|Jan/Feb 2008 Fiction Special|
He put his wet coat back on, his hat and his shoes, and he closed the front door with a barely-there click. Mother remained in the hallway, standing in the dark. I was sitting at the top of the stairs, a dark, watchful shadow. I closed my eyes when she glanced up at me, and disappeared.
Father did not return the next morning, and Mother didn't set a place for him at the breakfast table. I did not ask her where he was, and she didn't tell me.
"Eat your eggs chile," she said. "The school bus will be here soon."
I ate, but the eggs were cold and slimy and they caught in my throat. When I started to cough, Mother slapped me so hard on the back I cried out.
"Stop your complainin," Mother said. "You don't know the meanin of misery, yet."
When she didn't kiss me goodbye at the front door, I knew she'd never kiss me again.
I took the steps of the school bus one at a time, same way I always did. Step-step, step-step, step-step, but the other children still chided me when I slipped into my seat.
"Your pa raped a white woman. He gonna get it."
I didn't know what rape meant, but I knew the word. I knew what happened to Mr. Bellows after he raped a white woman. They said all kinds of bad things about him in the courthouse, and his wife and his kids, they was spat at in the street. When Mr Bellow was hung from his neck, everyone watched an there was this big empty space surroundin them that he'd loved. I still remember how big his eyes was, how feared he was. I knew about that alright, and as the bus threw up dust and dirt and rattled our bones all the way to school, I thought about father. I thought about him runnin through the fields in his wet coat and hat, his shoes kicked off for speed, the pale belly of his feet flap-flapping on the corn. I thought about the sheriff chasin after him, his gun in his hand and his dogs panting along beside, mouths open, droolin and slaverin.
When the bus juddered to a halt outside the school, I looked out into the fields and the sparras flutin and swoopin and chirpin with joy. Right at the edge of the corn was a small boy, his hands clasped above his head, something wriggling in his fingers. I jumped outta my seat, down the steps, two at a time.
"What you got there?" I said. "What you got in your hands?"
The chile glared at me and took a step back.
"None of your business," he said, his chin jutting out.
"Let me see," I said, grabbin his arm. "Let me see now, or I'll tell."
The boy lowered his arms and opened his fingers a crack. A sparra poked out its head and eyed me with a yellow sickly eye. There was blood on its beak.
"It's sick," said the boy, "but I'm gonna take it back home and make it a bed an give it milk and bread."
An the sparra kept on staring at me, blinkin its eye, not chirpin, not cheepin, just starin, like it was caught in a trap.
"Here," I said, reaching out a hand. "Let me take it."
I could tell the boy didn't want to give me the sparra, but I was bigger than him and stronger, so he gently placed it in my outstretched palm.
"Best it doesn't suffer," I said, closin its eyes with my thumb. "Best make it fast."
Then I snapped its neck with a barely-there click.