| A Long Summer’s Night
The night’s air was warm, and it filled the house with a thick cloud of perspiration. We all sat in the living room going about our business, and the heat was engendering us to sweat profusely. To say the least, it was terribly uncomfortable. As I played with my doll, Papa was reading the town newspaper. I enjoyed watching him read, because as he sat I could see his mind absorbing the information like a sponge absorbs water. Across the room my brother sat rocking in a chair. He was reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and proclaiming how much he would love to have been roaming the south like Huck and his slave friend Jim.
“Pap, if only I could be Huckleberry Finn, saving slaves and fighting white men all across the southern states. That’d be great, dontcha think?”
Papa glanced up from his reading and shot my brother a look of disdain. Then he spoke,
“Let me tell you something boy, I hear a lot of Negro’s around this town shoutin and hollerin about their mistreatment, about the unlawful crimes being committed by white men. I’m sure you read about em in that there book. Well I know it happens. I know what they do. What I don’t see is anyone doing anything about it. Why the hell can’t anyone stand up? But you listen to me; never partake in any act of violence against any man on this good earth unless he threatens your life itself. You fight what they believe; you fight it with your mouth, and with your good deeds, not with violence. I believe it’s gotta be more of a consistent effort by the whole population of this town that keeps our laws in line, and there by gives all men the dignity and respect that they deserve. Now you say you would’ve loved to fight the law, fight the white man. Well let me tell you something sonny. Huck Finn, he was a young white boy. A young black man like yourself doing what he did, you’d better thank the lord himself because you’d never stand a chance. You fight with your words son, not with your fist. That’s the only way to truly accomplish something, and you remember that.”
My brother sat back in his chair, his face washed in contempt. Papa went back to reading his newspaper, and I went back to playing with my doll. Suddenly, the dinner bell rang from the kitchen and mama began hollerin at us to come get supper.
“Corn bread, Greens and ham is served. Ya’ll come get your supper now.”
My brother and I leapt from our seats, and papa slowly got up from his chair. He was getting older, one could tell. He did everything so much slower than before, and god knows that he wouldn’t be much help in case we needed defending.
As we all herded into the kitchen, mama took her seat. Then my brother and I slid into our spaces, and slowly papa hobbled in. “
Alright, everyone fold your hands!” papa yelled.
We all folded our hands for grace, and papa began. “Dear lord, thank you for this food on our table and for the daily blessings you send our humble way. Amen.”
“Amen” we recited.
We ate at a startling pace, filling our bellies as fast as could be possible. My brother laughed hysterically at our table manners, and soon the whole table broke out in laughter at one another.
“We surely do eat like pigs” Papa said.
“Now common, we’re hungry is all, doesn’t mean we’re pigs” Mama responded.
“You surely are,” said Papa, “With all them peas dripping from your mouth.”
Mama shot Papa a deadly look, and then gradually a smile came across her face. We continued to eat dinner, and no one spoke a word. However, despite the full-mouthed consumption of mama’s delicious meal, I managed to hear from outside the window the sound of horses clattering down the road.
“Did ya’ll hear that?” I asked.
Everyone looked up from their dishes and turned towards me.
“What, did you toot sis?” my brother howled.
“Don’t be sarcastic ya jerk, it sounded like horses coming down the road.”
Abruptly, papa leapt from his chair, hobbling out into the hallway and grabbing his rifle from his room. When he came back, he turned to mama, a nervous look upon his face.
“Darling, take the children to the back of the house, underneath the floor boards, you know where” he said.
Mama stared back unnerved.
“What’s going on hunny?” she asked.
Papa turned “Just do as I say, ya hear? You children get up now, go follow your Mama, and stay close!”
He reached across the hallway to the lamp fixture positioned on the wall, and wetting his fingers he put the flame out.
From outside a shot rang, and mama and I screamed.
“Go! NOW!” yelled Papa.
We hurried down the length of the hallway, reaching the part of the floor which could be lifted up. Underneath the floorboards is where we usually stored cooking supplies, but now it would act as a refuge. Mama hurried my brother and me into the small chamber, putting her finger to her lips.
“Hush up now, we have to stay very quiet.”
