Long ago Hudeen gave up ordinary conversation. Her response to any greeting, question, or request is not the substance of language but its form. She utters sounds which have the cadence of agreement or exclamation or demurrer. Uhn-ohn-oh (I don’t know?); You say!, You say now!, Lawsymussyme (Lord have mercy on me?); Look out!—an all-purpose expression conveying both amazement and good will.
Hudeen is barely literate, but her daughter went to college and became a dental hygienist. She married a dentist. They are as industrious, conventional, honest, and unprofane as white people used to be. They have five children, three girls named Chandra, Sandra, and Lahandra, and twin boys named Sander and Sunder.
Chandra is smart, ill-mannered, discontent, but not malevolent. She graduated in media and newscasting at Loyola, interned at a local station, worked briefly as a street reporter. She wants to be an anchorperson. The trouble is, she hasn’t the looks for it; she doesn’t look like a tinted white person, what with her Swahili hair, nose, lips, and skin so black that local light seems to drain out into her. Said Hudeen once, talking back to the TV as usual when somebody mentions black—Hudeen, who still has not caught up with the current fashion in the proper race name: colored? Negro? black?—“Black?” she said to the TV. “What you talking about, black? That woman light. Sunder he light. Sandra bright; Chandra now—we talking black!”—hee hee hee, cackling at the TV.
I buy Leroy Ledbetter a drink. He drinks like a bartender: as one item in the motion of tending bar, wiping, arranging glasses, pouring the drink from the measuring spout as if it were for a customer, the actual drinking occurring almost invisibly, as if he had rubbed his nose, a magician’s pass.
All you need is a little red beans and rice.
I try to place his speech. Despite its Southernness, the occasional drawled vowel, it is curiously unplaced. He sounds like Marlon Brando talking Southern.