Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Here's chapter six. I'm sorry for the lag in posting. I had a little issue, which I think I've cleared up.

As a side note, I've discovered that I have some Russian readers. What a pleasant surprise. Welcome. People from various countries have dropped by on occasion, but it appears that a few Russians are visiting regularly. I'm happy to have you. Hell, I'm just thrilled with all you folks who are reading my work.

Please remember that this is copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in any manner without my permission.




A novel by Chris Sherrill

Copyright 2012 by Chris Sherrill







            Some years pass and there’s nothing to say except, a year passed. We’d planted and hoed, cut and chopped, picked and canned and butchered our way through another year. When chores were done, Homer and Horace and I had played baseball, played at the saw mill and explored the county side. I’d sat in Jane’s lonely chair a couple of times and she’d fed me oatmeal cookies with raisins and talked about gardening and chickens. School had started again and I’d had another birthday.
            One morning in mid October, we were rushing around getting ready for school. Dad had left very early to go to the sale barn to help a friend pick out some milk cows and without his usual help in ordering the chaos, things were a little more disorganized than usual. As I walked into the kitchen, Mom was handing platters to Gwen and Charlotte.
            “Okay, let’s eat,” she said. “Are the biscuits on the table?”
            “Yes, ma’am.”
            “Where’s Bruce? Where’s Bruce?”
            “He was right here a minute ago,” Charlotte said.
            “Bruce? Come eat, Bruce. Bruce, where are you?”
            Mom was starting to get worried.
            “I’ll see if he’s in the bathroom,” Gwen volunteered.
            “I’ll check upstairs,” I said.
            As I ran upstairs something in the window caught my eye. I stopped. Sitting out near the lake was Jane. With her was Bruce. I ran back downstairs.
            “He’s outside,” I said, hurrying by.
            “Oh, my God, the lake,” mom muttered.
            She and the others rushed out behind me. Bruce looked at us with his big smile. He handed Jane a brown leaf.
            “Jane,” he said, pointing at her. “Jane nice.”
            Jane took the leaf he offered and looked up at us. She saw the distress in mom’s face.
            “He alright, missus.”
            “What’s he doing out here?” mom demanded.
            “When I brung the eggs a little while ago, he must’ve followed me out. I didn’t see him ‘til he got to the creek yonder and started complaining ‘bout the mud. Well, I turned around an’ brung him back, ‘cept when we got here, he wanted to look around. I was just about to bring him on up to your house.
            “Jane, mama.”
            “Yes, dear. I know it’s Jane.”
            “Jane nice, mama.”
            “Yes, dear. I know. Why don’t you go on up to the house now?”
            “Jane go, too?”
            “Jane has things to do. Maybe you’ll see her again.”
            Jane was still sitting. She had scarcely glanced at me, which suited me fine. Bruce went over to her, put his arms around her neck and gave her a hug. She hesitated, looked at mom, then hugged him back. He released his hug but held her cheeks for a moment, smiling his big, innocent smile. She caressed his cheeks tenderly.
            “Booce like Jane.”
            “I know you do, son. Come and go with Gwen.”
            “Gwen, Booce like Jane.”
            “She’s nice, isn’t she?”
            “Charlotte, Booce like Jane.”
            Their chatter went up the rise to the house. Mom seemed at a loss for words. Jane sat still, watching Bruce. Her eyes were soft. When she started to stand I offered my hand. She looked at it with uncertainty then took it.
            “Thank you, Jane,” mom said.
            “It wasn’t nothing, ma’am. He a sweet boy.”
            “I hope he didn’t inconvenience you.”
            “Oh, no, ma’am, not in the leas’. He made me smile. Nice to start the day with a smile.”
            There wasn’t anything else to say.
            “Well, thank you again, and thank you for the eggs.”
            “No, ma’am. I be thanking you for the chickens, and for the trust.”
            Inside Bruce couldn’t stop talking about Jane. I watched mom out of the side of my eye. She was pensive. Finally, food replaced Jane in Bruce’s mind.
            A few days later there was a grocery bag of field peas on the porch beside the eggs. Dad took me to Jane’s because a man didn’t go alone to a single woman’s house; it was unseemly. She invited us in but we stayed on the front porch.
