Dad clenched his fist and his jaw at the same time. “Show me a woman with long nails and I’ll show ya a lazy woman.” Mother ignores his comment but finishes up, putting the lid back on.
“Damn that shit stinks,” he says, staring at the polish Bottle. “Ya’ll go on to bed now,” he tells Delma and me.
“But it ain’t…”
“I said git to bed!”
“It’s early Wayne…”
“I’m havin’ company, Elnora. You need to go on too. I’m havin’ a business meetin’.”
Delma and I go to our room and she has no trouble falling asleep. For me it’s just too early and my body and head want more things to do.
After a little while, I hear men’s voices come in through our door. I hear Dad tell them to sit down at the table. I hear the sound of coffee brewing on the stove.
“I don’t want any part of it, Earl,” says Dad.
“But Marshal Dry will be in on it and he’ll make sure we get in and out of there without a hitch, ain’t that right J.D.?”
Then I knew who was sitting at my dinner table, the very table I’d sat under just the night before. It was Mr. J.D. Eckles himself, the outlaw from Ranger and Joe and Earl Adams, the outlaws from Rotan. I peek out of the little hole in my door and get to see pieces of their faces.
J.D. says, “Williams Drug Store is across from the bank. When we’re done with that, I can back up my truck and load up the narcotics.”
Now I know what they’re planning to do. They’re planning to rob our town’s bank, the bank where H. works. I picture H. just doing his job, cleaning and sweeping, when men come in with guns ready to shoot. I don’t like it. Not one iota.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story
Miss Helen paces and says, “We can’t find Scooter. I even went to the swimming hole.” Now she’s sobbing. “The water’s deep and violent. What if, what if …” She blows her nose on the handkerchief she brought with her.
There can’t be a world without Scooter Hutchings. A world where things Blossom if you believe, and where everything is so good, you can’t see any of the moldy parts. I try not to upchuck.
“What was his fit about?” Frank asks.
Miss Helen shakes her head. “He kept yelling ‘broken bones and bad ladders, broken bones and bad ladders.’ I know my Scooter was mad at the ladder after Leonard fell and broke his leg. A few days after the accident, Scooter took a hammer to it and used the rungs for whittling.”
“That’s where he got those pieces,” Frank mumbles to himself.
“But Scooter never yells. Ever.” Miss Helen keeps going. “So, I told him to go outside and play the harmonica. It helps him relax. But I forgot to check on him. I was—”
“The Eveready Hour,” I say, knowing it’s her favorite show.
Frank stands up and fidget’s a stare out the front window.
Miss Helen nods and keeps crying. “The song, It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo, came on. I was thinking about the night in the storm shelter, how we were all together.”
“Well, we can’t just sit here,” Mama says, thinking my thoughts.
Think like Scooter. Think like Scooter. He’d heard Brandon’s words, knew Mr. Foley broke his kid’s bones. He took revenge on the ladder. Could he be after Mr. Foley for breaking Rachael’s arm? But Mr. Foley was on the other side of the creek, not our side. Scooter couldn’t get to him. Would he try?”
“Oh, God.” I stand up. My hands shake first, then my body.
“Emma June?” Daddy pulls me toward him and stares in my eyes. “Tell us what you’re thinking.”
Meta stood and removed her clothing down to her chemise. “And Mr. Harmon was there. I had the good fortune of meeting his wife.”
“Ah, Ingrid. A delightful woman. Each Christmas, Edgar brings us baskets of fruits, nuts, cheeses and the finest of brandies. It’s really Ingrid who buys the gifts.”
Meta blinked, her eyes rolling to the left. No doubt, Meta’s curiosity rested on why a married woman would support her husband’s attendance at a bordello. Meta didn’t need to know the reason.
“You seem to know a lot about San Antonio’s denizens, Miss Fannie.”
She had no idea. The secrets I knew about San Antonio’s citizens would fill more than a dozen barrels in Otto Koehler’s brewery.
I left Meta and returned to my room. Unless a straggler walked in, no more appointments were scheduled for the night. I had the inclination many of my regulars attended the meeting to please their wives.
I thought of Sadie, her nightmare, her disobedience. I pushed the thought aside and picked up the February 14th edition of Life magazine and stared at the cover—a red heart shot through with Cupid’s arrow.
The loud slam of the front door jostled me awake.
