Friday, November 23, 2012

New novel chapter eleven

Here is chapter eleven.

This is a novella, and we're just about to the end of it, so let me say 'thank you' to those who have read and made comments. I didn't post most of the comments since they were from folks I know and they felt personal. I did contact them directly and personally, and here I'm saying a public thank you.

Let me remind you of the disclaimer I posted very early in this process. If you don't remember it, scroll down to the foreword.




A novel by Chris Sherrill
Copyright 2012 Chris Sherrill
Chapter Eleven

            I was still angry with God. It was a condition I would know at various times in my life, but it was helpful to get my feelings out even though I didn’t get an answer and it didn’t make the issue go away. Mom’s words were helpful; her acceptance was more helpful. The sharpest edge of the anger slowly began to be blunted.
            There were consequences I never could have foreseen. Word gets out and begins to be twisted from the first moment. Two weeks before school started, on the first day of football practice, Amy Gooden marched up to me with her posse and slapped my face.
            “I can’t believe I was dating a boy who was screwing a nigger. You make me feel dirty.”
            “You are dirty,” I said.
            Her eyes got as big as saucers.
            “You’re dirty if you believed a lie without even trying to learn the truth.”
            “What is the truth?”
            “The truth is I never had sex with that girl. We were friends.”
            Her eyes narrowed. I never looked away. A little crowd was gathering around us.
            “You think I’m stupid? Whites aren’t friends with niggers. You had to be screwing her.”
            “You’re wrong, but you know what, I don’t even care.”
            I turned to walk away.
            “Don’t you turn your back and walk away from me, Billy McCaskill!”
            I kept on walking. I heard whispered ‘nigger lover’ but I didn’t look to see who it was. I was turning the other cheek. Mama would be proud.
            The first week of practice was conditioning. I was in better condition than most so it was a good tune-up. In the showers after practice, I found myself alone and still heard the whispers. It was getting harder and harder to turn the other cheek. The second week we put on pads and started running plays. I was tight end on offensive and right linebacker on defense. I figured it was my imagination that the coach was running all his plays at me. It wasn’t my imagination that the other boys were piling on, and I felt more than one unsigned punch in the pile.
            I swallowed it. It was against my nature, but I had taxed my poor mama enough, so I swallowed it. But enough is enough. I was coming out of the shower when Buster McQuiston, the quarterback, looked at me with a stupid grin. Buster was solid but not the biggest boy on the squad. He was the biggest talker.
            “Say, McCaskill, some of the boys were wondering what it’s like to split a black oak.”
            “Couldn’t say,” I replied, drying my hair.
            “Turn around here and let us see if that thing has turned black yet.”
            “You might not want to be paying quite so much attention to my dick, Buster. You know how people talk.”
            “You son of a bitch.”
            I turned to see Buster and five others squaring up, six feet away.
            “I’m going to say this one time just for the record,” I said. “I never had sex with that girl. Now, that can be the end of it, or we can dance, one at a time or all at once, your choice. Just keep in mind that if you gang up and beat my ass, you’d better kill me because I will find you and beat your asses one by one.”
            Sometimes you get yourself into a mess of shit and don’t know how to step out of it. That’s what was going on with my teammates. They didn’t want to fight me but they didn’t want to let me back them down. It’s that pecking order thing again.
            The coach busted through the door.
            “What’s going on here?” he roared.
            “Nothing, Coach,” Buster said.
            The boys began to drift away to their lockers. The coach looked around.
            “McCaskill, get dressed and come to my office.”
            Five minutes later I was in front of his desk.
            “Don’t need trouble makers on my team, McCaskill,” he announced.
            “I haven’t caused trouble, Coach.”
            “What was that in there a minute ago?”
            “I don’t know, Coach. All I saw was a bunch of guys getting dressed to go home.”
            “Don’t smart mouth me, McCaskill.”
            “Didn’t intended it that way at all, Coach.”
            He studied me with hard eyes.
            “You think you’re some big shot because you’re screwing some nigger whore?”
            I was suddenly so angry that it made me shake to hold it in.
            “Your information is incorrect, sir,” I said through gritted teeth.
            “I know what I’ve heard,” he grunted.
            “What you heard was a lie, and frankly I’m tired of being falsely accused.”
            “You’re a haughty bastard. Somebody’s liable to take you down a notch.”