            “I’d like to pay you for the field peas,” dad said.
            “Oh, no, sah. I got me plenty and I wasn’t thinking ‘bout no pay. Nobody much wanna have no truck with Jane, and y’all been kind to me, what with them chickens an’ all, an’ I just wanna be neighborly.”
            “Thank you, if we can do anything for you, just let me know.”
            “Well, sah, they might be one little thing.”
            She looked uncertain, grasping her hands in her dress pockets like she was drying them.
            “What is it?”
            “Mr. Demby, he say he can take thirty of my pumpkins to sell at his store, and he’ll pay cash money. And he say he know a group up near Overton that sell pumpkins every October. He gonna call them and they might take another thirty.”
            “That’s good news You must have a mighty nice crop of pumpkins.”
            She smiled broadly. “Yes, sah. They done just fine. I be glad for you to see them.”
            We followed her to her garden where dozens of large, orange pumpkins stood out against the backdrop of the browning garden.
            “My goodness.”
            She smiled happily.
            “What do you need?” he asked.
            Dad usually cut right to the chase.
            “Well, sah, it all gotta be done right quick like, so it be nice to have a little help getting them up, and I ain’t got no way to take them where they need to go. Mind you, I be glad to pay for gas and trouble, and for the help.”
            “I’ll consider the field peas as pay for the use of the truck. Billy, how much would you charge Miss Jane to help her get up these pumpkins?”
            I was so surprised that I had no ready answer.
            “It doesn’t look like it’d be too hard. I wouldn’t charge nothing.”
            “Ain’t looking for no handout,” she said to me.
            There was a proud little edge to her voice.
            “I’ll do it if you let me bring Bruce with me.”
            She looked at me with a really odd look.
            “Billy,” dad said, “you can’t be saddling Miss Jane with a babysitting chore.”
            “No, sah. Wouldn’t be no chore. That a sweet boy, and I be glad he come over.”
            Dad had heard about Jane bringing Bruce back to the house.
            “Are you sure?”
            “Yes, sah. Sure.”
            Thursday and Friday after school I worked cutting and carrying pumpkins while Bruce and Jane played. She did help some; it was her intention to help, but Bruce wanted to play and it made me feel good to see her laugh and play. He chased her and she chased him. He brought her sticks and leaves, and she acted delighted at his gift. Mr. McGilroy heard the laughter and came back to see what was going on. He just stood like an angry statue at the edge of the yard and looked. Jane was much more reserved, much more, while he was there. She was afraid of him. After a time, he left. She brought me a glass of water a little later.
            “Why are you afraid of Mr. McGilroy?” I asked.
            Her head snapped to me then she shook her head and walked away. Well, you know me. That just made me all the more curious, but I didn’t force it.
            Late Friday afternoon dad brought the pickup and we loaded pumpkins and took them to Demby’s. Then we loaded the batch for the group in Overton which we would deliver Saturday.
            Jane was sad that we were done. She hugged and kissed Bruce, and he hugged and kissed her back, and it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do that. What did Bruce see that none of us could see? Maybe, it was what he didn’t see. As dad took Bruce to the pickup, Jane put her hand softly on my shoulder.
            “I know they wasn’t no pay, but I got something for you,” she said.
            She threw up her hand to dad. “I got a little something for young Billy here,” she called. “He be right there.”
            He nodded and I followed Jane around the corner of the house to the back door.
            “Shush, Billy, it just a little something.”
            Mom’s estimation of Jane had begun to soften, but she had told me in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances outside the safety of my brother was I to be inside her house. I waited at the door. Jane came back in ten seconds with a pumpkin pie. She looked at me brightly.
            “Thank you, Jane.”
            I think she was prepared to fend off my refusals of pay. She looked a little bemused then she smiled.
            “You have a really pretty smile,” I said. “I like to see you smile.”
            I felt the odd look on my own face. I wanted a hug and she saw it, understood it. She smiled gently, put a light hand on my forearm and gave a little squeeze.
            “Be careful, white boy. Don’t need to be teasing a crazy colored gal.”
