Monday, July 20, 2015

Black Girl Walking

(…or, Huntsville, Alabama Intruder, February, 1970)

As I explore it once more and gaze at it anew, it seems more mysterious and striking, now then even before, since the time of those far-off years forty-five years ago, now even more favorable to read, than to have lived it, the world has changed.

       Private Chick Evens was stationed at Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama, after his Basic Training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  With a fifteen-day leave, he went to his Donkeyland Neighborhood back home in St. Paul, Minnesota,  drank up a storm at the two corner bars, then said his goodbyes and right on to advance training at Red Stone, it was in the winter of 1970; back then Red Stone was a NASA site, in the sense astronauts took training there on how to walk on the moon, dealing with gravity, often times the training took place in a gigantic pool, underwater training, amongst other sorts of preparation for future moon walks and outer space exploration. Old Saturn Rockets were keeping on display there, stored in certain areas of the compound.

Saturn Rockets

       This story takes place on a sidewalk parallel the main street in downtown Huntsville, Alabama, February, 1970, about 11:30 a.m., the street had but a few passing cars, as it was the weekend, and only a few black folk walking by, other than that it was empty of citizens and the clothing stores, with their walk around visible windows showing the latest fashions of the day caught the eye of a young negress very lovely. Evens didn’t notice, but on the opposite side of the street, the scene was different, white folks were strolling about—not many but a few, no black folks; one or two white folks crisscrossed the street, but Evens paid little attention, yet the negress noticed it from her puerperal vision, Private Chick Evens noticed that but gave it no importance, or worth.
       Evens had remembered the night before, being at Red Stone only a week now, the right side had a few bars on it, and stores, at night it all looked different with its shadows and mysterious bar women walking to and fro; one bar was a black bar where he had stepped into accidently, drank a few beers, and was told to leave kindly, lest white southern folk see him serving him, and burn his establishment down.
       Evens was slowly learning the south had a lot of little rules to remember concerning the white and black races.  Matter of fact, the second day he was at Red Stone, and was walking with a black private from his platoon, the police followed him for a mile in his squad car, and his buddy told him “Don’t leave me, the police will beat the crap out of me, just for walking with you, but they know you’re a white soldier, even though you don’t have your uniform on, and will not touch me.”
       Evens laughed at the idea, “How absurd,” he thought.
       This day Evens noticed—in the bright of day—a little more of the southern symbolism, here and there, especially the Dixy Flag!  
       A white Midwestern boy, a Private First Class, this whole scene was insignificant to him, and now here was per near next to him a       lovely black girl walking, looking at the dresses, and herself in the window glass, or perhaps the street, or perhaps who was walking across the street on the opposite sidewalk, who’s to say; it would appear her intends were to mosey about, as she went forward, wherever that was, and a short distance away was the red light, where she’d have to wait a moment before it turned green, but the white soldier behind her, now next to her,  looking about for a drycleaners shop, with his dress army greens over his forearm twenty-two years old, the black girl perchance, nineteen or so, dressed neatly, with a white blouse, and light colored skirt, a mythical look appeared on her face when she was approached by the white lad, who said something, and she pretended not to hear. 
       Now there was a frightened look on her face: she slightly turns her head, her face, her dark eyes squinting, the length between them has dwindled down to two-yards.
       The soldier lad is neatly dressed too; his hair is cut short, nicely combed. They are now looking at one another, not moving, she hasn’t crossed the street, the stop and go lights came and went.  She steps sidewise into a horseshoe like glass structure that has manikins dressed in the newest fashions of the day; Evens had asked her a question from a distance, now he followed her around the glassed in showroom, to ask it again: “Miss, can you direct me to a drycleaners, I’m lost?” (It sounded to the girl more like a rambling comment.)  She moves away from him, he responds: “Wait! Please wait! I mean, good morning, will you please wait!”
(They look at one another the black girl doesn’t answer: the white Midwestern boy continues to stare, watching the black girl, next to the clothes, a few inches from the glass.)
       “Is there something wrong…I mean all I want is directions?” comments the Private.
       “No. Can’t you see there arent no black folk talkin’ to white boys, look across the street, you see anyone walkin’ there black during da day? You must be from the north, leave me be white boy, before you-all gits me hung, and you-all git beat up by your own kind!”
       The Private takes a cigarette out from a pack within his shirt pocket, he has a light jacket on, he seems to have come prepared for such a need, he is baffled, or so it appears, and the weather is cool.
       “So (says the black girl) you aint goin’ to follow me anymore, right?” (Evens, listening, taking the cigarette out of his mouth)
       “You can’t talk to white folk and simply give directions to a drycleaners?”  
       “No! And I aint talkin’ to you-all: ask someone else. I goin’ to git killed because of yaw-all keep bothering me! My uncle got hung six-weeks ago, go on now, and I’m not lying. Arent you da pest!” (After a moment,: she looks about, doesn’t say another word, stares at the clothing with intensity, rushes to another side of the turnabout, continuing to pretend looking at the clothes, does not go into the store: about this time, the private is feeling like an intruder, then—just about ready to leave her be, she says:)
       “Uncle Jake he be right when he say: ‘Folks like you, from da north dont understand a thing about us folk here,’ like you be doin’, asking questions only gits me into trouble, and dhen you-all gone, jes’ like dat, and you dont know the folks down here, and think they goin’ to have to go accordin’ to da law and next thing you is hung, and all the laws in the world dont bring you back, and then the white folk from the north says ‘I is so sorry,’ but sorry dont do a thing to bring back Uncle Jake. If white folk down here see me talkin’ to you-all it goin’ be trouble fer me… you jus’ cant see it until it happens, then it be too late…”
       “Tell me about your uncle?” responded the Private, now nosy.
(Rapidly)  “You is crazy.  They done hung him outside of town, in a farm pasture, from an old tree, jes’ old crows to see him die, dhats all it is, a tree and old crows, and when we goin’ there to fetch him, to bury him proper like, the old man of the farm he jus’ watch ya like you is going to rob his garden.  Dhats it, there is no more, no court, no anything, jus’ a hanging…one of many!” (She lets out a long sigh, slowly, with a sort of despair attached to it, as the soldier boy drops the cigarette to the floor, puts it out with his shoe.)
       She is not even looking at the Soldier anymore, standing four or five feet from her, she is looking into the glass window now, her finger tips pressed against the glass, her forehead leans on it for a moment, then she pulls back.
       “I think there might be a drycleaners back yonder a ways, the other way you-all passed it, it don’t open ‘til afternoon!” (Pointing to her back right side, which would be his left, when he had been walking down the sidewalk trying to intrude on her privacy…)

