She didn’t look at him again, as he walked across the street to the other side, as she had wished he’d had done much sooner. As he turned around to see her walk away, she had already disappeared. Christopher Wright simply told himself, he mustn’t do that again, that he would be, and didn’t want to be, the one responsible for another hanging; as unbelievable as it was for him to absorb, he allowed himself to believe it.
The Trailer Court
On another brisk February afternoon, not long after, it was as if the same lukewarm wind was circulating in the air as when Christopher had met the black young lady, [about a week prior]; Benjamin Johnson, [Ben for short], and Chris were hitchhiking from Huntsville, back to the Army Base, when Ben mentioned, after noticing from his side-vision, a car following, “The Police,” he commented, adding:
“I’m a dead nigger, if you leave me Chris–” Chris opened his eyes wider than an owl, as if he was stunned, he had not heard any black man call himself a nigger, it was offensive he thought.
“Oh yes,” Chris said to his Army friend, adding, “I’m sure he’s just doing some routine stuff.” Thinking Ben was simply paranoid, yet he was still lost in thought on what he had said.
“A telephone, where is a phone, I can call someone, not sure who…? They don’t like white folks with blacks, I’m telling you, I mean they really, really don’t.” This time Christopher didn’t need to be told three times, and listened to his friend’s voice crack, and his face become reluctantly serious, as Chris showed more comradeship.
“The police man will do what, Ben?” asked Chris.
“Kill me,” he answered quickly, and simply as if there was no doubt in his voice–steadfast and without question he looked scared. Christopher felt he was looking at this from an extreme vantage point still, but he was not taking any chances, not a second time, it was becoming more believable by the week he told himself–
“Wait,” Chris said with thoughts floating in his mind as he looked upward trying to visualize where exactly he was. “Hay man, not far from here is a trailer-court, just up the block, Corporal Thompson, Greg Thompson, my friend lives there, he and Chief, otherwise known as Henry St. Clair, from my basic training are supposed to be there getting drunk today–now, this afternoon, or so Chief told me, let’s stop there. He’s Navaho, and can’t drink worth shit, gets all fight happy when he’s drunk. But he’s ok, and maybe it would be nice to drop on in and see if he and Thompson are still friends.”
“Yaw, sure let’s go there, the sooner the better,” said Ben with an uneasy tone to his voice.
–Fifteen minutes later they crossed a dirt road that led into a trail court, the police still following their every step of the way down the long two lane highway, in his car, wearing his big hat, sun glasses, and smoking a cigar.
“Listen Chris, don’t look back at the policeman–I mean, the police car, if you do he’ll arrest us for being suspicious, and there it goes, you get your ass kicked and I get a rope around my black throat.”
“Got it Ben–”said Chris.
Now they were standing in front of the door of trailer #23, Corporal Thompson’s residence. The policeman staring out of his car window, thinking the two soldiers were bluffing [as far as having a friend in the courtyard, just buying time]–simply, the officer would just wait–he told himself, like a good fisherman, then he’d get his prize fish, but then the door opened, you could hear Ben’s sigh from his stomach all the way up through his chest and out his mouth and nose ‘aye wwww///…www////~!…
A voice came from within: “Hay you guys, come on in, we’re all getting tanked….”
Chris took a quick look in back of him as Ben walked in first [Ben never turning around to see the policeman], and the policeman simply looked at Chris, as if they’d meet again, as if it was inevitable, as if it was not over, then the police car took off, burning rubber off the hot and vibrant asphalt street for a little ways; so be it, thought Chris, he knew he was as angry as a hornet whom just lost his prize sting. But Chris, like Ben, was relieved also, it was intense twenty-minutes he figured, and a growing concern that there was so much intolerance, or racism so alive in the South.