            “I didn’t mean nothing by it. I just like Jane,” I said.
            Her eyes caressing mine, she smiled softly and her fingers tightened just a little. Our eyes closed every distance between us and neither of us wanted to pull back. I didn’t have a name for it then, but the sexual tension at that moment was excruciatingly wonderful. She felt it, too. That’s why the little toot on the horn made us both jump.
            When I got home I ran up to my room and, while that lovely smile was fresh in my memory, did a quick sketch of it. I liked to draw, had a knack for it. I’d done it a lot as a child until my big brother told me it was a sissy thing to do. Mama had been quick to correct him, but the crimp had been made in that fender and drawing became a secret, private thing.
            As I put pencil to the plain loose-leaf paper, I was surprised at how well I remembered the contours and lines of Jane’s face. The pencil seldom lifted for the next fifteen minutes, and then I was looking down at the warm, happy smile of a black woman. A black woman. I had no sketches of my mama or my sisters, but I had a sketch of a black woman.
            What’s wrong with you, Billy? Get rid of that thing.
            I was afraid to simply ball it up and toss it; someone could be nosey and find it. I needed to burn it. I would have to remember it the next time I burned trash. In the meantime, I put it in my three ring binder, in the middle of some blank sheets of paper. And I forgot it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

New novel chapter 5

            Here is chapter five and a reminder about the disclaimer.

A novel by Chris Sherrill
Copyright 2012 by Chris Sherrill
            I was a long time going to sleep that night. Sneaking out of my house and the encounter with Crazy Jane took control of my mind and would not let go. I had felt an intensity I could never have imagined, an intensity that terrified me and thrilled me to the very core. I kept trying to relive the excitement and the fear. I kept trying to recall the feel of a woman’s supple body against mine. It was wonderful, but I also kept seeing her eyes and the deep longing. I wondered if she was truly crazy. I didn’t think she was violent but if she was crazy she might suddenly go berserk with that knife. Then I saw again those hopeful eyes. She just wanted a friend, someone to talk to, someone to sit in that empty chair she’d never gotten rid of and talk to her.
            If I were her friend, maybe she would…
            I knew I shouldn’t think like that, but I was thirteen and had begun to think about sex. Boys at school talked about it. Homer, Horace and I talked about it all the time. But Jane was black. White males weren’t friends with black females. White men sometimes used black women sexually, everybody knew that, but they weren’t friends. Maybe the men acted like they were friends to get what they wanted. What was it she said? ‘I don’t know what I wouldn’t give to have a friend.’ That’s what she’d said. Well, that was just figure of speech. Or was it? Maybe she was offering it in return for friendship. No, it’s wrong to use people. Her need was plain, even to a boy my age. Maybe I could use it to my advantage.
            No, Billy! That’s wrong, wrong on every level. It’s wrong to use someone’s weakness against them, and you just don’t need to be thinking about having sex with a black woman. That’s wrong all by itself.
            It just is. You’ve been told point blank by your parents not to go near her place so just obey them and forget the rest.
            These things battled back and forth in my mind but the thing that always came back was the feel of her body nestled against mine. Damn. She was black and I shouldn’t have such thoughts about her, but the feel of her body against mine, her cheek to mine, the feel of her hand in mine, the feel of her waist, the feel of my knee between hers and her knee between mine wouldn’t leave me.
            “Billy! Billy McCaskill!”
            I jerked my head up from the pillow. Gwen was standing in the doorway. I looked around unseeing.
            “Everybody’s waiting breakfast for you. Daddy’s getting ready to come up here with his belt. What’s wrong with you? Are you sick?”
            I shook my head.
            “Then you’d better get a move on.”
            I jumped up, pulled my pants on and followed Gwen downstairs. A lot of irritated eyes watched me settle into my place.
            “Are you ill?” mama asked.
            “No, ma’am. I don’t think so. I just didn’t sleep well.”
            She was about to pursue the issue when someone knocked on the back screen door.
            “What now,” dad groused as he stood. “Y’all go ahead and eat before it gets cold.”
            The platters and serving dishes began around the table. I heard the screen door squeak as dad opened it.
            “Good morning, Miss Jane. What can I do for you this morning?”
