Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
We sat there for a while in silence, and while we did, Darlia came out the front door and told us she was going for a walk. I watched her going down the steps and across the grass to the road, where she turned left, away from town. I looked at Cecelia and said, "I got a favor to ask you."
"If it is within my capacity, I shall freely grant it."
"I don't know if it is, though it seems simple," I said with a grin. "I'd just like you to roll up the sleeves of your t-shirt the way Darlia does."
Cecelia looked after our daughter, who was still in sight. Darlia had on a pair of raggedy jeans and a white t-shirt, and she had indeed rolled up the sleeves. Her golden brown skin made a pleasing contrast with the white of the cloth, and from here if you didn't know any better you'd think she was chubby. But I knew very well just how much muscle Darlia's got under the layer of subcutaneous fat that makes her look soft. I've seen Darlia lay hold of things that take some force to move, and watched the muscle suddenly reveal itself as she exerted that force.
I looked back at Cecelia, who was looking at me again. "I do not, Darvin, possess Darlia's physique. She – even at her age, with puberty still in its early stages – fills out her t-shirt far more than I do."
"Well, it don't help that yours is about three sizes too big for you."
"I wear my shirts and blouses too large for a reason, beloved – I am not an attractive woman, and I have no wish to call attention to my scrawniness."
I smiled. "Scrawny I might grant, though with your muscles I'll do so under protest. But you are attractive – you're the most beautiful woman on earth. And as far as I'm concerned," and I felt myself blushing as I said it, "one of the most attractive things a woman can do is roll up her t-shirt sleeves. Even skinny women's arms look good that way."
"I apprehend," she said, "that the image you have in view is of those woman who are skinny, and flabby withal; women who have no more muscle than a two-foot length of thread."
"Yeah, an' if they look good thataway, just think how good you'll look, especially when you bend your arm or lift something that's got some heft to it."
"You have enjoyed my musculature since very early in our relationship, haven't you?"
I remembered it vividly. We'd been in a restaurant eating, while I tried to explain to her why I'd simply recovered her money and let the man who'd stolen it go. We'd been detective and client then, but I'd noticed the sinews of her forearms, and suddenly began thinking of her in a different way.
"Yeah, I have," I said, "and I still do."
"Very well," she said. "I do not promise to maintain the appearance throughout the day, nor to ever do it again, but for now I shall roll up my sleeves."
I watched as she did so. Even in repose she has definite biceps, and her triceps show shape and sinew rather than being merely the soft back of her arms as is the case with almost every other women in the country. I caught her smiling at me, and knew what she was thinking – and she was right. I did like what I saw. I've been looking at her since 1994, and I never tire of doing so, but seeing her that way, as I never had before, gave me that undefinable clench in my gut that tells just how much I love her.
"Now that you've done me that favor," I said finally, "I got a question for you. Actually it may turn out to be two questions. How would you say Coop looks at blacks in general and cross burning in particular?"
She thought on the matter for a moment. "Both times we've gone to the singing, he has welcomed me in the same way he welcomes others. He has never shown any sign, not even a slight involuntary flinch, that he finds my skin in any way unpleasant. His adjective, in naming my color, is one I do not care for, but it seems to be a matter of habit with him, rather than pejorative. Without conversation with him I cannot be completely certain, but I deduce that he is no racist."
"Then there is a second question: Do you think it would be a good idea to take him with us when we go visit Silas Clinch?"
She thought that over some. "It is an intriguing notion," she said finally. "I cannot be even so certain as to suggest a degree of probability, but it seems to me that it would be worth the attempt. At worst he could curse us off his property."
"An' we've had plenty of that already, so we're used to it," I said, only half joking.
"A thick skin appears to be a necessary attribute for a private detective; I am glad that I had that year's experience as a police officer, for it enabled me to grow one. I do hope, however, to avoid any further outbursts against my skin – such insults grow tiresome at a very rapid rate."
"I know that's right," I said. "Okay, let's see if Coop'll go along. If so, then we'll do it thataway, an' if not, we'll do it by our own selves."
"I propose," Cecelia said, "that I call him. There will be no better way to determine his view of the matter than for a Negress, as the word once was, to put the proposition to him."
I grunted. "I ain't fond of that word, not though it's just the feminine form of 'Negro.' I certainly don't see anyone calling, oh, Beth Martinson a 'whitess.'"
"That is a valid point, Darvin. Perhaps I ought not to have employed the word. However, you know that I delight in esoteric terms, and that one has certainly become unusual in ordinary conversation."
I grinned. "You know, there's an episode of Star Trek where that word comes into play. I can't call the title offhand, but it's the one where the aliens bring up simulacra of Surak and Lincoln and Chengis Khan and a couple of others. When 'Lincoln' sees Uhura, he calls her 'a charming Negress.' Now Uhura was a very good looking black lady, and Abraham Lincoln wasn't exactly PC when it came to blacks."