Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Soon One Morning

I don’t even know if Mr. Sweet’s peaches taste as good as everybody think they do, but kids been sneaking into Mr. Sweet’s backyard for years. My Mama say no. Say Mr. Sweet’s peaches small and hard and we just want to be messing with a old white man cause we devilish and prejudiced and want to cause trouble. They taste alright to me but Mr. Sweet will shoot at you in a heartbeat. And shout at you while he doing it.

Mr. Sweet don’t be playing, but I can say I ain’t never took no bullet from him. I know how to dip and dodge. And he look kinda foolish when you running away from him, yelling and shaking his rifle. So he don’t scare me none. Until today.

Today was the third time me and Shaneta done came out here. When I had got caught in the park with my last girlfriend and then she and me broke up, I thought about Mr. Sweet’s place. Someplace brand new so couldn’t no other girl tell Shaneta she been there with me before. Mr. Sweet got five acres, right by the county line. It’s a big place. If you on one side of his property, underneath some trees, he can’t see shit. Or he ain’t supposed to. I guess me and Shaneta got careless. Mr. Sweet snuck up on us. I won’t even finished yet, but I’m pretty sure Shaneta was.

Now here I am on a Friday afternoon. Trespassing. I hop on one leg and look down the two holes of Mr. Sweet’s shotgun. Try to pull up my pants without falling over beside Shaneta where she laying at in the grass. I don’t have a lot of time to think, but I do some of what my English teacher at school calls philosophizing anyway. I ask myself why me. Why do I got to be the one to find out three to five minutes too late that Mr. Sweet truly is a insane motherfucker.

"Baybay, you just stubborn. Head just too hard," Mama say to me all the time. "And you know what they say—a hard head make a soft behind."

In other words, I don’t be paying attention to the signs right in front of me and back away in the middle of a bad situation before it get worse. I just laugh at Mama when she say that cause she love me and everybody know it. I’m Mama’s baby boy. That’s how come they call me Baybay instead of David. I ain’t got much ass, and what there is of it is bony, so I’m hoping my head ain’t as hard as Mama say it is.

"If you had found the Lord by now, you could stay out of trouble." Mama usually say, too.

She say if a man—that’s me—can’t think for himself, the Lord will do it for him. Cause ain’t nobody else trying to help him out except for some empty-headed, foolish woman he don’t need no how, so that don’t count. I guess Mama talking about a woman like Shaneta cause Shaneta don’t seem to have no sense right now. She ain’t moving after we get caught by Mr. Sweet. She just laying there, naked, on the ground like Mr. Sweet ain’t there. Eyes closed.

Shaneta ain’t that beautiful, but she fine. She got body for days, like a grown lady instead of a girl. The face just alright but Shaneta definitely got some pretty titties. Chocolate nipples. And Mr. Sweet so old with his glasses down on the tip of his nose, I know he ain’t had none in a long time. A long, long time. I feel sorry for him, though Shaneta is giving Mr. Sweet plenty opportunity to stare, not even trying to cover herself down there with her hands. Even in this crisis situation. I guess she figuring if she keep her eyes closed, Mr. Sweet might disappear.

What ails this girl? Don’t she know you do not rile up a white man when he already mad? Don’t she know that a white man just looking to shoot somebody prowling around on his property? Especially two black somebodies getting busy and reminding Mr. Sweet of what he ain’t had since Hector was a pup. And Mr. Sweet ain’t never gone have it now that he broke down and old and can’t do it no more.

He got to be crazy. Living here cross the railroad tracks, but then don’t want none of us up in his peach trees. Just want the birds and the squirrels and whatever else be crawling round here to eat the peaches. Or letting them go rotten. Just wasting them. If I owned this many peach trees, I’d have me a big fair every year. I’d let in kids and old folk and whoever else want to come in. It’d be famous. It’d be called "Baybay’s Peach Day."

The least Shaneta could do is try one of them diversionary tactics like hijackers or bank robbers do in the movies. This would give me a chance to run away or at least find out if Mr. Sweet load with real bullets or buckshot. He wouldn’t shoot a girl, I don’t think.

Mr. Sweet turn around and walk and I don’t know why but I don’t care. I’m just thinking I can make a break for it. I don’t want to leave Shaneta, though. She still laying there with her eyes closed. I’m trying to give her a sign that we need to run but then Mr. Sweet come back without the shotgun. I look over and it’s there on the ground a little piece away from us.