            A torrent of ice water gushed through my veins and snapped me rigidly upright. Everyone else was looking toward the sound of dad’s voice except Gwen who sat across from me. She saw the sudden change in me and watched me closely for a moment, then looked quizzically toward the door. I searched desperately to find a nonchalant demeanor to put on but couldn’t find one anywhere. How could I when my doom had come calling?
            “Morning, Mr. McCaskill, sah. Sorry to innerup your breakfast, but them chickens they done started laying real good, an’ I wanted to bring these eggs right on over to you.”
            The ice water in me began to warm slightly.
            “That’s thoughtful of you, Jane, but I meant it when I said there was no rush.”
            “Yes, sah, I know you did. That why I wanted to bring these right over.”
            “You kept some for yourself?”
            “Oh, yes, sah. Them chickens, they just be laying away.”
            “Well, thank you.”
            I heard the screen door squeak slightly as dad began to close it.
            “Uh, Mr. McCaskill, sah, they be one other little thing.”
            My blood froze again.
            “What’s this?” dad asked.
            “Mr. Demby, he took some more of them socks I been knitting, give me cash money, he did, eight bits, and I wanted to give it to you, to pay on my debt.”
            “No, Jane. I won’t take your dollar. We agreed on eggs, and eggs will be fine.”
            “But, sah…”
            “No. I won’t hear it. Keep your money. I’ll be looking for more eggs in the next few days.”
            “Yes, sah. Thank you, sah.”
            I didn’t breathe until I heard the screen door close and dad walking back to the dining room. Gwen was studying me. I couldn’t look at her. I avoided Gwen that day.
            Homer and Horace came over around noon. I proudly showed off my new bike, and we went riding. We rode and rode, finally turning down a dirt road past the old Simpson place. We followed the road down into the woods to an old sawmill where we explored for a couple of hours. We found where the creek made a small pool and we waded and splashed in the cold water. It was the middle of September and while the weather wasn’t cold yet, it had begun to get cooler. We would go back to that place a number of times.
            We followed the old road out the other way. I was surprised that it took us by Mr. Christianson’s house. He’s the man who owned most of the land around the lake and even though he owned two or three hundred acres, I knew we couldn’t be far, as the crow flies, from my house. The logging road brought us out about a mile from the twins’ house. It was getting late, so they left me when we passed their house. Miss Emma Hudson saw me and waved from the porch. She’d been my Sunday School teacher a year before. She was a nice lady, very nice looking. I don’t know why everybody called her ‘Miss’ Emma because she wasn’t old. Anyway, I smiled and threw up my hand, then cycled home as fast as I could. It was beginning to get dark.
            Supper was being set on the table when I rushed in.
            “Billy McCaskill,” mama scolded.
            Gwen was beside mama and put her arm around her shoulder. Mom relaxed.
            “Where’ve you been, son? I was getting worried about you.”
            “I’m sorry, mama. I was riding around with Homer and Horace and lost track of time.”
            “Where did you go?” Gwen asked.
            I think she wanted to relieve mama’s irritation somehow.
            “We rode down to the old Simpson place and back down a logging road,” I said.
            Everyone was settling into their places at the table.
            “There was this really neat old sawmill.”
            “You’ve got to be extremely careful around old sawmills,” dad inserted, “especially of the area where they stacked the laps. That’s a perfect place for rats and mice, and where you find rats and mice there’ll always be snakes. Remember that.”
            “Yes, sir.”
            I couldn’t believe my ears. Apparently mama couldn’t, either, because she was looking really hard at dad.
            “Did you just give your son permission to gallivant all over God’s green earth?”
            Dad mused. “I wouldn’t go quite that far. Don’t you think it’s time to let out the apron strings a little? He’s shown that he can take up for himself.”
            Mama didn’t much like the idea but she was silent.
            “You boys find anything else interesting?” dad asked.
            I told them about the creek and the pool, about passing Mr. Christianson’s house and passing the Hudson’s.
            When I had ended my tale, dad turned to me with his serious look.
            “That bicycle is for riding,” he said. “You’re thirteen and I don’t care if you explore the countryside, after your chores and studies are done, but there are two things that I absolutely require.”
