From trouble and pain, happiness blooms.
December 23, 2014
A VG Serial: Where It Ended
Chapter 12 – 3
I set there for a while, unable to take it all in. Then tenderly, like I be touching a baby, I stroke each page. Then I raise the book to my nose an smells the ink. I rub the thick rough paper with its soft ruffled edges, listen to them rustle as I turn ’em. I touch the page numbers an swirl my fingertip in a lil’ circle round them, an then stare at the tiny mark—don know what it is—at the top of each page. I lift the paper cover off an flatten my rough hand on the hard cloth-like outside of the book. It be dark green like forest moss. I admire how nice it look next to my black skin. An as I fold the paper cover back over it, I see what I miss afo’. That picture, that picture on that cover that the whole world be looking at, that picture be Bigger’s Crossroads, an Mr. Mockingbird be setting on the telephone lines like he always do.
Tears well up in my eyes, not from sorrow, not from joy, but from wonder.
Who’d imagine it could all come to this?
Then, you guessed it, I start looking for story six. When I finds it, there be more handwriting at the top of the page just above “Black Be Beautiful.” It say:
There would never be enough I could do that would properly thank you for caring for me, loving me, saving my life. I don’t know if I’m able enough yet as a writer to do you justice, for you are in a class of your own, but here is my best.
Then the story start an I read the first paragraph.
“You could have easily missed her, especially at a time in American history when blacks were talked about as an entity, not as individuals, not as flesh and blood fathers struggling to care for families, or tender-hearted mamas who loved their children with a passion the white gentry wouldn’t have known even in the sweltering tussle of a brothel bed. But for whatever god-blessed reason, I didn’t miss her, this lady who took on the age, the times and the traumas of them, by loving it all without distinction and without end.”
I couldn’t move. Could this be really happening? I glance up to see where I am. I pinch myself to make sure I not nod off an be dreaming. But then this wouldn’t be my dream, fo’ I truly never think ’bout who I am or how I be. I think only ’bout if’n I’m doing right. If my mama would be smiling at me. But it look like a few more people than juss her be smiling at me too.
I carefully close the book. That be enough reading for my sorry eyes right now. Besides, I needs to be back at work. I carefully wrap the book back up an put it in my purse, pick up my shopping bags, an walk back toward where the Suttons live, thinking all the while how truly strange an wondrous life be.
When I git home that evening, I show the book to Mr. Ware an he juss smile. He flip through the pages an stop suddenly. I watch him pull an envelope out near the back of the book. I thought I be all the way through it but I surely miss that. He hand it to me, an I see it be a letter from Judd. I go git my mama’s old reading glasses an set me down near the table lamp. Mr. Ware he set cross the room which ain’t far away in our lil’ house. I open the envelope an take the pages out. I flatten them out on the table next to me an start to read.
Dear Miss Imogene,
It’s been fifteen years now since I’ve seen your sweet smile or brushed the red dust of Mississippi off my pant legs. I am so sorry I never said goodbye, though I knew you knew it was in my hug that last time we parted. Crazy as it sounds, leaving wasn’t easy, for I have always loved Mississippi. It wasn’t the land’s fault that such ugliness possessed it.
When I finally left, I drove to Memphis and caught a plane to Holland. I worked there in plant research and fell quite in love with the open-heartedness of the Dutch people and their fields, like our corn or cotton, but filled with flowers. It was there I started to write, but it was still too painful to write about home, so I wrote stories for children, stories about flower people who look after the children who play among them or come to hide in them in their hurt and pain.
I started to love writing, and a Dutch friend told me to go to Paris, get involved with the writing community there and learn. I did, and wonder of wonders, I sold my first book after several years there. Paris felt like the home I’d always been seeking, so I settled in writing my children’s books and texts on horticulture.
It took ten years away from Mississippi before I was able to begin the stories you are reading now. It took me three years to write them, for sometimes the pain from the memories was more than I could bear. Even then, thinking about you, and what you’d do helped me through. The world now knows my home, its beauty, its black people, its white people, its ugliness, its history and its dusty red earth. And from its book sales, it appears it’s something they too wanted to know.
One night, when I was struggling, I decided to go to the American Bar and Grill, a place ex-pats visit liberally. I wanted an American beer and some American blues and jazz. I wanted to lick my wounds and hear the twang of American English. I sat in a dark corner near the back of the room staring into my glass, trying not to think at all. I didn’t look up when someone tapped the microphone and a bass guitar began to set the rhythm. Not until the singer’s voice poured out over us akin to oil on water did I look at her. I rubbed my eyes thinking perhaps I’d gotten drunk a bit earlier than usual. Then I didn’t even have to look again, I just listened.
In behind her husky silken voice rushed a lifetime of memories. The willowy, pale blue-eyed white-blond sister, this raven-haired younger sister with eyes so dark a gypsy could get lost in them. Sweet, tenuous and haunting memories. I hadn’t wanted to go there, and ironically I didn’t have to. Frankie came to me. Frankie was there in the room, singing like she did when we were kids, only now she wasn’t singing songs. She was a storyteller, singing her stinging memories, her defeats, singing for her life and ours as she filled the room with a sound so soulful that pied piper like she trailed the pain away for us all.
When she took her break, I walked up front and stared at her. She turned and saw me. I waited not knowing what to do next. She walked across the small stage, slipped her arms around me and hugged herself tightly to me. I lay my head in her strawberry-scented hair, and we stayed that way for some time. Later she came back to my table and our affair began.
I have no regrets. I knew she would leave in the end. She had this strange notion that if she ever became truly happy she’d not be able to sing the blues, and seeing what happened to her sister when she lost dance, Frankie was unwilling to experience that as well. She lives in France, Miss Imogene. She sees Peter Sokolov when he comes through as they had been friends since the New York Christmases the three of them spent together. Peter never married and retired from dancing several years ago. He now runs his own dance company and lives in London. He was the one who came and got Frankie when drugs and alcohol owned her. That’s why Katie couldn’t locate her. He took her to Europe and put her in a first class treatment center.
It amazes me how life continues to circle back on itself. What I wonder is if it ever truly moves ahead, or dog-like we merely chase our tails while moving in even larger circles to keep from falling over.
I want to ask about Katie, but I am afraid to. I trust you, Mr. Ware and all your children are well and happy. I can’t imagine how it could be otherwise with the likes of all of you.
A day never goes by that I don’t bring you to mind, one way or another. You are my muse, the mother I never had, and the friend I’ll love forever. Enjoy my stories. I wrote them for you.
Mr. Ware an I both have heavy eyes but light hearts by the time I get to the end of the letter. I a slow reader, still sounding out certain words. But what a joy to hear about Frankie an Peter as well as Judd. Mine a big family, an they never gonna be lost to me agin.
“Honey child,” say Mr. Ware, “it time to go to bed. You got lots of sweet to dream on.”
“Can you imagine, my dear Mr. Ware, that things work out this well. From all the trouble an pain, this happiness bloom? If only I could git to Miss Katie. If’n only I could bring her back into the circle, then my heart be at peace.”
“Trust me, baby, trust me. That gonna happen. You juss be my patient girl. An watch what wonders still in store fo’ you.”
“How you know that, Mr. Ware?”
“How do we know anything? You tell me.”
I smile at him an reach out to take his hand he offering. As we head to bed, I juss say, “I hear ya.” Then I laugh softly. He bring such joy to my heart.
Episodes of Where It Ended by Christina Carson will be published every Tuesday.