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Toting

written by: Martha Annice Jackson

 

Tina leans towards the television.  She watches the dust of the galloping horses on the TV.  The horses form clouds around the bobbing heads and torsos of the cowboys as they ride through the multitude of cattle that they herd through the countryside each week.  Do they ever get tired of living like that?  Tina thinks.  I wonder where they are going when they are not on TV.  How far do they go?  Like from here to Bethel Springs.  Tina wishes somebody knew the answers.  Sometimes she just doesn’t believe her mother when she says they are not real. Her mother says they are actors doing their jobs, just like Aunt Fannie got paid to cook.
“Tina, come on now. They done called again, time to get ready to go.”
Tina rocks three more times in her favorite red and white fringed chair.  She counts softly to herself to three and on the last rock she sticks out her chocolate coated legs like she is swinging.  She smiles at her new black leather shoes and white lace socks.  Tina loves how her legs make the socks look brighter.  Her mama always buys Tina pretty stuff.  Tina feels the ridges in her new red corduroy jumper with the white itchy shirt and a furry black velvet bow tied at the collar of her Peter Pan shirt.  Just as Tina indulges in one last feel of her velvet tie, Pearl hollers for her.  Tina catches the arm of her rocker, gently slowing the rocker; she hops into the kitchen, where her mother holds a dark orange bag in her hand.
“OK, baby girl, don’t be scared.  The police is not going to bother you.  Just look straight ahead.  Act like they not there.  If they try to make you talk to them, don’t look at them, don’t say nothing.”  Pearl looks into the eyes of Tina to see if she understood.  Searching her six year old face to see what instructions and comfort she could give her daughter that would ease the fears and settle her sweet trembling hands.  Pearl hugs Tina and rubs her shoulders tenderly.  From behind the living room door, Pearl retrieves Tina’s black double-breasted cashmere, fur-collared coat.  Pearl admires the six gold buttons on the coat as she helps Tina put it on.  Cain-Sloan’s in Nashville had the prettiest coats for little girls.   The sales woman asked Pearl if she could afford this coat.  Her question caused Pearl to suck in her breath and shake her head.  Pearl knew she had more money in my pocket than the sales clerk made in a month.  As long as Tina had to do what she was doing, she’s going have the best.  And P.J. says she had to do it.  Pearl would have cussed that woman out, but they would have beat her and put me in jail for being an uppity nigger.  Who would care for my Tina?  Pearl stands back and admires Tina’s dark orange bag on Tina magnifies the richness of the black cashmere coat.  Pearl prays and hopes they won’t mess with her baby.
“Tina, I’m going to call Marianne right now before you leave and tell her you are on the way.  When you get there tell her to call and let me know you made it.  Now remember what I said about the police.  Tina nods her head slowly, fear already shaking her plump frame.
“They might be out there tonight,” Pearl whispers, “Now tell me what I said to do if you see them.”
Tina repeats the instructions to her mother.  “I ain’t going to say nothing to them.  I ain’t going to look at them neither.” Tina does not want to go, but she knows that P.J. will hit Pearl if she does not make the run.
Tina makes quick steps up the street.  She thinks Marianne is a nice woman.  She is always hugging Tina and telling her she is sweet and Tina is going be someone special.  Marianne always has a new man buying half-pints, but I hear my mama telling her she need to stop that cause her husband going to show out on her.
Before going out the door, Tina whines and holds her stomach “My stomach hurts, I feel like I am going to puke.”
“Now Tina you start that mess every time.  You got to go.  That’s all it is too it.  Now go on.  Do like I told you,” Pearl demands.
Pearl puts the strap of the purse diagonally across Tina.  She has wrapped the half-pints in newspaper so they won’t clang together as Tina walks up the street.  Tina shuffles out the door of the house and steps onto the concrete slab of the porch.  She walks down four steps and onto the short sidewalk lined with shrubs that leads to Cedar Street. Hale and Cedar Street are littered with children from all stations of life.  Some children have nice parents who work every day in kitchens and white folk homes.  Some children have smart parents who are teachers, insurance workers, and factory workers.  These parents guard their children from Tina.
It is a cold night in Hope Springs.  The crisp air immediately cracks Tina’s thick brown and pink lips.  She buries her hands in the pocket of her coat.  This shifts the weight of the bag and makes her lean more to the right as she carries the package up to Marianne’s house.  She hopes none of the other nosy children on the street will see her.  She does not feel like talking or answering questions.  But as luck would have it Frankie is taking out trash.
“Hi! Tina, where you going this late at night?’
“Going somewhere for my mama.” hisses Tina.
“Want me to go?’
“No, girl! You know you can’t go nowhere with me, anyway something is dripping from your garbage bag, you better go on and put that bag in the trashcan.”
“Whowee, Frankie squeals, “that’s turnip green juice dripping, and it’s stinking too.  I got to go and get this smell off of me.’  Frankie turns and runs into her house complaining to her mother about spilling the turnip green juice on her legs.
I don’t know why Frankie asks to go.  She knows her mother doesn’t even let her come play with me.  Like Mama says, a nosey-rosie times ten; she runs and tells everybody what she has seen and heard.
Tina shifts the bag in front of her letting the bag hang like a noose around her neck with the half-pints resting on her chubby belly.  She was almost to Cedar Street, when she sees the police car swirl around in the street.  It is them.  Tina’s heart shifts into high gear.  Her little body calls for power and strength she has not developed.  The policemen know who she is and it looks like the car that was at her house last week.

