I. Isaiah’s home
Isaiah Baptiste was considered a man of good faith among our Cartersville Baptist congregation. According to our church pastor, Mortimer Creedy, there was no other Christian more worthy of being spared by the terrible floods that occurred in Georgia between September 15th and 23rd during the year of 2009. In fact, within his Sunday morning sermon the day after the rains, Pastor Creedy revealed that God had freed Isaiah from any flood damages on his property due to his steadfast service to earth water conservation. Of course, the Bartow County people believed Pastor Creedy’s words to be true. Before the locals knew Isaiah to be a man of good faith, he first became popular for being the man who collected the rainwater in large tin tubs which he placed all over his property. These tin basins were shiny silver, favoring summer solstice cauldrons. It would look like the little do-gooder was conjuring something up. Folks would say Isaiah Baptiste collected rainwater to hydrate his prize-winning cucumbers. I can’t remember a year when he didn’t win a blue ribbon for his crop of cukes at the Acworth Spring Festival. Even Mary Humblesmith, his widowed neighbor, would make a big deal of them damn cukes by weaving a special basket for them each year full knowing they would be photographed by community newspapers upon receiving their blue ribbon. But long before it was acquired and adequately restored by Isaiah Baptiste, the home and land belonged to nearly four generations of Mickens clan. I am Toby Mickens. Isaiah’s home was the house I grew up in as a boy with PawPaw, Mama, and my sister, Virginia. Our winter’s white Antebellum colonial sat on 62 green acres. Due to its secluded location in the hardwoods bordering Lake Allatoona, this magnificent edifice escaped the fiery fate of Sherman’s forces that so many of the other grand old plantation homes endured. It wasn’t ours anymore. We lost it. Yet, I still watched over it often. Most afternoons, I’d pass by the Baptiste home while riding in my Paw Paw’s dusty, fire-engine red Chevy. Some days, I peeked in on the Baptiste’s ongoings without ever being seen. And many times, I would take sleuth strolls onto their land making my way to the abandoned shed to sit for hours on end.
Isaiah Baptiste also married very well, according to many in our congregation. Patience was his wife’s name; a faintly aloof, yet striking belle from Savannah. She met Isaiah at the Young Christian Leadership Conference there in the spring of 2000. They were both in their twenty’s then. However, Patience was on the younger side. Her chestnut eyes, her kaolin white skin, and regal cheek bones… reminded you of an old Hollywood glamazon like Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor. Imagine those divas dressed in long-sleeved, high-collared, pastel-colored blouses fit for clandestine secretaries; and ankle length, pleated skirts fit for tragic spinsters. Patience’s healthy black mane was usually severely domesticated in a perfect chignon raised strategically above her neck to expose her grandmother’s wedding pearls hugging her sumptuous nape. This was Patience Baptiste. A Buddy Holly glasses wearing woman, who read to her husband at the beginning and end of each day, stories of Jesus and his disciples; because she knew it pleased him. Many considered her a woman of good faith.
Now on the day of the last rain storm, the flooding was brutal. Five people died and our church was demolished. Three of their corpses washed away on the grounds while bumping into the dozens of fallen 100-year-old magnolias that lay in our streets and across our front lawns. Out of a congregation of 73 members, 36 of them had lost their homes and were desperately waiting on any aid that they could find. President Obama, God bless him, declared a state of emergency; and FEMA eventually came to our rescue in their own sweet time.
Isaiah, being the good Christian he was, volunteered to assist those in need. He and Patience made fifty peanut butter sandwiches and placed them in a green tote by the front door. In his barn, Isaiah had stored over fifty 10-gallon jugs of his rainwater; in case Georgia had another drought. However, he knew the rainwater would serve his fellow towns people better during this natural disaster; since many of them were without drinking water.
Pastor Creedy had called Isaiah before dawn and informed him that there would be a resource shed set up near the Sanderson’s pig farm which about 5 miles up the road. He asked Isaiah to manage that station all day by leading volunteers to assist with food and water distribution. Isaiah accepted this task without hesitation. Before he left he kissed Patience on her forehead and looked upon her angelic face. She placed her hand on his chest and lightly stroked him with her fingertips slowly upwards then downwards. “I’m so lucky to have such a giving husband,” she whispered and gave him a dry, protracted kiss on the side of his neck. Isaiah stepped away slightly and gave her the nervously sheepish grin of a school boy. “I’m just doing what I know others would do for me, he said to her with an uneasy wink. He strapped up one of his 10 gallon jugs filled with rainwater to a rigged external frame taken from his backpack; supported by bungee cords and four leather belts. Due to the flooding on the roads, he knew that he couldn’t take his truck so he would have to sacrifice his back.
