Haters

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photo credit

I can’t see anything out of the ordinary, only Olvie’s backyard. But I hear it. Words my mother has heard slammed in her direction.

“<N…> lover!” the boys chant.

Five of them emerge from the backyard bushes and run towards the front yard.

I grab a frying pan and head for the front door.

“Cooking out tonight?” Olvie says.

I ignore her and run outside.

Boys scramble in the cab and the back of the pick-up truck and shoot me the bird. Kent, the last one in, glares at me. “Beam that Fry pan over your own head, Grace. You’re not thinking straight.”

They peel off. Hearing the frying pan slam the sidewalk gives me a bit of satisfaction. But not enough.

“Chicken Coop?”

Olvie stands on the porch, her eyes pinched and curious. “Somebody got shot?”

 

The damp cloth feels good on my forehead, but I could forego Gladys’ positioned arm against mine.

“Want me to call that imbecile Garvey?” Olvie says sitting next to me on the leopard skin couch.

I shake my head. “He couldn’t do anything anyway. Name-calling’s not against the law.”

“So, who were those ragamuffins?”

“I only know one of them. They called me a <n….> lover.”

“Next time,” she says, “Don’t be so stupid. Pull out the cast iron skillet instead of that cheap enamel one. No, never mind that. You’re too scrawny to lift it. Be best if you grab the baseball bat under my bed. But if you swing it, don’t miss.

“I don’t want to be violent,” I say, trying to sound like my parents.

“You hear what I said? Don’t miss.”

 

 

The unenlightened neighbor

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Olvie pours herself another cup of Folgers while I start the pancake mix. “I think that was the door, Olvie.”

“Come in, Wise-Guy,” Olvie yells.

“Well, that was pleasant,” Tanner says, wearing a clean pair of “underground” railroad pants.

I pour circles of batter into the hot skillet. “What?”

“Man came charging toward me from across the street. Said I didn’t have any business being here. Guess he doesn’t like Negros.”

“Asshole,” Olvie mumbles.“That’s because he doesn’t like himself, that stupid son of a bitch.”

Pondering her words, I wonder if Olvie is really smarter than the rest of us. Mom and Dad told me people are often scared of things they don’t understand. And instead of trying to figure out what they’re afraid of, they resist anything new, anything different. Mr. Roberts must not have any Negro friends. If he did, he wouldn’t be afraid of a teenage boy.

“What did you tell him?” I ask.

“Nothing. I ignored him.”

“Why’d you do a thing like that?” Olvie says. “Should have told him off.”

“And why would I do that?” he says. “I don’t want trouble.”

Olvie huffs. “You sound like your uncle. ‘Don’t wants to cause any trouble, ma’am. Yes’m, anything you want, ma’am. Ain’t no good stirring the pot, you see.’ Ugh.”

“You think Uncle Elias should stand up for himself? Like I told Chicken Coop, he’s old school. He’s still afraid of the white man’s world.”

“Oh, and you’re not?” Olvie says.

“Oh, yes’m, I is alright,” he says in dialect. “Jes’ try nots to show it.”

Olvie stops in mid Chuckle. “Elias still thinks garlic hanging over a bed will cure a cold. If you tell him otherwise, he won’t listen. Speaking of, how’s that finger, Wise Guy. Need me to chop it off? You hung those tools up real nice in the utility room. I can find my saw easy now.”

Tanner squeezes his hand. “No thanks. Think I’ll hold on to it for a while.”

This makes Olvie laugh. She has a good laugh, one I’d like to hear more often.

Excerpt from my work in progress set in 1963.

 

NOTE: The photo is of Emmett Till who reminds me of my character, Tanner Ford. This novel will be in honor and memory of Emmett.

Out of his comfort zone (until the movie comes on)

 

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photo credit

“Well, well, well,” says asshole pimply-faced Kent behind the glass window. “Thought you were leaving for the summer.”

How could the tolerant Mr. Pryor hire this racist?

“Two tickets.” I thrust the money in the hole.

“Two? Where’s your friend?”

I don’t want to get Tanner in trouble. I also want to stand my ground. “He’s behind me.”

Kent squints at Tanner. “Now you’re friends with a …” He looks behind him. Mr. Pryor faces toward us. He’s chatting with an older lady with bluish hair. “Friends with a colored? He your boyfriend?”

“Let’s go, Chicken Coop,” Tanner whispers behind me. “Ain’t worth it.”

“My friend and me came to watch a movie. Now, sell us the goddamn tickets, Kent.”

There is that look of anger and there is a look of hatred. Kent’s wearing both. He hands me the ticket.“Next,” he says through clinched teeth.

Tanner finds a place to sit in the back of the theater. I go for popcorn and cokes. When I return, he asks if we can put a couple of seats between us.

From my Work in Progress about a biracial friendship in 1963.

Outlier

Fairy kisses

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“Ready?” Daddy says, looking at me.

And then I remember something. “Brandon? You said Rachael liked Scooter’s get- well letter the best. How come?”

“He drew her a heart. It was Purple with a big smiling face and red pokey hair. Had freckles, too.”

“Kissed by fairies many times,” Scooter says. “More than you, Emma June.”

I hug Scooter. I want to bounce him up and down like he does me. I can’t. Scooter’s been growing, not like a weed, but like a beautiful wildflower.

Then the three of us, a Choppers-legged dog family, say our goodbyes and are about halfway home when Daddy says, “Doodle Snip? Think we can tell you about everything tomorrow? It’s been and long day and we’re—”

“It can wait,” I say. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now.” Then I’m sandwiched between two pieces of Wonder Bread.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

 

Cono meets a “Colored Man”

 

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Cono Dennis and his sister, Delma

1934:  We walk into the barber’s shop and Dad shakes hands with Mr. Kindle. The place looks pretty much the same as Grady’s in Ranger, but instead of a boxing poster, there’s a framed picture of President Roosevelt. Something else different too. There’s a colored man standing in the corner holding a rag. Dad walks up to him, shakes his hand and says, “How ya doin,’ H?”

  “I’m jest fine, Mr. Wayne. How ‘bout yerself?” They shake hands.

   “Any better ’n I’d be dead.”

  “Well, that’s fine then, jus’ fine,” H. laughs.

 “H., this is my boy, Cono.” H. bends down, looks me square in my eyes and says, “We’ll, it’s a real pleasure Little Dennis, a real pleasure.”

 I like how he’s Squatting so he can see my eyes. Like we’re playing on the same team. I don’t have to look up to him and he doesn’t have to look down on me. I stare back into his eyes where I can see right into the middle of him. What I see is safe and comfortable. So I say, “I ain’t never met a real colored man before.” I hear Dad laugh.

   “‘S’at right?”

   “Yeah.”

  “Yes, sir,” corrects Dad.

 “Yes sir,” I say.

“Well, Little Dennis, I’ve never met a young man so strong and smart lookin’ as you.”     Dad gets in the barber’s chair and H. pulls up a stool to start shining Dad’s old black shoes.

I like the way H. looks at me, like I’m worth a jar full of quarters.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper