By Sean C. Wright-Neeley
Gnat Bridge, Texas; summer 1956
“Come on, Angeline, baby. Just a little bit more,” traveling salesman Eric King muttered, patting the dashboard of his sputtering and whining 1949 Buick. Please. Angeline. Just make it there, and daddy will take care of you.
Angeline struggled up the hill, and descended it, like it was more in control than its driver. It putted into the Zoomie gas station lot, like a quivering old lady. Eric killed the motor, and said a silent thank you to the boxy hunk of metal. He wiped his forehead with his red paisley handkerchief, put his fedora back on his head. Eric then rolled down his window, and waited.
A colored gas station attendant made his way to Angeline’s flank with a casual stroll.
“Hey there, mister. Fill ‘er up today?” He was tall, the color of maple syrup, and kept his wooly curls sheared close. He looked well-built in his gray jumpsuit that had a patch with the name Earnest, embroidered on the breast. He wore a pleasant expression, but wasn’t overly solicitous. Eric disliked Earnest immediately.
“No,” Eric answered flatly, “Got plenty of gas, but have car trouble. Think it’s the fuel pump.”
“All righty then. Let’s have a look. Please pop the hood.” Eric complied, frowning. Why hasn’t this boy called me “sir”?
“Hmph,” Earnest grunted after he came from behind the hood, “You’re right. Well, there’s good news and bad news here: the good news is that we have a shop in back. The bad news is that we don’t have a fuel pump in stock. It might take a day or so to get here. Will cost you twenty-five dollars with parts and labor. No worries though. This is a friendly town,” Earnest punctuated his last word with a quick grin. “You on vacation, or something?” Earnest asked, pulling out a cigarette pack and lighter from his jumpsuit pocket. He then held out the pack to Eric. Eric plucked one out with a mildly slacked jaw, and swallowed before he answered, “Naw. I’m a traveling salesman for Pimco.”
“No fooling?” Earnest said, lighting Eric’s cigarette, “The one that sells everything from shampoo to dog biscuits? We like to keep things like that in our gas station for folks, passing through. I’d like to look at your catalogs when you come back to pick up your car, so we can get a few things for the store. I’m Earnest, by the way.”
“Eric. Eric King. Shouldn’t you ask your boss first?” Eric asked, trying to sound casual, as he drew on his cigarette.
Earnest laughed, and blew out a puff of smoke. “I amthe boss.”
Eric bristled at that, shuffled his feet then pulled his red hankie out of his pocket to dab at his forehead. “Well, uh. You say it’s gonna be about a day until my car is ready? Any motels in this town?”
“You bet,” Earnest said, using his sans cigarette hand to point west, “Further into town – less than a mile, called The Bluebonnet Inn. They can recommend some good eating places there, too. I’ll have my cousin drive you— “
“All right. Thanks. B-but I think I’ll walk,” Eric mumbled, and stamped out his cigarette.
“In his heat?” Earnest’s eyebrows rose.
“Yeah. I could use the exercise. I’ll get my suitcase out of my car, and be on my way. You can find me at that motel,” Eric said, quickly, fishing his keys out of his pocket, and retrieving his suitcase out of his trunk. He handed the car keys to Earnest, spun on his heel, and was gone.
Eric arrived at The Bluebonnet Inn, a thirsty, sweaty mess. He took off his fedora, and fanned himself with it, as soon as he entered. Set down his suitcase. The desk clerk was an old woman who looked like a white prune with rouge on its cheeks. “Hi there. Room for one?”
“Yeah,” Eric panted. Just then a colored maid breezed through the lobby with a stack of folded towels in her outstretched arms. “Hey, gal. How about some water.” She turned and looked at him with a pinched smile and steely gaze. “The name is Minnie, and there’s a water cooler, over there,” she said with a jerk of her head to the lobby’s corner. She was mobile again before Eric could say anything else. He slowly made his way to the water cooler, gulped down two cups, crushed the cup, and chucked it in the small waste bin.
“How many nights you staying, sir?” said the desk clerk, after he returned to the desk.
“One for sure,” Eric said, pulling out his wallet. He sure hoped the fuel pump for his car would be in tomorrow, so he could get the hell out of there. What a weird town! He wanted to say something to the desk clerk about Minnie’s behavior, but thought better of it. It was almost as if the old woman was, well, afraid of Minnie.
“All right. Giving you room number seven. Lucky number seven. Call up here if you need anything. There’s a café across the street that serves the best chicken fried steak in town.”
“All right. Thank you.”
Eric showered, and lay across the bed in his undershirt and boxers, Jesus-style, in his lucky-number-seven room. After he was good and rested, he picked up the phone, and dialed his wife.
“Hello, Dee. It’s Eric. No, I won’t be home for dinner. Car trouble. I’m in a little town, east of Dallas, called Gnat Bridge. Staying at The Bluebonnet Inn Motel. The car should be fixed by tomorrow.
