Even though his name is Samuel, he’s called Clyde’s Boy. His mother Billie Jean, stubborn as she is, isn’t too fond of juniors. So when it came time to name her son, she turned to her husband (at least this is how my mother tells it) and said, “I know I promised you a Clyde Jr., but what do we need with another Clyde? I’m calling this child Samuel.” At first, Clyde Thompson wanted to know where the devil she got a name like that. My mother says (as though she was in the birthing room herself with the woman) that Clyde didn’t give in until his wife Billie Jean promised him two things: one, that Samuel wasn’t a name of some man she still had feelings for; and two, that he could call their new son “Clyde’s Boy.” Mean, mulish Billie Jean gave in. It was the drugs that made her give in, my mother says.
And that’s how Samuel was introduced to the town: Clyde’s Boy. Most of the town don’t even know the boy’s real name. Clyde’s Boy is what they were told and Clyde’s Boy is what it was and stayed. It caught on fast, calling him Clyde’s Boy. It even started to sound like his name. It got so that whenever my mother would tell the story to relatives-in-from-out-of town how Clyde’s Boy’s name came to be, Samuel sounded foreign. Of course, she couldn’t tell the story without bringing up his given name. Samuel, Samuel … it doesn’t even ring right when you hold up a picture of Clyde’s Boy and say, “Samuel.” I’ve tried it many of times; that boy just wasn’t meant to be named Samuel. Even Billie Jean knows it, for even she took to calling him Clyde’s Boy. My mother claims Billie Jean said once, “Sometimes I forget that child’s name is Samuel.”
So, in a way, Clyde Thompson got his junior.
Once, in the grocery store, I saw Clyde Thompson and thought it would be funny to call him Samuel’s Pa. He didn’t like that and he told my mother as much. Of course, my mother told my father and my father told my bottom with his hand to not go around disrespecting folks. “He’s Mr. Clyde Thompson to you,” my father said, and I said OK. But I didn’t mean it. A grown man telling on a little girl isn’t right, so in my head, I continue to call him Samuel’s Pa or Tattle Tale Clyde. Coming up with names for him is funny and gets me through those boring hours at the auto shop where my father works and where I have to help out sometimes when my father is in need of extra hands. This is why my father was so quick to lay his hand against my bottom for disrespecting Big Mouth Clyde. Clyde is always at the auto shop needing something or another fixed on that noisy old brown car of his.
Though, I’m wandering from the real reason I started to tell you about Clyde’s Boy in the first place. Clyde’s Boy is in some kind of trouble. Right now, he is in my father’s shed hiding from somebody (I believe it’s a woman). It’s a good thing my father hardly goes out to that shed because if my father was to catch Clyde’s Boy in that shed, Clyde’s Boy wouldn’t have to worry anymore about that somebody coming after him. My father would kill him! So I can’t tell a living soul who I got in the shed. It’s not fair, though. All the girls (including my sisters who are more ‘round Clyde’s Boy’s age than I am) are crazy about Clyde’s Boy. And he’s in the shed out back! I just ran him out a glass of tea and a plate of cold beans — cold because right when I was about to heat them up, one of my nosy sisters came darting down the stairs. So I had to take him what I had in a hurry.
He always stares at me when I hand him his food and drink. He often says he knew he could trust me because of how quiet I am.
“What that got to do with anything?” I said once when my folks were gone and I knew I could linger longer at the shed door.
“Quiet people never want to start any trouble,” he said and gave me a look.
“Oh,” I said and sat down on the patch of grass beside the shed. I thought back to how he had approached me about his situation. I had been waiting outside the package store for my mother to finish playing her numbers and he had come around the corner in a hurry with these wild eyes, saying: “Sally, I need you to open up that shed in your yard tonight.” And that was all. “I’ll unlock it around eight,” I said and I don’t know what made me say it. Maybe it was because of the way he said my name (as though he knew me from way back, when really any other time he didn’t know me from a can of paint). Maybe it was because of those wild eyes — similar to my Uncle Jesse’s eyes when he gets a hunch about a number. So eight it was and Clyde’s Boy agreed. Eight is the time when my folks start heading upstairs for TV watching and my sisters start leaving the house, one by one, on dates. I didn’t think to ask about the trouble he was in; I just unlocked the shed and left a plate of cookies and a can of soda on some unsteady old table my father called himself making. I must have been asleep when Clyde’s Boy slipped in, for the next morning when I went to the shed to check, he was there, curled up on the floor like some small child in deep, deep sleep. I kicked the bottom of his foot to make sure he wasn’t dead and that’s when he said for the first time about his knowing he could trust me. He asked for something more to eat and I got it and I am still getting it.
It’s been little over a week now. Sometimes he leaves the shed (when I give him “the all clear sign” — throwing a rock at the shed door from the pantry window) and comes back later. Though, most times I am running back and forth for him. I don’t know what he’s going to do when summer is over and I have to go back to school. I’ve been taking the blame for missing cookies, fruit, soda, and candy; I don’t mind because I am starting to think of Clyde’s Boy as my man. I’ll be sad when he goes. I wonder what kind of trouble he’s in. I bet it’s about some woman or another. One of these days, I am going to have to start asking around. My mother said at the dinner table last night that Billie Jean doesn’t know where Clyde’s Boy could be. I just sat there eating, saying nothing. When my mother left me downstairs to wash the dishes, I snuck out and took Clyde’s Boy some left-overs. This time, Clyde’s Boy had an odd look on his face like he was hungry for more than just food.
Sometimes I think maybe if he went by the name Samuel he wouldn’t be in this mess.