53. Isolated

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Henry's insides were churning when he arrived at the last practice before the Pioneers' home opener. At first, his head drummed like an over-inflated balloon getting flicked on the side by an invisible finger. Then a queasy feeling invaded his stomach so fast, he thought he might puke all over the dugout. No, that wouldn't be a good impression to leave. Not on the day that Coach Taylor would finalize the positions on the team.

Shoving all these feelings to the side, Henry entered the locker room.

The white players fell silent, and Henry braced for a taunt or confrontation. But nothing happened. Everyone resumed talking and getting changed into their uniforms. For a moment, Henry wondered if he had stepped into the wrong clubhouse.

Henry ambled over to his locker and set his duffel bag on the bench. As he undressed, his thoughts drifted over the last several days.

He'd seen Sarah every evening this past week. On their second date, they took a bus to the Hill District, a lively neighborhood in Pittsburgh where colored folks could walk the streets without the worry of getting mugged by whites. After standing in line for an hour at Maya's Grill, they feasted on some of the best jerk chicken fixed up by an eighty-year old Haitian great-grandmother.

On another evening, they made their way to Milner's Nickelodeon to see "A Dog's Life," featuring a pasty-white oddball named Charlie Chaplin. It didn't even matter that they had to sit back in the balcony - the so-called colored section.

After seven dates in seven nights, Henry couldn't imagine spending time with any other person in the universe.

Last night, they strolled along the Allegheny River until they reached the Golden Triangle. There they snuck onto an empty barge where Henry opened up a blanket, and Sarah unpacked a picnic basket of peanut butter sandwiches, McIntosh apples, and a bottle of white wine.

Watching the rhythmic waves of the river, Sarah sighed as if she was about to relive a nightmare for the millionth time. "I was only ten. We had boarded a train to Philadelphia. Dad loved visiting historic sites. We were going to tour Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were adopted. About a mile outside of Harrisburg, anarchists had rigged dynamite on the track." She paused for a moment and started to weep softly. "The explosion sent our train flying off the rails. Afterwards, I remember walking around in a daze, looking for my parents. There were bodies everywhere. People moaning and crying through the fire and smoke. I was so scared. When I found my mother and father, they were a few feet apart...both dead." The tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

Henry pulled Sarah in close and held her, wondering why the bad had to happen to good people? He didn't have an answer for that.

"Afternoon, Henry!" This came from Dale, and it pulled Henry back into the locker room.

Dale was already dressed in his practice uniform and wearing a wide smile. "You okay? Seemed like you were somewhere else for a minute."

"Yeah, I'm fine," Henry said, a smile lingering on his lips. He leaned in close to Dale and kept his voice to a whisper. "What's up with everyone today?"

"What do you mean?" Dale whispered back.

"I got here today, and not one black slur. Not one shove. Not one practical joke. They're treating me like I'm invisible." Henry picked up his practice shirt and threw it on.

Understanding shot into Dale's expression, and he nodded vigorously. He explained the events that had taken place in Frank Bell's office. Then he added that Frank had declared an ultimatum as the players were about to leave his office. None of the them were to lay a hand on Henry on Union Steel property. If any player violated this stipulation, Frank swore he'd not only fire him on the spot, but he'd make sure he couldn't land a roster spot on any other mill team in Pennsylvania.

Henry looked away, fixing a gaze on his locker as he finished buttoning his shirt. "That's just great!" Only, it wasn't great.

"Well, I thought you'd be happy to hear that bit of good news."

"Good news?" Henry scoffed. "Nothing's changed! All Mr. Bell did was find a way to isolate the team from me. It won't change how they feel about me as a player or a teammate. If anything, it'll give them more reasons to talk about me behind my back. Me, the black guy getting the special treatment." Henry threw up his hands in disgust. "Actually, why am I even talking to you about this? You have no idea what I'm going through." Henry dropped onto the bench and started to squeeze a foot into a cleated shoe.

"Yeah," Dale said, "maybe I don't know the full extent of what it's like to walk in your footsteps. But I do know one way we're alike."

Henry shook his head and looked up at Dale. "I doubt it. But tell me. How're we alike?"

Dale gestured his hand at the rest of the room. "The players aren't talking to me either."

Henry's jaw went slack. "Why?"

"I think you know why, buddy."

Henry didn't say a word. Truth is, he didn't know what to say. He hadn't expected Dale's good will to turn the other white players against him. It just wasn't fair.

Dale turned and started walking toward the exit with the other players. Henry wanted to call out to him, but he didn't. He only listened to the retreating footsteps, the clack-clack of spikes against concrete until he was all alone.

The embarrassment that had prickled his flesh a moment ago had transformed into a new emotion that seethed under his skin.


Moments later, Henry rose to his feet, ready to breathe fire.

Author's Note

I know. I know. It's a short chapter.

By now, you know my writing style is about creating memorable scenes, like your watching a movie or your favorite TV show.

The next nine or so chapters will be fairly short ones well. In fact, the next chapter will be the final practice, and it will set up Henry's "misbehavior."

In the screenwriting world for Hollywood movies, a "misbehavior" is the way the hero (or any character really) misbehaves even though the hero believes he/she is doing the right thing.

Henry's misbehavior is pride. Henry will further isolate himself by being too prideful (i.e. an ego to be better than the white players). The fact that he thinks of his teammates as "white" players (the wording I intentionally use), and not just as players or  brothers or as his family, is a key indication that Henry at some level is also guilty of being prejudice. Not on the same scale as the white players, but Henry is prejudice just the same. He just doesn't know it yet, and that contributes to his misbehavior.

In the end, Henry must overcome his misbehavior (of pride) if he is to gain the acceptance of his teammates and end prejudice in Hester. It's a tall order for one man to do. But I have faith in Henry.

Thanks for reading!

Best Regards,


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