            “Yes, sir. Any time.”
            He looked at me hard.
            “Was that comment aimed at me?”
            “No, sir. Was your comment aimed at me?”
            “Get out of my office, McCaskill.”
            I guess the coach decided the notch take down would be done by my teammates, but you get to be rough in football; that’s what I liked about it. The punch or knee you take in a pileup will be returned with interest in the next, and the next.
            Buster McQuiston continued to make little snide comments. I let them pass. Early in our first game, he called a quarterback option to my side. The defensive lineman opposite me was a big guy. I let him beat me. He slammed Buster to the ground.
            “Damn, McCaskill,” he spat. “Can’t you hold your damned block?”
            “I’ll hold my damned block when you hold your damned tongue.”
            The crap began to subside, and I didn’t even have to get in a fight.

            The year passed without another incident. The boys, coaches and teachers interacted with me as necessary. The girls barely acknowledged me. I was pushed to the bottom of the social ladder. I survived. I still had their respect. People still moved out of my way in the hall. And after awhile, I didn’t care anymore because I started dating a girl from another school.
            Amanda Talmadge lived in the next county over, across the river. In late autumn, her family began to attend Ebenezer and she sent me signals and before Christmas, we were dating. Mom and dad liked the fact that I was dating a girl from church. Amanda was a paradox. In public she was the modest, obedient daughter. In private she was hungry for physical contact. We made out for hours at a time in my car. I never got past third base, or second. I get confused. I never hit a home run with her, but there was a lot of heavy petting.
            After dropping her off about midnight, I got into the habit of stopping at Smith’s Truck Stop on 65 on my way home. I think it was the only 24 hour establishment in the county at the time. Highway 65 was a busy north/south corridor, and it was the only truck stop for twenty-five miles in either direction, so there were always truckers there gassing up their rigs, eating and drinking coffee. There was also this good looking waitress who had a really nice smile and very nice body. All the truckers hit on her.
            I remember the first time we met. She came to my table and smiled.
            “What can I get you? Oh, my name’s Kate.”
            She pointed at the little name tag above her right breast.
            “Hello, Kate.” I pointed at the same spot on my chest. “My name’s… Oh my god. I’ve lost my name.”
            She laughed. She had a nice laugh.
            “Well, ohmygod, what can I get you?”
            The next time I stopped by, she smiled and said, “ohmygod is back.”
            The men at the counter looked quizzically between us while we laughed.
            “What’ll you have, Billy?”
            “How did you know my name?”
            “I asked,” she said. “Carl, the owner, knows your family. Seems like everybody around here knows everybody else.”
            I came to look forward to stopping and seeing Kate. She always smiled when I came in and asked about school and things. I came to find out that her husband had been killed in Korea in 1952 and that she had a ten year old son.
            “You don’t look old enough to have a ten year old,” I said.
            She blushed just a little. “Flattery will get you everywhere, young sir.”
            “No, really.”
            “Thank you. What’ll you have?”


            In February Amanda’s folks decided they didn’t like Ebenezer and went elsewhere. I kept dating Amanda and stopping at the diner to see Kate. In early March I was there when a guy came in and started hassling Kate. I didn’t like it, but she wasn’t my girlfriend or anything so I just sat at the counter and drank my Coke.
            “Leave me alone, Mark.”
            “You can’t break up with me, Kate. I won’t let you.”
            Carl, the owner came around the corner.
            “I’ve told you not to bring your domestic problems in here!”
            “Back off, fat man,” Mark barked.
            Carl stopped and looked defeated.
            “You’re going to get me fired. Get out of here and leave me alone. I told you I don’t want to see you again, and that’s that.”
            “Bitch!” he said and slapped her.
            “I’m calling the cops,” Carl said hurrying to the phone.
            I was up by that point.
            “It don’t take much of a man to hit a woman, Mark.”
            He looked at me hard. “Do I know you, punk? I don’t know you. Stay outta this unless you want me to teach you to respect your elders.”
            “Mark, he didn’t mean anything. He’s just a kid. Leave him out of it.”
            “Why’re you taking up for him? He the one you leaving me for? You leaving me for a snotty nosed punk?”
            He raised his hand to slap her. I stepped between them.
            “Take it outside!” Carl called coming around the counter with a baseball bat. “I won’t have you brawling in my place!”
