Saturday, August 3, 2013

Start With A Woman

Start with a woman in a cotton housedress walking away from a house.  Not a remarkable house. A house like every other on the street: concrete block, no insulation, jalousied windows, a brief green lawn, the ratcheting sprinkler dousing it, children running through. A day so hot the tarry street is melting and gooey, shiny as mirage.

That woman. Her name? Flora Lee. Flora Lee Haynes. Her house?  Somewhere far down the city bus-line, waiting – as always – for her return. Children to feed. Laundry to scrub in the wash tub at night. Cracked sidewalks. No grass, the only ratcheting there the ratcheting of her life between that house and its obligations and our house and its obligations.  One of which was me.

Or maybe that house wasn't real.  The children were. I'm certain of that. And the obligations.  Why else would she travel so far on a bus before dawn each weekday morning for such small pay and a bus ticket? Why walk the three hot blocks to our door and back to the bus-stop each evening? 

Nigger maid.

That's what she heard as she walked, smiling, through the children on our block.  Children. By that, I mean Billy Kurtz.  And his younger brother.  Tough Catholic boys in a working-class Baptist neighborhood where everyone was equal in poverty, in the land of opportunity-that-passes-our parents-by.  

And what of the girl I was then, girl who loved her and the fresh-detergent smell of her, girl who stood in the doorway each evening when she left and watched her go, smiling, up the block towards the neighborhood bullies, girl who never uttered one word to them on her behalf.

Not. One. Word.