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

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

 

Driving home from the hospital

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We’ve only been waiting a few minutes when Tanner pulls the green and white Pontiac up to the front of the hospital. He hops out of the car, his teeth glistening in the dim light of dusk. Soon, I’ll be the one who makes his smile go away.

He opens the passenger door for Olvie. “Miss,” he says, ushering her inside like a real chauffer.

“How many dents and scratches did you put on Pontiac?” she says.

“Only one.” He smiles. “Buffed out easy as pie.”

Olvie lets out a hoomph. “Think you’re funny, don’t you Wise Guy?”

“Yes’m. Sometimes, my funny bone pops out an’ jes’ makes the white folk laugh.”

“Stop talking like Elias. Your uncle thinks he’s living on some plantation in Mississippi picking cotton for his Master.”

Tanner starts the car and pulls away from the hospital. “Uncle Elias’ Roots are still in his ancestors cotton field. And it’s Massa, not Master.”

I catch Tanner smiling at me through the rear view mirror.

“Don’t you dare stink up my car with slave dialect,” Olvie snarls.

“As long as you don’t dress me up in a moo-moo or as an Injun.”

“Don’t be crude, Wise Guy. I’ll have you know that Fritz is no ordinary Indian.”

“That’s for sure,” Tanner mutters.

Olvie huffs. “He’s an Indian Chief, and don’t you forget it.”

 

“How do you know Fritz likes being a Chief?,” he continues. “Maybe he just wants to be a mannequin.”

“Why you!” Olvie squeaks.

“Okay, maybe he liked being a Churman and wearing those lederhosen.”

“Shows what you know. The German Fritz got tired of thinking about the damn Nazis’.”

If I hadn’t watched the news, hearing their banter would have put me in a state of euphoria. Tanner seems totally happy, almost like a new person. But, knowing what I know, nothing in the world is funny.

Excerpt from my Work in Process, Olvie and Chicken Coop (working title), set in 1963 during segregation.

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.