© 2011 By Timothy W. Spencer
April 4, 1984.
Hell found me. It was so long ago, but it did. I have been in the clutch of its bite for so many years, like a rabid Pit Bull; jaws locked refusing to unclench.
April 4, 1968
Wilma Hopkins was stepping from the bus when she heard. Well I didn’t actually hear. I was told. A white woman gently placed a hand on Wilma’s forearm; a pained expression on her face. Wilma couldn’t figure out why. Do I know her? No, I’ve never seen her in my life. The woman squeezed Wilma’s forearm slightly and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” This took Wilma aback at first. Loss; what is she talking about? The panic laden possibilities raced through her mind, but when the woman said, “He’s dead, Mr. King has been assassinated; the Great ones are always a target.” Wilma knew why she said it; because of my skin color.
It always came down to that, Wilma thought bitterly; they need to feel better about themselves, so they approach the first colored person they can find. Wilma was grateful because it prepared her for the truth of the situation. The woman hadn’t gone into detail; Wilma didn’t give her the opportunity after the woman said, “Boston just hasn’t been the same since the riots last year, and now this; Mr. King is dead.” The woman put such emphasis on the word ‘dead’ Wilma flinched.
Wilma pulled from the clutch of the woman’s hand. I hadn’t meant to be rude, but she had to have taken it that way. Why else would she have looked at me that way? “I’m sorry.” The words came out haltingly. “It’s such a shock. I have to go.”
The woman’s expression softened. “Yes, honey, it is. It’s almost too hard to believe.” The woman shook her head looking pityingly at Wilma.
“Thank you, again.” Wilma stepped around the woman quickly. Walking away, she looked back only once. The woman stood at the bus stop. Her hands folded one over the other at the waist of her tight pink and white Channelesque outfit. Her head cocked to the side, making the little pink pill-box hat look as though it would fall off her teased bouffant hair at the slightest provocation. She gave Wilma another pitying shake of her head.
Wilma raced home to glare into the grainy black-and-white tube. Mr. King has been murdered! She couldn’t believe her ears and eyes. The phone rang; Cooper's ingratiating voice filled her ear.
“Wil, I’m sorry.”
It startled her. Wilma had been so focused on the news, the real and frightening story, and here is his voice filling her with remembrance and remorse. “Are you there kitty-cat?” The old pet name ripped her out of her stupor.
“I would prefer you not call me that,” she snapped.
“But I still think of you as my little black cat, so why not?”
“Whatever you think, I’m not your pet any more. Why are you calling? I haven’t seen or heard from you in five years. Why now?”
“I thought you might need some moral support. How’s Kenneth?”
“My son is just fine. You shouldn’t have called.”
“He’s my son too. So you’re still mad at me?”
“Why shouldn’t I be? Kenneth doesn’t know you; you left me when I told you I was pregnant with one request, to name him after your cousin Kenneth. I did as you asked, but you don’t have the right to claim him. I named him after your cousin, only because I liked the name, but it doesn’t afford you parental rights.”
“Ok, calm down. I’m not taking him away from you or anything. Like I said, I know how hard you have been working for civil rights. I thought Mr. King’s death would be a big blow. Maybe you needed someone to talk too.”
“Clearly, you’ve been doing a lot of thinking. If only you would have applied yourself so diligently when I told you that I was pregnant, Kenneth would know you.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Anyway, thank you for showing compassion.”
“I am sorry about Mr. King’s death, but really I just wanted to hear your voice again. You were always the voice of reason for me; I stopped listening.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m here in Boston. I got in yesterday. I wanted to call earlier, but lost my nerve. I have a book signing tonight.”
“So you were finally able to sell your manuscript, I’m happy for you.”
“Can you be there this evening; the signing is at six?”
“No, I can’t. Like you said, this is a big blow. Not just to myself, but for civil rights. There is a meeting scheduled for tonight; I need to attend.”
“Oh, ok. I’ll see you later then…,” and he was gone.
She heard the pain in his voice. I have pain too, lots of it. Why should I feel sorry for him? I was the one who had to raise a young son on my own. I had to live with all the loathsome stares and looks of sympathy because I didn’t have a husband. Not to mention all that was made worst because people could see the white in Kenneth, they knew why I didn’t have a husband. They knew that I had slept with a white man and got myself in trouble.