***

Officer Gray muses.  Has to be P.J.’s child.  Fancy coat, a fur on a damn nigger child.  Dressed up like its Sunday.  With a damn orange bag.  Damn if them niggers ain’t bold.  Know I can’t stop her.  Got orders not to mess with him because P.J. done paid up this month.  He turned to Ballard his long time squad buddy.
“Want have a little fun tonight with this overdressed porch monkey?  See if we can make her pee in her pants.”
“Hell, we always got time for a little fun,” laughs Ballard.
Officer Gray and Ballard slow the car to a creep alongside Tina.  Saying nothing but rolling slowly beside her.  Letting her feel the heat of the motor on her little fat brown legs, as she trembles up the street.  Tina’s heart is pounding in her body, her ears pulsating make her near deaf from the throbbing of her heart and her jaws slam shut from the snake hissing and whining at her side.  She shifts the bag to her left side away from the street.  The bottles clang, sending a spasm of fear that temporarily brings her fat legs to an instant halt.  Don’t look at them, don’t talk.  Her mother’s instructions move her from paralysis.  Keep your head up act like they are not there.  Ballard rolls down the window of the squad car.
“Hey, you P.J.’s gal?  Must be.  “You is black and ugly just like him.”
“What you got in that bag little nigger?”   Ballard sniggles.
“Can’t you hear us, gal? Hum! Hum!  Why you walking so fast? Don’t you live the other way?’ chimes in Officer Gray.
“Well, Ballard, little nigger gal not going to say nothing.  Guess we ought to stop the car and put her in.” Gray growls as he stops the black and white Ford squad car.
Tears flow from Tina’s eyes as urine trickles into a full gush down her legs.  The urine hitting the street sounds like someone throwing dishwater on gravel.
“Hey Ballard, look at the scarred nigger, she crying and pissing on herself,” laughs Gray.
“We not going to let no dirty nigger gal mess up our car.”
“No, we going to let her be this time.  Luck is on her side tonight.”
Ballard U-turns the Ford on Cedar Street.  Laughing and slapping his knee about the fear that he wrote on Tina's face.  Ballard heads to North High Market for their usual cloth- bologna and saltine cracker.  Gray and Ballard have a new tale for the guys at the tiny store.  The tale of the pissy nigger will keep them laughing the rest of the evening.
As the police moves away, Tina keeps repeating what her mama said as she continues walking ,her legs soaked in urine   Don’t talk to them.  Don’t look at them.  Tina continues walking barely noticing her shoes squishing in urine as she makes her way to Marianne’s.  She is on Cedar Street and turns left on the street to Marianne’s house.  Tina thinks to herself.  Them old police make me sick.  They don’t have to do me like that.  They mean.  They just plain mean and evil like mama is always saying.  I am doing what my mama told me to do.
The disappearance of the police car brings Tina back to calm.  She hears a cacophony of music, finger popping, and laughter wafting to her from Marianne’s house.  A smile breaks across her face at the anticipation of a big hug and hot chocolate that Marianne always has waiting for her on chilly nights like this.  Tina does a little twist as she knocks on the door a second time.  They are partying tonight; no wonder they can’t hear me knock.
Finally, the door opens and there she is all pretty with high heels on and shiny stockings, the prettiest red dress Tina has ever seen.  The dress makes Marianne sparkle.  Marianne is extra happy tonight and she gives Tina an extra hug.  As Marianne hugs Tina, she smells the urine.  She immediately takes Tina to the bathroom.  She wipes Tina’s legs off and rolls up her socks and underwear in a towel and puts them in a paper sack.