I could see through the cracks in the floor, and as the dust fell from the boards and the light shone through upon our faces, I caught a glimpse of Papa at the front of the house crouching by the front door, his rifle pulled against his chest. Without warning, loud knocks began to strike against the door, and Papa, with all the strength he could muster, held his ground.
“Open the door nigger!” yelled a voice from outside. “Open it now or we’ll break the goddamn thing down!”
Papa remained quiet, still crouched by the door. Mama’s breath became quickly paced.
“Alright nigger, we gave you your chance, now you’re really in high water!”
With a loud bang the door broke down, crashing Papa to the floor. Two men in white cloaks came rushing into the home, stepping over the door which lay upon Papa. As they lurched further into the home, they wandered down the hallway, their footsteps reverberating upon the floorboards. Dust began to fall slowly from the cracks.
“Check the house, bastard’s got family I know it” the man said, “Check every room, and trash it if ya have to.”
My heart was beating quickly, and I turned my attention towards Papa lying on the floor. His gun escaped his arms when the door slammed down upon him, and it was now lying further down the hallway, close to our position.
“We have to help him!” my brother said.
“No, we sit here,” Mama replied.
The first man in a white cloak, the leader, came out of the living room and walked slowly towards our position, the clunking of his boots making my heart race faster. Clunk… clunk… clunk… the sound was absolutely terrifying. Yet closer he came, walking across the floor, the boards creaking beneath every colossal step. As he crossed over top of our position, he quickly came to a stop, and then turned around to see the other cloaked man standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
“Looks like they were eating dinner” said the second man. “Smells mighty good, should I call the others in for some grub?”
The lead man scoffed at this question, “Have you lost your marbles Dale? We’re here to rid this home of roaches and now you want to feast on their food? You’re some kind of crazy, that’s for damn sure.”
The second cloaked man, Dale, shook his head at the lead man and walked towards the door, stopping at Papa’s head.
“You think he’s dead?” Dale asked.
The lead man sighed, “Could be, but lets take him outside just to make sure.”
Dale ran out the door, quickly returning with a noose. Mama jumped at this sight, and immediately pushed upwards on the floor boards knocking the lead man off his feet.
“Not my husband! Not my husband! Let him go!”
Mama climbed up and out of the room under the floor, the boards falling back into place above our heads. I started to scream for mama to come back, but my brother’s hand abruptly ended my call.
“If we stay quiet, they won’t know we’re here” he whispered.
The lead man jumped up, grabbing mama by the hair and pulling her.
“Ya see Dale! I told you! I told you there were more. Goddamn roaches, coming out of the floor even! I reckon this one’s a whore. Let’s go you dirty nigger, common!”
As the lead man pulled mama down the hall, a feral scream sounded from her mouth, and a tear rolled down my cheek. My brother and I sat there, just sat there, helplessly watching as my mama and papa were dragged from their home, dragged to their death. Once both men left the house, my brother and I came from beneath the floor, and ran out the backdoor into the dark woods that lie behind our house. From the woods, we sat and watched as a body was hoisted into the tree, a rope around it’s neck. There my father hung, his limp body dangling from the tree branch. I burst into tears, the streams of water rolling down my cheeks. My brother too began to cry, and together we held one another. Then, the lead man came from the front porch of our home, still pulling my screaming mother along. Dale, the second man, and another unknown man grabbed her by the shirt and slid a rope around her neck. Another two men stood by the tree, the other side of the rope in their hands, and suddenly, with a quick tug, all four pulled my mother off the ground. Immediately, her body went limp, and she too dangled from the branch, just like my father. It was at that moment that I broke down and passed out, falling backwards into the bush behind me.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of birds chirping, and the sun glistened through the trees. I sat up and looked at my brother who lay sleeping in the grass. Then I looked towards where my mother and father hung, dangling from that tree. As I sat there looking at the gruesome scene, something within me changed. I was no longer innocent. I was no longer naïve. My parents had been taken away from me, and I had been shown the cruelty of the world. At that moment, I realized that what I had seen, and the cruelty my father talked about earlier that night could not happen again. Something had to change. Papa was right, I felt vengeance in my heart, yet no matter how strong my hate, I could not act upon it with violence. I realized what was important, and that was to live my life fighting for what I thought was right, defending the dignity and respect of the whole population, not just my own. “You fight with your words son, not with your fist. That’s the only way to truly accomplish something, and you remember that.”