat him.” I opened my hand wide the way Dad used to when we were tiny, and said, the way he used to, “Put ’er there, pal.” Nick smiled and clasped my hand.
Coach Callicot scurried over to congratulate us, and Nick, copying me as usual, said, “Thanks be to Jesus.”