A Pair of Cajun Stories by Shome Dasgupta
Crawfish and a Drawing By Barn
Ma was in the back boiling crawfish. Pepper was on the tree swing, swinging away. Barn was in his room. I was in the kitchen making iced-tea.
Pepper came inside wearing shorts and a bra. I poured a glass of iced-tea for her. She sipped. She squeezed some lemon into it, kissed me on the lips, and went back outside. She was doing good. Ma was shouting from the backyard. The window was open letting the smell of red powder, potatoes, sausages, and crawfish into the house. I tried to eat the air. She was sweating and panting and smoking cigarettes. I handed her a glass of iced-tea. She asked for more lemons. I gave them to her. She patted me on the head.
Cauliflower, Ma said.
I handed her some through the window. She tossed it into the pot.
Get me that other bottle of spice, Ma said.
She poured the whole bottle into the pot. She wiped her forehead.
It’s going to be hot, Ma said.
Pepper shouted from the front yard.
She said, Can’t be too hot for my tongue.
You never had my crawfish before, Ma said.
Pepper said, I can handle everything.
I’m not even close to being done yet, Ma said.
Pepper said, I bet you I can eat six pounds without taking a sip of anything. She said, And finish before any of ya’ll.
You’ll have to clean up then, Ma said.
She said, And you’ll owe me a case of beer.
I went out to the backyard. The heat from the boiling pot made me close my eyes. I started to sweat just like Ma, whose own sweat was dripping down from her chin onto her feet. She was wearing her bright orange muumuu — it was soaked. I could feel my shirt stick to my back.
I said, You need help.
She said, Get me a towel, please.
I climbed back into the house through the back window and went to the closet. On my way back out, I stopped by Barn’s room. He was on the floor, drawing on some construction paper. The paper was blue, and he was using a red crayon. Barn was on his stomach, his legs were up towards the ceiling, and his tongue stuck out.
I said, Barn. I said, You ready for Ma’s crawfish.
Barn stood up and showed me his drawing. I went to him and took it from his hands. There were four figures. They weren’t really stick figures, but they weren’t really human figures either. One was in yellow. One was in red. One was in green. One was in orange. They were all pretty much the same height. Everyone was smiling. V-shaped birds and a purple sun were above them.
I said, Who are those people.
Barn jumped up and down and then twirled around in circles. He pointed at the green one and then gave me a hug.
I said, Is that me.
Barn tapped my stomach.
I said, Well. I said, I look better in this drawing than I do in real life.
Barn burped and smiled.
I said, Let’s go show this to Ma and Pepper.
The sun was coming down. With the floodlights on, I could see Ma, still dripping in sweat — she was singing to herself, using the wooden stirring spoon as a microphone. She swayed back and forth and moved her head up and down. She was giving a nice performance to her audience — boiling crawfish.
I said, Ma.
She took the towel and wiped her hands on her muumuu. She put the towel around her head like a headband.
I said, Ma.
She took the picture. Barn was peering over the boiling pot — he started to sweat. He breathed in real hard and started coughing. Pepper came around the house from the front yard. The bugs never bothered her. Barn ran up to her and jumped into her arms and started to play with her hair. Pepper’s breasts pushed up against her own chest, and she saw me looking at them.
You like that, Pepper said.
I said, Look.
Pepper went up to Ma and looked at the drawing, which already had spots of sweat all over it. Barn tugged on Ma’s muumuu. We all bent down. Ma pointed at the yellow one.
Ma said, Who’s that.
Barn slapped Pepper’s knee.
Pepper said, And it just looks like me, too. She said, Thanks.
Ma pointed at the green one. Barn slapped my knee.
Ma said, He looks a lot better in this drawing than in real life.
I tugged Ma’s ear playfully. Pepper squeezed my hand. Ma pointed at the orange one.
Ma said, Now. She said, Is that me, Barny boy.
Barn showed his teeth. Ma kissed him on the cheek.
Ma said, And then the red one must be you.
Barn jumped and when he landed, he spread his feet apart. He stretched out his arms and clasped his hands, sticking out his index fingers. He did it again. Ma stood straight — her muumuu was almost dark because of the sweat. Pepper smacked a bug that was on the back of my neck.
Ma said, Barn. Ma said, Who’s that.
Barn closed one eye and looked straight down his stretched arms like he was aiming. Barn was playing guns — shooting bullets from his fingers. Barn had drawn his dad.
Ma said, He still thinks about him.
Pepper said, Who.
I whispered to Pepper
“Ma’s brother,” I said.
Pepper whispered back.
She said, Your Uncle Gerald.
I said, His dad.
Ma started to crumple the paper but then she stopped and straightened it out.
Ma said, It’s really pretty. She said, Mutty. She said, Put that on the refrigerator and come help me and Pepper put the crawfish on the table.
I said, Barn. I said, Come follow me to the kitchen.
After we put the picture on the refrigerator, we went back outside and covered the patio table in newspaper before pouring the crawfish all over it. They were bright red. They looked warlike. Barn held one up in the air and pretended it was flying. He held its claws out wide and swung it around his head.
Ma said, Eat up. She said, There’s plenty here.
I can eat it all, Pepper said.
