I killed a man when I was 13. Not on purpose or nothing. But he still died. Mama went over to see about Mrs. Johnson’s new baby after church, and I stayed home because I had a cold coming on. Mama is real particular about sick people and babies, so I didn’t even ask if I could go visiting. Daddy went out fishing with my brothers, and after I got out of my church clothes I stretched out on the porch swing with a book. It was good too, all about pirates and buried treasure. It was a hot day, sunny, but not too bad if you were sitting in the shade. The breeze was blowing just right over Mama’s little flower garden, and it felt so good to sit there with the screen keeping the bugs out and the cool in, while I nibbled on a slice of cake.
Our house wasn’t fancy exactly, but Daddy was always good with his hands and my uncles all knew a fair bit about building because that was how they earned their money instead of farming like Daddy. So when Mama wanted something added onto the house they come over and do it for her. Folks said she was spoiled and I would be too since we were both the only girls in a family full of men. I don’t know about spoiled, but I was almost always happy. Daddy could grow anything he wanted no matter how bad it might be doing for somebody else, and Mama knew about taking care of sick folks and delivering babies. Folks always needed something and always had something to trade if they didn’t have cash money.
I don’t know how long I was out there, but I was just getting to the end of my book when I heard somebody’s Model T rattling away. The road up to the house was longer than most, but it sounded like the car was coming on fast so I got up real quick and slipped in the house. Mama says that people shouldn’t be able to just walk up on us, at least not without us looking like we came from somebody, and we’re going somewhere. So I took off the raggedy overalls I had on, and put on a dress and a pair of shoes.
Mama made most of my clothes in those days, sometimes dyeing them for me so I wouldn’t be wearing the same thing as all the other girls who got their goods at the mercantile in town. My dress that day was dark blue, with a little black flower pattern worked into it. It didn’t fit like it used to. Mama kept threatening to pass it on to someone else, but I loved it so that she said I could keep it until she had time to make me a new one.
Some white man knocked on the door a few minutes later. He was bigger than my mama’s biggest brother, Uncle John, but not as big as my Daddy and wearing a shiny gray Sunday suit and a funny looking white hat. He even had on shiny shoes, like a woman would wear to church if she wanted to get talked about for a month of Sundays. He had a face like a skinned hog, all wet and red looking, but meaty. And he had too many teeth in his mouth. Looked like he was one of them bad salesmen that I heard people complaining about whenever we stayed late after church and the adults would forget that us kids were listening. He was grinning and yammering away before I even got to the door good.
“How are you today young lady? You looking mighty prosperous on this Sunday afternoon aren’t you?” Up close he smelled like he bathed in cologne, but not in a good way. More like perfume over funk.
He had his hand on the door knob like he was about to pull on it, and I stared at his hand until it dropped. I can’t rightly fight, but my eyes make people think they don’t want to fight me. My brothers are the only exception and even they don’t fight me to hurt me, just to teach me how to defend myself. Daddy says my eyes are just a darker brown than most people have ever seen, and Mama says I have eyes like her great-grandmother who was a conjure doctor down in New Orleans. I don’t know which one of them is right, but most people don’t like my eyes because they’re so black they look like two holes punched in my face. At least that’s how Ms. Viola at the church describes them, and she’s been all the way to London and back so I figure she knows best.
“Can I help you?” It’s my best grown up voice, and I can see him looking me up and down when I use it. I can’t help but cross my arms across my chest when his eyes linger on it. I can see what Mama meant about my dress being too snug to wear out in the street.
“Maybe you can. I want to buy a piece of land and when I asked about it in town they told me it belongs to you folks.”
I shrugged, “I can’t sell you anything, but my parents will be back later. I can tell them you came by.”
“You’re here by yourself?” He looked around like he could really see something, “Place this far out, I don’t feel right leaving you here with no adult. How about I come in and wait?”
I shook my head, and then remembered to say out loud, “No sir, that wouldn’t be right. Daddy don’t allow no strangers in the house.”
