I took a hard sip of the Hennessey; hard enough to make my chest hairs stand up straight. Alice sat to the right of me as my foot tapped vigorously to a rendition of "The Thrill is Gone" by B.B. King. I was itching for my turn to get up and let Alice roar. This had been one of the longest days of my life and the only thing that could relax my mind was a little blues at Grady's.
As the band finished up their set I saw, out the corner of my eye Grady, the bar's owner, walking toward me. He was dressed in his usual blue jean overalls, and black wingtip shoes. His appearance to those who don't know him would seem intimidating. Grady stood 6-foot-6; about 300 pounds, bald headed, with a thick a gray mustache and sideburns. He's tough without being mean. They say back in the day he was a real muthfucka’, but the Grady I grew up knowing is just a big ol' man with a good heart. He looked like a 70-year-old version of Suge Knight. He walked up to me relying heavily on a black cane for balance as a cigarette hung out the comer of his mouth.
His raspy voice asked, "Ya' aight Bones?'
"Been better Grady."
"I'm sorry to hear ’bout ya' mamma. She was a nice lady."
"Ya' goin' get in on a set tonight?"
"Yeah, I'm going to let Alice belt out a few tunes,"
"How's ya' poppa?"
"Don't know. When you see him, ask him."
"Weh', I guess, I'll leave dat one alone. Ya' got a lot on ya' mind Bones, let it out when ya' get up dere,' ya' hear?"
I looked at him, nodded, and Grady walked away. I've been coming to Grady's since I was sixteen years old. They all knew my father, so it was cool. They never let me drink, but they let me and Alice jam with them on stage. This is my main place; where I laugh, and
where I cry. Grady's is where I got the nickname Bones from. When I turned 17 I grew to 6-foot-4 and weighed 140 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. Grady started calling me Bones, and it just stuck.
The music stopped as the musicians on stage made way for the next wave to come up. As I sat there, different people who had heard about my mother came to me with their condolences Then I heard a deep heavy voice come from behind me.
It was Willie, a fellow electric guitar player who grew up with my father, "You have my sympathy for your mamma, young blood. You just remember that she's in a better place."
"Yeah, I keep telling myself that, Willie."
"You'll be good boy, you got good genes. I'm goin' sit this one out, you can goin' head and get up there."
Well, I know at least half of my genes are good, I thought. "Thanks Willie, I appreciate that."
I reached down, picked up Alice, walked onto the stage, and plugged her in. It had been a while since Alice and I had been on stage together. B.B. King had Lucille, I had Alice. My cell phone rang, I didn't answer, I just looked at the number. It belonged to a female named Alisha. One of the many miscellaneous females I deal with who I didn't feel like being bothered with tonight. The rest of the cast joined me on stage. Al was on the drums, Otis was on keys, Mack was on the bass, and Smitty grabbed the mic. We started the set off by Bobby "Blue" Bland’s "Stormy Monday Blues." I closed my eyes and tried to stop myself from crying. Alice was my outlet. Whenever things got too hairy for me in life, I would say a little prayer to myself, grab Alice, and go up to Grady's to let the blues put a Band-Aid on what time was taking too long to heal. We got real deep into the set. Smitty was singing like he had never sung before; the whole bar had come to a cease. I was playing Alice like I had never played her before. We closed the set with Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "I Pity the Fool," The whole bar stood up, clapped and whistled. When I opened my eyes and looked up I saw my father sitting in the audience. His face struck a chord within me that suddenly changed my whole mood. Most times when I didn't feel like being bothered with my father I would just blow him off and go on about my business, but tonight was going to be different. I got off stage and walked toward the man who biologically was my father.
I sat down and placed Alice to my side. "I see you still got it, son."
"Never lost it." The way he said "son" stung my ears.
"If I would have had mine, I would have gotten up there and joined you."
I looked at him casually. "I'm sure you would've."
"How you holding up?"
"Not as good as you, it looks." He was his usual self; suave, debonair, a combination of Shaft and Billy Dee Williams.
"How are Shay and Jazzy doing?"
"Shay's taking some of the family that flew in back to the airport. Jazzy has been keeping to herself. I'm going to call her in a little while. What brings you up here?"
