Child of Pride

A thick Poscataw night had set in as I worked my way up the driveway, returned from New Orleans.  Eleanor King’s wooden pencil box of letters rode beside me, demanding my attention.  I regretted ever opening it.  I now knew what I’d spent so long searching for and could literally hold my father’s guilt in one hand, but from there I didn’t know what to do.  My desire to know the facts of Johnson Calvert’s collusion in the death of Clyde King had been replaced by a resentment of them.  I was tempted to throw the box out the window, let it shatter on the highway, leaving the wind and weather to dispense of the letters.  But even as the angry storm clouds built up I couldn’t help my mind from wandering across the state to a narrow cell in Parchman Keep, where forty years earlier my father had taunted a noble man in his dying days, leering at him through the bars as Peter Bingham looked on.  For all my plotting, I’d always assumed I’d know exactly what to do when I found the evidence I sought.  Now confronted with such uncertainty, I felt a growing anxiousness that screamed at me to do something, anything—just so long as I could free my mind of the ambiguous wailings.

The house was dark when I arrived, and only Cathy was home, leaving me to my own agitation.  I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with Helen or provide any account of my trip to New Orleans.

‘Where’s Helen?’ I said as I walked in.

‘Off with Marty and Monty,’ Cathy replied, setting down the magazine she’d been reading.  ‘She waited around for you to get back but then she got bored.’

‘Where’s your mother?’

‘In town.’

Cathy stood up and stretched, never taking her eyes off me.  I was too agitated to put up with any of her games so I hid in my bedroom.  I shut the door behind me and stood in the middle of the floor, eying the room that had once been my father’s—the same room he’d set out from forty years before on his way to Natchez.  My body was taught like a bowstring and I contemplated lashing out at the walls.

I needed to vent and decided to go for a run.  I pulled my only pair of athletic shorts from the bottom drawer.  Silver and synthetic, they shimmered under the light.  They’d been a Christmas gift from my father a few years before.  Johnson Calvert specialized in the easy gift that tied in to an established fact from the past.

Back in the age of my teenage vitality I’d been quite the runner, doing track and cross country in high school.  It was the only thing I’ve ever been good at from an athletic standpoint.  When I went away to college I tried out for the track team at San Jose State and didn’t make the cut—I wasn’t University quality.  Without the structure of competition I petered off on running.  My regimen dissipated (in concert with my growing waistline).  The shorts had sprung from my father’s residual memory of my career as a track athlete.  Anyone remotely connected to my life knew those halcyon days were long gone.

Cathy intercepted me on the way out the door, nearly blowing out a nostril when she saw my outfit.

‘Nice shorts,’ she said, mocking.  I gave a polite chuckle but kept my momentum headed in the direction of the door.

‘I’ve got a silver shirt that would match the shorts,’ Cathy said, making a joke of my attire.  I stopped.  After the day I’d had, I could use some humor.  ‘It’s too big for me.  You can have it if you want.’  I turned to face her.

‘Let me see the shirt.’

The shirt matched the shorts.  I stood in front of the full-length mirror.  My sausage thighs stretched the shorts like spandex; the synthetic fabric gripping me by the crotch in a silver cameltoe.  I filled out the woman’s button-up shirt with the protrusion of my aspiring beer belly and budding beer tits; my silver collar stood vertical.

‘The cars on the road will be able to see me better,’ I explained.  Cathy didn’t need to be persuaded—she was enjoying our game of dress-up.  She fancied me an oversized Ken doll.  At one point she went to tuck down and straighten my collar.  She looked up at me and the edge of her mouth curled up.

‘You know what I’m thinking.’

‘We talked about this.’  Cathy shook her head, her hands still on my collar, then leaned toward me and planted a wet kiss on my neck.  I looked at her and her mouth had the same beckoning curl.  I sprang out the front door and down the driveway, a slothish flash of silver.  I ran west, toward town, along a dark road.  The moon was full and it illuminated the yellow lines.  I ran down the centerline; the last thing I needed was an armadillo accosting me from out of the brush.  It was hot: eighty degrees, even in darkness, with humidity climbing toward a hundred percent.  I’d broken into a heavy sweat by the time I reached the Pinkston Place.  There were no Pinkston’s in sight but their mailbox heralded my passing.  I could see light through the trees.  I continued toward town.  Past the Clark Place and the Beezeman Place and the Peshtosh Place; past the home of Pastor John Wiggins.

As I ran I considered my options.  Since coming to Poscataw I’d imagined revealing my father’s crimes to the world.  With Clyde King’s letters in hand, I now had the desired ammunition; it was simply a matter of dropping them in the mail to David Drysdale.  But as I ran further I felt the anger sweating out through my pores, and with its passing I imagined my father picking up a newspaper one day and finding he had been defamed.  And for what?  Would I finally have his attention then?  The sky would tear open and rain shit on the day I let my indignity spur me to action.  On that day my family would be lost to me forever.