Patience stood by the window and gazed back at her husband’s last traditional wave by their tainted eggshell colored mailbox. She waved back eagerly waiting for him to turn on to the main road.
The morning sky was muddled; mirroring murky images inside the tins of water resting in the front lawn. The captured rainwater inside those silver basins became dozens of portable projector screens reporting the events of its temperamental environment; reflecting black crows on the Baptiste rooftop.
Patience immediately started her cleaning. The Baptiste home was quite substantial so every chore needed a considerable amount of attention. Though, Patience didn’t really have the time on that particular day. She just wanted to perform a quick “once over” cleaning to the main parts of the house that were always seen by company; dusting and Windexing the living room, sweeping the porch, and scrubbing the bathroom floor special mixture of lavender oil, baking soda, and a bit of white vinegar. Patience opened all windows and burned a small bushel dried sage to cleanse the air in each room. She lit five candles and placed them on the living room table next to her silver tray which held hot, Earl Gray in its dainty matching tea pot; as well as, two ivory saucers, two ivory cups, and two tiny ivory bowls containing raw sugar and coconut milk. Finally, in the center of the table, she placed a platinum platter of cucumber sandwiches made with cukes, gruyere cheese, Brandywine tomatoes, and thinly sliced basil.
After she primed the intended areas, Patience looked down upon her house dress. It had become soiled from dusting and wet from scrubbing… as were her arms and feet. In the hallway, she took off her dirty, yellow dress and walked naked to the hamper near the bathroom door and dropped it in. She walked into her bathroom. Grabbing three towels from the linen closet, she laid one on the clean, pink and black tiled floor. Patience walked upon it and placed one towel on the closed toilet seat. The other towel she wrapped over hair like a turban. Patience pulled back the charcoal and buttermilk checkered shower curtain to unveil their grand claw foot tub that sat next to a large open window. The clement breeze scurried past her nipples and moved up and around her navel. She filled the tub with hot water, sprinkling in some jasmine bath salts that Isaiah bought for her last Valentine’s Day. As her gaze lifted out of the bathroom window, she spied a male figure in a dark hat and baggy clothes, passing the mailbox walking up the driveway. Patience adjusted the towel on her head and stepped into the heated bath. The front door was unlocked… so there was no need to rise. All of the lights in the house were turned off; however, the candles created a suitable daytime vigil for the guest who let himself into the Baptiste home with ease taking off his hat, trench, and boots before entering into the living room. It was Pastor Creedy.
He had brought a crystal vase of flowers this time. The good pastor had heard in a movie once that the gift of lilies translated as, “I dare you to love me.” Creedy was quite proud of his choice of flora given the occasion. As he placed the vase on the chestnut coffee table, Creedy glanced at the candle lit display of delish delectables that Patience so handsomely arranged. He smiled, and as he did, he inhaled a whiff of moist jasmine in the air. The open windows allowed the breeze to transport the calming aroma all around the house. The scent became potent with each step, as Creedy strolled with ease towards the bathroom. “I left a clean towel out for you… I think a hot bath is just what you need after a walk in the rain, Pastor,” Patience offered sweetly from the tub. She continued to speak while she massaged herself in places that were covered by the bubbles, luring Creedy closer to the tub with each stroke she took. “I think today I will just watch you enjoy the water, if you don’t mind,” said Creedy, drinking in Patience’s persistent gaze. Patience playfully pouted and folded her arms underneath her naked breasts. She arched her back with calculated poise. “Oh, but I sooooo do mind,” she responded. “It’s been almost two weeks since your last visit so you have some making up to do with me, good Pastor,” Patience teased. Precipitously, she stood straight up in the tub exposing her naked wet skin. Loosening his tie, Creepy smiled. He moved the extra towel from the toilet seat to the countertop next to the sink. Creedy took a seat on top of the closed toilet. He shifted his legs near the edge of the tub. Staying in the tub, Patience moved toward Creedy’s feet. She took his shoes off, and then his socks. Finally, Patience unwrapped the towel turban from her head. Slowly and without breaking eye contact with her guest, she released the long metallic hair pins one by one from the bun on her head. Creedy had always loved watching her. Patience knew this. Patience had always loved pleasing him. With all her might, for she was quite the skinny woman, Patience lifted up his hairy, sweaty feet and placed them inside the perfectly warmed ambrosial bath alongside her submerged thighs. Creedy’s head tilted back and his eyes closed, marinating on the moment’s bliss. His whole body became warm, relaxed, and revived. As Patience’s fingers captured the last hair pin, she shifted her head forward and her let her splendid onyx mane fall. Her jet-black tresses completely covered Creedy’s ankles and feet in the bathwater. With her right hand, and keeping her head and gaze lowered, she grabbed the jasmine bar soap and lathered her mane in the water. Patience clutched her sudsy mop of hair and used it as one would a sponge to clean Creedy’s tired feet. He moaned with each stroke. He held his head back. His eyes still closed shut. She washed his feet and toes with intention. Each stroke unlocked a new sensation in Patience’s guest. His member hardened. Creedy felt like a junior varsity baller again watching the varsity cheerleaders practice for the homecoming parade. And as she washed his feet, Creedy could feel the heat from her hot breath. When he opened his eyes to catch a glance at her, it excited him to know that she was systematically engaged in this sacred act. Patience never lifted her gaze from his feet once, allowing them to be worshipped like a saint. “He was her king,” Creedy thought to himself. He closed his eyes yet again. When she finished washing his feet and placed them in the tub next to her. Patience unplugged the bath drain. She turned the faucet on, and gave her hair a thorough washing with her jasmine shampoo. And let the warm water rinse off all of the soap and remnants from her magnificent mane. Finally, Patience grabbed the towel that had been her turban, and dried off Creedy’s pampered feet. When he finally opened his eyes, his socks and shoes were already on.
