“Gimme’ some sugah’” he drawled, as he jumped on top of me. This isn’t happening I thought, but it was. His breath smelled like a still. I could feel his scratchy beard all over my face, he was kissing me. He was heavy and hard, his body. My little brother was sleeping on the bed on the other side of the room. This man was laying on top of me like a whale. But what did I know? What would I tell my cousin, his wife? How could I tell my mother? Why did my dad let this man into our lives?

“Have you eva’ felt a dead man’s body”? he said, as he put his arm around my shoulders. “No” I said shyly. “I have” he brags. “He was a nigga I killed”. “What”? I was no longer surprised at the comments Rock made. That was his name, Rock. In the south they gave everyone nicknames. He was from the south. He was my cousin’s husband. He’d escaped from a chain gang in Georgia, lived in the mountain forest for months, before finding his way to California and moving there, into our home. My father allowed this. “I buried his body in the sticks” said he. “Oh” was all I could reply.

“I’m gonna call you Brandy – for the drink you lak’”. She was lying in the top bed in the motor home while it moved. Her cousin Robbie was there too, as he grabbed her and sucked on her neck. There would be red welts she knew, she’d have to walk around with them at school. It was another one of those weeks she’d have to feel guilty. But she didn’t know it wasn’t her fault.

“So why are you always hiding in my closet” she said, as Rock jumped out and grabbed her upon walking into her bedroom. “Cuz yur’ sexy” he growled. Her bedroom was no longer her own, not her’s any more, as long as he could stand hiding in her closet waiting for her.

“Wing-wang, wing-wang”! He laughed “you wanna see how ta’ smoke? I’ll show ya’” He scraped a match and drew up a flame, then put it to the end of a cigarette, then puffed it once, twice, handed it to her. He lit another one, putting it between his lips and taking a few puffs. “You inhale it, you breathe it, lak’ this.” Then he lets the two streams of white smoke sail out of his two nostrils. Then she tries it too. She doesn’t cough, but feels adult for the effort, for him being there. She looks into his black piercing eyes, looking back at her.

Rock smokes Marlboro red box, she doesn’t know it now, but she will remember him by that red box of cigarettes outlined in his shirt pocket, forever imprinted in her fourteen year- old mind. “The other girls at school laugh at me when I smoke, I don’t know how to inhale”. He looks at her and says, “they won’ laugh at you no mo’”.

When Rock first came to their home to stay in it with her family, he spends time drinking in the wetbar in their home. On a weekend evening he’s there with her father, and asks her “Christine ya wanna’ go snipe huntin’”? He’s smiling at her. “okay I guess”, she says. He tells her to go and get a paper bag and she does it. They both go outside. They begin walking out into the field behind the corrals, where she learned out to smoke. It’s late, it’s dusk. The sun is going down. It’ll be dark soon.

They arrive at the top of a small hill, within a field of avocado orchards. He stops in front of her and tells her to sit down with the bag, open it, point it to the little trail where the rabbits hop. “The snipe’ll run right into the bag see!” “What do they look like?” she says in wonder, she’s curious. “like little brown birds”, he stutters a little, like he’s lyin’.  “Now jus’ hold that bag there an’ I’ll go chase ’em outa’ the bushes.” He leaves. She sits there until dark, after dark.

She trusts that the snipe will come.  It never comes. She walks back down the hill with the empty bag.