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"Da-da!" (short story) (Black South Fiction, Art, Culture)

Malcolm let his thoughts return to Paulie. And he found that he had already made a decision about what to do with his memory of the boy. He would not let himself forget about Paulie. He needed to remember. He would write about Paulie. If writing was, as he believed, the documentation of truth through translation, he would accept this challenge. In writing about Paulie, he would simply seek to discover the truth.

Two days later he began:

My name is Paul. But some people call me Paulie. I'm not afraid of anything in the world except maybe being by myself. I am strong. I am only a boy, a small one, eleven years old - but I have the strength of a man. I am stronger than a lot of men. I am wiser than even more. But what is strength? And what is wisdom? I'm only a boy, so I'm sure you don't rare to hear my definitions, anyway. And, besides, they're not really definitions; they're only feelings, vague impressions, obscured by the glorious but miserable haze of my childhood. So many things I cannot know for sure. And, too, the inevitability of instinctive action - and inaction. Nothing you can do about all that.

Sometimes I wish that I were someone else. It is a burden being so strong and wise. Sometimes I wish that I were a stone, a tree, a bird, or my friend Morris, who once almost kissed me. Yes, sometimes I wish I could rest at the bottom of a lake forever. I wish I could jingle in a breeze. I certainly wish I could fly. And if it meant that I wouldn't always have to be so wise and so strong, I suppose I even wish I could be afraid to kiss someone. But, no. I on not afraid to kiss anyone. As far back as I can remember, I've been generous with my kisses. I've always been either puckering or presenting one cheek or the other. Such behavior strikes me as kind and humane. And though my lips have occasionally been bloodied and my cheeks slapped and bruised, I still sometimes feel compelled to offer careless invitations to partake in my affection. Slightly beautiful, I, too, must react to the advances of others. Like Morris.

Morris, to me, is such a weakling. A beautiful one, but a weakling, to be sure. I say that not only because of the way he refused to kiss me when we were standing in the wings of the stage in the gym - so close he might have been blowing me a charge of marijuana (the way I've seen my brothers do with their friends), his breath intoxicating enough for me - but also because of the cowardly shove he gave me when the ball came bouncing onto the stage. He thought he was protecting the image of his manhood, making sure that the person who was coming up onto the stage to retrieve the ball would see him in an aggressive, manly pose. I don't remember if anyone else saw him or not. But I saw him. And what I saw was a silly boy - a weakling, a wimp. He was more of a sissy than I'll ever be.

I didn't want him back again until the day when he sneaked up behind me, grabbed me hard, pulled me up against him, and bit me on the car. That day I wanted him. But even then I told him no.

Are you writing this down? I see that you are. It's okay. I don't care. Tell the world. Make me famous. Or infamous. Whichever.

I suppose strength is a good trait to possess. Is it one of the things about me that attracts you to me? I know I certainly admire strength. Once I thought that all men are strong. But, of course, that isn't true. I guess in the beginning everyone thinks his own father is strong; that was probably where the false correlation between masculinity and strength began for me. Physically, to a one-year-old, two-year-old, three-year-old - even eleven-year-old - any grown man is massive, powerful. But the day comes, all too soon, when a boy or a girl realizes his or her own worth, realizes that he is someone. He finds himself thrust into competition with the rest of the world, constantly evaluating and comparing himself to others, his brothers, his sisters, his mother, his father.

Perhaps it is only natural that I found myself, from about age five, most intensely involved with the examination of the characteristics of other males as they related to my own. (I say that such fundamental behavior is natural in so much as most little boys and little girls seem to have some basic sympathy for all creatures of their own gender.) I suppose this obsessive, if normal, mental activity led to my drawing some early conclusions about men.

My father I have always loved and respected. I could write a book about what his existence has taught me, and someday I probably will. Speaking truthfully, I don't think I know him that well, yet somehow his example as a male, as a person, really, is clear to me. I can rate him on a strength-wisdom scale. From one to ten - he's a seven.

