Odd, peculiar, freakish people roll into my life as regular as the tides, but with the most unexpected, extraordinary, and bizarre results.
Let me explain. I’ll start with my mother a plain and ordinary looking woman, blacker than a moonless night in an underwater cave, of average height and weight, nondescript face, and figure. I mean, she has a face so common and forgettable that even I have a hard time remembering my mother’s features.
But there are things about her that I can never forget. For one, she’s the essence of onyx, the heart of ebony black or medium or light brown or high yellow or red or tan or white depending on her disposition or desires. Her ability to change skin colors at will or to subconsciously reflect her moods was not weird to me and my four siblings and others in our tiny backwoods’ hamlet. Mother’s color changing tricks were well within the range of normal in our community.
Our mother accepts her color changing gift, curse, superpower, or whatever with grace and good humor. However, she’s not so sanguine about her language limitations. Mother speaks a language of squeaks, peeps, clicks, clucks, pops, lip smacking, and plucking her teeth with her fingernails to create sounds resembling a steel drum. Her speech is always accompanied by horrific facial contortions.
Mother can read and write English, French, and Arabic, but she can only speak her strange language that no one understands or recalls ever hearing before. Our relatives and neighbors find mother’s language issues to be odd indeed.
Mother cares for us deeply and suckles us until we are four years old, homeschools us in the village school until we are twelve, and bathes us weekly, whether we need it or not until we are eighteen.
We all love our mother dearly and return to visit her as often as we can. And when we do return to her abode, she greets us with warm affection and a hot, sudsy bath.
As to my father, I know little of him. Mother writes he was a blind bluesman who seduced her with his mouth harp and made her young body sing exquisite new songs. Mother claims that he would leave songs in her love box that played her until he returned the year after next.
Mother has a wicked sense of humor, and sometimes it’s difficult to sort out the fiction from the fact in her stories.
That’s how we roll in my little community on Hog Heaven Bayou. Now, when I step off my Bayou into the outside world, I encounter peculiar beings even on a humble and ordinary school bus.
On my first day at a real school, I see this girl on the school bus that shakes me up some. She’s tall and stout, the color of Georgia clay, with a bushel basket of kinky red curls. Her eyes are as big and round as saucers and are burning like orange fire. She has on clean, patched overalls and is barefoot with oversized feet and hands.
When she gets on the bus, it is suddenly as silent as the grave. Everybody’s watching her and lean away from her as she walks to the back of the bus. I nod to her as she walks by me. She ignores me. But I can feel her eyes scalding the back of my head all the way to school. It unnerves me, petrifies me with fear. I’m too frightened to turn around or utter a sound.
I race off that damn bus as soon as it stops. I stand there waiting for her to get off so I can give her what for and why. But she never gets off. This is way too crazy. I don’t know what the hell is going on. Something makes me turn around and Goddamn, she’s right behind me, right up on me.
“I’m Hecate the Younger. You lookin’ for me swamp boy?”
Her eyes are as bright and hot as the sun. Her ragged hair’s alive and angry. Her right hands balled up in a massive fist.
I do not look away from her or drop my eyes. And this is the bravest thing I have ever done in my life. “Red, or whatever your name is, it ain’t polite to stare at people like you did on the bus. I don’t like it. Don’t stare at me again like that.”
She’s about five inches taller than me and maybe thirty pounds heavier and 10,000 volts scarier.
Hecate’s set to use her boulder of a fist when something behind me catches her eye. She brushes by me quick as a snake and hisses at me. “Little Swamp Nigger you need to follow yo own advice. I take care of you in a minute.”
This is my introduction to Hecate the Younger. Hecate terrorizes the school. Nobody messes with her, not the white principal, the black teachers or any of the students. She comes to school whenever she feels like it, sits in any classroom she wants, and nobody says shit to her – not a word.
If you have something she wants, you give it to her quick and hope she moves her terrifying, electrifying ass on down the line.
I see her next at lunchtime. I’m talking to two boys from my swamp, and they go three shades paler and peel away like dragsters. I turn around, and I’m again face-to-face with Hecate the Younger.
She smiles, shows her square white teeth that look like they could chew up iron and spit out bullets. “Swamp Boy, you had a complaint against me. We need to settle that shit now.”
