Corregidora (Bluestreak)

BOOK: Corregidora (Bluestreak)
13.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


To my parents



It was 1947 when Mutt and I was married. I was singing in Happy’s Café around on Delaware Street. He didn’t like for me to sing after we were married because he said that’s why he married me so he could support me. I said I didn’t just sing to be supported. I said I sang because it was something I had to do, but he never would understand that. We were married in December 1947 and it was in April 1948 that Mutt came to Happy’s drunk and said if I didn’t get off the stage he was going to take me off. I didn’t move, and some men put Mutt out. While I was singing the first few songs I could see Mutt peeking in, looking drunk and evil, then I didn’t see him and thought he’d gone on home and gone to bed to sleep it off. I always left by the back way. You go down some narrow steps and through a short alley and then you be to the Drake Hotel, where Mutt and I was staying then. I said good night and went out back.

“I’m your husband. You listen to me, not to them.”

I didn’t see him at first because he was standing back in the shadows behind the door. I didn’t see him till he’d grabbed me around my waist and I was struggling to get loose.

“I don’t like those mens messing with you,” he said.

“Don’t nobody mess with me.”

“Mess with they eyes.”

That was when I fell.

The doctors in the hospital said my womb would have to come out. Mutt and me didn’t stay together after that. I wouldn’t even let him come in the hospital to see me when I knew what was happening. They said he’d come in when I didn’t know what was happening. They said when I was delirious I was cursing him
the doctors and nurses out.

Tadpole McCormick was the man who owned Happy’s Café. Square-jawed and high-cheekboned, he was one of them Hazard, Kentucky, niggers. I was singing in Happy’s when Demosthenes Washington owned it, about two years before Tadpole took it over. I never did know how it got the name Happy’s because I never did know anybody named Happy that owned it. Tadpole said he got his name because when he was a kid he was always messing around tadpole holes. He came to see me when I could have visitors.

“How you feeling, U.C.?” He didn’t sit down in the chair by the bed but stayed standing.


“They tell me you been doing some hard cussing while you was sick.”


He didn’t say anything. I could tell he felt awkward. I asked if he wanted to sit down. He said, “Naw thanks.” Then he said, “Well, I just wont to tell you he’s been barred from the place, so when you get back he won’t be troubling you.”

“He’s been barred from my place too. What are you doing in the meantime?”

“Got a little combo. Eddy Pace’s group.”


He said nothing.

“Do you know what’s happened?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Do you ever feel as if something was crawling under your skin?”

He nodded again.

“Taddy, will you take me home when it’s time to go?”

He said yes.

When it was time to go home he didn’t take me back to the Drake. He had three rooms over the café. I slept on a couch that let out as a bed. He slept on the couch that didn’t let out. I was still weak and there were the stitches that wouldn’t be out for a while. The first meal he fixed me was vegetable soup. He didn’t have any. He sat by the bed.

“I’m glad you didn’t think ‘home’ meant the Drake.”

“He wasn’t barred from the Drake,” he said.

The soup was good but I only ate the broth. I kept feeling as if I would throw up.

“I thought you’d want more,” he said.

“Naw, I’m not very hungry. My stomach still feels tender, all those liquids they had me on.”

It was evening but I didn’t hear even any faint music from below.

“Where’s the combo?”

“I told them not to come in tonight.”

“What about business?”

“You more important than business.”

I said nothing. I could tell he felt awkward again. He took the bowl and went back to the kitchen. When he came back he said, “They still come to drink.” Then he said, “I’m going downstairs. I’ll be back up later to see if you want anything.”


He left.

When he came back, I opened my eyes.

“I thought you were sleeping,” he said.


“You should be. How do you feel?”

“Still weak. It’s not so much how I feel in my body.”

“What do you feel?”

“As if part of my life’s already marked out for me—the barren part.”

“You can’t expect a woman to take something like that easy.”

“What about the man?”

“You mean Mutt? You don’t intend to go back to him, do you?”

