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Blue’s Aint No Mockin Bird

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  • Pages: 12
  • Word count: 2856
  • Category: Camera

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Toni Cade Bambara The puddle had frozen over, and me and Cathy went stompin in it. The twins from next door, Tyrone and Terry, were swingin so high out of sight we forgot we were waitin our turn on the tire. Cathy jumped up and came down hard on her heels and started tapdancin. And the frozen patch splinterin every which way underneath kinda spooky. “Looks like a plastic spider web,” she said. “A sort of weird spider, I guess, with many mental problems.” But really it looked like the crystal paperweight Granny kept in the parlor. She was on the back porch, Granny was, making the cakes drunk. The old ladle drippin rum into the Christmas tins, like it used to drip maple syrup into the pails when we lived in the Judson’s woods, like it poured cider into the vats when we were on the Cooper place, like it used to scoop buttermilk and soft cheese when we lived at the dairy. “Go tell that man we ain’t a bunch of trees.” “Ma’am?” “I said to tell that man to get away from here with that camera.”

Me and Cathy look over toward the meadow where the men with the station wagon’d been roamin around all mornin. The tall man with a huge camera lassoed to his shoulder was buzzin our way. “They’re makin movie pictures,” yelled Tyrone, stiffenin his legs and twistin so the tire’d come down slow so they could see. “They’re makin movie pictures,” sang out Terry. “That boy don’t never have anything original to say,” say Cathy grown-up. By the time the man with the camera had cut across our neighbor’s yard, the twins were out of the trees swingin low and Granny was onto the steps, the screen door bammin soft and scratchy against her palms. “We thought we’d get a shot or two of the house and everything and then—” “Good mornin,” Granny cut him off. And smiled that smile.

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© ScottForesman Custom Literature Database Toni Cade Bambara, “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” from GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara. Copyright © 1971 by Toni Cade Bambara. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ “Good mornin,” he said, head all down the way Bingo does when you yell at him about the bones on the kitchen floor. “Nice place you got here, aunty. We thought we’d take a—” “Did you?” said Granny with her eyebrows. Cathy pulled up her socks and giggled. “Nice things here,” said the man, buzzin his camera over the yard. The pecan barrels, the sled, me and Cathy, the flowers, the printed stones along the driveway, the trees, the twins, the toolshed. “I don’t know about the thing, the it, and the stuff,” said Granny, still talkin with her eyebrows. “Just people here is what I tend to consider.” Camera man stopped buzzin. Cathy giggled into her collar. “Mornin, ladies,” a new man said. He had come up behind us when we weren’t lookin. “And gents,” discoverin the twins givin him a nasty look. “We’re filmin for the county,” he said with a smile. “Mind if we shoot a bit around here?” “I do indeed,” said Granny with no smile. Smilin man was smilin up a storm. So was Cathy.

But he didn’t seem to have another word to say, so he and the camera man backed on out the yard, but you could hear the camera buzzin still. “Suppose you just shut that machine off,” said Granny real low through her teeth, and took a step down off the porch and then another. “Now, aunty,” Camera said, pointin the thing straight at her. “Your mama and I are not related.” Smilin man got his notebook out and a chewed-up pencil. “Listen,” he said movin back into our yard, “we’d like to have a statement from you . . . for the film. We’re filmin for the county, see. Part of the food stamp campaign. You know about the food stamps?” Granny said nuthin. “Maybe there’s somethin you want to say for the film. I see you grow your own vegetables,” he smiled real nice. “If more folks did that, see, there’d be no need—” Granny wasn’t sayin nuthin. So they backed on out, buzzin at our clothesline and the twins’ bicycles, then back on down to the meadow. The twins were danglin in the tire, lookin at Granny. Me and Cathy were waitin, too, cause Granny always got somethin to

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© ScottForesman Custom Literature Database Toni Cade Bambara, “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” from GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara. Copyright © 1971 by Toni Cade Bambara. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ say. She teaches steady with no letup. “I was on this bridge one time,” she started off. “Was a crowd cause this man was goin to jump, you understand. And a minister was there and the police and some other folks. His woman was there, too.” “What was they doin?” asked Tyrone. “Tryin to talk him out of it was what they was doin. The minister talkin about how it was a mortal sin, suicide. His woman takin bites out of her own hand and not even knowin it, so nervous and cryin and talkin fast.” “So what happened?” asked Tyrone. “So here comes . . . this person . . . with a camera, takin pictures of the man and the minister and the woman. Takin pictures of the man in his misery about to jump, cause life so bad and people been messin with him so bad. This person takin up the whole roll of film practically. But savin a few, of course.”