       It now seems to dawn on the Evens that things are not as he thought, they are more serious, he looks out towards the street, a few cars have passed, he notices no one has looked at him from the cars, yet the black girl is blind to the road, he wants to put out his hand towards her, starts to and dares not to, as if to thank her, she even shields her eyes in fear someone might see—surely she has contemplated on this young man’s absurdity, but says nothing.
       “I’m sorry if I caused you any grief, I suppose I let it go too far, I mean I should have just gone about my way…and what you said about your uncle, I mean, being dead and all, hung from a tree is for me hard to believe, but I believe you (the boy notices no cars are coming…) I’ll leave you be!”
       The Soldier is now looking down the street, and the black girl has already crossed the street where she originally intended to before he disturbed her. The girl stops once across the street, so the Soldier notices from a safe distance and watches the girl, she stops, starts to turn her head around, but never does, stops halfway! He automatically turns his back around to her, in case she decides to make a complete rotation, out of curiosity, and that he does not want.

Notes 1: the Author was stationed at Redstone Arsenal, in February and March, of 1970 the same location of the United States Space Center Program.
Note 2: The Saturn V, utilized by the Apollo program manned Moon missions, was developed from the Redstone Arsenal. Huntsville continues to play an important role in the United States' Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. It is estimated that 1 in 13 of Huntsville's population are employed in some engineering field of work there.

(Originally, written in short story form, in the book “Stay Down, Old Abram,” as a chapter story, “Black Girl Walking,” 2001; rewritten 6-1-2008 by the same author as a One Act, three Scene Play; reedited for publication, 12-2010, and once again in short story form,  7-2015)