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.

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