Star of Wonder

Fiction by S.A. Cosby

Latisha took a long drag off her Newport as Calvin came through the door of their trailer. The cold December wind tried to sneak in with him; he slammed the door shut as he shook himself, tossing light flakes of snow on the floor. Latisha thought he somewhat resembled a bear. Big broad shoulders, wide chest, and hands big enough to palm a basketball or her ass with little trouble.

Calvin held his lunch box in one hand, and shimmied his right arm out of his heavy denim jacket, then switched hands so he could take his left arm out. He tossed the jacket on the back of his recliner. On his way to the kitchen, he stopped and kissed Latisha on the cheek.

“Hey babygirl. You miss me?” he said as he went on into the kitchen.

“Yeah boo,” she said as she exhaled.  The red and green light from their small four-foot-tall Christmas tree fell on her dark brown skin like drops of neon rain. She took another hard drag, almost killing the cigarette in two puffs.

The door to the fridge slammed hard enough to shake the whole trailer.

Calvin came back into the living room and stood next to her end of their short couch. He rubbed his forehead with one hand while pointing at the Christmas tree with the other.

“Latisha, where’s the star?” he asked. His deep voice rumbled out of his chest like a freight train.

“Cal, Natisha came over here to do my braids. Do you like them?” Latisha asked.

“I don’t give a fuck about your crackhead sister doing your braids. Where is the goddamn star? My mama’s star? The one that was on top of the GODDAMN CHRISTMAS TREE when I went to work this morning?” Cal yelled.

Latisha stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray that sat on the scarred TV tray. She looked down at her hands and took a deep breath.

“Cal she came over to do my braids and …uh when I went to the bedroom to get her money we got to talking about Christmas and shit, and then I went to pee, and when I came back she was gone and I didn’t notice it was gone, and aw Cal I’m so sorry,” Latisha said. She kept her head down and stared at her hands.

Cal took a deep breath.

“Latisha, look at me.”

Latisha raised her head.

“Latisha, I’m not Brandon. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m just…you let her take my Mama’s star.” Cal rubbed his face with both hands. “She still hanging out with Peep Marshall and his boys?” Calvin mumbled through his hands.

“Yeah but…”

Calvin took his hands away from his face and put his jacket back on.

“Cal, what are you doing? Where are you going?” Latisha asked.

Calvin pulled out his keys.

“I’m going to get my goddamn star,” Calvin said.

“Baby you can’t go over there and messing with them fools. They crazy,” Latisha said.

Calvin opened the door.

“I’ll be right back.”

The cold snapped at his heels and slapped at his face as he walked out to his truck. He got in and turned the key in the ignition. The truck wheezed, coughed, and finally caught and turned over. He backed out the driveway and heard the transmission beg for mercy before he put it in drive. He drove past other mobile homes in various states of distress that were momentarily hidden by Dollar General Christmas lights and discount Wal-Mart holiday inflatables. He’d seen most of his neighbors in the store, when he was at work, buying those inflatables. He watched as their kids’ faces lit up when their parents counted their pennies, or went to the Coinstar machine, and cashed out their change until they had enough to get a demented looking Santa Claus, or Rudolph that once inflated appeared to have been drawn by a drunk elf with the shakes. He’d seen those parents trying to pretend, if only for a moment, that their lives weren’t circling the drain under the weight of poverty so ubiquitous it felt like an inherited trait.

Calvin turned onto Town Bridge Road and passed by actual houses with foundations that were festooned with an ever-increasing explosion of Christmas decorations, the lights piercing the December darkness like falling stars. He turned on to Lenoir Lane heading for Peep Marshall’s grandma’s house. Grandma Marshall used to be the head lunch lady when Calvin was in high school but a few years after he graduated, she quit to raise her grandson Peep. Calvin knew people in Red Hill who thought she should’ve kept her day job. Peep Marshall was mean and spoiled from the day he dropped out his mama, and he’d just gotten worse as he grew up. After his mama went to jail, his grandma took him on. The identity of his father was one of those unsolvable mysteries, like who was Jack the Ripper, or when were the Raiders gonna win another Super Bowl.

Ever since Calvin had come home, he’d heard that Peep passed for bad in Red Hill these days. Him and his little crew ran crack and meth and molly out his grandma’s house over on Lenoir. They’d stomped a few people at Sailor’s Bar, and smacked around a couple snitches, and that made most folks give them a wide berth. Natisha was one of Peep’s on again off again paramours, at least until her addiction whittled away her looks like root rot.