            “Outside, punk.”
            Sometimes you have to fight. I followed him out. Two other guys who were standing up against a car saw us and came forward. Shit. Now I had three.
            “Billy, walk away. It’s not your fight,” Kate said.
            As I turned to say something to her Mark cold-cocked me, flush on the jaw, made me bite my tongue. My knees wobbled for a moment. Mark had already started crowing but he stopped when I didn’t go down. The calm cold took over me.
            “You beat up women and hit men when they aren’t looking. You’re a real man, Mark. Step on up and let’s dance. You fellows can come on in any time.”
            Mark rushed me, a tackling move. I danced back and snapped his head back with a solid left jab then got in a quick right to the side of his head and another left to his face. The man on my right rushed me. I got in a solid left that snapped his head to the side then shunted him aside and turned in time to address the more timid advance of the third man. I quick cut of his eyes alerted me that Mark was back in the game. He caught me with two glancing blows, but his swing pulled him into me and I knocked his arms down and battered his face with a quick combination. He stepped back spitting blood. The second guy grabbed me from behind and pinned my arms. If he’d had enough sense to get me in a full Nelson I would’ve been in serious trouble.
            “Hold him,” said the third guy.
            He came toward me with a self-satisfied grin. When he was close enough I kicked him in the balls. When you’re fighting for your life there’s only one rule: win.
            Mark was back now but standing out of my kicking range. His eyes flicked to the side. In another instant I heard a ‘twack’ and the guy holding me grunted and let go. I glanced back to see Kate standing over him with Carl’s baseball bat. Mark started backing up.
            “I know where you live, bitch.”
            “We’re not quite done here, Mark,” I said.
            I took a quick look at the man Kate had hit. He was half-sitting on the ground holding his back and looking up at Kate who stood over him and held the bat like she was waiting for the next pitch. I approached the third man who was still holding his balls.
            “Are you in or out?” I asked.
            “Out. Out.”
            I pushed him out of the way. Mark stopped retreating.
            “Okay, look, man, you win, okay?”
            His eyes said he was lying; he had another trick. When I was just outside arm’s reach, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a switch blade. But his eyes were uncertain. The cold calm made me take another step closer.
            “You know, Mark, if I kill you now, it’ll be self-defense.”
            I lunged forward quickly and put a solid left against his mouth. He lunged with the knife but I was already out of his reach. He lunged again. I skipped back out of the way.
            “Your timing is all off, Mark.”
            He lunged. I moved.
            I feinted forward, drawing another wild slash, then stepped in and put another left in his mouth. He staggered back. I put a hard right to his jaw. I was about to step in for the kill but caught myself. Don’t get over eager, I told myself, and about that time he slashed wildly. But those hadn’t been my words. Those had been Bob Smith’s words; Bob Smith who was another of God’s neglected lambs. I became instantly furious and flew into Mark with vicious combinations. He waved the knife and nicked my left forearm, but he had no strength or will. I knocked the knife out of his hand and beat him, beat him. I followed him to the ground, straddling him and beating him.
            Hands on my shoulders and a frightened cry brought me back. A police siren was coming up the road.
            “Billy! Billy! Stop, Billy, you’ll kill him. Stop, Billy.”
            I stopped. Mark lay under me utterly defeated. The cold calm left. I leaned forward.
            “Can you hear me, Mark?”
            There was a weak nod.
            “Never, ever bother this woman again. Do you understand?”
            He nodded.
            When I stood, Kate was right there, hands on my waist, looking into my face with a look of mixed awe and fear. I checked the other two; they were both sitting.
            The police car slid to a halt on the gravel. Another siren was coming from the other direction. Sheriff Hooper stepped out, his hand on his sidearm.
            “What’s going on here? McCaskill, is that you?”
            “Yes, sir, Sheriff.”
            “Damn, son, I’m getting to know you better than some of my deputies. What’ve you gotten yourself into this time?”
            His tone was almost of amusement. Kate looked at up me quizzically. The other car, a Highway Patrol car, came up and the trooper checked the casualties. Carl hurried to the Sheriff and was telling him what had happened. The entire diner had emptied to watch the brawl, and others were confirming that I had stepped in to defend Kate and had been assaulted by three. I sat on the bottom step of the diner. Kate sat beside me and washed my face and the cut on my arm.
            “My mama’s gonna whip my ass,” I mused.
