Black & Blue

By
An undulating dry grass field with a sudden water tower, burned by the sun and breaking the seeming solace of the Sleepy South, wraps around the quaint yet friendly mind of Caine.

Caine’s one of those towns flown by at 70 mph when others are fleeing to the city, and is one that would cause the more nostalgic passengers to sigh loudly and try to pick out certain oddities of the town. Some would try to find the name, and then later try to find it on a map. Thursdays though don't bring much through-traffic.

Some liked it that way. That on Thursdays whenever people would go get groceries or if someone coughed or sneezed loudly at the local Sonic or pub the townspeople could tell exactly who the others were. Then their family history would have to be explained by the oldest citizen of Caine present. Even though the secrets of that family were never fully revealed, enough was hinted so that that person with the cold would remember the cause of their plight hence the trip to the pub. Everybody loved Caine, though.
***
It was morning, then it was dusk, and then it was night all during 11 am one time in Caine. During the hour-long day, the people rushed out of their homes and businesses like anybody would to see what caused this relapse of the normally bright Southern sun.
A sliver of the moon appeared. It blinded everyone briefly who saw the sun. Especially Caine.
Dawn slowly came, and then at noon the time corrected itself. People quickly realized that it was the sun -a solar eclipse. One just happened! They were stunned that such a thing could happen such as that here in Caine. The “Thursday November 21st, 1999” solar eclipse had happened. However, people now call it something different: “The Start.” “The End.” “The Day the Water Tower Swooned.”
“The Day the Water Tower Swooned.” No one in the town called it that. -The water tower certainly didn’t shiver, shake, or even wobble. Nor did its hardened hickory timbers crack and crumble. Phil claimed that it did bow more on that day than usual.

The tough hickory did soften from 11 am to noon, and Phil says -exclaims even- that the water tower swooned over. That it came “a couple a yards off of snappin’, breakin’, causin’ a huge mess of Texas tea that could run rampant from the townspeople’s mouth. Up to their eyeballs in black. -Covered in the sloppy stains of that water tower.”

But it didn’t. -Came close though.
***

Now, I’m not usually one for complaining about what really (really) goes on in this town. I mean, if I reported on half the stuff that goes on here in Caine, well … I don’t really know what I would do. Really.

I guess it could be said that it’s a way of life here in Caine. People always screw up, or slip up, and then it’s known. Look at that one Smith family. Salle got ran out of town. But not just her slip up made her leave, her family had to leave the solace of the town so that people wouldn’t make fun of Salle whenever she would hand them their DQ milkshakes. Well. I can’t really get into that.

I always hate it whenever people ask if I was named after the town, or the town after me. That second option is really dumb. I mean, here I am, 17 years old, and the town is definitely older than that. Ridiculous.

So. My story. Here it is. This is how I saw it. I’ve reduced this story to fifty words:
I really slipped up. I said the one word my friend’s heritage forbids me to utter. Total relapse from all I learned from Ms. Crawle. I’m sorry. Reluctantly, I’ll say that it was that damn solar eclipse. He still hasn’t.

That’s only my part of the story, but -but it’s the part that reporters could say broke the dam. Phil would say I "pushed over the water tower with your single breath." Either way, I don’t honestly believe in the Butterfly Effect, yet for the next month I did. I hate this cold November air. I really do.
***

“Not to complain,” she started up again, “but there isn’t a way to just…make the kid say ‘I’m sorry’? A rule? I know there isn’t a law forbidding it. I know, in fact, there is a law protecting him, …but couldn’t it be thought of as common courtesy?”

Mr. Ernest shuffled with his papers, pretending to be busy with his browsing the random tax reform suggestions, half-interested in something not pertaining to her.

“…I mean it is the nineties?” she sweetly demanded, “Isn’t it? I'd thought by now..." --She trailed off, but with a constant volume...

Now, Mr. Ernest was never the man to get angry, even though, as Phil would say, his "inner bein’ was full of the black." One of the papers he was mindfully pushing just nicked the end of his index finger. Final straw.

“Look, Suzanne,” he started, as he collected the papers into a neat, orderly, and white stack. “Ms. Lee, you know as everyone else does in this town that we provide few apologies.”

He started to nod congratulations to himself, but Ms. Suzanne Lee, Phil’s grandmother, started to open her mouth. Unfortunately for her, her mouth felt like it had fifty cotton balls inside. She wanted to spit out all that dry white mess out of her, but Mr. Ernest, the mayor of Caine, closed and shut her up with a rather simple,

“Everyone knows that you are the only Negroes here in town, the only ones that moved to live here in almost… let’s say 65 years? Oh, and you have been treated acceptably, but like everyone else, people can just mess up.”

Fifty more cotton balls flew in.

“I know that those two are friends, alright? I’m sorry. No one offers up the formal apology quite that easily anymore. I know that there isn't a need for an apology from the boy. But from the powers vested in me as mayor, I'm personally sorry. See y'all around."
***

Mr. Ernest called the town meeting into session. “Now, is there any other business that needs to be discussed?” -No one looked around or raised his pale hand- “Good.

