9. The Girl

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Author's Note

The song above is Maple Leaf Rag written in 1899 by ragtime great, Scott Joplin.

There were three things Henry thought he'd never see in his lifetime: a World War involving thirty-two countries, men flying in winged contraptions called "airplanes," and a colored female mechanic.

And yet there she was standing in front of him. Dark brown curls escaping from the front of the faded baseball cap. Her youthful face was a tom-boy combination of natural beauty, rugged cheeks matted with grease, and a firm chin smudged with dirt. She wore a gray work outfit frayed at the edges. Above her left breast pocket, Henry eyed a once-white plastic name tag bearing the letters SARAH embossed in black letters.

Sarah quirked an eyebrow. "Sir?" Her eyes fixed on Big Willy but not before glancing at the entrance, as if to see if any other tall black giants might come strolling into the lot. When she noticed Henry, her expression turned serious. "What happened to you?" She maintained her distance.

"It's okay," Henry said. "We're baseball players. This here is Willy."

"Howdy ma'am," Big Willy said.

Sarah nodded, her lips forming a quaint smile.

"My name's Henry. We were playing a white team until I took a ball to the head. Then things got out of control real fast and we ended up here."

Sarah gazed at Henry for a long moment, her cinnamon-brown eyes a pair of question marks. Finally she said, "Well, if you follow me, I'll see that you get patched up."

"Thank you, ma'am," Henry said. "I appreciate that."

"And Henry?" Sarah said, her voice dead flat, and Henry's brows perked up. "Stop calling me, ma'am. The name is Sarah. Sarah Stewart."

Henry nodded, his lips pressed flat. They followed Sarah to the pear-colored house, then up three steps onto the porch. There were two chairs cut from cedar stained a rustic brown. In front of the chairs rested a crate upside-down.

Henry listened for barking but only heard the passing whisper of a light breeze. The police had probably stopped at the border, satisfied they had chased the colored folk back to the black district, and turned back. Henry was surprised by this because he thought for sure they would cross over to track him down. Maybe they were waiting. Judging from the sunbeams angling through nearby tree branches, Henry figured it was around four-thirty. It would be sunset in another couple hours and it would be safe to leave then.

"You'd better sit down," Sarah said, and Henry settled into a chair. "I'll be right back with a medicine box and my needle and thread."

Henry shot her a concerned look. Sarah snickered before entering the house, the screen door banging shut behind her. Henry smiled, shaking his head.

After waiting a few minutes, Willy said, "Henry, you hear that?"

Henry listened. Music?

Willy pointed at the screen door. "It's coming from inside."

Henry imagined a big black circular record spinning on a phonograph machine, a metal arm with a needle point touching that record, and a crank on the side of the phonograph being turned by a hand that belonged to someone. But who? Her husband?

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," Henry said.

"What wasn't such a good idea?" Sarah asked, pushing the door open. In one hand, she held a plain wooden box pressed against her hip. In the other hand, she carried a small tin pail of water. A couple of white rags were slung over her right shoulder.

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