            Kate threw her head back laughing.
            She put her hand on my forearm while she regained control of herself.
            “You just beat the shit out of three men, one with a knife, and you’re worried about your mama whipping your ass. That’s hilarious.”
            “It wouldn’t be so funny if it was your ass.”
            She laughed again and hugged me.
            “Oh. Sorry. I got carried away. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
            “No. No, I, uh, I liked it.”
            She smiled. “That’s good to know.”
            “And I didn’t whip three men. You took care of one. Thank you.”
            She smiled widely.
            “You’re welcome.”
            When the Sheriff had finished questioning me, he looked at my injuries.
            “Might want to get those tended to,” he said.
            “Actually, I’m being tended to now.
            He gave a ‘humph’ and walked away. He arrested the three. It was two in the morning when they finished up.
            “Can I drive you home?” Kate said. “Carl gave me the rest of the night off.”
            “I’m okay. I can drive home.”
            She looked down.
            “I actually meant, uh, my home.”
            She put her hand on my chest.
            “I could rinse the blood out of your shirt, and someone should bandage those cuts.”
            “Why don’t I follow you?”
            Twenty minutes later I was inside the kitchen of her clean, tidy little house.
            “My son’s asleep. You don’t mind, do you?”
            “Why should I?”
            She smiled uncertainly.
            “If we’re quiet, we won’t wake him.”
            I was pretty sure of the message but this was a first for me so I wasn’t positive.
            I sat on the kitchen table. Kate unbuttoned my bloody shirt, took it off and put it in water to soak, then got a basin of warm water and, moving up between my knees, washed my face again, very tenderly. She put bandages on my arm and a little cut on the side of my cheek. She moved in close to me, her face in front of mine, her hand resting softly on my stomach. She smelled like the diner, but that wasn’t disagreeable.
            “You, tonight, that was so…gallant.”
            I put my hands on her waist. She didn’t pull away. She rested her forehead against mine.
            “I’ve never been rescued by a knight in shining armor.”
            “Giddy up.”
            She laughed out loud then caught herself.
            “I mustn’t wake Tim.”
            “Too late.”
            She turned to see her tousle-haired boy in the doorway rubbing his eyes.
            “Go back to bed, Tim. Everything’s fine.”
            “Let me see to him, okay. It won’t take a minute. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
            She was back in only a few minutes, stepped up to me, put her arms over my shoulders and her hands on the back of my head.
            “We’ll have to be quiet, okay? What?”
            She took my face in her hands and lifted it.
            “This is harder than squaring off against those men. You are really, really sexy, and I… My hands are in my lap for a reason.”
            She laughed.
            “So, what’s the problem?”
            “I can’t, not with your son in the next room.”
            She sighed and pursed her lips.
            “I’m really screwing up, aren’t I?”
            She kissed me on the forehead and stepped back. I stood.
            “I’ve screwed up everything else, but could I have one hug?”
            She seemed tentative as I took her in my arms. I do love the feel of a female body against me. She relaxed and pressed herself up against me.
            “Are you sure?” she whispered.
            I nodded, got my shirt and she walked me to the door. I sighed and went out to my car. I started it up and turned on the headlights. Kate came at a fast walk down from her house. She opened the door and got in.
            “He’s fast asleep. Take me somewhere…private.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Novel Chapter Ten

Here's chapter ten. Remember the earlier disclaimer. Enjoy.




A Novel by Chris Sherrill
Copyright 2012 by Chris Sherrill
            Two days later dad told me he had talked to the Sheriff who had promised to look into the matter. Three days after that they came for Jane. I didn’t know, but why should I?
            It was late afternoon; I had just gotten home from work. As I got out of the car I saw that dad was staring across the lake. Just then I heard a horrible commotion: screaming and crying and shouting. One voice was Jane’s. I didn’t recognize the others, but it was coming from Cyrus’ yard. I took off at a dead run. Dad took off after me.
            The Sheriff and a Deputy, guns drawn, were slowly closing in on Jane. Thirty feet from them, butcher knife at his throat, Jane had Cyrus against a large oak. Her eyes were wild and unseeing, or seeing something none of the rest of us could.
            “He kilt my mammy and my pappy!” she screamed. “What y’all gonna do ‘bout that?”
            “Put the knife down, miss,” the Sheriff ordered.
