21. Mortician's Office

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Another day. Another interview.

Henry sat in the mortician's office, hands folded together before a casket-sized desk. On the ivory-white walls, paintings of dead presidents hung: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, and a few he didn't know.

Over the past five days, Henry had gone to nearly every establishment in town. Looking for a job.

He started in the white section, knocking on the doors of the uptown businesses along Lincoln Avenue. Henry was regarded with leery expressions. The white business owners told him flat out they weren't looking to hire. Henry didn't argue with any of them, even as he dragged his feet past a "Help Wanted" sign in the grocer's window as he exited the business.

Then Henry turned to the businesses in the Black District. Pounding the pavement, as they say. He wore his best clothes, a button-up tan dress shirt and black trousers paired with a smart burgundy necktie.

He saw the bank manager, baker, and butcher. No luck! He took a chance at the variety store, theater, and grocery store. Nothing! He insisted he was a quick learner, but everywhere he went, he heard the same depressing lines:

"You're not qualified."

"We don't have any openings."

"Why don't you find another baseball team?"

The mortician, Mr. Wilson, was a thin colored man with pale brown eyes and gaunt cheekbones. He held Henry's application in his spindly fingers, looking it up and down, but when he sent his eyes back down a third time, Henry suspected he was just pretending to read it and waiting to give him the bad news.

"You only got as far as high school?"

"No sir," Henry said. "I spent half a year at Cheney University but ..." His voice drifted off.

Mr. Wilson lifted a suspicious eyebrow. "But?"

Henry swallowed the lump in his throat. "I had to drop out."

"Why's that?" Mr. Wilson asked, both eyebrows raised now.

"My mama passed from the fever."

Mr. Wilson's expression softened. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that." He gave Henry a candid look. "Listen, I'll be honest with you. You're a darn good ball player. Why don't you keep playing?"

Henry's lips formed a sad smile. "Have you ever played baseball? Traveling day and night on a rickety old bus, packed tighter than sardines. Stores won't let you in. Restaurants won't serve you. Hotels won't let you stay. No place to wash your clothes. Every town you visit, you wonder if the Klan are going to ambush you. That's no way to live."

Mr. Wilson sighed and set down the application.

Henry didn't need to hear anymore. He stood up, extending his hand, and said, "I appreciate your time."

Mr. Wilson shook his hand. "Good luck, son."

Henry left the mortician's office. His account of the hardships of baseball to Mr. Wilson was only partially true. Not that those things didn't happen. They did. And they were hardships. But they were also filled with good times. Sharing stories on the bus. Singing and cracking jokes. Men being boys. He would miss those good times.

Henry stepped outside. A light drizzle coming down. People strolled past, black parasols bobbing up and down.

Mr. Wilson had wished him, good luck.

Swearing under his breath, Henry started to walk briskly along the sidewalk, wondering one thing ...

What luck did he have left?

Author's Note

Well, Henry just can't seem to catch a break. That's why I had him interview with a mortician. The atmosphere of the mortician's office parallels Henry's state of mind.

I had a lot of fun creating the descriptions of the mortician and his office. Hope you liked it.

What's in store for Henry? Oh, it's going to be something big! So stay tuned.

Oh, and the chapter image? An actual funeral parlor hallway circa 1918.

Talk to you next week!




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