            “Yes, sir?”
            “First, you must always keep an eye out for other vehicles; they will not be keeping an eye out for you. Second, you must learn, and learn quickly, to judge distance and time: how far you’ve been and how long it’ll take to get home. I don’t want you making your mama worry or making the rest of us wait supper for you. Understood?”
            “Yes, sir.”
            So began my exploration of the community and surrounding countryside. I loved riding; I loved riding and I loved finding new places, finding the places where my school mates lived. The twins rode with me often, but if they weren’t around, I went without them. There were some Saturdays when mom fixed me a couple of sandwiches and I rode until noon, ate and rode back, but that was later.

            I was telling about Crazy Jane. She hadn’t told my dad about my late night visit; she’d said she wouldn’t, and I still had fantasies in which she was the central character, but there was still that internal conflict regarding her. Sometimes I think I should have just left her alone.
            It was after school a couple of weeks later on a Thursday. I’d ridden my bike down the road, pulled up a field road and walked across to her house. She was in her garden pulling the last of the corn. I made plenty of noise coming through the woods so I wouldn’t startle her. I looked around, saw no one and eased up through the trees on the garden side. She kept an eye on me and on the surrounding area as I made my way through the corn rows.
            “Hey, Miss Jane,” I said.
            She looked at me as if she didn’t recognize me then pulled another ear of corn. I waited for a moment, until I began to wonder if she’d decided she didn’t want to be friends after all. Well, she was crazy.
            “Well,” I said, “just wanted to say ‘howdy’.”
            “I might have some cookies.”
            “That’d be nice.”
            “You might wanna make your way through the trees and come up from the back. Don’t want ole Gil to see you.”
            I eased back through the corn, into the trees and around to the back of her yard, then came at a quick walk to her back door. She opened it for me. She nodded at the chair and I sat. She brought a plate of cookies and put them in front of me then sat opposite me. She put her elbow on the table and rested her cheek in her hand. She wouldn’t look at me, but her eyes were withdrawn.
            “You okay?” I asked.
            She looked up from the table then down again.
            “I ain’t much of a friend today,” she said.
            “Should I go?”
            She looked for a moment like she might cry.
            “I didn’t think you’d come see me no more, but here you is and me in a mood. You gonna think Jane crazy for real and not never come back no more.”
            She reached into a pocket of her dress and pulled out an exhausted handkerchief, daubing her eyes. She shrugged forlornly.
            “I just gets tired. It be louder and louder and just tire me out.”
            She daubed her eyes again.
            “What’s louder and louder?”
            She shook her head. “You best not hang ‘round no crazy gal. You go on. Go on.”
            I stood and turned. When I turned back I caught a look that said she didn’t want me to go. I sat back down, chose a cookie and took a bite.
            “This is good,” I said.
            “I made them hoping you’d come by to talk. Now, I…” She closed her eyes tightly. “No.” she said firmly.
            I didn’t know why she said that. A single tear rolled down her cheek. It made my heart hurt.
            “Please don’t cry.”
            Men don’t know how to handle a woman’s tears, and if men don’t know boys certainly don’t. I got up and went to her side. I thought to touch her, console her somehow, but she was a black woman and, well, I didn’t know what to do.
            “Would it make you feel better to dance?”
            She shook her head. I took her wrist cautiously. She looked at my hand but didn’t pull away. I urged her up. She resisted. I wasn’t good at figuring out females, but I had a feeling she wanted me to try harder so I did. She finally stood and looked at me severely.
            “What you doing, Billy McCaskill?”
            “I want to hear the music. Will you help me?”
            Her eyes softened. “I wanna hear it, too.”
            I took her in my arms. She was stiff then began to relax. She sniffed wetly.
            “Please don’t cry.”
            “Can’t help it. Don’t let go, less you need to. It ain’t ‘cause of you. It ain’t nothing to be scared of. It’s just my mood. I can’t do nothing ‘bout it. If you just hold me another minute.”
            Her voice was so small and helpless. I held her. She hugged me tightly then she began to cry again, her entire body shaking against me.
            “Jane?” I whispered.
            She shook her head against my cheek. “Ain’t nobody hugged me sweet like this since long as I can remember.”