Some, she knew, thought it was her own fault, that she should have kept her legs closed and not been such a whore. Other’s probably felt sorry for her -- raising a half-breed child with little to no means to do so -- but she loved her son no matter what any of them thought or said. He’s what I live for. Kenneth is the reason I fight so diligently for civil rights. Because no matter what, my child will live in a better world. The phone rang. Startled; Wilma realized that she had been standing there with her hand over the receiver. She picked up.
The gritty deep voice crawled into her ear; a spider scurrying into a dark place. Entering the canal, creeping up into her mind, spinning copious amounts of webbing, confusing and confounding her, and then the words broke through, “Your son and mother are dead bitch. If you don’t drop out of your blackie group, we’ll be coming for you.” Click.
August 28, 1963
The Roxbury group met every Wednesday, just off Blue Hill Avenue in the back of Mr. Williams’ barbershop on the corner. They talked for long hours discussing and trading stories of their latest put down or slight. “It’s necessary,” Sister Williams always says “to get it off your chest and out of your system. That way we can all think clearly and proceed to an adequate solution of our collective problems.”
But this Wednesday the meeting was being held on the bus and everyone was elated. The bus trundled down interstate 95; the constant whir of wheels on macadam a virtually unnoticeable undertone of the never ending hymns led by Sister Williams. Raymond and his wife, everybody called her Sister, kept the spirits of the group alive. Even when Wilma herself thought she couldn’t bear being pregnant anymore, they were there keeping her delicate spirit afloat. I don’t know how she keeps from losing her voice.
Because of her condition, Sister Williams insisted Wilma sit towards the front. “Just in case we need to stop so you can take care of your business girl; we don’t won’t no accidents on the bus.” Sister had said with a hearty motherly laugh.
Wilma smiled her assent; gingerly lowering her eight months pregnant body onto the seat. Wilma had always been a thin person, even though she had a near full term child swirling above her loins, no one could claim her large. Wilma didn’t take up much room on the bench seat, so Doris Hopkins sat down beside her.
“Momma, if I have to go you’ll need to get up.” Wilma said with a smile.
“I know that, I carried you didn’t I? You had me rushing off to the bathroom every five minutes.” Doris chuckled.
“Momma, don’t talk like that in front of everyone.” Wilma said blushing.
“Why? They all know what it’s like. Why do you think they want you up here?” Doris protested.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Sister Williams chimed in, “My Tyrone was a big baby.” As if anyone who saw Tyrone’s six foot seven, two hundred and fifty pound physique wouldn’t have guessed. “The big ones wear you out with all the back and forth.”
Now, after having to stop five times on route, so Wilma could waddle into the brushes, they were finally here and soon they would see him. Wilma didn’t know if she could take it, walking anywhere for any length of time made her tired, but she intended to try. They pulled into the prearranged parking area, which turned out to be the playground of an elementary school near Howard University. They got off the old white bus; its paint peeling and rust dotting the haul like blight. Wilma stood in the gleaming August sun. The blistering muggy heat washing over her; evaporating her confidence, creating fissures in her resolve. I’m going to do it, even if I pass out from the effort.
In spite of the oppressive heat, the parking lot swarmed with jubilant rally goers all waiting for a shuttle bus to take them downtown. Wilma leaned against a pole, positioning herself within the minimal strip of shade. The air was stifling. After the shuttle’s arrival, Wilma stood first in line and was delighted to feel the crisp air wash over her when the door slid open. Air Conditioned; what will they think of next.
Yes, it was a cliché, but it was appropriate. She only experienced brisk conditioned air on the rare occasion that she went to a fancy building in downtown Boston. That isn’t often.
She stepped onto the shuttle and took the first bench seat just like before. The air cooled her, calmed her, let her mind rest. The ten minute ride lifted her spirits, only to have them dashed when they arrived at the drop off point; nearly a mile from the Lincoln Memorial. We won’t even be able to see Reverend King. The Capital building loomed behind them its bright-white dome gleaming in the too-bright August sun.
