Note that, uncharacteristically,
Shepherd uses here the real first names of his parents.
There is a pause in the conversation. He says, “Anne, you know where you can find my black tie?” He’s getting ready to dress me and he doesn’t want that silver and red tie.
I say, “Dad, what is it?”
He says, “Well, that’s Mr. Johnson’s daughter.”
I say, “Well, yeah, I guess she must be.”
He says, “You be very good. Be very good and don’t… . You be very good!”
I say, “Yeah, I’ll be good. I gotta pick her up at eight-thirty.”
He says, “Well, you be very good.”
And my mother then says to my father, “Jean, maybe tonight before he goes you better tell him.”
I kind of shrink down a bit. “What?!” What is it he better tell me?
The old man looks at me and he says, “Don’t worry, I think he knows.”
Finally I’m ready and I go out, wearing my father’s white canvas shirt with the concrete collars up under my ears and already my neck is red. I’m wearing his black tie that it took him over a half hour to get right. And for the first time he has shown me how to shave, so my face feels like a tomato with the skin off. My mother has ironed my pants and they are still hot. The steel mill is cooking and the shirt is sweating through and I’ve got my father’s jacket on, the one with the red checks.
I walk all the way across town and over Kennedy, and I’m getting into this neighborhood that’s dark. Rich neighborhoods are dark, the trees get higher, and there’s a stronger smell of lilacs and the snowball bushes. And the scarier you get. Down past Twelfth Street, I get down past Twyman Street where the Superintendent of Schools lives. I’m moving past that—upwards—on that sidewalk.
I’m walking along and finally, there it is, Mr. Johnson’s house. Pearl’s home. Just a big, dark, sprawling blob up there with those trees around it. You could see little lights. I go up and knock on the door. This big man wearing a dark suit opens it. I figure it’s Mr. Johnson. He says, “Oh, Mr. Shepherd. You’re here for Pearl.”
I say, “Yes.”
More still to come