As Time Goes By
This story happened in this small town to a friend of mine named Futila Ways. The people here are the same as any people in any small middlin town anywhere in America, or the world, for that matter. There's a'many of them. Maybe a little poorer than some, with many things less accessible than in large cities.
There are churches galore and a few schools, clothing stores of the cheaper variety. People who happened to have money could afford to go to better places to shop. Womens here have to look out of town for a husband, sometimes, cause you can get sick of the people you grow up with. But, after all, it was a nice, quiet, clean, boring little place.
The town must'a had promising beginnings a long time ago. Large landowners had built large proud houses on their land. But, now, over a hundred years or so, their descendants had sold off most of the land to small developers in this part of the town. A few of the large houses remained and several rows of small houses had crept up to them.
Futila's family lived in one of the old, but neat little houses sitting in a row on Coulda Street with a younger sister, Willa, an older brother, Eddy Jr., a domestic-working mother, and a father who was a labor-mechanic at a gas station. He just kept the tools in order in the right places, didn't do much mechanic work on cars. He did his work well and kept a job so they had the bare necessities of life.
Mr. Ways (he doesn't know where his grandfather got that name from) did not have a sensitive turn of mind so he cut down the big, grand black-oak tree, and another tall beautiful tree I don't know the name of, in the front yard so he wouldn't have to rake leaves, umph umph. Then he covered the ground with cement so he wouldn't have to mow it. Just removed all the beauty and close bird songs. He wanted to do the backyard also, but his wife stopped him; she said she wanted to have a patch of land to plant a kitchen garden.
Mrs. Ways was tired and weary. Besides her regular working jobs she took care of her mother, Gramma, who suffered lifelong ills because she had struggled through the struggles. She was old and had even known people who had been slaves.
In this house Futila tried to dream about a future, her future, on hot sweaty summer nights as she threw off the damp sheet, or cold wintry nights as she pulled the wash-worn, threadbare blanket high around her neck. She was trying to see in the dark, beyond her here and now, to when and if. Just like most any poor girl anywhere in the world.
Her grandmother, sighting her grandchild staring off in some space, always talked about education. "Get that education, child, and be about thinkin your way out of here. Don't, and you gonna end up like me and your mama. Stead'a taken what you want, you gonna have to take what you can get! Where your books?! Get them books and bring em in here and teach me what you learnin in that school. Maybe I can learn somethin and get outta all this misery my own self!"
Futila loved her gramma, but didn't think Gramma knew anything about life. She would answer, "Ain't got no books! Just got some little notes I done made when the teacher was talkin."
Gramma, sitting in her rocker chair, would hit the floor hard with her knotty cane. "Bring them notes then, girl! Learn me somethin! Your sister, Willa, have books so why don't you? Put somethin in your fool-head sides of them boys!" Gramma knew her grandchild.
It was true; Futila dreamed of boys a lot. She was fourteen going on fifteen years old; her body was developing on time as it was supposed to. Had shoulder-length hair she was always fooling with, keeping it neat and near-styled. She had to wash her own clothes when the old washing machine didn't work so her clothes were not dirty, but not clean either. "Oh," she thought, "I just got such a hard time to make my future out of. I ain't never gonna get to be nobody." Then she would daydream in her classes about the man-boy "I'm gonna marry and he gonna take me way from here. He gonna work and buy me whatever I need and want! I'll help em. I'll work too! But not like my mama works. No domestic for me! Please, God, let him come soon!"
Younger sister Willa played on the junior basketball team (when they had a basketball) and volleyball team (when they had a volleyball). She was an active young lady. She didn't study hard because she thought she didn't like to read, but she made good grades anyway. She had to, because her friend Martha, a Jewish girl who lived in one of the grand decaying old houses up Coulda Street a ways, always made good grades.
Mrs. Ways worked for Martha's father taking care of the house and cooking for Martha. Martha's mother was dead and her father was often gone on some surveying job somewhere. There was many interesting things to do there, drawing tables, telescopes, microscopes, and books, books, books. Oh, all kind'a things for little girls to do. Martha wanted to be a scientist but knew her father's money was not so great all the time. She still studied hard anyway, even at such an early age, so she could get scholarships for college someday.
Willa told Martha, "You gonna have to study the rest of your life to be a scientist! That's too much for me. I don't know what I want'a do, but I'm ready to try to do it. I sure ain't gonna stay in this place and marry none of these knuckle-head boys round here!" Willa really liked her friend Martha and was often at her house whether her own mother was there or not. There were so many interesting things to do!
Martha was not a wild child, but her interest was in wild things, insects, plants, trees, and the like. They spent much of their time outside on the land that stretched all around. Willa followed Martha around. Sometimes they even crept out in the nights to study stars with the little worn telescope Martha's father had given her. Searching and collecting, studying, until Willa developed such an interest she began to find things to collect even when she wasn't with Martha.
Futila told Willa, "You all must be crazy! Walkin round in the dark with all them snakes out there! Lookin up at the sky like a fool!" Then she would smugly return to her thoughts of boys.
Futila was as popular as most girls at school because she had sizable breasts. The man-boy she dreamed of didn't show up to carry her away so, obviously, he wasn't at her school or anywhere in town.
