TIRADE AT THE TV - short story
This short story is based on a chapter from my novel, We Danced to Ray Charles. The protag struggles to endure the racist rantings of his date's father. Check it out, if for no other reason than to learn how Dolly Parton fits into the story. Any comments, whether brickbats or bouquets, are welcome.
TIRADE AT THE TV
by Bill Fullerton
Jack Boudreaux walked out of his office and into a fight. The combatants were his daughter and Darrell Ray Sims, her sometimes boyfriend and his full-time foreman. “Bebe, what are you two carrying on about?”
Boudreaux was a short, energetic man with thinning hair, intense eyes, and skin a shade darker than his daughter’s olive complexion. A small scar on his right cheek gave his face a certain swagger.
Bebe Boudreaux smiled at her father, then reached for her purse and stood. “I was just telling Darrell Ray here, how it’s a good idea to plan ahead and not wait ‘till the last minute.”
Putting the purse back down, she began straightening her blouse, tucking it in tight. The gesture emphasized her breasts and small waist. All this time, she continued looking at her father while directing her comments toward Darrell Ray. “For instance, it might be important to know that you and I are going to be out of town tomorrow. Or that while I’m going out with Mark Cahill tonight, a date he asked me for days ago, he’ll be in Baton Rouge next weekend.”
Jack Boudreaux let his normal, business voice slide into the exaggerated, Cajun drawl he used when tired, mad, or teasing people. “I gar-on-damn-tee you I ain’t got no idea what da hell you’re talking about, girl. What’s more, I’m damned glad I don’t.” The sly, knowing look on his face contradicted his words.
By then he was holding the back door open, waiting for them to leave first. “You sure you locked up all the other doors?” he asked Darrell Ray when they were all outside.
“That’s fine,” he said, back in his business-like voice. He glanced down at his daughter, then up at the tall, muscular boy who seemed a little uncomfortable. “Call me later if you change your mind about tonight. I still think you’re the best man for the job.”
Darrell Ray seemed to force a grin and promised to think it over. After saying good-evening, he headed over toward his yellow pick-up in the employee’s parking area.
“Daddy, what was all that mumbo-jumbo about?”
“Tell me the truth girl, you been giving that boy a hard time?”
“No more than he deserves.”
“You didn’t accidental-like tell him about where we’re going tomorrow, did you?”
“Of course not.” Bebe’s voice betrayed just a touch of injured pride. “I know better than that. I’ve told him and everybody else that we’re going to a one-day family get-together. He hasn’t heard anything from me about the boys having a big meeting down in Denham Springs.”
They walked over and got into the blue Chevrolet pick-up. Both doors carried the words, “Pinefield Lumber & Building Supply.” “I didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers. It’s just that I asked him about doing a job for me tonight, and he seemed a little shy.”
“And that job is?”
He backed out of the reserved parking spot next to the back door. “Oh, the boys kinda decided it’d be a good idea to remind that nigger lovin’ lawyer, Frank Williams, that white men still run things around here.”
Boudreaux never hesitated to confide with Bebe about his activities with “the boys.” When he joined the local group, it’d been little more than a big, ineffective, redneck social club. Now he was in charge and had given it a sense of mission and discipline. True, the membership was a little smaller. But the ones left were dedicated. Whenever needed, money could be raised, manpower found, and votes delivered. With FBI informants everywhere, he insisted it be referred to as, “the boys,” never by its more familiar title, The Ku Klux Klan.
“What’s Williams’ done to aggravate the boys?” asked Bebe.
“Oh hell, he’s using all kinda legal crap to keep dat nigger, the one Tobias arrested up in Rollins as a Peeping Tom, from being convicted.”
“Is that the same guy you said worked for Ike Carter’s oldest son, the bootlegger?”
“Dat’s him, cher,” he said, dropping back into his Cajun accent. “We done figured nailing his sorry hide would help Tobias get re-elected sheriff. It should also hurt Ike Carter and dat voter’s registration crap he’s pushing. The problem is Williams keeps stringing things out.”
