Monday, 27 October 2014

New Prose: Eyes On the Ground


21st January 1965

“You knew Miss Betsy didn’t you?”
“I did indeed know her yes. We worked together.”
“You didn’t jus know Miss Betsy did you?”
“Once upon a time we were friends.”
“What ended your friendship?”
“Nothing in particular.”
“There must have been something?”
“Betsy stopped being friendly. She didn’t want to talk.”
“Where you angry at Besty?”
“What?”
“Where you angry?”
“About what?”
“Well her abrupt end to the friendliness towards you”
“No why.”
“Because I think you killed Miss Betsy. “
“I didn’t.”
“Well there’s such speculation you did.”
“What about evidence?”
“You are set free for now.”

31st June 1980
On a sultry sunny day in summer I meet DeJohn(I latter learnt his name; will explain how). It was a sweat your skin of day. I’d gone to store to buy lemon drops, a lemonade and a pack of ice. Dreamt of that cool drink but never of such a sweet man. I say men but he was young – as old me probably give or take. I think he may have noticed me but I was never really sure. I wanted to catch his eyes but they never came my way. I as a white woman could look where I wanted, but DeJohn as a black man held no such looking rights, simply because he was a black man and I a white woman. He let me admire his beautiful features – its not like he had a choice. I couldn’t try to get his name there was no chance as he quickly left the store.

I tried to hurry so I could see the direction he went in. Bag into my arms and I tumble onto the hot pavement. The air was hot so hot and sticky on me. I hurried forward. No people where about that day. Maybe it was the heat maybe something else. DeJohn wasn’t outside. I hadn’t hoped for the best but well I thought maybe there would be a chance.

I felt like the heat was melting my skin. After months of working in similar heat I was still not used to it. My mind railed but then my eyes caught him down the road. I didn’t need to see his features to know. He was heading to the farm. Who knew hey? It being such a large place.

But my friend Betsy she knew everyone. Socialised, observed and stalked somewhat you can say that. She worked but she was never fully there as her ears were always pointed listening. Eyes alert seeing people, details & rumours. It was she who told me his name. I really wasn’t sure if we were talking about the same person but she was. The next day she spotted him (loading trucks) with her alert eyes awkward on him not knowing whether to say or move away. Nervous eyes those were. To look or not to look. It was strange.

Of course my inquire raised questions. She was curious so curious that it was untameable. I felt that she would suffocate in her unknowing. After fruitless weeks on end excuse my pun, but her mind hadn’t stopped scheming, for an answer that I wouldn’t provide.

“You like a nigga don’t ya” she blasted
“Why do you call him that”
“That’s what he is. More interested in that fact rather then my conclusion I see.”
“Yes. Yes I’m”
“Well well I didn’t figure you were stupid but turns out you are.”

I was angry through my heart, my hands and my mind. Why was she saying these things? I didn’t understand. There was just no way I could. All of a sudden she’d turned – to prejudice, hatred, malice. She hurt me that day.

After her grand conclusion of my feelings she no longer regarded me in  her friendly, sweet, tender way. It was just her face turned from me and her eyes were cold mirrors that reflected my face. We never had a proper conversation after that. She always hurried like she was being clocked.

1st July
I really don’t know why they make do these entries here. I don’t understand but I’ve got to do them. They say its good to remember. To reflect. I don’t even know what the words I put on the page are but I write.

It was a few days after that I saw DeJohn at the shop again. I realised what the look in her eyes had been; she had though him inferior. I couldn’t let my eyes brim with tears that would make him wonder. I’d heavy supplies at my next visit to the shop, he offered to help me out, when he saw me struggle. A white woman struggle.

“Mam’ let me help you, if you will”

Of course I accepted but I didn’t know if he wanted to help or he felt that he must. I obviously didn’t want him to feel it was his job but but I wanted to know him so I accepted.

Walking on hot pavement. Walking under the lazing sun. Walking home with DeJohn. He held my bag tight as I tried to converse. Eyes following hot pavement cracks. I understood he was afraid to offend me, insult me or embarrass me.

“DeJohn why do you work here?” I’d asked
“So I could save myself some money, buy myself a bundle of books for a good library, and move somewhere Northeast. California maybe”

When I heard about the books I couldn’t control my smile. Once again his eyes were on the pavement looking at dry dirt. I didn’t understand it.

“I love to read” I followed.

No response. When he got to the door he carefully handed me my bag and waved me goodbye.

That night my brain wouldn’t sleep. I kept thinking. It was no puzzle really I understood it. He was afraid to be seen with me. Didn’t want to engage in conversation. It was obvious that he wanted to keep us in our places – he in his and I in mine.

All this writing writing – remembering remembering is making me so tired. I don’t know what its all for. It doesn’t make sense. The nurse says it’s beneficial. But if I feel it doesn’t help me how is it? I feel it’s making me worse. Both in my mind – my heart I feel it.