A year or so passed as Martha worked hard on her scholarship, still planning to go to college. And now Willa had buckled down to study because she wanted to go to college; any college. Martha said to her, "No . . . You have to choose a college that excels at what you want to study, then you know you will learn what you need to know to be able to do what you want to do. Since we both want the same things you ought to try to come where I am going." So they were both working hard on their scholarships. Martha's dad provided them with extra reference books and catalogues from universities. Martha kept her specimens in drawers and long shelves; Willa kept hers in odd boxes she was able to find, under her bed.
Futila scoffed at them, laughingly teased Willa. "You ain't gonna be no scientist or nothing. You just copyin that ole white girl, Martha, and she gonna leave you in the dust cause you can't go where she go!"
That was when Willa hitched her dream to a moving star and started doing jobs to save money. She baby-sat, washed clothes, weeded gardens, cleaned some houses, and saved every dime. When there was time from working and her studies, she and Martha continued their searches for things to study in any pasture full of trees and "wild" things.
Gramma always took a few dollars from her little government check to divide among her grandchildren. Now she gave Futila only a third as much money as before, and added it to Willa's share. She didn't take from Eddy Jr. "He a man," she said without explanation.
Mr. Ways wanted to help Willa, he liked what she was trying to do, but couldn't spread his money any further than it was already spread. He began splitting firewood logs for people after his regular job. He added that money to Willa's savings. He wanted to see his children "get somewhere" in their lives. After two months of this he pulled muscles in his back and could no longer do even his regular job at the filling station unless it was lying under the automobile with his back flat.
Mrs. Ways tried to interest Futila in the excitement of Willa going to college. "What are you gonna do with yourself, sister? Don't you want to make some kind'a plan for your life? You see what I'm doin and how Papa and me are struggling round here. You not even gettin good grades in school. When you get grown and graduate from that school, we not gonna take care of you. We tired. We need some rest. Your sister is tryin to help herself. You betta try to do somethin to help yourself, too!"
Futila waved the words away, saying, "You ain't got to worry bout me. I'm a have a plan. Willa ain't so smart noway. She just follow whatever that white girl do!"
As she walked away with an armload of folded clothes, Mrs. Ways said, "She usin her own brain and everything she learn is hers. She ain't followin no fool, and she doin what SHE wants to do. If she get to that college and get a certificate and a job, her checks is gonna have HER name on em, not nobody else's, Miss Smartbutt!"
After graduation from high school Martha got her first scholarship and was sent away for higher learning to college. Willa hated to see her friend leave, and wished she had studied even harder than she had. But she kept saving even more of her money. She did without everything but pencils and paper. Letters came from Martha often, filled with references to their favorite subjects. Willa would take her letters into whatever room was empty and read them, over and over.
One day a letter came saying Martha had found a job for Willa where she could make and save more money. "And you can stay at our place here and do light housework to help costs. You are not a charity case (smile) because you can take a few classes at college until you are ready to enter a full schedule. Scholarship information is more abundant here, too."
Now, before she left her home Willa told her gramma, "Keep your money for yourself or for Eddy Jr. in case he wants to do better." She told her mother, "You gave me my brain, now I'm gonna see how good it works." She kissed her father, saying, "You take care yourself because one day I may have a job that can help you like you helped me, Papa." Willa packed her few clothes in a nice cardboard box she had painted pale green to hide the grocery advertisement on it, then she left almost immediately.
Futila was supposed to graduate the following semester, but she was stumbling through. School was not important to her except for sports events she loved to attend because, then, so many new boys from other schools came to her town. At one of the basketball games she attended she saw Dante Perks for the first time. He was tall, lean, and handsome with a bright smile in his golden-brown face topped with a dark curly natural. The sun flew out of his smile and landed smack into Futila's heart and lit up her little life!
Now Futila was a good-looking sixteen-year-old with a well-rounded attractive body. After she caught sight of him, she stared at him, smiling, all evening. She liked the way he moved as he jumped, and shook his arms and hands, for or against a score made. He looked her over also, but he looked all the girls over. Before he left to return to his little town, they talked in passing. He didn't ask her for her phone number, there were so many nice-looking girls smiling at him. But Futila made sure she had a schedule of all the games and when the next one was due. When the next game came up from his school, she was there! Her pretty dark eyes darted around looking for him.
Futila found Dante at half-time and placed herself in his vicinity. Dante was watching her watch him. He was flattered and soon they talked, flirting. He couldn't talk long because his regular girlfriend was there, watching him also. When Futila and Dante parted, he had the phone number she had grinned and slipped him. She insisted on having his. He told her, "I can't write it down now." She answered, "Just say it, I'll remember." So he did and she did. Her little heart just dreamed and dreamed and dreamed about that boy all her way home. "Dante . . . Dante . . . Dante." Music to her whole young untried mind and body.
Futila was in ninth heaven until two days passed and Dante didn't call. She made her first excuse for him, "He must'a lost that paper I gave him." So she called him. He sounded glad to hear from her and they made plans to meet on the next weekend. He missed that date, but kept the next one. In time, they became close, spending some time together, when he could get away from his studies, his family, his job, whatever. Oh, her heart was so full of joy.
Dante did like Futila. He told his friends, "She built, man! She so soft and smell so good; like vanilla cake!" Sex is mostly on all young men's minds in high school and, of course, sex entered into their relationship. She thought it would make their relationship closer, better. Well, of course, he told her it would. I mean, what else would he say? Of course.
Futila was a virgin and Dante liked being the "only" one. "I was the first and only!" he bragged to his friends.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns by J. California Cooper. Copyright © 2006 by J. California Cooper. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.