Top Story: The Hott Biscuit
I wonder what they'll say about us on the news tonight.
Ain't it something, what you remember during a crisis? In the middle of all this I actually been thinking about my Aunt Sweet. She used to always tell us, "You are what you believe, so you better be thinking right." Now, Aunt Sweet was always somewhere preaching to me and my cousins about how we better be doing right if we wanted to have a good life and have God's blessings. But she and Uncle Peete was living real good—had a new Cadillac every two, three years —and my mama say Uncle Peete would rather climb up a tree to do wrong than stand on the ground and do right. Wasn't no right in him. So, if he was doing all that wrong and him and Aunt Sweet was still driving 'round in brand new blessings every couple of years, what did that mean? And why should I listen to her if her own husband wouldn't?
Anyway, I just can't stop thinking about her saying, "You are what you believe."
I used to believe I was go'n be somebody famous. I was go'n get out of New Orleans and be somebody. I could sing, I could dance, and everybody said I was the finest girl at McDonogh 35. That's probably why me and my cousin Chenelle never got along in school. She thought she was cute and I knew I was cute, so you know how that went. Anyway, I was goin' places. Went to California for a little while. Stayed out there with my Uncle Carl. I figured I was go'n be an actress—I was in plays and stuff at 35, you know? I was pretty. I could do that shit. But people be tripping. I did good in my acting classes, but everybody kept telling me I had to lose weight I had to change the way I talk I looked too Black, whatever. Sheeet. I'm Ruby Carter.
L.A. wasn't 'bout nothin', far as I was concerned.
And I guess, really, I was homesick. I was used to seeing somebody I knew and seeing somebody who knew me everywhere I went, you know? I just started thinking that I didn't belong there. Then Mama got sick and I came home.
I went back there to UNO for a couple of semesters, but then Mama had to go on disability and I wanted to be able to help out. She kept telling me to go on do what I had to do, but I wasn't go'n just leave her. I wasn't worried 'bout nothing passing me by. I knew I could always make a way. So I got this job at the Hott Biscuit. The pay wasn't shit, but the tips were good.
Mama said, since I had some college I ought to try and get a job as a secretary or something downtown, make some more money and I did for a little while. I left the Hot Biscuit for a couple months, but I guess I just wasn't made for that corporate stuff. I got fired when Mama had to spend two weeks in the hospital and I told them I had to stay with her. Fuck them.
Besides, after I paid for the bus pass to get down there and bought the suits and the damn pantyhose they want you to wear everyday, and pay FICA and whoever the hell else takes a piece of your paycheck, shit, I coulda been working at the Hott Biscuit.
So, I ended up back here. It's right up the street from the house so I can walk to work and check on Mama on my breaks. And I don't have to buy pantyhose if I don't want to.
I been here every since, just trying to keep ahead, you know?—with the medical bills and Mama needing a home health nurse and medicaid not paying for everything. I always believed I was go'n get around to doing something else once she got better. Maybe New York or Chicago. Hell, my brother was stationed in Germany—he'd been trying to get me to come over there where he was. I just didn't know what I was go'n do, not exactly. I wanted to be somebody like everyone said but how you do that? And what does 'being somebody' mean anyway? I was okay just being Ruby Carter for a while.
The money got better because Clyde eventually made me the manager. I still wait tables during the lunch rush though. That's how I got to know that fool Lil' Milton.
Milton Williams. They call him Lil' Milton, not 'cause he can sing like Lil' Milton, the blues singer, but because his daddy was Big Milton. Lil' Milton short too, must get it from his mama, cause Big Milton was huge. Dude was wide as a bus. Lil Milton probably get tired of hearing 'bout how short he is and how big his daddy was, but anybody who knew the daddy can't help but notice. Anyway, for as long as I been working here, Lil' Milton been coming to the Hott Biscuit for lunch everyday except Sunday. Clyde say he go by his mama on Sundays, and Clyde would know 'cause Clyde's mama live next door to Milton's mama. Anyway, dude come in here everyday Sheeet that's been, what? Twenty years.
I been here twenty years. Damn.
Anyway, Lil' Milton don't hardly say a word to nobody besides "Good eve'nin'" and what he want to order, which is always the special. I tried to make conversation with him couple of times, but he would just turn colors and wouldn't say nothing, just put his head down in them magazines he always got. I was kind of surprised 'cause Big Milton was real friendly, talk a hole in your head—used to come up in here for lunch when I first started working at the Hott Biscuit. He was a security guard over at the Liberty Bank 'cross Broad. Got shot in the head one day by some fool trying to rob the place. That was a shame. Lil' Milton ended up getting his daddy's old job, which some folks said was kinda crazy since his daddy got killed there and all. But a job's a job, you know?
So, Lil' Milton ain't nothin' like the old man, but one day, couple months ago, Lil' Milton decided he had something to say. It was a Friday. And I remember because Clyde makes gumbo on Fridays and I splashed hot gumbo on my hand when Milton opened his mouth.
"Could I call you sometime?" He looked so scared and serious when he said it, like he was asking me to donate an organ or something. It was all I could do to keep from laughing.
Customers be asking me for my phone number all the time, and men been telling me I was pretty since I was 12. Ain't nothin' new. I know how to handle myself. I can spot the ones that's off too. Back in the 11th grade, when my friend Tanya tried to hook me up with her cousin Darnell, I could tell right away he wasn't all the way right. Smiled too slick. He ended up going with Sherita Domaine. Beat her regular. I don't know where he is now, but I do know there was just somethin' in his eyes.
Saw the same thing in Lil' Milton's eyes that day, but, I don't know, I guess I was tired. Maybe it was my period, whatever. But I didn't give it a second thought. Like I said, customers ask for my phone number all the time, and he just ain't my type. I ain't fo' no man who take 20 years to speak up, you know? So I just gave him the standard answer: "I got a man." Then I asked him if he needed hot sauce or anything and went on 'bout my business.
After that, I noticed he would come in mumbling to himself. Other folks started to notice too. Then he lost his job at the bank. Clyde mama said Lil' Milton's mama had to go down there and get him, he was carrying on so bad, hollering about his daddy. It was some sad. He still didn't talk much other than the mumbling and he kept coming in here for lunch—I guess he was getting SSI. Folks said he had an uncle who was crazy and maybe it was hereditary. I didn't think much of it though 'cause they got plenty crazy people 'round here. Long as he was still tipping good, I didn't care if he wanted to be crazy or not.
I doubt if he ever thought he was crazy, you know? I just don't think the dude woke up in the morning believing he was out of his mind. That's how I know Aunt Sweet wasn't all the way right. I mean, I sho' never believed I would end up here in the Hott Biscuit forever. I don't think Lil' Milton ever believed he would do something like this, either. I'm looking at his face and I don't think he believes it now, this second, even though he's done it, even though he standing over there with that damn gun. Believing ain't got as much to do with it as doing, you know?
No way of me knowing what set Lil' Milton off. A minute ago I was wondering if I shoulda paid more attention, been nicer to him that day when he asked for my phone number and I saw that thing in his eyes, if that woulda made a difference. But I figure there's a million things I coulda done differently. Shit, I had cramps this morning. I coulda gone home before lunch and I wouldn'a been here when he came in shootin' and carryin' on. But I didn't.
And now I got all this blood on me on my stomach and it's so dark.
(Lynn Pitts is a first-year graduate student in the creative writing program. As a journalist, her work appears regularly in Gambit, a New Orleans weekly. Her fiction will be anthologized in the upcoming Crossroads: Southern Stories of the Fantastic.)