“He’s a smart man. Well, how about I wait out here on the porch, and you bring me a glass of something cool to drink?” He started grinning at me again,“ That way your daddy won’t be mad, and I can know you’re okay.”
I didn’t like it, but no one ever said someone couldn’t sit on the porch so I said, “Yes sir,” and turned to go back into the house. I was in the kitchen getting a cup out when I remembered that I’d forgotten to lock the screen door. I walked back out and sure enough he was sliding it open. Still grinning, but something wasn’t so friendly about it. I backed up toward the kitchen, and he came right on after me, though he stopped at the doorway.
“I just thought I’d ask if you had something to eat, and I didn’t want to yell. It’s a long drive out here, and my lunch wasn’t exactly tasty.”
“I think we got some leftover meatloaf in icebox. I can make you a sandwich and bring it to you on the porch.”
“That would be nice, but why go all the way back outside when we can just sit down right here?” He took a couple more steps into the kitchen, and pulled out a chair. “You go ahead, and make me that plate and I’ll just relax here in the cool air.”
I wanted to tell him to leave, but I couldn’t so I went ahead and poured some sweet tea and fixed his food. He ate like an animal, as Mama would say when she nagged us for doing it. Great big bites, not quite closing his mouth when he chewed; so fast he barely swallowed before he took the next mouthful. He even gulped down the sweet tea. It was like he thought the food would get away from him. Maybe it would have run if it could, I certainly wanted to. And I promised myself I would never eat that way again. It’s disgusting to watch.
When he finished eating he looked at the cake plate on counter, like if he stared at it long enough a piece would cut itself. Finally I got up and cut a thin slice and set it in front of him.
He took his time eating it at least; nibbling away like every single crumb needed time to roll around in his mouth before he could swallow it. “This is a good cake. Did your Mama bake it?”
“No, I did. She doesn’t like baking, says she doesn’t have the right touch for it.”
“Well you did a fine job.“ He smacked his lips over the last few crumbs, and grinned again. “Mighty fine. A meal like that is enough to make a man think about a wife. You know what I mean?”
I shook my head, and got up and started cleaning up the table and putting things away. I kept my back to him the whole time hoping he’d get the hint, and finally I heard the chair push back from the table. It was a good sound. The sound of him finally getting out of my house and leaving me alone. I put the last dish away, and turned to dry my hands.
“A girl like you must have spent some time with a fella or two. I know these boys around here ain’t shy.” He got real close to me then, so close I found myself leaning back just to keep his breath out of my face.
“My mama says I’m too young for boys.”
He started pressing himself against me, talking about “You look old enough to me.”
“Mister, if you tell me your name and where you’re staying I’ll make sure my Daddy knows that you came by, okay?”
I was leaning so far back at that point it felt like my back was going to break, so I tried to slide sideways away from him. He didn’t back off none at all, just kept pace with me no matter which way I went.
“My name is Edward Tully.” He reached up to push a piece of hair out of my face, “You are such a pretty girl.”
He was grinning again, something awful hiding behind that smile that made my stomach lurch so hard I almost threw up on him. But I made myself say, “Thank you.”
I tried to step back again, even got my hands up to push him away, but that didn’t stop him. My mama had never really talked to me about men like him, but I’d heard enough from the older girls at school and church to guess what he was trying to do. And know deep in my bones that I’d rather die than let him do it.
When he grabbed me around the waist, I started screaming and hitting at him best as I could. But he was bigger than me, and I couldn’t make him let go. We tussled back and forth some, and he slapped me. I tried to grab a knife then, but I couldn’t get away from him long enough to get a good grip on it.
Seemed like there was nothing I could do to get myself loose. Least not until I yelled, “Get away from me!” He dropped his arm, just froze standing right there. Stood stock still, looking at me like he couldn’t figure out what was happening. I was so upset I just kept hitting at him and screaming, “Don’t you touch me, don’t you ever touch me again!”
