Authors: Patricia Jones
Just inside the wrought-iron gate that wrung around the lastâ¦
Antonia shrugged on her furry coat. That's what she calledâ¦
The waiting room was filled with the faded echoes ofâ¦
It was nearly one in the afternoon by the timeâ¦
The very next morning, dawn's virginal light slid slyly throughâ¦
After Agnes left, Antonia spent most of the evening andâ¦
Ellen chopped garlic with slow precision, and with the memoryâ¦
Aaron walked into Ruth's Chris Steak House, where his motherâ¦
Junior's suits were flung formless across the bed as Antoniaâ¦
Antonia took jerky, skittish steps, as she approached the benchâ¦
Ellen was stretched out on the sofa, staring at herâ¦
Aaron slid the chair from the table clutching its highâ¦
Clayton sat in the master's throne at the dining roomâ¦
This time, it was Clayton lying in wait for Antonia.
Aaron was reading through pages of background information for theâ¦
Antonia had decided that she would wear her canary yellowâ¦
The restaurant seemed to be a living thing, Clayton thought,â¦
A determined rain tapped at the window as if itâ¦
Aaron was at the computer in the newsroom writing hisâ¦
“Give me a chance to get there,” Antonia snapped atâ¦
As Aaron went past a store inside the mall, heâ¦
Aaron could still feel the sense of Ellen's baby inâ¦
That the boys were still asleep in this early morningâ¦
The first complication that Aaron found himself faced with afterâ¦
Antonia wondered if her first real memory of Agnes Cannonâ¦
ust inside the wrought-iron gate that wrung around the last house on the rue stood the only willow tree along the street. Its leaves dipped so low that they looked like the long slender fingers of a lady caressing the ground, making a canopy just right for hiding. It laid a dramatic drape in front of the Dupreses' house, only one of the finest colored homes in New Orleans. Antonia sat beneath the tree's canopy, where no one could see her but she could see all, sucking on crawfish and munching down pralines, both of which she shared with her old yellow cat that she carried everywhere in a yellow basket that was far older than she. And in the sleepiness of this New Orleans midsummer afternoon, she'd been passing the time eating and stroking and feeding Tippy, for the better half of an hour waiting to see what she'd suspected all along.
She could hear her mother calling for her, from way down at the other end of the banquette, wanting to know where her crawfish had gone to. Antonia had cunningly stolen them from the sideboard next to the stove where they sat after her mother had boiled them for some Ã©touffÃ©, and then Antonia darted from the back door like a flash of lightning running for a rod. But she knew that the pilfered crawfish wasn't the half of what had made her mother so cross. Antonia had wrapped those crawfish up in one of the family's good linen napkins to get them out of the house surreptitiously in the pocket of her dress. Well, what was she to do, with the crawfish being just about her favorite food in the
entire world, next to pralines?
“Antonia Claire Racine, you get yourself back here with my crawfish, gal!”
she had heard her mother yell. But Antonia had only taken a fewâfour or five or tenâjust enough to beat back the craving that wouldn't let her loose. Besides, there was no point in answering her mother's angry calls, since she and Tippy were savoring the very last one.
And anyway, she couldn't get up now, even if she'd wanted her mother to find her. She was just about to find out the truth about her brother, once and for all, and in her green dress, just the right shade of green for blending into the boughs of a lazy willow, Antonia was not about to miss her opportunity; all she knew for sure, which was simply not enough, was that something was definitely askew. They say that twins have a connection when it comes to each other, that transcends the physical five senses, and that's how Antonia knew that her twin, Emeril, was up to some kind of slyness. And his mischief was not just about some missing crawfishâof which she was certain he had taken a few before she'd snatched her stash and then gotten blamed for the whole missing lot. He was sneaking around town with that Agnes Marquette, and Antonia could only pray that he had not given his first time away to a woman who was most unworthy.
The thought of Agnes making her brother a man wouldn't have been so bad for Antonia if it were not for one thing: Agnes Marquette had more tracks on her than a field of freshly planted corn. And when a seventeen-year-old white girl in New Orleans in 1957 had a reputation so bad that it had snaked its way over to the colored side of town, well, it was about time that white girl started thinking about heading out of the city. Yes, old Agnes, with her hair as black as brand-new tar and her eyes as green as the money her family lacked was so well known by the boys, and not a few men, that she had been around the block and parked. This truth vexed Antonia far more than the fact that in the South of 1957, where a thick and intractable line separated Emeril from white women, Agnes's whiteness put his life in a certain jeopardy.