Let me see. What's my earliest memory of my father? Hmm. Oh, I think it must be - yes. We were in this old car he used to have. I think it was white, but it could have been gray or even yellow. My father was driving, as usual. My mother was sitting next to idm with Grace, who was just a little baby, in her arms. I had the whole back seat to myself, the way I liked it, and I was bouncing around from side to side, looking out one window and then the other. It was summertime, I think. Dw breeze that rushed over my face whenever I stuck my head out of either window was welcomed. Maybe we were going to the lake front. This was in New Orleans, not South End. Lake Pontchartrain. Yes, that's probably where we were headed. Anyway, I remember that the car came to an abrupt stop. the tires screeched, and I tumbled forward onto the wide floor. I heard a horn being blown angrily. My head sank into the vinyl covering stretched over the front seat. It was quickly tossed outward by the vinyl's trampoline effect, and I settled into a neat little pile on the floor behind my father. Then I heard his voice. "Goddamn it!" The car began to move backward, Om stopped. I slid upward, hands gripping the top of the front seat, and saw that we were at an intersection with traffic lights. Our light was red. My father and mother both mumbled words asking if I was all right. I must have nodded instead of speaking, because my mother, who could see me, turned away and went back to attending to Grace, who looked vaguely frightened; however my father turned his head toward the back seat and said, "Huh?" And I said, making an effort to speak clearly, I'm all right." That's the first exchange I can remember having with him - his asking me in a grunt if I was okay and my telling him I was fine. I don't know how old I was. No, if Grace was a baby, I must have been four.

A man and his family off on a Sunday drive. The man has accepted the duty of protecting his group. He is in charge; he must take full responsibility. Are you all right? he asks. I said, Are you all right? And if you are, he has done his duty, is doing his duty well. But even if you aren't all right, that the man asks the question is important. That he bothers to ask it twice is even more significant. No, such behavior is not strictly instinct. Here my father gets his highest mark, maybe even a ten.

I have another early memory of my father. It is also one of the few memories I have of my grand father. I was probably five years bld, and we were outdoors. I don't know where; I can only remember that we were standing near a tree. There was a blue sky, and a breeze was blowing through the bright green leaves on the tree. I remember the green shifting against the blue. I was looking up at my grandfather, who was chastizing my father about something. My grandfather, as I remember him, was a very dark-skinned man with a powerfully built frame. He was slamming one of his large black fists into the palm of his opposite hand to make a point about something my father had done that he shouldn't have done. I remember my grandfather saying, "You can't...." I cannot recall the nature of my father's error. But I do recollect that he was not listening very closely to what his father was saying to him about his inappropriate behavior. He just kept looking away. My grandfather kept asking him if he was paying attention, but my father would simply nod or say, "Mmm hmm," and keep looking away, his profile framed sadly, if brilliantly, by the fluctuating blue-green background of foliage and sky. His indifference somehow angered me. I wanted my grandfather to leave him alone to his thoughts. It seems to me now that what I was feeling was that if my grandfather and I left him there, a mere portrait, "Man on First Day of Spring," not a person, a beautiful work of art, soulless - no, with an unaccountable soul - then the world would be okay and my grandfather and I could go off to a park and play. So I guess that's why I was grabbing at my grandfather's pants legs, chanting. "Pa-pa, let's go, Pa-pa!" I called him Pa-pa. "Pa-pa, let's go."

These two tiny fragments of memory will be with me always, I presume - men if only subconsciously. They will forever inform my evaluation of my father and of men in general. And though I might pretend to calculate objectively the worth of my father's soul - a soul, what does that mean? - I know that the marks of his influence upon my being are as indecipherable as they are indelible. The proper, conscious memories I have of my father and the truths and lies my subconscious memory holds of him have plowed into my heart dark, unfathomable pathways at the nonexistent ends of which may lie unreachable answers to the mysteries of the world - genesis and one perfect salvation in a universe of many.

Even as these words overestimate the influence of a father or mother, I, speaking with the orphan's spirit, missing everything I once briefly had, am certain of some essence of truth here, for even the most loved and possessed child surely mythologizes his parents as well. How we shroud then - both ghosts and flesh-and-blood - in mystique. They somehow become legends. They are heroic, or monstrous and anti-heroic. They become great people, great things of towering importance, inspiring those dark pathways whose depths we cannot fathom - even if they are only sevens.

Malcolm stopped here. He had to ask himself what it was that he was writing? Fiction, he concluded. He wasn't plotting anything; he was simply taking some facts about Paulie and formulating a character, the way he had hoped to do. His Paulie was a strange one. A little boy with the soul and the spirit of one much older. But in a sense that was what had struck Malcolm as Paulie's most unique and arresting quality - his precocity, his maturity, his penchant for speaking the truth as he understood it. And as Malcolm had been writing the words of Paulie the character, he had heard quite clearly the voice of Paulie the person whispering his truths. Malcolm had also referred to the notes he had taken during his visits with Paulie in Lancaster Park. Some of what he had just written was, it occurred to him now, a direct translation of something Paulie had once said, Malcolm's own personal way of repeating what Paulie had said. Maybe this wasn't the case, maybe he was flattering himself, but he did want to believe that this was what he was up to, mimicking,translating Paulie, repeating what he had said so that anyone could understand his beliefs - as if the reader had been there in Lancaster Park watching Paul hunch his shoulders in uncertainty or squint his eyes on the way to lucidity. Malcolm planned try to live up to his vision. He would let Paulie do the talking. And if Paulie the character spoke of things that Paulie the person never so much as uttered one word about, it was only because Malcolm had to find a way to fill in the blanks for the reader, to verbalize the information -laden silences, the quiet nuances of encounters with the real being. And if the voice was different - as it certainly was turning out to be - well he didn't know what he could do about that. It was just what was coming out. Malcolm was dedicating himself to creating the spiritual voice of Paulie as best he could, as he remembered it. It was the voice of a boy, the voice of a man, the voice of a legend, somehow of towering importance.

