Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Black Man's Daughter

Jo Neace Krause


Dr. Applegage was not a real doctor, that is, not a medical doctor. He was a Ph.D. in sociology, but he insisted on being called Doctor because it was important to him as a Black to have his status reaffirmed, he would say with a broad grin when he was addressed by the inferiors of this world, in much the say way the old British were called My Lord in movies when addressed by an inferior . "My Lord doesn’t sound just right for me," he would laugh throwing back his head in his special mocking way. Imagine a mailbox saying Your Lord, Charles Applegate! Ha ha No, his mailbox read simply Dr. Charles Applegage.

But all joking aside, Dr. Applegage knew he was superior, knew he was smarter than most medical doctors and certainly better looking, you didn’t have to call him by any kind of title to see that. He was tall and slender, with a beautiful wide smile. Well, Dr. Applegage did not smile, he grinned. The grin had evolved in him along with that ironic bemused understanding of life that Blacks have, as if he stood on the edge of breaking out into hilarity at the mere mention of the human race.

His best friend was a famous black comedian who at one time had wanted to hire Dr. Charles Applegage to write comedy for his show. Charles loved to tell about the interview. He asked me, "Charlie, what are they paying you over there at the state university now?
"

“Forty-eight dollars a week,” Charles said holding up a serious and distant look straight into his friend’s eyes. "I cant match that,” the comedian answered. They both considered in silence, then broke out in a black man’s laugh, slapping their legs, doing the climbing dance bent from the waist. “I’ve made tenure, too,” he said. He was now an assistant professor. He was entertaining and popular. He also had a wife whose beauty matched his own good looks so when they walked into a room, or later stepped out on the dance floor, all eyes would automatically glaze up and then linger on them, as if a trumpet had sounded. They were an outgoing society couple, a “power couple” as the current saying went. Then talk began to have it that Charles Applegage was dodging up the tough ladder of the black political establishment, then everyone was really watching and talking and so he had to be careful here.

He knew about being careful . He knew that a Black man who falls from grace in the Black community has no place to go but down the road, which was the same thing, he told his wife, as finding yourself out in the middle of an ocean floating on an innertube looking for a home. Luckily again, his good looking wife was wealthy, and “in the know,” she knew her husband had to watch his mouth. His mouth was for watching, but it was also the place where you put your money if you wanted to be considered someone who mattered.

So they contributed a great deal of money to the local black political boss--a man they feared, for everything depended on this man’s approval. If they could not win his approval, then they would at least have to buy his neutrality. It was a tough world.

This Black boss, Wilbur Clayhorn, was a mysterious man, usually quiet and soft spoken. He could be a total savage when the evil spirit moved him. He controlled literally thousands of patronage jobs in the county, most of them petty, but no matter. Clayhorn’s recommendation on an application was like a station wagon full of nuns, if you wanted the contract to pave the street in front of the Catholic school, and his name never went on any application unless a donation had been made to his party. No one saw anything wrong with this. And perhaps there wasn’t anything wrong with it, not as long as Mr. Clayhorn was on your side, and you received the contracts you wanted to pave parking lots or build low income housing. But if you crossed him in some way, he could crush you out of sight like a big gut packed cockroach.

Applegage knew Clayhorn would take grown men who thought they were something and make them cry before everyone in a council meetings, watch them sit there and shiver as if they had been picked out for some heathen human sacrifice.

The Applegages had three children, a daughter and two sons. But Charles always thought of his daughter as an only child, his only child that he must carefully look after and direct into an important position in the Black world. He insisted that when she was small, her hair stay in braids to protect it from breaking off so that it might be long when she was older. The daughter, Victoria, or Vicki, had inherited her parents' good looks and intelligence. She’ll write her own ticket one of these days, Charles told his wife. Any good looking black woman could write her own ticket, because there were so many mother fucking ugly black women, he said, that black men openly hated them.

Christ, she so ugly my dog cried when we passed her. Charles mocked and repeated the banter, tried to laugh about it, but it sank into his soul. He wanted his daughter to watch out for black men like this, he wanted her to marry someone who would protect her beauty. It mattered to Charles how his two women presented themselves. What they wore. He wanted them “dressed,” but not “dressed up,” or made up. He hated black women strutting out in big stupid hats and lumbering shoes, white fur coats, leopard skins. He even refused to allow Vicki to paint her nails. All that red paint is vulgar and ugly he told her, standing back and smiling at her. He loved to simply look at her, his Victoria with her golden smooth skin and long elegant feet and hands.

Today , the two women were off shopping the malls. Charles had to fly to another city where he would give a speech on black social mobility in American cities. There would be a party after the conference, but Charles would not stay long. He wanted to get back home and watch the basketball play-offs. He had played basketball in high school and as a star player had won a scholarship to the state university, but turned it down to go to a well known black university, and then on to Harvard. He called his wife from the airport. She and Vicki were still shopping, his mother-in-law told him. “Still shopping! I’ve been around the world three times and they still out shopping!”

“Vicki is hard to please. She wants a real special dress for this one dance. It’s for prom night,” Essie, his mother-in-law, who lived with them, replied. "This prom means a lot to her. High school goes so fast. Seems like no time ago she was in the first grade,” the woman said. She wanted to talk more but Charles hung up. Now something hit him like a brick.

Clayhorn would be at a meeting tonight for the Black Caucus and Charles had time to attend after his plane landed. He took a taxi straight to the Town Hall. The meeting was already in session when he arrived and Clayhorn was speaking. The room had that particular hush over it that came down when Clayhorn was angry with someone. He rambled on and on and then sat down. Later when Charles tried to approach him and shake hands, Clayhorn ignored him. Charles was perturbed. What had he done? “Well, he'‘s had his ass up on his back all day," one of the men told Charles. “Don’t worry about it. Something about his son.”

Charles went on home, wondering what he could have done to incite Clayhorn against him. He didn’t even know Clayhorn’s son. He could feel his heart beating. At dinner his mother-in-law said, "You know what? Vicki…she don’t like black boys. No she don’t. And I wonder whose fault that is. I wonder why she don’t like none of her own people. She want to go out only with just white boys. That Clayhorn boy--now he’s been calling her up and bothering her. He keeps pestering her, saying why don’t you like me? Say. Say. What’s wrong with me? Is it cause I’m not some smart ass white boy? Then finally he get mad and say she don’t go to the prom with him, she’s going to be sorry maiden. The black kids going to beat her up.”

Charles stood up, and pushed his chair back. None of this should have surprised him. Vicki came in the room and sat down with her mother.”My feet are killing me,” Charles’ wife said.

Vicki kicked off her own shoes and pulled up her chair. She looked over the table with disapproval.

“Am I going to have to eat that stuff again?” she wanted to know.

Charles stared at the women. Then he said “ No. No, you don’t have to eat it. You don't have to eat anything you dont like. We’ll move. I’ll sell this house. We’ll hit the road. I’ll go with you to the school. I’ll stand right there with a club raised over some little fuzz noggin and push it down in the toilet.” He raised his voice at the women who stared at him with forks in their hands and did not smile.

_____

Jo Neace Krause is the author of "The Last Game We Played."  Her latest short story, "Leaving Jersey," will appear in The Star Ledger, a newspaper in Newark, in the July edition of summer fiction. Ms Krause is a visual artist with a studio on her farm in Hickman County.

© Jo Neace Krause

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2010