Ashes to Ashes

It was Mother who told me about Gene dying. Dad had found out when he was in town but gave Mother the job of breaking the news to me.

“Cono,” she said, “I got some bad news fer ye.”

I thought that maybe we’d have to move away again, away from Ike. Or that Delma was sick again.

“Yer little friend Gene has died, gone to heaven.”

I remember staring at her for the longest time. I remember going to Uncle Joe’s funeral and hearing about Wort Reynolds going to heaven without a head. But this was different. This was MY friend. This was Gene Davis who was only a year older than me.

“He went to Roby to the hospital ‘cause he had a pain in his side.”

I saw Gene and me playing checkers, riding on his mare, making up stories.

“It was a bad appendix, burst before the doctors could git to it.”

I thought Dad was right about one thing. Doctors were good for nothing’s. Couldn’t fix Dad, couldn’t fix Gene.

“Mother?”

“Yeah?”

“When Uncle Joe died, why’d they say ‘ashes to ashes’?”

“I ain’t real sure, Cono. I think it has te do with the fact that we were born nothin’ and go right on back te bein’ nothin’.”

“So now Gene’s jes’t nothin?” I asked, getting upset that the world was going to pretend he never existed.

“Nah, he’s somethin’ alright. He’s jes’t back to being part of the Texas Soil ’sall.”

“That ain’t so bad, is it?”

“Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“But I don’t get te see him again?”

“Afraid not, Cono. I’m sorry,” she said.

And I still am.

I go into my room and pull out my box of specials. There’s the old lace from a boxing glove, the time when Gene put together that fight for me; my first fight with real gloves.

At school and in front of everybody Mr. Green says, “Cono found out that he’s lost a good friend. His name was Gene Davis and he lived in Rotan. Cono, I just want to tell you how sorry we are.”

I nod my head and look down at my desk.

I don’t quite understand it, doesn’t make no sense whatsoever that Gene is dead. I want to see him again. I want to laugh with him. I want him to pull me behind his mare in the red wagon. I want to beat him at checkers.

Mr. Green has told me I can do anything I want. He says I can. He says he knows I can. So I decide to write Gene a letter, send it up to God Jesus to give to him.

 

daily prompt: Soil

School’s out, but …

“Class dismissed.”

After Miss Primrose’s words, the students Dash outside to breathe in the real world.

“Scoot? Want to go to the swimming hole to look for Frank? If he’s there, we can’t stay long. Your Mama will have a hissy fit if we’re late coming home.”

His eyes light up. “Grab your muskets, boys!” he shouts. Then, for the first time today, he pulls out his blues harp. As he plays, his cheeks puff out and suck in, puff out, and suck in like what I picture a blowfish doing.

As we walk to the swimming hole, I think about my birthday even though I don’t want to. Without Mama, it wouldn’t even be a birthday. It would be a few friends, a cake and presents without promise. Now I have to talk to The Secret Keepers, Miss Helen or Miss Delores. If they know where Mama is, maybe they can send word that I refuse to turn twelve without her.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

 

daily word prompt: Dash

Cleaning a bigot’s plow

“Now what are you talking about? I know what’s right and wrong. And you hanging out with a colored is not right. What would your parents th …”

Kent’s words hang in the air, his sentence unfinished. He knows what my parents do. He knows we’ve had Mr. Overton, our new Local president of the NAACP, over for dinner. Kent saw him when he dropped by that evening last spring.

I point a finger to his chest and feel like Olvie. “It’s time for you to leave, Kent. You’ll never understand.” I turn to go inside.

He grabs my arm. “You’re full of shit, Grace. All this time I thought you were smart enough to—”

My eyes burn coal. “Let go of me.”

“Problem, Chicken Coop?” The familiar voice sounds protective.

Isaac saunters up the walkway and up to the front porch. He’s about the same height as Kent, but thinner. Yet his presence towers over Kent a hundred times over. When he looks at Kent, his eyes don’t shift, don’t blink.

“What are you looking at, colored boy?” Kent says, but his wobbly voice betrays him.

“Not much,” Isaac says.

Kent pulls back a fist then launches it toward Isaac’s face. Isaac catches it somewhere in mid air. Kent opens his mouth, then closes it.

“You see, Massa,” Isaac says. “I ain’t s’posed to fight with white folk. So, my Daddy and my Mammy both taughts me to be quick on these here feet. Ya know, to’s protect m’self from de harms dat be.”

“You stupid, nigg—”

“Nigerian, you were about to say.” Isaac says losing his accent. “Right, Kent? Because when a white person says that other word, it means they are ignorant about walking in the footsteps of humanity. I highly suggest you leave Mrs. Monroe’s porch and bike it to that theater. You show good movies there.”

Kent’s mouth opens. His chin drops. He can’t quite manage the puffing out of his chest. His posture deflates until he reaches the curb. Kent straddles his bike and points to Isaac. “Your plow needs cleaning, boy.”

As he rides off, Isaac yells, “Ain’t got one no mo’. Done sold it to my Massa.”

I turn to Isaac. “I didn’t know you were such a tough guy.”

Excerpt from WIP, Bare Bones of Justice (working title), set in 1963

Daily word prompt: Local

We can’t find Scooter!

 

article-2017054-0cc18ad400000578-245_634x692Miss Helen paces and says, “We can’t find Scooter. I even went to the swimming hole.” Now she’s sobbing. “The water’s deep and violent. What if, what if …” She blows her nose on the handkerchief she brought with her.

There can’t be a world without Scooter Hutchings. A world where things Blossom if you believe, and where everything is so good, you can’t see any of the moldy parts. I try not to upchuck.

“What was his fit about?” Frank asks.

Miss Helen shakes her head. “He kept yelling ‘broken bones and bad ladders, broken bones and bad ladders.’ I know my Scooter was mad at the ladder after Leonard fell and broke his leg. A few days after the accident, Scooter took a hammer to it and used the rungs for whittling.”

“That’s where he got those pieces,” Frank mumbles to himself.

“But Scooter never yells. Ever.” Miss Helen keeps going. “So, I told him to go outside and play the harmonica. It helps him relax. But I forgot to check on him. I was—”

The Eveready Hour,” I say, knowing it’s her favorite show.

Frank stands up and fidget’s a stare out the front window.

Miss Helen nods and keeps crying. “The song, It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo, came on. I was thinking about the night in the storm shelter, how we were all together.”

“Well, we can’t just sit here,” Mama says, thinking my thoughts.

Think like Scooter. Think like Scooter. He’d heard Brandon’s words, knew Mr. Foley broke his kid’s bones. He took revenge on the ladder. Could he be after Mr. Foley for breaking Rachael’s arm? But Mr. Foley was on the other side of the creek, not our side. Scooter couldn’t get to him. Would he try?”

“Oh, God.” I stand up. My hands shake first, then my body.

“Emma June?” Daddy pulls me toward him and stares in my eyes. “Tell us what you’re thinking.”

So, I do.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

daily post word prompt: Blossom

Sitting in the back of the bus

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photo credit

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

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