Ma didn’t say anything for the rest of the night. I helped Barn peel his crawfish. Pepper looked like she was eating a crawfish a second. They were hot. My nose was dripping, my tongue was almost gone, and my shirt was soaked. The crawfish juice stung the small cuts on my fingers. It felt good. Pepper looked fine. She had won the bet she made with Ma but she didn’t say anything about it. We all just talked about how good the crawfish tasted. I was breathing hard, trying to let the air soothe my burning taste buds. When we were done, Ma started to clean up.
I said, Ma. I said, You get some rest. I said, I’ll clean this all up.
Ma looked around and rubbed her forehead — she patted me on the shoulder and walked inside.
I said, Barn. I said, Go wash up and then I’ll read you a story.
Barn ran inside. Pepper put her arms around my waist and kissed my ear. She helped me clean up. In the kitchen, we were washing plates and glasses, and Pepper was humming something. I started to hum along with her. We were humming. I looked at Pepper’s fingernails. They were long and covered in blue polish.
Why blue, I said.
Pepper said, It’s something refreshing. Pepper said, I like it.
I like it, I said.
Pepper said, Blue makes me feel good. Pepper said, Just like the earth and its water.
We should go swimming sometime, I said.
Pepper said, And then we should go play in the mud.
Pepper made this sound that made me want to get inside of her. I kept looking at her bra and she kept looking at me looking at her bra.
Pepper said, You like that.
The Storm Was Coming
Barn balled himself up and rolled around his bedroom in his underwear. Ma was in the living room staring out the front window. Her head was slightly tilted with a thumb covering her lips. It looked like Ma was thinking. She turned around and looked at me and then around the house. She looked at the ceiling, the roof, and the walls. She looked at the doors and pushed and pulled on knobs. She counted the windows and tested the attic door to see if it was still working. She walked out into the backyard and looked at the oak tree and then walked alongside the fence looking at the ground.
I said, Ma.
She came back inside and then walked through the front door and faced the house with her hands on her hips. She was thinking. She walked to the sides of the house and did the same thing.
I said, Ma.
She shut the door. She was still outside, and I was inside. It felt dark, and Ma’s worried look and pacing were making me scared. Ma had never made me feel scared before. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, though — she was doing it so that we wouldn’t have to be scared.
Lock it, Ma said.
The door clicked. There was a loud bang and the door shook. There was a loud bang and the door shook. The knob twisted and rattled and then there was another bang. My head popped at every bang and my heart kept jumping. There was a knock.
The door clicked, and Ma walked through.
I said, Ma.
She walked into Barn’s bedroom, where Barn was still rolling around. She looked at his window. Barn stopped rolling and stood up and watched Ma. Ma left. Barn went back to rolling around on the floor. She walked into my bedroom and did the same thing. She didn’t go into her bedroom.
I said, Ma.
She went into the garage and shuffled some boxes around and opened the closed door. I put the garage light on. There was noise and something fell, making a shattering noise. There was more noise — boxes being moved around, things being taken out, and things being put back in. Ma came back out, holding two boxes stacked on top of each other.
There’s a storm, Ma said.
I said, What kind of storm. I said, Hurricane.
It’s coming, Ma said. Ma said, We’ll be ready.
She put the two boxes on the kitchen table. She pulled out a hacksaw. She pulled out a bowling ball. She pulled out a carjack. She pulled out metals of different shapes and sizes. She pulled out and she pulled out. They were never-ending boxes. Ma’s hands were at work. There was a rolling pin, Barn’s old toys, two glass pitchers, a collection of closet hangers, Pierre’s fishing box, and there were these things all on the kitchen floor. Ma started to hide them all around the house.
Watch where I put them, Ma said.
I watched and made notes. Behind the curtains. Under the sofa. Behind the TV. In the tub. Under the rugs. She taped the hangers on the wall. She used Pierre’s old fishing lines and made trip-wires all around the house. She put a container of thumbnails between the washer and the dryer. I followed her into the backyard, and she hid unused forks and spoons in the garden, and hung buckets full of nails on the branches of the trees lining the fence. There was a cooler with some crawfish still in it. Ma pulled it around the corner of the house just next to Barn’s window.
Ma said, We’ll need those crawfish. Ma said, They’re just as good dead.
Back inside the house, she opened the freezer and checked to make sure there were some bags of ice. There was also a box of frozen waffles, and a carton of ice-cream.
Ma said, Waffles.
Syrup, I said.
Ma said, Good idea.
She opened the fridge and took out the syrup.
Ma said, There’s plenty. Ma said, We’re set.
When’s the storm coming, I said. I said, Hurricane.
Ma said, Soon. Ma said, When it’s dark outside.
Barn ran out of his room and tripped over one of the wires Ma had set up.
Ma said, You watch out for those wires. She said, Just keep jumping.
Barn got right back up and started jumping around the house. His elbow was bleeding. He never cried. I never saw him cry. Barn didn’t cry.
Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (winner of the 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest) and The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013). His work has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, NANO Fiction, Everyday Genius, Magma Poetry, American Book Review and elsewhere. His fiction has been selected to appear in The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing (&Now Books, 2013). His stories have been featured as a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story, nominated for The Best Of The Net and longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, Louisiana. Find out more on his website at www.shomedome.com and follow him on Twitter @laughingyeti.