At the onset of World War Two, Charlie’s father enlisted in the Army and that was the last time he saw him. He was almost four years old and the memories of his father were more like fragmented dreams – a person he vaguely remembered. His only connection was stories his mother told and photographs on the mantelpiece in the living room.
On May 3, 1944, his mother kept him home from school. Perplexed, he went out into the front yard where he saw two ant colonies engaged in a fierce conflict amidst blades of grass protruding through a sandy plain made by the adjoining anthills. They readily and without mercy dismembered one another.
He watched a soldier ant with half a body decapitate another ant and continued to fight until his adversaries left only his head with jaws still snapping at air as its life ebbed away. Without thinking, Charlie went back into the house where his mother sat at the kitchen table. She was staring pensively into space over a cup of coffee. Emotionlessly, he said, “My dad is dead, isn’t he?”
With a relieved expression, his mother simply responded, “Yes.” Without another word spoken, Charlie went back outside and continued to watch the conflagration and was only distracted when he heard a car driving up the sugar-sand road.
Living in the country, it was always an event when the occasional car drove by, and excitedly he thought it might be one of his cousins coming to visit. At any rate, it was the custom to wave at all passers-by, and he ran out to the fence in anticipation.
He was ecstatic when he saw a sparkling black Buick with white wall tires pull into the drive. Exiting the car was Ida, an elegant Black lady who knew his mother since she was a child and treated Charlie like her grandson. As usual, she flashed an affectionate smile at him and proceeded to walk around the car and open the door on the passenger’s side.
The first thing he saw was glistening patent leather red buckle shoes and white socks contrasted against porcelain ebony skin as little feet touched the ground. A delicate little girl emerged from around the car door. Charlie stood transfixed as she stood before him dressed in a red and white polka-dot dress and matching ribbons holding her nappy pigtails in place – he was speechless.
In a commanding tone, Ida said, “This is my granddaughter, Louise. You, children, go off and play until lunch.”
Charlie was completely enamored as he had never seen anyone as beautiful as Louise standing there vividly illuminated in the subtropical sunlight. Everything around him took on a new richness in color and contrast – Charlie was love-struck.
In an attempt to impress Louise, the first thing he did was motion for her to come over and watch the ant battle. She wasn’t impressed, but Charlie noticed Louise’s obsidian eyes were fixed on a hibiscus plant his mother grafted different colored varieties onto. It was in full bloom and appeared like a magnificent bouquet.
As they meandered over to the plant, he told her about how his mother grafted different plants onto it. Louise seemed interested, but she never spoke a word in return – simply nodded.
Excitedly, Charlie asked her if she wanted some flowers from it, and she responded with only a demure smile and an approving nod. Charlie proceeded to pick the flowers she pointed at and handed them to her. Shyly, holding an armload of flowers she smiled at him, and he was ecstatic thinking he had found the key to winning her heart.
At that time of year, the magnolias were also in full bloom with huge cream-colored blossoms. They shimmered against the dark green leaves in the morning sunlight. The tree in his yard stood stark, framed by the cloudless, powder-blue sky. The blossoms gave off a subtle, almost antiseptic fragrance that filled the motionless air – it was a pleasant fragrance.
Charlie noticed that she was fixated on the tree. Anticipating that she wanted a blossom, he scrambled up the tree, picked a flower, carefully climbed down, and handed it to her. Louise placed the other flowers on the ground and held tight to the magnolia blossom. As she smelled the blossom, it hid her face. Peeping from behind the flower, she once again thanked Charlie with only a demure smile that once again delighted him.
Charlie finally mustered the courage to grasp Louise’s hand and show her the wonders of his little world, being careful not to take her places that might soil her red shoes or dress.
Nearing lunchtime, Charlie took Louise to a ditch that ran beside a tropical fish hatchery. When they cleaned the tanks, fish would escape and take up residence in the ditch. There were all sorts of colorful, exotic fish thriving there.
As her demure persona evaporated. Charlie was acutely aware of the amazement in her eyes as Louise stood taken aback, eyes wide open in awe. He told her to wait while he ran home to fetch a minnow net that he made from a discarded window screen and lampshade hoop along with a large jar so she could take some fish home with her.
Upon returning, he found Louise surrounded by three boys. They were tormenting her, freely slinging racial slurs, profanity, and threats.