Antonia licked the remnant of praline she was munching from her fingers and looked at the wristwatch she'd just gotten last month for the seventeenth birthday she shared with Emeril. Still, though it was only a month old, it sometimes worked and some
times didn't, even when it was wound to the end. Now, though, she believed it was keeping perfect time, since it was nearly three o'clock and she could hear Agnes's heels tripping down the banquette,
Right on time. Every Tuesday and Thursday at three, Emeril would mysteriously slide away down the banquette headed for the Dupreses' and then nearly an hour later, there was Agnes Marquette, her face as scarlet as a cut beet, her clothes loose, her hair flattened by wherever she'd lain, rushing by the Racine house as if a fire were nipping at her bottom to make the four o'five streetcar. And now here she comes, rushing to her swain for their afternoon of lust.
Antonia's heart quickened as Agnes pushed open the wrought-iron gate and clicked her way down the path leading to the front steps of the Dupreses' house, her face bright with apparent expectation as she veered off and then disappeared behind the willow toward the back of the house. “Where's she going?” Antonia whispered to Tippy. Just as she was about to get up from where she'd knelt to follow Agnes, she saw Emeril coming through the gate with a haste that said he just couldn't wait. He followed Agnes's trail around the side of the house to the back.
What a puzzler this all was for Antonia. Yes, Emeril worked in the Dupreses' house from time to time, fixing this and that, and old Mr. Dupres thought so highly of her twin brother that he gave him free run of the house with his own key when there wasn't a soul at home. But would Emeril be so stupid as to risk the esteem of a colored man like Mr. Beau Dupres for a few moments of carnal pleasure with someone like Agnes Marquette? No, he just wouldn't be that stupid. After all, everybody traipsed through everybody's yard to get to one place or another. Maybe they went down to the cemetery, and this was the quickest path to where they would meet. That was it, she thought. They were most definitely doing it, and that thought would never be quiet in her mind, but at least they were doing it in the cemetery and not in the Dupreses' house.
So Antonia got old Tippy back in the basket and tucked the pralines in her pocket. Getting to her feet, she peeked from between the droopy boughs to make certain no one had spotted her and then followed the trail where Agnes and Emeril had gone. And when she reached the back of the house, she heard, but could not see, the ruckus of pure unadulterated covetousness that was
bawdy and loud enough in its disgrace to make her keep her secrets forever from a man. But for now, she had to stop it. She had to throw cold water on these animals, and fear, the best cold water of all for this un-Godliness, would be a great big old ice bucketful for those two. Antonia ran around to the front of the house and up onto the Dupreses' front porch and just as she was about to lean on the doorbell, someone called to her.
“Fou-fou Antonia! Hey, what you doin' there, cher? Don't you know they ain't home right now. Why it's the middle of the day, fou-fou Antonia. What ya thinkin'? And what ya want with them anyways?” It was Jackson Junior Jackson, whom she always called Junior, since to think of him as Jackson Jackson was simply too much to take even in New Orleans. Junior was the bane and pain of her life, but he could stop her heart with just one look.
“It's none of your business why I'm here, Junior Jackson. I'm mindin' my business and leavin' yours alone,” she said with a flirty flit of her head. Then she leaned on that doorbell anyway and took off down the steps and through the gate. She looped her arm inside Junior's and walked in a haste that forced him to pick up his pace.
“Hey, what's the rush, there, cher?”
“Never mind, Junior. Like I said, it ain't none of your business.”
Tippy let out a roar of a meow meant only for Junior, which prompted him to say, “Well, you better tell that old yella cat of yours to stop lookin' at me like he's gonna scratch out my eyes.”
And just then, Antonia heard her brother yelling up the street, “Antonia? Antonia what do you want?”
“Isn't that your brother down there on the Dupreses' porch, Antonia? He's calling you,” Junior said, trying to slow down.
But she quickened her pace nearly to a trot now, and said, as if she hadn't heard Junior, “Never you mind about Tippy, and she's a she, not a he.”
“Don't you hear your brother?”
“I don't hear nothin' Junior. I think you must be hearin' things,” she said as her name rang down the rue once again. She clutched tighter to Junior's arm and pulled him into a yard and made him hide with her behind a bush. Then she whispered, “Junior, I'm tryin' to keep my brother from makin' the worst mistake and ruinin' his life forever. Besides, I'm in the right, because
the Bible says, Keep thy brother from sin and danger.” Antonia stared Junior down with the firmness of what she believed with everything in her will to be divine words.
Junior squinted his eyes to ponder the supposed quote, then said, “Antonia, the Bible don't say nothin' like that. What're you talkin' about?”
Antonia didn't hear her name anymore, so she got to her feet, then tugged Junior to his feet. She threaded her arm inside his again and pulled him along with an urgent gait, saying, “Just keep walkin', Junior. Just keep on walkin'.”