2nd July
Another painful day remembering another painful day writing. Writing it’s hard on me. Everyday I’ve got to write. I want to live. Will I let myself? It’s so cramped here. The writing isn’t helping. I feel crowded. I try see outside but the curtains the curtains they are too thick. They mask me from the outside. I stay confined to my room and the wretched writing every since day at exactly half past 10. Break and then writing. Remembering so much that I’d like to rip the sheets of the bed and those wretched curtains. 

I just couldn’t stay there picking fruit with that hatter. I knew I had to go or she did. It was I first. I went do the truck loading so I could be around DeJohn. My DeJohn of course. We were quick a team. Always got head – got the work done. Never late always on time. The centre of farmyard gossip. It couldn’t be helped really. I was afraid for DeJohn I knew how hateful those men could be. I didn’t want him to get hurt. Love you see, well that’s what they say anyway.

I took him dancing one night. I thought he’d love it.

But. DeJohn didn’t want to dance.
“It’s not proper. Not the way of things around here” he said.

I felt guilty. I felt horrible to be the one to remind him of all the prejudice in the air. He wouldn’t let me in for a moment – not into his heart or into his mind. I danced while he sat eyes on the floor watching my red shoes. He wouldn’t look at my face not even once. Not even when my eyes didn’t leave his hunched frame he wouldn’t let it be. I hurt that day.

On our walk home eyes were on the pavement watching shoes heading home He wouldn’t look at me for a second.

“Please don’t make my life harder” he said to the ground.
“Why can’t you let me love you” I inquire.
“Because society would kill us both.”
“But”
“No. If you love me you’ll leave me alone.”
“I can’t.”
“Then you’ll have nobody to love Just a dead body on the road. A black man with no grave. I’ll never have peace.”
“Please don’t talk like that”
“It’s only the truth”

That night I of course laid alone. I wanted to see his closed eyes and feel his nurturing hands encourage me to sleep right along side him. I knew he’d never let me. Never let me even though he was my DeJohn.

3rd July 1980
Again I’m alive. The doorway is empty today. Nobody watching me. What’s the point. The doorway is much more beautiful empty, barren….but those wretched curtains they make my eyes blind. Nobody would do anything when I need them they aren’t here at the doorway. I have to write keep writing they say. We’ll give you privacy but they never open the curtains. Artificial light bright ugly scientific hurts me. Nobody hears. But they keep wanting me to remember remember all sorts of things….they say its important I do. Healing, meditating, cathartic they say….means nothing to me but they want to see the pages. Pin them up on the walls on the door frame stick them on my bed so I can stain them with tea...

One night I surprised him. I’d got the idea that I wanted to take him on a midnight walk along the grapefruit rows. I got out of bed – hurried, quiet, hurried, quick, quick . Out in the darkness. The wall guiding me to DeJohn and I got into where he is sleeping grabbed his arm quickly.

“We’ve got to go” I whisper fighting a laugh.
“What?”
“Up up” I demanded.
“Time is?”
“Uppp.”

Before I knew it we were out. He was far from amused with me.

“Please just this once hold me.”
“No. I can’t. Please no”

 I started to wrap my hands around him.

“Please just once. This one time.”
 
For a moment he resisted me. Tried to push my arms away.

But then just like that he decided against it.

“Only this once.” He sighed.
“Only this once. I promise.”

That was the first time he showed me any affection. I hoped it wouldn’t be the last.  He embraced me gently ever so gently.

I heard nothing in the darkness but us. It was a good silence. When DeJohn properly woke up, he realised I was in my sleeping clothes, and he let me go.

“You said.”
“No.”
“Please just hold me”
“No I can’t I’m going now. I’ll be gone tomorrow.”

Just as he turned I heard footsteps. Footsteps.

“I knew it was you two over here. Wait ‘till I tell tomorrow.”

In that moment impulse took over. I jumped on her. DeJohn didn’t stop it. He didn’t move. She didn’t move. Caught under my body, my arms and my fists. My pounding fists. They hit her all over everywhere. I hit hard. She couldn’t breath as I pounded the breath out of her.

Her eyes drew themselves into their sockets. She couldn’t speak. Her lips wouldn’t function – couldn’t function. They never would again. I knew that. She knew that. DeJohn knew that.

She got up somehow. She couldn’t take her possessions. Her body.

I snatched the gold chain from her neck.

“Mine now.”

“Put it around my neck DeJohn will you.”

I always loved gold. It was such a pretty necklace would have been a loss. Such a beautiful present. Betsy was never selfish – she let me have what I wanted most. She let me have the necklace that I’d watch glitter in gold sun. She was good to me wasn’t she? I had both the things I wanted most. She always wanted peace could never get enough of it on that farm. She told me so herself.

If she was here I know she’d open those curtains and let that sunlight in. I’m among the pages but the doorway is empty once again. I abandon this crowded room with its pages and wretched curtains. Today is the day – my day that I’m going to go through to see what’s along the corridor…see who lives in those other rooms. In those other rooms here. Maybe they too are selfless and have some gold. I’m always in need of it. That way the sun can always see me so.

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