1963 – No law against domestic violence

I open the door for Deputy Garvey. But it’s not him. He’s pudgy around the waist and not much taller than me. His eyes squint into a fine line that matches his lips. I motion him inside but don’t ask him to sit.

“Problem?” he says.

“Who the hell are you?” Olvie’s opens another beer.

“Officer Lancaster. And you are?”

“The owner of this house. Where’s Garvey.”

“Off. So, what’s the problem?” I don’t like the way he’s staring at Isaac.

“I’m Nora Roberts and the problem’s mine. I live across the street and the problem is my husband. Deputy Garvey came to my house yesterday. I’m sure he wrote some kind of report. He hit me.”

“Not against the law,” Lancaster says.

“And that makes it right?” Olvie lets out a soft burp.

Lancaster rolls his eyes. “So, Mrs. Roberts. Something else happened?”

The three-year-old has given up trying to wake up Gladys. She leaves the couch and starts running in tiny circles.

“Mrs. Roberts?” Isaac says. “Mind if I take her in the kitchen to find a snack?”

She nods, looking Relieved. “Go with Isaac, Millie.” Mrs. Roberts turns back to the deputy. “Yes, something else happened. Tonight, Lester made another threat. He said, well, he said that if I ever crossed him again, he’d take the children and burn down the house with me in it. Then he peeled off down the street to God knows where.”

“Threats aren’t against the law,” Lancaster says looking bored.

“Doesn’t make it righ,” Olvie slurs.

“I’ll make a note. Anything else?”

Mrs. Roberts shakes her head, her eyes cast downward.

“Okay then. And who’s the colored boy in the kitchen?”

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Lancaster,” I say, opening the door.

“Officer Lancaster, young lady.”

Olvie stands and sways on her feet. “Get your pompous ass off my property and don’t come back.”

Lancaster’s eyes spark fire. “You best be respectful to me. I’ve arrested folks on less charges than speaking to me like that.”

“No doubt,” Olvie says, flipping a hand. “Now get your ass off my property. And while you’re at it, try saving someone. It will be a good change for you. Now, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”

He points a stern finger toward Olvie. “I’ll be watching you. And,” he nods toward the kitchen, “the people inside.”

“So you’ll watch over me then, Officer Lancaster?” Mrs. Roberts says.

But he doesn’t respond. He leaves without doing a damn thing to help a woman whose husband threatened to kill her.

Olvie sighs and leans back in her chair. “Well, that was productive.”

I want to tell her that she didn’t make things any better. In fact, she probably made things worse for Isaac.

Excerpt from my WIP, Bare Bones of Justice (working title)

Relieved

Contending with Fear

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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

Daily Word prompt: Puncture

Bare Bones of Justice

 

 

 

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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)

Daily Word Prompt: Volume

Sitting in the back of the bus

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I’m sitting with Isaac in the back of the bus as we pass Pease Park, one of my favorites. Daddy said Governor Elisha Pease owned the land for a slave plantation. But Pease believed in the Union’s cause so I must imagine that he treated them with kindness. Pease also owned the area the area now known as Clarksville. Freedman Charles Clark Griffin bought two acres of that land for one-hundred dollars, the land where Elias Ford has his home.

But Shoal Creek, the grass and the oak trees, aren’t what catch my eye. I’d recognize that red Schwinn anywhere. He’s staring at the bus.

“Duck down, Isaac.”

Isaac doesn’t ask why until he scrunches down in the seat, his eyes wide.

“It’s asshole. He must have followed us.”

Ours is the next stop. We don’t get off. Fifteen minutes later, we find ourselves back downtown. The bus’ engine shuts off. I have to pee in a bad way.

The driver stands up, his hands on his hips. “This ain’t no tour bus,” he yells to us.

“Sorry,” I yell back. “I must have fallen asleep. I’ll stay awake this time, I promise.”

“What about you, boy?”

“Must’a dozed off too. I’m headed for Clarksville.”

When more people climb the steps to board, Dick-Driver restarts the engine.