II. Corn whiskey
Folks used to say PawPaw lost our home because the Gillian Kaolin Company went bankrupt. He along with many others in our family mined kaolin for over 20 years. Next to cotton, kaolin was considered the “white gold” of the south. However, between you and me, the closing of the kaolin company was not the real reason PawPaw lost his job. In fact, I think it was my PawPaw that started that rumor in the first place. Mama and I knew better. It was the gambling. It was the corn whiskey from Kentucky. When drunk, PawPaw was meaner than a copperhead caught in a haystack. Corn whiskey was his oldest friend. They went steady. It made him do the unspeakables. Like the time my sister, Virginia, came home and told us she was 4 months pregnant. She was barley 15. She had hidden that baby from everyone because she was scared of what PawPaw would do. I remember we were all sitting in the living room eating TV dinners watching HeeHaw on the boobtube. Virginia walked right in front of us: me, PawPaw, and mama. Virginia’s freckled face was stained with tears and her usually well-groomed auburn sun-bursted curls collapsed lifelessly in a messy ponytail. “You ain’t gonna like what I have to say,” Virginia said nervously. She continued, “But I think that if you give me a chance to explain things…” but PawPaw impatiently interrupted with, “No ma’am, who the hell you think you are? Coming in my house… calling a fucking family meeting in the middle of HeeHaw,” he shouted angrily, slamming a fresh Bud on the table knocking over his Mickey Mouse ashtray filled with the butts of Newport lights. The stale ash lingered in the air. It carried over in my direction. I sneezed twice. Mama dropped to her knees to clean up the mess. As she did, Mama peeked over at my nervous sister. Virginia forced down a timorous gulp. Her dappled palms were sweaty. She wiped them quickly using the sides of the dandelion house skirt she wore on our Sunday walks in the park. Virginia would always take me to the park after church. We would run silly until Mama called us in for supper. Whenever we played our ridiculously speedy game of ring-around-the-rosy, Virginia’s dandelion skirt twirled like an old merry-go-round’s last run of the summer. That unfortunate day, she grabbed a hold of the sides of her skirt with the last bit of courage she had and said, “Well, you see, me and Solomon are gonna have a baby. I will be 5 months pregnant tomorrow. We love each other and we gonna raise this here baby together,” as Virginia said these words she rubbed over her then noticeable belly with both hands. She wasn’t the smartest of girls. In fact, she had been in special classes for most of her life. But it didn’t matter, because sweet Virginia was one of the prettiest things in our town. Sweet and pretty, a rare jewel. Mama called her ginger girl. “And Toby is my lion boy, he protects us all,” she would say while gazing at me without a smile or a blink.
That day, I remember the love Virginia had in her eyes when she rubbed on her pregnant tummy. I remember the way her salty tears finally pushed through. How those tears ran freely to create moist spots on the slightly exaggerated collar of her pilgrim’s blouse. “You ain’t gonna have no baby with no nigger kaolin miner,” PawPaw threatened while spitting out at Mama. His tone was cold. Me and Mama froze. He stood up tall. PawPaw pointed his crooked left index finger in Virginia’s direction planting his signature soiled grin for all of us to see. Then, he eased out of the living room with his checkered Nascar bib still dangling around his neck. He began singing that damn Dixie song with obvious tension. “Oh, I wish I lived in the land of cotton, ole times there are not forgotten, look away, look away, look away Dixie land,” PawPaw repeated almost sweetly, as he strolled out the house straight to his shed. Virginia let out awful shrill with her hands covering her eyes. Mama tried to console her as best as she could by putting her arms around her and rocking her back and forth ever so gently. “There, there, my ginger girl, there, there,” she whispered soothingly. Mama told her that it was OK and that we would all work it out. But Virginia and me knew better. Mama never had no control over things in our house. PawPaw was the law. We all knew that. I stayed in the corner hiding behind my GI-Joe army base. When I saw what PawPaw came back with, I dropped my eyes to the ground. I silently sobbed. He had fetched his good switch. Not the gardenia bush one… the braided one, made from the magnolia that ended up being chopped up to make his shed. I was only 9 years old when this incident occurred but I remember like it was yesterday. PawPaw’s good switch was the devil. Anytime, he drank he would do so in the shed. It was where he stored his rifles and knives from the war. PawPaw kept his whiskey on the top shelf displayed like a dusty trophy at the dollar store. He kept the good switch on the bottom shelf against the wooden clock that he got from a garage sale in Brunswick. It had eyes that clock. And I swear my PawPaw started getting meaner ever since that clock came into our lives. Now and again, he rubbed it like a genie when he would drink his corn whiskey. The night before Virginia announced her pregnancy I peeked in at him and watched him speak to the monkey in that clock.