Turning left, he cruised past the courthouse, smiling and waving at a group of old men sitting on a bench in the shade of an oak tree. Bebe had no interest in men who were that old and paid them no attention. “So y’all decided to leave a little present in front of Williams’ house. And you want someone who’s not a member to do it. And that someone is Darrell Ray.”
He waved at a couple in a passing truck while nodding. “You gots it. He’s always talkin’ a good fight. So I figured he’d jump at the chance to show his stuff. But when I brought it up, well, like I said, he acted kinda shy. Still, something tells me that after whatever it was you done did to him, he’ll do just about anything to make a good impression, most especially on you.”
They stopped at one of the few traffic lights in town. “Daddy, let me ask you something. What do you really think, you know, as a man, about Darrell Ray and, well, Mark?”
“All right, you done asked, so I’m gonna tell you. I like Sims a lot more, of course. He’s a good worker and seems to understand what the niggers and communists are trying to do to this country. That’s why I was a little surprised when he put me off.”
When the light turned green he gunned the engine and shot through the intersection. “As for Cahill, well, I can put up with him. But I’m not sure he’s the type you could count on in a foxhole, if you know what I mean. Still, for a country club, college kid, I guess he’s okay—even if Frank Williams is his uncle.”
He turned into the parking lot of Mack McCallum’s Chevrolet dealership, pulled around to the service entrance and stopped. Before Bebe could get out, he reached over and touched her arm. “Now speaking as a daddy, neither one of those redneck peckerwoods is good enough for my petite minou.” The old, familiar nickname earned him a smile.
“No child, I’m serious. Darrell Ray’s a good kid. But I think he’s a little ashamed of his family, and that’s just no good. But I figure it’s why he’s always putting on like he’s got everything all figured out when in actual fact, even he knows he don’t.” Bebe’s smile widened.
“Now I don’t know Cahill near ‘bout as well, but he seems to be just the opposite. I mean he don’t have to go around acting cocky and tough and all ‘cause he knows he belongs. But, maybe ‘cause of that, he don’t seem anxious to stand up for himself or have a whole lot of push or hustle.”
Bebe leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks Daddy. I just wish one of them was more like you.”
He couldn’t help grinning. “I’m afraid you’ll have to do what your sweet mama did. Pick yourself out one of dem boys and start breaking him in.”
Later that afternoon the, “one of dem,” named Mark Cahill pulled up in front of the Boudreaux’s ranch style house. He’d picked Bebe up several times, but he still didn’t feel comfortable enough to use the de facto main door on the garage side of the house. Instead, he headed up the narrow concrete walkway which almost disappeared between dense growths of hydrangeas flanking the seldom-used front door.
Bebe was not ready, said her stepmother, after she let him into the house. In her quiet, steel-edged, country voice, Martha Jones Boudreaux asked about his family. Once the formalities were complete, she suggested he wait in the living room and watch TV.
A phone began to ring as she left. From his perch on the edge of a rust-colored couch, Mark could see her move down the polished wooden floor of a narrow, windowless hall. He looked away before she reached the phone nook. But he could hear her answer and then say something in a low voice before walking into a nearby room.
In the silence that followed, Mark studied the big, floor-model TV squatting on the other side of the living room. It was an impressive piece of furniture. But the sound was off and the image on the screen was rolling. That should be easy to fix, but he didn’t want to risk getting caught messing with the controls. The Boudreaux’s might be the type who felt protective toward their television. On the other hand, he didn’t want them to catch him staring at a rolling picture with no sound and think he was some kind of idiot.
After more indecision, he got up and hurried across the room. From his kneeling position in front of the big color Philco, he could no longer see down the hall. But moments later, he had no trouble hearing footsteps on the hardwood floor, followed by someone picking up the phone. Then he heard Jack Boudreaux’s voice. “What can I do you for, Darrell Ray?”
