Part 5 The Conclusion
Miss Lottie’s boys didn’t want nobody messing with their mamma, and I get that. I’m sure salesmen came around all the time to prey on the elderly, especially around the time they got their Social Security check. So when she went out the front door to greet them, I packed up fast and headed for the kitchen looking for a way out the back. There was none.
Who doesn’t have a back door?
I hear the screen door slam and a deep male voice say, “Well where the hell is she? If she’s good as you say, why’d she up and run off?”
I went back into the front room in time to see Miss Lottie slap a large baby man on the arm and say, “Hush up now, that child sells bibles, she don’t want hear your cuss mouth. There’s Linda!” she exclaims. “Honey this is my baby boy Samson and this one here is Solomon. And no, they ain’t twins. Solomon is older and wiser by thirteen months. They are going to be nice while you tell them what you got to show me.”
“Hi. Good to meet you. I really should be going.” They could crush me with one hand.
Samson steps up close, points his finger at my chest and says, “I agree. You need to get yourself on out of here. Mamma don’t need no bibles. She’s bible poor as it is.”
Solomon pulls a pic out of his back pocket, sticks it in his hair, sits down, lights a cigarette and says, “No, I want to see what this white girl thinks she has that we need.”
“I’m going to get us all some sweet tea.” Says Miss Lottie. “Linda honey you go ahead and get started. I’ve heard the first part anyhow.”
Please don’t leave me.
“Well, come on let’s hear it then, bitch,” says Samson sitting on the arm of a pink slip-covered recliner and peeling off his shirt, a Number 32 Browns jersey.
His dark, muscular chest reveals two long jagged scars across the front. “Know how I got these blondie?”
This bullshit intimidation pissed me off and in a false self important sense of stupidity, I say, “Oh, did your kitty cat scratch you, baby boy?”
He rises up a to grab me but Solomon pushes him back and says,
“Sit your ass down and put your damn shirt back on bro. We ain’t got no problem with this girl, yet.”
Miss Lottie comes back with sweet tea and cornbread. “Did I miss anything?”
Her demeanor has changed now that her sons are here. It’s like I’m company and she’s proud to show off her family.
“Solomon here,” she says, handing him a piece of cornbread buttered and on a pretty pink napkin, “he done got himself a good job, a girlfriend and that nice shiny automobile out there. And Samson, well he’s got some growing to do, but he’ll be all right, in time. So you just pull out them bibles, Linda and show us how it’s done.”
It was a scary kind of fun seeing these big men balance cornbread on their knees and sip sweet tea. Mamma was going to have it her way. I loved it! I bagged the idea of a multi-book sale and decided to focus on our large print bible. It always saved me. I would go to church on Sundays in Arkansas and sit in pews next to the older gentry, open my large print bible and hear the whispers all around me.
“Lord have mercy, look how big that writing is.”
“I can see it from here.”
“I don’t even need to put on my glasses.”
I made often made sales in the parking lot that Sunday.
“Miss Lottie,” I said, “I think you may like this even if you are bible poor.” I handed it to her with the 23rd Psalm book marked with the gold ribbon. “Open it and tell me if you like it.” She opened it and beamed.
“ Oh my, look it, boys,” she said passing it around. “I can read this without squinting nor nothing.”
They are nodding, munching and giving me the dead-eye.
“How much is it honey?”
“Well, it is the low price of only twenty-four-ninety nine.”
“That all for the word of God?” She said. “My boys can afford that for they mamma, can’t you Solomon.”
Solomon, hung his head, nodded and said, “Yes Mamma.”
He pulled a fold of cash out of his shoe, peeled off a couple of twenties and handed them to me. “Linda,” he whispered, gritting his teeth, “I’m buying this bible for mamma, you can keep the change, then you are going to get your white ass out of here and never come back. Got it?”
Inhale, exhale. “Got it.”
Mamma was smiling as she closed her eyes and recited the 23rd Psalm. Apparently she knew that one by heart and didn’t need a large print bible. She was perfect. I got teary-eyed.
I packed up, smiled and backed out the front door, not letting it slam and not breathing until I was off the porch, through the gate and down the street. I felt like I done good and evil at the same time.
The kickball teams had lined up and were drinking out of a hose attached to a spigot in the ground. Three teens had taken over the football, making bullet-like passes between them. I felt good, like I could go home happy now. I went through the desert and came out in the promised land. Hell, I’m skipping and humming the theme song to Chariots of Fire as I go past the mimosa tree when, BAM! The back of my head explodes as dirt and dandelions rush to my face.
It’s dark and hot and it smells funny. I don’t believe in hell, so it must Mississippi in the summertime.
