by Jeff Landon Read author interview September 15, 2008
When Jane gets too high on speed she sits on the edge of her bed and makes a great whooshing sound like a hot air balloon being deflated. Zeke sits beside her, holding her hand. I sit on the floor, rifle through her record collection, and pull out Led Zeppelin 3. Jane loves the song “That’s The Way” so I fit the needle into the groove. When Jane hears Jimmy Page strum that opening riff, she nods and smiles at me—I like her smile, it’s uncluttered. Downstairs, Jane’s mother is cooking fried catfish, yams, and greens simmering in fatback. She’s taking a class at the co-op called Cooking With Soul! because her new boyfriend, Otto, is black, but Otto only eats organic so Jane’s mother is gaining weight because nobody except me will eat her fattening soul food.
Zeke has some green reefer, and we need to bring Jane down a little, so we walk into the woods behind her house. We used to play in the creek and clobber each other with crabapples, but we’re older now. Zeke pulls out his Swiss Army knife and makes a pipe out of a green apple, and we take deep tokes and dip our bare feet into the water. When we’re done, we lie on our backs and watch what we misidentify as a red-tailed hawk circle overhead, but it turns out to be a crow, and who wants to watch crows?
“Are we going to the concert tomorrow?” Zeke asks. Seals and Crofts are playing tonight at the Salem Civic Center. We don’t get many concerts, so we go to all of them, even though Seals and Crofts is the sort of music Mom likes to hum in the car.
We listen to the creek and cars in the distance. Jane’s hair falls over her eyes, and with one hand she swoops back her bangs. She starts to hum a Seals and Crofts song, Diamond Girl, and since nobody’s around, we start singing. We sing until Zeke, for no sane reason, starts to stomp on the water like someone putting out a campfire.
“My mom says Zeke’s crazy,” I tell Jane.
Mom feels sorry for Zeke because his parents are dead, but she still thinks he’s crazy and a bad influence.
“My hands look like waffles,” Jane says.
“No,” I assure her. “You’re crazy. They’re just big.” I look at her lips—there’s one place, right in the middle, where one night, wasted on Quaaludes, she chewed a tiny hole.
“Let’s not squabble about this,” says Jane.
Zeke tosses his pot apple into the high weeds on the other side of the creek, and we walk back up the slow hill that opens to Jane’s backyard, where Otto is trying out the tire swing he just put up for Jane’s little brother, Blake. Blake’s at a summer camp for fat kids in northern Ohio.
“I had a tire swing,” Otto tells Jane, “and I turned out OK.” He looks a Jane’s eyes, and then he looks at Zeke and me. “Hey, Jane girl,” he say, bobbing his eyebrows like a black Groucho Marx. “You kids been swimming?”
Jane’s mother comes outside with platters of food. She’s wearing a dashiki that she ordered from a catalogue called African Designs.
“My mother, the proud Nubian princess,” Jane says, and Otto gives her a shut-up look. We feast on soul food, tofu, and a zucchini pie that Otto baked from scratch. After dinner, we eat peach ice cream and Jane’s mother lets out a long sigh.
“I have back fat,” she says. “I’m expanding here. My hair is all scraggly. I’m not happy about this.”
Otto puts his arms around her, and then Zeke puts his arms around Jane. Next door, my mother flips the porch light on and goes back inside to watch Carol Burnett. Jane and I used to play kick-the-can with the other kids on our street, and at dusk all the front doors would open at the same time while our mothers—always our mothers—called our names.
After dinner, we help Otto with the dishes while Jane’s mother rests her weary legs. She’s not wearing the dashiki anymore—she’s wearing pajamas with little yellow ducks all over them. We go back upstairs to Jane’s room and sprawl on Jane’s bed. She’s coming down now, and tired. I don’t think she slept last night. She’s writing Black Sabbath song lyrics on her jeans with a felt-tip band. Zeke opens the blade from his knife, and carves his initials, and Jane’s, and mine, into Jane’s headboard.
“That’s probably a bad idea,” says Jane.
“It’s something to remember us by,” says Zeke. “How can that be bad?”
Jane looks like she’s too tired to argue. She curls up on her bed, around Zeke. Her feet are beside me. She has long, thin feet. I pick one up and hold it in both hands. Blood vessels, bones, nerves, skin, and soft tissue: I want to massage Jane’s foot, but it feels like something I’ll feel bad about, later, so I just hold her foot in the air like one of the three wise men bearing gifts for Jesus.
About the Author:
Jeff Landon lives with his family in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches at John Tyler Community College. His stories have appeared in Mississippi Review, Crazyhorse, Another Chicago Magazine, Other Voices, FRiGG, SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train, Quick Fiction, Phoebe, and other places.
About the Artist:
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.