The sun was now out, and the gray clouds disappeared also; it was as if God had polished everything new. As they all sat down in the cozy little trailer house–somewhat cramped, Corporal Thompson started handing out beers and wine bottles to both Ben and Chris, “Drink up, it looks as if you both walked a hundred miles.” Ben was thinking: he had aged one-hundred years in those last twenty-minutes, and down went a beer. Christopher Wright, twenty-two years old now, was the oldest of the group, learned again, it was quite different in the South, compared to the Midwest as far as acceptance for minorities went; in this case blacks. He was wondering what else they didn’t like down here–soldiers possibly, but surely they liked their money, for it provided lots of jobs for the communities, and so they had to put up with them, or starve to death. On another point, he had learned some counties were dry, no alcohol, and others were trying to stop the ‘no alcohol sales,’ wanting to sell to the GI’s, to make more money, while others were not. And so, when you drove from county to county, you never knew if you were in a dry or wet county; but Chris, like Chief, and Thompson, and most of the soldiers either drank on base, or in Huntsville itself. Thus, eliminating the endeavor to try and figure out if you were in a safe drinking area or unsafe one.
Stay Down, Old Abram
Stood up, only to be pushed
Back down; –
Twenty-Times they say–.
“Stay down, stay down, Abram,”
Cried the bystander’s,–
Begging, He’d stand back up…
And he did just that: –
[Poised and brave],
With a smile…dying
He sat on his porch rocking back and forth–looking out into the muddy and uncombed fields of his farm, empty of eatable growth, empty of everything but long-haired grass, weeds, rocks, and snakes: — with only a few crows flying to and fro, they also were being unfed. The old man stopped his rocker for a moment, stared into the untilled field ahead of him; he could faintly see a figure by the hanging tree, the tree Abram hung from. He stood up from his rocker, you could still hear it rocking, wood against wood, it distracted him for a moment as he squinted his eyes to get a better glimpse of the figure walking in his field, his 84-year old spine bent over, now leaning on his porch railing–
“A damn soldier,” he grumbled out and up from his stomach, up through his vocal cords and out his mouth–almost vomiting it out,
the figure was now standing by the hanging tree the old man shaking his head as if to say: it was none of his business, and to, to move on out of there, it was his land: get off, get out of here–[he thought] but he just stared, almost liking what the soldier was seeing, evidently noticing but he couldn’t be sure what expression was on the soldier’s face, but he hoped it was punishing, then he’d tell him to get out again later, in a moment. Yes, yes, he wanted him to absorb the moment, get full of it then move on. If he could laugh loud enough, he might have tried.
The old man yelled:
“He’s dead, can’t yu’all see, move on now, yous-just a …more-on, that’s all you are…move on now–boy-!”
“Yaw I know,” Chris mumbled to himself, out loud, but mostly to the moment, so he could hear himself. But of course the old man couldn’t hear a word; he was aghast at what he was witnessing. The blood soaked ground, a rope hanging frightfully from a strong branch that come outward from the tree then upward, almost as if it was created as a hanging tree, as if someone might have cultivated it to grow that way a hundred years in the past. It was a Bald Cypress, about 70-feet high, a thick trunk, a pond was nearby. It might have even been a pleasant area at one time, that is, a time before this, and possible before that old man was born, and all his relatives.
Yelled the old man again:
“I says now, get on out of her boy, do as yous told, I told him twice, yes I did, two times to ‘…stay down, stay down, stay down,’ but he wouldn’t–he gets back up, the crazy old fool; now you get-ts out of here–before I shoots your ass!!”
Chris pretended not to hear the rustic-yelling’s of the old man, somewhat afraid to speak, least he should precipitate some calamity; but of course he heard every damning word and looked briefly at the old man’s coming toward him, but only for a moment, only to see his distance from him–to measure it with his eyes for timing. The body of the aged man known as Uncle Abram, or Old Abram [Abram Boston], was naked as a jay-bird, a rotting corpse, with stink all about, an odor that made you cough, gag and almost vomit;– his skin picked apart to the bones, matter of fact, his bones were laying all about like broken pottery at some archeological site–his intestines were covered with dirt as they hung out of his abdomen; –objects, everything looked like unkempt matter, meaningless to most people, even to some animals, but Chris knew they would be most reflective if not emotionally intense for Elsa.