“What? Yeah. Everyone’s friendly enough, but it’s a strange place. Strange how? I don’t know. The colored. They don’t know their places. Not sure what’s going on. Anyway, here’s the motel number, should you need to reach me…”
Gnat Bridge, Texas; 1 year ago
Minnie stood on The Harris’s porch with her weeping eleven-year-old daughter, Seneca. The girl was cut and bruised. Minnie rang the doorbell. Ms. Harris answered the door, took in the scene, and frowned.
“Hello, Ms. Harris. Sorry to say this, but I’m afraid your son has done something to my Seneca. Go on, child. Tell her.”
“I was riding my bike on the road, and your son and his friend rode by in a truck. They ran me off the road. I rolled and flipped into a ditch,” she sniffled.
“She’s mostly okay, but the front wheel of her bike is bent up,” Minnie said, putting her arm around her cowering daughter.
Ms. Harris narrowed her eyes. “You sure it was my Nicholas? I mean how could you get a good look at them if you were both moving?”
“I could see into the truck because the windows were rolled down. Your son was driving. The O’Duke boy was in the passenger seat. They were both laughing. I swear it.”
Ms. Harris sneered. “Couldn’t have been him. Nicholas has been home with meall day.”
“Ms. Harris, would you at least ask him — “
“No,” the woman said coolly.
“May I talk to your husband?” Minnie asked.
“We have a matter of a broken bike here — “
“I said no! Now get off my porch before I call the police!”
The girl sobbed anew. Minnie pulled her close, and cooed, “It’s gonna be okay.”
Then Minnie looked up at a flushed Ms. Harris, and stiffened her spine. “I curse you through Sorceress Yamiti. She’ll pain you until you do right by us,” she hissed.
“What are you talking about?”
“The spirit of an African queen and sorceress who exacts justice. You’ll know when she comes. And you know where to find us, should you decide to pay for the damage your boy did to Seneca’s bike.”
“Come on, baby,” Minnie said to Seneca. The woman and girl left the porch with Ms. Harris standing in the doorway, mouth agape.
Soon after that visit, Nicholas had explosive diarrhea his pants, playing football with his cousins and friends, during a picnic. The seventeen-year-old boy was in tears, as Ms. Harris washed out his shitty drawers because it happened in front of a girl he had a crush on. “It must have been something you ate, son,” Ms. Harris said, shaking her head. She chalked it up to coincidence until everyone else in the Harris family started having loose bowels on and off. The doctor found nothing wrong.
Then all the Harris’s hair began to fall out. They threw away shampoo bottles, and bought new ones in vain. The hair loss continued. Again, the doctor found nothing wrong.
And still Ms. Harris had the Minnie-Seneca-porch-incident tucked way in the back of her mind. It didn’t crawl to the front until they found their tabby cat, dead, in the backyard. There was a necklace of feathers and teeth near the cat’s body, and a big Y scrawled in blood on their shed. It was only then that Ms. Harris made a secret trip to the colored side of town to visit Minnie one Saturday. Minnie opened her door, and cackled when she saw Ms. Harris’s cheap wig. “Nice hair.” Normally, Ms. Harris would have been incensed, but she didn’t reply. She held out an envelope with a crisp twenty-dollar bill inside. “This should cover Seneca’s bike repairs,” she said quietly. Minnie took the envelope, and opened it. She nodded after she checked it, and said with unwavering confidence, “Tell your son, and other white folks in this town to stop bothering innocent colored people, lest they want a visit from Sorceress Yamiti.” Minnie didn’t wait for a reply. She let the screen door slam in Ms. Harris’s face. Ms. Harris went home, and just like magic, all the troubles in her household ceased.
There were similar incidents between white and colored in Gnat Bridge when the colored were mistreated, and Sorceress Yamiti made a prompt appearance. Little by little, colored people etched out equality in the small Texas town. They weren’t made to walk in through back doors; and even allowed to own businesses. White men stopped harassing their black maids, nannies, and cooks. Best of all, black children were afforded the luxury of playing outside without ugly incident.
When new white families moved to Gnat Bridge, and attempted to enforce white supremacy, the colored folks had a meeting. Everyone was given an action item. The maids added laxatives to the family’s food, and put hair remover in their conditioner on occasion. If the family was especially stubborn to coming around, she would smuggle a dead rat or two into the home to place in their shoes. The gardener poisoned the family pet under the cover of darkness, and wrote a big Y in pig’s blood on the property. If they had no pets, he withered every last flower in their yard by pouring vegetable oil on them in the wee hours. Minnie collected colored children’s baby teeth and chicken feathers to make necklaces to drop on the property to tie it all together. Easy peasy.
I’m pleased to announce the release of my 8th book, Skoll’s Diary.
Africans and African Americans left Earth in 1900, and went to another planet in The Milky Way to escape mistreatment…
It’s now the year 3005 on that terraformed planet. We get a peek into the life of a bright and sensitive teenaged boy, Skoll, through his journal. He loves his world, but is curious about life on Earth. Then suddenly, an epic event casts him in the middle of a difficult decision. The fate of the planet’s community is in his hands.
Get the book here. I’d appreciate your leaving a review if you read it. Thanks in advance!