III. The bathroom window
Isaiah watched his wife from the window. He could recognize Patience’s signature silhouette anywhere. Watching her from a distance was his most succulent practice. And their union was the holiest manifestation of his life. Especially when Patience, entertained the company of the chosen men. As the rain beat harder, his hungry eyes squinted behaving closely to the shifting lens of a photographer’s camera. Following her busy shadow through the rain, he still tasted the sweat that always seemed to gather upon the top of his lip. Salty and sweet, this particular sweat was a gift… a savory promise of premeditated rewards. When Isaiah spotted the second silhouette with Patience in the bathroom, he knew it was time. Isaiah leaned against the fecund bush facing the bathroom window. The reliable bush cradled him and kept him invisible while he eagerly pulled down the copper zipper of his soused denim dungarees. “God-fearing gentlemen don’t pull their johnsons out to meet the outside air,” he thought quickly to himself. Men like him kept his business hidden. Untouched. He was a man of good faith. Isaiah believed the act of unzipping gave him enough release to seize his moment.
As Patience began to wash the feet of their invited guest with her charcoal mane, Isaiah opened his mouth widely and silently unleashed a verse from one of his beloved Song of Songs:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savor of thy ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth,
therefore do the virgins love thee. Draw me, we will run after thee:
the King hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee,
we will remember thy love more than wine….”
Isaiah closed this verse with an Amen, Amen, and a let it be done. His last Amen was said with his head facing towards the red soil. The bloody soil as one man from his town had once called it. His Patience always encouraged him to watch her with their chosen men. They had a special understanding. An arrangement made in private, by dutiful lovers who practiced good faith while spreading holy counsel.
As Isaiah finally reached the flood resource shed, he gazed down at his yellow rain boots smothered in red soil. His socks were soaked. However, Isaiah was relieved that he took the good Pastor Creedy’s advice when he suggested that he brought extra pairs of socks and shoes that would be nice and dry after his 5-mile trek from the house. The storm and flooding had really done a number on the town this time. And as rain continued to fall, Isaiah passed by the lawns of his Christian neighbors finding many of their houses damaged. When Isaiah arrived to the resource shed, Solomon Holloway was directing a FEMA truck towards the houses closest to Lake Allatoona where the flooding worsened. The lines of families had already begun. There were 24 people standing single-filed from a checkpoint that Solomon had setup earlier. Isaiah watched Solomon from a distance. He always thought that Solomon was quite a statuesque being… and he was right. Solomon looked as if he was the template of African gods.
His skin was deep chestnut and it beamed against the light effortlessly. Solomon was a sixty-something gentleman complete with silvery afro tendrils that hung in a blanket of ringlets just grazing the tips his broad shoulders. His full black beard held speckles of grey and was immaculately well-groomed.
Folks said he was Geechee but they didn’t hold him to it since he was a retired Emory professor and his manner of speaking was better than most of the whites in town. New York, they would argue. “Solomon must be from New York City,” the country whites with money would say while sipping on their bourbons.
Isaiah Baptiste was a bit envious that Solomon could wear his African linage like knight’s armor. same African blood ran through Isaiah’s veins as well but no one could ever tell. His great-grandmother was Haitian. Patience advised him to not tell anyone when she first found out. She was almost devastated about the news. And she had already accepted a large sum of money from Isaiah to pay off her adopted family’s home before the wedding. Patience assumed his people all migrated from some French countryside. She adamantly explained to him,” Isaiah, this is ‘family business’ and we need to keep this personal information to ourselves for the betterment of our lifestyle here in rural Georgia.” Since Patience always knew best, Isaiah followed her instructions like a good husband. Several years after they married, Isaiah was organizing some old documents and discovered that Patience’s biological father was a wealthy African merchant from Martinique… but she would go to her grave before she would let that cat out of the bag to anyone.
