Oz didn't never give nothing to the Tin Man..from The Legend of Sky Diamond
The Tin Man
“But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man
That he didn't, didn't already have
And cause never was the reason for the evening
Or the tropic of Sir Galahad.”
Tin Man by Dewey Bunnell
I was smart in school. English was my best subject since I liked reading. My book smarts paralleled my common sense and I was plenty savvy when it came to street smarts. My only flaw was getting a little too cocky like that time my teacher tried to intervene on my behalf. I will never forget that day. It was the last day I had hope. Fairy tale hope. I was ten years old and in the sixth grade. I’d been bumped ahead back in the fourth due to my reading skills. I told you
I was bright. My mistake was thinking it was enough to be smart and let people see it. It would turn out to be a lapse of judgement I’d pay for dearly.
My teacher, Miss Latell, Lois Latell, had taken an interest in me. She was beautiful and had the softest long dark blonde hair. She had the classic features of a genteel Texas woman, her long brown-gold hair pulled back into a soft chignon. The America song, “Sister Golden Hair” was popular at the time and I would secretly think of her when I’d hear it playing on the radio. She treated me like a friend and a confidante more than just a kid. She had the most wonderful smile that made you feel like you were really something. She was the perfect person to introduce a young mind to poetry and literature for the first time.
Miss Latell had been giving me books to take home. I’d already read Jack London out loud to Gerdie. And Anne of Green Gables. I’d read good books before, but it gave me a sense of confidence to have someone guide my thoughts. Someone I cared about and respected. Like a good sea captain was at the helm. I didn’t think anyone noticed, but that’s where I was wrong.
I’d been in my room for about an hour when the knock came on the door. Gene hollered out to come in and there was Miss Latell with her purse and some folders. I could smell her Lily of the Valley perfume over the rank canned Wolf Brand we’d eaten the night before. I knew it was her by the scent that clashed so hard with the smells in our apartment. It made me feel ashamed.
I couldn’t hear what she was saying and crept out from my room to stand in the doorway. I saw the look of disapproval on her face. It was only for a second, but we both noticed. Me and Gene. “What can I do you for?” Gene pushed a kitchen chair back with his Stacy. He didn’t take his eyes off Miss Latell and added, “Sky, pour teach a cup of coffee.”
I could see the look from her eyes as she took in the surroundings. Our apartment was spare and opened to the kitchen. Gene was sitting there, there at the table. He didn’t rise when she came into the room. Even seated, he still looked short, but he had a man sense that ate up the whole place. You could tell Miss Latell was unused to people of that character. Someone like Gene. He sat back in his chair and surveyed her almost like a strange kind of spider about to hypnotize its prey.
“That’s ok,” she said. “I’ll just take a glass of water.” She smiled at me. I filled up the only clean glass I could find with tap water. It had a cartoon man with a red nose on it sucking up a frothy cocktail and the ingredients for an Old Fashioned printed in cheerful letters. Bourbon was the only item from the recipe that’d ever been in this house.
Miss Latell took a long sip from the glass and said, “I hoped I’d be able to speak with you about Sky’s education.”
Gene parked his feet in the chair beside her and crossed one over the other. “What education? She’s showing up at school, isn’t she?” He turned to me. “You been skipping school, gal?”
Miss Latell said, “Oh, nothing like that. Sky is an excellent student.” She smiled at me. “One of the brightest I’ve ever encountered.”
Gene looked over at me with his dangerous green eyes. “Yeah, she’s a little too smart for her own good.” Gerdie started barking like she would when she was happy and interested. I could tell she liked Miss Latell.
Gene whipped around and cut me a look. “Shut that Goddam mutt up before I do, you hear me?”
“I’d like your approval to help Sky with her studies. She has the potential to accomplish great things.” Gene sat stone still and offered no response. He wore no expression on his face and kept his eyes steady trained on Miss Latell. He tapped his glass on the table two times, his signal for a refill. I poured him three fingers of George Dickel. He cocked his head at Miss Latell and I froze. “Go on, gal.” I went ahead and poured some of the liquor into her glass. I knew better than to disobey.
Gene took a drink and what looked like sweat drops broke across his top lip. The rotten smell of sour liquor filled the small room like candy corn that had gone bad. “So what cha got in mind?” He looked over at me.
Miss Latell took a sip of her drink as if to cement her newfound solidarity with Gene. Something deep down in me began to panic like a mouse caught on a glue trap. “Sky has a gift for literature. For poetry. I would love to begin preparing her for a college career.”
Gene almost spit out his drink. “College?” He laughed out loud. Hard. Not a funny joke laugh. I could tell it was a mistake for her to come her. Like poking at a sleeping snake.
“One can’t start too early preparing for a good university. Sky has the potential to go far.” She looked at Gene and smiled her pretty smile. “To go the distance.” I wanted to warn her to stop, but I just stood there. When Gene sat there stone faced, she continued. “I see such potential in Sky. She’s like a sponge soaking up the knowledge. It is an educator’s dream to encounter a pupil like Sky.” She smiled brightly at Gene. She was used to the type of men smiles like that worked on. I could have told her it was wasted on Gene. “Sky makes teaching an intoxicating experience.”
“You not married, are you Miss Latell? You don’t have no family of your own to take care of?”
I saw the red creep up her neck from the plunge neckline of her silk jersey wrap dress. My face was burning, too, in harmony. She always wore stylish clothes and this one had an avant-garde print. A deep crimson fern design on a white background. She had such class, Miss Latell.
She tried to gather herself and gripped both her hands around her drink. “I don’t see what that has to do…”
Gene reached over and cupped his ruddy hands over hers. “Listen here. You need to quit worrying about other peoples kids, about Sky here. She’s fine like she is. Let’s talk about you. You’re a fine looking woman.” He traced one hand up her bare forearm to the sleeve of her dress. There was something invasive about the way he placed his finger there. Miss Latell was cornered.
She tried to pull back, but Gene was on her like a vise. She was caught. As she tried to twist out of his grip, her breast peeked from the deep v cut of her dress. He sneered at the milky white of her bosom like a hungry animal at a plate of food.
Miss Latell’s voice broke like it did when she’d quote romantic poetry in class. “Mr. Diamond…I don’t know how to respond…” A tiny tear rested in the corner of her eye like a dewdrop.
He knew he held her in his sway and that was when Miss Latell dropped her head down in defeat. It broke my heart to see him break her like this. My father’s world was a cruel one. “Sky don’t need a fancy education. There isn’t no use for it, right, gal? She’s got other plans.” I could feel him looking at me and kept my eyes averted to the table. I just wanted it all to be over.
Once he knew he’d won, the game was over. Like Gene always said, the jig was up and he lost interest like he always did. When Miss Latell was gone and the Beaumont dusk began to drag its drabness over the room, Gene turned to me. “But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man.” He let out one of his loud cackles. “See, I know poetry, too.”
I knew about Gene’s secret. I’d found his pile of dirty books he thought he’d kept hidden. Printed on smelly cheap paper with buxom women on the cover. One common denominator in all of them was the lady being strong-armed by some kind of tyrant. I didn’t say anything back. I knew better than to fight with him. I never saw Miss Latell again after that day. She left town real quick and we got a substitute teacher for the rest of the year. Things like that happened in Beaumont and you learned not to ask questions you didn’t want to hear the answers to.
I made a vow to myself to never let some man break me like that, like the way Gene broke Miss Latell just because he could. Like he’d done my own mother. I wasn’t going to let it happen to me. No sir.