|HOME BE MORE
by Excell Hunter
When he turned Numb Thing, his head, it kept
on jerking, left, right, back again, slowing to a weak
vacillation, like the oil-dripping black fan back home
muggy nights, mosquitoes at the screens. Turning,
rolling to the beat of drums and pain. And, again,
abruptly, the violent flapping that he couldn’t stop.
Momma wrung dat chicken’s neck…. He was four
then, but could still bring the image to mind.
“Home be more than all a dat.” His assertion seemed
like it meant something to the white woman peering
down at him. Least ways, got me a ticket outa here.
Adios Nam, adios! A thick wetness lay at the side of
Numb Thing. Was he drooling? She hip, she git it!
Niggah like me lucky. Lookah heah, lookah heah!
All that out loud? Wide-eyed in Jesus Christ our Lord
‘n Savior, the big deaconesses wearing dark green
masks, waiting at pew ends, with ashy elbows, to
soothe the sweating women who got the spirit and
swooned ‘neath the sunlit stained glass window, like
the light at the dentist’s—old Dr. Baptiste. Echoes in
that little church Moms went to Tuesday nights,
Sundays too. Or…. No. This wasn’t Bethel Faith
Baptist, with brown-skinned girls, arms, legs gleaming
from lotioning, dressed up in Sunday dresses, neat,
white socks. And that one girl.
The white woman’s lips moved: “Home is more
something. And it’s a flower.”
“Wise above, I heard that,” he managed at the next
throb. Was a officah told us, dressed for Nam: a
newborn child know everything, and forget it growing
older. He laughed at the notion, then coughed.
Somethin’ smokin’? Somebody gimme a coffin nail.
A Marlboro, not bent, and clean white, dry.
He felt so weak. Sundays, Momma made thin
pancakes him and Jamesetta and Raymond joked
about—nylon cakes—but still gobbled up.
White chick went silent, like a corpse. He knew what
dead looked like: mud-spattered, graying, ready for
zipping up in dark, thick plastic. Onlyst girls here is
Charlie and nurses. What that girl’s name?
She breathed away from his face like when the doc
say turn, cough.
“Summer in New Orleans be hot, Jack!” Pale eyes
His hands shook. How long they been shakin’? She
understand why he said that? Couldn’t stop his hands
shaking. A creeping confusion rose, up from his feet
to his stomach. The worst stomach ache in the world
he had, the worst. Shakin’ like nobody’s business!
Drum beats. “Dat’s dem thirty-fo’s. Kicks up some dirt
like a mothah,” Wag, his homeboy, had said. “Like we
gots us some hell breakin’ loose.”
White chick slid her green mask over small lips again.
Her teeth, they white? He knew, like the monsoon’s
blow, wet and hard, even in the boonies’ syrupy heat,
knew that he was too oily from the gun play, smeared
in shadow green, too ignorant for her. Like the white
girls in school uniforms, easy to talk to, even if sassy;
not like the sisters in the project. She the dental
assistant? Besides…where was his weapon?
“Mah…sixteen?” he whispered. “Where’s it at?”
Feeling around on the jungle floor, exhausted, eyelids
heavy. Novocain doing its thing….
His rifle—there it go!—mounted like a trophy-fish
above the stove next to the scratched-up counter
holding a taped-up blender, ancient toaster oven. Not
a dental office. Frigidaire door showed its crudely
painted blond Jesus. The church kitchen! Be twenty-
one, two weeks. Be nice to have everything set for
my birthday. And back in da world too, bruh!
His eyes popped open from another roll of pains.
Her teeth were white, bared, working at his belly,
mask hanging like a large leaf from her perspiring
face. She tryin’ to get me undressed, to fool aroun’!
He moved to sit up, shuddering, anticipating new hurts.
“Now, now,” she said, two fingers pressing him down.
And he knew that this masked girl needed him, down
onto his burning back, knew her hair, afire, was for
him, eyes intent like Uncle Isadore’s big black dog.
Knew as she slid off his fatigue pants. Knew,
breathing in burnt powder, coughing up blood,
crouching behind trees sticky, sopping wet, drums
thudding, mud in mouth. Knew, holding her in his
gasps; she, hovering like a Huey, working him
rhythmically. The trembling saw his arms fall away.
A high-pitched hum initiated. He remembered her
His squeezed-closed eyes searched for Violet among
the sweltering congregation aisles, the nodding, dark
heads, the fat brown arms moving fans featuring
brown-haired, hazel-eyed prophets. Amen.
“You hit? Wag? You hit?” Intense whispering. Looking
about, spotting a grinning Ezra Wagstaff, with wet
head wound, two pews back, he threw his ace boon-
coon a snappy salute, held up by two deaconesses—
mute, no-nonsense women. Amen. And he was ten
again, after Sunday school, standing with Violet on
Melpomene Street. Can I gets a amen? Smiling eyes,
hers. Violet, it was her, kissed him. Amen. Lord, so
sweetly he wanted to…to cry! Glory! Pretty as a
flower. Where she sittin’?
There…there she go!
The agony in his stomach…. Gone.
Choir soundin’ GOOD dis Sunday mornin’! Please
rise. Up, up. The sound of the thick, black zipper
zipping up…up, Violet’s “amen” ascending. The most
beautiful purples and greens and silvers appeared
with the slow motion of Reverend Klinepeter’s
arching, beckoning arm, his basso contrivances
exhorting sinners to step forward. An’ who gwine be
saved t’day? Who comin’ forth to asept d’ lawd Jesus
Christ as his sav-yuh dis good, good mawhnin’?
‘S me, he knew, and Violet’d be right proud. Feeling
renewed, he rose along the stuttering sound, Violet,
Momma, the congregation, humming, clapping, with
the choir’s rocking rhythm at his back, shoulders
squared away, sharp as a tack, Jack! in dress
greens, black boots, man, like jewels! Grinning back
up at Reverend Klinepeter, he began his journey to
the pulpit. The buzz. He felt Violet’s eyes, like sunlight
when you cold, urging him on. The buzz, ending.
Ah…. Home’s more somethin’. And a flower!
Excell Hunter’s fiction and poetry won first- and third-place prizes in the
International Black Writers & Artists/Los Angeles 2003 competition. His
fiction has also been recognized by New Millennium Writings and his
poetry has been published in such journals as Ocean Diamond, Every Day
Poetry, The Cherry Blossom Review, The Pomona Valley Review, and
Excell served as a public schoolteacher for 20 years and was honored with
a Disney American Teacher Award. A former retail store owner, he also
worked as a fiscal officer at the UCLA School of Engineering and was a
cartoonist for the University Times, of California State University, Los
Angeles, while earning his master’s degree there.
Excell’s varied literary influences include Proust, Huysmans, Kafka,
Chandler, LeCarré, Edward P. Jones, Sherman Alexie and Ray Bradbury.
He is working on his third novel.