Finally it dawned on me that he wasn’t moving, that every time I hit him he flinched, but he didn’t try to stop me. I didn’t know then what I know now, so I told him, “Get out. You get out of our house and don’t you ever come here again.”
He turned and did just as I said, walked straight on out the front door, back toward his car. Like a fool I followed him screaming things. Crazy things that I would have never thought I could say to anyone. “I hope you die. I hope you burn in Hell!”
He looked back at me when I said it, but he didn’t stop walking, just got in his car and drove away. I ran back in the house, locked both doors and went in the back to take a bath. When I took off my clothes I had bruises on my arms, around my waist, even a few on my legs. I felt so dirty that I stayed in the tub a long time, by the time I could face getting out the sun was setting. I could hear Daddy’s voice from the side yard when I opened the door. I peeked out the window while I was drying off. Daddy was standing there with my brothers; and Reverend Mosby the preacher from the church. In the distance I could see a red glow against the sky.
I put on a robe over my house dress, and some slippers, then stuck my head out the door. “Daddy, what’s going on?”
“Nothing you need to worry about baby girl.”
Reverend Mosby coughed and did a funny little bob of his head in my direction. Daddy gave him such a look, but the Reverend didn’t seem bothered about it. He just looked back at Daddy, like he was waiting for him to do something. Daddy let out this big sigh, and said “Anyone come by here while we were fishing?”
I never could lie to Daddy but everyone knows Reverend gossips more than any three women so I said, “Some man stopped by, said he wanted to talk to you about buying land. I told him you’d be back later and he left. Why?”
He pointed at the fire, “Some stranger went and crashed his car down by the creek. He must have been carrying a load of gasoline or something, because the car started burning before anyone could get him out.”
I’m not sure what happened next, one minute Daddy was talking and the next everything went dark. When I woke up I was in my bed and Mama was sitting there with me. I started to sit up and she pushed me back down. I tried to tell her that I was okay, but she shushed me. There was a funny medicine smell in the air, but not the one that she usually has when she’s taking care of babies.
A minute or so later Reverend Mosby knocked on the door, and Mama got up and went out to talk to him. She was whispering the way she does when someone is real sick, and he kept his voice down too so I couldn’t hear everything that was said. But it sounded like she was telling him I had something worse than a cold. He’s real skittish around sick people so he hightailed it out the front door. As soon as he was way away from the house Mama slipped back into my room. She looked at me for such a long time, and I could see that she’d been crying.
“Mama, am I that sick?” I tried to sit up again, and that time she didn’t stop me. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you baby. It’s just…there are some things I never thought to tell you. And I didn’t want you learning them this way.” Mama’s real pretty usually and she always holds her head up just so, looks folks right in the eye no matter what color they are. This was the first time I ever saw her head hang down like she couldn’t bear to hold it up.
“Mama, that man earlier in the fire…he was here longer than I said. He..h-..uh…”
I was trying to figure out how to tell her when she leaned forward and took my hand. “Don’t worry about him baby. He’s not your concern now.”
There was something so hard in her face; I didn’t know what to think of it. She was crying again, and she kissed my hands, ran her fingers over my bruises just as gentle as if she knew where they were under my clothes. That’s when it hit me that my bruises didn’t hurt any more. Mama makes this special cream for bruising, and I smelled like it. I babbled out the story of my day then, and she grabbed me close and hugged me so tight it felt like my chest was going to burst.
Daddy came in my room then, sat down next to mama and hugged us both. I hadn’t even realized he was by the door listening to us. I thought for a second that he was mad at me, “I’m so sorry, Daddy. I didn’t mean to let him in the house. I told him to leave and he wouldn’t go no matter what I said.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for, baby.” Daddy is one of those men that Grandma says was born with a stone face and a soft heart. He kissed me on the forehead, and for a second I could see exactly what she meant. His eyes were the softest I’ve ever seen them, and I couldn’t help but lean into the two of them like I did when I was real little.
