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11 tuuro and the boy At Westminster Presby terian, the church in downtown Dayton where Tuuro worked, the new (five years) pastor liked to call him Our Director, using a hearty, booming voice that made Tuuro squirm inside. Tuuro was in maintenance. Aunt Stella, not Tuuro’s real relative but his godmother or whatever she was, liked to say people could have all the automation and lifestyle control they wanted, but somebody had to sweep the floors. Tuuro swept the floors. He liked his job, the piles of crumbs and lint and plastic children’s rings and bits of straw (straw! where did that come from?) he accumulated at the end of a Sunday. The detritus of the world consoled him with its humble dailiness, and Tuuro enjoyed disposing of it handily, lifting a burden and tossing it away. Once he wrote a ditty about it: The dust is flying in the air the lint is going too. If you think clean is Godly I sure have the church for you. Irreverent, really. Maybe slightly hostile. Not a poem he would have recited to the pastor. Tuuro knew what he could 12 s ha r p a n d d a n g e r ou s v i r t u e s say to people or not. He had a daughter, Lanita, who lived with her mother outside Chattanooga. Tuuro had lived with Lanita’s mother, Naomi, for almost seven years, and the relationship had split up, not, Tuuro had come to realize, over his lack of ambition, as Naomi had told him at the time, but because of the way Naomi had come to picture Tuuro. He knew how he looked: tall, darker than mahogany, dignified, with a face something like a cat’s, high cheekbones and alert eyes. On the street mothers jabbed their daughters to take a look. But the Tuuro Naomi saw looked nothing like this man: her Tuuro was smaller, and he was cringing. He looked to Naomi, Tuuro realized, the way he looked to himself. Not that he wasn’t a good man, as Naomi liked to say, but Naomi wanted something more. No, she wanted something other: lust, scenes in front of the neighbors, a man who would twist her against the wall and say, Shut up, woman. She found that man. She and the wild man fled Ohio, landing in Chattanooga when a wire burned out in their car. Then something happened, Tuuro was never clear what. The original wild man was now in prison, and a new, slightly less wild man lived with Naomi. Tuuro was under no obligation to do so—the court had sided with him—but he deposited money in Naomi ’s account monthly to help cover Lanita’s expenses. He lived for the rare days he saw his daughter. She was six. “Can’t she stay with me when you’re back in Ohio?” Naomi’s sigh seared through the phone. Naomi was coming to visit her sister in Columbus. “I send you money every month, Naomi,” Tuuro said. “What more do you want?” “Oh, I know, Tuuro. You’re so good.” Tuuro bit his lip. “Why can’t Lanita stay here with me while you’re at your sister’s?” “Is it safe?” “Of course it’s safe. It’s fine here. It’s normal.” Safer than Columbus, he was thinking. The quickest way from Dayton 13 tuuro and the boy to Columbus was driving through the Grid, on one of the walled-off interstates. “It is not normal.” “Naomi. Cleveland is far away.” Naomi gave another heavy sigh. “All right, she can stay with you. I’ll bring her by Thursday late and pick her up Sunday . But don’t you be feeding her a lot of sweets. I’ve got her off sweets.” “Did the sweets hurt her? Is she fat?” “Sweets always hurt,” Naomi said. “Always. Nothing hurts like sweets.” “What do you want for breakfast? Cereal? Eggs?” Tuuro ’s apartment was the entire second story of a small frame house. His kitchen and living room stretched across the back, and the two bedrooms took up the front. His landlady lived downstairs. The house was two houses away from the house in which Paul Laurence Dunbar, the great African American (although people didn’t use that term now; the preferred word now was Melano) poet, had been born. The Dunbar house was a historical site that had never gotten much traffic...


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