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Summer of 1973

The summer of 1973. It was another hot and sticky summer in New Orleans. The kind of heat that made you want to just lie in a heap in front of an open refrigerator and bask in the cool air. The racism at that time was like the humidity; everywhere. It engulfed the city and stuck to the people like glue. It was one of those days. It was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set, its red beams made the trees cast long shadows down my street and into the window. I was playing with a friend, Maya, at her house. She was the doctor’s daughter and a good friend of mine. We played quietly in her room when we heard a knock on the door.

“Come in!” Maya called, as she slipped a pink pump on to one of her Barbie doll’s delicate feet.

“The phone is for you.” Said her father, holding the door open for me. I slowly got up and adjusted my skirt. I left the room and descended down the stairs to the telephone that sat mounted on the wall just outside the kitchen.

“Hello?” I said, leaning casually against the wall next to the telephone.

“Come home. Now.” Said my mother on the other line. She didn’t seem as much angry or frustrated with me as she seemed scared, so scared she seemed was almost listless. I bolted back up the stairs and told Maya I had to leave, my parents wanted me home for dinner and I couldn’t be late. I told the same to her father and crossed the house to their front door. I slipped on my gray cloth shoes and flung myself out the door and down the street, nervous to hear what had made my mother sound so terrified on the telephone. I sprinted down the sidewalk, the wind brushing my long, brown hair behind me as I ran. My heavy breathing told me to slow down, but I kept running. Faster, faster, faster. My feet slapped hard onto the rough, boiling hot pavement. Finally I arrived on my front lawn, I could feel the blood pumping in my ears. I took off my shoes and felt my feet in the soft, green grass as I crossed the lawn to my front door.

I entered my home to see my parents and grandfather sitting quietly in the living room. There were four suitcases by the door. My mother’s, my father’s, my grandfather’s and mine. I looked at them inquisitively, waiting for an answer. My mint green suitcase seemed somewhat full. Did I forget a vacation? Were we going to visit my sister, Wendy or my brother, Michael at college? We wouldn’t have to stay the night, though… Tulane isn’t far, I told myself. My mother instructed me to sit, and I did so. I sat across from my father in the green velvet chair that once belonged to my grandmother. I inhaled its familiar smell. I had sat in that chair all my life, to read or play my flute or just talk and enjoy the company of my family. I felt safe, protected, even in my chair. I looked back up at my mother to see her eyes welling with tears.

“We are going to a hotel.” My father said. “We got a call from the FBI.” I felt my stomach turn into a knot and tighten. I began to squirm in my seat as a chill ran up my spine, like spiders scurrying up my back. My father worked for the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League. He went on “missions” to stop KKK rallies and arrest members. We were always under threat, but it was never anything that we had to be especially cautious about. My father explained to me that the FBI wanted us to be safe, they were protecting us. They wanted us to go to a hotel and stay there until further notice. Because… because someone wanted to kill us. The concept to me was almost unreal. Whoever he or she was, who wanted to kill us, was more after my father than my mother and I, but after all of us, nonetheless. They didn’t even know me! How could they want to kill me? (And my mother, and grandfather.) It felt like snakes were dancing the tango in the pit of my stomach and refusing to stop, as we wheeled our suitcases out to the car and drove off to the hotel. I sat in the back seat, trying to reason with myself. Nothing is going to happen. I repeated over and over in my head. Nothing… nothing… nothing… The car ride seemed to take forever, the short cement roads seemed to turn into endless highways and even the open windows couldn’t diminish the constant burn of my cheeks and forehead as I laid down in the back seat, trying to calm what felt like a raging fever. I pressed my face against the cool leather of the seat, just to try and tame the fire burning in my head. I closed my eyes and told myself that everything would be ok. I took deep breaths and just said to myself, “They’ll catch him. They’ll catch him. They’ll put him in jail. They’ll catch him and that is all. He’ll be gone forever. They’ll catch him.”

We walked into the hotel and opened the large glass, wood framed doors. A wave of cool air washed over me as we stepped on to the air-conditioned, marble threshold. My parents checked us in and I couldn’t believe they were still sane. I was practically jumping out of my skirt every time I heard the bell on the hotel door open or close. We took the elevator up to our room. The ride was silent. I was too scared to even ask any questions. The ride seemed almost as long as the car ride there, although we were only on the 8th floor. I kept my mouth shut and stared intently at a spot of the wall of the elevator.

We entered the hotel room and I sat down on the couch, sitting upright and carefully choosing a spot on the wall to stare at. My mother sat down next to me and put her hand on mine. I glanced at the clock: 5 pm.