They were the Koker brothers from down the road that for some reason weren’t at school. Charlie had his problems with them all the time, but he drew enough blood in previous hostile encounters that they wouldn’t tangle with him unless there were at least two of them present. To Charlie, they were simply malicious pests he had to contend with on a regular basis.
In a menacing chorus, he heard the boys taunting Lousie, “You know what we do with niggers around here – hang’em!”
Dropping everything, Charlie yelled, “Leave her alone!”
All three brothers turned on Charlie and knocked him down punctuated with a few punches and kicks. Then, they tossed him into the ditch and proceeded, once again, to torment Louise.
Charlie had no intention of allowing them to persist. He clambered out of the ditch, snatched up a hefty limb, and without trepidation, whacked the oldest boy in the back of the head, resounding like a thump on a ripe watermelon. He dropped, deadweight, to the ground. His hands and feet twitched in a fluttering motion, but he couldn’t manage to recover his equilibrium and get to his feet.
The other brother didn’t have time to react as Charlie hit him square in the ribs with all the force he could gather – stunning him. Before the boy could recover, Charlie was on top of his fists striking home with every blow until he capitulated and limped away. The youngest brother ran away fearing he was next.
As the two brothers hobbled far enough away, they began to chant in unison, “We’re gonna tell our momma, nigger lover!”
Unfazed, Charlie went about the task of catching tropical fish for Louise and headed home as Ida called out for them to come in for lunch.
Seeing Charlie’s disheveled state, Ida asked what happened, and nonchalantly, he replied, “I got in a fight with them Koker brothers; they was pickin’ on Louise and calling her names, but they won’t be doing that anymore.”
Bemused, both Ida and his mother were speechless. Ida took the jar of fish and told Charlie to wash up and change clothes before lunch.
All of a sudden, there was an air of stifled levity in the room cutting through the otherwise somber atmosphere as Ida and Charlie’s mother smiled at each other, and Ida said, “You can be proud of that boy.”
That was the first time Charlie had seen his mother smile in months.
After lunch, Ida said, “You, children, go out and play, but don’t go too far because I have to be going soon.”
The next several hours were uneventful. They didn’t wander off far, but before it was time for Louise to go home, Charlie managed to fill the space watching doodle bugs catch ants and show her other little wonders that filled his world.
Readying to leave, Ida placed the magnolia blossom in Louise’s hair, and said, “You going to give Charlie a hug and say thank you for all the nice things he gave you? I know you had a good time.”
Louise shuffled, crossed-toed, over to Charlie, gave him an almost instantaneous bashful hug, and almost inaudibly whispered, “Thank you.”
Stepping into the car, Lousie turned with a broad smile and waved goodbye to Charlie. Ironically, that was all he needed to make that day he knew that his father died the best day of his life.
As Charlie and his mother watched them drive off, she looked down at him, offered an approving smile, and said, “I have housework to do, and I need to get started on dinner.”
Charlie remembered the ant conflagration, and out of curiosity, he went back to see if it was still ongoing. Between the two anthills lay the desiccated remnants of the carnage – body parts strewn about in heaps and scattered about in piles by a faint, intermittent afternoon breeze. One anthill was vacated, and the worker ants from the victorious colony along with the captured worker ants clambered over body parts and scurried about foraging for food as if nothing ever happened.
It had been an eventful day and Charlie was tired. He decided to catch a quick nap under the magnolia tree before dinner.
George C Glasser was born in Tampa Florida in 1945 and didn’t begin his writing career until 1990 when he had investigative environmental articles published and republished in international environmental publications and newspapers. Glasser’s specialty was industrial pollutants and their toxicological impact. In 2000, he married a British woman and relocated to the UK where he lives now in South Yorkshire. In 2010, he retired from environmental work to concentrate on creative writing. His primary influences were writers such as Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson, and William Burroughs. In 2010, Glasser wrote his first book, “The Other Side to This Life,” a fictionalized biography about his experiences during the 1960s at the epicenter of the Counterculture Revolution and Vietnam War. Presently, Glasser writes album reviews and articles for the online publication, Jazz Syndicate Magazine. Glasser said, “I’ve always enjoyed writing about music, especially old Blues musicians with colorful lives. It entails everything I enjoy about writing. Sometimes, it takes ten or fifteen hours of entertaining research to come up with a succinct 500-700 words that give an accurate snapshot of the musician and the music.”