As Isaiah walked through the clusters of distraught faces, gestured toward Solomon when their eyes finally met through the crowd of folks in line. “Come on up, Isaiah,” Solomon yelled through the chaos. Isaiah raised his right thumb up in acknowledgement and headed his direction. Along the way, he passed crying townsfolk with clothes soaked with water. Little Tammy Anne Fleming, who was 5 years old at the time, had been looking for her mother in the crowd. Isaiah could see that she had a small gash on the right side of her head that was bleeding a bit. Tammy Anne’s usual bright blue eyes were bloodshot from devastation and fatigue. Her blotched cheeks were stained with old tears. Her nightclothes were still on and were smudged with red mud. Her feet were bare. “Come with me Tammy Anne,” Isaiah said reaching out his hand to her softly. But the mussy-pig-tailed Tammy Anne, just ran off in a somber daze disappearing into the rest of the crowd. When Isaiah finally reached Solomon, he smiled at him widely. Solomon shook his hand in relief. “I am so glad to see you, brother,” Solomon said. He continued, “You are safe, praise God. Is Patience here? If so, Fatima could use some help distributing food at our house. We have can and dry foods stocked up in our garage,” said Solomon. “Patience stayed home actually. I wasn’t sure how the roads would be… so she is holding down the fort,” Isaiah said, as he finally took his large backpack off his back. He let out an enormous sigh of relief for his aching back. “You came right on time, I was on my way to organize a team to come with me to Acworth Elementary to send up more supplies for those in town who are without shelter. About 40 of our members have lost everything. “Did you lose power last night,” said Solomon. “The lights flickered in and out a bit but nothing major… plus, we have a generator just in case,” Isaiah admitted. Solomon shook his head in approval. “It is such a privilege to able to have the money to keep our families safe, isn’t it? We need to be counting our blessings, my friend,” said Solomon looking at Isaiah deep into his hazel eyes. And the blushed Isaiah lowered his gaze a bit nervously.
Leaving the church volunteers and FEMA reps to manage the resource shed, Solomon and Isaiah hiked the muddy hills of Bartow Carver Road to Solomon’s house then onward to Acworth Elementary school. Solomon carried Isaiah’s water since he seemed a bit weary from the hike up from his house. As they approached Solomon’s house, they could see Fatima making some kind of announcement to the families to keep the order. “Please we must maintain our composures and remain in line,” she said, in a no-nonsense tone laced with just the right amount of sweetness. Fatima was the fairest of them all. Her skin was bittersweet brown. She was a well-known photo-journalist from New York. Her prominent family was one of the first to own a beach house in Sag Harbor. Fatima met Solomon at summer lecture at Emory twenty years ago, facilitated by activist and poet, Amiri Baraka. The lecture was held in the immaculate Glen Auditorium, a great sanctuary that Emory shared with the good folks of the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Solomon was in his early forty’s then and Fatima was on the younger side of of thirty. Fatima caught his eye when Solomon noticed the dreadlocked empress leaning over the front pew of the auditorium attempting to grab a fallen notebook that fell to the ground. The sound of her composition notebook hitting the Glenn Auditorium floor left a resounding boom activating the impressive acoustics within the large space. Fatima was up front and Solomon was about two rows back. Rather than let a braver man have the opportunity of retrieving this important artifact of this gazelle like creature, Solomon jumped out of his seat. With a steady pace, he strolled down the indigo carpet in the middle of the grand auditorium to pick up her notebook. He watched amusingly as Fatima tried to stretch her short yet athletic arms towards the floor to retrieve it. Her massive honey-colored mane fell forward against her cheeks; and they were so long they almost touched the floor. Solomon could smell a whiff of her black coconut oil mixed with a touch of myrrh as he approached her. It was as if Fatima had cast a spell upon him that day. After he rescued her notebook, he assisted her clumsily back in her seat. And Isaiah secretly vowed to never leave this stranger’s side. “He would have to know her,” he thought to himself. Either as a friend, lover, or just a fellow community builder… Solomon knew that he just needed a reason to know her.
V. The Lion boy
The night before Virginia told us about the pregnancy, PawPaw spent the night in his shed. He had just bought a new case of corn whiskey from cousin Earl. The shed was much bigger than most sheds around town. It was the size of a small house. PawPaw even built a matching out-house and outdoor shower with the leftover wood. It was a dark magnolia wood but PawPaw put a cherry stain on it so when the sunlight shown its red hues glimmered. His shed was the perfect man cave. It was complete with a rickety beige lazy boy that sat upon Grandpappy’s black bear rug. When PawPaw was a boy, he helped skin that black bear while camping out on the Appalachian Trail. And while he was in the shed the night before Virginia told us her baby news, PawPaw rested in that rickety lazy-boy with his corn liquor in one hand and a NASCAR shot glass in the other. He sat drinking and pouring for hours underneath the bronze Shoney’s restaurant chandler that he salvaged from a junkyard in Darien. PawPaw rested with bare zombie-white feet snuggled beneath the fur of the black bear waiting on sleep to eventually step in as usual.