            She began to bring herself under control. She eased back from me but didn’t pull away.
            “I shouldn’t oughta be putting you out like this.”
            I should have had more control of myself, but holding her, feeling her supple body against mine, I couldn’t prevent the erection. I figured she was pulling away because it had offended her.
            “I’m sorry,” I said. “I, uh…It…I’m sorry.”
            “Don’t you worry none ‘bout that. I know it natural. I shouldn’t be hugging on you and holding you so tight and you just coming into your man body.”
            She started to pull away. I didn’t let go.
            “I didn’t…hug you so…”
            She pulled her head back and looked into my eyes. She smiled her soft, sad smile.
            “I know, Billy McCaskill. I know you just being kind. I appreciate it. Made a crazy gal feel special, helped me hear the music. Weren’t no black ner white there for a minute, just friends and sweet music.”
            She pulled away and sat. I stood there awkwardly, embarrassed at the bulge in my pants but not knowing whether to sit or to leave. Jane looked up at me with a thoughtful expression.
            “You want Jane to take you in the other room?” she asked softly.
            “Oh, no. I wasn’t thinking that at all.”
            “She will, that what you want. You made Jane feel special and maybe she make you feel special. She don’t mind.”
            I sighed deeply and sat. I nibbled a cookie. She considered me then stood and put a soft hand on my shoulder. She leaned over and hugged my neck.
            “Come on,” she whispered, taking my hand.
            I stood. She led me by the hand and opened the curtain that was the door to her bedroom.
            “Miss Jane…”
            “You gonna lie with Jane, you gotta stop callin’ her ‘Miss’ Jane.”
            “Jane…I…I can’t.”
            She turned in to me, her body touching mine from her breasts to her thighs. Her hands lay softly against my shoulders. But she wouldn’t or couldn’t look into my eyes.
            “It okay, Billy. Women give it all the time to get what they want. Jane want you to be her friend and if that what it take, that what she do. Jane like you. She won’t mind even a little bit.”
            By that point I was about to bust, but something deep inside kept saying how very wrong it was to take advantage of her. She kept cooing to me.
            “You a sweet boy. Jane be sweet to you.”
            I was so confused and frustrated that my eyes got moist. It was embarrassing.
            “Shhh,” she whispered in my ear.
            “This ain’t right,” I said.
            “Because Jane black? Most white men don’t think nothing wrong with it. Jane don’t think nothing wrong with it.”
            “No. That’s not it.”
            “What is it?”
            “It’s wrong because you’re so lonely and you want a friend so badly, and I’m just a dog if I make you do it so I’ll be your friend. That’s wrong.”
            “You don’t wanna lie with Jane?”
            “Yes, but she doesn’t want to lie with me, she wants to buy my friendship. Don’t you see?”
            She grew still. My groin was burning and tears of frustration were running down my cheeks. She pulled back and rubbed the tear tracks with her thumbs.
            “Don’t you see?” I repeated.
            “Yes. I see. I see now. You a good boy.”
            “I have to get out of here.”
            I rode that bicycle around in my yard until suppertime and after supper rode it until dark. It didn’t help much. The two natures battled fiercely.
            Billy, what the hell is wrong with you? You could have had sex with that woman.
            She’s got a name, Billy. She’s not ‘that’ woman. You did the right thing.
            Her body was all pressed up against you. She was going to give it to you, Billy. Hell, she wanted you to take it. She wanted you, Billy. That grown woman wanted you.
            Don’t flatter yourself. She didn’t want you. She wants a friend. She’s so desperate for a friend, so desperately lonely, that she was willing to let you use her.
            What’s wrong with that?
            It’s wrong to use people.
            She was throwing it at you, for heaven’s sake. How is that using somebody when she throws it at you?
            She wasn’t offering it out of friendship, not even out of affection. She was offering it out of desperation.
            Remember how her boobs felt against your chest? How would they have felt if she’d been naked? Remember how her hands felt against your shoulders? Remember how her stomach felt against yours?
            Sometimes you have to shut that voice up; you just have to shut it up. There’s only one way I know of to do that. I don’t think I have to go into the mechanics of it.