Strange Fruit

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short is actually based on the lyrics from Billie Holidays song "Strange Fruit." This was actually an assignment for one of my college English courses. And one of the few truly short, short stories I have written! There was a word limit so...

Summary: Kate takes her mule Sir Robert to town to get medicine for Momma...but she doesn't know that the trip could cost her her life.

Submitted: November 05, 2015

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Submitted: November 05, 2015



Strange Fruit

The mule’s bare back was bony. It was probably just as well, though, that Sir Robert looked skinny and unfit. Harold Fitzroy and his lot might think her family had more than they ought, if he were fat. Kate didn’t know if the mule was picking up her own reluctance or if he was just feeling lazy, but the closer they came to town the slower Sir Robert shuffled. After just a second, Kate decided that Sir Robert was picking up her apprehension. Papa had always said that animals were sensitive.  Though, thinking about Papa made a hard lump form in her throat.

Kate dug her heels into Sir Roberts’s sunken sides. Mama needed medicine.  She made it town by banging her bare heels into the mule’s sides every ten paces or so.  The stench was waiting for Katherine Princess Johnson like it was some kind of curtain drawn around the whole of the town. Kate swallowed heavily, and even Sir Robert tossed his long eared head at the smell. If Mama weren’t so sick Kate would never have come to town. She had to go to close to the square, from where the terrible smell was coming.  Kate pointed the mule’s nose toward the center of town and Sir Robert plodded his slow way down the streets.

Where Sweet Gum Street and Willow Crossed, the road changed from hard packed dirt to brick, and if it weren’t for Sir Robert’s agility the mule would have run flat into the fool stumbling around in the middle of the newly cobbled street.  As it was, the wind of Sir Robert’s sideways leap knocked the man right over. He landed on his rear, like a toddling babe.  It was Jep Stanley, the town drunk, and for half a second Kate’s stomach froze. She took a hasty look around, but there was no one else about. Jep himself was harmless, but he was white and Kate wasn’t. Or at least, Jep would be white if his skin hadn’t turned yellow. Jep was real sick, Kate quickly decided. Her limbs weak with relief, she slid off of the mule’s back.

“You  alright, Suu?” Kate asked as she bent to check on the prone man. He blinked blankly at Kate a couple of times. Even the whites of his eyes were yellow, Kate noticed. “You oughta be more careful,” Kate dared to chastise. “One o’ them new cars ain’t so agile as Rob. You fall in front o’ one of them and that’s the end!” Jep Stanely coughed and nodded like he understood, but Kate wasn’t sure poor Jep understood anything anymore. “Lemme help you up.”

With much pulling, grunting and the use of Sir Robert’s broad, steady shoulder as a prop, Kate got Jep back on his feet. She had an audience by then, she realized. She could feel eyes on her back. The girl turned, and immediately her guts froze in fear. Harold Fitzroy. She met the cold hardness in his eyes for just half a second and then quickly dropped hers to the ground. 

“One of George Gracen’s mules came up missing last night. Don’t suppose you know anything about that?” Kate stared at Harold Fitzroy’s boots. When they moved forward, she stepped back. “No, Suu,” Kate answered, grabbing the cheek piece on Sir Robert’s bridle. “My...My…My...Pa…,” Kate stammered, “bought him winter afore last. I gots…I have papers to prove it.”

“Papers?!!!” Harold Fitzroy barked on the end of a disbelieving laugh.

“Yes Sir,” Kate insisted, firmer than she meant. There was a mixture of icy cold fear and searing anger mixing in her stomach.  Harold Fitzroy laughed. It was an awful sound, the laugh of a man whose soul had long ago been eaten by hate. A chill crawled down Kate’s spine.

“I don’t like your tone. Lemme show ya what happens to thieves in this town.” Harold Fitzroy seized Kate’s wrist and jerked her away from Sir Robert’s side.

“Let her alone!” Jep growled, his voice remarkable steady. Fitzroy laughed that spine unhinging laugh and pulled Kate down the street. Kate knew better than to resist. She stumbled at his side as best she could. Fitzroy had long legs and took long strides.

“FITZROY!!!” Jep yelled.

Kate looked back. Jep, his arm over Sir Robert’s shoulder for support, was dragging himself and the mule after them.

The smell in the square was overpowering. The stink of rotting human flesh, mingled sickeningly with the sweet smell of the Magnolia blossoms. Bile rose up the back of Kate’s throat and her stomach clinched and heaved. Wouldn’t it just serve Fitzroy right if she threw up on him? Kate thought, a little hysterically. But Kate swallowed hard and held her breath ‘cause she was all Mama and Sicily had and she didn’t close her eye’s to the sight in the square. She wouldn’t give Fitzroy that satisfaction.

Fitzroy and his white robed devils, had hung Ben Fairchild from the big Poplar tree three days ago. The heat and the crows had done awful things to Ben’s corpse. Ben died because Fitzroy, as he’d said once when he was feeling nice, “didn’t like uppity black folks.” Kate opened her eyes fully to the sight hanging from the tree. Both blacks and whites were terrified of Fitzroy’s lynch mob. Nobody had had the guts to bury Ben. The crows had eaten Ben’s eyes.

“You wanna hang up there with him!” Fitzroy growled, shaking Kate.

“No Sir.” Kate didn’t close her eyes and tears traced freely down her cheeks.

“FITZROY!!!!” It was Jep.

Fitzroy swung around, hauling Kate with him. Kate gasped. Jep had a knife in his hand. Fitzroy laughed loud and long.

“She remind you of Letty, don’t she?” There was a terrible, evil glee in Harold Fitzroy’s voice, but they were the last words he ever said.

Jep moved faster than any healthy man, let alone a mostly dead one, had a right to. The knife was under Fitzroy’s rib cage and into his heart before he knew what was happening.  Fitzroy fell, releasing Kate as he did, shock frozen on his face. Kate stared at Jep in awe. He stared back, his yellowed eye’s open wells of heart ache, the bloody knife still gripped in his hand.

“I shoulda done that a long time ago,” Jep whispered. He swayed on his feet and then he looked over Kate’s shoulder at Ben.

“Ah...Letty,” he called softly. “I’m sorry I was such a coward.”

Kate realized Jep didn’t see Ben. He was seeing a pretty, young, dark skinned woman, whose only “crime” had been loving a white man.  A cold, cold shiver crawled down Kate’s spine. She’d seen that body too. She remembered the sound of the rope creaking as Letty had swayed gently in the wind.

Jep sunk to his knees and began to sob. Kate knelt with him and took him in her arms, holding him while he cried. She hummed softly and stroked his hair.

“Bury me next to Letty,” Jep begged, after a moment, in a soft voice that cracked.

“Yes Sir!” Kate promised, her tears mixing with his. 

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