The Canyon

Scenes from the Scott Homes -- the mamas, the kids, the babies, the fight for dignity, the pall of despair

Sue and Bettina got along a little better after the baby was born. Bettina grew up a little and stopped sucking her thumb, and Sue no longer threatened every five minutes to whup her ass. "I don't like Bettina to spank him, though," Sue said. " 'Cause she's a little heavy-handed, like she is seasoning her meat. And if that child get bruised up, HRS could take him away."

The Men from the Morgue
The high blue of dusk flared around a cumulus cloud that hung over Scott like a great white hammer. Down a concrete path a few houses past Tammy and Doris, a minivan backed onto a tiny lawn. White men in white smocks moved from van to house, IDs dangling, and heaved out a collapsible gurney, shiny like a steel insect.

"They from the morgue," said Ruby, who had come with the rest of the row to watch. The spectators were knit into murmuring walls, their feet tugged at by the vortex of raised voices, of tragedy that does not happen to you. On the front porch, a teenage girl swooned in the midst of the men from the morgue. Shoulders bouncing, backed against a waist-high statuette of Jesus, hysterically out of breath, she emptied her lungs like a drowning swimmer breaking the surface. "Grandma" was the only coherent word, which was enough.

Doris approached Ruby and circled at a distance, exercising the advantage of her wandering eye. The pair had been feuding since Ruby accused Moses of stealing a twenty-dollar bill. "Raped then kilt," Doris said.

"Lordy," Ruby answered.
"Found her this morning."
The women traded a few more words before Doris retreated toward Tammy, who was camped on the walkway.

"Her body all swole up and stinkin'," Tammy muttered. "Po-lice say it happen two, three days ago. Only two ways they could have gotten in. Broke in, or they had them a key."

The front door opened and the gurney, now freighted with an ominous shape, slipped into the waiting vehicle with a disquieting click. "Please clear the way," the driver barked, and the little kids, who were learning from their elders the protocols of death, slowly moved on.

Later, around the card table on Doris's porch, darkness curling in, Tammy said, "There's no way they show her at the wake. What they do is, they got an empty casket at the funeral parlor. Then, on the way to the cemetery, they got an identical hearse with the same-style casket inside, only this one with the body, and that's when they make the switch."

For several hours the mamas stopped by to gossip about the body while the young boys practiced jumping one another and the small-timers headed off to NW Fifteenth Avenue to sell for the players thumping past in their gold-trimmed cars.

"We ain't ever had no shit around here like that," observed Sue, who was dressed in a tight denim dress, her lips painted for an evening out. "No rapin' and killin' in they own house."

"That's a damn shame about her casket," Tammy offered. She sounded distracted, almost dreamy, and she kept returning to the subject of this death, turning it gingerly in her pudgy hands.

"I'm trying to figure out how this could happen," she said. And: "I told them people, I hadn't seen her in no three days."

And: "I gotta get the hell outta here. Goin' to Georgia. That's my summation."

The card game broke late and Sue headed off to her nightclub, stopping on her way to address Ruby in the middle of the street.

"You heard about all that?"
"Yeah," Ruby said.
"She was a nice old lady. Ninety-eight years old, or whatever, 65. There was flies all on her and shit."

Ruby lowered her chin and Sue swished off, leaving others to ruminate about the crime, leaving the myth to swell and bloat and stink, until word arrived a few days later that she was simply an old lady who passed in the night and was forgotten for days.

Democracy, Part 2
Some weeks after James Burke's visit, a genuine political uprising rippled through Scott. It involved the Tenant Council presidency.

The position was largely titular. But it did involve a small budget, and, beyond that, the illusion of progress, of autonomy. The rules called for a re-election every two years. The incumbent was a stubborn woman named Annie Love, and no one, herself included, could remember exactly the last time she'd run for re-election. At Jacqui Colyer's order, an election was slated for October. A woman named Dorothy Perry agreed to challenge Love. Tammy and Ruby ran unopposed for vice president and treasurer, respectively.

"We done gonna win this election," Ruby said on the third and final day of voting. She sat in her decrepit Mitsubishi, the car she had used to ferry dozens of voters to the polls, a distance of no more than five blocks. Tammy was alongside her. Both women were giggly and bloodshot. "We been sipping on beers," Ruby explained. She whooped as the car weaved passed Annie Love's unit, and Tammy laughed and laughed.

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