            The Sheriff heard me run up, turned a quick look at me.
            “Stay back, son. Stay back.”
            “He kilt my mammy and my pappy and y’all ain’t done nothing! Y’all ain’t gonna do nothing when he kills Jane, neither.”
            “Put the knife down and we can talk about it. We can’t talk with you holding that knife.”
            Jane squeezed her eyes closed and shook her head hard, like she was shaking something off, then she screamed.
            “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
            “We can’t do that, miss.”
            But she wasn’t talking to the Sheriff.
            “I think I have a shot,” the deputy said.
            “Hold off. Don’t shoot yet.”
            “Jane,” I called gently.
            “Stay out of this, son! Y’all need to get on outta here. Go on. McCaskill, get your boy outta here.”
            I took two slow steps forward. Sheriff Hooper put his hand roughly on my arm.
            “Get outta here, boy! I ain’t gonna say it again! McCaskill, get your boy!”
            “Come on, Billy,” dad said.
            I pulled free of both their hands and took three steps forward.
            “Jane, it’s me. It’s your friend, Billy.”
            She looked hard at me and started shaking her head, slowly at first then more rapidly.
            “No. He done kilt my Billy. He done kilt my onliest friend in the world.”
            She turned her face to Cyrus and leaned slightly into him.
            “No, Jane! Jane! Listen to the music. There’s still music, Jane.”
            Her body relaxed slightly. I took two more steps. She was looking at Cyrus as her head shook slowly.
            “They ain’t no music no more.”
            “McCaskill,” Hooper said softly, “get your boy outta the line of fire.”
            “Give him a chance, Sheriff,” dad said, uncertainty in his voice.
            “They ain’t no music no more,” Jane repeated. “They don’t let me hear no music.”
            “I’ll help you hear it, okay?”
            She shook her head slowly but there was a struggle inside her. I moved slowly forward.
            “Dance with me, Jane. Dance with your friend, Billy.”
            “Billy dead. Ole Gil done kilt him.”
            “I’m not dead. I’m right here.”
            She let me get to within arm’s length. Her eyes narrowed threateningly and her head canted to the side as the knife went more firmly against Cyrus’ neck.
            “Who gave you the stone to whet that knife?”
            She thought for a moment.
            “Who brought you tangerines for Christmas?”
            She blinked several times, like she’d come suddenly out of a dark place into the sun.
            “It Billy, ain’t it?”
            “Yes, ma’am. Billy McCaskill.”
            Her bottom lip quivered.
            “He a good boy.”
            “Will you dance with Billy? Maybe you can hear the music.”
            She looked at me with misgiving but didn’t pull away when I took her wrist gently. She let me turn her to me. Cyrus slid down the tree to the ground. The knife was still in her fist and I took that hand at the wrist. I started to sway. She was stiff but tried to join me. After a minute she looked up at me, her eyes moist.
            “I can’t hear the music no more, Billy.”
            Her frightened, childlike voice touched me deeply. I pulled her close to me and held her. She held me tightly; her body was trembling.
            “They so loud, I can’t hear my own self no more. I scared, Billy. I scared all the time. I scared when I goes to bed an’ I scared when I wakes up. What I gonna do, Billy? I never be free of them.”
            “Listen for the music.”
            I didn’t know what else to say. She was still for a moment then nodded against my chest. She gave me one squeeze and started to pull away.
            “You a good friend. Now Jane be free.”
            What did that mean? She turned her back to me and plunged the knife deep into her chest. I caught her as she collapsed.
            “Jane! No! NO!”
            “Hold my hand while I flies away.”
            I took her hand. She squeezed mine weakly. Then there was nothing.
            I held her and cried. The deputy helped Cyrus away. The Sheriff squatted and put his fingers to Jane’s neck.
            “She’s gone,” he said quietly.
            Dad squatted beside me, his hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t stop sobbing.
            “Let her go, Billy. She’s free now.”
            “Dad. Dad, I don’t understand.”
            “I don’t either, son. I don’t either.”
            I didn’t want to let go of her, didn’t want to leave her lying there, alone, on the cold, hard ground. Dad finally helped me up and started walking me away. I stopped and started to turn. He took my shoulder firmly.
            “Don’t look back, Billy. Don’t remember her like that.”
            I sobbed into my bloody hands as he led me home.
