Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
Darlia and I left not long after that, for it was getting toward supper time and nothing else seemed forthcoming. Neither of us had anything to say on the ride home, and I sent Darlia to wash up while I went into the kitchen to see if there was anything I could help with. I should have known there wouldn't be – I'm about as much use in the kitchen as a porcupine would be – but I have this bad habit of not always being as smart as I ought to be.
Supper wasn't long after we got home – cornbread, ham, mashed potatoes, and what I once heard Jerry Clower call "slick, slimy boiled okry." Okra's okay fried, but when you boil the stuff it turns into the mucilage I used as a kid in elementary school. But in the south it's a common thing, at least in the country – I doubt if there are any fancy restaurants in Atlanta or Charleston or wherever that would even admit it exists, much less serve it.
After supper Cecelia and I insisted on doing the dishes, since we'd merely helped since we'd been there, and we figured it was our turn. At least that was what I figured, and I know Cecelia well enough to figure that she was figuring the same thing. She washed and I dried, and as we worked our way through the plates and bowls and silverware, and the pots and pans, she said, "I could almost wish that Straight were available."
I almost dropped the plate I was drying. Straight had been a friend of mine before I met Cecelia – we'd become friends before I'd realized that he was not merely a criminal, but a leg breaker and shooter and knife man, who'd hurt you as soon as look at you. For years I'd made it a point not to ask for details about what he did, because if I'd ever known for sure, I'd have had to turn him in to the cops. Finally he'd ordered a murder which took place right under the window of the office I was using then, killing someone who'd been in my office just five minutes earlier. I gave him a running start before I told the police what I knew – the last gesture to our friendship. Cecelia had never liked him, and since he'd left had refused to listen to anything I might say about him.
I stared at her. "This thing is really eatin' you up, ain't it?"
"It is," she said, not looking at me. "In all my life I have never been so bitterly angry as I am now. When I was child and someone called Daddy 'boy, ' or called me a 'nigger, ' or – as happened twice – burned a cross in our yard, it was somewhat normal. It was the last gasp of the virulence of Jim Crow, and it was what we all had known our whole lives.
"But today, while things are not perfect, a great deal has changed, and I could sit in the front of the bus in Montgomery and no one would believe it strange. Indeed, I have no doubt that if I boarded a bus in Montgomery, and all the seats were full, a white man would voluntarily surrender his seat to me.
"And now there has been another cross in Daddy's yard, one which I understand far better than I understood the ones in my youth, and it is a defiance of all the progress we've made since the 1960s. Were the people who perpetrated that barbarism in front of me at this moment, Darvin, I cannot swear that I would not run them through with this knife." And she held up the butcher knife she had in her hand, the one Mama had sliced the ham with.
"They's times, C, when I can say I know how you feel. And they's times when I can't. I think I can't, right now. I've had black people think ill of me 'cause I'm white, but I've never been through what you have. But I'm not exactly happy about this either."
"Are you so violently angry that you truly believe you could murder those who did the thing?"
I took a deep breath. "No, I'm not quite that mad. Shoot, after that sermon I'm less mad than I was. Right now I'm mostly intent on doing justice, rather than beating their faces into pudding."
"I do not like this anger in me, Darvin. But it is there. And if I knew how to contact Straight, I am afraid – I mean that word literally – that I would offer him money to find those who erected and fired the cross, and dispose of them as he saw fit."
"Well, he's a city boy, an' he's more familiar with droppin' people into foundations or shoving 'em into a culvert or something. But I imagine he could locate a bit of swamp or a patch of woods for the bodies ... or he might drop 'em off on the steps of the head Klucker, as a warning."
She glanced at me as she washed Daddy's coffee cup. "You were not previously so willing to admit Straight's homicidal proclivities."
I nearly tossed a smart remark at her, but caught myself in time – in her mood it would have become a flaring argument. "Well, I always did know what he was."
"But you—" She stopped and took a breath. "No, I shall not say it – it sounds too much like an accusation, and I do not wish to accuse you."
"I appreciate it. And even if I don't feel exactly what you're feeling, I think I understand why you almost wish we could get ahold of Straight. But we can't, and that's probably a good thing."
"I consider it so. The fact that I viscerally wish to inflict fatal harm on those ... people ... does not render my reason incapable of functioning. I know that what my emotions want, is wrong."
"An' if there's anyone on earth who subordinates emotion to truth and reason, it's you. It's one of the first things I admired about you."
Cecelia smiled. "I'm glad there is something admirable about me."
"Oh, they's lots. Just look in the mirror some time."
"I do that on a regular basis, beloved – I have not mounted a full-length mirror on my closet door for nothing. And when I look therein, I see musculature of which I'm proud, and a face which ensures that I shall remain humble."
"Shoot, your face is beautiful, no matter what you think."
"And no matter what you once thought?" she asked with a grin.
"So you admit you are capable of error."
"I don't admit it – I proclaim it."
"Then I submit, my husband, that you are in error regarding your current evaluation of my face."
"I bet if we get Darlia to referee, this'll be one time she'll agree with me."
"I fear you are correct – and all the other arbiters I might name would also side with you. All this proves, though, is that a great many people in my family are blind."
I finished drying the glass in my hand before I spoke. "Cecelia," I said when I'd put the glass in the cabinet, "if thinkin' you're the most beautiful woman on earth, and loving you more than I love my life and the whole world, is blindness, then I'll be blind and thank God for the lack of eyesight."
Cecelia leaned over and kissed me. "There is no response to that which will not be either a rejection of a most pleasing sentiment, or else so full of corn that you could pop it on the stove. I shall, therefore, keep silent."
And she did.