Calvin knew where the house was because back when he and Latisha had started talking, he’d gone with her to pick her sister up from this one-story modular den of iniquity a few times. He’d seen Natisha slide over the bench seat of his truck with a bruise on her face or neck more than once, but he’d kept his mouth shut. He was just her sister’s boyfriend, not Captain Save-a-Ho. But it still made something sour bubble up in him and burn the back of his throat.

He turned in the short driveway of Peep’s place and parked his old F-150 next to an ostentatiously tricked out Escalade. There was a blue and white Ducati in the yard as well as a Fast and Furious inspired Honda Accord. Calvin thought Peep didn’t understand the concept of anonymity.

“A hard head makes a soft ass,” he thought. That was one of his mother’s favorite colloquialisms.

Calvin got out his truck and walked up to the house and knocked on the door. Peep didn’t have any outdoor decorations, but Calvin could see a huge Christmas tree through the front window of the house. It was even more obnoxious than the Escalade and the Honda. The tree looked like Cash Money Records had thrown up on it with a stomach full of bling bling.

A slim brother with pipe cleaner thin braids sticking off his head at odd angles opened the door.

“What the fuck you want man?” he said.

Calvin put his hands in his pockets.

“I need to talk to Natisha,” he said.

“Who dat, Tip?” a voice said from inside the house.

“I don’t know, some motherfucker say he want to talk to Natisha,” Tip said.

“Tell him to come in,” the voice said.

“He say-“ Tip started to say but Calvin cut him off.

“I heard him,” he said as he entered the house.

The air was thick with a witch’s brew of weed smoke, liquor, and body odor. In addition to Tip, there was a solid looking dude sitting on a couch facing a huge flat screen TV. Solid Dude was wearing a black hoodie and a snapback baseball hat.  This was to Calvin’s left. To his right there was a big plush chair that resembled a bean bag with legs and a large sectional sofa. Natisha was sitting on the sofa next to another woman who had the body of a video vixen, but a face like a hatchet, named Diane Tiller. Diane had never met a dick she wouldn’t suck for a bag of crystal or a few rocks. Calvin thought she looked like she been rode hard and not even hung up wet. Just left on the floor to mildew.

On the floor, sitting between Natisha’s legs getting his hair cornrowed, was Peep Marshall. He grinned at Calvin with a mouth full of platinum that was at least two years out of style.

“Hey, it’s the janitor. What can we do for you, Janitor Man?” Peep said.

“Oh shit, it is. You the one that cleans the toilets at Wally World. Haha. I hope you ain’t working tomorrow. I been eating corn pudding and catfish all day. I’m gonna go in there and blow that bitch up,” Tip tittered.

Calvin ignored him.

“Look, I don’t want no trouble. But that star on top of your tree belong to me. Natisha came over to do her sister’s hair and took it with her on her way out the door. I’d like to get it back. Please,” Calvin said. He struggled on the word please, but he forced it out of his mouth.

“You accusing me of stealing?” Natisha asked incredulously.

“No, I’m not accusing you. I’m saying you took it and I’d like to have it back.”

“Fuck you, Calvin. I ain’t no thief. Latisha gave me that star.  It’s my Christmas present,” Natisha said.

“I don’t care if it’s your Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Happy Rooster Day present, it wasn’t hers to give. It belonged to my mama and I’d like it back,” Calvin said, instantly regretting the hard edge in his voice.

Tip laughed.

“Rooster day, this motherfucker said rooster day, oh shit.’

Peep sat forward and stared at Calvin.

“You steal this man’s star?” Peep asked.

“No Peep, I told you my sister-“

“Shut up bitch. I know you lying. You’d steal a rattle from a baby just because you could. You got that klepto shit. Look here big man, I don’t even like the damn star. Shit look cheap. So you can have it back.”

“Thank you,” Calvin said. He started to turn towards the tree

Peep got up off the floor.

“You can have it back. All you gotta do is get on your knees and beg,” he said, smiling.

“Say what?” Calvin asked.

“You heard me. Beg me for it. On your knees,” Peep said.

Calvin turned back toward the smaller man.

“You think I’m gonna fucking beg you, for something that belong to me,” Calvin said softly.

Peep laughed.

“If you want it. If not, you can get your fat ass out my house. K-Roc will escort you to the door, bitch. It’s up to you man. You can get throwed out, or you drop to your knees and beg me for your ho ass mama’s star,” Peep said.

Calvin saw that his black eyes glittered with a harsh brittle light. A flame of malice that burned cold inside him.

The solid dude, who was evidently K-Roc, got up off the sofa and came over to where they were standing. He pulled up his hoodie to show a big silver semi-automatic. Calvin thought it was a Desert Eagle.

Calvin stood there silently for nearly a minute.

He shook his head and turned for the door.