“What we gonna do? You all want to walk as far as we can through this crowd?” Sister asked.
Before the others could answer, Wilma waddled in the direction of the Lincoln memorial.
“Where are you goin’,” Doris asked.
“Where are you goin’,” Doris asked.
“I didn’t come all this way to sit at the back of the bus. I came down here to hear and see the Reverend Martin Luther King speak.” Wilma yelled back as the others fell into step behind her.
Wilma walked determinedly, winding her way through the growing crowd, sweat drenching her blouse. Payment for the exertion, but Wilma moved without looking back. The needle point of the Washington Monument pierced the unrelenting glare of the sun creating a shadow spire spearing a thin swath over the growing crowd. It allowed a small respite from the wide expanse of a sweltering, sun-drenched Mall. Wilma headed for the shade using it as a compass to traverse the Mall.
When she reached the crest of the hill, at the base of the monument, Wilma realized that she had lost her group. At some point, they must have lost track of her in the crowd – which had grown in proportion to its proximity to the Lincoln Memorial – and she could not see anyone she knew anywhere. Wilma decided to move on and catch up with them later. I have to be more aggressive; they’ll allow a pregnant woman through. She took a deep breath of the hot, stale air, dabbed at her brow with a handkerchief, and hoped against hope that the nausea she felt in the pit of her stomach was just excitement about seeing Reverend King.
Wilma swam deeper and deeper into the ocean of people. The massing crowd, squeezing and compresses into one sweltering collective of single-mindedness, quietly demanding to be free of oppression. She pushed and prodded her way, swimming through a multihued sea of faces swirling around an island oasis of Reverends, movie stars, and singers of the day. The Great Man himself standing calmly proud and confident on the dais; behind him, one of the greatest men – carved of marble stoically sitting – that ever walked on America’s blood drenched soil. And from the moment Reverend King delivered the first four words of speech with quiet strength, echoing Lincoln words, Wilma’s heart soared.
Her mind full of dreams and possibility, her soul dancing to the musical cadence of the words, when she looked back on this moment it would be this sweltering summer that gave unfathomable depth to his words, singing a soothing song of content. When by the end, those last five words were received with uncontained uproarious joy and applause; the heat blanketed Wilma. Hand to her head, trying, unsuccessfully, to stave off the dizzying euphoria. The child to be named Kenneth announced his impending arrival by drenching her pelvis to ankles.
That was when one last truth descended upon Wilma’s increasingly disoriented psyche. She noticed one of ‘our White Brother’s’ that Mr. King spoke of for the first time since she and the others had arrived. He said, “Miss, are you ok,” and reached a hand for her just as she, stumbled, lost her balance, and she fainted.
April 4, 1968
Wilma blinked. The light slowly entered her adjusting eyes. Minutes later Wilma found herself lying on the floor, looking up at the cream colored ceiling, the phone and table knocked over, sprawled on the floor next to her. The air thick and stale; she labored to clear her mind. The last time she found herself in a similar position she had woken to find herself circled by a crowd of onlookers while wracked with labor pains and loaded onto a stretcher. Before the ambulance had a chance to leave, a handsome baby boy was placed in my arms.
When she finally regained her balance, she stood near the righted table and telephone. She stared at the black plastic creature that delivered the ominous message. As if mocking her; the phone rang again.
I never believed her but, Momma always said, things always come in threes, good news, bad news, even the trinity; The Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit. First Mr. King dying and if this madman told me the truth, Momma and Kenneth – Should I answer the phone? This third call, good or bad, which is it? The phone rang loud, piercing and insistent; screaming to be answered. Wilma stood dumbfounded staring at the phone. On the eighth ring, when she couldn’t stand the ringing anymore; she picked up the receiver placing it gingerly to her ear.
“Miss. Hopkins, Miss. Wilma Hopkins,” the voice asked. “This Officer Howard Meanes, may I speak with you for a minute.”
“Yes…yes, how can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you would be able to come down to the station today, as soon as possible if you can.”
“Ma’am that can wait until you get here,” Click.