Boudreaux had been out the other times Mark came to pick up Bebe. Tonight, his luck had run out. But the bleak prospect of facing her father seemed trivial once he heard Darrell Ray’s name. Any scruples about eavesdropping were forgotten. Leaving the sound off, he started fiddling with various controls while listening to the conversation.
Jack Boudreaux was talking about niggers and a meeting at work. Mark had been afraid they were going to talk about Bebe or him. He didn’t care what they said about work. But he decided to leave the volume off, just in case, and begin trying in earnest to stop the rolling image on the screen.
Down the hall, Boudreaux was saying, “I’m glad you decided to handle tonight’s job. Remember, Buddy will have everything you need at his place. Make sure to wait until after dark to pick the stuff up.”
None of that made any sense to Mark. But he was still struggling to get the damn picture to stop its endless roll and only half-listening. The next time Boudreaux started talking, there seemed to be just a touch of exasperation in his voice. “Look, I already done told you all that at the office. Nobody’s ever there on Saturday nights. Ever. Tobias has had deputies checking out the place for weeks. They never, ever, come home before eleven. The only thing you gotta worry about is bringing a lighter. Okay?”
After another short pause, Jack spoke in a kinder tone. “You’re going to do fine. You know I’m leaving town early tomorrow morning, so don’t call me late tonight. Why don’t you come in to work a few minutes early on Monday and give me a report?”
It occurred to Mark that if Boudreaux headed for the living room after hanging up, he’d be caught either messing with the TV or eavesdropping. The former would be embarrassing. But the later could be fatal to any future dates with Bebe. So he slowly turned up the volume.
Moments later, he heard Boudreaux say, “Hello,” in a normal voice from across the room. It seemed like a good idea to ignore the greeting and act both deaf and dumb. With a beer jingle blasting into his ears, “Hello, mellow Jax, little darling,” it was an easy act.
Just as the jingle ended, Boudreaux once again said hello. Only this time it was in a loud, booming voice that originated a few inches behind Mark’s head.
Mark had been expecting something like that. But the shout still made him jump. He turned his head and looked up into the smirking face of Jack Boudreaux. “If I’d been a Jap you’d be graveyard dead, boy.”
“Good thing you guys won the war,” replied Mark, as he got to his feet. “Hope I didn’t make things even worse. But I couldn’t make the picture stop rolling.”
“It always does that this time of day, but only on that station,” said Boudreaux. He reached down and changed channels. “It’s just a damn good thing it’s not the one that carries the, Porter Wagoner Show. I suppose you’ve seen that new singer of his, the one who took the place of ‘Pretty Miss’ Norma Jean?”
Mark nodded. Everyone seemed to have heard and seen the new singer. Dolly Parton possessed a massive amount of teased, blonde hair and a voice that was every bit as impressive as her gravity defying bosom.
A short series of Dolly Parton jokes, followed. “Why are her feet so small? Can’t nothin’ grow in that much shade.” This kept conversation going until Mark managed to reclaim his spot on the edge of the couch. Boudreaux took possession of the large recliner that had to be his domestic throne.
The safest thing for two men unsure of each other’s attitudes and opinions to talk about is sports. Boudreaux began, “You’re going to LSU, right?” Mark nodded. “So how the Tigers gonna do this year?”
They spent the next few minutes talking about LSU football, “that Bradshaw kid,” up at Louisiana Tech and how the Saints might do in their second season. Then just as Mark was beginning to relax, Boudreaux changed the subject. “How were things in Baton Rouge after old, Martin ‘Lucifer’ Coon got shot?”
Mark knew Boudreaux was referring to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. He also knew he was on thin ice. “Things were a little tense for a while. There were some marches and protests and everybody was on edge. The students at Southern University are a lot more militant than the ones up at Grambling. No one was sure what might happen. Of course, Baton Rouge wasn’t a real hot spot. At least, not in comparison to what went on in some of the towns over towards Mississippi.”