“Hey man, make sure you got your big toilet brush tomorrow!” Tip hollered at him as he left.

He shut the door behind him and got into his truck. He gripped the steering wheel and laid his massive head on them. His breath came in short sharp bursts.

Peep and his crew were what passed for bad these days in Red Hill. But they weren’t bad. They didn’t know what real bad was. They didn’t know fellas like Skunk Mitchell, or Riot Randolph, or Luther Barnes, or Bug Montage. They didn’t know Calvin used to run with boys like that when he was a younger wilder version of the 46-year-old man he was now. They didn’t know he’d broken Eddie Banks arms at Sailors over a thousand dollars he’d owed Luther Barnes. They didn’t know Calvin used to be Luther’s main man in Red Hill, Charon and Queen Counties. They were babies when Calvin had gone up for two years for beating Eddie and his brother Chauncey half to death, for trying to jump him after he’d broken Eddie’s arms.

They were toddlers when he’d come home and moved back in with his Mama, who by that time was using two canes to get around, but still never missed a Sunday at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Peep and his boys were still watching Saturday morning cartoons when Eddie and Chauncey Banks set fire to his mama’s trailer trying to send him to Hell.

He’d just started hanging out with Latisha then, so he was at her house when Eddie and Chauncey had come calling with a gas can and a zippo. By the time he’d gotten there, they were putting his mama in a body bag. He’d seen how her flesh fell away and fell apart in charred chunks, like a piece of meat left on the grill for too long. Trailers go up like Roman candles. The cheap wood paneling and sheet metal turn to cinders in the blink of an eye. And yet, in the midst of the still smoking rubble, he’d found his mother’s star. The gold paper un-singed, the silver tinsel that bordered the five arms of the star still intact. An immaculate contraption that was all he had left of his mother.

Calvin raised his head.

He reached behind the bench seat of the truck and grabbed the pipe wrench he used on the toilets.  A foot of heavy tempered iron.

Calvin ran up to the front door of Peep’s house, and kicked it open with his size 14 work boot.

Tip was in the middle of the floor puffing on a blunt and dancing to RUN-DMC’s Christmas in Hollis. Calvin swung the wrench up in an underhand motion and caught Tip just under the chin. His head snapped back like a Pez dispenser as a splash of blood splattered across the ceiling like a Jackson Pollock painting.

K-Roc was on the couch again playing video games. He tried to pull his gun out of his waistband, as he simultaneously tried to get up off the couch, but the big gun was too heavy and the couch was too luxurious, and so Calvin was able to bring the wrench down on the top of his head with enough force to knock him out immediately. The sound of the wrench connecting with K-Roc’s skull was like a coconut being hit with a hammer.

Peep scrambled to his feet and tried to clamber over the back of the sectional, but Calvin grabbed him by his shirt, a baggy Fubu sweater, and pulled him back. He threw him on the ground and straddled his chest. He took the handle of the wrench and shoved it lengthwise into Peep’s mouth. He gripped the head of the wrench with one hand and bottom of the handle with the other, and bore down with all his weight. Blood began to seep from the corners of Peep’s mouth.

“I’m gonna take back my mama’s star. If you try to come at me, I’ll kill you. I’ll chop you up and I’ll make you bait for a goddamn crab pot. If I see Natisha with as much as a hangnail ‘cause you couldn’t get to me, I’ll kill you. If I see you in town and you stare at me too long, I’ll kill you.”

He leaned forward so his mouth was just an inch away from Peep’s ear.

“You want to ask somebody about Eddie and Chauncey Banks,” Calvin whispered.

He took the wrench from Peep’s mouth.

“We understand each other?” Calvin asked.

“Yeah,” Peep gasped.

Calvin stood.

“Don’t ever come back to my house. Ever,” Calvin said, pointing the wrench at Natisha.

He went over to the garish tree and plucked the star from the top of it. He left the house and hopped in his truck. He used a red shop rag to wipe off the wrench and put it back behind the seat.

Latisha heard Calvin’s truck rumble into their driveway. He came through the door and went to their tree. He gently replaced the star on top of the cheap plastic tree.

“Cal are you alright? What did you do? How’d you get the star back?”

Latisha asked a multitude of other questions but Calvin ignored her.

“Merry Christmas, Mama,” he whispered as he stared at the star.

S.A. Cosby

S.A. Cosby is a best-selling, award winning author from Southeastern Virginia. His most recent novel  ALL THE SINNERS BLEED was a NY Times best-seller, was on former President Obama’s Summer Reading List and was named to over 20 Best of The Year lists including The Washington Post, Time , NPR and CrimeReads among others. He resides in Gloucester County, VA as a loving cat Dad to Flipper and Phoebe.

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