The Dying Ground

The Dying Ground by Nichelle D. Tramble Read Free Book Online

Book: The Dying Ground by Nichelle D. Tramble Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nichelle D. Tramble
plea etched on the glass of the back window: WASH MY ASS!
    “Mrs. Johnson, you home?” I stood on the porch knocking on the screen door. I could hear the television buzzing loudly inside but there was no sign of the old woman.
    “Caesar? Hey, boy, you in there?” I called into the house. I could see the back end of the ancient hound that lived with Mrs. Johnson. He turned and growled without much enthusiasm.
    “Hush up all that noise. You don’t pay rent here.”
    I wasn’t sure if she meant me or Caesar so I lowered my voice. “Mrs. Johnson, it’s me, Maceo. Albert’s grandson. I’m at the front door.”
    She appeared then, wizened and brown like a coconut with her hair pulled atop her head in a silver-and-white bun. The three-bedroom house she called home was one of several properties owned by my grandparents. Daddy Al had a total of fifteen rentals throughout Oakland and two in Berkeley. Most of his tenants were older people, friends from Louisiana andArkansas or co-workers from his days as foreman at the Del Monte Cannery after he left Kaiser.
    Mrs. Johnson lived in the house for a mere forty dollars a month, a price she insisted was too low and Daddy Al thought was way too high. Mrs. Johnson and Daddy Al had a ritual about the rent that they performed without fail. Every month on the first Daddy Al would arrive to collect Mrs. Johnson’s rent. She’d invite him inside to chat a little while about Gra’mère, the aunties, my slow progress through school, and my grandfather’s furniture-building hobby.
    After their catch-up talk she’d give him a bag of her garden vegetables to take home to Gra’mère. Then she’d let him get as far as the door before she’d say, “Don’t forget that envelope on the table.”
    And there it would be, a sealed envelope with two crisp twenty-dollar bills inside and
Albert Redfield
scrawled across the front. Daddy Al would pick up the money, slide it into his coat pocket, and head straight to the bank, where he’d deposit it back into her account.
    The house had been her home for over forty years and now she lived there alone, except for Caesar. At one time her oldest son, Numiel, and his wife, Donna, rented the basement apartment, but they’d long since moved back to Louisiana so that Numiel could work as the caretaker of Red Fields, the Redfield family home in northern Louisiana.
    “I have the TV up loud so I can hear it out in the garden. I don’t like to miss Bob Barker if I can help it.” She opened the screen door and motioned me inside the house. “Hot enough for you?”
    Caesar sniffed around my feet, and I bent down to pet him. He was about as old as Mrs. Johnson but he hadn’t held up as good. His coat was tatty in places and his back legs barely held him upright.
    Mrs. Johnson’s kitchen was decorated in a green-and-yellow scheme to pay homage to the A’s. A woman after my own heart. Her refrigerator was covered with A’s memorabilia, season tickets, and programs.
    “What you think my boys gonna do to them Giants, Maceo?”
    “Put ’em to bed.”
    She smiled. “That’s what I’m talking about. Yes, indeed.”
    I followed Mrs. Johnson out to the vegetable and flower garden she’d made famous throughout the Bay Area. She did a brisk day-to-day business with the commuters from the West Oakland BART station. Her little stand, where she sold bagged vegetables and bunches of flowers, was a fixture at the edge of the lot.
    On Sundays she opened her backyard and basement to weekend shoppers, which was the reason I was there. On more than one occasion Flea helped at her sales booth.
    I took a seat on the bottom step and watched her move through the garden.
    “Did you taste the okra I sent to your grandmother?”
    I waited until the BART train passed before answering. “She used it in her gumbo last weekend.”
    “How’d it taste?”
    “It made the gumbo better.”
    “Hmph.” She kept moving. “I tasted a little of that gumbo. If you ask me,

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