Mark wasn’t sure what, but something he said must have flipped a switch inside Boudreaux. “They can yell and scream all they want, we still control things down here, and we’re gonna make sure we stay in control. What worries me is out there in California, in faggot land, and up north, in places like Jew York City. Hell, all those niggers do is scream about their rights, collect welfare checks, and chase after white women.”
When he’d come home for the summer and heard Boudreaux was running the local Klan, Mark had been skeptical. Cajuns didn’t fool with the Klan, much less become honchos. But listening to Boudreaux, maybe the stories were true. But even if they were, that didn’t mean Bebe was involved. “Well, maybe so, sir. I don’t know. I mean I’ve never been to any of those places myself.”
“There’s no damn ‘maybe’ about it.” Boudreaux was almost shouting. “Niggers carry the curse of Cain. It’s in your Bible, look it up. They’re a sub-human, jungle race dat’s being used by the ACL-Jew and all those other commies and queers to take dis country away from the white, Christian race. And by God they'll do it too if we don’t stick together.”
Mark considered trying to ease the intensity by making a joke about how white folks aren’t actually white. But he shelved the idea. If he had to risk pissing Boudreaux off, he didn’t want the issue to be some imagined insult regarding the color of the Cajun’s deeply tanned skin.
“Mr. Boudreaux, I’ve got a lot of respect for you, for what you did in the war, and all. And I know I’m just a kid and you’ve seen and done a lot more than I have. But Mr. Boudreaux, one of my best friends is Willie Carter and he’s black. And I’m sorry if this disappoints you or makes you mad at me, but he and I have been friends forever. The thing is Mr. Boudreaux, Willie may be black, but he’s not a nigger, and he’s not sub-human.”
There was a moment’s silence. When Boudreaux began, his voice was a little softer. “I’m not saying there’s not some decent niggers. Hell, there’s always an exception to every rule. If you’ve known this boy all your life, then maybe he’s one. Maybe he’s got a little white blood that’s brought out the good in him. It happens. But what about that troublemaking daddy of his, the preacher who keeps going around stirring up the niggers? And what about his brother, the bootlegger? Hell, I guess it’s a family deal. One juices ‘em up Saturday night and the other stirs ‘em up Sunday morning.”
Boudreaux laughed at his own joke, but Mark couldn’t force a smile. He ached to shout, “For the love of God, shut up! I’m so tired of acting polite while idiots like you rant and rave all this brain-dead racist shit. All you sad-ass losers have done is discredit the South and the flag my ancestors fought and died under. Why the hell won’t you just go away?"
But he couldn’t say that to an adult, not to anyone from Pinefield. Most of all, not to Bebe’s father while sitting in his living room waiting to take her on a date.
Sometimes, he felt certain the losers would never go away. They were like the poor. They’d always be around. Now as he looked over at Boudreaux, the only thing Mark could think to do was make a non-committal shrug.
To his surprise, the shrug seemed to make Boudreaux even madder. “So tell me son, what are we supposed to do? I’m saying we can’t just let the commies and coons come in and take over. We gotta fight for our rights, for our way of life.”
Mark looked at the floor, ignoring the challenge in the older man’s eyes, and considered his response. “I’m a southerner, Mr. Boudreaux. According to Dad, my great grandfather fought the U.S. government from Shiloh to Stone Mountain. The thing is, he and all the rest of those men fought hard, but we still lost. And now, I’ve got it on good authority, those same Feds have the atomic bomb.”
Much to his relief, Boudreaux’s face broke into a small, pleased grin. “Does make it seem like a stacked deck, I guess. But just you remember, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
Before Mark could frame a reply to that old football cliché, Bebe made her grand entrance. She was wearing a short, white, summer dress that accentuated her long, dark hair and olive complexion. Even before she pirouetted and asked how she looked, all other topics of conversation had ceased to exist. After receiving the accolades of her male admirers, she gave her father a quick good-bye kiss and hurried out with Mark.
Unnoticed on the television, Porter Wagoner and the Wagonmasters were singing, “Feel fresh and clean inside. Black-Draught makes you feel clean from the inside out.”