“Of course,” said Cathy, hatin the person. Me standin there wonderin how Cathy knew it was “of course” when I didn’t and it was my grandmother. After a while Tyrone say, “Did he jump?” “Yes, did he jump?” say Terry all eager. And Granny just stared at the twins till their faces swallow up the eager and they don’t even care any more about the man jumpin. Then she goes back onto the porch and lets the screen door go for itself. I’m lookin to Cathy to finish the story cause she knows Granny’s whole story before me even. Like she knew how come we move so much and Cathy ain’t but a third cousin we picked up on the way last Thanksgivin visitin.

But she knew it was on account of people drivin Granny crazy till she’d get up in the night and start packin. Mumblin and packin and wakin everybody up sayin, “Let’s get on away from here before I kill me somebody.” Like people wouldn’t pay her for things like they said they would. Or Mr. Judson bringin us boxes of old clothes and raggedy magazines. Or Mrs. Cooper comin in our kitchen and touchin everything and sayin how clean it all was. Granny goin crazy, and Granddaddy Cain pullin her off the people, sayin, “Now, now, Cora.” But next day loadin up the truck, with rocks all in his jaw, madder than Granny in the first place.

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© ScottForesman Custom Literature Database Toni Cade Bambara, “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” from GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara. Copyright © 1971 by Toni Cade Bambara. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ “I read a story once,” said Cathy soundin like Granny teacher. “About this lady Goldilocks who barged into a house that wasn’t even hers. And not invited, you understand. Messed over the people’s groceries and broke up the people’s furniture. Had the nerve to sleep in the folks’ bed.” “Then what happened?” asked Tyrone. “What they do, the folks, when they come in to all this mess?” “Did they make her pay for it?” asked Terry, makin a fist. “I’d’ve made her pay me.” I didn’t even ask. I could see Cathy actress was very likely to just walk away and leave us in mystery about this story which I heard was about some bears. “Did they throw her out?” asked Tyrone, like his father sounds when he’s bein extra nastyplus to the washinmachine man. “Woulda,” said Terry.

“I woulda gone upside her head with my fist and—” “You woulda done whatcha always do—go cry to Mama, you big baby,” said Tyrone. So naturally Terry starts hittin on Tyrone, and next thing you know they tumblin out the tire and rollin on the ground. But Granny didn’t say a thing or send the twins home or step out on the steps to tell us about how we can’t afford to be fightin amongst ourselves. She didn’t say nuthin. So I get into the tire to take my turn. And I could see her leanin up against the pantry table, starin at the cakes she was puttin up for the Christmas sale, mumblin real low and grumpy and holdin her forehead like it wanted to fall off and mess up the rum cakes.

Behind me I hear before I can see Granddaddy Cain comin through the woods in his field boots. Then I twist around to see the shiny black oilskin cuttin through what little left there was of yellows, reds, and oranges. His great white head not quite round cause of this bloody thing high on his shoulder, like he was wearin a cap on sideways. He takes the shortcut through the pecan grove, and the sound of twigs snappin overhead and underfoot travels clear and cold all the way up to us. And here comes Smilin and Camera up behind him like they was goin to do somethin. Folks like to go for him sometimes. Cathy say it’s because he’s so tall and quiet and like a king. And people just can’t stand it. But Smilin

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© ScottForesman Custom Literature Database Toni Cade Bambara, “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” from GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara. Copyright © 1971 by Toni Cade Bambara. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ and Camera don’t hit him in the head or nuthin. They just buzz on him as he stalks by with the chicken hawk slung over his shoulder, squawkin, drippin red down the back of the oilskin. He passes the porch and stops a second for Granny to see he’s caught the hawk at last, but she’s just starin and mumblin, and not at the hawk. So he nails the bird to the toolshed door, the hammerin crackin through the eardrums. And the bird flappin himself to death and droolin down the door to paint the gravel in the driveway red, then brown, then black. And the two men movin up on tiptoe like they was invisible or we were blind, one. “Get them persons out of my flower bed, Mister Cain,” say Granny moanin real low like at a funeral.