            Mom and Gwen nearly swooned when they saw my state and the blood all over me. Dad assured them I wasn’t injured and brushed off their questions, getting a little brusque at mom’s persistence, and he took me to the bath where I washed the blood off with shaking hands. He took away the bloody clothes, brought clean clothes and I sat on the edge of the tub for a few minutes but couldn’t stay there. I had to get out. In the kitchen mom looked at me doubtfully. Gwen put her hands to her eyes and left the room. Dad was sitting on the steps.
            “Don’t go back over there, son.”
            “No, sir. I wasn’t. I just can’t sit.”
            I went to the wood pile and started splitting wood. Dad watched from a distance. I was so angry. It made no sense to me. I slammed that axe into wood until it was too dark to see.
            Sheriff Hooper came by a couple of hours later. Mom sat him at the kitchen table and he asked how I knew Jane, what I knew about her. I gave him a brief accounting.
            “We were friends,” I said, wrapping up.
            “I see,” he replied.
            “If that tone means what I think it means,” I said, “then you don’t see at all.”
            “Billy,” mama cautioned.
            “Mama, I don’t give a sick rat’s ass if this man believes me,”
            “Son,…” dad said.
            “but I want you to believe that I never did anything with Jane that would shame you, unless being a friend to another human being is a shameful thing.”
            I started crying again. Mama came to my side, hugged me and kissed my head.
            “I believe you, Billy. You did a good thing, being a friend to that poor girl.”
            “But it wasn’t enough. She was so…tortured.”
            She kissed my head again and rocked me gently.
            The Sheriff thanked us for our help and stood to take his leave. He was in the doorway.
            “What about Cyrus McGilroy?” I asked.
            “What about him?”
            “Jane said he killed her daddy. She said he raped her and her mama, and that he wanted to kill her.”
            He considered me for a moment.
            “He was pretty shook up so we sent him to the hospital, didn’t want him having a heart attack. I’ll be going by in the morning to get his story.”
            He turned away then turned back.
            “It ain’t strictly procedure, but you seem to have a personal stake in this so, if your daddy has no objection, you can sit in tomorrow morning, about 9:00. I’ll be the only one asking questions, you understand.”
            I didn’t sleep much. I cried some. Gwen, God love her, came to my room and held me and cried with me. Mama came, too, sat on the edge of the bed with us and they listened as I talked about Jane and our talks and dancing and tangerines.
            The next morning dad and I were at the hospital. Mr. McGilroy hadn’t had a heart attack but he looked more gaunt and haunted than before. He told the story as if he were glad to get it off his chest.
            “Jane was a sweet little girl, hard headed but a good child. But she was different. When she was just a little thing, she talked about voices talking to her. Well, children often have imaginary friends and Jane didn’t have no real friends since none of the other coloreds would have nothing to do with her mama after Sam duped them and took off with their money.”
            “You spend a lot of time around Jane, when she was little?” Hooper asked.
            Cyrus looked at Hooper, a guilty look in his face, then back at his hands.
            “White folks blamed me for what Sam did and they shunned me. Even at church they shunned me and my missus. My Mildred was sick at the time, cancer, and that hurried her to her grave. There wasn’t but one person who would speak kindly to me, and I was the only person who would speak kindly to her. A soul needs the company of another soul. I’d take a load of wood or a few tomatoes to Mamie, that was her name; I’d take some little something to her, and we’d chat a spell. And one day she brought me a piece of pie, apple pie, she’d just made, and we chatted. There wasn’t no plan on either of our parts; it just happened.”
            “What ‘just happened’?”
            “We, uh, we came to have…feelings for each other. I know it’s wrong for a white man to have feelings for a colored woman, but I couldn’t help it.”
            “Well, a man does need female companionship, on occasion. That would explain it.”
            Cyrus stared at his hands for a long moment.
            “Yes. I suppose it would.”
            Cyrus didn’t look up from his hands. He sighed deeply.
            “When she was thirteen, fourteen, Jane came in on us. She was supposed to be at the store, but…well, that doesn’t matter. She came in and she just exploded. I guess she’d heard about how white men had used colored women; I don’t know. She kept saying over and over, ‘They told me he was evil. They told me he was evil’. Well, I got out quick as I could, but every time I went near that little house after that, she exploded, screaming and hollering. We, uh, stopped spending time together but that didn’t stop Jane. When she was fifteen or so, she ran off with some man and was gone for a year or so and when she came back she was more difficult than before. She would fight her mama, hit her, slap her and call her all manner of filthy things. Mamie put up with it as long as she could, then she had her put in the mental hospital.”
