Written in 2012-
The Onlies (Sammy, Riley, and Leo)
Genticorum (Alexandre, Pascal, and Yann)
Chapter Chapter 1
Momma always said to pray to God every single day. So I did. But I always was asking myself, what was the point of praying the same prayer all the time? Wouldn’t you pray for different things? I mean, if a farmer wanted his crops to grow plenty, and they wasn’t growing, or there was a draught, or something that he couldn’t do nothing about, wouldn’t he pray for water? Or if you was sick you’d pray for health, wouldn’t you? So if I wanted something, I started to pray for it. Of course, I didn’t pray for nothing silly like candy every day or scented candles or vegetables that didn’t come outta cans. Good things, like for our flowers to grow and for us to have enough money to send Jane to school. Now me, I wondered why anyone’d wanna go to a hot dusty schoolroom and listen to a dumb ol’ schoolteacher blabber on while those other stupid racist kids made fun of you. It’s like Sunday school, except worse ’cause it’s more than an hour, and five days a week. Unfortunately, I had to suffer through the school year, every year.
But anyways, that’s what I prayed for. The thing was, nothing never did happen. I prayed and prayed and prayed, but it never once did an ounce of goodness! My faith in God started to melt.
By the time I was ten, I’d stopped believing at all. “God” never did nothin’ to help us! He’d just let us scrape along, picking up the food the rich people left on the floor like dogs! And if you know anything, you’ll know that DOG is the complete opposite of GOD. Sickening, ain’t it? So I’d figured there’s no such thing as God. But something kept nagging at me:
If there ain’t no God, then who in the heck made us people? Or the animals, or plants? Or the entire world and universe? I mean, I know about science and evolution and all that, but what gave us our personality? Why are we different from hedgehogs and gophers and chickens? Someone had to do that to us. So me, Charlotte Fern Juju Maple went on to search for what’s up there, watchin’ over us.
That’s how I met Andy Whind and Kohlro Thompson. And how I came upon the Chocolate Cello.
The cello wasn’t actually chocolate. It was made of wood, like any other cello. But to me, chocolate was the best thing in the world. And that cello was like a big, delicious chocolate bar that I longed to unwrap and devour. But it was in that big strong safe of lack of money that I couldn’t struggle through, no matter how hard I tried. I was stuck like a fly in amber.
But I’ve gotta start the story before I finish it, and I can’t start in the middle.
The story starts on March 18, my birthday. Our town got a library.
This was the perfect opportunity to start me research about stuff like God and things. I begged and begged Momma and Poppa to let me go, but it took me forever to convince them. Finally, they agreed to it, but only if Jane, my younger sister, would go with me. Now, her, it didn’t take much convincing of. She would readily go anywhere where she could learn stuff. So on August 28, with my sister, we set off to the library.
The library was white. The librarian was white. Her clothes were white silk, and her hair was white, even. The shiny desk was painted a glossy white, and the paper checkout pages were white. The shelf with all the book cards was white. White white white white white white white. I felt alien and out of place in my black skin.
The white librarian looked over the top of her (white) book she was reading, and sniffed. She sniffed!
“Who are you?” she asked accusingly, with her nose all wrinkled up and her mouth turned down.
“I am Charlotte Maple, ma’am, and this my sister, Jane Maple.”
“Fine. Black section is over there.” The librarian gestured to a tiny section with torn and battered paperbacks labeled BLACK. All the other sections were labeled WHITES ONLY. I felt a boiling rage start deep inside of me. I struggled to appear calm.
“Is everything alright with your, um, brother?” the librarian asked, snotty-like. That was the last straw for me.
“Lawd, everythin’s not alright.” I exclaimed. “You’s a racist, old, wrinkled prune livin’ in a human’s body. I wouldn’t be t’all surprised f’you started breathin’ fire like the devil hisself!”
Of course, I didn’t actually say that. But I was thinking it hard and strong, and yet I had to show that thing that we was civilized.
“Yes, ma’am. We’s jess fine.” I said politely. “Come on, Janie. Let’s go look for some books.” We walked off. When we were out of earshot Jane said;
“Nice thinkin’, sis. I was about to slap that ol’ biddy.” She smiled at me and I smiled at her.
We had been looking for books. We didn’t find any. We found shadows, cobwebs, and old, torn copies of what might possibly once have been books.
“Janie, I can’t find nothin’. There ain’t nothin’ on the shelves fit enough for readin’!”
“Psst!” I looked up. A white girl with shortish blonde hair was peering around the dilapidated-looking shelf.
“Who’re you?” I asked. The girl grinned.
