Emma June remembers something

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“Shut up, Betty. You’re drunk.”

“Not enough. I thought this would be easier. I would never have told you except, except, well, now we need your help. The money’s dried up. You’re my only friend.”

“Friend? You’re not my friend. You’re a liar, a traitor. How could you?!’

Mama’s crying now and I think I have to upchuck again.

“But Bernie, I’m all he’s got. And if I don’t have help, I’ll be forced to, to tell everyone. Everyone!”

My head hits the back of Beauty’s seat. Mama has screeched the Model T to a halt.

“You’re threatening me now?” Mama’s words are Spikey like cactus needles. She never yells like this. “Is this why you befriended me in the first place?” Mama sobs. “For money? For …”

It still doesn’t make sense. The only thing that does is being home with Daddy.

I stumble through my front door trying to breathe.

“Emma?” Daddy says. He rushes to me with arms wide enough to hug all of Holly Gap. Choppers licks muck from my face.

“Oh, Daddy, Daddy.” I let him hold me.

He lifts my chin and stares at my dirty, scratched face. “What happened, Emma June? Tell me.”

His voice is worried. But there’s no truth I can tell him. Not now.

 

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket, 1928

 

 

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.

Dog food Sandwich

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Scooter grabs my hand when we head home from school. “Angry, angry,” he says.

“You’re angry Scooter? How come?”

Farter’s angry.”

I’m about to ask him how he knows when the Great Stupid Gatsby Franken-Farter rushes up behind us.

He shoves my shoulder and breaks my hold on Scooter.

“You’re a real scam, aren’t you, Enema?”

I brush his germs from my arm. “What’s eating you?”

“You thought it was funny, didn’t you?”

He’d finally done it. He ate the dog food sandwich.

Scooter backs away and starts mumbling. I reach in my satchel and hand him my yo-yo to take his mind off things. I’ll untangle the string Later.

Excerpt from the Moonshine Thicket

 

That’s what men (AND WOMEN) do

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photo credit

Something moved on my left. “Look, Giovanni!” I pointed to the anole sitting on the rim of the Miss Reba’s flowerpot.

“You act like you’ve never seen a lizard before.”

“It’s not just a lizard. It’s an anole. Look, there!” A pink bubble grew from its throat. “The first time I saw one do that, I thought it was about to burst from the inside out. It scared me. It reminds me of Emil.”

“He looks like a lizard, does he?”

“No.” I gave him a gentle backhanded slap on the shoulder. “I was with Emil the first time I saw an anole do that. They camouflage themselves so they won’t be seen. They bob their heads and bubble their throats to show off. They also do it to protect their Territory and scare off intruders. I admire that. He stands his ground.”

Giovanni shrugged. “That’s what men do.”

“Like Miss Fannie does. And what more women need to do.”

“Guess that means you’ll be wanting to vote?”

“Let’s see.” I mocked a faraway gaze, tapped my chin, and turned to him. “Bet meine Arsch I do.”

 

 

BLOW like a hurricane

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The hundred yards might feel like a thousand. It doesn’t matter. If someone needs to save Mama from the wolves, it might as well be me.

I gather courage like the Mayor gathers con-stitch-you-wants, and make my way to Scooter’s house. He sees me first and runs toward me, his arms wide. “Emmy! Emmy!” I hug him back and glance at Frank who raises his hand a few inches.

“Frank’s my tutor!”

“That’s good, Scoot,” I say, as we get closer to the porch. “Are you learning anything?”

“Tons and tons and tons. Blow the harmonica. Blow like a hurricane.”

I’ve crossed the chancy line into risky Territory.

 

 

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