The Glamorous Life 2

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

Nikki Turner

St. Martin's Griffin

1
 
 
 
The situation would get worse—so much worse—before it got any better. So bad that at times Calliope wished that she was dead, but would quickly take it back, asking God to forgive her for her evil thoughts. The problem with that was if she was dead, who in the world would take care of Compton? Honestly, there was no one—no aunts, no uncles, no grandmothers, no grandfathers, neighbors, friends, teachers, or anyone who even cared. No one! The truth of the matter was that they were all each other had, and no matter what the circumstances were—bad, good, happy, or sad—there was no doubt about it, they had to stick together.
The morning after sleeping in the damp mildewed shed, the storm had passed over, and surprisingly Calliope and Compton were allowed back inside of the house. Shelly was in an uncharacteristically cheerful mood. It was so bizarre how she acted as if throwing her two children outside during a hurricane was no real biggie.
“Listen here, now!” she told her two children, with no kind of sympathy. “Yesterday is gone and today is a new day. I don’t want no kind of motherfucking grudges and most importantly I don’t want no shit from you two motherfuckers.” She leaned down and used her index finger to point at both of them. “You better not breathe one solitary word about where in the hell y’all two slept at last night. If anyone asks,” she said, but Calliope wondered to herself, Who in the hell would ask of our well-being? If our own dangone mother didn’t care, who else would?
The siblings just stood and gazed at their mother as she informed them of her concocted lie. “You are gonna say that you were at the babysitter’s house. That’s it. That’s all. You got that?” Before either could nod or agree, “I wish either you two bastards would say anything else,” she said as she stood over the stove carrying on with her immediate tasks of cooking eggs for breakfast, not even waiting for them to agree to her story. She was singing an old Chaka Khan song, “I Feel for You.”
What made it even crazier was that the only thing worse than their mother’s singing were her eggs and most everything else she attempted to cook.
At the end of the song, “Try me and see what happens. And you know firsthand I don’t make promises.” Before hitting the repeat button on the CD player, she said, with a smile, “Now, go on ahead and make yo-selves useful and set the table.” Calliope thought that was strange because the last time they sat at the kitchen table and ate together was Thanksgiving, which was a good eight months ago.
Though Calliope did what she was told, wiping the table and getting the plates out of the cabinet while directing Compton to get the napkins and the silverware, she was still almost speechless. Calliope hadn’t seen her mother in such a happy mood like this in God knows how long and couldn’t help wonder where it all stemmed from. Then the source of Shelly’s newfound Little Mary Sunshine attitude was soon unveiled.
“I have a surprise for you two heathens,” she said, all smiles and bright eyes. She paused before speaking to them, with a Kool-Aid smile, which allowed Calliope’s mind to run wild. Maybe the big announcement was she had gotten lucky and hit the lottery. Shelly played her numbers faithfully and maybe just one time, Lady Luck would show her face. If she did, they could move to a better neighborhood than the ran-down one they lived in, which meant better schools for her and Compton. If Shelly had indeed come into a windfall she could surely afford to hire a nanny to look after them, since Shelly never really wanted to deal with them anyway and never had any real interest in being a mother. Maybe she’d find one like Fran Drescher from The Nanny, who could help Calliope pick out clothes and take her to tennis lessons and those dance lessons that she’d always wanted. And if Shelly had an abundance of money, maybe she wouldn’t be so mean and hard up for a man. Even for fourteen-year-old Calliope it was sickening watching Shelly run behind these good-for-nothing men who didn’t want her noway. If she had money, she could fill her time with things other than chasing after her next meal ticket. Who knows? She may even take some cooking lessons. Heck, she could even hire a chef, and a live-in housekeeper, so that Calliope wouldn’t have to be the maid anymore. She wondered if Shelly would buy them clothes and shoes so they could be fly just like Shelly was every day. Calliope was still thinking up ways that winning the lottery could make all of their lives better when Shelly blurted out with great pride and happiness: “Big Jack is moving in.”
“Huh? What?” Too busy smiling for the cameras as they accepted the giant-sized check from the lottery presenter, Calliope wanted to act as if she had misheard her mother. Though Shelly didn’t really care what Calliope’s thoughts were, she wanted to make it clear what hers were.
“I said,” she emphasized, “Big Jack will be staying with us.”
In Calliope’s mind, the guy that had been presenting the big check snatched it away at that very second.
“Why?” she shouted. It came out more like an involuntary spasm to her mother and the Indian-giving lottery cat.
Shelly ignored Calliope at first, wanting to get her point across. “Big Jack is moving in, and you two are going to act like you got some got-damn home training. You gonna keep this place spotless clean, so that if he wants to eat off the floor, he can. You hear me?”
Neither of the children spoke, and Shelly went on. “You are going to stay out of his way, and when you do cross his path, you are going to be kind, nice, respectful, and on your best motherfucking behavior. You hear me?”
“Yeah, okay,” Calliope said in a tone that conveyed to Shelly that it was certainly some bullshit, but she would oblige. And if she would, it was damn near written in stone that Compton would. After all, they really had no other choice. If they didn’t, no telling what she might do.