“Yeah, don’t crowd her though, give her some breathing room.”
I open my eyes and all I can see is three big white toothed grins inches from my face.
“There she is!” Miss Lottie says. “I knowed she’d come back to us.”
“She’d better,” said Samson. “It’s too hot to be digging a grave.”
“Oh shush now,” says Miss Lottie. “Don’t scare her with that nonsense.”
“What happened?” I ask. I’m confused, I remembered leaving.
“Well now child, it was just bad luck,” says Mis Lottie. “Nobody meant to do you harm. Your head just got in the way of them boys and their football. But you’ll be alright.”
My head felt like it could fly right off my body. I reached up to hold it in place and I felt the wet and stickiness in my hair and saw that my shirt was a bloody mess.
“Oh hell! What the hell happened? Why the hell am I still here? Let me the hell out of here.” Swearing has always helped to calm me but I wasn’t just cussing, I needed answers.
“Honey just rest a bit . You got a bad bump on your head and I need to tend to it,” says Miss Lottie.
“A football did this?” I say. “ Why am I bleeding?”
“You fell face first on a big ole tree root Blondie,” says Samson. “Just shut your mouth and let my momma take care of you. You’ll be fine.”
“No, no, no, I need to go to the hospital. I may have concussion. Was I knocked out for long?” I was dizzy just sitting up and felt like I was going to vomit. I’m was seeing halos around everything.
“Oh, bout an hour or so.” Says Solomon.
“Jesus! Take me to the hospital.”
“We can’t,” says Miss Lottie. “My boys can’t be seen carting a bleeding white woman to the hospital. That wouldn’t set well with anybody. It’d get them into a lot of trouble and they didn’t do nothing wrong this time.”
“But I need help-a doctor, PLEASE! I’ll tell them what happened. Nobody will blame them Samson or Solomon”
“You must not know where you are child,” says Miss Lottie. “It don’t work like that around here. Now, sit up, put this ice pack and your head and read to me from the good book. I can’t let you pass out.”
“Screw the good book!” “I can’t read right now. I need to leave. Please, just take me home, I’m staying at a house over on…Uh…it’s a farmhouse, it’s white and it has a yard and a nice woman named …uh…I don’t remember the details, but if we drive around I’m sure I can find it.”
“No child, not today. I can’t send my boys off on some wild goose chase, b’sides you are better off here where I can watch over you.
So I stayed put and, but for the pain in my head, it was the best time I had in Mississippi. Samson and Solomon warmed up to me. They hung around their momma’s house all that day and the next week. As soon as I could sit up without getting sick, we played cards, checkers and sweet tea pong. Miss Lottie would have no beer under her roof. I read to her from the Bible and ate more fried chicken and okra and collard greens than I have since.
After a couple of days I could stand up and walk around. Which was sad because I truly enjoyed it when Solomon picked me up in those muscular brown arms of his and carried me to the bathroom. He would sit me down on the edge of the big old claw foot tub so Miss Lottie could come in and watch over me in case I got dizzy again.
When the boys weren’t there, she would tell me stories about her childhood. Stories layered with poverty and prejudice but told without hatred or resentment. She always focused on the good times with her family and the small things that made life bearable and gave her hope.
It is still hard for me to understand her acceptance, “that’s just the way things were back then.” But I am what I am, and have no point of reference in my own life for such cruelty. I can get angry and empathize but I’ll never really know.
I felt good enough to leave after five days. Solomon drove me around until I saw Mrs. Beatty’s house. It took longer since I had to sit in the back and keep my head down most of the time, just peeking up when we drove by white farmhouses. Apparently, a black man driving around with a white woman would get stopped and there would be some made up reason to slam him down on the ground, cuff him and haul him into jail. No matter what the white woman said. Solomon said the police had stopped him several times to make sure he hadn’t stolen his own car.
My boyfriend was back from Arkansas by then and wondering where the hell I’d been. He was sitting on the front porch swing looking lost when we pulled up, and little freaked when Solomon walked me up to the house. But he was a good guy, never one to jump to false conclusions. I thanked Solomon, kissed him on the cheek before he left, causing Mrs. Beatty to almost faint behind the screen door.
The rest of the summer I had bouts of dizziness and nauseousness, but never did go to a doctor and it eventually went away. My enthusiasm for selling bibles quickly wained. It got so that I hated the job as much as the pervasive racism of Cornith, Mississippi. I made very little money that summer and not long after we were back in Kentucky I broke up with my boyfriend. His Bible selling experience turned him into a hand raising, praise Jesus, born again Christian. I just couldn’t handle that. But all and all, I benefitted from the experience and Miss Lottie and her boys will always have a special place in my heart.