Ill Fly Away

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story that addresses poverty, racism and abuse through the eyes of a blind girl in the American Industrial Era.

Submitted: June 03, 2010

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Submitted: June 03, 2010

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I’ll Fly Away

My house was very loud. The old lumber walls screamed as the cool night air beat against it, the wind hissed obnoxiously as it seeped through the building’s small openings and crevasses. Beyond the doorway crickets chirped sweetly, interrupted occasionally by the inquisitive hooting of an owl. High and soft, the singing of the waves formed a blanket of sound, smoothing the atmosphere from the more base and rough sounds of the night, but still far away I could hear the prodding footsteps of a train, jogging methodically along its familiar tracks. It was all very, very loud. It was my lullaby every night, singing me to sleep, but tonight I wasn’t listening. Perhaps if I was listening, I would have heard him breathing.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I listened to someone breathing, I mean really listened. Every night I would hear momma, in the other room, breathing heavily, among other things. Always, under her breaths I’d hear someone else’s, every night her breathing was the same, but the other’s was always different, shallower than before, heavier than before, more forced, more coarse. Their breaths would start off slower, and then get heavier, more panicked, louder, more forced. Their pants would be synchronized, like a heartbeat, and other low moans and sighs would accent their heavy, heavy breathing. Then every morning it would be silent and only momma’s breath was there. Momma was always teaching me things, telling me to listen, telling me to never mind other kids. “Never let nobody put you down, tell you you’re not as good as ‘em.”

She’d tell me that always, I figure it’s ‘cause I didn’t go to school with other kids, but I didn’t much mind, momma would teach me everything I needed to know. On those nights, with all the heavy breathing and sighing, I couldn’t tell if momma was trying to teach me how to make money or how to cope with losing someone you love.

Pa hadn’t been around; he left when I was very young. Since then he’d come by seldom, and then stopped. Momma says its cause of her, but I don’t believe her. I would’ve heard him that night, but I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t listening because I was crying. I was crying because pa came back that morning, all I could hear from the kitchen was him screaming at momma, and momma yellin’ back. I was crying because he was yellin’ about me.

He said momma didn’t deserve to keep me, she said that he couldn’t have me back. He called her a who re and momma said that’s all she could do to keep me alive. Momma never talked about money much, but I know what we didn’t have. Momma had the sweetest voice ever, but no matter how sweet her voice was, it would always harden when talking about money. Money makes the prettiest people ugly, she’d always say. “It’s something that tells people they are worse than everyone else, and stops them from getting any better.”

Perhaps if I wasn’t crying I would have heard pa breathing, I would’ve heard the light footsteps of heavy soled boots prodding against the rickety porch. I would have heard the slight click of a door handle, or the soft crying of the wind as the front door was slowly opened. I would have heard his breathing, growing heavier as it came nearer the room beside mine. I would have noticed when it stopped, just as momma’s door handle creaked and as the door hinges moaned as they were turned. The silence would have woken me, as my lullaby of the night song hushed. But all I heard was him screaming, and momma screaming back.

The beat of heavy footfalls broke through the sound of my silent sobs. I pulled my sheets over my head, there was no use me getting up. Muted by the wall between us, I could hear muffled cries, mommas sweet voice had grown harsh, anger scraped against her voice like sandpaper. I heard bone rapping against wood like a snare drum, interrupted by the occasional deep bass of a body’s impact on the weak, moaning floor. After a while there were no more words, just crying, howling, pleading sobs, and that terrible, terrible snare drum. This tune repeated itself, over and over, and there was nothing I could do but hide.

There was a deafening crash, then silence.

After a long while the silence was broken, and I heard the heavy breathing that had been my companion for so long. But that voice wasn’t momma’s. I listened hard, but there was no whistling of wind, no creaking of floors, no chirping of crickets, just that heavy breathing. I tried to search for another trail of breath underneath this one, for any other breathing, for momma’s breath, but I could only hear that terrible, heavy breathing.

Once again, hard footfalls played it’s beat against the sighing flooring. Accompanying the footfalls, now growing louder as it grew closer to me, was the breathing, now growing lighter, deeper, calmer. I nearly cried as the footfalls stopped, the sound of breathing was directly above me, and wave after wave of the man’s heavy breath washed over me, into me. The smell of alcohol was strong in it. Rough fingertips brushed against my arms, and lifted me up, and I was gone from my familiar house.

