Fiction – Green Ribbon
by Thomas Hollyday
originally published in The Charles Street Review
“It’s when they stink up the cab that it’s bad, it don’t pay,” the black cabbie thought as he shifted at the light. He watched the young girl with the baby and the little boy that crawled. The baby was wrapped in a red and blue blanket. It was the baby that was causing the smell. ”Bad at the bus terminal, no choice in your fare, have to take them as they come, take what you can get.” The young mother was white and had long unkempt blonde hair. ”Long bus ride.” She reminded him of the home he left when he was a young man. Same kind of mean and little, bitter look to it. Home didn’t always stink, just some- times, sometimes. “She ain’t going to tip, sure.”
“Yes mam you see my husband, he’s supposed to be here in B – – -, and that’s why we come here.” The blonde girl stood in front of the reception desk of the small real estate company, and the secretary named Jerry watched her silently, thinking how frail this young mother is. The secretary held a key to a third floor apartment up the street. A piece of white paper was on the desk blotter in front of the secretary. The paper said that the party agrees to prepay one week’s rent and that at such time as the party would intend to change address, the extra week’s rent would be refunded.
The phone rang.
“Jerry, you want me for something?”
“Yes, Mr. Blakeson, we have a young woman here who wants to rent 2829 third floor. But she can’t give us the prepay.”
“Well, tell her we can’t accept that.”
“She has two children with her, Mr. Blakeson. Her husband is here in the city working somewhere and she has just come up from the South to join him. She says it will take a while to locate him and let him know she is here. She’s very young, Mr. Bakeson.”
“No reason to doubt her then, I guess. Those two kids. How old is she?”
“How old are you, honey?”
“She’s seventeen, Mr. Blakeson.”
“Rent it to her. Good. I’ll stop over and see her about it. Anything else, Jerry?”
“No sir.” The secretary laughed as she hung up the phone.
“All right, Mrs. Donlin, the boss says you can have the room, but only for a week.”
“Oh thank you mam. Hey you Charleyboy, you leave that thing alone.” The high pitched angry voice stopped the two year old child from crawling further over the typewriter. He had snarled the keys. He fell back to the floor and grinned at the secretary. The mother calmed again and pulled the child’s hand and shifted the weight of the baby in her arms. She had been holding the baby for a long time now. The secretary watched. She had never had her own children.
“How old is he?”
“Oh, Charleyboy, that’s after my husband, he’s two years now, and this one is three months.”
“Well, I guess you’ll want to get up to 2829 and wash of all that road dirt and everything.”
“Yes mam, that sure would be nice.”
“Chauncey will show you where the apartment is.”
“Thank you mam.”
“Chauncey, Mr. Blakeson was here this morning and said to have you go over and help Mrs. Donlin move an icebox. She told him last night that it was in the wrong place. You can do that after you get through cleaning the office.”
“Yes mam, you see today is my wife’s birthday and I was planning on getting home early today.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that.”
He heard someone inside tell him to go ahead in, so he opened the door. 2829 was almost unfurnished. Two or three chairs. And there was the huge noise of rhythm and blues music. Suddenly the blonde poked her head around the bedroom doorway and yelled at him. “It’s the icebox out in the kitchen. Do I have to show you? Wait a minute.” Chauncey went out to the kitchen. He was thinking about his wife and about having to come up here and move this icebox for trash like that naked woman in the other room. The little boy come crawling across the floor, his fingers holding a smashed roach and his clothes unchanged from the day before when Chauncey had brought this woman and her kids to this apartment. He didn’t hear the baby crying in the bedroom because the radio music was too loud. He opened the door of the icebox and saw the small loaf of bread and the half empty bottle of milk. When he closed the door, many bugs scrambled in several wild directions and the little boy gave chase, making child noises.
“Like a cat, Chauncey thought. He felt sad. He smiled at the kid. Charleyboy grinned up at him and sat back on his bare feet in the middle of the worn linoleum floor where some of the once yellow flower pattern still showed. She came into the kitchen. She was wearing the dress she had worn the day before. The only change was the bright green ribbon in her hair.
“Yes mam, you want this icebox moved somewheres?”
“Listen, you black sonofabitch,” she stood there and said in that same voice she had used in the office on Charleyboy, that same sudden shift from southern slowness to quick harsh anger, “don’t you do no hurrying of no white woman.” And then she kicked of her bedroom slippers which skittered across the floor, and she flopped down in the only chair in the kitchen, putting her feet up on the kitchen table, and, looking at Chauncey, she laughed and he could hear that laugh over the sounds of Charleyboy chasing his mother’s slippers and over the noise of the rhythm blues music.