A light August rain fell upon Hester Cemetery where fifty acres of verdant grass blanketed the vast fields and rolling hills. Gravestones stood as enduring tributes to the dead. A long road twisted through the burial ground, and it seemed to go on forever.
Henry let out a sad sigh, his attention drifting back to the service.
A couple months ago, Minister Williams had married Henry and Sarah. Now he was delivering a sermon at Sarah's gravesite ... and with some difficulty. He had already paused twice to regain his composure.
Henry had only heard fragments of the minister's preaching.
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18"
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4"
And now, Minister Williams started to conclude his service. He recited a brief prayer, asking everyone to embrace the light in Sarah's life. Then after a brief pause, he shared one final message. "Abraham Lincoln once said, In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Sarah Louis lived a life that truly counted." The minister closed his bible and inhaled a short breath before releasing it.
Henry felt as hollow as the empty space under Sarah's coffin, resting on two two-by-six inch boards laid across the hole of the grave. Next to the plot sat a huge mound of dirt with a shovel sticking out of it.
None of this seemed real. Henry felt like he was watching a heartbroken version of himself go through the motions of the day. And he wondered if he might wake up at some point. It just didn't seem possible that Sarah's body lay inside that rectangular box, waiting to be lowered six feet under and covered with dirt.
Minister Williams cleared his throat. "Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, Henry would like to say a few words."
Henry gave the minister a nod and stepped forward. He surveyed the crowd, garbed in black with gloomy faces and rain-streaked umbrellas.
Near the front of the group, Nella and Helen cried softly, and in the back, several Pioneers players hung their heads.
"Sarah was the love of my life," Henry said, trying not to choke up. "I never thought I'd be so lucky to find my soulmate ..."
Among the mourners were Dale and Willy, and Henry was glad to have them present for support. Linda Bell dabbed her eyes with a black handkerchief, and Frank brought his arm around her back to comfort her.
Henry continued. "Sarah meant so much to all of us. She knew how to treat people ... with love and respect ..."
Albert stood off to the side, tears glistening in his bloodshot eyes. Henry was glad he'd decided to attend. It was the first time Albert had left his property in over two years.
But he did it for Sarah.
Henry felt his mouth go slack when he saw who had arrived beside Coach Taylor.
It was Jake. The Cowboy sent Henry a reassuring nod.
Henry said, "In a world where people seem to focus on their differences, Sarah always had a way of seeing what brings us together." He paused, and opened his mouth to say something else, but only shook his head. "I guess that's all I have to say. Thank you for being here today."
Minister Williams announced that the immediate family could come up and pay their final respects. He gestured to Albert to begin the procession.
Albert made his way to the casket. He stood there for a long time, casting down a somber gaze at the coffin and whispering softly. When he finished, he turned away abruptly and plodded off.
Next, Henry trudged over to the coffin. He didn't know what to do or what he should say. He just stared at the pine box for a long time until the words started to pour out.
"Sarah, I've been thinking about what you said ... about me bringing together blacks and whites ... and I'm not that person. Truth is, playing on a white team has brought me nothing but grief. I realized something too ... there were doctors at the game. That's why the hospital was short-staffed. They were there. But not one of those white doctors came forward to help you. And that nurse, she made us wait on purpose ... knowing you had passed out ... knowing you were pregnant. All because of the color of our skin. It's not fair, and I can't change it. I can't play in the championship game either ... not for a white team. Not after all the wrongs that whites have done to us. I don't know what I'm going to do next, but it's not going to be baseball ..."
As Henry continued, it started to rain harder, and the faint rumble of thunder echoed from above.
And it echoed into Henry's fracturing heart.
"Nothing will work unless you do."
- Maya Angelou -- writer, poet, singer, and civil rights activist
Printed with permission
From my upcoming book "COREAGEOUS".
Back in the Summer of 2016, I remember working on the outline of "Color." I was pretty happy with it. But I was so close to the story, I wanted to get an objective opinion. So I sent it to a story analyst for review, and I asked him not to hold back on the criticisms.
He loved the story, BUT (there's always a "but") he thought it lacked realism, given a time period filled with so many atrocities and tragedies committed against African Americans.
I agreed with his analysis.
Based on his feedback. I introduced a darker edge to the story. That's when Edward Benedict and the Vigilantes of the White (VOW) were added to the story. And that's when Sarah's death started to take shape.
It didn't make sense for Edward or Clayton to murder Sarah. This story isn't about murder. And as far as characters go, they're both really just bad people and societal misfits, but not murderers. And then there was Sarah's unborn child, which presented a touchy situation to deal with.
In the end, I decided to let society's flaws (ignore the pregnant African American at the white hospital) create a significant tragedy for Henry. It had to be a significant event, but one that Henry could overcome in order to become a greater person. Not so much for himself ... but for bringing together the black and white communities of Hester.
As crazy as this sounds, losing the baby wasn't devastating enough. But losing both the child and Sarah? That would be a tragedy that even Henry might not be able to overcome.
Now remember, this story is about freedom ... Henry's freedom. Throughout the story, he's judged white folks as much as they've judged him. With that prejudiced perspective, Henry can never be free. Hence the poem about freedom ... Fly, Robin, Fly. And hence Sarah's last words: Fly, Henry, Fly.
I know, I know ... you probably feel sorry for Sarah ... and Henry too. But keep in mind that Sarah didn't regret dying. She died feeling a great sense of peace and happiness. She was happy to have lived and loved Henry. And she was happy and so full of hope for Henry's future. She didn't want Henry to be held back by her death.
And even in her death, Sarah's life will have a profound impact in the upcoming chapters. We haven't seen the last of her vibrant spirit yet.
Hopefully, by the end of this story, Henry will find his peace and freedom too.
RIP Sarah Louis.
P.S. Ten chapters remaining in our journey together. You've traveled a long way to get here, and I truly appreciate the company. I promise -- the best is yet come!
YOU ARE READING
Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
WATTYS SHORTLISTED! During World War I, a black baseball player gets a second chance to play ball on an all-white steel mill baseball team, an action that shocks and divides an entire town. Targeted by opponents, his own team, and mysterious vigilan...