I had a feeling I’d never hear my lullaby again.
 
*****

The court room was a lot louder than my house. The obnoxious shuffling of papers constantly battled the irritating mess of voices, arguing, debating, yelling, even laughing. Above the noise, the persistent staccato of a typewriter’s keys played rhythmically with the obstinate whirring of its carriage, locked in an incessant match of call and response. All the noise went silent as, to the right of me, the loud beating of a judge hammer froze all activity.

I enjoyed the silence, but it didn’t last. In short time, pa’s voice broke in. Now, I couldn’t understand everything being said, but I realised that the case was not going well for momma.
“But look at her, she’s bruised and broken.” Occasional remarks in my momma’s defence were quickly and repeatedly drowned out by a chorus of objections. Everything was rushed, and though momma’s story made the most sense, it seemed as if everything was decided already.
“State it officially,” A gruff voice commanded the attention of all other voices in the room, as I could tell by the echo it left behind, ricocheting off the cave of stone walls and ceiling, which no doubt looked down on this case with disapproval. “that this woman was with a client when the rightful father of this girl entered the house, looking for her. In panic the mother attacked the husband and the husband retaliated appropriately.”

I may be blind but I aint dumb, I knew that’s not what happened.

“Due to the evidently poor living conditions and disreputable line of work of this woman, she is unfit to take care of this child, custody of the girl is given to the father…”

The voice went on but I wasn’t listening, I was again too busy crying. I cried harder than I ever had before, and hadn’t stopped even as the sound of shuffling feet headed towards the exit. I screamed for momma, but I couldn’t hear her voice among the large crowd. Frantically I waved my hands around me, hoping to at least touch her smooth skin once more, I knew that I’d never get another chance to feel my momma, or hear her voice again.

The only hands that held mine were gruff and coarse, they were pa’s hands. They tugged me from the ground and into a carriage, and just rode off.

*****

Life with pa was a lot harder than with momma. For starters momma hardly mentioned pa, but pa talked about her all the time. Every time he did, I could smell alcohol in his breath, and that was many a time. I had never known of their history, but pa said she worked for him, and that he owns her, I never really understand how a woman was a man’s property, but I never got a chance to ask him, I mostly let him talk.

I’m pretty sure he loved me, but I couldn’t know. Whenever the heavy oak door slammed shut late at night, I knew the next thing I’d feel was a hand to the face. It wasn’t so bad at first, because he wouldn’t always go out late. He’d work, bring back food, and I’d eat… a lot more than I did with momma, it was just too bad I couldn’t share any with her. One day, though, I heard the door slam, even harder, and rushing footsteps to the kitchen, two pairs, one much heavier and more weighted than the other.

“What do you mean she’s here?” I could hardly make out any words through the thick front door, pa left me outside to sit on the porch and wait. But I knew who they were talking about, and it brought a huge grin to my face. I knew momma had found me.

Not much later, news came that momma had died. It was just dismissed as suicide, but I know better. Pa had been gone constantly since he heard momma was in the county, and returned the night she died with heavy breathing, his hands dripping, his feet heavy.
Since then, he would always beat me, and not only with his hands. He said my face reminded him of momma, and he wanted to change it, so he would beat it with whatever tool that was close enough, he’d always say he’d beat the colour out of me. I’ve never seen mommas face before, but I don’t think any face would be ugly enough for someone to want to beat the resemblance out of mine. People would say that he was very sick, and needed help, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was like this for a long time, every day the same routine, until I was much older, still rarely ever going past those giant oak doors.

One day a familiar voice at the door was speaking to pa. I never overhear his conversations with this particular voice, but this time I could hear the panic in his voice. He was talking about momma again, but this time a lot more fearful.

“But it was said it was a suicide, its over, that case.”
There was a pause, and pa’s raspy voice continued.
“That’s it, that’s all? Just leave me here?”
The familiar voice spoke again.
“Times have changed, friend…”

I couldn’t hear much into the conversation from where I lay in the stairwell, but I knew from the tone of voice in what I heard that pa was very troubled.

