Fighting for rights

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A man, close to the front, pumped his fist. “My wife don’t have time for more learning. We got six kids needing supper on the table.”

A melee of querulous male voices erupted from the crowd.

“Why do women prostitute themselves to the abnormal passion of man?” Miss Fisher continued. “Because they are poverty-stricken, destitute above temptation and driven by necessity. They sell themselves, in marriage or out, for bread and shelter, for the necessities of life. How can we blame them? They have no other recourse but to live in a society that dictates what they, we, can and cannot do. To solve this problem, we demand that women be allowed to exercise their inherent, personal, citizen’s right to be a voice in the government, municipal, state, and national. Then, women will have the power to protect themselves.”

“We men protect our women just fine,” a voice shouted. Other men shouted their agreement.

Mayor Hicks stepped to the podium, his lips pursed. “Enough of your heckling. Save your disagreements for editorials in the newspapers. She has a right to free speech.”

“So do we,” someone boomed back.

The mayor banged a fist on the podium. “These women are invited guests. By God, we will show them our southern Hospitality.”

The raw egg came from nowhere. It narrowly missed the Mayor’s head before landing on the bandstand floor. He squinted, searching the crowd.

Poor Mrs. Fenwick held a shaky hand over her mouth.

Miss Fisher reached below the dais and pulled out a speaking trumpet. “The true relation of the sexes can never be attained until women are free and equal with man,” she continued, her determination thundering above the chaos.

The second egg hit the podium dead center.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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Firing Squad

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photo credit

The officer turned to Sadie. “Miss, get up now. We need to ask you some questions. City Hall is only a short walk.”

Sadie gripped the edge of the table as if nailed there. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I found this the night of the meeting. Meta?” Her eyes begged for help.

What could I do besides sit with my mouth open? I forced myself to stand and offered Sadie my hand. “It will be all right. I’m sure it won’t take long to answer their questions. You’ll be home before you know it.” With afterthought, I turned to the officer. “Sir, doesn’t Sheriff Tobin have jurisdiction over this county?” An elected official always had command over a hired police force.

Ignoring me, the officer grimaced at Sadie, his fingers resting atop his cudgel. “What’s your name, Miss?”

Sadie creaked out of her chair like a woman twice her age. “Miss Sadie Dubois,” she said, her voice low.

“And where do you live, Miss Dubois?”

Again, Sadie stared at me for support.

“Sir, we live at the corner of Durango and San Saba,” I said, not giving away the proprietor or Sadie’s profession.

He tilted his head upward as if picturing the city streets. A slight grin crept up one side of his mouth. “I’d say it’s time for us to take a walk.”

I followed behind a slumping Sadie. Outside, the fresh air did nothing to help my breathing. The officer held fast to Sadie’s elbow and pulled her toward the courthouse. The Temperance women, glued to Sadie’s heels, followed behind like a firing squad taking a prisoner to her Final destination.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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A bullet past an ear

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Cono and his grandfather, Ike

Further up on the right is another house. It looks kinda like an old Wayne Dennis house, falling down on one side. Car parts litter the front yard.

“Who lives there?” I say.

“Oh, some damn white man,” says Ike.

“Still like that Cherokee part ’a ye, huh Ike?”

“Damn straight.”

We get to the bar and meet Andres, Ike’s friend. “This here’s my grandson, Cono,” Ike says.

“Pleasure,” I say, shaking his hand.

The three of us sit down at a table for four and a short little old lady in a Pink uniform comes over to take our order.

“Bring us three Pearl beers,” says Ike.

“No beer fer me,” I say.

“Still not a drinker, Cono?”

“Still not,” I say.

“Sody Pop then?”

I turn to the waitress and say, “Ye got Nehi Grape?”

She nods and says, “Be right back.”

For eleven o’clock in the morning the place is busy. The early lunch crowd has come in. Andres starts to talk while Ike listens. And I’ll be damned, Ike’s twirling his index finger around his thumb. They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This is one habit Dad’s pulled down from his father, but as far as I can see, and unfortunately, the only one.

Ike starts to talk but Andres keeps saying, “What are you saying? I can’t hear.”

Finally, after gulping down his beer, Andres says, “Hell, let’s go someplace quiet where we can talk.” I pull out my wallet to pay but Ike says, “Put that away, Cono. You need ta save yer money.” I do as I’m told, grateful of the man beside me who appreciates my hard work.

Ike and me gulp down our drinks and head down the street to a little dive of a bar, a place that doesn’t sell food.