We sat there for a while hanging on each other and crying, then Mama took my face in her hands, “Baby girl you got away from him. That’s all that matters.”
“I said something really bad to him.” I mumbled, “I didn’t really want him to die, I just wanted him to get away from me. Do you think God knows I didn’t mean him no harm?”
“He tried to hurt you baby, you were just defending yourself.” Mama let go of me, and I scooted back so that I could rest against my pillows.
“But he stopped, and he left.” I looked down, “I told him I hope he would die, and he died. I know what you said about ill wishing people, but I didn’t think it actually worked.”
She and Daddy gave each other these odd looks, like they knew a secret that I didn’t and finally she said, “Sometimes words have power. And I think your words might have more power than most.”
“What did you fix for him?” Daddy asked.
“Umm…a meatloaf sandwich, sweet tea, and a little slice of cake.” I thought about the way he ate it all, and a little shudder ran through me.
Daddy ran his hand over his face a time or two, looked at Mama and said “My aunt Alice could cook a man a meal that would make him do most anything she wanted.”
Mama’s face went almost blank and she looked at him for a long time. When she looked at me, it was like I was one of the people who came to her for help sometimes, the ones so sick or strange that they scared her. She reached out and took Daddy’s hand, clinging onto it like he might jump up and run away.
* * *
There were some changes over the next three years. Mama and Daddy didn’t love me any less, but we were more…careful with each other. Mama got real firm about my clothes, making me new ones as soon as the old ones got the least bit snug. And Daddy started talking to me about his people more often, they weren’t a secret or nothing, but he was always quieter about family than Mama. He made sure I knew that they weren’t bad, just different from most, and that maybe being different was a good thing.
The first few times we talked Mama would sidle up and just stand there behind him listening, but not saying anything. One day when Daddy and I were done talking, she came over, took my hand and led me into her workroom. She taught me what to do for sick people, for babies, whatever she could. I still went to school, but all my real learning was at home. I don’t know what their plan for me was, but the closer I got to finishing school the clearer it was to me that I couldn’t stay at home.
I could make the same medicines that Mama did, even help someone birth their baby, but people didn’t take to me like they did to Mama. Maybe it was my eyes, maybe it was the way Mama kept me from making so much as a cup of tea for anyone outside of our family. I don’t think Mama meant to act the way she did, but her being nervous probably made other people nervous too. But the medicines I made for people I liked really worked, sometimes better than Mama’s and after a while I started baking again. Folks that ate my cakes would feel really good if I said something nice to them.
Reverend Mosby didn’t help any. Every once in a while he’d bring up the stranger that died and look at my face real careful like. I don’t think he knew anything, but he kept such a sharp eye on me that I never felt comfortable around him. I don’t know if other people picked up on what the Reverend was doing, or if it was something about me, but when all the other girls had boys getting sweet on them, I was just…around. Not ignored exactly, boys liked looking at me just fine, but no one was trying to get me to go on walks or on picnics. My brother Robert tried to make me feel better, every night he’d talk about all the boys he scared off, but we both knew he was lying. No one wants a sweetheart they can’t stand to look in the eye, and I wasn’t sure I wanted any of them either. I just wanted the option. It got so I’d get up and walk away when the kids got to planning a picnic or a trip to a swimming hole, because I knew that even if I was invited, I wasn’t really wanted.
Robert was the opposite, he had plenty of options and he wanted none of them. There were always girls around, if you asked them they would claim to be my friends, but they were there for Robert. He wasn’t as big as Elijah or Jacob, my two oldest brothers, but he was still a good size. And he looked like Mama. When we were little, folks would joke that he was going to be a pretty boy, and in a way he was. He wasn’t afraid of work, but he didn’t like doing more of it than he needed to, and he was always particular about his clothes and such. He was only a year older than me, but everyone treated him like he was a full grown man before he was even done with school.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t teacher’s college or working with Mama. At my 16th birthday dinner, Robert up and announced, ”I’m going north to Chicago. I’ll get a job, maybe be able to send some money down when you need it.”
He was real slick with it, just put the facts out there and didn’t ask for permission. You could look at Mama’s face and see she didn’t like it, but Daddy just nodded. Robert looked across the table at me, and all I could think was that I wasn’t fit to stay at home either. I didn’t have a better plan, so I got up, started clearing the table and said, “I’m going with him.”
I could see Daddy rearing back, all set to fuss right along with Mama. I didn’t give him time to get it out, just said quietly, “Sooner or later something is going to happen. You got a good life here. I don’t want no trouble for you, or for anyone else.”
I can’t say that made them feel any better about it, but they didn’t fight us. They just fussed over where we’d stay, writing letters to people they knew, reaching out to people from the church with relatives in Chicago, and trying to make sure we’d be safe. Mama helped me pack, loading a bag with medicines that we might need and some things I could trade or sell. Robert and I never sat down and discussed me going along, he just told me how much money he had saved up, and I showed him I had my own savings.
We stayed at home through Christmas, planning to leave for Chicago after the holidays. Most folks would move in the spring, but we didn’t want to wait that long. People were starting to talk. Not a lot, but something about us bothered folks.
Finally the day came for us to leave, and everybody turned out to watch us go. Daddy drove us to the train station, and made sure we were on a colored car with a porter that he knew. It was a small thing, but it meant we had good seats and weren’t likely to be bothered. I’d heard stories about girls traveling alone having to worry, but everyone gave us a wide berth.
Getting to Chicago was the easy part. We ate, and talked and had a fine time being out on our own. We could hear other folks talking about what kind of work they wanted. All kinds of fancy jobs rolled off their lips. I wasn’t that fussed though. Long as I didn’t have to go in no white woman’s kitchen I figured it would be fine. Not that I would. Mama would come north and tan my hide, after her and Daddy working so hard to make sure that we could take care of ourselves.
We must have looked so foolish when we first got off the train. There were so many people, and so much noise, all we could do at first was walk and stare. We took a streetcar to the Black Belt where all the other colored folks lived. Robert waited until we were almost to the address Mama and Daddy had given us before saying, “I’m not getting a regular job. I can make more money my way.”
“What does that mean?” I stopped in the middle of the street. “What are you up to?”
He just smiled. “People here in the city aren’t like folks down home.”
I wasn’t sure at first what he meant. At home people didn’t like it when the boys played cards, or whatever. But we passed three dice games, and no one said a word to the men playing. As we walked toward a fourth game, one of the men looked up and beckoned to Robert. My brother walked right over, pulled out some money, and took the dice. He won the few dollars that were in the pot, and then he walked right back to me.
When I looked at him he shrugged and said, “I’ve always been lucky.”
We were supposed to be renting rooms in a boarding house on the edge of the Black Belt. When we got there it was crowded, overpriced, and none too clean. We didn’t have enough to get two rooms and still have our emergency money. The place didn’t look all that safe despite being run by a woman who used to go to our church. But we had a room, and I thought we’d have to make do for a few months until we found some work.
Robert went out looking around and I set to cleaning the place up so we wouldn’t be living in squalor. I’d always known Robert was lucky, just not how lucky, not until he came home a few hours later with keys to our own place. He didn’t tell me where he got them, but I figured it was from gambling. It wasn’t fancy, but we each had our own room, and there was a little storefront downstairs. He had an idea we would rent it out, but I talked him into letting me run it myself. I figured I could sell medicine, maybe sell cake or somesuch too. Long as I didn’t ill wish anyone, it could all be fine.