"Young lady, may I suggest that you put some clothes on? Don’t you got no shame? I know your Mama and you can best believe I’m gone be making a phone call."

Shaneta jump quick then. Her head down while she hunt around for her stuff. Shaneta’s Mama work down at the Social Security office. Mr. Sweet so old, I guess he been down there getting his checks and food stamps and government cheese. Maybe Mrs. Jackson keep a picture of Shaneta on her desk.


I feel sorry for Shaneta but I keep hopping up and down, trying to get my pants on. My balls slapping in the wind cause I don’t know what happened to my drawers. They out here somewhere.


It’s not like every brother in school been wanting to get some of Shaneta even with that body of hers. She kind of a nerd, she ain’t popular or nothing like that and to be honest, I won’t sure I wanted nobody to know I was checking for her. So I laid in the cut for months, almost right till summertime. I didn’t tell none of my boys, not even Nunkie, my ace boon coon, that I had plans for Shaneta. I didn’t want nobody in my business because I won’t gone mess up a chance at some good—and if the rumors was true—untested pussy over Nunkie flapping his jaws and selling wolf tickets. Nunkie my partner but the nigger can’t keep his mouth closed for nothing. But you know, he my boy and we been together since piss pants days, so I got to stay strong with him.

The usual would have been for me to roll up on Shaneta, give her that full court pressure. Tell her how good she look—you always got to tell a sister she pretty even it ain’t exactly true—wait for her after classes by her locker or come to them tired after school debates, the only sister on the team with the rest of those whiteys. Not that I don’t like me some smart girls. You got to talk about something after you put your clothes back on. But the debating team? That’s just plain corny. I knew the brothers was looking at me to see who I was gone step to next because I must say, I’m the one to get some. I’m honest with myself: Other than pretty teeth I’m not that good-looking but I do get me some on the regular.

It’s a science to it. First, you got to listen to women. I mean, the women in your family. No, scratch that. First, you got to love your women because if you don’t love them, no need in taking they advice. But you can’t be listening to women and looking up in they mouths and trying to get them to tell you women’s private business voluntarily. Cause that ain’t gone happen. Women keep it close to the vest. That’s why most of the time, brothers chase women instead of vice versa. And my Mama, she saved, go to church. I mean, all the damned time. And I know she won’t creeping back in the day. Not hardly, not my Mama. So she ain’t got much to tell.

I’m used to being around my Mama. My Daddy still alive, but Mama and him, they don’t live together no more even though they still married. Just don’t like to be up underneath each other, I guess. He live up the street from us. He come over to the house and she cook for him. Sometime, he spend the night. He tell me what to do cause I’m the only one at home. I got sisters from Daddy’s first wife, but I’m what you call a surprise baby with Mama and him. I go up to his house and stay any time I want and I’m the one got to cut his grass. We take family pictures with him every year at the Kmart. Every once in a while him and Mama go to church down to Red Mound, but Daddy go to First Baptist most of the time. He be over here for Sunday dinner, though.

Anyway, Mama kept me with her, taught me how to do for myself when I was a little boy. How to wash dishes, wash clothes, vacuum. Stuff like that. Never did want to learn how to cook, though. And now I’m glad, cause when I be trying to get with a girl, she want to cook for me. That’s the first thing girls do when they try to get you. They try to hold off giving you the panties, but they want to cook you a cake, sometimes even fry you a chicken. If I could cook, I’d be saying to myself, "Damn, this shit taste nasty. I can do better." But no matter how bad it taste, I know I can’t.

When my Mama’s friends came over, I learned how to keep quiet cause every woman ain’t as sanctified as Mama is. And they would talk and talk. Talk about men. Sometimes, they get deep and nasty with it. Mama send me out the room, but I got good ears. I listened from around the corner. Mama be telling them they need to be shamed of theyselves and look to Jesus. But she be laughing with them, too. Judge not lest ye be judged.

I found out what ladies like, how they like men to treat them. Love them, too. What they can’t stand, which is a lot—women kind of demanding—but most brothers don’t be paying attention. I do.