Her eyes are blazing again. This time I have to look away.
She grunts, “Okay, you show a little respect. I’m gonna’ enjoy beatin’ the shit out of you. This is your lucky day boy there are worst things, far worst I could do.”
I shade my eyes with my hand, I glance into her eyes. There’s the faintest hint of music in the background. “Hecate, I’m gonna’ enjoy makin’ you eat every bite of that shit.”
Hecate roars with laughter, “You gonna’ give me word for word boy?”
I say, “Tit for tat.”
She say, “This for that.”
Hecate places her rough paw on my shoulder, waves her finger in my face, “Boy, I’m gonna’ do things to you that’ll hurt your ancestors back in Africa. I’m gonna’ make an example of you that no one here or there will ever forget.”
I know I should be scared to death. I’m scared, but I’m more angry than scared. “Talk’s cheap, bring it on.”
Hecate’s laughing, holding her sides, tears of mirth are cascading down her cheeks, “Okay, Boy, okay. What’s your name? I want them to get it right on your tombstone.”
“Kwoth Jacobs. My Mother’s Safe Harbor. My father’s unknown.”
“Kwoth. I have heard that name before. Okay, little fatherless son of Safe Harbor you go first. I give you the first shot. I’ll not even defend myself. Come at me any way you want. Come on. Let’s get to it and do it.”
My mind’s confused, mixed up like in a blender, I can’t think straight. I’m starting to shake. The fear’s catching up to me. My mouth doesn’t think. It sings out. “Hecate, Hecate why you so fucking mean? You meaner than a hog eatin’ chili peppers in July. Tell me why.”
Hecate slowly places her hand on my head and starts to squeeze.
“Kwoth, you missed your chance, boy. My turn now.”
“No! you told me I could come at you any way I wanted to. I want you to answer my damn question. That’s how I’m comin’ at you. Don’t be a punk, these your terms, Hecate.”
The pressure on my head’s bringing tears to my eyes. My knees are trembling. I’m about to pass out. I hear a harmonica in the far distance. The last words I shout out are, “Hecate’s a punk-ass bitch.”
And suddenly the pressure’s gone. I fall to my knees holding my head, crying with relief.
Hecate’s voice is mellow and deep, “Boy, you know that’s not what I meant.”
I choke out my answer, “If you don’t mean it don’t say it. Answer my question.” My head feels like it’s splitting open. There’s a soothing hint of blues on the breeze.
“I don’t answer questions from pieces of shit like you. I never have. I never will.” Hecate leans down and whispers, “Riches, wealth, fame, women, men, boys, girls, beast whatever you want I give to you if you concede.”
“Just answer my question.” I hear the blues harp coming closer.
“Listen, you, little cocksucker, I’ll destroy your little village and every living thing in it. Now! Concede, and we’ll be even.”
The music’s here – so sweet. I hum along as Hecate rages.
“Last chance, little nigger – next stop annihilation!”
Hecate lifts me by my shirt front.
“Kwoth, don’t be a fool, boy. I’ll never answer to you. You’re lower than whale shit, as worthless as a preacher’s prayer or a politician’s promise.”
I’m humming, snapping my fingers to the beat.
Hecate screams, “Fuck you swamp nigger!”
There’s a flash that’s light and dark, time and space, sound and silence, life and death. The world ripples, shudders, falls back into place.
Hecate has left the house.
I’m out of it for the next few days. Safe Harbor takes good care of me. During my baptism/bath washing off the outside world and renewing me in our world, I ask again about my blues playing father. This time I’m ready to believe anything my mother writes.
Banner Image: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
William Blake [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
5 thoughts on “Peculiar Folk by Frederick K Foote”
Frederick, thanks for writing and sharing this interesting piece.
Love the human moodstone mother. Hectate and Kwoth mixing cause me to recall both the Devil and Daniel Webster and Robert Johnson at the crossroads.
“Peculiar” Folk is an understatement! Bath-giving Mom is as scary as Hectate. The the engaging and strong narrative voice carried my right along.
“The engaging and strong narrative voice carried me right along.” (Mistakes like these I can’t even blame on autocorrect.)
Well these sure are some interesting characters!
Brilliant. Dark. Maybe even a bit nasty!! What’s not to like?
Excellent as ever!
All the very best my friend.