”It has come to my attention that a formal petition of complaint has been brought against the whole town of Caine. Usually, the persecutor of any situation, especially one like this, would or at least should be present” -He looked exactly at me. The air tinged itself with a sudden lightning bolt, one full of ignorance, in the town hall. - “But it seems to be reported that she is… sick."

That was a complete lie. As I know now, twenty minutes would pass until Grandma would be found in a terribly cold puddle of warm, supple blood.

“But let me explain -as how I know it - to y’all to clear up any confusion.”

Mr. Ernest’s blinkin’ started going 70 mph. Then he cleared his throat and smiled. -I somehow feared then what he had to say next:

“It was Thursday, November 21st, during both of them’s English class. Their teacher, Ms. Crawle, a respected though often creative individual, started a class discussion on race. Now, as far as I know, Caine said it" -And he had said it. It. I wasn’t upset at first, since Caine was bein’ relevant. Mr. Ernest said this, though, with a ragin' holocaust in his eye. -

“Phil complained to his grandmother” -I wasn’t upset; she was though. - “And boy did she complain!" --Grandma thought times had called for more egalitarianism. She was just letttin' him know. -

“Too bad she’s sick, now…”
***

Hello everyone. I promise I won’t cry.

Just to let y'all know, I know there is some questionable doubt as to whether or not Caine and me are friends. We are, him and me. But shoot, that town and me? Not by a long shot, but I gotta be thankful for that first warm greeting the soft grass gave me when I stepped out of my dad’s blue Chevy for the last time. The grass gave my toes a big old hug and a beamin’ smile, sayin’ everything’s gonna be okay. Well, I don’t know. That could have been Ms. Suzanne Lee. She was the nice in a world of my father. She also raised me, too.

Now, I didn’t know the cause of this world. I mean Caine, the town of Caine in Lee County. But it would be important to note that whenever the angry jazz music was blastin’ in my daddy’s truck, I happened to see Caine’s water tower. Its history of its construction or what have you meant nothing to me, but I could see the tower's worn hickory. I prayed to myself silently before going to sleep that first night, hoping for the forgiveness that I thought I deserved.

But then there she was. Now I’m gonna go out on a limb here in front of y'all and say that she could have been the source of Caine’s hate, and by that I mean the scapegoat. But this is a hickory branch, so I am true. These tough branches stay the same, unless the Higher Order has something to do about it. So from here, this wooden podium, I gotta firmly preach: The hate was inside of you. That gut feeling sits in everyone, since forever.

Then in 9th grade, I met this kid who had the same name as this town. Wonderful, right? Caine truly transcended y’all and became my friend. Not my only friend, there was my grandma, but one of my best. He’s right over there, and he's smilin' 'cause he knows how wrong it would be for someone so pale to be my friend.

Now here’s the hard part. It’s just that I have to forgive him. I have to forgive that he might have planted the seed that was sewn, ripened, and then picked for my grandma. That can’t be his fault.

Everyone can mess up; everyone can be a victim of peer pressure of somewhere where what is wrong is right. But he isn’t a victim. She was, though?

She was complaining, but to the right person. Who really knows, but she was slipping up in your eyes, yet to others she was doing the right thing. Just not the right thing in Caine. Yes. She wasn’t. She was doing the wrong thing. Nevertheless, she was doing the right wrong thing. The good opposition, the force of good that would respectfully question authority. That would stand up for justice. Tell me Caine, where is she now?

Now she’s here.
***

The plans, however they were to happen, were laid out now: Phil would have to live with his aunt and uncle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whom he hadn’t never even heard of in his life, and he would go in a week after the funeral. Phil had to stay with Caine and his family, which seemed pretty good. But an air of unnamable stickiness filled the air of the whole town.

They were still friends. They still talked. Whatever it was, though, was lifeless, as if they were just going through the motions of what friends do. It was a cold yet humid winter day, and few would want December to start like this, but icicles were forming on both of their lips.

The day had come, the final day of which Phil and Caine were to leave each other. Who knew if it was the final time.

At dusk, with Phil's bags by his side, Phil and Caine stood only two feet from each other, looking each other over as to check that they weren’t going to skip over anything. True, they hadn’t discussed at all “The Day the Water Tower Swooned,” but enough was not said.

Caine started to speak first, “Well. This is it. Holy crap...”

He stopped himself short, though:

“Look. Between you and me is so much crap I can’t even begin. But you: Fly.

“You have the ability to leave here, this town --Caine. You have the chance, the luck to go and escape this. You know as sure as hell that I can’t: It’s… it’s in my name. You gotta gotta gotta go out there and live a good life for me, ‘cause you know as sure as hell I won’t.” -Caine's cheeks stung with the newly forming ice rolling on down.

Phil just nodded his head, slowly, like he was going along with what Caine was saying. Caine suddenly smiled back, saying that “we’ll see each other soon, hopefully.” He was sure, but Phil just kept on nodding, numb too from the winter breeze. They were still friends.

Phil turned around to go. Suddenly he yelled, loud enough that all of Caine heard him, “Bye?!”

Caine was caught off guard, then gaped dumb. He couldn't explain it; his very core shook at the noise coming from Phil. Caine fumbled with the moment from which he could differ from those around him. The dam broke; the town's water tower shattered into a trillion piercing pieces. --Then, “Oh yeah... Bye!”

Phil left. And Caine, he ran, too.





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