“Don’t raise your damn voice in my house,” Shelly snapped at Calliope, but the bad thing about it was Calliope had not even raised her voice. “If you don’t like the way I run things in this here house of mine, you can put them turned-over, ran-down Reeboks on and beat your feet.” She got up in Calliope’s face. “Don’t your little ass ever forget who is the fucking boss around this bitch.” Then she put her hand up as if she was going to smack her daughter. “You hear me, lil’ girl?”
Calliope just looked at her mother and nodded. Then before they were finished eating the runny eggs, Shelly said, “Now, get the fuck up and clean this goddamn house before Big Jack gets here and starts to move his stuff in. And when he does, stay the hell out of his way.” Then she added, “And don’t beg for shit either.”
Calliope hopped up immediately. She was glad to be excused from the table, even if it meant she had to go and slave. She hated Shelly’s cooking with a passion and wanted no part of it. But her moving so quick was mistaken for her having an attitude, prompting Shelly to respond, as always on her power trip. “Lil’ girl.” She stood up too. “Don’t you ever forget, as long as your ass is black and you live with me, that I, Shelly Conley”—she pointed to herself—“call all the shots under this roof.”
To tell the truth and to shame the devil.
The truth of the matter was after Big Jack moved in, he called all the shots … every last one of them, even down to the kind of toilet paper they used. But the interesting thing was all the mouth and jibber jabber that power-driven Shelly had, she allowed him to. In a strange way, he turned their once dysfunctional home into a slightly less dysfunctional one but somehow making it an open-air drug market.
As soon as Calliope got home from school, she was allotted one hour to make dinner. Other than that, the kitchen was pretty much off-limits to Shelly and the kids. It had been turned into a fully functioning crack-cocaine manufacturing lab. The powder cake was cooked with baking soda in pots of boiling water before being cooled off with ice. The kitchen table was used to package the products to be ready for sale. The final product was transacted with strange men of all races, sizes, and ages in the den all day, all night, seven days a week.
There was no small-time, nickel-and-dime money or drugs being moved in and out of the house. Big Jack, an already two-time felon, only sold big weight to major players around the city. In his eyes, if he went back to the penitentiary, they would bury him; regardless of the amount he was caught with, he would be up shit creek. So he had decided quite some time ago he was going out big or not at all. And his motto was to ball until he falls.
Over the next three months, Calliope and Compton were mostly confined to their bedroom, which was fine with Calliope, especially since Big Jack had bought them a thirty-two-inch television and had someone come and wire the illegal cable. This made Compton the happiest kid on the block because he could watch whatever he desired, all day if he wanted.
Big Jack always verbally expressed, “Y’all ain’t my got-damn kids and I ain’t y’all’s daddy. Shit, I hate fucking kids.” But he always bought them sneakers when he went to the mall and made sure the refrigerator was always running over with food and the cabinets with snacks. In the mornings, when they left to go to school, even though they had free lunch, he faithfully gave them lunch money.
In a twisted kind of way, having Big Jack there made Shelly treat them better, yet Calliope didn’t look at Shelly any different. She still wasn’t shit and wasn’t a mother to them in any kind of way, no matter how much she tried to fake it. Nor did Calliope have the least bit amount of trust for Big Jack or the people who scored the drugs from him. The men would openly gawk at her, like snakes eyeing a delectable brown mouse. It made her so uncomfortable, and she knew it would be only a matter of time before one of them was presented with an opportunity and might try something forcefully. That was her biggest fear: that one of them would rape her and steal her virginity, which she valued so much. Though Shelly had never had a talk with her to tell her that she was worthy and how much she should value her body, somewhere, somehow along the way she managed to figure that out for herself.
One night in the wee hours of the morning, she woke up out of her sleep and left her and Compton’s bedroom to go to the bathroom. She was wearing some short-pants pajamas and a short-sleeve pajama shirt. Nothing too revealing, but there was no way to hide her overdeveloped hips, butt, and breasts. One of Big Jack’s workers, Joey, was coming out of the restroom as she was going in. He looked her up and down, licked his lips like she was a lollipop. “Damn, girl,” he said.
Calliope ignored him, acting as if she didn’t notice him or hear him. After she finished her business in the restroom, she opened the door to exit it. Before she could react, he had palmed her ass and then grabbed her and pulled her closer to him. He put her hand on his erect manhood. “Stop!” she screamed, trying to remove her hands, but he had her up against the wall. “Shut up. You know you want it.”
“No I don’t,” she said loudly and firmly, hoping someone would hear her and make him stop.
Then he threw his tongue down her mouth, and that’s when she tried with all her might to squeeze the blood circulation out of his penis. But his pants were so oversized that she couldn’t do enough damage to stop him before he took his strong hands and grabbed ahold of hers. With his tongue down her throat, it was damn near impossible to scream. Instead she tried to kick the wall, to alert somebody in the house of what was going on, hoping and praying someone would hear and come and help her. For a split second he took his tongue out of her mouth, and at that point, she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Stop!” He ignored her and kept on moving forward. By this time he had his hands down her shorts and almost in her underwear, when Compton came and bit his leg. “Get off my sister.” Joey pushed Compton’s little puny behind down. With just that small distraction, somewhere the strength came. With all her might she kneed him in the nuts.