With Shaneta, I didn’t push up. I switched up my game and I didn’t do nothing. Just stayed quiet. Avoided the after school debates. She started watching me every day cause I would be around her a few feet back. Just enough for her to notice but not too close. She look at me when she think I won’t looking, like, what was wrong with me and did I like her or not. We didn’t have no classes together, but that didn’t mean I didn’t bump into her. I would wave at her and smile when she catch me watching across the cafeteria so she could see how good my teeth look, like I won’t stressed about it. Them titties of hers was calling my name. I give her the nod and give her the smile. One day, she just walked across the cafeteria and sat down beside me. Then Nunkie, his nosy self, started asking me about her and I tell him me and Shaneta just friends and she helping me with my homework. I just kept saying that until summertime roll around.

I’m gone tell you why I stepped to Shaneta even though she ain’t my type.

I got tired of them pretty chicks. A pretty chick is stuck up and siddity and just generally get on your last nerve. You be begging her and begging her and she know she want to, but got to make it a game. And it don’t even be that good when you finally get it cause she too worried about getting funky and sweaty and her hair going back. And then, when you want to settle down and be boyfriend and girlfriend, still that don’t make her happy cause she be looking in the mirror every day and falling in and out of love with what she see instead of paying attention to you. Like this sister I was with right before Shaneta. Cynthia Thorpe. The one I got caught in the park with by the security guards. Most brothers wouldn’t tell you this, but that girl had my nose wide open. I was crazy about that girl.

She was a redbone. Had that light skin get bruised real easy, that long good hair down her back. Cat eyes. She came from a little money, too. Her Daddy was a supervisor at the GM plant. It took me six months to get some of Cynthia. Seem like the only word I knew was, "Please." Had me sounding like a James Brown song. The one thing I can say is, Cynthia won’t afraid of sweating cause her hair didn’t get nappy, but she never would get undressed for me. Just pulled down her jeans to her knees. And then I had to slide her panties to the side and get to it like that and Cynthia be whispering, "Hurry up, Baybay, hurry up!" Like we was in a race. We couldn’t even lay around after; she always wanted me to take her right home. But for a while, it didn’t matter cause I sure enough loved to put my hand up in that good hair. I’m trying to tell you, that girl had me like that.

I even took her home to meet my Mama and Daddy. Mama cooked dinner one Sunday after service—Cynthia was AME Methodist so she couldn’t go with us to church down to Red Mound. Mama had put out this spread. Fried porkchops, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits and cornbread. Sweet potato pie. Like it was a holiday. Mama won’t admit it, but she a little color struck. She was impressed with Cynthia cause the girl was pretty, but then Cynthia had the nerve to turn up her nose at what was on her plate.

"Excuse me, Mrs. James, but I don’t eat pork. Can I just have a salad and a drink of water?"
I’m asking you, what kind of person in they right mind don’t eat fried porkchops? I’m looking over at Daddy and he don’t say nothing, just looked down at his plate cutting his meat into tiny pieces. Then I took one look at Mama’s face and I knew this girl won’t coming back to our house no more. And after we got caught in the park that was the end of Cynthia Thorpe.

Mama had started calling her Jezebel behind her back.


Saturday, Mama make me go down to Mr. Sweet’s house. I don’t want to, but Mama say she gone tell Daddy about what happened if I don’t. I guess Mr. Sweet know everybody on this side of town cause Mama was waiting for me Friday when I got back from dropping off Shaneta.

"Baybay, I just got a phone call from Mr. Sweet live down the road. He say you been over there messing in his peach trees. Is that true?"

"Well . . ." Mama hold up her hand.

"Never mind. I know you. Baybay, you just won’t do right, will you? I be praying over you and praying over you but it just don’t look like it do no good."

"Aw, Mama. I’m trying. God knows I am."

"Boy! Edgar Sweet find you naked as a jaybird in whistling time on top of that Jackson girl and now you gone take the Lord’s name in vain? And here I thought Shaneta was a good girl. She ain’t much to look at but she did have some manners. Better than that red heifer you brought up in here last time."

"Shaneta is a good girl. Mama, you know how it is . . ." This the worst part about getting caught. I’d rather get my ass beat and be done with it.

"Baybay, I’m telling you right now, I ain’t raising no more children. You hear me? I’m too old. You get one these fast girls pregnant, you on your own, boy. You better hear me now." She sit down on the couch heavy and move around on the plastic and sigh a couple more times. Like I just put a newborn baby right into her hands then and there.


