Bare Bones of Justice

 

 

 

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I feel woozy. Isaac’s baby sister had died too young and his brother had been murdered.

“No need being mad at Uncle Elias,” Isaac says. “He’s seen more things than most of us. He knows the rules, the law of the land.”

“Yeah? And he thinks those laws are good?” Olvie says. “All he does is live day to day feeling bad that he wasn’t born white. Why can’t he stand up to things once in a while.”

“He’s just fine being a colored man. He’s just scared.”

“Scared? Everybody’s scared of something.”

I want to ask Olvie what she’s scared of. Not now. I’ve never seen her so serious.

“You’re scared for Sylvia,” she continues. “You’re scared you might be the next one to be beaten and locked up. Chicken Coop here is afraid fire.”

How did she know that?

“So, what do I do?” Isaac asks.

“Do?” Olvie picks lint off of Gladys’ moo-moo, hesitating. “What does Elias think? Not that it matters, of course.”

“This time, he’s scared for me. I told him the whole story. I had to. You know, in case a deputy comes to pick me up. After I told him, he went—”

Olvie holds up a hand. “Let me guess. He went to his Sweet Home Baptist Church to pray for his sweet home and kinfolk.”

Isaac nods. “He asked me to go, but I couldn’t.”

“Uh-huh. How’s prayer worked for your uncle so far?”

“Can’t answer that, Olvie,” Isaac says. “God and me are on the outs right now.”

Olvie sighs. “Fair enough.”

The whistling starts. The Andy Griffith Show is about to come on.

Olvie stands and, to my disbelief, she turns down the TV Volume.

“Maybe you should find an ambulance chaser,” she says, sitting back down again. “Chicken Coop? Don’t your folks know folks in the NAACP?”

“Mr. Overton. But he’s not a lawyer. I’ll ask when they call.”

“Oh, no you won’t. There’s no need for your parents to turn around and come home. We’ll figure this out on our own.” Olvie stares at Gladys. “What do you think?”

Isaac and I roll our eyes and wait for the end of their silent conversation.

“She said chopping off your finger is no longer an option.” Olvie grins. “I say we visit Overton. He’s bound to know someone. Or …” She looks up at the ceiling and sniffs something I can’t smell. “Or, we take Pontiac and drive to Birmingham. Clear this up once and for all so those cops won’t think you ran away from a crime.”

Isaac stands. “As much as you think you understand, you don’t. We cross those county lines and I won’t have a chance to clear anything but my bowels.”

Olvie crinkles her nose. “Well, that’s a disgusting thought. You just cleaned Pontiac and now your want to soil her with your scared shit?”

“Deputy Garvey,” I say. “He seems decent enough. How about we talk to him. Get his advice.”

“Good one, Chicken Coop.” Olvie heads toward the phone.

“Wait just a goddamn minute,” Isaac says. “This is my life you two are talking about. Maybe I don’t want you to call a policeman. Even one you both know.”

Olvie stops. “Okay, Wisenheimer. You think I wear a white hood when I’m sleeping?”

“I know better than that,” he says. “But police haven’t been so kind to Negros.”

“Isaac,” I say, hoping I’m right. “I’ve talked to Deputy Garvey. And yes, I know you’re skeptical of police. But I think he might just do you right. Plus, he also knew my grandmother, and liked her.”

“Was your grandmother colored,” he says frowning.

“Not that I know of.” I grin. “But she was a tolerant person who hated injustice.”

 

Excerpt from my WIP, Bare Bones of Justice (working title)

Daily Word Prompt: Volume

That rare gift of laughter

One Thanksgiving when we lived in the Tourist Court, we had enough food for Mother to make a real meal, but it was Pooch who landed on Plymouth Rock. We didn’t have money to buy a turkey, but somehow Mother got hold of an old hen to cook. She baked it for most of the morning, even making cornbread dressing to go with it, which, for her, was like pulling a cart full of lead. She set the food on the kitchen table to let it cool while we went to the drug store to get Dad his medicine. Seeing as how it was Thanksgiving, the drug store was closed and Dad had to rely on his refrigerated liquid medicine to make it through the day.

When we got back home, Dad opened the door and what we saw made my mother want to spit cactus needles. There on our kitchen table laid scattered bones where our chicken used to be and only half of what used to be a whole pan of dressing.

We looked around the corner into the bedroom. Lying on Mother and Dad’s bed, head on a pillow and wearing a smile that stretched from Rotan to Sweetwater, was Pooch. We were the three bears coming home to find out that our porridge had been eaten, but this time, not by a little blonde-haired girl but a Curbstone Setter with an eyepatch.