Most evenings Mama reminded, “after dinner I want you to set your clock and wake up before midnight to check on your PawPaw. You are the lion boy, and it is your job to protect the family, Toby dear.” So, that night I followed her instructions. I spied on PawPaw from outside of the shed. I remained hidden and peeked inside using the help of a loose board that I rigged a while back. PawPaw used to fall asleep smoking so Mama had me take turns with her most nights to put his cigarette out. On that particular evening, before PawPaw drifted off, he started whispering to himself. Then I saw him turn towards the clock. It was in the shape of a house… the kind of spooky home kids would never visit. It seemed to have been made from a wide-trunked tree that I’m sure lived a long life before it was chopped down. This house clock had four creepy windows that seemed to serve as its eyes, nose, and mouth. PawPaw told me and Virginia once that the clock’s numbers were roman. Every even hour, all of the closed shutters of the wooden clock would open and a tiny furry toy monkey dressed in a polished blue suit with gilded trimmings along the seams would come out with shifty eyes. This monkey posed with one hand nestled in his jacket at its heart. The other hand held a small decorative sword that rested at its side. Upon its head, it wore a miniature hat, a charcoal bicorne to be exact, made of the finest velvet. And on that night of drinking, after the clock struck 12am, the monkey came out of the mouth of that clock and rested on its wooden porch. And I saw PawPaw immediately turned his head toward the monkey as if it had called out his name. He began speaking directly to it in some kind of gibberish that I didn’t understand. But whatever he was talking about made him angrier and angrier. After about an hour of him speaking to that clock, PawPaw got tired and popped another cigarette in his mouth. He fell asleep before he could finish his smoke. He started snoring loudly. I creeped inside put his lit cigarette out. And I took one look at the clock and saw its eyes shift. As the clock struck 1am, the fancy toy monkey creeped its fuzzy feet back with three mechanical steps into his house with the olive window shutters shutting silently in front of him.
VI. Dinner guests
After Pastor Creedy left, Patience placed smartly seasoned oxtails in her crockpot and allowed them to slowly cook throughout the day so it would be ready for the evening supper. She also roasted russets with the last of the rosemary salvaged from their storm damaged garden. Although it was only her and Isaiah, Patience always cooked enough for six due to being the eldest girl in a family of six. Her daddy left when she was eight so her and her mother worked as a team to feed her four sisters. Isaiah called his wife to make sure she set the table for four. Since they had such a long day of assisting their fellow townspeople in need, Isaiah invited Solomon and Fatima Holloway for dinner to pay thanks for driving him home in their fully-loaded, sienna Land Rover. Isaiah knew the company would be fine with Patience. A visit from the Holloway’s always pleased her. When they pulled in the Baptiste driveway around sundown, Patience came out on their enormous porch and waved happily. She was wearing a simple white linen sundress that blew effortlessly against the early autumn breeze. Her black hair was pulled back in her usual overly style chignon. The 1950’s style black framed glasses that she wore shifted a bit from her nose. Patience gave them a quick push back and gave her lips a quick touchup with the nude lipstick she kept in the pocket of her sundress.
Solomon parked the car in the muddy driveway. When he got out of his vehicle, Solomon walked around to open the passenger side door for Fatima. As he did so, he pointed his left finger at Patience and gave her a quick smile with a perfect wink which made her unexpectedly adjust the pearls around her now slightly sweaty neck. Solomon opened Fatima’s door and attempted to help her down from the truck. But Fatima resisted his assistance and placed one hand on the door handle and the other hand gathered a bit of the bottom of her skirt to protect it from the muddy ground. Solomon remained dutifully by her side, making sure that she didn’t slip on the walk over to the front porch. He loved taking care of her in those ways. It made him feel like a good husband. After tightening his loose shoe laces, Isaiah jumped out the truck with his empty backpack and headed towards the house. “Oh, I love it when Patience comes out and greets me after a long day”, he whispered to himself. When Isaiah walked on his porch, he wrapped his arms around his petite wife and gave Patience a hard-pressed kiss on her dainty cheek. She winced a bit but still kissed him back routinely then swiftly released herself from his embrace so she could greet her guests. The back of her hand gave an unnoticeable wipe to her cheek to remove the remnants of her husband’s juicy peck. Patience watched curiously as Solomon and Fatima walked up with a two-person distance between them. Solomon grabbed Fatima’s hand while they were walking up the steps. Fatima didn’t grip it back. She didn’t resist either. She surrendered to be lead. Patience gazed down out their hands and smiled sweetly. She immediately looked up and kissed both of them on the sides of their cheeks. “It has been too long, Holloways! I hope you are hungry,” she said, holding the house door open for her guests. “Yes, we are starved, are you sure we are not being a bother? Showing up unannounced and all,” Fatima said. “Course not, I know the last thing you are wanting to do is cook tonight after the day you all have had. Come on inside and wash your hands supper is already done,” Patience said. As she let them inside her house, she examined the dress Fatima was wearing wondering where she might have found such fabric to make such a garment. She shook her head in slight disapproval. However, Fatima looked radiant as always in her saffron gown that she had paid way too less for at a street market in Goa while on assignment covering a Diwali festival for the Times. The dress was at least ten years old but it still adorned her chocolate form beautifully. She participated in her first Holi festival in that gown. And every time she wore it Fatima felt grounded, the dress reminded her of the commitment to her yoga, her bhakti, and to herself.