Again the old coot, now standing about twenty feet from his porch, yelled: “[Forearmed] you’d better go on stranger–go’on home, back to the north, or dat damn Army base before I comes and shoot yaw…ass–shoot your young ass I say, shoot your ass boy.”
Bones of Bigotry
No window could shut out the sounds of bigotry to Chris’ ears that he was hearing and seeing. He started to dread a longer stay in Alabama–and yet he had only seen, or better put, scratched the surface of the face of bigotry. What would it look like under it surface? Scratching the surface of evil, not the evil accomplished, but the evil yet to be, is what was distorting his vision, as he looked at the bones, picking one up, then another, putting them gently into a bag. It was a plague seen by the naked-eye he was looking at, he told himself: seeing and watching the old man hobble his way in the field trying to get to him.
The farmer was not sensitive to, or offended by the Blackman’s remains, his bones, and his rotting flesh–Chris knew that immediately, and Chris had also seen autopsies in the Army, so this made it bearable to deal with, but just bearable. When a man sees flesh and blood, and exposed parts of a body, all discolored, all raw, it can be sickening to the point of becoming ill, or vomiting, if not down right passing out. The human body was not meant to be seen like this with untrained eyes; but then eyes of intolerance could withstand it, why couldn’t he, and so he did.
What could produce such indifference in a human mind; he asked himself, in that brain of his–that old coot’s brain? Possible he had seen too much in his life, or much, much more than his mind could take, and became insensitive; he tried to apologize for the old man. But that was really not the answer; he was making up the questions and now started to answer them, for it sure was the only way they’d get answered. What was the answer; insensitivity was it, wasn’t it? It had to be, no, maybe he thought, no, he had another idea, quietly alarmed he whispered to himself, He’s bored sitting on that damn porch, rocking his golden years away, bored, bored to death; this suffering he enjoys, it is ongoing, hence, entertainment for him, and who controls the streets of Alabama. Yes control again comes into the equation, it never leaves, he tells himself. He felt helpless in a way, as he looked about.
He thought, when nothing can be done one must practice self-restraint, patience, or get more personally involved, and he chose restraint. It wasn’t his war he told himself, yet he was doing the ‘Good Samaritan,’ thing.
As he picked up another bone, he knew the inquisitive past of the South was turning out to be, or would turn out to haunt him somewhere along his life’s journey; there would turn out to be, faces among faces, pious at first, but intolerable at second glance if he stayed in Alabama; — he would never know who was and who was not part of the ‘boredom’ group of elders, or the ‘entertainment’ group of the youth, or the ‘Control’ group in the middle. By and by, he would have to sort it out, one by one, but for the present, one would do, for all; he knew he was too young to put the world on his shoulders, but possible a moment would suffice–one that brought him in, sucked him in, willingly, but none the less, like a vortex.
Christopher leaned over quickly picking up several more fragments of bones, the skull which was separated from the body included,–his eyes were picked out by crows, an ugly sight; a piece of red cloth that was wet and perturbing from the mud he picked up also, it was Abram’s surely he thought, putting those items, small and large all in a small sack, about twenty-items. The old man was now coming towards him faster, almost in a running mode–hobbling like a sick duck. Chris quickly tied the sack tight and proceeded to the fence about 600-feet behind him, separating the farm from the road, where his friend’s car was parked, more like a lane than a road, I’d estimate, it was Corporal Thompson’s car to be exact
jumping the fence with a quick stride, he now felt a little safer being off his property; as he looked about, it was middle dusk, and the evening shadows were creeping in, with the rain clouds getting darker.
