Hello, hello everyone! Here’s another short piece of fiction for you all to enjoy. I’ve revisited the world from Last Words. I hope you enjoy it!
Good News or Bad News?
I had played the conversation out in my head a thousand times. The whole time I’d been driving, due north, leaving behind the early signs of spring along the coast, slipping back into the gray of winter, I’d been playing fictional conversations out in my mind. I was heading home to tell my folks what I thought was some good news, too good for a phone call. I was pretty sure that they would think it was bad news though. And now, sitting in their driveway, I ran through things again, stalling.
“Momma,” I thought I’d say, “You remember that boy I’ve been seeing?”
In my mind, she’d say she did and speak fondly of him.
“Well I wanted to show you some pictures we had taken,” I said to the empty car.
That was when my sunny, imaginary mom would vanish and my real mom would appear. She’d see the pictures of myself and Noah, the beautiful engagement photos, and she’d start screaming at me, forbidding me to marry him.
My parents knew I’d been seeing someone. They knew he was seminary student from another university. They knew he was from a good family. They knew he was kind and good and that I was very much in love with him. They just didn’t know he was black.
“But Momma,” I said to the empty car, “I love him.”
In my mind I heard her yelling at me. I heard her launch into a lecture.
“We didn’t raise you like that, young lady. Your father and I raised you to believe as we believe. There should be no mixing of the races.”
I’d heard that lecture many times. I’d been little the first time, probably six or seven. I’d made friends with a Hispanic boy at school. Like all little kids, we were pretending at being adults. He would hold my hand and call me honey and sweetheart. We told people we were going to get married. We were innocent and simple kids and had no idea there was such a thing as racism in the world. When Momma had picked me up at school and seen our little play marriage playing out she lost it. She grabbed my arm, pulled me out of the playground, and gave me a serious spanking right there in front of all the other moms and kids. On the way home, and that night at dinner, and the next day, I got lectured about skin color, white pride, purity, and segregation.
“But Momma,” I said again to the empty car, “Noah is a good, Christian man.”
I remembered another lecture about races. I’d tried to invite all my girlfriends from high school to church camp. I’d dared to invite two girls of other races. Again, Momma had flipped out. She’d called my friend Ming terrible names. Then she’d called my friend LaToya terrible names. Then she’d lectured me about our church and tried to convince me that only white people were welcome there. She even misquoted some scripture to support her beliefs.
I looked up, staring at their house, the white clapboard siding bright against the dull, muted colors of winter. From my spot in the driveway it stood out sharply against the faded yellow grass and the bare trees. Outside my windshield the sky was steel wool gray, full of churning clouds, promising snow. I looked at the empty passenger seat, wishing Noah were there, wishing I’d accepted his offer to come.
“Baby,” he’d said that morning, “Why don’t you just let me come? It will be better to have someone on your side.”
I’d tossed my overnight bag in the backseat and denied his request.
“You wouldn’t even get in the house, Noah. You don’t understand. They’re still mad the Confederacy lost the war. This is generations deep, we are sure we’re right down to our bones kind of racism.”
We’d had the talk before. Every time I slipped north and he stayed behind, I tried to explain the closed minded nature of my parents. I had no words for it. I couldn’t make him understand. Noah thought that all racism could be cured with education, kindness, and prayer; it was how he’d been raised and for the most part he was correct. Yet I had tried all those things, my whole life, with no changes. Noah told me that I just didn’t have faith in my parents. I told him that he just hadn’t met them yet. Then he would ask to come with me again. We would circle around a few times before he gave in or I got mad. But it always ended with me where I was now, alone in my car in front of my parents’ house, trying to convince myself to go inside.
The slam of the screen door snapped my attention back to the cold winter day.
“Joanne!” It was Momma. She appeared on the front porch in her housedress, a worn, shapeless tent of dress. She’d worn something similar every day since I was a teen. Momma prized comfort over all else. Today at least she’d topped it with a bright blue sweater, a spot of summer sky in the gray day. It was her version of dressing up for a family dinner.
I looked at her there on the porch, the dress swirling around her legs in the wind. Vision of her standing in that same spot at various times in my youth flashed through my mind. I knew what she was. I knew she would be called racist or backwards or stupid in other parts of the world. I knew that I was going to make her angrier than I had ever made her. It broke my heart, because no matter what, I loved her. I just hoped that she would love me enough to accept the choice that I knew in my heart to be right for my future and for me.
“Joanne! Why are you just sitting in your car? Get in this house. Your sister and Michael will be here anytime for supper.” She slipped back into the house, the screen door screeching and then slamming shut, sharp sounds in the muffled country quiet.
“I’m comin’ Momma,” I whispered. “I’m comin’ now.” I reached over for the envelope of engagement photos. Despite all of my rehearsals, fear clenched my heart. I had no idea what I would say to her and Daddy. I was thankful my sister and her husband would be there. Maybe the fallout wouldn’t be as bad with them there. Sliding out of the car I took a deep breath of the sharp air; no more stalling, it was time to share my news.