“I’m Andy. Andy Whind. An’ you?”
“Pleasure. Now, what’s you’s doin’ over here? Ain’t these books all ripped up an’ such?” I’d never heard a white person talk like Andy.
I shrugged. “’S’only place us blacks is allowed.” I explained.
“Really? Well that’s just fine.” Andy huffed sarcastically, but still smiling. Lord, did that girl ever frown?
“What’s I’m supposed to do?”
“Come over with me, of course!”
“But I’ll get in trouble!”
“Nah, come on an’ I’ll pull a few strings.”
“Janie, stay here, ’kay?” Janie nodded solemnly, and I followed Andy back to the front desk.
“Auntie, dear, I believe there has been a mistake.” I almost did a double-take. Andy sounded completely different!
“What, my dear Andromeda?”
“This is my friend. She and her sister are going to have the rights of white people here, kay?”
“But, Andromeda, you know the rules!”
“Rules, schmules! I don’t care. You don’t want daddy to know how you’ve been sneaking all of that honey, do you?” The white librarian turned red.
“Why, Andromeda! You wouldn’t!”
Lordie lord lord, Andy was still smiling!
“That’s right, if you let me an’ my friend go anywhere in this library!”
“Well…alright. But she’s the only one.”
“Thanks, Auntie!” Andy skipped off, dragging me along, but paused to throw a wink at her aunt over her shoulder. Andy Whind was something else.
Chapter Chapter 3
“So, what’s you lookin’ for?” Andy asked.
“Well, I’ve been havin’ this question that I just can’t get out of my mind.” I started. Andy listened. “I was wonderin’, I don’t think there’s a God, you know?” Andy breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only one! Try talkin’ to Auntie.” I shuddered.
“No thanks.” Andy laughed.
“Well,” I said, “I was thinkin’, we ain’t like all the other animals, is we?” Andy shook her head. “Like gophers and deer and chickens?”
“That’s right.” Andy agreed.
“So, if God didn’t do nothin’, didn’t make us in His own ’mage, who did?”
“Well, I’ll be!” Andy exclaimed. “That’s the question of the century! I’ve got no idea.”
I shrugged. “You know a book that’ll help me at all?”
Andy paused, thinking.
“Well,” she said at last, “you could try different religions.”
“Yeah?” I asked, intrigued. “Like what?”
“Like Greeks and Egyptians, and such.”
“Huh.” I said, contemplating. “Well, I guess it might help. Lay it on.”
Over the next few weeks, I spent all my time learning about the different religions and such.
I learned about Isis and Osiris and Set, the Egyptian religion. I learned about The Olympians, and Zeus and Hera and Athena and Apollo and Artemis and Aphrodite and Hermes and Ares and Poseidon and Hades, the Greek religion. I learned about Chang-O, the Chinese goddess of the moon. I learned about scientific explanations, and didn’t understand. I learned Japanese religions, Russian, Amish, German, Irish, Spanish, Mexican, Indian, Native American, Polish, Dutch, African, Cambodian, every single religion to be had. And more. Before I was one-fourth the way through, my head was spinning.
“Lawd, I think I’ve found more questions thn’ answers.” I said one day to Andy. She laughed. Andy had a wonderful laugh, like millions of tiny, twinkling fairy bells. Not that I still believed in fairies, but when I was younger, that’s exactly how I imagined them to sound.
“Religion’s a tough one, all right.” She said, still smiling. I sat down heavily, a huge volume in my hands.
“I’m not sure I can make it through this!” I exclaimed. “It’s too big.”
“Try this.” Andy said, appearing form behind a bookshelf, a smaller book in her hands. It read, Basic Religious Summaries From all Over the World. I studied it.
“Hmmmm.” I decided. It did look easier to read. I flipped through it. “Not bad. S’worth a shot!”
I walked home with my books in my arms. Andy had a piano lesson (“Nasty, boring things they is. Now, if’n the ol’ bat would just let me do some ragtime, then, that’d be dandy. But noooo, you’s gotta do scales, an’ minuets, an’ boring ol’ stuff like that. Nasty thing she is.” Andy complained), and I was walking myself home.
I was on the street before mine when I heard a scream. And then a thump and another scream. The thumping and screaming continued like there was someone being tortured. I was scared stiff and frozen, and it took me a long minute to gather my wits about me and run home. But when I did, boy, you couldn’t catch me with a pack of coon dogs. I kept running until I reached my house, and by that time I was nearly out of breath. Momma opened the door and dragged me in quicker than you could say Yankee Doddle.
“Charlotte!” she cried. “Thank the Lawd you’s safe!” she wrapped me in a big bear hug, and wouldn’t release me until I told her I couldn’t breath.
“What happened, Momma?” I asked, mighty scared. Momma’s lips straightened into a thin straight line and her grip on my shoulders tightened. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at her, but Momma was mighty darn strong and her fingers hurt.
“Ow, Momma.” I said. She relaxed her hands slightly. “What happened, Momma?” I asked again, this time out of her iron reach.
“Is everyone safe?” she asked, changing the subject. I got the hint. Whatever it was, if it scared Momma, than it was very bad. I hoped Andy was all right. And Poppa, and Jane.
Jane burst in with wild eyes. Although it was relatively warm, she was quivering as though she was in the Antarctic. She opened her mouth, than closed it. She ran to Momma, shaking. Silent tears ran down her cheeks from her wide, frightened eyes. Then she fainted.
Jane wouldn’t speak from then on. Whenever we asked her about what had happened that day, she started shivering and her eyes grew wide and scared again. Whatever had happened, it was much too terrible for words. We learned not to mention it.
Andy had not been harmed. She was perfectly fine. But Mrs. White Librarian, Andy’s aunt, had been killed. Andy didn’t know how, or why. But it seemed as if, even if they didn’t always have the same opinions, Andy was very fond of her aunt. She was devastated when her aunt was gone. For days all she did was cry. When I finally saw her, her eyes were red and puffy, and she poured out her story.
Unfortunately for me, a replacement librarian took Mrs. White’s (as I grew to remember Andy’s aunt as) place, and she wasn’t so easily wrapped around Andy’s finger as her aunt was.
“You see that sign, girlie?” the new librarian said to Andy and me one day, leaning over the desk. “It says WHITES ONLY. You know what that means?” She leaned closer. Her breath smelled like fish. It means no niggers allowed.” I stepped back as though I’d been punched. Nigger? I thought. What? Andy balled up her fists.
“You’s not gonna call Charlotte that. She’s a human just as much as you’n me.”
“Who’s gonna stop me, shrimp?” the librarian narrowed her eyes, smirking. Andy grabbed my arm.
“Come on, Charlotte. Let’s go.” She dragged me out of the library. I was still in shock.
Andy had work to do at home, so we parted ways. As I was walking home, I saw a boy standing there. He was white, but his skin was slightly darker than normal whites. He was wearing a hat and I couldn’t see his hair, but as he was kicking a ball with some other boys, he fell and his hat flew off. His hair was light brown with a bit of gold, wavy, and down to his ears. His eyes were full of laughter and a clear blue. An Asian boy in black was laughing like crazy, and I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw his expression of surprise. I tried to move, but my feet wouldn’t listen to my mind. I stood there, watching, until a tall, thin boy with curly hair looked up and said something to the others. Quickly I looked away and started walking, my face burning. I felt a strange fluttering in the pit of my stomach that I had only felt once before about William Gates in the second grade. But this time, it was stronger. Much stronger. I knew better than to tell Momma and Poppa, or even Jane. But as much as I tried, I knew soon I couldn’t keep it from Andy.
The next three days, I was constantly looking for the boy. On the second day, I glimpsed him in a field with his friends playing with the ball (again). Andy noticed my strange behaivior almost immediately.
“Hey, Charlotte! What’s up?” she asked.
“Nothin’.” I mumbled.
“Yeah, right!” Andy laughed. “Come on, tell me!”
“Later. I promise. Later in the week.” I replied. Andy had to settle with that.
But as the weeks passed, Andy did not bring up the subject. And I knew that I wouldn’t.
We were at Trumen’s General Store when a lean, white man drove a fancy automobile up in front of an abandoned building. I watched with interest as he took a bunch of boxes and crates up to the building and unloaded huge quantaties of a thin string, hard golden cakes, and fancied-up instruments. The old geezers who sat on the store porch, spitting tobacco and talking, suddenly fell uncommonly silent, staring at the white man.
“What’s he up to, John?” Asked Harry, a black man with snow-white hair. Mr. John Trumen, who ran the store, stared blankly also.
“I dunno.” He said, not looking at Harry. “Looks s’though he’s u-puttin’ up some sorta humdinger-musical shop.”
“What? Lawd knows nobody round these parts s’got th’ money for a fancy-dancy ins-tru-ment! We’ve got our old fiddles an’ banjos an’ gee-tars, an’ those’s ’nuff. And Lawd knows I get ’nuff singin’ come Sunday!” The other old fellers agreed with Harry, and I knew that, come next morning, the whole town of Eros would know about the old empty store.
© Copyright 2017 Maggie Siskin. All rights reserved.
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