Pooch’s smile disappeared when he caught sight of Mother spitting fire from her eyeballs, and coming at him with a big broom in her hand. Once those straw bristles touched his butt, he was out the door lickety split.

We ate the leftover dressing and the pinto beans, which had been safe from the theiveing on top of the stove. Mother’s teeth were so clenched with madness, I’m still not sure how she got anything into her mouth. Dad, on the other hand, was trying not to laugh, and he looked like he was enjoying every bite of the scant Portions.

“Ain’t it surprisin’ how full we can get without eatin’ meat?” Dad says stuffing more beans into his mouth, his eyes pushed into a squint by his smiling cheeks.

“It ain’t funny, Wayne,” Mother says.

We all stayed quiet for a bit so Dad could concentrate on keeping his food in and his laugh from coming out. Then he mumbled out loud, “Guess we’re not saving any leftovers for Pooch.”

I couldn’t help it. I had to stick my head under the table and hold my breath to try to keep my own laugh from spewing across the table.

Dad leaned back in his chair, pushed his plate away, patted his belly, and said, “I ate so much I think I got a little pooch.” That’s all it took. My sides started to split right along with Dad’s. Delma giggled, and Mother, although she tried to hide it, was starting a grin all her own.

Pooch didn’t show up until later that night, when everything was calm again and the chicken and dressing had settled nicely in his belly.

Even though we had beans, cornbread, and dressing for Thanksgiving, it was Pooch who really celebrated the feast of the pilgrims. And, I think because of that, Pooch had given us a rare gift around the supper table: laughter.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper (for those who have enjoyed these excerpts, remember you can order the novel on Amazon. 

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Daily word prompt:Portion

Haters

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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.”

 

 

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

 

Well, look who showed up.

Halfway through our first lesson, the door opens in the back of the room. Miss Primrose stops talking about grammar. “Frank, I’m glad to see you made it to school,” she says.

 I hear the whispers before I turn. When I do, my chin drops. This time, I see him in the light. The boy from the thicket. He’s wearing dark circles under his green eyes and the same muddy Keds from last night. But his hair is combed now, parted on the side.

“Students, I would like to introduce you to our newest member of Hilltop School, Frank Sanders.”

 He still has that look. The one where no one can touch him. Like no one’s smarter or braver than him. I know better. He’s scared of dogs—even the three-legged kind.

 He sticks his thumbs in the straps of the suspenders that hold up his Clean breeches then nods to the class like he’s Jesus come to turn sour milk into fresh lemonade.

“Frank lives here now. So let’s make him feel welcome. How old are you, Frank?”

“Almost fourteen, Miss Primrose,” he says like he’s President of Confidence World.

“You may sit down, Frank.”

Frank-Gatsby-Thicket Boy limps to a desk. Without the twisted ankle, he’d sure-fire swagger to his spot like Wild Bill Hickok after catching bandits.

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Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

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Franken-Farter

I set down my lunch sack, take off my Mary Janes, and step over a railroad tie that borders the sandbox. “Hey, Scoot,” I say.

“Emmy!” he says without looking up from the hole he’s already made. “Dig for gold?”

“How deep’s it buried?” I ask.

“To the island,” he says, loud enough for others to look over.

If Miss Primrose is in sight, the bullies shut their traps and don’t make fun of him for the way he talks, or the way he likes his blond hair cut into a burr but makes his Mama leave the three red patches an inch longer. “Strawberries patches,” he calls them.

Seven-year-old Janie clambers over and says, “I want to find an island.”

Me too. I want to find an island. Anywhere but here in the Hilltop school yard. Stupid name, Hilltop. We no more sit on a hill than Mama’s home cooking chicken and dumplings.

Janie and Scooter start chattering, so I dig my toes further into the sand and imagine pulling Mama out between my toes. That’s all the treasure I need.

A shadow hovers over me, but I don’t turn when it says, “Playing with retards?”

Scooter pays no mind to the comment and keeps digging for gold.

I look behind me. Frank’s hands are in his pockets. He’s pushing himself up and down by his toes.

“Don’t know how tall you are?” I say.

Frank looks at me like I have an ostrich head. “Huh?”

“You keep bouncing on your toes. You wanna be a ballerina Someday?”

“You gonna play in a sandbox all your life? Even when you’re all grown up?”

“You’re not grown either, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I’m older than you. So, you’re that girl whose Ma disappeared.” He’s not nice when he says it. “And your daddy’s missing.”

I look toward the seesaw for help. The top hairs of Rachael’s red bob take turns bouncing up and down with Carla’s blond ones. They don’t pay me any mind.

“You’re stupider than you look,” I say. “Daddy’s at work.”

Scooter stops digging and looks up into Frank’s face. “Can’t disappear. Houdini died!”