Patience was quite the gourmet, and on this particular evening she let her culinary talents shine brightly with intention. The Baptiste dining table was exquisitely arranged. It was decorated with eight candles. Two for each person. The food was placed in the center of these candles placed inside silver covered dishes that seemed to be expensive heirlooms only to be taken out of Isaiah’s grandmother’s hutch for special occasions. There were four plates and four chairs. One of the plates seemed to be intentionally surrounded by stemless yellow dandelions and the other plates only had one yellow flower to the left of its side. As both couples, stood by the dining table, Fatima stepped toward the seat that had the most dandelions. Patience immediately stopped her and said, “Oh, no dear, I have your seats all ready for your comfort, please sit here”, Patience said as she guided her to a seat with only one flower. Fatima thanked her and sat down at her assigned seat. Patience guided her husband, Isaiah, and lead him to the seat next to Fatima which also held a single dandelion. Isaiah thanked her and kissed her hand softly. Then, Patience walked over to Solomon, took him by the hand, and lead him to the seat that sat with the plate completely surrounded with a small wreath of yellow flowers. Solomon thanked her as well and said, “what a beautiful arrangement, my sister, it is such a blessing to be served with this type of honor.” Patience blushed, then nodded at him and said,” the pleasure is all mine, brother Solomon.” Patience quickly took her seat and took a couple of sips of her wine. Isaiah smiled at his guests and stood up, “let us hold hands and bow our heads in prayer.” Patience took the hands of Isaiah and Solomon and lowered her head to pray. Fatima immediately placed her hands in her lap. She closed her eyes. Everyone bore witness to her actions. Solomon responded by gazing up at her for a bit then shaking his head in shame of his wife. He lowered his head again. Isaiah squeezed the hand of Solomon a little tighter in acknowledgment and continued, “God our Father, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, thank you for your love and favor. Cover this supper with your blood, we pray. And all who shares with us today.” And those at the table with the exception of Fatima, concluded Isaiah’s grace with, “Amen, Amen, Amen, and let it be done.”
VII. Virginia’s gone
After my sister, Virginia, told us about her pregnancy, PawPaw got that look in his eye. Mama and me knew that look well. It was the look a feral cat gave when he spotted a wounded squirrel in its path. And when PawPaw started humming, we all knew Virginia didn’t have a chance. PawPaw hummed and sang Dixie right before our whippings. That’s how we knew it was coming. I guess it helped moved things along. Like when Snow White’s dwarves would go off to work and start singing their Hi-Ho song. Yep, the Dixie song was PawPaw’s work song: “Oh, I wish I lived in the land of cotton, ole times there are not forgotten, look away, look away, look away Dixie land.” PawPaw repeated these words somewhat sweetly, as he strolled out the house straight to his shed. Virginia let out awful shrill with her hands covering her eyes. Mama tried to console her as best as she could by putting her arms around her, rocking her back and forth, ever so gently. “There, there, my ginger girl, there, there,” she whispered soothingly. Mama looked back at me with swollen eyes red from stinging tears. “Toby, don’t you move from the corner, baby. You are my lion boy and you have to stay brave for your Mama, you hear me boy?” I nodded quickly and replied, “yes Mama.” She stroked on Virginia’s hair and looked back again at me one last time, “good boy”, she said attempting to clear her throat to regain some composure. But it didn’t matter. Mama never had no control over things in our house. PawPaw was the law. And we could all smell the corn whiskey on his breath when he came back with the braided switch. It was time for a whipping. “Virginia, get your fat ass on the lawn right his minute,” PawPaw said. Mama let out a shrill that made the back of my neck break out into blotchy hives. She held Virginia close to her bosom. “Now we need to talk about this more civil like, Sir,” she nervously yelled out to PawPaw through the open window. And then Mama began repeating David’s prayer in Psalm 51 over and over again:
