everything in black and white

Morgan Way was a dead end.  The street led to a chain-link fence with a hole in it which opened to a cemetery.  Teenagers would crawl through the opening with six packs and each other to learn about life and play among the dead.  There were two buildings at the end of this street, one of them was an abandoned apartment building with a vacant lot overgrown with ragweed and sumac trees, waiting to be condemned.  The other was a narrow three story tar paper-peeling home with a yard as big as itself and a front porch facing the alley which led to the cemetery.  Some people swore that the house was haunted.  It stood forgotten and alone.  The Civil Rights Movement had ended twenty-five years earlier, and the community of Morgan Way was mixed, but still segregated.  The last inhabitants of the house were a family of four; a white woman and her three bi-racial bastard children whom the nosy neighbors clucked their tongues about, an unspoken example of unacceptability.  The woman kept a beautiful garden with hedges grown high and kept properly trimmed.  Sometimes, it was noted with admiration that no matter how cold the winters might have gotten, there was always fresh laundry blowing on the clothes line.  Her children were happy, healthy and clean, just different.  As the family had no car and the children were all quite young they were frequently seen about as a unit, like a mother duck with her chicks trailing after her.  It was on such an occasion that the incident occurred, when they returned from church one Sunday morning and walked down a quiet, tree-shaded street.  Sunlight streaming through the leaves and shadows bobbing on the asphalt while the air stood thick with the reminder of morning rain, the smell of honeysuckle, and the promise of summer.  The children, relieved of their religious duties for the week, ran and played “tag you’re it” while laughing and frolicking  in the warm, sweet air without a care in the world as only children can.  Their mother walked at an even pace mulling over the sermon and giving slight consideration to Sunday dinner preparations, but more than anything she was looking forward to an afternoon nap.  There was a loud crack in the air, like the snapping of a large tree branch.  “Nigger Lover!”  Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!  The woman grabbed her right shoulder and quickened her pace, loudly admonishing her children to “come along.”  Startled at the sudden change in her disposition, they looked away from their play and quickly fell into place without argument.  Their mother’s face was taught; pursed lips, freckles blanched, her grey eyes dark and clouded.  She gripped her shoulder with blue-white knuckles.  Within minutes they were home.  After a firm insistence to “get in the house” the door was shut behind them with such a force that a few chips of paint lost their grip, and fluttered to the floor.  The air inside was hot and still.  Three children sat in silence.  Unanswered questions lay deep, in wide brown eyes.  Finally the oldest went to the bathroom where she found her mother.  She stood in front of the sink, with her body twisted so that her back was facing the mirror.  Her dress was down over one shoulder.  With a pair of tweezers she dug into her own white flesh, welted and red.  Flinching and cursing, she removed a small black pellet.  “Goddam racist neighbors and their Goddamn BB guns.”  The sharp hollow echo of lead on plastic clunked into the trash can.   Later that day with band-aids visible on her shoulder, she scooped out spaghetti and meat sauce on Corelle plates as the family sat for dinner.  A small, innocent, child voice asked “mommy whatsa niggerlover?” and she told the children not to take that street any more.  Nothing was ever the same again after that.


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