            “Did you kill Mamie Good?” Hooper asked.
            Cyrus shook his head slowly.
            “I took ill that January, flu, and it put me down hard. I thought, hoped, Mamie might come check on me, but we’d agreed not to see each other, and I was too sick to wonder about it. After I got some strength back, I was outside and saw there was no smoke coming from Mamie’s chimney, so I walked back and found her.”
            “Why did you get Jane out of the hospital? Why did you bring her back? Did you bring her back to use her like you used her mama?”
            The Sheriff’s accusatory tone surprised me and jerked my eyes to him. Cyrus’ wet sniff brought them back to him. His shoulders heaved.
            “I never lay with Jane, not before nor after. Mamie came to see me once, the day after y’all took Jane. She said she didn’t have nobody and said if anything ever happened to her, would I take care of her girl. I figured she was just upset at having to send her child away; Mamie was young and healthy and wouldn’t nothing happen to her, so I said I would. I brought Jane back because I thought that’s what her mama would want.”

            Dad went with me to Jane’s graveside service. She was laid beside her mother. There was no family, no friends, so there was no funeral. In attendance were the minister, three of his deacons, two men from the funeral home and a white boy and his dad.
            They read her body into the ground. The minister read a lot of Scripture verses but had no words to say about a poor, lonely, tortured soul cast adrift by circumstances which overpowered her, which hammered relentlessly against her spirit until the music in her soul died. He had no words to say about the poor soul who had passed through this world unloved by her fellow man and, it seemed to me, unloved by God.
            I didn’t air my thoughts with anyone. I didn’t know how to question the love of God, wondered if by questioning it in my mind I had slipped off that narrow path Rev. Stockton’s sermons had constructed for me. I was just so damned angry at the injustice of it all.
            I went to work every day, worked hard, twelve hours or more, tiring myself out and saying little to others. I came home every evening, ate a late supper and did my chores with little to say to my family. Gwen asked me a couple of times if I was alright. I shrugged her off. I caught little looks between mom and dad, but they didn’t say anything to me.
            I came home at my usual late hour three weeks or so after Jane’s death. Mom busied herself around the kitchen while I ate. When I was done, she took my plate and put a piece of blackberry cobbler in front of me then sat down beside me. As I stared at it I was suddenly taken back to an earlier day.
            “Bruce loved cobbler.”
            Her eyes pinched then she nodded.
            “That boy did love his sweets.”
            She wiped her eyes with her apron.
            “Whatever brought that to your mind?”
            My lip started to tremble. I hate to cry. Men aren’t supposed to cry. I bit it hard. I couldn’t reply; I just shook my head. I lifted a spoonful of cobbler but couldn’t put it in my mouth. I bit my lip again but it didn’t help.
            “It’s not fair, mama.”
            “What’s not fair, Billy.”
            I shook my head. A tear fell on the cobbler. She got up and hugged my head to her.
            “Talk to me, son. Tell me what’s weighing so heavily on you.”
            I shook my head.
            “You can talk to me. I don’t care what you tell me. I love you, Billy, and that’s all that matters, and I don’t care what you might have done.”
            “I never lay with her, mama.”
            “I believe you, son. I just don’t understand why you’re so upset.”
            “Because it’s not fair. It’s just not fair. She had to go through her entire life hearing voices that told her crazy things. She pushed back against them, mama; I know she did, but she had to do it alone. Where was God, mama? That’s what I want to know. Where was the Good Shepherd when one of his lambs was lost and afraid and alone? Where was he? She had to go through her entire life alone, without anyone who cared, and I want to know what kind of God would do that to his children.”
            Tears were flowing freely and I had to get away. Mama caught me at the door, put her arms around my waist and held me.
            “Billy. Billy, turn around here. Now, you’ll have to struggle with God about your bigger question, but it’s not true that she never had anyone who cared. She had you. You obviously cared about her and she cared about you. It’s important to have someone who loves us, but it’s more important that we have someone who we can love, and she had you.”
            “But I couldn’t save her from killing herself.”
            “No, son. That part lies with God. Lay that on his doorstep and leave it there.”