We’ve only been waiting a few minutes when Tanner pulls the green and white Pontiac up to the front of the hospital. He hops out of the car, his teeth glistening in the dim light of dusk. Soon, I’ll be the one who makes his smile go away.
He opens the passenger door for Olvie. “Miss,” he says, ushering her inside like a real chauffer.
“How many dents and scratches did you put on Pontiac?” she says.
“Only one.” He smiles. “Buffed out easy as pie.”
Olvie lets out a hoomph. “Think you’re funny, don’t you Wise Guy?”
“Yes’m. Sometimes, my funny bone pops out an’ jes’ makes the white folk laugh.”
“Stop talking like Elias. Your uncle thinks he’s living on some plantation in Mississippi picking cotton for his Master.”
Tanner starts the car and pulls away from the hospital. “Uncle Elias’ Roots are still in his ancestors cotton field. And it’s Massa, not Master.”
I catch Tanner smiling at me through the rear view mirror.
“Don’t you dare stink up my car with slave dialect,” Olvie snarls.
“As long as you don’t dress me up in a moo-moo or as an Injun.”
“Don’t be crude, Wise Guy. I’ll have you know that Fritz is no ordinary Indian.”
“That’s for sure,” Tanner mutters.
Olvie huffs. “He’s an Indian Chief, and don’t you forget it.”
“How do you know Fritz likes being a Chief?,” he continues. “Maybe he just wants to be a mannequin.”
“Why you!” Olvie squeaks.
“Okay, maybe he liked being a Churman and wearing those lederhosen.”
“Shows what you know. The German Fritz got tired of thinking about the damn Nazis’.”
If I hadn’t watched the news, hearing their banter would have put me in a state of euphoria. Tanner seems totally happy, almost like a new person. But, knowing what I know, nothing in the world is funny.
Excerpt from my Work in Process, Olvie and Chicken Coop (working title), set in 1963 during segregation.