* * * *
He left her in a cramped room. The officer’s cheap after shave lingered in his wake. Wilma imagined it as a green insidious apparition swirling about the room, permeating all that lay within, including her clothes. She fidgeted with her handkerchief – squeezing, twisting, rolling – while she waited. “What’s taking so long?” The question hung in the air.
Fifteen minutes later the door swung inward. “Miss. Hopkins would follow me?”
Without as much as a hello, Miss. Hopkins how are you. Wilma stood clutching her purse close. They went down a corridor that ended at an elevator. The elevator dropped to the basement and opened onto another long corridor; an eerie line of incandescent lights flickering along its center. Wilma’s low and sensible black shoes click-clacking loudly on the linoleum; she walked solemnly beside the officer. Light spilled through a small square of glass in the center of a door at the end of the hall. The officer opened the door for her. She hesitated when he motioned for her to go through; Wilma knew what was waiting for her in there, and she didn’t want to face it, even though she knew she had too. Her son, her mother, they waited in death’s silence.
Another man appeared in the doorway, “Hello Miss. Hopkins, how are you today?” The man asked cheerily; as if they had been acquaintances for years.
How does he think I am? My son and mother are dead. Murdered, how am I supposed to be? She thought about that. How ‘am’ I supposed to be? Maybe I’m not acting they way people usually act?
The chipper man in the white coat pulled off the sheet covering her mother with a flamboyant ‘Ta-Da’ motion. Her mother lay naked on the table; a long track of stitching stretched from the base of her neck and disappeared under the white sheet. Doris Hopkins’ hair was damp with river water and matted against her head. Her nose had been repeatedly pummeled with an unusually large fist. Wilma hadn’t eaten dinner, so she felt her lunch preparing for its return appearance. Wilma turned her head away; she gave the policemen a quick nod of her head. “Yes, that’s my mother.”
The smaller form lay three feet away; the chipper man replaced the sheet over her mother, and then moved to the table holding her son. The man raised the sheet with the same flare. Kenneth lay as if he were asleep. If it weren’t for the faint blue pallor she would have vehemently made that claimed, but Kenneth didn’t move, didn’t breathe, and wouldn’t anymore.
“They were gentle with him if that’s any consolation,” Chipper man said disinterested, “You can clearly see that they beat the old lady to hell, and then drowned her. They only drowned the boy. Like an afterthought really.”
“That isn’t much of a consolation if you ask me,” Wilma said sharply, “A consolation would have been the two of them still being alive. My mother scolding me for something I hadn’t done, my son running around playing. My son growing up to be the fine man I know he would…could be…could have been…” she stuttered, “That would have been a consolation Mr.…..” Wilma realized that neither had bothered to introduce themselves. They’re treating me as if I’m just another colored woman with a dead relative. A job they had to finish. Then they’ll punch out, and get on with their uninteresting lives. “…well I don’t know what your names are because neither of you thought it necessary to introduce yourselves.” The chipper man opened his mouth, but Wilma cut him off before he could say anything with quick wave of her hand. “I really don’t care. The only thing I want to know is when can I put my mother and son to rest?”
“You can pick up the bodies on Friday, Ma'am.” The police officer said sheepishly.
“Thank you.” She headed for the door.
“Ma'am,” Wilma turned to face the officer, “Meanes, Ma'am.”
“My name, Officer Harold Meanes; we spoke on the phone. This is Jonny Hail.” Jonny Hail nodded his head in belated greeting.
“You should know Ma'am, there was a note pinned to your son’s lapel.”
“What did it say?”
Officer Meanes lowered his head.
Jonny chimed in, reaching for something Wilma couldn’t see, then reading the note -- in that same chipper ‘I’m-so-happy-to-be-here’ tone -- “It says, ‘This is for the Blackie wench who can’t keep her nose out of other people’s business.’ It’s signed, ‘Coming for you.’.”
Wilma’s hand went involuntarily to her mouth, stifling the whimper that escaped.
“Do you know the person who did this; can you think of anyone who would be capable?” Officer Meanes asked.
“No.” Wilma said quietly.
“We didn’t think you did, but we had to ask?”
“Why would they kill them?” Wilma asked, “My mom and son never did anything to anybody.”
