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PAST USELESS / Nanci Kincaid AFTER THE NIGHT the sheriff came and got old Alfonso it was like he vanished from earth. Melvina didn't seem like she missed him, and never mentioned his name except when me and Roy said, "Tell us about the time old Alfonso got after you with that knife, Melvina. Tell us about him busting the door down with the axe. Tell about when he tried to choke you with a piece of clothesline. Tell about when ya'll tied him to that chair in the yard. Tell...." "Men are past useless," Melvina said. Mother said Melvina knows this because it's been proved to her over and over again. Now Alfonso Junior, her oldest boy, took over where his Daddy left off—proving it. Alfonso Junior was sixteen and going through changes. More than wanting to be left alone—like he always did—but now going off who knows where and staying gone half the night. Then all the night. Won't say a word about it. As closed mouthed as he could be. So Melvina started guessing, and she guessed good. Alfonso Junior had found a girl. It was Melvina's second boy, Skippy, who told her which girl, and Melvina went crazy, acting like Alfonso Junior had picked out the worst girl that could be picked. Virginia somebody. We never knew her last name but we'd seen her before because she used to come to Melvina's yard and hang around with Melvina's oldest girl, Annie. They plaited each other's hair, keeping an eye on the little children, sometimes drinking a Coca-Cola, or we'd see them hop-skipping up the dirt road going to the Snack Shack with a quarter. That was then. But this was now, Melvina throwing a fit over Alfonso Junior getting friendly with Virginia. "That fast girl shaking herself around this neighborhood, shaking herself in a boy's face," she said. "I think it's sweet," Mother told Melvina, "Alfonso Junior's first love. It's puppy love." "Puppy love my hind foot," Melvina fussed. "Ain't no puppy to it. It's pussy that boy's after. Ought to call it pussy-love, because ain't no puppy to it." "Guess it wasn't anything to do with love back when old Alfonso got after you either, was it?" Mother said. The Missouri Review · 189 "I never was nothing like that fast girl. I didn't run up and down the street," Melvina said. "No sense in advertising—unless you got something to sell." "Shoot," Mother said. When me and Roy were in the yard we'd see Alfonso Junior sitting at the edge of the woods smoking a cigarette which was the other new thing he took up—smoking. We'd sneak close by him singing, "Alfonso Junior and Virginia sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-IN -G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Alfonso Junior with a baby carriage." We sang loud and waited for Alfonso Junior to chunk a rock at us. He sat there sucking on that cigarette like he was half-asleep. Like Virginia-no-name herself could cause him to rise up out of that particular spot. Me and Roy were used to being ignored by Alfonso Junior because since the day we moved in next door he had acted like we were invisible—except for the time he threw a fish head at us, or once that scoop of rabbit guts. Twice he had called me yellow head. "Get away from here, Yellow Head," he said, "or I'll take this snake out of my pocket and set it loose in your hair." Roy laughed his head off, so afterwards Alfonso Junior wasn't nearly as mean to him. Being treated bad by Alfonso Junior wasn't new to us, but it WAS to Skippy. Suddenly Alfonso Junior didn't want anything to do with his own brother anymore—Skippy—who had shadowed him through every step of his life. "What's the matter with you?" Skippy asked him. "I stopped being a jack-ass," he said. "You still at it." To...


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