I love how Scooter accents the words that are important to him. It’s his way of saying something important without having to string a bunch of words together to make a proper sentence. Scooter’s world is filled with magic, and not just because he loved Houdini.

Frank shakes his head and looks at me. “This dimwit your friend?”

“At least you got one part right.”

He puzzle-faces.

“Who’s stupid now?”

“Keep playing in the sandbox, Enema,” he says.

I go back to digging trying my best not to stand up and claw out his eyes. I hear him spit and stomp off.

I want to speed through time so Miss Primrose can ring the dismissal bell. Nothing’s the same, and now it’s worse since Frank-furter entered my life. I think I’ll call him that. No, even better. I’ll call him Franken-Farter. I smile and yell the name inside my head and reach for my lunch sack. It’s gone.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

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Meta Kraus has a dark side

… and she keeps it hidden in her journal.

Note: Before Meta Duecker existed between the pages of The Last Bordello, she first came alive in a very different way — in my original unpublished novel entitled Naked, She Lies. Both are supreme pianists and well-read. But Meta Kraus? She’s a bit creepy.

Here is her first entry. Following entries tell the backstory. If you like it, I’ll post more.

 

Entry, March 13, 1910

The Casualty of life is Death

The breath, a last demise

Cessation of a merriment

The living, they despise

Oh how the spell is broken

A life once in repute

From what it is, from what it was

There is no substitute. – M.K.

Distance can be freedom, not a sacrifice. It allows honesty to persevere. Perhaps I feel a twinge of guilt when I wrote in my journal at home. Now, alone on the train, I am free and will write accordingly.

Killing him was easy.

Uncle Dirk always looked at Mama in a way that was inappropriate. Like a vulture waiting for it’s prey to weaken. We were in the kitchen. Having finished eating breakfast moments before. Mama and I were cleaning the dishes when he walked up behind her, his arm around her shoulder.

         “Regina, I don’t have much work to do today. Are you busy?”

         “I am always busy.” Mama kept on, holding the scouring pad between her two middle fingers and thumb while scrubbing the egg pan.

         “Mama,” I said. “You are scrubbing with your hand chicken.” She and I laughed while Uncle Dirk made some disgruntled noise and walked out the front door.

         “I’m calling Skippy in for the leftovers,” I said, also walking out the front door.

         Outside, I called for my devoted Collie. Instead of Skippy coming to me, it was Uncle Dirk.

         “Surely, you are not still thinking about that silly game. Such childish behavior.”

         “It was my…”

         “I know, your game with your Papa. It’s time to grow up, Meta. You are a young woman and, if you ever want to find a good husband, you need to forget about such nonsense.”

         My insides boiled. My hands shook.

         “Fine,” I said. “I will get rid of her once and for all.” I walked to the chopping block where the axe was imbedded for future use. I knelt down, my back to the tyrant. Pulling the axe out of the stump, I picked it up with my left hand, tucking my right arm where he could not see it. I slammed the axed down and screamed. A yell of pain as well as triumph.

         “Meta!”

         He ran to me then, saw my two hands still in tact and screamed back, “You are crazy, crazy!”

         I laughed then, my stunt appeasing the horrible sight of him killing my favorite chicken a month ago, cutting her head off in front of me on the very same chopping block.

         He went back into the house then, only to return shortly.

         “Where is Stepper?” Uncle “Dirk” asked.

         “In the barn, of course, why?”

         “I need to take her to the back acreage.”

         “She’s too old and hasn’t’ been feeling well. Leave her be.”

         He smiled at me.

         I watched as he walked to the barn, and then turned my attention back to Skippy, feeding her and gently combing the burrs from her fur.

         I heard the sound of a gunshot coming from the barn. My first thought was that it was over. The guilt of killing his wife, or at the very least, being responsible for it, had finally made him do the right thing.

         But it wasn’t so. In moments, Uncle Dirk came out of the barn, walking toward me, smiling

“Well, Meta, that horse of yours sure was sick. Made him better, I did. He’s up in heaven now with your Papa.”

         I ran from Skippy’s side to the cruel man, pounding my fists into his chest. Tears fell from my eyes.

That is when he started laughing.

         “You didn’t like my joke, did you, Meta. Well, I didn’t like yours either. That old horse doesn’t need a bullet to die. He’ll do it soon enough on his own.”

         No, he did not kill my horse, but the lather I felt was that of a rabid dog. Was he so cruel because he had seen Emil atop of me the night before?

         Later that afternoon, I told Emil my plan. Of course, he is my humble servant and would do anything for me.

         The day turning to dusk, the back acreage was where we found him. As planned, Emil approached my Uncle with the pretense of a discussion about the sell of our land.

            I pulled the butcher knife out from behind my back.