“Shit’s too much work,” he said to her, and looked her in the eyes. “You lucky it’s the wrong time and wrong place.”
“Punk ass.” Calliope looked at him as he walked away. Compton came to his sister.
Then out of nowhere came Big Jack. “What the fuck you doing?” he said, wanting an explanation from Joey.
“Shit, nigga, she ain’t nothing of yours, not yo daughter. You hate them kids.”
“She in my house, under my fucking roof. And you don’t disrespect me in my fucking house.”
Before Calliope or Compton even knew it, Big Jack pulled out his black gun from behind his back and started to pistol-whip Joey. Big Jack caught a glimpse of both of the kids watching him. He stopped and pulled his gun on Joey, who had blood gushing out of his head and it looked like a tooth was missing.
“Get that bat from over there in the corner,” he instructed Calliope, “and come here.” She did as she was told. She went into the den, where Shelly was curled up on the couch watching television. She didn’t budge, blink, or look away from her program as Calliope went to the corner by the lamp and got the bat. When she returned, she extended the Louisville Slugger to Big Jack.
He shook his head and rejected it. “Hell naw,” he told her. “Now you beat him. Teach this motherfucker a lesson, so he knows better than to ever try some shit like that with you again. I want you to hit this sorry sack of shit so hard that he will not only think twice but he will warn other pussy-ass motherfuckers who see you in that light. He will warn them about even thinking of trying you.”
Calliope had never been in a fight in her life. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hit Joey. She was glad that she was out of his hold and just wanted him out of her sight. She hesitated. “Look, if you don’t do it, Im going to kill this motherfucker right here and it’s going to be your fucking fault. It’s up to you to teach motherfuckers a lesson. See, in this cold-ass world, you teach motherfuckers how to treat you. And this your first teaching gig,” Big Jack said with much malice in his heart.
Calliope had no choice. She raised the bat and took her first swing and unleashed all the hurt, frustration, and pain in her on Joey, while Compton watched. She never heard the high-pitched scream that came after the first lick, but she did hear Big Jack’s voice—“Shut the fuck up, child molester!”—which silenced Joey for the moment. But the next lick, she heard him plead, “Pleassse.”
Big Jack interjected, “Don’t beg now, motherfucker. You didn’t hear her when she was begging, did you?”
Calliope had had enough, but Big Jack said to her, “One more time.” And she did as she was told, then handed him the bat.
He took the bat and was silent for a minute, then called Compton. “Lil’ nig … come here,” he said, and when Compton got to Big Jack, he handed him the bat.
“Look, now.” He leaned in and said in a tone above a whisper, “No disrespect, my lil’ nig, but you know yo momma ain’t shit for real, and yo sister all yo got. And it’s up to you to let a motherfucker know he can’t fuck with yo sister and do anything he want to her.”
Compton wasn’t afraid to strike, and unlike his sister, he didn’t have any tears in his eyes.
“Teach that motherfucker a lesson,” Big Jack said, still with his gun drawn.
To everyone’s surprise, Compton started swinging and didn’t want to stop. Big Jack had to intervene. “Man, you gonna kill him.” And with a pat on the back and an approving nod, he added, “But that’s right. You need to be ready to kill for your sister. That’s all you really got in this world, my lil’ nig.”
Just like that, Big Jack took a couple of steps down the hallway and peeped into the den and called for his two workers to get Joey up and out of the house. He returned with the workers. “Well, lesson learned,” he said to the kids. “And now get y’all’s asses cleaned up and back to bed. Y’all gotta be up early in the morning.” Then he yelled to Shelly, “Yo, make yoself useful, get some bleach and clean this shit up.” It was apparent that she wanted to delegate it to the kids, but it was a direct order and she didn’t have any choice.
“I want to kill him,” Compton said, still on a rush.
“Killing won’t make you a man,” Calliope said to her little brother.
“I promise when I get big, I’m not going to let anybody ever hurt you.” He knew that his sister was still a bit emotional, so he made a little joke. “This is why I’m going to eat my Wheaties.”
“I know. But we just gotta always stick together now, and always watch each other’s back. Thank you for getting that pervert off me. If you wouldn’t came when you did, God knows what might have happened.”
She hugged him as they went back in their room and locked the door.
That episode wasn’t the last of its kind, but it definitely prompted her to prepare for the next one. Big Jack may not always be around. It got so bad that for protection, Calliope borrowed three butcher knives from the kitchen. Although she tried to hold her pee until the morning, she always had a pocketknife with her when she went to the bathroom. If someone tried to hurt her or Compton, they’d not only regret it, she’d see to it that they lost a vital organ.
Every night after dinner, before going to sleep, they’d slide the dresser in front of the door. They didn’t want anyone to slip into their room while they slept. They’d say their prayers and she’d promise her brother that everything was going to be okay. And she wanted to believe it, but living under those circumstances she knew it was survival of the fittest and she was determined to live even if it meant someone else would die.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Nikki Turner