65. White Side

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It looked like an image straight out of a picture postcard.

White shingled houses with white picket fences lined both sides of an oil-black asphalt road. The pavement was cast in gold by the evening sunlight.

Henry marveled at the neatly manicured shrubs and the flower beds of budding tulips and daffodils. "This cannot be the white bunkhouses!"

"If you're done gawking," Dale said, "I'll show you what to do. Not that it's really all that complicated. Then we can head over to the black side."

As they walked, Henry looked around, still stunned. Several of the houses looked freshly painted. Some of the tenants had even set up vegetable gardens, growing tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes.

"I always start down at the far end," Dale said. "Then I work my way back, head back into the woods, and make my way over to the black section."

"Sounds easy enough," Henry said, the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention. He jerked his gaze to the house on his right, and the curtains snapped shut. They were being watched.

About halfway down the road, they came upon a half dozen children playing cops and robbers.

"Bang, you're dead!" shouted a dark-haired boy, waving a metal cap gun in his hand. One of the other kids grabbed his chest, a whimsical look on his face, and collapsed onto the grass, feet kicking in the air.

A little girl in a yellow dress started to cross the street until she saw Henry. She stopped dead in her tracks, and her mouth popped open. Eyes round as billiard balls.

The other kids stood stock still like statues.

Henry stared at the girl, her golden locks trembling. Please, don't scream. He held up his palms, mouth opening to speak.

Then the little girl let out a shrill scream.

Henry's heart leaped to full alert. "Hey, little girl. It's okay. I'm a mailman, see?" He held up his mailbag and flashed a smile.

The girl unleashed a fresh scream. The lot of kids scattered, running in different directions.

The boy with the cap gun grabbed the little girl's hand, and in mid-scream, yanked her away.

The children yelled and hollered as they bolted into their houses. Doors slamming shut behind them.

Moments later, Henry and Dale were all alone in the middle of the street. All quiet except for a chirping bird, bounding under a water spigot on the side of the nearest house.

Dale blew a raspberry and shook his head. "What the heck was that all about?"

Henry shot him a look. "You mean, you really don't know?"

Dale's eyes narrowed in confusion.

"Let me paint you a very clear picture," Henry said, frustrated. "Black guy strolls into a white neighborhood. White kids see said black guy. Black guy spooks said white kids. White kids scream and run away."

Dale's eyes narrowed further before he shook his head. "They're just kids. They're too young to start thinking like that."

"Tell that to their parents," Henry said.

Dale shrugged. "Well, don't let it wrangle your nerves. Those kids were probably just fooling around. You keep your head up. You got every right to be here."

"Says who?" The voice boomed from behind, full of scorn.

Henry and Dale stopped and looked at each other. Then they turned around, slowly.

Henry's gaze landed on the well-worn bat, squeezed tight in a calloused hand. Instinctively, his fingers started to curl into a ball, and his legs tensed strong as steel springs.

Fight or flee? Henry was tired of fighting. And even more tired of running. He'd been doing one or the other all his life.

When was this conflict ever going to end?

Author's Note

If you remember my writer's block comment from Chapter 64, it's the next chapter that's giving me a bit of a headache.

It's dependent on an earlier chapter. And to maintain continuity, I actually need to revise that earlier chapter. So what I'll do is make a note to change that earlier chapter, and simply write Chapter 66 the way I envision it.

And I'll need to spend some time mulling over Chapter 66 - Get Out!


P.S. The chapter image shows actual steel mill houses for white workers.

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