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The Perfection of Snow

I woke up in a cold sweat. Breathing deeply, I sat up and looked out the small window of my bedroom. I heard car horns and saw the dark sky slowly becoming pink. It was a peaceful morning in Nashville.

Why was I so tense? I struggled to remember what had given me such a fright. Still looking out the window I saw the twinkling stars disappearing into the gradually lighting sky. As I counted them I remembered. February 13th. It was February 13th!

I shivered from the thought and the coolness in the air. Looking down at the bottom of the bed I saw an extra pair of feet. Smiling as the covers were pulled back I saw my little brother. Isaac.

Isaac was the reason I was doing all this. I could never bear to see those whites treat him like they treated me. I could never lose him. To never see those light blue eyes again? To never hear that beautiful laugh again? It would be hard to imagine life going on without this little light brown colored boy who had his fingers intertwined with mine.

I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for this important day. I was careful not to wake Mama. Satisfied that she was still snoring peacefully, I gave the sleeping boy one last glance as I gently shut the door of my room and walked out of the house.

Outside, I glanced at the little negro children playing on the sidewalk. They all looked sleepy but were happily jump ropeing with one another, completely oblivious to the events that would happen today.

I sniffed the chilly air and the coldness burned my throat in an unpleasant way. It’s going to snow, I concluded grimly. I hated snow. Sighing, I continued down the sidewalk of our black community.

As I passed Mr. Martin’s house, a neighbor who Isaac was rather fond of, he called out to me from his door. “Mornin’, Miss Carter. Where are you goin’ so early?”

Taking a deep breath I flashed him a strained smile.

“Oh, no where special Mr. Martin. Just goin’ out to meet a few friends from the university.” I lied smoothly.

“Well, be safe. You know how those students have caused trouble lately. I don’t want you gettin’ caught up in that kind of nonsense, you know with your mothe-.”

“Yes ‘ir, thank you, I will.” I said cutting him off. I didn’t want all the neighbors to know about Mama. She was having a lot of trouble already.





















On my way to the university, I thought about what would happen today. I found it highly unlikely that all would go smoothly. Mr. Lawson had said that none of us would get seriously injured, but I still worried. Who would take care of Mama and Isaac? Or what would happen if I got arrested? What would they do then?
***

“Janet Carter?”

I jumped at the sound of my name. Startled, I looked around the packed room. I had been so absorbed in my thoughts I had almost forgotten that I was at the university. I looked up at the coffee colored man standing before me.

“Janet Carter? Are you Janet Carter?

“…yes,” I said with hesitation.

“Come with me. I’m da leader of your group, Mr. Brown. You’re in one of da first.”

I panicked as I followed him to the end of the room. First group!? I had the impression that I wouldn’t even have to participate today!

Mr. Brown led me over to three other students around my age before walking away to another group. There was another girl and two boys.

I calmed my racing heart and snuck a few glances at them. The two men looked strong and both had long lean bodies. Both stood with a slight grin on their face and a distant look in their eyes as if they were daydreaming. If it was not for their facial features I would have mistaken them for brothers.

The girl on the other hand puzzled me. She was rather short and skinny. She had lighter colored skin then I and her dark curly hair fell around her shoulders in a way my stiff hair never would. She stood uncomfortably with her eyes to the ground, like she didn’t belong here. But it was her eyes that made it all clear. When I looked into her pale irises I could only think of one other person. Isaac. It was then that I realized she was mixed.

I looked at her in awe. She was so like Isaac, yet so different. Yes, she had pale eyes but hers were greyer. Her skin was the same shade, but it looked unhealthy compared to Isaac’s still baby soft skin.

Soon she noticed that I was staring at her and she looked down like she was embarrassed. Interesting, I thought. I was so engrossed with her that I didn’t see Mr. Brown walk over again. I was about to introduce myself when he spoke.

“Alright y’all. Let’s head out.”

Oh Lord, I thought as I wiped my suddenly sweaty palms on my best skirt. Please keep me safe!
***

As we marched our way into the heart of Nashville white flakes drifted silently from the sky. Just great, I thought, something else to ruin my day. Sighing, I continued to think about the task at hand.

I kept repeating Mr. Lawson’s instructions in my head. 1. Go in the store and sit at the lunch counter. 2. Ask to be served. 3. If refused, do not get up. 4. If insulted ignore their jests. 5. If anyone harms you or someone in your group try to share the beating. 6. And lastly, never fight back.

It was so many things to keep track of! I thought hopelessly. The fighting back part was no problem for me as I was pretty non-violent. I turned to the two men beside me from the university. I still couldn’t believe how similar they were.