“It’ll be ok. They just want to make sure we’re safe.” I kept my mouth shut though, still staring blankly at the spot on the wall the often times resembled a triangle. “It’ll be alright.” My mother cooed as she stroked my hair. I still refused to speak, my fear overcoming me. I felt like a zombie, just a lump of nothing, on the couch.

I took a few long, deep breaths before finally speaking. I wanted my voice to
seem as normal and fearless as possible.

“Who?” I asked, turning quickly to my mother, who was thumbing through a furniture magazine.

“First time you’ve talked in hours.” My father remarked from the other room as he typed vigorously on his typewriter.

“Who?” I repeated, exacerbated.

“Do you remember the man, Medgar Evers?” my mother asked, keeping her poise.

“Of course.” I replied, “The man who was killed in Jackson about ten years ago. Killed by that horrible man, Bryon De La Beckwith. But they never caught him. He’s truly horri—he wants to kill us.” I knew it. The name shot through my head like a spear. At 100 miles per hour, the name seemed to sting my mouth as I whispered it again. The thought of a murderer with a bomb coming to kill us shot through my thoughts like another one of the lethal spears that left me paralyzed. It lodged in my brain and remained there, taunting me. I decided that returning to my coma-like state would keep me from going off and doing or saying something stupid.

My spot on the wall didn’t move. It was shaped like a triangle. It had two small dots in it, like eyes. Watching me. The black eyes seemed like deep holes. Empty, yet full of hate. But I stared back. I wasn’t afraid. I couldn’t be. I stood my ground because nothing, absolutely nothing, could take me down. I stared as I heard my surroundings, the phone ringing every thirty minutes or so, the loud clicking of my father’s typewriter in the connected bedroom, the loud ticking of the blue clock on the end table by the couch, and the sound of my mother turning the pages of her glossy magazine. One by one, the sounds began to fade away. First the magazine, my mother had read through it so many times I was sure she could recite it perfectly and describe all the pictures in perfect detail, down to each embroidery. Then the typewriter. I wasn’t sure of the time, but I knew it was getting late and I guessed my father had gone to sleep, although I don’t know how he could’ve. I was too scared to even close my eyes. I had to stand my ground against that spot on the wall. The spot that resembled something terrifying. But of course, two sounds stayed very consistent. The phone; it rang and rang and didn’t stop. Like a forever going merry-go-round, it just kept going and going. Almost like I had wound the spring on my music box so many times, that it would play for hours. Except this wasn’t my music box. Then the clock. It seemed to get louder as I tried to drown everything out with my own thoughts. Tick, tock, tick, tock. It teased me, it was laughing at my fear. All I wanted to do was be home and play with my dolls, I wanted to play my flute and begin learning the new piece of music I received from my teacher, and I wanted to listen to my records. I imagined the scratchy sound of my records playing. I imagined my favorite musical, My Fair Lady, playing smoothly in the parlor. The record player on the wooden table next to my green velvet chair. But alas, it was only a thought. Because there I sat, staring at the little white triangle with two menacing eyes, and listening to the loud, threatening tick of the clock.

The phone had stopped ringing now. It must’ve been quite late. My eyelids grew heavy and I let them close as I collapsed back on the couch and finally began to let my mind drift. My peaceful slumber was interrupted by once again, the ringing of the phone. I glanced over at the little blue clock. It read 3:30 am. The ticking of the clock didn’t seem so loud anymore. I heard my father in the other room.

“Ok.” He said, “Alright. Yes, yes. I understand. I appreciate it. I really do. Thank you.” I fell back asleep.

I awoke in the morning to see my parents once again packing our bags.
I looked over at the spot on the wall. Somehow, it seemed less threatening. Just a spot on the wall, in the shape of a triangle.

“What happened?” I asked, rubbing my eyes from my restless sleep.

“We’re going home.” My father said. We checked out of the hotel and climbed back into the car. I slid into the back seat and turned and sat on my knees as I watched the hotel disappear behind us while we drove away. “He’ll be arrested, I’m sure.” Said my father calmly. “They caught him at the bridge. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. He had a ticking time bomb and some loaded guns.”

“And a map.” My mother added. “With our home…”

“Highlighted.” My father finished. My eyes widened as I looked at my parents in disbelief. I took a deep breath. ‘He’s in jail.’ I told myself. He’s gone and never coming back.

We pulled back into the driveway and dragged our suitcases back into the house. The soft grass caressed my feet, I felt safe again. I didn’t bother unpacking, though. I just went into the parlor and shut the door tight. I wanted with all my heart to be alone. I sat down in my green velvet chair and closed my eyes for a moment, thanking god I was safe. I then reached under the chair and pulled out my flute and its case. I took out my flute and began playing. The new music I had received; it wasn’t hard at all. I just had to imagine my fear floating away with the tune.





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