“Now, you are all right baby” Marianne says as she holds on to Tina.  Marianne takes a deep breath and holds Tina’s hand as they leave the bathroom into the narrow hall.
“Doesn’t Pearl have a better bag than this?  This sticks out like a sore thumb.  You all right baby?  The chocolate is back in the kitchen.  I got it waiting for you.  Sure is a pretty coat what    you got on.  Looking like a little lady.”
Tina follows Marianne back to the kitchen.  As she passes through the house, she sees many familiar faces playing cards, dancing and kissing, and some with a plate full of spaghetti and coleslaw.  Everybody is crazy about Marianne’s spaghetti and coleslaw.  She tells everybody it is time to put their money in the kitty because the stuff is here.  She even curses a few men who looked reluctant to ante up, and then she tells them if they aren’t going to give up any money, they just might as well leave their plates in the kitchen because she is no damn welfare worker.  Marianne tells everybody to give Tina a nickel for bringing this stuff to them.
As Tina finishes the hot chocolate, Marianne stuffs the inside pocket of Tina’s coat with ten dollars and hands Tina fifty-five cents for herself.
“Thank you Miss Marianne.”  Tina smiles.  “You know what Miss Marianne.  Them police followed me up here and then they turned around.”
“Did they baby? You all right? I know they scared you. Them bastards.  They gets like that sometimes, just wants to scare you up a little bit.  Long as you don’t look at them no matter what, even if they talk don’t talk back, you be all right.  Look, I’ll watch you go down the street.  I’m going call Pearl to be looking out for you.  You didn’t say nothing to them bastards did you?
”No Ma’am!” Tina said triumphantly.
“You is a smart little girl. You going to be something one of these days. I can tell.”
Marianne leads Tina to the front door and gives her another big hug and kisses her on her cheek.  Tina steps into the night air, but this time she is skipping down Hale Street.  Then she suddenly stops; her mother doesn’t like it when she skips in her black leather shoes.  It scars them.  But it is time for her favorite program The Red Skeleton Show.  Tina sees the light shining on her front porch and Pearl standing in the doorway.  Pearl hugs her baby girl, takes her coat, the paper bag, and pocketbook.  Tins pulls her rocker in front of the television just in time for Red Skelton.

Martha Annice

Martha Annice

I write stories based on my childhood in Lebanon, Tennessee where I grew up in the African American community as the daughter of the town bootlegger. Growing up in a small southern town was not always easy, but growing up as the child of the bootlegger was even more difficult—and always interesting. What I hope to accomplish in my writing is to preserve this life in small-town Tennessee after the Second World War, especially the lives of the people that I loved in these small towns. This life and these people will be lost if not preserved in stories. I hope to preserve characters, their situations, and their voices in my stories because I do not want them to be lost.
I am fairly new to the area of creative writing, but I have studied writing and worked with a mentor at Middle Tennessee State University in the MTSU WRITE program.
Martha Annice

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