All the ‘grown-ups’ were gone, but no one was interested in re-starting the card game. At Amy’s suggestion, the guys fixed something to drink while she grabbed some snacks. Provisions in hand, they went out into the warm night air on the screened-in back porch. To keep from attracting bugs, they left the lights off. Except for the glow from inside the house, it was dark.
To no one’s surprise, Mark got the conversation rolling. But what he spoke about came as a surprise. “Look, I wanted to tell y’all about this at the same time. Maybe you’ve heard that Lamar Tidwell says he’s not going to run for re-election. That means the house seat will be open in the next election.
“Well, and I know this will sound strange, but according to Dad and uncle Frank, some folks want me to run. The idea is that with reapportionment about to hit the fan, and nobody knowing what the feds might do if enough blacks don’t get registered or what it’d mean if enough do, well, no strong candidate wants the job and nobody’s mad at me.”
Amy broke in. “I know it’s something you’ve always wanted. But that’s in three years. You won’t graduate until next year. You’ll still be in law school.”
“I’ll apply for early admission,” said Mark.
Bob’s voice drifted across damp, evening air. “If it’ll keep you down in Baton Rouge and out of our hair, I’m all for you.”
There was a barely perceptible movement, and then Willie spoke. “You know I’m for you. But what about me? I mean, some people around here won’t ever forgive you for having a black friend. And if you and Amy register to vote with me, that could tear it with the Klan folks.”
Amy made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a cough. “Why Willie, with Mark having an inside track with Bebe and her family, that won’t be a problem.”
“We haven’t even gone on a date,” protested Mark.
“Yet,” was Amy’s terse reply.
Bob, the quietest member of the group, broke the awkward silence. “Willie, feel free to tell me to go to hell and that this is none of my business, but what’s going on up in Sandtown? I mean your parents acted like secret agents or something when they said the name.”
The porch remained silent except for the sounds of crickets and the rhythmic whir of the overhead fan. “Don’t worry about it, Willie,” said Bob, in an apologetic tone. “I didn’t mean to give you any grief or….”
“No, no, that’s alright. It’s just, well, kind of complicated and I’m not sure where to start.”
“You want me to give it a try?” volunteered Mark.
Willie let out a sigh. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Okay, some of this you may already know, some maybe not,” began Mark, turning to face Bob’s dim outline. “I don’t have the whole story myself. But here’s a quick down and dirty on what I picked up today. I guess you’ve heard the local heartburn level is going way up over the Fed’s big push on school integration and the new voter registration campaign Willie’s father is running out of their church.”
Bob nodded, then realized the gesture might be missed in the dark. “Willie and I have talked about it.”
“Well, a black guy in Sandtown was arrested last night for being a Peeping Tom. He’s supposed to have been looking in the bathroom window of some old white lady in Rollins. Of course, my weird uncle is defending him.”
“Which explains why you’re Mr. Know-it-all,” said Amy.
“Correct,” said Mark, who sounded unfazed by the comment. “Anyway, what makes things ticklish is the white woman is a certified nut case, but she’s also some sort of relative of our illustrious sheriff, Odell ‘Dumbass’ Tobias. It seems the guy they arrested is no prize, but according to Uncle Frank, odds are he’s innocent. The real problem is, he does delivery work in Sandtown for Reverend Carter’s first born.”
Bob leaned toward Willie. “We’re talking about your half-brother Malcolm, right?”
“Uh huh. His mother was killed in the car wreck that crippled Poppa.”
“And, can I ask what this guy in Sandtown delivers for your brother?”
“Well, you know Malcolm has a catering business. It does okay, but it’s just a cover. His real money comes from bootlegging. Most of his customers are black folks who can’t drive to Hawthorn. This guy, his name is Amos Little, took orders and made a lot of the deliveries in Sandtown.”
“Ah, so,” said Bob.
No one spoke for a minute, then Willie continued. “When he learned Malcolm was a bootlegger, Poppa threw him out of the house. Nowadays they never see each other except at church. Malcolm makes sure to shake Poppa’s hand on the way out, and he always asks about my mother and me, but all he gets is a nod. No one in the family will talk to him except me.”
There was another pause, and then Mark picked up the conversation. “Nailing Malcolm’s business associate as a Peeping Tom is near and dear to the heart of our beloved sheriff. He figures it’d make him a hero in that big, inbred family of his. As a bonus, it might also embarrass Reverend Carter and hurt the voter registration drive. Of course, that would make all the local sheet heads happy. And with all that going his way, even a single digit IQ red-neck like Tobias might get re-elected.”
“Son-of-a-bitch,” said Bob.
Amy got up and said she needed to go inside for a minute. A silence followed her unexpected departure until the conversation began picking back up. By some unspoken agreement, the subject was limited to sports. Willie was telling about spring football practice at Grambling when Mark noticed she hadn’t returned. “I guess I better go in and check on our red head,” he said and went into the house.
He found her in the kitchen, leaning against the refrigerator, with her head cradled in her arms. She was crying but making no noise. While Mark thought he understood her tears, that didn’t mean he knew what to do about them. But he had to do something. This was Amy. Acting on instinct, he pulled her away from the refrigerator and into his arms.
He could feel her body shaking and her tears soaking through the thin fabric of his shirt, wetting his shoulder and chest. Amy seemed to be crying even harder now. But except for quick intakes of air, she did so in virtual silence.
At some point, Bob looked in. His eyes met Mark’s, who shook his head. Bob nodded, motioned that he’d be waiting on the porch, and left.
When the tears began to slow, Amy lifted her head and looked up at Mark through red, swollen eyes. “I’m scared,” she whispered in a small, trembling voice.
“Of everything changing. Oh, I know that’s stupid. Things always change. And some things should. But this feeling just came over me that things I love are going to be lost, including people I love very much. And it scared me.”
“Was it something I said out on the porch?”
Amy sniffled and shook her head. “No, I think it was my being sick and getting treated like a little girl again. And the four of us playing cards like we used to. And seeing those dumb old pictures and Nana coming over and daddy telling me how much bigger I am than she is now.
“And I guess, out on the porch, hearing y’all talking about what Willie’s family is going through, and I know how much some things need to change here in Pinefield, but then I thought about you and Bebe and how that could also change things, and I knew I had to go inside or I’d be squalling in front of everybody, and that’s no way to end what has been a good day
Note to readers: Next week I'll go back to one chapter, one post. Any feedback, whether brickbats or bouquets, would be appreciated. RdW.”