I crept out of my bedroom and found Sadie stumbling and swaying toward the staircase. “Where the hell have you been?”
Sadie collapsed on the first step, laid her head on the third and motioned me away. She lifted her head and vomited.
I haven’t worked with photoshop in a long time. Starting over was NOT like riding a bicycle. But I did it, albeit in a slow, Carolyn fashion. As most of you know, I am currently writing my fourth novel set in 1963. As my dad used to say, it’s a booger-bear. So, writing children’s books gives me a breath of fresh air. (Yes, I go to sleep rhyming, then pull out my hair.)
Here’s a sample of my latest. It is a reminder for children to keep their imaginations open and active as they listen to a Grandma tell her granddaughter about a magical place.
As always, dear writers, the ones with the blocks,
I sit next to Gladys and, without choice, allow my head to throb. My eyes are filled with invisible grains of sand. My body is limp from exhaustion. Mrs. Roberts must feel the same way, only worse. She also has to contend with two young children and an abusive husband.
And Isaac. He has to contend with the fear for his safety, and the physical proof of racism.
If I didn’t have parents who fought for civil rights, would I be a clueless white girl whose only worry was flirting with the right boy, making descent grades, wondering what fun I would have the next day? Sometimes, I wish it were that easy. But I can’t go back on what I know. I can’t ignore the plight of my new friends, including Olvie.
I see now that she is a lonely woman. She loved a man who died before she had the chance to marry him. It’s made her stiff, like the plaster-molded Gladys and Fritz. There’s more I don’t know about Olvie. What? Who wrote her those letters that Isaac and I haven’t looked at since his scorpion bite?
The door opening startles me, but seeing Isaac, I relax.
“You okay, Chicken Coop?” he says.
I struggle to shrug my shoulders.
He sits next to me and sighs. “Damn, what a fucking day.”
“A fucking day.”
He turns sideways on the couch to look at me. “You really are scared of fires. Thought Olvie just made that shit up.”
“Not this time.” I tell him about the KKK crosses on my front lawn.
“Well, if I had to come here and meet a white girl, I’m glad it’s someone who understands.”
I want to tell him how I value our friendship but I’m so tired, my lips won’t move. I also want to tell him that I don’t understand, not really. My skin’s not dark.
“Willie, Lieutenant Davis, is going to help me.”
Isaac’s words Puncture my veins with new energy. “What? How?”
Excerpt from my WIP set in 1963, Working Titles: The Bare Bones of Justice/Plastic Justice
Jim Dennis, my great-grandfather, bought the ranch in 1904. When he decided to retire to a simpler life other than cowboying, he told Ike he could run the place. Great Grandpa Dennis took Granny Dennis and moved to town.
Jim’s recountings of his younger days were filled with pioneering stories and Indian raids. “After the Civil War, the country was full of unbranded cattle and it was customary for cowmen to brand everythin’ in sight. We sorta Tapered off, though, when the cattle brandin’ law went into force. In the free branding days there was grass enough for all, and plenty of cattle but the cattle had small market value. In 1881, fencing became general, and free pasture was a thing of the past,” he told us great grandkids. “I remember the days when Fort Griffin was a boomtown,” he’d said, “The center of buffalo hide and bone business. Hunters outfitted their parties at Fort Griffin and brought their hides and bones there to be sold. When the buffalo were all killed and the Indians had been put on the reservations, Fort Griffin’s businessmen moved to Albany and the old fort was soon a ghost town.”
Great Grandpa Jim also told us that doctors were few and far between, but not many people got sick. “Couldn’t afford to get down with doctors twenty-five miles away. There weren’t any dentists and teeth seemed to last nearly as long as the folks did. Maybe the pioneer diet of beans, syrup, bread, meat, and coffee wadn’t so bad after all.”
When Jim and Granny Dennis first got married, they moved to Nolan County and spent twenty years on Bitter Creek. Their first ranch home was a dugout, twelve feet square. I didn’t know it back then, but me, Delma, Mother, and Dad would be living in a dugout before too long.
God almighty, they had a total of twelve kids. I can only imagine Granny Dennis raising those kids, taking a break every so often to sit on the front porch to chew her tobacco and spit it back out into her brass spittoon. “Ping!;” like she probably did, when Dad took Delma that time. “Now Wayne, ping, she belongs with her mother, ping. Ye take her back right now, ping.”
Their son, Henry, died in 1898. And Boxley died in 1918 while serving with the American Expeditionary Force in France. That left James, Sid, Maggie, Ike, Bertie, Lawrence, Thurmond, Florine and the twins, Raymond and Rubie. Uncle Sid is ranching in New Mexico, Uncle Thurman is the foreman of the Martin ranch, Uncle Raymond ranches too. While the other kids were off doing other things, thirty-two hundred acres of pure Texas sat in the capable hands of Ike.
The ranch sits at the base of Double Mountain about fifteen miles outside of Rotan just past the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Mesquite trees, scrub brush, and red dirt were pure and raw Texas. In 1941, the land that spoke to itself and made the people who lived there a little stronger, would be out of our hands and in the hands of the famous football player, Mr. Sammy Baugh. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I’d get to be with Ike and not with Mrs. Berry and, at the time, that was all that mattered.
I feel woozy. Isaac’s baby sister had died too young and his brother had been murdered.
“No need being mad at Uncle Elias,” Isaac says. “He’s seen more things than most of us. He knows the rules, the law of the land.”
“Yeah? And he thinks those laws are good?” Olvie says. “All he does is live day to day feeling bad that he wasn’t born white. Why can’t he stand up to things once in a while.”
“He’s just fine being a colored man. He’s just scared.”
“Scared? Everybody’s scared of something.”
I want to ask Olvie what she’s scared of. Not now. I’ve never seen her so serious.
“You’re scared for Sylvia,” she continues. “You’re scared you might be the next one to be beaten and locked up. Chicken Coop here is afraid fire.”
How did she know that?
“So, what do I do?” Isaac asks.
“Do?” Olvie picks lint off of Gladys’ moo-moo, hesitating. “What does Elias think? Not that it matters, of course.”
“This time, he’s scared for me. I told him the whole story. I had to. You know, in case a deputy comes to pick me up. After I told him, he went—”
Olvie holds up a hand. “Let me guess. He went to his Sweet Home Baptist Church to pray for his sweet home and kinfolk.”
Isaac nods. “He asked me to go, but I couldn’t.”
“Uh-huh. How’s prayer worked for your uncle so far?”
“Can’t answer that, Olvie,” Isaac says. “God and me are on the outs right now.”
Olvie sighs. “Fair enough.”
The whistling starts. The Andy Griffith Show is about to come on.
Olvie stands and, to my disbelief, she turns down the TV Volume.
“Maybe you should find an ambulance chaser,” she says, sitting back down again. “Chicken Coop? Don’t your folks know folks in the NAACP?”
“Mr. Overton. But he’s not a lawyer. I’ll ask when they call.”
“Oh, no you won’t. There’s no need for your parents to turn around and come home. We’ll figure this out on our own.” Olvie stares at Gladys. “What do you think?”
Isaac and I roll our eyes and wait for the end of their silent conversation.
“She said chopping off your finger is no longer an option.” Olvie grins. “I say we visit Overton. He’s bound to know someone. Or …” She looks up at the ceiling and sniffs something I can’t smell. “Or, we take Pontiac and drive to Birmingham. Clear this up once and for all so those cops won’t think you ran away from a crime.”
Isaac stands. “As much as you think you understand, you don’t. We cross those county lines and I won’t have a chance to clear anything but my bowels.”
Olvie crinkles her nose. “Well, that’s a disgusting thought. You just cleaned Pontiac and now your want to soil her with your scared shit?”
“Deputy Garvey,” I say. “He seems decent enough. How about we talk to him. Get his advice.”
“Good one, Chicken Coop.” Olvie heads toward the phone.
“Wait just a goddamn minute,” Isaac says. “This is my life you two are talking about. Maybe I don’t want you to call a policeman. Even one you both know.”
Olvie stops. “Okay, Wisenheimer. You think I wear a white hood when I’m sleeping?”
“I know better than that,” he says. “But police haven’t been so kind to Negros.”
“Isaac,” I say, hoping I’m right. “I’ve talked to Deputy Garvey. And yes, I know you’re skeptical of police. But I think he might just do you right. Plus, he also knew my grandmother, and liked her.”
“Was your grandmother colored,” he says frowning.
“Not that I know of.” I grin. “But she was a tolerant person who hated injustice.”
Excerpt from my WIP, Bare Bones of Justice (working title)