"Don’t be coming to me with no by-blows."

"Mama." She hold up her hand again.

"I’m through with it. Go on in there and fix yourself a plate. I know you hungry. Chasing behind sin and damnation bound to make you tired."

She start laughing at me then. That is definitely worse than a beating. Mama laughing at me like when her friends over and they send me out the room.

When I knock on Mr. Sweet’s door, he look at me over the top of his glasses. I feel embarrassed for him, not for myself, cause his glasses is dirty, speckled like a windshield on a car after birds had a party, but I’m scared to tell him he need to wipe them off. He need to run them under some water or do something.

"David James, may I help you? I ain’t think to see you so soon, not after your especially disgraceful behavior." Mr. Sweet try to use them big words like white people but he sound like one of us.

"Yes, sir. I’m sorry. It’s just my Mama, she say, she say . . ." Mama sure do know how to give out a punishment.

"Make it snappy, young man. I got me a very busy day today full of appointments."

Mr. Sweet standing there in overalls with a white T-shirt on underneath. He ain’t dressed for town and don’t got on no shoes neither. He got some gray hairs peeking out the top of the bib and I know he got no place to go today, but I don’t say so.

I had asked Mama how long Mr. Sweet been living with the wrong folk on the wrong side of town. She started to sighing like she do, so I hurried up and move the conversation along before she start quoting scripture on me.

"How come he live over here with us? Don’t he got no people of his own?"

Mama told me that Mr. Sweet was married to this black lady, Miss Ioka. Only, fifty years ago, there was laws against it in Georgia, so he and Miss Ioka just started shacking. Mama usually would call that living in sin and say God mad but she say it don’t count for Mr. Sweet and Miss Ioka cause they had a ceremony at Red Mound one night at two o’clock in the morning so his family couldn’t bust in and have him locked up down to Milledgeville with the rest of the crazy people. Mama said they was married in front of God and twenty other folk but Mr. Sweet and Miss Ioka couldn’t go down to the courthouse and make it official. His family told him, if he wanted to sleep with Miss Ioka that was fine but don’t let nobody know and don’t be trying to bring her up in they house by the front door, neither. But Mama said it was too late by then cause everybody on our side of town knew Mr. Sweet and Miss Ioka had had two kids before they even went down to Red Mound.

Then, after they moved in together, they had four more kids and three more stillbirths and Mr. Sweet stayed with Miss Ioka till the day she died and he still wearing a wedding band. And once in a while, I see him at the Piggly Wiggly with his great-grandkids in his buggy. Little black kids. Singing to them. And tickling them. But most times, he just be by himself.

Mama said Mr. Sweet had wanted to build a house with his bare hands for Miss Ioka. And since Miss Ioka said she be damned if she was gone pretend she was Mr. Sweet’s maid for the rest of her life like she had been doing and wear a apron when company come, he built it over here with the rest of us.

"Them Ioka’s peach trees y’all kids always be sneaking around in," Mama said. "She planted them when Mr. Sweet and her got married. A dead woman’s peach trees. That would bother me to be roaming around in there, but I guess young folk ain’t scared of nothing."

I hold out the bushel basket Mama had gave me to Mr. Sweet. "Mama wonder if you want to come to dinner after church on Sunday. She say, if you give her some of them delicious peaches you got growing out there in Miss Ioka’s orchard, she make you a cobbler."

Mama ain’t said "delicious," but I thought I would put that in there. I smile at Mr. Sweet. I know maybe a dude’s smile don’t work the same on another dude, especially a old white one, but I try anyway.

"Sure enough?" Mr. Sweet look all happy.

I keep holding out the bushel basket.

"Well! David, please tell Miss Cloletha that I would be delighted and honored to come to dinner with her and Mr. Bo. I guess you gone be there, too?" Mr. Sweet bounce on his bare feet. "Why don’t you go down there and find some peaches. Take the best ones you see. You seem to know my land real well." Mr. Sweet cough a couple of times and take off his glasses and look at them for a while. I think he forgot me, but then he say, "Go on now, boy," and wave his hand.