It wasn’t in the best neighborhood. There were girls who earned their livings on their backs, men running numbers, and folks doing all kinds of odd jobs. I can’t say that I approved of everything I saw, but I figured if they could mind their own business then so could I. Although we called it the Black Belt, but it wasn’t only colored folks living there, there were Italians and Irish in the neighborhood too. They weren’t always friendly, but we managed to get along okay. Like everybody else, they were just trying to survive. We were all too busy to fret about who was who, not like at home where everyone kept to their own kind in public.
I made friends with some of the sporting girls that first winter we were in Chicago. They’d come in for medicine to stop a baby, or to cure a cold, and tease me about being so clean on a street so dirty. After a while it got so a couple of them were like the sisters I didn’t have at home. Lucy was a tall, skinny redbone with a cough that never went away, even with my medicine. She said it was the dirty air, and came in every few days to get something to help.
Lucy was how I met Mabel. They were good friends already and Mabel’s stomach was always bothering her. She was short and high yella, but not light enough to pass. They both said I was the only one that ever gave them something that made them feel better. They brought business my way when they could, and I made sure I kept some things on hand for them. But mostly we just sat around talking and eating and laughing. Just being girls in the city.
It was easier than I thought it would be, no one bothered us and we had enough to keep our bellies full and our bodies warm. Other people weren’t so fortunate. We’d pass them in the street looking worn out and sick. I’d make soup when I could, and bake some loaves of bread. I told everyone I fed to feel better, to have a good day, whatever nice things I could think of to say just in case it would help. I never forgot what happened when I was 13, and I was careful about who I fed just in case. It wasn’t much, but it made me feel better and Robert said it made the neighbors like us.
By that summer, Chicago was our home.
My biggest fear was that one night while Robert was out he’d meet some girl and bring her home for good. Even though it was our place, I knew I couldn’t stand in the way of him having a family. I won’t say I worried over it constantly, but it did weigh on my mind. I figured that no one would want a husband and his spinster sister.
It took Lucy and Mabel all of five minutes at dinner one night with Robert and his friend Daniel to see what I didn’t. “You didn’t tell me your brother was a sissy.” Lucy must have seen something in my face because she said real quick, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, honey. I’m just saying, you never told me he liked boys.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just shrugged, and Mabel looked at Lucy and shook her head, “He didn’t want her to know. Why did you go and open your big mouth?”
“I didn’t know it was a secret!” Lucy looked at me, “You’re not mad? Some folks just come out that way. He’s still your brother.”
“No I’m not mad.” And I wasn’t, in some small selfish ways it made things easier. After all two men would still need a woman to do for them around the house. We went to the drag balls, and I saw folks cuddling up with each other whenever they felt an urge. I kept in mind what Mabel said about him not wanting me to know though, and acted like nothing had changed the next day when I saw him and Daniel at breakfast. I think Daniel knew I wasn’t fooled any more, but he didn’t say anything either.
Nineteen-nineteen was one of those years with a real hot summer, and you couldn’t help but hear about the troubles colored folks were having. We’d write to Mama and Daddy pretty regularly so they’d know we were okay, and Robert took to being home more just in case. It wasn’t a surprise exactly when the riots started. We heard about the boy drowning, and Robert had me close up the shop right then. Trouble was coming, had been coming for a long time, and now it was here. Lucy and Mabel came by, said they weren’t even going to try to work, and so we went upstairs to wait together.
Daniel was the only one missing, and after a while I looked at Robert and said, “You better go get him. He might be having trouble getting here.”
“I can’t leave you here alone.” He tried to smile. “Daniel’s fine. He’ll be here when he can get here.”
“I’ll be fine. I’m not alone.” I don’t know why I was pushing so hard for him to leave, but I had a bad feeling. “Daniel is all by himself out there. Go get him.”
Something in my voice swayed Robert, or maybe it was all the years of eating my cooking. He got up and left without another word. An hour or so later, I heard glass breaking and people screaming. I looked at Lucy and Mabel, “Stay up here okay? I’ll go see what’s happening.”