“No, I mean any other man.”

“If I were the man it wouldn’t matter. I don’t know about any other man.”

I said nothing. I might have wanted him to say that, but I hadn’t intended for him to.

“I feel like sleeping now,” I said.

He turned my light out, and went into the next room where the couch was. He closed the door.

I lay on my back, feeling as if something more than the womb had been taken out. When he was downstairs, I’d looked at the stitches across my belly again. When they were gone, I’d get back to work again, that and … I couldn’t help feeling I was forcing something with Tadpole. What our talk was leading to. Something I needed, but couldn’t give back. There’d be plenty I couldn’t give back now. Of course, I’d get the divorce from Mutt … I went to sleep.

The next morning Tadpole found me staring at the ceiling.

“Didn’t you sleep?”

“Yes, I just woke up early that’s all.”

“They said you could have juice for breakfast. Nothing solid yet.”

“You going by their menu?”


He went into the kitchen and came back with some juice. While I drank, he emptied the bedpan. When he came back, he stood watching me. I was frowning, but I didn’t tell him to stop. When I finished, I handed him the glass. He took it back and came back and watched me again.

“What is it, Taddy?”

“Nothing. I’m going down now.”

“Okay. Is that what you wanted?”

“I’ll be back to check you a little later.”

“Okay, Taddy.”

He watched me a moment more.

“What is it?”

“The doctor wants you to come back in a couple of weeks for a checkup. I’ll take you.”


He went downstairs.

When he came back, I’d been sleeping, but woke up as soon as he opened the door.

“Have a good sleep?”


“Cat Lawson made you some chicken soup.”

“Thank her.”

“I did.”

Catherine Lawson lived across the street from Happy’s. She straightened people’s hair. She wasn’t a regular hairdresser, but people would go to her anyway, and give her a couple of dollars for doing it.

He pulled up the little table and brought me a spoon from the kitchen and took the foil from around the bowl.

“I better get your pill first.”

He got the pills and I took one and a little water. I didn’t eat the pieces of chicken. My stomach still felt queasy.

“They said you had gastritis too. You weren’t eating right.”

“I was eating all right.”

“Or worrying too much.”

“I can’t talk to you about it.”

“I know most about it already.”

“Then I don’t have to talk to you about it.”

When I finished he moved the table away and took the bowl back in the kitchen.

“She said if you want anything to just send over for it.”

“That’s sweet of her.”

“No, it’s not sweet. She cares about you.”

“That’s good to know.”

He touched my forehead.

“They said you had those nurses scared to death of you. Cussing them out like that. Saying words they ain’t never heard before. They kept saying, ‘What is she, a gypsy?’ ”

“What did you say?”

“Naw. I said if she’s a gypsy I’m a Russian.”

“How do you know you ain’t? One a them might a got your great-grandmama down in a Volga boat or something.”

“Those pills make you silly?”

“I’m already silly.”

He said nothing. I said nothing else. He sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Ursa Corre. I know what the ‘U’ stands for but I keep getting the last one wrong. Corrente. Corredo.”

“Corregidora. Old man Corregidora, the Portuguese slave breeder and whoremonger. (Is that what they call them?) He fucked his own whores and fathered his own breed. They did the fucking and had to bring him the money they made. My grandmama was his daughter, but he was fucking her too. She said when they did away with slavery down there they burned all the slavery papers so it would be like they never had it.”

“Who told you all ’at?”

“My great-grandmama told my grandmama the part she lived through that my grandmama didn’t live through and my grandmama told my mama what they both lived through and my mama told me what they all lived through and we were suppose to pass it down like that from generation to generation so we’d never forget. Even though they’d burned everything to play like it didn’t never happen. Yeah, and where’s the next generation?”

He nodded but said nothing.

I asked, “How’s Cat?”