I ain’t never been out here by myself, just with Shaneta. I wonder if Miss Ioka’s ghost round here, too. Had she been looking at me and Shaneta yesterday? And then Shaneta flaunting herself in front of Mr. Sweet? I don’t even look at them peaches, just grab some off the ground, pull a few off the trees and jet. I ain’t staying out here.

When I get done, I knock at the door a couple of times. "Mr. Sweet? Mr. Sweet?" I push open the door and walk into the hallway. "Mr. Sweet?" I hear a toilet flush and he come out of the bathroom.
"David?" I hope he don’t think I was trying to steal nothing.

"Uh, can I have a drink of water?"

"You sure can."

He take a pitcher with plastic wrap over the top out the Frigidaire. When he pour me a glass, he don’t hand it to me but walk with it into the living room and stand by the back wall. It’s pictures of black folk all over. Babies, graduation, and a bunch of the same lady in black and white. Then some more of the lady, but in color this time and she looking old. The last one, she in a wheelchair and Mr. Sweet standing over her with his hand on her shoulder. He looking down at her with a big smile but the lady looking straight ahead with a mean expression on her face. Her lips pooched together.

Mr. Sweet see me looking at that one and start laughing. He don’t seem like the type who know how to laugh, just shoot at folk, so it scare me.

"That’s who you want to see, don’t you, David? That’s my Ioka. I see you got a eye for a beautiful lady. I don’t know why I’m surprised. Ain’t she something?"

Miss Ioka ain’t good looking, but I don’t want to hurt Mr. Sweet’s feelings. He think she was beautiful, and I guess that’s what matter. If you ask me, Miss Ioka look like she mad at somebody. Or like she definitely don’t take no mess from nobody. Or both. But Mr. Sweet looking at me like he expect me to say something, so I just nod. I figure a nod ain’t a lie, not really.

"Yes, that’s my Ioka." Mr. Sweet hand me the glass of water.


Sunday, me and Mama at church and Mama pinching me cause I had fell asleep. Mama got some sharp fingernails and I jump and look right at Mr. Sweet where he sitting in the amen corner and he looking back at me like I should be shamed of myself. Maybe he don’t remember the peach cobbler Mama said she was gone make him today. Not only do Mr. Sweet live on the wrong side of town, he at the wrong church. But I guess he fit in cause everybody in here old like him, or near abouts old like Mama.

I could stay awake if they had some cute girls in here. That’s the first thing I don’t like about Red Mound. Ain’t no cute girls. And then, ain’t no brothers to hang with. I’m the only somebody young that come to Red Mound and I only come cause I’m scared of Mama. If I don’t go to church, I got to memorize Bible verses and she quiz me when she get back home. So it’s less work for me to go to service but I don’t want to be here.

Hush Hush
Somebody calling my name
O my Lord O my Lord
What shall I do

Another thing I don’t like about Red Mound is they songs. They always got to be singing something make you feel scared. How come they can’t sing nothing make you tap your feet and make you feel good about getting up early on a Sunday morning when you could be sleep? It’s some songs on the gospel station they could sing instead of something about God tapping you on your shoulder. That’s spooky. They ain’t got no choir at Red Mound, only a song leader, but I bet he could catch on if he practiced. Get a couple of tambourines up in here, a guitar, a drum set. It’d be alright. I told Mama that but she say juke music ain’t for praising the Lord, it’s for shaking your behind. She say she like the old time songs.

I guess Mr. Sweet do, too, cause he moving slow to the music like he know just what the song is about. Like Somebody done come calling on him in the middle of the night. Then after the song over, Preacher get up and start scaring everybody again. Jumping around. He making me nervous.

But Mr. Sweet nodding right when everybody say Amen, the skin under his wrinkly chin moving by itself. He lift his right hand up a few times to testify. When Preacher get into his sermon and start dancing up and down, getting happy and shouting Ha! Mr. Sweet’s face start turning red, like something from inside causing his blood pressure to go up. He wipe a tear rolling down his face like he getting the Spirit, but it could be sweat cause it’s hot in here, too, and ain’t nothing to help except for them church fans with the picture of Martin Luther King. I don’t like them neither.

They need to get this place air-conditioned. We need to start a collection right now. I got five on it. With these old folk way out in the back woods somebody liable to have a stroke any moment in this heat and I ain’t trying to save nobody with no mouth to mouth. No water fountain, just a gourd dipper and a tin pail full of water. And a outhouse out back with yellow jackets flying round in case you got to go. I try to save mine.