Since that day he never beat me anymore, he would spend most of his time in his room. Through the shut door I could hear him clearly, spraying every type of emotion out of the room. He would scream for hours on end, he’d sob for days. For almost a week he didn’t leave his room, to eat or anything. He had mentioned something to people who came in about ‘telling them before they find out’, then one day he just grabbed me, and left.

*****
It seemed almost instantly I found myself in a cage, well… outside of one. I was questioned constantly, each time by a different voice. The voices tried to be soothing but I could sense frustration and a lot of other emotions at what I told them. The last voice I was to hear there was pa’s. They told me he did a lot of bad things, and he was going to be taken away, but they never told me where. Pa did.

“I’m going to die.” Is the first thing he told me. “They’re putting me in an electric chair, I’m going to pay for what I did.” I was told the electric chair was reserved for some very bad people, but pa had asked for it, much preferring it to prison time, he said the people in prison were all like momma, and they’d tear him up. I still didn’t understand.

“It’s funny,” he said “I’m going to die, and that’s the only thing I don’t regret. I’m just sad that I’ll never see the sun again.” I could hear a very deep sorrow in his voice.
I stretched out my hand through the bars that separated us, and rested it on his, they were cold, colder than the iron between us. “Pa, If it helps, I’ve never seen the sun.”

The recoiled his hands, and I could hear stuttering. Eventually he spoke, his voice softer than anything I’ve heard. It sounded almost as though he was crying. “It’s… it’s like a slice of heaven, sweetie, its your first glimpse of it, you’ll see the sun one day sweetie, you’ll see that and so much more.”
“Will I see you there, pa?”
There was a pause. “Not everyone goes to heaven sweetie, if all the bad people went too, there’d be another Satan.”
I knew instantly what he meant, and didn’t want to hear him talk like that, I wanted to change the subject.
“What’s the sun like, pa?”
He stuttered. It would do him no good to say it was bright, yellow, round… none of that would make any sense to me.
“It’s… beautiful. Like your mother’s voice when she sings…”
I removed my hand from the cage, grasping my chest. I remembered the beautiful song momma sang. That was my lullaby each night before I went to bed, before she ran away from working ‘with‘ pa, and momma got real quiet. She would sing it when we went to church, I could tell that everyone there was just like momma, all beautiful, all burdened, working with someone. I still remember the song:

“I’ll fly away, to glory. I’ll fly away… When my life on earth is over, I’ll fly away.” I was startled as I heard pa sing the song, for the first time. His voice was beautiful, too.

“Pa…”

At that time I heard a door open, two men called for pa into the other room, I heard the chair slide against sturdy hardwood flooring, prodding footsteps to the door.

“Pa!”

He was still singing the song when the door slammed shut.
*****

I’m now much older, I have children, and grandchildren. None of them know of my childhood. I was taken from that room and brought up in a stately house where they treated my sickness and educated me appropriately, they had turned me into a lady.

Whether by miracle or by design, my eyesight had returned, properly fed and taken care of, I was now fit to leave the life I had behind. It was a very cold day in autumn when I received a letter, it was from people who, apparently, knew my mother. From it I learnt the location of my mother’s home, and had decided to visit it once more.
It was all much smaller than I had remembered, however, the world is a large place to someone who couldn’t see. I closed my eyes, and remembered. The crickets outside, the wind seeping through the doorways, but it was so much less than simply opening my eyes and seeing the colours. The old railway had been replaced with a much more efficient transportation system, and the open fields where the grass sang their songs was now a cut in two by a rural neighbourhood, and bare highway. When blind I could not notice the state of the house, but now I saw it was very worn, often only a thin plank of wood served as the wall, a small barrier from the inside and the freezing cold.
The most notable artifact, however, was an album of pictures, I was beautiful, and looked almost a splitting image of my mother.
When we lived with my dad, there used to be many people gathered in open churches, singing, and dancing, singing my old lullaby. But there were also pictures of those same people with their backs bent to the sun, working in fields of cotton.
There was another thing of note, one that possibly answered all the questions of my childhood.

While my dad was white, my mom was as black as coal.


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