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Slices of the Dumas Collection

May 15, 1988

Henry Dumas, say his admirers, seemed able to traverse the entire psychological, cultural and emotional terrain of black life. The following are excerpts from the forthcoming collection of new and selected stories, "Goodbye Sweetwater."

"Layton Fields, don't you hear me talkin to you?"

"Yes mam, I hear." He grabbed at the suit, flung its dusty shape back across the bed, and then sensing some wild terror running loose in the room and outside the house, he leaped off the bed toward the kitchen.

"Mama, I got to get some money."

She stood there, the dim light of the kitchen not hiding the troubled ridge that had marred her finely chiseled face. The sound of the Five Blind Boys rose again . . . .

" I come to The Garden alone ."

"I gon quit and get me a job . . . . "

His mother turned away, placing a mealed fish in the skillet as if she had not heard him. It was a familiar gesture and Layton, coming to the doorway, knew again that he had made the wrong step. But he did not care. Nobody knew how he felt about Rosemarie. He would quit school. He would pick no more cotton. He would get a job in Greenville or even go to Memphis, and he would make some money, some real money, not no three or four dollars a day picking cotton. . . . That wasn't no money. He felt ashamed of staying out of school just to pick cotton. Not that he liked school, but to go to the cotton field. . . . He gathered himself to approach his mother.

--From "A Boll of Roses."

Mack lowered his eyes. The big man gently tugged his arm for an answer. He glanced around at the others. They were busy and did not see him and before he knew what he was doing he was putting three of the four quarters in front of the big man.

"Thank you, son. You're a smart punk. Now let me see." He pretended he was counting his money. "How about lendin me two bits?"

Mack frowned. He felt the lone quarter in his palm and wondered if he should try to break away and run. He looked at Lola lighting a cigarette. Jim Davis was rubbing his chin and Mack's mother was mumbling something about anybody wanting cheese with the beer. Her face was searching the refrigerator.

"But I. . . ." He felt a squeeze and his wrist throbbed. He wanted to punch out at the big man or use a knife.

But he was alone. Looking at the arm digging into his wrist like a steel clamp, he tossed the last coin on the table. Lola's cigarette was jarred from the ashtray to the floor. "Maybe I'll lend you some show fare." He grabbed Mack's arm again and flicked a quarter into it.

Mack stared at the floor. "I ain't goin," he said. . . .

"Okay then, punk, let's get this all straight right now. Who did you just borrow a dollar from?"

Mack turned his head in the direction of his mother.

"You damn right. Now, who did you borrow that last quarter from?"

Mack looked at Jim Davis. Jim was dealing cards with a cigarette hanging so that the smoke made his left eye squint. Lola and Mack's mother were now talking about something.

"Who?"

"Maybe you," he gasped.

"What the hell you mean?"

"You, I guess."

"How much you owe all together? You heard your old lady say she wanted hers back, right?"

"But I ain't got. . . ."

"Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?" The big man leaned closer to Mack.

"Buck and a quarter." He stepped toward the hall.

"Now what you goin to do with what I lent you?"

"I was goin to the show."

"Then get the hell out of here. We're playin a game of cards, can't you see?"

--From "A Harlem Game"

All along the side of the ark them great black men were haulin up bones from that river. It was the craziest thing I ever saw. I knowed then it wasn't no animal bones. I took a look at them and they was all laid out in different ways, all making some kind of body and there was big bones and little bones, parts of bones, chips, tid-bits, skulls, fingers and everything. I shut my mouth then. I knowed I was onto somethin. I fished out somethin.

I comest to think about a sermon I heard about Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones. The old man was lookin at me now. He look like he was sizin me up.

Then he reach out and open the fence. Headeye, he walks through and the old man closes it. I keeps still. You best to let things run their course in a situation like this.

"Son, you are in the house of generations. Every African who lives in America has a part of his soul in this ark. God has called you, and I shall anoint you."\f7

--From "Ark of Bones"

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