“Are you with the movement, Miss. Hopkins?” Jonny asked.
“Yes, the coloreds wanting special rights. You know Mr. King and all.” Jonny said.
His tactless attitude is starting to grate on my nerves. “Yes, I am Mr. Hail, and I can’t see how that is any of your business.”
His tactless attitude is starting to grate on my nerves. “Yes, I am Mr. Hail, and I can’t see how that is any of your business.”
“Yeah, you’re right, and I don’t care really. It’s just that your actions may have been the catalyst for their deaths. At least that is what the note infers. You people don’t seem to think before you act, but I guess that is how you’ve always been. Old dogs don’t change, and all.”
Wilma glared at the man; he has a sickening smile on his face. Wilma wanted to march right over there and smack him, but she kept her distance. “People like you are the reason there is a Movement.”
“Mam, weren’t you part of the sit-in last year?” Officer Meanes asked.
“Are you saying this is maybe my fault, that my mother and son would still be alive if I’d stayed in my place? Is that what you’re asking?” Wilma replied.
“Well you have to admit?”
“What? That my actions are at fault? What about the actions of the killers, are they to be given a reprieve simply because the little Nigger bitch should have known and stayed in her place?”
Wilma saw that her words visibly wounded Officer Meanes, but Jonny Hail had a nasty little smirk on his face. I would, I honestly would, just walk over there and smack him senseless if it weren’t exactly what he expected me to do. People like him think that’s how colored people always solve their problems ‘with violence,’ and they think their better than us because of it.
Jonny held her angry gaze and then said in a slow deliberate tone, “You were there Miss. Hopkins, locked up with thirty or so of your colored women cohorts refusing to move until you talked to the Welfare Director…Daniel Cronin was his name wasn’t it? Yes, I believe that it was.”
Officer Meanes turned to glare at Jonny Hail, saying sharply, “Stop it Jonny.”
“Why, she should take responsibility for her involvement. Are you telling me you have some sympathy for their movement? I don’t, and you know that Bernard died from the injuries he received in last year’s riots, so don’t tell me to stop Howie, because I refuse,” he said maintaining the irritating smirk.
She didn’t like it, didn’t like it at all. Arguing over my mother’s and son’s bodies like this is just disrespectful. But they were too deep in the argument now for her to stop, “so to want my son to have a better life by your reckoning is a bad thing, and just because of this person, Bernard, you don’t feel you should be the least bit courteous. I’m not the reason this Bernard was hurt.”
Jonny’s face finally changed; it broke like shattering glass. He came from around the metal table. “This Bernard,” his voice was like a just plucked guitar string; taut and vibrating. A tightness that stunned Wilma more than the words; she involuntarily took a step in retreat, “is my little brother. He died from his injuries and the fact that you and your ‘People’ staged that little sit-in that started this riot to me means you are responsible. His blood is in your hands.”
He got closer, so Wilma took another step backward. “My little brother didn’t deserve to be hit in the head with a brick. He was only a policeman doing his job, and one of you people hit him for it. Now his three boys and wife, my nephews and sister-in-law are without a father and husband.”
Officer Meanes blocked Jonny's progress. Jonny’s face had, in the short distance, gone from a pale whiteness to crimson. “You and all like you are the reason. You are at fault. Because of people like you, my brother laid in a nursing home, feed from a tube, for three months with a head injury. It was so severe he didn’t recognize his wife and kids or anyone else in the family. His eyes were open, but they didn’t see, he could touch, but he couldn’t feel, and now he’s gone all because of you people.” Jonny stabbed a finger at Wilma. “Because of you people your mother is dead. Because of you people your son is dead. Ask yourself, was it worth it? Was it worth losing those you love? Is it worth causing so much pain, torment and loss for others like Bernard’s family, others like me? Have you found that which you seek, lady?”
“Jonny calm down,” Officer Meanes said trying, with limited success, to hold Jonny back.
“Calm, why should I calm down, I’m mad.” Jonny nearly screamed.
