This story literally came to me in a dream. I basically just transcribed it and filled in some details. If it seems like a trite allegory on race relations in America . . . fuck, blame society for pounding this shit into my head. Clint Eastwood will direct . . .
Joe and Beezy
When my brother Curtis left to join the army, he left behind his Benjamin 392. For years the gun had been his most trusted sidekick. I think he sensed some sort of poetic justice in leaving it to me; having himself finally graduated to shooting real, live human beings with real killing-power rifles. The 392 was a pretty common air rifle, but it was powerful and effective and, at that time, about the baddest thing I’d ever seen.
When I came home from my shift at the Speedy Lube that day, the house was in a perfect uproar. Mamma was hysterical. The goddamn dogs were answering her in kind and raising her, and though Beezy fell silent upon my entering the house, hot tears stained her cheeks and her face held a wild, defiant glare. I could only glean that the scene had to do with that old Benjamin 392.
I backed right up and out the front door, fleeing the explosive ambush of barking dogs and female shrieking. Ten hours of pumping grease had done nothing to tune my nerves to this shrill discord.
It was a fine sunny day outside, hot. I looked across the street to see Grandpa Joe sitting in his rocker on the front porch of his home, looking back at me. Grandpa Joe could be found in this attitude as long as the sun was on its amble over the peak of his roof and yonder, behind the peak of ours. His face was set in the usual stoic stare, yet there was something more behind it, something extra grim; his posture notched a degree to the acute, well informed indeed of the tumult carrying on across the street. I sucked in a big gulp of air and slammed back inside.
I kicked the first dog I came to, sending him scurrying and whimpering out of the kitchen. The next one, none too dumb, got close on his tail. “Now what the hell happened?” I demanded in my best man-of-the-house voice. Mamma’s explanation was harried by the sheer height of her excitement and a little muddled by – it was 4:30 in the afternoon – five or six vodka-lemonades, but what I gathered was that little Beezy had picked up that 392 and squeezed off two shots at old Grandpa Joe. I gaped at the girl and she just crossed her arms, defiant, tears trickling.
I pushed open the door again and beheld the old man across the road. A slight sneer on his lips told me the whole thing was true.
“Goddamn it!” I stormed back inside, dimly aware that all this slamming of the cheap, wooden screen door spoke not at all to my authoritative powers.
Though the old man hadn’t changed his character or his habits a bit, I felt that in the three years since Dad left, Joe had grown into a watchful, judging specter. He had the whitest goddamn hair you’ve ever seen, Grandpa Joe. Eighty-plus years old and all that hair.
I considered Beezy. Beezy was half black and not even family – technically. Some years ago my older sister Tamara had taken up with Cooper Wallace, a black boy from Lincoln High School. We didn’t see her for over a year and then, all of a sudden, she shows up with Cooper and his kid form another girlfriend – Beezy. Cooper stayed a couple weeks. Tammy stayed a few weeks longer and Beezy’s been with us ever since.
Finally I started to feel the full rush of injustice of this whole situation’s coming down on my poor head. I took action. I grabbed Beezy by her skinny brown arm and marched her across the street. I was surprised how strong she was for such a skinny little thing; but then she had to be strong to pump that Benjamin 392.
I presented the girl to Grandpa Joe. Already, just being so close in his presence, I felt the wind coming out of my sails a bit. “Gramps . . . did you see Beezy . . . screwing around with a pellet gun over there?” Joe gave me the coolest, meanest look I ever could have envisioned and then seemed to dismiss me altogether. That’s when I noticed the big, throbbing, red welt on his chest, six inches below his Adam’s apple, where his shirt collar was casually laid open to the warm summer sun. A trail of blood trickled down and made a dark spot beneath the paisley pattern of his shirt front. I wondered where she put the other one. Joe looked intently at Beezy. All at once, the hot tears of defiance were washed away in a pitiful flood. Joe took the girl onto his lap. I began to feel cumbersome in my presence and took a couple shuffling steps away. “Why did you do it, Beezy? Why did you do it?” Grandpa Joe’s voice was choked a little, with feeling. “Why’d you do it, Beezy?”
The girl just cried it out, burying her curly head in the old man’s chest. He stroked her hair, wearing a pained look.
I walked slowly back across the street with my hands in my pockets, listening with all my nerves and fibers, but wanting not to interrupt. I reached our door and, knowing not what else to do, went inside to take a shower – to scrub futilely at my grease-stained hands.
My brother Curtis never did make it overseas; he was dishonorably discharged after an ugly brawl at Fort Jackson. He didn’t share all the details, but it must have been pretty bad for him to get kicked out just like that. He was only home a day or two before he asked after his old pellet gun. Like a simple little child I let the whole story of Beezy and Grandpa Joe come spilling out of my mouth. Curtis laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. We’d always said Curtis had a kind of violent streak, as well as a dark sense of humor, and he never missed an opportunity to detail what he’d do to Cooper Wallace if he ever caught him in a dark alley. He’d always treated Beezy pretty kindly, though.