“O loving and kind God, have mercy Have pity on me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions. Oh, was me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again….” But Mama’s words had no power. PawPaw was the law. He came inside the house and charged in the living room ripping Virginia from Mama’s grasp. Mama screamed aloud again and started crying hysterically. I peeked out the window. PawPaw dragged my pregnant sister by the hair all the way out on the porch steps. Virginia screamed aloud holding on to her swollen belly, “My baby boy. My baby boy.” PawPaw began whipping her with the braided switch. He held one hand on one of her arms and the older hand on the switch. Whipping her intentionally with a systematic pace void of syncopation. Whipping her while sweat poured like Amicola Falls from his protruding forehead. He beat her with the switch until her screams stopped. Her legs were redden with welts. Many of the yellow dandelions on her ripped skirt were bespattered with blood and dirt. He whipped her on the Mickens’ lawn until her body went limp. Virginia’s hair was mangled. When PawPaw found that she was no longer moving, he stopped whipping her. He laid her down on the ground and then called for me. My heart dropped. “Toby get out here,” PawPaw yelled from the lawn. I got up out of the corner. I passed Mama on the couch and she was swaying back and forth hugging a couch pillow. I stepped over her vomit. She rocked back and forth. Her face was white as a ghost and she was no longer crying. She just kept saying,” my ginger girl, my lion boy… my babies are gone… my ginger girl, my lion boy… my babies are gone….”
I ran out on the house and walked over to PawPaw. I looked down at Virginia. Her eyes were closed and she laid still. “Was she sleeping,” I remembered thinking to myself. Her face was colorless. PawPaw still looked mean as a snake, carrying no remorse he said, “go in my shed and clear out the floor… we gonna dig a hole.” My feet couldn’t move and my gaze was stuck on Virginias motionless body. She was gone, I thought to myself. Mama was right. PawPaw roughly stepped in front of me and gathered a fistful of my shirt collar. He lifted me straight up and put his sweaty forehead on mine. My feet shook in pure fright. “The things that go on at home stay at home, you hear me boy,” he spitted. “Don’t think you gonna tell anybody about this… Virginia just needed to rest is all. She had demons in her. God took her because she sinned the highest of sins and had to be punished. This here is family business, you hear me boy?”, PawPaw threatened. “Yes, sir. Yes, sir what? This here is family business. Good boy, now go in the shed and clear the floor so we can dig ourselves a hole. PawPaw released my shirt and dropped me back down to my feet. Like an obedient son, I did what I was told. I ran into the shed and pushed everything to the side to make space. Moving the black bear rug, PawPaw’s chair, and the monkey clock to the back of the shed. I looked at the time it was 5:45pm. I took out two shovels and placed them in the center of the shed. By the time PawPaw came back carrying Virginia, it was 6pm. The olive shutters of the clock windows opened up and the fancy monkey came out as usual. Its eyes went straight to PawPaw and remained fixed upon his every move. PawPaw looked at me and said, dig boy! and he laid Virginia down on the exposed dirt inside the shed. I dug with the shovel into the rich earth and never looked up. Deeper I dug into that dirt. And didn’t stop digging until PawPaw slapped my back and said that is enough. grab her feet, he told me. I grabbed Virginia’s small feet. Her once perfectly polished toes were blacked from the earth and some of her toe nails were bloodied and scrapped off. It looked like her ankle was broken because of the swelling that had manifested. The baby in her belly was moving. I saw it. I saw it moving as Virginia lay still. PawPaw kept saying that her heart had stopped and that we had to give her a proper burial. As we placed her body in the whole, I felt her foot move and I looked at her chest. She was still breathing. She wasn’t gone. “PawPaw Virginia isn’t gone, she ain’t dead. I felt her foot move”, I pleaded. “Well, if she ain’t gone, she fixing to be… ain’t no seed of mine gonna be having the baby of no nigger kaolin miner. It’s time for her to go,” he snarled. PawPaw continued, “God says punish the sinner so he shall feel the wrath of my fire.” PawPaw picked up the shovel and began putting dirt over my sister. She covered her completely all by himself. I just stood there like a tree rooted in the earth in the middle of a forest fire. I just stood there. “If she wasn’t gone before, she’s gone now,” I thought. When PawPaw was done, he had me move everything back in the head as it was before. Pleased with himself, Paw stood by the door of the shed and took long swigs from his corn whisky watching me closely. I put back down Grandpappy’s black bear rug. I put the lazy boy in its proper place. And I picked up the monkey clock and placed it in its rightful place. And as I did the clock stuck 7pm. I looked down at the fancy monkey and watched him take his steps back inside his home with his eyes fixed on me the entire time.