Wilma stood there looking at them. They were like two lovers in an embrace. Jonny moving to circumvent Officer Meanes attempts to stop him: moving and weaving, close and tender, pushing and pulling. The two were clearly fighting for supremacy, but Wilma could tell the fight was more for her benefit than that of a true battle of wills.
Wilma noticed the first tears slowly trickle from Jonny’s eyes just as she saw it, Officer’s Meanes’ rough and rugged right hand rise. Slowly placed on the chest of the slightly smaller man, the act provided a calming effect, the left hand gently connecting with the soft, smooth facial skin of Jonny’s cheek, and a thumbs fruitless attempt to brush away the now torrent of tears.
A lover’s tenderness she had forgotten what it felt like, but recognized it nonetheless. Tenderness that she had experienced the year before her life had changed so drastically in the back of an ambulance in Washington, DC in '63. A show of tenderness that took her back to when she and Cooper had sat for hours on the campus grounds of Simmons watching the stars. Hours and hours of talk on the tranquil summer’s nights as Cooper held her keeping her safe.
I didn’t care what they had said about him, that he had slept with men before me; He had a serious relationship with some colored boy in her neighborhood. That was just talk to get her to stop seeing ‘the white boy’. Because he had loved me, I knew it then, and I know it now. He just got scared off by the thought of being a father.
And when Cooper had finally told her that he didn’t want the responsibility, that he couldn’t handle it, he had put a creamy white hand to her caramel colored cheek, pressed tender pink lips to a full and receptive mouth: she had been mad but that act had made her forget her anger for just a moment. Just like what Officer Meanes is doing for Jonny. I don’t like that man, but I envy him; he has something I had forgotten. She shook herself from her reverie.
The two of them seemed to notice her again, realizing that she was still there. Officer Meanes turned to her looking sheepish again, “Um, …like I said Miss. Hopkins, …um…you can receive the bodies on Friday,” Jonny appeared equally embarrassed turning to return to the relative safety behind his table of corpses.
“Right,” Wilma said, “I’ll start the arrangements then,” she turned and walked from the room.
Jonny Hail’s words reverberated in her head the entire bus ride home. She had to admit that those words held a modicum of truth in them. She hadn’t told Officer Meanes about the phone call; she had felt it was prudent not too. But Jonny Hail had seen right through her, had known there was something that she wasn’t telling. Jonny could have been guessing about her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement – she’s black, the note threatening her – he just needed to put two and two together. But she knew she was fooling herself with that line of thinking. He knows too many specifics.
When she reached her door and found a second note tacked in the center, which read, “If you’re not scared, now, you should be. When we see the look of fear in your eyes, ours will be the last you see,” the terror set in. It took up residence in her heart like an old friend. She turned and ran down the street as fast as she could. She banged on the door of the barber shop.
Sister came running, her face awash with concern, “What is wrong girl?”
Wilma could barely get the words out fast enough. “Momma’s dead they killed her, and Kenneth too.”
“Oh dear God, Raymond,” Sister yelled for her husband, “Raymond get down here right now; Lord-have-mercy.”
Wilma started crying. Up until now she hadn’t thought about drying, but suddenly the tears were flowing as fast as the words. “They killed them. They said that I should stop, but I don’t know what it is I’ve done. Is it because of the group? Jonny Hail said it was, but what does he know I only met him tonight.”
“Slow down girl, you’re not making sense,” Sister soothed. “Now start from the beginning.” Raymond entered the room at a near run. Sister looked up at him; he took in the scene before him. Sister hugged and soothed Wilma. “What happened to Doris and Kenneth? Who is this Jonny Hail, and what is his involvement in all this?”
“What’s happened?” Raymond asked in his deep reverberating baritone.
“My mother and son are gone. Someone killed my family and threatened me.” Wilma put the crumpled note in Sister’s hand.
Sister read and said, “Oh my God,” then handed the note to Raymond.
A dark look washed across Raymond’s face. “Do you have any idea who it is?”
“No, I’m so scared.”
“Well you’re stayin’ here until we find out.” Raymond demanded, and then he said, “I'm calling Jamison; he’ll know what to do.”
“Who’s Jamison?” Wilma asked.
“He’s a friend of Raymond’s that works at the local precinct,” Sister answered as Raymond turned to leave.