"The same thing that brought you here; needed to get away for a minute, see some old friends, and listen to some blues."
"Why weren't you at the funeral?"
"Didn't feel right being there, son. I went to the cemetery after everyone left and made my peace with your mother."
"Why did you wait till she died to make your peace?"
"You don't know?" I asked.
"Nope, I guess you could say that's one of my regrets."
"You got a lot of those, don't you?"
"And you're attacking me because of what, son?"
"Didn't know I was attacking you. I though I was just asking you a few questions."
"Because I don't understand you. As much as she loved you, you never were faithful. She always took you back, and you hurt her time and time again. And once me and the girls got out of high school, you disappeared."
"I got caught up in the life, Bones. But I always made sure you, Shay and Jazzy were taken care of."
"This isn't about money, pop. It's about family and morals, something that you never knew anything about. You weren't there for her, you weren't there for us."
"Don't be like that, son; you're acting like I just abandoned all of you."
"Stop calling me son." I was getting aggravated. I've never cared for my father all that much anyway, my mother's death was making me dislike him more.
"I know I haven't been the best father to you that I could've been, but don't just act like I was never around."
"You might as well not have been. I had to settle for graduation and every now and then basketball games because you were living the life. You're a trip, how can you ever say that you loved my mother?" I spoke to him like he was beneath me. Disdain was in my eyes and he could see it.
"Clifford, stop!" I must have struck a nerve because he hadn't called me by my name in years. "Don't you ever say that I didn't love your mother. Yes, I made some bad decisions, and yes, I regret a lot of things that I did to hurt her. But don't you sit up here and accuse me of not loving your mother. It was a lot going on then, and it was too many people whispering in my ear. I was under so much pressure, son. I was on the road so much. I'm sorry if I let you down."
In my heart I wanted to believe that his words were sincere, but I just couldn't. I had seen my mother break down and cry over him too many times, to feel sorry for the man who was supposed to be her husband, the man who was supposed to be my father.
"It wasn't just me you let down. How do you think that affected Jazzy and Shay? What kind of example was that for me? Do you think we liked hearing about all of your sexual exploits with other women all over town? Do you think we didn't notice Mom trying to hide the black eyes you would give her during your alcohol- or drug-related fits? You think we don't know about the three other children you got with that woman in Chattanooga?"
Another cast had taken the stage. The loudness of my words was buried under the heavy blues that suffocated the bar. No one in the bar looked over our way; they knew this was a father and son thing.
"You act like you and you sisters are mentally and emotionally messed up. You can’t judge me. You don’t understand …"
"Oh, yes; I understand. I understand because I'm just fucking like you. I've been engaged twice and can't seem to stick with it. I've cheated on every single girlfriend I've ever had. I'm afraid to trust and put my all in a woman. Jazzy and Shay are no better. Shay's husband hasn't been faithful to her since day one, but she puts up with it the same way Mamma put up with you, and Jazzy keeps getting into relationships with men who like to beat on her. So I'm sorry if you don't like being judged. But yo' ass just can't get off that easy. You couldn't even fucking apologize to her while she was sill alive. Yo' chicken-shit ass didn't have the courage to do it till she died. It's time for you to look in the mirror ... Dad."
I started to get teary-eyed. I was so full of emotion. For so long I waited for him to apologize to my mother. I didn't want him to try to get back with her, just say I'm sorry. That was all I wanted. But he never did it; or at least not until she was already gone. I know the life of an entertainer can be stressful, and tempting, but that was no excuse. He deserves to hear what I have to say. She was my mother. Maybe if he hadn't broken her heart so many times, she would have lived a little longer.
"The only fucking thing positive I picked up from you was learning how to play the guitar!"
My father sat in his seat looking at me frozen eyed. He was speechless. He had never heard me talk that way to him before. I had said all I had to say. Anything else would have been repetitive. I stared at him for a few seconds, got up without saying a word, and walked away. He didn't try to stop me, and I don't even know if he watched me leave. I left him alone in Grady's with his drink, plenty to think about, a few blues and a lot of regrets.
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