I ran harder, uncomfortable with the truth.  My lungs heaved and the impact of my heel on concrete jolted up my shins and thighs.  I pressed on hard, trying to wash away the indecision and anxiety with pain, but before long I knew I was out of steam.  I told myself I’d run to the next landmark.  I saw a mailbox materialize from the shadows.  I accelerated toward the goal, running harder, my breath coming out in violent gasps.  I closed to within twenty feet when I saw her walking up the driveway, looking down at the ground.  She wore a bathrobe and seemed intent on her mailbox at the mouth of the driveway.  The way she trudged up the driveway, head bent low, she didn’t see or hear me coming, not until she glanced up and saw me, a lode of silver charging at her from out of the night.  She screamed and whipped up the driveway at a full run.  I stood, stunned, in the middle of the road, watching her go.  She still wore slippers and moved at a great pace in spite of them, the tails of her bathrobe flapping behind her.  The moon cast an even glow over the road.  I watched her disappear up the driveway and for the first time all day I forgot my father entirely.  In a moment of encumbered logic I thought to follow her, to find out who she was, apologize for my odd costume.  Drawn toward the distraction as if by a tractor beam I moved to follow her.  I wanted to see where she lived, and even make amends—anything to elongate my forgetfulness.  I kept low, working my way from tree to tree, paralleling the driveway.  I crept through the woods and stayed clear of the driveway, my eyes adjusting to the dark.  Out on the road I hadn’t needed night vision—so bright was the moon—but now vegetation hung thick overhead.  Thick underbrush reached out to grab me by the ankles.  Ahead of me I could see a light through the trees.  I stumbled forward through the underbrush, squinting at the light.  Someone’s porch….

I heard the rifle report and simultaneously heard something go whizzing by my right ear.  A female voice rang out from the same trajectory as the gunshot.

‘Get off my property you sick sonofabitch!’  I cast stealth aside as I tore through the bushes back toward the road.  I tripped and fell on my face as another bullet went screaming over my head.

‘Gonna get you you sonofabitch!’  I jumped up and ran but found I wasn’t moving fast enough—not through the underbrush.  I broke for the driveway: opening me up for a cleaner shot but then I needed to get out of there fast.  I thrashed through the bushes.  I tripped as I stumbled into the middle of the gravel driveway.

‘Now I see you!’  Another shot.  This one hit a tree just in front of me.  I looked back and saw her fifty yards back, fumbling to get a bullet into the chamber.  Adrenaline took charge and I didn’t wait around.  Sprinting, I reached the main road as another crack pierced the night.  The driveway T’ed at the road and I didn’t slow, merging onto the yellow lines and running with abandon, illuminated by the moon overhead.  Sweat glimmered heavy on my forehead as I labored to get back my breath.  I loped down the road for a quarter mile before stopping.  I walked off the road and hid in the shadows.  She didn’t seem to be following me.

As I caught my wits my mind fluttered back to the issue at hand.  Night shenanigans aside, I was no closer to a decision now than I had been when I set out.  I crumpled to the forest floor at the base of a stout oak, breathing deep.

Peter Bingham. I didn’t have to make up my mind about my father.  I could start with Peter Bingham.  One step at a time.

Which begged the question of how to confront the man.  Apparently Peter had been playing me all along, but for what purpose?  The letters painted Peter as my father’s accomplice and little more.  Peter must have had his own motive, something to explain his duplicity.  If I could discover Peter’s role in the Clyde King affair then maybe that would bring me closer to deciding what to do about my father.  I began to walk back toward the Calvert place, pondering my options.  On most days, getting shot at would have counted as the highlight of the day (if not the week), but on this hot Poscataw night I pushed the episode almost entirely from my mind.

I got home around midnight.  Helen was lying awake in bed with the lights off.

‘Where you been?’

‘Went for a run.’

‘I thought you’d gotten run over by a truck.  And what the hell are you wearing?’  Moonlight through the window reflected off my silver shorts.  I flipped on the overhead.  ‘Oh God, Jackson: that’s atrocious.’

‘I know.’

Helen looked at me closer now.  ‘How was your trip?  You’re up to some trouble.’

For all my confusion, I knew one thing with precise clarity: I couldn’t breathe a word of this to Helen.

‘It’s a cool city.’

‘And?’  Helen tilted her head, impatient for disclosure.

‘And that’s it.  I didn’t get anything done.’  I moved to the dresser and turned my back on Helen and began to peel off my sweaty clothes.

‘You didn’t just go down there to visit Bourbon Street,’ Helen said with the familiar edge that premeditated an argument.

‘That’s all I saw was Bourbon Street.’  I said it to the dresser rather than to Helen, trying to sound cheerful.

‘You’re lying.’  I heard Helen sink back into the bed.  I didn’t respond, instead leaving my sweaty garments on the floor and heading for the shower.  As if I didn’t have enough on my mind already, I now saw I was going to have to maintain some sort of façade with Helen.

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