“But I was just there. They don’t know anything.”
Raymond stopped and said, “You were just there, why.”
“They called, an Officer Meanes, asked me to come down. He wouldn’t tell me why, so I went down there and they told me about momma and Kenneth. I identified the bodies. I met Jonny Hail there. He said those terrible things, those nasty, horrible things.” Wilma succumbed to the overwhelming, crushing pain and went into hysterical sobs.
Wilma lay on the little cot in the back room of the barbershop. Sister sat on the cot next to her, “Don’t you worry they’ll find who it is. Jamison is good at this sort of thing.”
“Is he?” Wilma could see them through the doorway that led into the barbershop; Jamison and Raymond talked in low whispers, glancing back at her every few seconds.
Sister rubbed her shoulder, “Yes he is. Don’t worry, we ain’t gonna let anything happen to you.” Sister stood, “I am going to go upstairs. You need to get some rest. We’ll have a big breakfast in the morning, okay.” Sister smiled down at Wilma.
“Okay.” Wilma smiled backed. “Thank you, Sister. I don’t know what I would have done if you and Raymond weren’t here.”
“Don’t you think nothin’ of it honey. You’re just like family to us. Now get some sleep.” Sister stepped through into the barbershop and closed the door behind her.
Suddenly the room went dark except for a small swath of light cutting across the floor from the lone window. The thick door to the left of the window was secure and locked; Sister had made a show of checking. To calm my nerves, I’m sure. Not that it worked.
Low voices filtered through the door; like recently disturbed dust motes of sound drifting on the air to her ears. Wilma closed her eyes. A chill crept upon her. She pulled the quilt up around her neck like a child warding off monsters of the dark. It didn’t help; the visions descend unbidden upon Wilma's mind. The voice on the phone, ‘Your son and mother are dead,’ momma’s body, ‘and if you don’t drop out of that blackie group,’ Kenneth, ‘we’ll be coming for you,’ Wilma sat up, throwing the quilt to the floor. I’m not going to get much sleep tonight.
The next morning Jamison tracked down Cooper and brought him to the barbershop. Wilma sat at the kitchen table in Sister and Raymond’s one bedroom apartment above the barbershop trying to eat breakfast when the two of them arrived.
Wilma and Sister spent the day dealing with the funeral arrangements while the three men went in search of the elusive people threatening her. When they returned, later that evening, the report given was dire.
“We stopped at your place, to check things out you know,” Jamison started, “We found another note.”
The fear welled up inside Wilma again, “What?”
“Yes, we found the third note on the door to your apartment,” Cooper said, “You didn’t find it because you didn’t go in; you came right here. That was a good thing,” he sat down beside her and put his arm around her shoulder and held her close, “they must have been in the apartment Wil.”
Wilma jerked away, “What!”
“Yes, the lock on the front door was broken, and they ransacked the apartment,” Jamison said.
“Don’t worry, I fixed the lock and we cleaned up,” Raymond added.
“It feels surreal. What am I going to do?” Wilma leaned onto Cooper’s shoulder.
“It can’t be safe for her to go back there; Wilma you’re staying here.” Sister said with finality in her tone that offered no room for objection. “What did the note say,” Sister asked.
“We’re coming for you.” Jamison stated flatly.
“That settles it you’re staying here Wilma I’m not letting you go back there until they find these crazies.” Sister looked pointedly at Jamison. “Have you talked to this Officer Meanes?”
“Yes we went there first. He wasn’t very forthcoming. Especially when I brought up how he and Jonny Hail treated Wilma,” Jamison looked down at Wilma, “we’ll find them I know it. I have some friends down at City Hall that will get Officer Meanes and Jonny Hail to open up.”
The church overflowed with mourners. It had gotten around that the two people murdered were an elderly woman and a child, but since they were black it only outraged the black community. But when the press got wind that the child was the illegitimate son of a semi-well known white author, former son of Boston who returned home for the launch of his book tour, the Boston Globe picked up the story. Suddenly the mayor and several city board members were sufficiently outraged at such a heinous act of violence. They showed up at the joint funerals for Kenneth and Doris Hopkins with press in tow.
