“Don't wear white after Labor Day” the old folks always said.
I didn't understand why when I was younger, but now, oh, I get it. Because I loved to stroll out at night, hang out with my boys, you know? But you see, white made you stand out like a beacon, and when the hungry ones would come, if they saw you all shining bright in white, they figured you were the sacrifice of the hour, and got you. They couldn't help it during a new moon. Especially if you were a kid, but it didn't really matter.
Now, when I was a kid, the old folks said it without explaining why we had to avoid that color after Labor Day. It was said, and everybody listened. Nobody wore white for months after that day. Well, I do remember a couple of older people who wore it, just as bold as you please, but not at night. No, buddy, not at night. Especially not with a new moon, man! Except for Trinni and Elder, who thought they were big and bad one night, and strolled outside, smoking cigs and talking junk, daring the hungry ones to come.
Trinni was never seen again, but one of his white high tops were, splashed with deep red and stinking of something like a garbage dump full of dead bodies and doodoo. Elder, well, he went nutso, speaking in that funny Jamaican sounding language about “it got him, mon, oh, god, de eyes!” Crying like a baby. They put him away, and then all we heard for years was don't wear white, and remember what happened to Trinni and Elder.
Ok, so I kinda took it all as legend as I got older, well, until I was twenty years old, and there was an incident, totally true. There were some girls, some kind of church function, where the kids had to wear white outfits for a play, and two of them were walking home after...I don't know. I know it was the night of the new moon, and they wore white and called themselves walking home, giggling and laughing over how nervous they were in the program, and what boy was watching them, and what boy they wish was there watching them.
Too bad they didn't take seriously what was really watching them that night.
But anyway, everytime I hear “Don't wear white after Labor Day,” every time, I feel a twinge in me. Not like it was when I was a child, but still.
Have I ever seen the hungry ones? Well, let me tell you a story, also totally true.
It was like this. My childhood friend Eric and I were headed to a party, totally ignoring the unwritten Rule of White. All I was thinking about was going to the club, to celebrate one of our other friend's birthday, and the white shirt Eric wore didn't even cross my mind.
We were twenty one, so you know we weren't thinking about my grandfather asking Eric before we left my house earlier that evening, if he was going to the party in that shirt. Eric, always cocky, was like, “Yeah, why not? Don't you like it?” Pleased with himself.
Granddad said to Eric, calmly but seriously, lighting a pipe, “You should change, boy. Not good to wear white after Labor Day,” and then fixed a stare on me, that I will admit hit a place in my gut, like ice. “New moon tonight,” he finished. I was like, “Well, he'll be inside most of the night, so...” kinda joking, not looking at him, picking and brushing imaginary lint off my own shirt.
He didn't say anything else, and when I glanced back at him, he was just sitting. Just staring at me, his bald head shining and thick gold hoop earring glinting. Staring, like I wasn't twenty one, grown, and in control, I thought. I told him that I would see him later and I left.
Eric and I had stopped by the store, just to get some snacks, so we wouldn't eat like pigs, and mess up that cool image we thought we had, and some mints - you know, for the ladies. Who was going to hang with us if we smelled? I was hoping to hook up with some sweet, innocent – or not so innocent – lady for the night, so I had to be at my best!
So driving along, it was pretty dark, and the club where our friend was having the party was out a ways, in the deep country, so it seemed. Around about eleven, I started to feel something inside, like forboding, a funny feeling of dread. I figured I was nervous, you know, I mean, it was the party of the year, and I was excited.
I tried to keep up with the conversation Eric and I were having as I drove, but that funny feeling was all over me and I kept looking all around the night engulfing us outside. Eric made a comment about me watching the road, a couple times, asked if I wanted him to drive. I started getting angry at him a little, because I was grown, and could drive and get us to a party without his help. However, I rolled down the window for some air.
I was starting to get the shakes and the sweats, though. So I asked Eric to pass me a bag of peanut M&Ms. I figured the sugar rush would help me, keep the shakes at bay. I could maybe get a drink once at the party to relax me. But the M&Ms didn't really help; I had to pull over. Eric got real serious, and asked me if I was ok. I told him I felt funny, and had to stop.
He made a comment about the country animal smell outside, and offered to take me home, and for a second I did want to go home, because this was getting really out of hand. But miss out on the party, all that flesh? I figured if I sat for a few more minutes, let the M&Ms do their thing...
Eric and I got out of the car to switch places, because there was no way I could drive. The smell got worse, like something real nasty. “Heck is that?” Eric asked, covering his nose with his arm. “I know, man,” I said, trying to hurry to the other side of the car. It was pretty dark, and I glanced up at the clear sky, the image of the black new moon.
And then...I didn't see anything at first; it was like a dream. I could smell them, along with the scent of blood, but everything else was unreal. Eric was screaming, yelling, calling me, crying. Then, as the smell of blood and guts got stronger, I very briefly saw a glint of gold and eyes the color of the new moon.
I only heard Eric for a few seconds, but all I could think about was that screaming, as I drove away.
Granddad walked in the house not long after I got home. He didn't say a word as he looked at my naked chest, the blood all over my skin. He just stopped, then watched me, my eyes. I felt calm, full of understanding, but sadness, too. My best friend had died tonight.
Granddad didn't speak for a while, and as I looked at him, at his gold earring and cold black eyes, I asked him, “Why him, Granddad? We were like brothers. I was trying to hold out for the party. I couldn't.” My grandfather said, “No, you couldn't. New moon tonight. And he knew not to wear white. Just as the girls you got last year did.”
My grandfather came to me, standing a few feet away, so the blood on his own body would not mix, despite all of it being Eric's. “They were warned, son. They knew not to wear white.” He paused. “Never liked that boy anyway,” he said, and headed upstairs to clean up.
I followed with a sigh, no longer hungry, wondering how my grandfather could be so cold.
So don't think you can just do what you want. When they say not to wear white after Labor Day, especially on a night of the new moon, they mean it. I can tell you for sure, those old folks know what they are talking about.