Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
It was morning before the last deputy left – Leanna's never had its own police department. It would have been even worse if I hadn't ordered Daddy to keep everyone in the back yard, and if he hadn't found a way to do it, but since so few people had actually seen anything, the cops were able to mostly take down information and let people go.
Cecelia was their main witness - not that she was good for much right away. She'd shrunk into a childlike state, and I remembered that she'd told me of once, when she was a child, looking out the window of the shack she lived in and seeing hooded men setting a cross on fire. The shock of coming on this cross so suddenly had scared her right back to those days, I guessed, and it took her a couple of hours to return to her normal sharp mental processes and articulate speech.
At that there wasn't much anyone could tell the cops. Cecelia had gone around the house and seen the cross, with no one around. I'd come around the house and seen her against the fire, with no one else around. The fire department had put the fire out, which no doubt had distorted or completely washed away evidence, and then the crime scene techs had moved in. They found right away that there'd been an accellerant - which was obvious both from the kerosene smell, and the fact that solid wood doesn't easily catch on fire. Anything more profound would take lab work, and they didn't promise anything - there would be no fingerprints, no DNA, nothing useful. The fire would have burned it up and the firefighters would have washed the rest away.
I watched the last patrol car pull away and wearily climbed up the steps to the porch. Cecelia was sitting there in the swing, and I sat down beside her, exhausted both from lack of sleep and from the emotional turmoil. I leaned my head back, but porch swings don't have headrests and I sat up again. Cecelia leaned against me, and I could tell from her heavy movement that she was at least as worn out as I was.
"You oughta go up to bed," I told her.
"I couldn't sleep, Darvin. I've tried napping here in the swing – with just one person there's room enough to lie down – and every time I close my eyes I see that abomination."
"I doubt I could sleep either, not though I'm so tired I couldn't walk down to the road." The road is perhaps 20 yards from the house. "I don't have your past, but seeing that burning cross was like having someone lay a whip across my heart."
"I keep remembering that night when the Methodist minister lost his hood."
"I was just thinkin' about that," I told her.
"I do not doubt it. But while you've have heard me tell you of it, I saw it. That fact is not trivial."
"No, it ain't. But let me tell you, C, I'm mad. I'm -- mad."
Cecelia sat up with a jerk. "In all the years I've known you, that is the first time I have ever heard you swear."
"Sorry – it just popped out. That's how mad and how tired I am."
"I did not accuse you, beloved – I was startled, not offended. You take seriously the principle that filthiness ought to never emerge from the mouth of a Christian, and so when you did curse, it was an indicator of a greater stress than I have ever observed you to labor under."
"Well, there was the bad time..."
She waved her hand sharply. "We shall not speak of that, not now." It wasn't a request.
"No, I don't intend to. We got enough troubles right here. But I did have some difficult times then."
"As did I," she said in a gentler voice.
"An' yet I didn't cuss then."
"Nor did I – indeed, I can honestly say that while I know the words, I have never sworn in my life; God has preserved me from even experiencing the temptation to do so. But to return to your initial point, I too am angry - I find that I am so angry that for once my multitude of synonyms are inadequate, and mad is the only word which will serve."
"Perhaps something of the original sense of the word is in there too."
"An insane anger? It may be. Certainly the provocation partakes of the flavor of insanity; it is not rational to despise or hate someone based on skin color."
"On the other hand," I said, "Kluckers ain't rational, or they wouldn't be Kluckers in the first place."
"And yet members of the Ku Klux Klan have held high positions in the south – right here in Leanna, in fact."
"You an' me both know, C, that power an' brains don't necessarily go together. Just start listing all the politicians who ain't got no more brains than a ball peen hammer."
"I am too fatigued right now to chide you for so terribly mutilating the language – nor can I find it within me to regard your atrocious grammar as important right now. I simply acknowledge the correctness of your observation."
I chuckled, which surprised me, even though I know that sometimes humor pops up even in the middle of the very worst disasters. "Even when you're bein' brief an' not castigatin' me you can't help noticin' my sloppy English, an' taking some time about sayin' so too."
She shrugged, and leaned against me again. "I love my words, the more esoteric the better, and I have a natural tendency to be garrulous."
"Yeah, that's true."
She was quiet for a moment, then asked, "What are the chances that the sheriff's department will be able to arrest the perpetrators of this vile act?"
"You're nearly ready to apply for your PI license. You know my methods."