Afterward every day for two weeks, a police car, sat outside Wilma’s building; several times Wilma could have sworn Officer Meanes sat in the car. Cooper was there every day until he had to resume his book tour.
The first night by herself, Sister called three times every hour until Wilma went to bed. Wilma lay hoping and waiting for sleep to come; it never did. Finally at three in the morning she went into the living room. The room was dark save for moonlight filtering through the windows. It didn’t matter; her eyes had adjusted to the night several hours ago. A strong arm reached out from the shadows and wrapped around her neck. A calloused hand roughly stifled her scream.
“I’ve been waiting two weeks you black bitch.” A gravelly voice grumbled into her ear.
Wilma kicked and jerked.
Wilma kicked and jerked.
“Stop fuckin’ fightin’ or I’ll break your neck.”
Wilma, fueled by fear, kept kicking forcing her assailant to twist and turn trying to maintain his hold on her. Her left foot came in contact with the wall; she used the leverage to push backward; the two of them tumbled over the couch. The door burst open. Another man tackled the first. Wilma got up and groped for the light switch.
The light dispelled the darkness in one clean click. The first man punched the second knocking him to the floor. Wilma looked down, “Jamison!” Wilma looked at the man who broke into her apartment.
“Because you people killed my dad.”
“Don’t act stupid. Because of you he’s gone.”
The young man glared; a tear rolled down his stubble covered cheek. The barrel-chested young man couldn’t have been more than twenty. He stood near the window his wide shoulders nearly blocking out the moonlight. That’s the window that leads to the fire escape. It’s open. No more than an inch, but open. He reached behind his back; Wilma heard the slow pull of metal from leather; a large serrated hunting knife glistened in the moonlight.
“Oh my God,” Wilma backed up against the wall. I need to get out of here. I need to run. Run to Sister’s house.
The young man leapt over Jamison. Wilma ran for the open front door, were she ran into Officer Meanes. She jumped back only to be grabbed around the neck again.
“Go on Howie; this has nothin’ to do with you. When my business is done I’ll be on my way.”
They know each other. Wilma struggled to get free; the cool steel bit at her throat
“Settle down,” he growled.
“Settle down,” he growled.
“BJ this isn’t right; stop this now.”
“Right, you’re talking right and wrong. They killed my Daddy, is that right?”
“What about your Momma and brothers; there’re depending on you. What will Jonny think? He was just sayin’ how proud he was of you. Talking about how you stepped up like a real man.” Officer Meanes took another tentative step.
“Uncle Jonny’ll be proud. I took care of them.” BJ squeezed, pulling the knife up under Wilma’s chin, “I’m taking care of all those Niggers.”
“BJ this is not something Jonny will be proud of.” He took another step.
“You don’t know; you think ‘cause you’re so close to him you do. You don’t. Suckin’ his dick doesn’t give you any special insight Howie,” BJ sneered.
Wilma saw the hurt wash across Officer Meanes’ face. For the second time she recognized a piece of herself in him. She had felt the sting of hatred when she and Cooper were together. If it hadn’t been for Kenneth’s death Cooper would have never stayed. We wouldn’t have made love again. Now there’s just pain and loss; he won’t be with me ever again. But it was the remembering that was the worse. All the nasty looks, all the snide remarks, from white and colored people; I had to bare it all over again. This man, he may have it better being white, but deep inside, he and Jonny Hail have it no better than me.
The knife cut at her throat; a trickle of blood left a warm trail down her neck, under her pajama top, between her breasts. Oh my God I’m going to die.
“Get back, Howie or I’ll do it I’ll kill her too.”
April 4, 1984
She looked at her reflection. That was when it had begun; when I first started to feel the pressure of being out of my safe place - my home. So many years ago I had began to build with earnest, mortaring with irrational fear, enclosing myself within emotional brick walls. My life became a series drab vertical plains stared at with disinterest. The fear latched onto my heart, squeezing, twisting and rolling with relentless hands. The years seeped by in a slow arduous procession.
She looked at the prostrate Cooper, again. And then the phone rang and Cooper’s back in my life for one last visit.