The Question

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

"Let me tell you something, Janice. You screwed up big time. There's no way you're going to find another man to treat you as good as I did."

"Yeah. You treated me like a goddamn princess."

"You implying that I didn't? You're standing there with the fucking Hope diamond on your finger, wearing designer clothes, not having to lift a finger to do anything but charge things on the credit cards I pay the bills for. Yet you still have the nerve to ..."

"I had the nerve to raise our child basically by myself," Janice said. "I had the audacity to spend countless nights alone, while you went off on one business trip after another."

"And like a fool I thought I could trust you. After everything I've done for you. After everything I've given ..."

"I'm sick and tired of hearing that, Roland. I'm not a whore. I'm not here because you buy me things. I'm here because we're supposed to love each other. You want to talk about giving things? How about the love I squandered on you while you took me for granted."

"If you're not a whore, then what were you doing with James," Roland asked. "At least your sister has the excuse of being hooked on drugs for making a living on her back. At least she gets paid. Why allow me to rescue you from the streets if this is how you choose to repay me?"

Mommy and Daddy are talking too loud at each other. I think they're angry, cause that's just how they sounded when I wrote on the wall with my crayons. I don't like for them to yell at each other. It scares me. Daddy goes away all the time. If he and Mommy stay mad at each other, maybe he'll go away again and not come back this time. I wish I could make them stop.

"What kind of thing is that to say," Janice fumed. "You didn't find me on any streets, and you sure as hell didn't save me from them. And if you want to talk about repaying, I repaid you by being a devoted wife for five years."

"Devoted wife!? Devoted to what? To spending my money? To leeching off of me, because I was a fool with a conscience who was raised to pay for his mistakes?"

"Pay for his ... Look, Roland, I know you're angry and you want to hurt me, but trust me, I feel plenty bad already. You think I wanted this to happen? Do you have any idea how many nights I've spent in our bed alone, wondering why you seemed to want to be anywhere but there with me? Did you ever consider how it felt for me to be pushed into the background of your life?"

"That's a nice song and dance," said an unmoved Roland. "But still no excuse."

"You want an excuse, here's one for you. Five years of loneliness was enough. I needed to fill the void somehow."

Oh no, Mommy is starting to cry. Why don't they just kiss and make up? Why can't they be happy like the time we all went to the fair, and I got to go on a bunch of rides and eat cotton candy? That was my favorite day ever. Maybe if I ask them to take me to the fair today, they'll stop yelling and be happy again.

"You know the nature of my work," Roland said. "I have to put in a lot of hours. I need to visit the various plants, and that means spending a good deal of time away from home. If I didn't do these things, I wouldn't be able to pay for this great big roof that you wanted to be under so badly."

"What do you know about what I wanted? Did you ever once ask me?"

"I didn't have to, it was so obvious. You wanted a meal ticket. You wanted to land a man with a solid family background, a high paying respectable job, his and her cars in the garage, a pool in the backyard, charge accounts in every expensive store you could find. That's what you wanted and that's what you got, all courtesy of me."

"What I wanted was a man who loved me and enjoyed spending time with me," Janice said, fighting to hold her tears in check. "I wanted to be respected, to be listened to, to have passion in my life. What I got was a man unable to see through his inflated ego well enough to notice any creativity, or intellect, or ambition in his wife."

"Let's cut to the chase, Janice, and leave this feminist blather to Gloria Steinem. What you wanted was a white guy with some cash, and you hit paydirt."

Mommy is shaking. She only does that when she's really really mad. My friend Louis told me that his dad yelled at his mom every night, so one day she packed all their stuff and they went to live with his grandma. I like my grandma cause she gives me quarters, but I don't want to live there because her house smells like cheese. And I'd miss Daddy.

"So it's come to that," Janice said icily.

"It's always been there."

"You want to make certain our marriage is irreconcilable, don't you?"

"No, you made sure of that when you slept with James. I can't forgive something like that. I deserve better than this. Better than you."

"You son of a bitch," Janet said, shaking from the sting of her husbandís condemnation. "I hate you so much."

"You don't know a damn thing about hate. Try being tricked into marrying someone you don't love, and being a father to a kid who probably isn't even yours. Try being taken for a fool by someone who drains your wallet, embarrasses you in front of colleagues, and fucks every Tom, Dick and Harry who happen by. Then you'll understand what hate is."

"I did better than that, Roland. I married a man who was hardly ever around, and who didn't satisfy me when he was. If you only could, I wouldn't have needed Tom, Dick, Harry or James."

Stop it! Why won't they stop fighting? Why did Daddy hit Mommy? He's not supposed to do that. They're not supposed to fight. Families are supposed to be happy, like on T.V.

"The truth hurts, doesn't it," Janet said, liberated more than wounded by the hand of her husband. "You can hit me all you want, but it won't make you any more of a man. You'll never measure up. You never did."

"I should have known better than to get involved with you in the first place. So I guess the blame is on me. You aren't any different than your sister. You've both spent your lives doing it for money. Even with the college degree I paid for you to get, you still haven't changed. I guess it was my mistake to think that you could. Once a nigger, always a nigger."

He left. Daddy went away and he didn't even say goodbye. What's going to happen now?

"Ricky, you must listen very carefully to me. We're going to be spending a few nights at Grandmas's house, just you and Mommy. Won't that be nice? Grandma loves it so much when you come to visit. I want you to take your favorite clothes from the bureau and lay them out on your bed. I'll be up in a minute to help you pack."


"Yes, sweetie."

"What's a nigger?"

The Question by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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