JOURNAL ENTRY 2, September 8,


"Hey. It's okay. I understand. It's great that you're trying to write again. I think all the time about what would have happened to us if we had stayed in school. We were so young. God, you were beautiful. And, you know, all the things we were going to be. You, a writer, a scholar. Me ... what was I going to be? Oh, well. It doesn't matter. We both messed au that up."

Do you understand what I mean when I say that we mythologize our parents? It's not a conscious act, you see, and therefore not a controllable one. But what act really is within our control? From birth on, really. Or from conception on, I suppose. It's all so accidental. It all just happens. I think about my conception sometimes, you know? The accident of that miracle. What comes to my mind? A hazy day in April of 1968. No, I don't see the actual union of my mother and my father. In fact, I don't see my father at all, only my mother - waiting. She is sitting on a blue-and-yellow, dusty plaid sofa in someone's living room, her own maybe, waiting for my father to arrive. She is smoking a cigarette, its smoke rising and curling above her head. She is wearing sandals, and I can see her toes moving up and down, patting slowly in and out of the perfectly worn dark sunken spots in the leather soles. It is her rhythm that makes me notice that there is music in this second-floor room. It sounds like someone I know, a pop singer, but it could be any of one million black men singing softly. My mother is dressed neatly and simply, a loose-fitting black skirt and a starched white blouse that buttons up the front. Her hair is freshly pressed and pulled back in a short, tight ponytail. Her eyes strike me as my own, as I stare at them now less than an hour before they will catch the proverbial glint in my father's eye, the glint that is I. As I watch her now, I know that I, the invisible I, the nonexistent I, am an instinct, an uncontrollable impulse, unstroppable, meant - as is the case with all accidents - to be.

Such thoughts are merely conjecture, of course. But I have that kind of imagination. Do you ever think about those kinds of things? Maybe this is merely an orphan's obsession. But bear with me.

I am thinking now of the thing I do not let myself see when I imagine the day of my conception, my mother's smoky-roomed vigil for her lover. I am thinking of the release of energy from my invisible father (who is he, where is he, and whence does his energy come?) and of my mother's shudders of ecstasy. In the room alone, waiting, my mother seems to me an artist, a very great one, brush in hand, before a blank canvas, or a writer with her pen and empty page, or a sculptor and a lump of clay, anticipating a surge (a shudder, even) of inspiration. Again the mythologizing of one's parents arises, even to the point of risking arrogance. But perhaps any work of art is obligated to proclaim the apotheosis of its creator, in the process giving itself greater validity. This may be some tenet of symbiosis common to art, man, and nature in general. I don't know. But I do see my mother as an artist. And I can't help wondering whether or not her art is the one that I am forever attempting to duplicate with my own - my little poems, my little stories. What exactly am I trying to do? And what are you trying to do as you stare blankly out that window there, catching glimpses of your own reflection in the pane, gathering a few fragments of thoughts into sentences, then placing them on this page?

I guess it is becoming clear now that know a great deal more than I really should know. Well I know even more, some of which I shall tell you. Of course, some things are hard to tell, even for one as strong and as wise as I. Like the story I told you about the boy in the woods with his cousin. You know, the boy who watched his heart beating. That's a difficult story for me to tell. It's so revealing. It is, as I intentionally hinted to you, about me. Sometimes there are so many details in a story that it can only be about the person who is telling it. And then, too, sometimes a story is told so vividly that the person who the story is about has to be the one who's telling it. Does that make sense? Anyway, the truly revealing stories are the hardest to tell. Some people do what I did; they pretend that the story is about someone else. But some people do what you are doing; they get someone else to tell the story for them. So now I am going to tell you this story about yourself.

Don't be afraid.




Don't be afraid.

JOURNAL ENTRY 3, September 28,


"Are you all right?"
COPYRIGHT 1993 African American Review
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Edwards, Louis
Publication:African American Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Previous Article:Alice Walker's vision of the South in 'The Third Life of Grange Copeland.' (Black South Fiction, Art, Culture)
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