When I arrived downstairs, I could see people in the street fighting, just clawing at each other like animals. Some of them were people who I’d fed over the last few months, but a lot were strangers. There was one white man in the middle of it all that I didn’t know exactly, but I knew of him from listening to Robert’s stories. Rich something or other, he ran one of the “clubs” that straddled the line between a group of friends and thugs for hire. He was supposed to be a mean sumbitch, and people kept their distance from him though he was short compared to my brother. Skinny lipped even for a white man, and the way he hunched his neck and shoulders made me think of a bullfrog walking on hind legs. They hadn’t quite made it to our doorstep yet, but I knew what would happen when they did. Especially when they found three women alone in the house.
I thought for a moment of Lucy and Mabel, of the things they didn’t say about why they worked where they did. I never talked about what happened to me either, but I could tell that they knew. Sisters, even ones that share no blood, can share secrets without speaking.
I went in the back of the store, grabbed some of the cake I’d put away, and walked out into the street before I could let myself think about what I was doing. I made straight for Rich, trusting that difference Daddy talked about to protect me. It did. I made it all the way down the street without a scratch. I held the packet out in front of me when I got close to him. Locking my eyes on his I said, “Please, just take this and go.”
I’d never really thought about why people don’t like to look me in the eye, but they must have a good reason. I’m so used to people looking away, I tend to do it for them, but this time I tried to catch his eyes and hold them on mine. They were muddy with rage, and his breath and body smelled terrible, but I kept trying. It worked after a fashion, but he made a face like it hurt him. He took the bundle of food from my hand, and I let my eyes drop.
Soon as I did he grabbed me, “What do you think you’re doing?” He shook me hard enough to rattle my teeth in their sockets, and knock most of the air clean out of me.
“Bringing you something to eat, and asking you to leave us alone.” I wasn’t in one of Mama’s dresses, so maybe he thought I was a boy at first. Soon as he heard my voice he dropped me and looked down at the bundle in his hand like he didn’t know where it came from, or why he was holding it.
“You niggers need to learn your place, need to learn how to stay in it.” He ripped open the waxed paper I’d wrapped the cake in and took a bite. Then another and another. It was gone in a few seconds.
“This is our place. I want you to leave. Take these men, go home, and stop hurting people.” I gestured at the street, “Tell them to stop.”
“I…” He broke off, staring right past me. I tried to catch his attention again, but it was like he was stuck in place. I didn’t know what to do, I turned around and saw Robert walking up. Daniel was with him, though he looked like he’d been fighting. The way Robert was moving was wrong, like his whole self hurt. I ran toward him. When I got close enough I could feel something pouring out of him, a force that pulled at me just like I was a part of it. I took his hand and we walked back toward the fighting. I was shaking, but we were together and suddenly I was sure that no one could stand against us.
“Make it stop. Take them and go home.” My voice was strange even to my ears, something under it that I had never heard before, but it seemed to work this time. Rich yelled, incoherent, but the men with him stopped. I yelled, “Stop fighting!” and our neighbors put down the boards and rocks they’d been using. Fists relaxed, and the two sides separated, stumbling away from each other in confusion.
Rich led his club away, and Daniel and I led Robert back to the house. Once we were inside he collapsed. His legs just folded up under him, and I sank down on the ground next to him. Daniel screamed, not real loud, just the way you do when you’re startled, and Lucy and Mabel came running downstairs. They took care of us.
I wish I could say that what we did stopped the trouble. It didn’t. Not really. It just moved it along. But we were safe and our neighbors were safe, which was probably the most that we could have hoped for in that bloody, red summer. I killed a man when I was 13, and I could have done it again that day. But I let Rich live and I saved some other men from being killed as well. I hope that it all evens out in God’s eyes.
Mikki Kendall has a long history of mixing facts into her fiction, but never fiction into her facts. She nourishes underfed history by setting stories in the places and times that aren’t as popular. She tweets as Karnythia, is co-founder of Hoodfeminism.com, and writes copious amounts on all kind of topics whenever she can.