“This is better,” says Andres. We all sit down at a table and order another round from the bartender, the only person working here.

In the middle of cow talk, a man with a black mustache that matches the color of his eyes opens the door, pulls out a pistol, and shoots a bullet right past Ike’s ears and into the mirror behind the bar. The bartender pulls out his shotgun, aims it at the shooter and says, “Jose, you drop that gun right now. This ain’t no way to settle a bar tab.” The man backs down and yells something I don’t understand, and then he leaves.

As cool as a cucumber, Ike clicks the left side of his cheek, turns to Andres and says, “Ye got another quiet place ye wanna go?”

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

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Pursing God

Moved to a room full of cots, women lay moaning, talking to themselves, soiling their sheets. Some chained to their beds, others forced into straight jackets before bedtime. Most stared up at the flaking, gray ceiling.

Everything existed in a different time and place. I had one thing in common with those women. We all stunk of fear and hatred, the odor I couldn’t place when I first arrived.

I wondered, if they ever let me out, what I would do when I next faced my mother. No, I wouldn’t slap her again. But that evening amidst the mournful sorrows of the women around me, I squeezed the fingers of my right hand into a tight fist—opening, closing, opening, closing. I felt my feet revving up to charge the witch into hell to await her appointment with the Devil.

Finally allowed to go outside, attendants surrounded the crazies. Me, now one of them. For the most part, the sky remained clear. The few scattered clouds resembled claw marks as if God—if there was one—was trying to scratch his way in to find me. I knew better. The claw marks were mine, attempting to slash my way out.

From The Last Bordello, a historical novel set in 1901.

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Daily Prompt: Pursue

Trying to keep a straight spine

In the glow of the kitchen lantern, I spotted the lone tear in Reba’s eye. “So, what’s now?” she asked.

“It’s only Temporary, Rebie. She’ll be back before we know it. I just hope the plan works. We’ll find out in the morning.”

“Fannie, notice how this catawampus started when the Wild Bunch come here?”

“How do you see that?”

Reba folded her hand. “Etta leaving with Sundance. That’s when Sadie’s trigger got pulled. Pushed her over that ledge.”

I shook my head. “It was before that.”

She glanced up at the ceiling. “Yes’m, suppose so. Plopped out in a cabbage patch with nobody around to comfort her ’cept for devil mother.”

“Rebie, we’ve all had our sorrows. Some just can’t seem to recover from them.”

“You dids, though. Came outta that orphanage with a straight spine.”

“It didn’t feel so straight at the time.”

“Mmm. Never does.”

Excerpt from:

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Body Removal

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Betty doesn’t look like Betty unless you stare long enough and Miss Helen’s too busy with body removal to take a good look.

“What’s she got, Miss Helen?” Frank asks.

“I have an inkling and, if I’m right, she needs medicine right away.”

They carry her to Moonbeam like soldiers hauling the injured.

“Open both back doors,” Miss Helen snaps at me.

I open the near door first then scramble around to the other side.

“Now come back over here and hold her the front corners long enough for me to go on the other side and pull her in.”

“I …”

“You’re strong enough to hold her up for three seconds, aren’t you?” she squawks.

I take Miss Helen’s place. Now, it’s me who’s keeping up the top half of Betty, but she’s sinking in the middle. Frank stays quiet holding the corners next to his ma’s feet.

Miss Helen climbs in the back seat and grabs the sheet corners by Betty’s head. She pulls Frank’s ma inside Moonbeam like threading a human Yarn through the eye of the needle.

 

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket set in 1928

Campout over

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It was dark, like now. Miss Helen had laid out the sleeping bags. Mama had set the sandwiches and cookies she’d made in the center of a picnic cloth.

After Mama and Miss Helen had gone inside the house, Scoot and me were fine for a while. We settled in to the hum and thump of the distillery until I realized the machine was so loud, I wouldn’t be able to hear danger if it came sneaking up on us. Maybe if Choppers had been there. But he was still recovering and getting used to his missing leg.

All that day, Scoot had been excited about camping out. That’s why I didn’t tell him I was spooked. I looked up through the gaps in the trees and watched the clouds as they moved across the half moon like Blankets trying to cover a small bed. Then it got darker. The owl hooted. When we both saw its eyes, yellow and mean, Scooter said it first. “Campout over.” Then he got up and walked inside with the sleeping bag over his head.

I’m not afraid of the dark anymore. I’m not afraid of untold secrets, either. “I’m afraid for Scooter,” I tell Frank.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket set in 1928