“I think we lost him,” I say. “He won’t find me now.”

“We’re stopping at Clarksville first,” the driver fumes out.

Isaac is the only Negro on the bus.

We pull to a stop. The brakes screech.. “Out,” Dick-Driver says.

When I follow Isaac out the door, the driver shouts at me. “Where you think you’re going?”

Fifteen passengers turn their heads and glare at me.

“Home,” I say.

“Home,” Isaac says as he waits for me to get off the bus.

“What a jerk,” I mumble.

“Shoot, that was nothing. But I don’t mind saying, it feels good to be in Clarksville again. No offense or anything. I enjoyed the movie.”

“None taken. Can I use your outhouse?”

Isaac nods. “Uncle Elias keeps it real clean.”

After the bladder relief, I meet Isaac on the front porch. “I was wondering. Mind if I look at your books. I think that’s another thing we have in common. You know, movies, books, dislike for mannequins.”

“What time is it?”

“Not time for your uncle to be home if that’s what you’re asking. Besides, I won’t stay long. I have to get back to Olive’s.”

Isaac ushers me inside. Of course, I see no TV or radio.

“A hurry to get back to the mannequins?” he says.

“Yep. Can you imagine if Gladys and Fritz only have Olvie to talk to?”

Isaac snickers and points to the books. The one open next to his sleeping pallet has no writing on the outside. “Your journal?”

“Private, if you don’t mind. Now it’s my turn.” Isaac heads out the front door.

The bright green cover is the first of his books to grab my attention. The Negro Motorist Green-Book was about how to avoid problems when travelling. I dig further—The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah Bradford.

The last book is called Black Like Me written by John Howard Griffin. Something about this book jars a Distant memory. Is it on our bookshelf at home? I open the front cover and see that it’s a library book. I pull the yellow card from its pocket. Checked out on July 31 by Sylvia Peterson. The day she disappeared.

Excerpt from my WIP, working title Olvie and Chicken Coop, set in 1963.

 

Daily word prompt: Distant

Separate but (not treated) Equal

After Isaac puts the Pontiac in neutral and maneuvers it out on the driveway, he asks me to hand him a screwdriver. He tightens some do-ma-hickey then replaces the battery with the one he picked up at the local auto part’s store.

“You sure know a lot about a lot of things, Isaac Ford,” I tell him. “And don’t dare say anything stupid like, ‘so you think I’m smarter than the average colored boy.’”

“I read a lot. And my mama teaches at my school. The Academy for Black Youth in case you’re wondering.”

“We don’t have any Negros in my school. Not because they can’t come but because most of them live across town.”

“Separate but Equal,” he says, shaking his head.

I think of my summer reading assignment — A Separate Peace.

“Thing is, Chicken Coop. I want to make something of myself. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how. I can’t play music, I don’t want to be a preacher—”

“Then do something else. Be a mechanic. Be a teacher. Be whatever you want.”

“Okay. I’ll be a surgeon. After they let me in a university because of my a-Maze-ing chemistry and biology grades, I graduate. Then, I look for a job that will hire a colored surgeon. And, if I’m lucky enough to land that job, white folks will say, ‘I don’t want some colored boy operating on me.’ Then, I’m back where I started. Without a job.”

“You’re so cynical, Isaac.”

“Cynical?” He points a finger at my chest. “You know nothing. Nothing! What do I have to be cheery-faced about? Huh? That I can fix a goddam car? Tell Olvie it’s ready. She can drive it in the garage her own damn self. I’m going home.”

From my WIP about forging friendships during the Civil Rights Movement (1963)

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Retaliation of the wrong kind?

Isaac grabs Olvie’s arm as she reaches the doorknob. “Olvie, don’t you do it. I don’t need protection just because a man’s called me names. I’m used to it. And you marching over there and giving him a tongue lashing will only make things worse.”

“He’s right, Olvie,” I say.

Then I realize. Isaac’s endured this kind of treatment his whole life. So have his friends and family and so many others. I also realize that the bigoted man across the street is using Isaac to calm his own domestic storm, to diffuse the quarrel by placing greater importance on what he doesn’t know as his personal fear and stupidity.

We didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. And now, Deputy Garvey has driven off.

Something else occurs to me. “Olvie? You used to harass Isaac’s uncle every morning.”

“What? You think I’m no better than Roberts of Asshole? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

It’s a thought worthy of her Pursuing. “No. I’m just wondering why you stopped messing with him.”

Olvie shrugs. “Guess having his nephew work for me is a good enough retaliation.”

“Well, that makes me feel peachy,” say Isaac.

“Oh, Wisenheimer, don’t be so sensitive. It has nothing to do with you. You, I happen to like. Your uncle and me have had a beef a long while now.”

“Why? What did he do that was so bad?” Isaac asks.

Although Olvie turns to the side, I see the tears puddle in the corner of her left eye.

“That,” she says so quietly I can barely hear her, “is a long story. It’s also my story.”

 

Work in Progress – a novel about diverse friendships in 1963.

Daily prompt: Pursue

Snake panic, friend panic

 

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Tanner finally stops. He looks around but doesn’t see me. He settles on a hefty rock and lights a cigarette. “Tanner,” I say quietly so I don’t scare him out of his railroad pants.

He flinches but recovers quickly.  “What?”

“I have two things to say. The first is a question. What was in Olvie’s freezer?”

“Creepy mannequin parts,” he says staring at the creek. “Arms, legs, a couple of heads.”

Jeez! Why would she keep them in an unplugged freezer? Oh, never mind. Plastic doesn’t need to be preserved in the cold.

“Next?” he says, still not looking my direction.

I take a few steps forward and settle on the ground a good ten feet away. “I think Austin’s different from where you live. You know, maybe not as bad.”

“Maybe. But Clarksville is surrounded by whites. I don’t understand why he didn’t move to east Austin with the other coloreds. There, I could go in any restaurant, pee where I want, go to the park or to the movies and not feel threatened. I wouldn’t have to watch everything I do or say. Like in my own neighborhood in Fairfield.”

“Yeah, well your uncle and the residents in Clarksville worked hard to stay where they are. They like their houses so why should they leave?” I don’t say more because I see it. Coiled. “Be still, Tanner. There’s a rattler to your left, about ten feet away.”

He turns his head slowly. When he spots, he heaves his body off the rock and runs toward me. “Come on! Run!”

I laugh through my panting at his Panicked voice.

He stops by the street curb, his hands shaking. “What’s so damn funny?”

“Two things. You’re scared of snakes and you always wear those hickory striped pants.” I point to his denim trousers.

“They’re railroad pants. No other word for them. And, I’ll have you know, I own more than one pair. Ever heard of the Underground Railroad?

“Sure,” I say, more indignant than necessary. “It was a way to help slaves escape to safe places during the Civil War.”

“I wear these pants to remind me. I intend to drive my own life-train and not let anyone take it from me.” His eyes are focused, determined and serious.

“It wasn’t a real train with real tracks,” I say.

“Still, for me, it’s symbolic.”

“I have one for you,” I say. “Every heard the expression ‘you can catch more flies with honey’?”

“So?”

“Try being nice.”

“You want me to cow-down to the white man. Let him treat me like shit because of the color of my skin.”

“You do that anyway, don’t you? In Alabama? Maybe it’s time to stop cowing down and stand up for yourself.”

Tanner spits beside his Converse’s.

“That was mean. Just when I think you might be decent enough to talk to, you end up showing your stupidity. You don’t know me at all. And,” he points a finger at my chest, “you don’t know what it’s like to be a Negro.”

Tanner doesn’t understand me either. The meanest thing I’ve ever done was kicking Donna in the ass and chasing her with a stick because she didn’t keep her promise. We’d made a deal. She was supposed to help me clean up after making brownies. As Dad would say, “deal breakers chap my ass.”

I just wanted him to know that having me as a friend might be worth fighting for. When Tanner stomps off, I don’t follow.

My WIP, set in 1963