For the living nothing is better than death to release what is pent up and stored deep in the body and its feelings, for it is the body that feels before the senses, which are prone to quarrel with the body as it moves toward its one-way cul de sac . . . the way you look around through the darkness and find what you feared, though too dark by now to see the blood caking the dirt floor of the alley.
Her name, Ruby. There would be another Ruby in Arkansas, with whom Abe’s fourth oldest child, Clyde, would make a boy child, Dale Roy with his mother’s surname to keep his very existence from Abe’s widow, Clyde’s mother, with whom he lived after his father was murdered in Sallisaw and once four of his brothers were in the war and a fifth, the only one with a child, was working in Boeing’s war effort in Wichita. The widow, their mother, knowing of her son’s bastard child, would have torn her clothes and fled into the pine trees and mourned with fireflies, who are ordinarily believed to be celebrating the dark for they are so rapid to appear and dart through the black night to appear elsewhere a moment later. There she would have stayed until dawn and walking naked into her house she knew the first burden, the first task, was to put down the bucket in the backporch well and haul up water, then wash her body and let it drip dry on the cobblestones.
Ruby of Woolwine, Virginia, came to Richard and let him fuck her, then she started beating him with a fallen branch and he protected his privates rather than risk worse. She was naked too, but she knew what she wanted. She wanted him gone, but only after she’d made sure he’d given her another child, for this time she needed the child to live and be by her side so as long as she lived she might remember both her brother’s madness and her lover’s hatred. She went home and waited for the funeral. She wanted to go where they played music for funerals and celebrated lives rather than weeping for them. She would never go there now.
After the words were said and the grave filled, she went to Richard again and slept all night with him in their trysting place outside town, and she brought him back inside her again and again, knowing it was her month her ovum would catch his sperm. She said nothing more about her brother, and she no longer looked for a fallen branch, settling for one beating as punishment for the defeat of her feelings.
Once her pregnancy was confirmed, she went to the constable, the law receiving her into its uncommon bosom, she a negro, as they still said then and would for many years later, that and worse, until her people rose up and threw off the slave mantle although they were forced to fight the descendants of the masters continually, without letup, as long as they lived, for there was never any armistice in this war to be accepted as an equal, no one with such power as the whites would ever submit fully to agree with the proposition Jefferson had written too long ago to be remembered without a crib sheet called Declaration of Independence.
The constable listened to her. She was wearing a gingham dress she had made herself. She wept in front of him, and her tears were not feigned, simply held inside her body so long they accompanied her words perfectly and therefore choked her as she laid forth her indictment of Richard. She saw the man’s face contract, blood drain from his skin. She told him everything and that is why the man heard enough to be convinced her brother’s killer was her own lover, the father of what she said would now be two children, one aborted and one to live as long as she and even longer, she hoped, for she never wanted her brother to be forgotten.
Rufus, her brother’s name, though she called him Charles, his middle name and the name of Richard’s late father, gunned down in the doorway of his neighbor’s house, a shotgun fired into his back by a man drunk with moonshine and just having put up a headstone for his own dead father, demanded Charles take a drink with him and when Charles started out the door the man took his shotgun from the wall and blew both barrels into the back of the father of Richard, Abraham, David, and Ira, and their three sisters, Sonia, Rose, and Carla.
There is no record of the neighbor’s name. Matilda, Charles’s widow, would never utter that name again. She had seen too much death after she was orphaned that way in the war, still a child and just having learned to walk, she walked away from the burning house of her dead mother and father and made her way to a house where she could grow up and if not there then another house whose inhabitants might either know her kin or have work she could do to earn her bed and board, her “keep.”
All this was long ago. You have to worry that the proof no longer exists save in a graveyard most likely fallen to ruin under the years of rain, snow, and wind, and God only knows what else, for the church is maintained without hesitation from year to year, generation to generation, and there are no records there concerning either Rufus Charles’s murder or, sometime before, that of Charles Peter, himself the son of Peter and Cynthia, the progeny of indentured servants come to America from Ulster and the first to homestead the Blue Ridge, in the very house Matilda would live out her long life, but where she now counseled with her four sons after the call went out for them to be jailed, and word reached them even before that, for Ruby was not through with Richard yet and made sure he learned before anyone else what she had done to make him pay.
He would never pay the full price. His mother and three brothers led him away in the dark. Or he led them, but left his mother where she stayed with her three daughters, with whom she would live out her life now and perhaps eventually find some ease from the torment she had never been free from since she’d learned to walk. Richard did repent but never confessed to anyone his feelings. In his own mind he saw his entire family avenged by what he had done. It was like the four years of the war had simply continued after Appomattox inside his body, which felt gnarled and misshapen like a hanging tree or a fetus whose life bore his trace as well as Ruby’s, having joined as though preordained by Lee handing his sword to Grant, and only memory would swear what all there was and would ever be of one life that might eventually vindicate the first death.
(18 October 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander