64. Separate But Separate

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Before meeting Dale, Henry dropped his duffel bag at his apartment. Then he grabbed a quick bite at Ritchie's Diner. Ham and swiss on rye, a fresh dill pickle, and two hard boiled eggs. He had planned to bring Sarah here for a proper dinner this evening, but not after seeing her kissing Edward Benedict. He still couldn't believe it had happened.

After dinner, Henry hustled across Hester. It was only four o'clock, and the streets had already grown quiet. Now, a scattering of people hurried about their business as Henry made his way up Jackson Avenue. The rowdy baseball crowds he'd seen earlier had dispersed, leaving behind litter, debris, and several broken windows along the Black Business District.

A short time later, Henry crossed onto the dirt path running through the woods and arrived at the bunkhouse sign for the "Union Steel bunkhouses."

Dale was already waiting for him, dressed in a loose white shirt and blue jeans. Two large green canvas mail bags laid on the grass next to him.

"Henry!" Dale called.

Henry jogged up to him. "Okay, I'm ready for this."

Dale gave a skeptical look. "First, raise your right hand."

"What for?" Henry said.

"You have to repeat the postal service creed."

"The what now?"

Dale cleared his throat. "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night shall stay me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds." He said it in a serious tone.

Henry returned a bewildered look. "Are you serious?" And when he saw Dale was really serious, he said, "Aw come on." He sighed, decided to go along with it, and fired off the words. "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night shall stay me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds."

"Now you're ready," Dale said with a silly grin. He picked up a mail bag by the shoulder strap and held it out. "Here. This one's for the black bunkhouses."

Henry took the bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. "Man! This feels like a sack of bricks."

Dale laughed. "Imagine carrying two of those."

Henry and Dale entered the woods. They ambled along a dirt trail, wide enough for the two of them to walk side-by-side. Twigs snapped and rocks crunched under each step. Tall green pines with crumbling bark towered on both sides, leaves rustling with each whisper of the wind. Above the tree tops, a flock of wild ducks quacked as they flew past.

"Walking through the woods here reminds me of family vacations when I was a kid," Dale said. "Our family used to take trips to Vermont every summer at the end of July. We'd rented a cabin on Lake Eden. Lots of great times fishing, swimming, and telling stories at the campfire. It was so peaceful and quiet."

In the near distance, they heard the loud roar of a truck, wheels rumbling over a dirt road and horn blaring.

The two men looked at each other and burst into laughter.

"I know," Dale said. "This isn't exactly the same. But the smell of these pines sure does bring back the memories."

Henry nodded. "That must have been nice, getting away every summer and spending time with your family."

"It sure was," Dale said. "Hey, how about you? Where'd you go on vacation with your folks?"

Henry felt a blush of embarrassment. "To the creek," he said, but it sounded like crick.

"What?"

"Vacations are sort of a white people thing," Henry said. "Colored folks don't really go on vacations."

"How come?"

"Most black families are too poor. They can't afford to take trips. They have to work non-stop just to put scraps on the table and rags on their backs. And even if they could afford to go on vacation, where would they go? Not too many vacation places allow blacks."

Dale's eyelids drooped. "Sorry, Henry. I never knew it was like that for colored folks."

"How could you?" Henry said. "Jim Crow Laws have made it easy for white folks to never see what coloreds go through. Truth is, there's nothing equal between blacks and whites. Separate but Equal is the great American lie. And now I'm supposed to fit in with an all-white team? Look past all our differences? No! If they're not going to accept me, I'm not going to accept them."

Dale stopped dead in his tracks stared and Henry. "Does that mean you can't accept me as your friend?"

Henry didn't say a word. He allowed his gaze to drift to the fork in the trail ahead.

Dale shook his head slowly. "You and me, we might be different. But that doesn't have to divide us. Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about colored folks. And maybe I don't understand all the differences between blacks and whites. But none of that bothers me. Friendship looks past those things. You just got to trust."

Henry pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'm trying to trust. You're going to have to give me some time. It's hard for me to see past skin color. Since I was a kid, it's been fixed in everything I see, everything I think, and everything I do. It's a part of who I am."

Dale met Henry's gaze. "Then maybe it's time we all change who we are."

Henry's jaw fell, stunned by the truth in those words.

Dale started walking again, and Henry followed in a brooding silence.

At the fork, they took the trail on the left. Toward the white bunkhouses.


Author's Note

I'm hitting one of those writer block stretches. Not a complete block, mind you. But it's more like a block in a particular area, like being able to come up with decent dialogue or description.

It's not a big deal for this second draft. For example, Dale is more of a country boy, so his dialogue will become more polished by the time the story is published. The same goes for Jake.

One school of thought says, You should plow through writer's block. Keep on writing even if it's crap. I think that's only one part of the answer.

The other part is to be patient. As you revise and tinker with a scene or chapter OVER TIME, it will become better. As long as you want it to become better.

Just like the theme of this chapter, you've just got to trust. Trust in the process that works best for you!

And for all your reads, votes, comments, and time spent here, I say ...

And for all your reads, votes, comments, and time spent here, I say

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Tom  :)

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