Joseph and David, as they had introduced themselves before, both had their heads held high and a smile on their face. They walked with a confident stride and swung their arms as if they didn’t have a care in the world. To my astonishment, it seemed as though they wanted to be here doing this.

Shaking my head in amazement I looked in front of me at the strange mixed girl. Earlier, I learned her name was Lucy. She walked with uncertainty. She strode with her hands clasped tightly in front of her while she stared at the ground. She seemed as nervous as I was. As I was about to start a conversation with her again, Mr. Brown from the university spoke.

“Alright e’ryone, let’s go through da plan once more.”

The plan was this. Because Greyhound (a small department store) was far from the others like Woolworths, there would be only two groups. Joseph and David would lead the first group into the department store, because they were the biggest men between the two groups. Lucy and I would pretend to look around at some of the things while Joseph (or was it David?) would go buy a tube of toothpaste. After his purchase, Lucy and I would go sit at the lunch counter with Joseph and David. I would then ask if we could all have chocolate milkshakes as sweetly as I could. If everything went as planned, which I doubted it would, we would all drink our milkshakes in peace and exit the store. If we were refused, we were to stay there until served or removed. If the whites pulled us from our seats, the second group was waiting to take our places at the counter.

As we got closer and closer to the door my doubt that this would work began to rise. Would the whites let us sit in “their” place? Most likely not.


We strode closer and closer to the store. My legs began to shake and the worries I had before returned. Would I be hurt or arrested? What would happen to Isaac and Momma? Teeth chattering, I followed silently behind Lucy and the boys.

Outside the door to Greyhound, I tripped over a loose stone. Arms flailing, I stumbled until Lucy grabbed my arm to steady me.

“Thank you.” I said still quite shaken.

“You’re welcome.” Lucy said with a shy smile.

Stopping to catch my breath, I heard snickering behind me. I whipped around to see two white boys about sixteen, chuckling quite loudly.

I stiffened as one called out to me. “Aye n*****! Can’t even stand on your two feet huh?”

Swallowing down my anger, I let the boys usher me in the store. As Lucy and I went to stand by our posts, she shot me a look that I couldn’t recognize. Shaking my head, I watched as our plan unfolded before my eyes.

Joshua walked to the toothpaste aisle, grabbed a random tube, and walked to the cashier to pay. People were giving us sideway glances because of our large and unusually quiet group. Once Joshua received his change, we all went into action. We all walked carefully to the lunch counter and took our seats. One elderly woman beside us gasped and scooted her stool farther from us. Ok, I thought, this is it. I stared at the white waitress with her jaw slack.

“Excuse me Miss, could we please have four chocolate milkshakes?”

We looked at her politely, waiting to see if our plan would work or not. Finally she blinked and seemed to understand the situation. She stood up straighter so she could look down at us. With her nose in the air she said coldly, “We don’t serve coloreds here.”

My stomach dropped in surprise. I thought that we would be refused but it’s different when it actually happened. I clenched my teeth at her rudeness but said politely, “Okay M’am, we’ll wait.”

It was her turn to be surprised, but she covered it by going to serve the elderly woman next to us. I shot David, who sat next to me, a strained look, but all he did was shrug and continue to look around the store. Stealing a glance at Lucy and Joshua, I realized that I was the only one who was nervous. They didn’t feel as though they were in danger anymore. Relax, I told myself, if they aren’t worried than neither should you. Despite telling myself this, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something bad was going to happen.

After about ten minutes, the bell above the door rang indicating that other customers had arrived. I looked behind my shoulder and froze. It was the boys who had laughed at me along with some other boys around the same age. When the boy who looked like the leader saw us, he froze as well. Slowly his shocked look melted into a cruel smile as he scanned the counters. Step by step he started to stride over to us. With every click his shoes made on the tile floor I thought, please don’t make trouble, please don’t make trouble.

Once he was close enough to David that he could grab his shirt, he said, “Now, what are four dogs like you doing sittin’ in our seats?”

I was frozen on the spot. As I tried to squeak out an answer, Lucy said, “Oh excuse us Sir, we were just ordering some food. I didn’t realize you owned these seats.”

I was taken aback by her answer because, well, colored folk just don’t talk to whites like that. The white boy must have thought the same thing because his face went red with rage.

“Now you listen here, n*****! I can get y’all arrested for speakin’ to me like tha-.”

“Oh, meant no harm Sir.” Joshua said, shooting Lucy a look. “Look, there’s some empty seats over there. Why don’t y’all sit there?”

This was obviously the wrong answer as the white boy grabbed Joshua by the collar and lifted him from his seat.