“How come your grandmother calls her husband ‘Mister Cain’ all the time?” Tyrone whispers all loud and noisy and from the city and don’t know no better. Like his mama, Miss Myrtle, tell us never mind the formality as if we had no better breeding than to call her Myrtle, plain. And then this awful thing—a giant hawk—come wailin up over the meadow, flyin low and tilted and screamin, zigzaggin through the pecan grove, breakin branches and hollerin, snappin past the clothesline, flyin every which way, flyin into things reckless with crazy. “He’s come to claim his mate,” say Cathy fast, and ducks down. We all fall quick and flat into the gravel driveway, stones scrapin my face. I squinch my eyes open again at the hawk on the door, tryin to fly up out of her death like it was just a sack flown into by mistake.

Her body holdin her there on that nail, though. The mate beatin the air overhead and clutchin for hair, for heads, for landin space. The camera man duckin and bendin and runnin and fallin, jigglin the camera and scared. And Smilin jumpin up and down swipin at the huge bird, tryin to bring the hawk down with just his raggedy ole cap. Granddaddy Cain straight up and silent, watchin the circles of the hawk, then aimin the hammer off his wrist. The giant bird fallin, silent and slow. Then here comes Camera and Smilin all big and bad now that the awful screechin thing is on its back and broken, here they come. And Granddaddy Cain looks up at them like it was the first time noticin, but not payin them too

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Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ much mind cause he’s listenin, we all listenin, to that low groanin music comin from the porch. And we figure any minute, somethin in my back tells me any minute now, Granny gonna bust through that screen with somethin in her hand and murder on her mind. So Granddaddy say above the buzzin, but quiet, “Good day, gentlemen.” Just like that. Like he’d invited them in to play cards and they’d stayed too long and all the sandwiches were gone and Reverend Webb was droppin by and it was time to go. They didn’t know what to do. But like Cathy say, folks can’t stand Granddaddy tall and silent and like a king.

They can’t neither. The smile the men smilin is pullin the mouth back and showin the teeth. Lookin like the wolf man, both of them. Then Granddaddy holds his hand out—this huge hand I used to sit in when I was a baby and he’d carry me through the house to my mother like I was a gift on a tray. Like he used to on the trains. They called the other men just waiters. But they spoke of Granddaddy separate and said, The Waiter. And said he had engines in his feet and motors in his hands and couldn’t no train throw him off and couldn’t nobody turn him round. They were big enough for motors, his hands were. He held that one hand out all still and it gettin to be not at all a hand but a person in itself.

“He wants you to hand him the camera,” Smilin whispers to Camera, tiltin his head to talk secret like they was in the jungle or somethin and come upon a native that don’t speak the language. The men start untyin the straps, and they put the camera into that great hand speckled with the hawk’s blood all black and crackly now. And the hand don’t even drop with the weight, just the fingers move, curl up around the machine. But Granddaddy lookin straight at the men. They lookin at each other and everywhere but at Granddaddy’s face. “We filmin for the county, see,” say Smilin. “We puttin together a movie for the food stamp program . . . filmin all around these parts. Uhh, filmin for the county.” “Can I have my camera back?” say the tall man with no machine on his shoulder, but still keepin it high like the camera was still there or needed to be. “Please, sir.”

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Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird _______________________________________________________________________ Then Granddaddy’s other hand flies up like a sudden and gentle bird, slaps down fast on top of the camera and lifts off half like it was a calabash cut for sharing. “Hey,” Camera jumps forward. He gathers up the parts into his chest and everything unrollin and fallin all over. “Whatcha tryin to do? You’ll ruin the film.” He looks down into his chest of metal reels and things like he’s protectin a kitten from the cold. “You standin in the misses’ flower bed,” say Granddaddy. “This is our own place.” The two men look at him, then at each other, then back at the mess in the camera man’s chest, and they just back off. One sayin over and over all the way down to the meadow, “Watch it, Bruno. Keep ya fingers off the film.”

Then Granddaddy picks up the hammer and jams it into the oilskin pocket, scrapes his boots, and goes into the house. And you can hear the squish of his boots headin through the house. And you can see the funny shadow he throws from the parlor window onto the ground by the stringbean patch. The hammer draggin the pocket of the oilskin out so Granddaddy looked even wider. Granny was hummin now—high, not low and grumbly. And she was doin the cakes again, you could smell the molasses from the rum. “There’s this story I’m goin to write one day,” say Cathy dreamer. “About the proper use of the hammer.” “Can I be in it?” Tyrone say with his hand up like it was a matter of first come, first served. “Perhaps,” say Cathy, climbin onto the tire to pump us up. “If you there and ready.”

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