The food good on fourth Sunday, though, I will give them that. The Sisters have a big picnic in the churchyard. I get to eat twice, first at the picnic and later on that evening when Mama cook. I don’t never miss a fourth Sunday.

Now the floor moving cause the Sisters jumping up and down with Preacher and he still shouting and I wish they would stop jumping cause I think I got gas. My stomach start bubbling and I hope I don’t embarrass myself up in here. I wish I could leave and find some Maalox but I sneak a look at my Mama, and I know I ain’t gone get out of here no time soon. She moving back and forth, humming and listening to the Word, but that don’t mean she won’t reach over and pinch me again.

I swallow down air and let it out. Too late, the burp come back up in my throat and leave my mouth and I get ready to be embarrassed but instead I start screaming, "Oh Lord!" And I rise out my seat to leave but my knees bending underneath me. Mr. Sweet rush over from the amen corner to my other side and he and Mama hold me together.

Preacher going Ha!

I’m trying to throw off Mama and Mr. Sweet but they got me and then here come one of them Sisters who been hollering with Preacher. She waving a church fan over me to cool me off but it don’t do no good and I’m getting dizzy from watching Martin Luther King go back and forth. I open up my mouth to tell her to stop and yell again and again until my air gone. Tears coming this time.

Mama laughing at me again like she like to do, but she squeeze me and kiss my cheek.

"David. My child. I knew it."

When they feel me calm down, Mama and Mr. Sweet let go my shoulders. Mr. Sweet go back to the amen corner. The Sister stop fanning and go back to where she was. I look around the church, but ain’t nobody looking at me like I’m stupid. Preacher still shouting and everybody just keep saying Amen every once in a while like nothing happened. Mama sitting down next to me again and keep reaching her hand over and patting me. I try to get my courage up to tell Mama I’m pretty sure I ain’t saved yet, but service almost over and it’s fourth Sunday and they gone have fried chicken.

So I drop my head and close my eyes and I know she thinking I’m praying but I’m thinking about the dream I had when I was asleep, right before she had pinched me. I was alone out in Mr. Sweet’s backyard, in the middle of the peach trees. I won’t scared though. Somehow, I knew Mr. Sweet won’t gone shoot at me and Miss Ioka’s ghost was asleep or back up in heaven or somewhere.

While I was standing there, Jesus drove up through the trees in this long black El Dorado with a diamond in the back. He got out the car and He was wearing this fly white suit with some tan gators.
First thing Jesus say to me is, "Baybay, you know you better get your shit together, don’t you, youngblood?"

I knew He was talking about Shaneta, how I had did her wrong. How I dropped her off at her house right after Mr. Sweet caught us getting busy. I just tapped on the brakes when we got there to Shaneta’s house. I didn’t even turn the car off cause I was afraid Shaneta’s family was gone fall out the house and cuss me out or try to beat me down. I know I won’t being a gentleman to the girl, but I just didn’t have the nerve to face nobody in that house.

"Baybay, are you listening to me, my man?" Jesus asked me.

I wanted to tell Him that I think I really like Shaneta. I mean, she ain’t that cute and yeah I got them panties a bit too quick but I think I really like her besides that. She been the best. Twenty years from now, if I live and get to be old, I might say different. But Shaneta is something else, screaming and laughing at the same time when we doing it and kissing me all over my face. I sure hope she won’t faking with me.

"Baybay, what you gone do?"

Then I got confused. Do what? I didn’t know what He was talking about. Maybe the Lord was saying me and Shaneta should go to the ballpark next time. It’s real private there. Can’t nobody see you in the dugout. But I still couldn’t say nothing to Him.

Jesus looked at me like He was disgusted cause He had done called my name three times and I hadn’t answered Him and now it was too late. Then He smiled, like we was still partners. He opened up the door of the El Dorado and held out His hand to me.

"Alright, brother. Stay black."

Me and Jesus did the soul shake and then he climbed in the El Dorado and drove off. Even though I couldn’t see the car no more through the peach trees and I knew He was gone, I wanted to say something to Jesus, like, "Yeah, I’m gone do that, Lord." Or, "Watch out for Mr. Sweet and that shotgun—he might be back!" But I couldn’t even whisper. I couldn’t make no words.