“If we want to sit here we will sit here.” The boy whispered coldly. With that said he shoved Joshua on the ground. The others proceeded to kick him while he lay in a curled position. David fell to the ground in an attempt the share the beating, leaving Lucy and I at the counter alone.

I saw the second group jogging in to take their places, but was distracted by the menacing figure behind Lucy. He raised his arm to hit the back of her head. Without thinking, I flung myself in front of her so that the boy would hit my shoulder instead. As his fist connected with my skull, I realized I had made a miscalculation. I fell to the tile floor as my vision faded to black.
***
(FLASHBACK)

The autumn air was crisp as I watched the leaves float slowly to the ground. Ever since I was young, I loved watching the seasons change. At age eighteen, that love hadn’t changed. Smiling, I started to hum Amazing Grace.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a-”

Suddenly, I was awoken from my day dream by the sound of someone yelling. Sighing, I looked back at our small house to see Isaac run out of the house, crying. He climbed in my arms and sobbed into my shoulder. I rubbed his back and said, “Its okay sweetie. They will calm down eventually. They always do.”

“B-but h-h-he is packing h-his ba-a-ag!.” He cried out.

Suddenly the door of our house slammed open and a man walked out. This man was the total opposite from me. He was as white as I was black; his deep blue eyes bore into my brown ones as he walked down the porch steps towards us. This was the man who Mama loved, the man who was like the father I never knew. This was Isaac’s father.

When the man finally came before us, I took one look at the emotion in his eyes and started to panic.

“Robert please! It’s okay. You and momma will make up again and everything will be okay!” I plead with him.

All he did was look down and shake his head. At this I choked down a sob.

“Please stay! It’ll be fine!”

He looked at me with those sad eyes and reached a hand towards me but dropped it halfway. He turned his head and finally said in a soft voice, “Take care of your brother and mother for me okay?” With that he turned and strode down the sidewalk, out of my life.

I watched in astonishment as he slowly disappeared. Finally I remember the crying little boy in my arms. I comforted him and told him everything was going to be all right, even though it wasn’t.

The man who made Mama smile, who taught me how to ride a bike, who was Isaac’s father just walked away leaving us forever. Last autumn was the season I began to hate whites.
***

I slowly began to regain consciousness. In the spots of my vision I could just make out Lucy and David. They were crouched over me, speaking my name. What happened? How did I get here? Suddenly everything came flooding back, and I bolted up so fast that I almost hit Lucy. Looking around I realized we weren’t in the store anymore. The snow that silently drifted from the sky mixed with the tears on my cheek, making the fresh cut on my forehead burn. We were in an alley a few blocks away from the store. I was confused. Why weren’t we still in the store?

“Why am I here? Why are we not in the store?”

“When you fell to the floor, David and I helped you out of there cause you were bleeding real bad. We didn’t know where you lived and the hospital for colored was real far away. Plus I doubted anyone would let us in with you bleeding like that. So, we brought ya here.” Lucy said as she inspecting my forehead.

Suddenly David spoke, “You were crying while ya slept. We were wonderin’ why.”
He stared at me curiously waiting for an answer.

I swallowed as I remembered just what had made me so upset. “Oh, just someone I used to know.” I said avoiding his gaze.

Before David could respond, Lucy cut in. “Well we ought to be getting you home now. Where do you live?”

We were actually quite close to my house so I said, “Oh you don’t need to walk me, my house is right around the block.”

I got up and dusted the snow from my skirt, now ruined with my blood. The cut on my forehead still bled sluggishly down my face I stood there gently refusing their insistences that they escort me. Finally, I strode down the sidewalk, alone.

When I rounded the corner onto my street, something inside me broke. Maybe it was from the loss of blood or maybe from the dream that still lingered in my mind. I sunk down and curled up into a ball right in front of our house.

Silently, I watched as my blood stained the perfection of the snow. That is why I hated snow. It’s too perfect, too unreal. Nothing is perfect, Robert showed me that. I watched as my tears mixed with the crimson imperfections. Maybe that’s all I am. An imperfection in their perfect white world. In their eyes, I’m nothing but a mistake. This is why I hate snow. It reminds me that I am nothing but a mistake in the perfect whiteness of their world.

I don’t know how long I laid there but finally I heard a certain little boy say my name.

“Jan! Jan, are you okay!?” Isaac asked me over and over again.

I looked up long enough to see him scamper down the porch. I unconsciously smiled when I saw him. How could the whites not see this? This little boy was as good or better as any other child in Nashville, white or black. No, he wasn’t perfect, but who is? The white boy who knocked me unconscious because of the color of my skin certainly wasn’t. I made a promise that day. I promised to show the whites that they’re not perfect and neither are we. We are all equal. None of us are like snow.



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