“Whar you gwine–?”
asked the old man, exhausted from the walk, then knowing he had no way to get to Chris, added, “Gwome keep dhem old bones,–ya keep dhem I don’t car, can’t prove a damn dhing, I told Abram to stay down, stay down, but he-a he-wouldn’t-damn-fool, he kept getting up, dhen they hung him…keep dhem…dhem old bones, black bones…”
the old man rattled on and on; –the old coot didn’t notice the bones were even white, thought Chris, how blind can a person be. As the old man approached the fence after resting, catching his breath, he leaned his body against a post, while Chris put the sack in the trunk, checking out the dark clouds, ghostly clouds, clouds that looked like feet, and tails, heads and ears, conspicuous looking clouds with monster shapes, while strands of darkness laced through a canopy like atmosphere: state of existence, which towered over the big cypress tree as if it was guarding it. Chris quickly jumped into the automobile taking off–leaving the old man to look at the dust from the wheels.
As the old man walked back to his farmhouse he got to thinking, remembering the old story of Abram’s grandfather, why it wasn’t triggered before the hanging was a good question, one he’d never bring up to mind, but one that might ask ‘why now [so he got to daydreaming about Jeremiah and Abram both]:’
Jeremiah the Wretched
As the men stood stone-still in the field outside of the city, watching Abram hang, dangling from a tree [l969], a few remembered his Grandfather, Jeremiah, or at least they remembered the legend, the story, or was it a saga, it wasn’t a fable, for it took place for sure, it wasn’t talked about much thought, not now-a-days anyway, but it wasn’t a yarn either, it was, it did happen, and there is an account of it, simply one need only go to the town library? All things considered, Abram was just like his Grandpa, his wretched old grandfather, or so people have claimed, said, repeated to him a hundred times; a pain in the neck for most white folk.
It was l861, Alabama, –yes the same area, Huntsville. He was a tall darkie they recalled him, tall and strong, like Jack Johnson, the famous black Negro fighter, the ones the white folks didn’t want to fight, didn’t dare to fight, and wouldn’t admit he was tougher. Yes Jeremiah was like him, not in fighting but in arrogance. He didn’t act like a nigger, that’s what got everyone mad, until that fatal day when they hung him, and still he didn’t cater to the white dominance.
Old Jeremiah at one time was a refugee slave, a sawmill worker and a Sharecropper cotton picker. For fifty years he worked for Mr. Mac Camp, Jonathon Mac Camp, whose family, or some of his family, had moved to the Midwest. He stayed put though, liked the area where he grew up, and told his children go on north if you wish but don’t send for money. Mr. Mac Camp had even sent Jeremiah Boston to school once to learn his ABC’s and some adding and subtracting, but he got bigheaded, or so Jonathon Mac Camp implied, and grabbed his ‘nigger help’, as he called him, out of the schoolhouse and put him back to picking cotton: where he belonged, he said. Well, now Mr. Mac Camp was seventy-four years old, and Jeremiah fifty. He wanted his freedom, and demanded that it should be given to him by none other than Mr. Mac Camp, saying:
“You’all promised me it coms my fifty-ish ber-dy, eyes wants it…” Jeremiah didn’t add a ‘yes, or please sir’ with the statement, nor any apology for being outspoken, he just got to the point.
Said Mr. Mac Camp, in reply: “No I didn’t say that, thirty-years ago, I said: if you worked hard for me, I’d consider it, and all you do is get bigheaded, and never appreciate a damn thing, now get away from me, and get on back to cotton picking, that’s all you ever gona end up doing anyhow–you just a nigger man, that’s all.”
Well, that didn’t go over well with the six-foot four, 270-pound Jeremiah, and with his powerful hands he picked up Mr. Mac Camp, and held him in the air, his feet dangling, trying to touch something solid, trying to escape,–then talking to him, Jeremiah commented:
“Yous like it rite, to be dhe boss, ya, yous like it, al-rite so boss, wht yous tells me now–Haw?–nots a thing…[hahaha].” By the time he put the old man down he was dead: he didn’t mean to kill him, but he was dead none the less: a heart attack, and behind him were three white men coming out to see Mr. Mac Camp about work and that was that, they pulled their rifles off their horses and aimed them at Jeremiah.