“She said she didn’t have no complaints. I was passing down the street and she said, ‘You got U.C. up there, ain’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I thought she was going to say something, you know. She said, ‘Come on in here. I fixed her up some chicken soup I wont you to take over there. I didn’t wont to take it up myself, cause she just got back and women get evil after something like that and I don’t like to mess with no evil women. Tell her I be up to see her when she feeling all right.’ ”

“Yeah, I wondered why she didn’t come herself. Tell her I stopped cussing.”


“Uh hum.”

“I went in there and it smell like she had somebody’s head on fire … They ain’t told me shit.”


“I mean like your grandmama told you. I guess some people just keep things in.”

“Well, some things can’t be kept in. What I didn’t tell you is old man Corregidora fathered my grandmama and my mama too.”

Taddy frowned, but he said nothing.

“What my mama always told me is Ursa, you got to make generations. Something I’ve always grown up with.”

Tad said nothing. Then he said, “I guess you hate him then, don’t you?”

“I don’t even know the bastard.”

He frowned and I knew he hadn’t meant the old man, but I went on as if he had.

“I’ve got a photograph of him. One Great Gram smuggled out, I guess, so we’d know who to hate. Tall, white hair, white beard, white mustache, a old man with a cane and one of his feet turned outward, not inward, but outward. Neck bent forward like he was raging at something that wasn’t there. Mad Portuguese. I take it out every now and then so I won’t forget what he looked like.”

“You didn’t know who I meant?”

“I didn’t know until after you’d said it.”

He said nothing. He didn’t make me answer. He left me and went downstairs again.

A Portuguese seaman turned plantation owner, he took her out of the field when she was still a child and put her to work in his whorehouse while she was a child. She was to go out or he would bring the men in and the money they gave her she was to turn over to him. There were other women he used like that. She was the pretty little one with the almond eyes and coffee-bean skin, his favorite. “A good little piece. My best. Dorita. Little gold piece.”

Great Gram sat in the rocker. I was on her lap. She told the same story over and over again. She had her hands around my waist, and I had my back to her. While she talked, I’d stare down at her hands. She would fold them and then unfold them. She didn’t need her hands around me to keep me in her lap, and sometimes I’d see the sweat in her palms. She was the darkest woman in the house, the coffee-bean woman. Her hands had lines all over them. It was as if the words were helping her, as if the words repeated again and again could be a substitute for memory, were somehow more than the memory. As if it were only the words that kept her anger. Once when she was talking, she started rubbing my thighs with her hands, and I could feel the sweat on my legs. Then she caught herself, and stopped, and held my waist again.

“… He was a big strapping man then. His hair black and straight and greasy. He was big. He looked like one a them coal Creek Indians but if you said he looked like an Indian he’d get mad and beat you. Yeah, I remember the day he took me out of the field. They had coffee there. Some places they had cane and then others cotton and tobacco like up here. Other places they had your mens working down in mines. He would take me hisself first and said he was breaking me in. Then he started bringing other men and they would give me money and I had to give it over to him. Yeah, he had a stroke or something and that’s what turned his foot outside. They say he was praying and calling in all his niggers and telling them he’d give them such and such a amount of money if they take it off him but they all said they didn’t put it on him. He got well, though, and didn’t die. It just turned his foot outside and he behave like he always did. It did something to his neck too, because he always go around like he was looking for something that wasn’t there. I don’t know how he finally went, because by then I was up to Louisiana, but I bet he didn’t go easy. Yeah, he have that took afterward. I stole it because I said whenever afterward when evil come I wanted something to point to and say, ‘That’s what evil look like.’ You know what I mean? Yeah, he did more fucking than the other mens did. Naw, I don’t know what he did with the others.”

Sweat inside her hands. Her palms like sunburnt gold.

“Were you sleeping?”

“Naw, I was dreaming.”

“About what?”

“I’ve already told it.”

He said nothing. He had boxes with him.

“I brought your things.”

“I was going to ask you to, but I didn’t want to bother you again.”

“I should have thought about it. I didn’t think about it till you started talking about that picture.”

“Aw. Was

BOOK: Corregidora (Bluestreak)
13.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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