Rose and Justice — Installment Five

This is Installment Five of the novel Rose and Justice.   It includes Chapters II,iii, II.iv, and II.v.  It is 3,530 words long.  As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page.   Enjoy!

II.iii

            D.C. had smoked since he was 17.  He knew it wasn’t good for him but was still dismayed to be breathing so heavily after climbing only one small flight of stairs.  He also drank in binges.  He could go for weeks without so much as a beer, but then the urge would strike and he would get roaring drunk, sometimes for a whole weekend.  Sandy and his mother often tried to drop small hints about his abuse of his body and how “so many people needed him to be around for a long time.”  He pretended not to hear them and always smoked more and went on a drunken binge after they nudged.  The idea of not being around for a long time actually appealed to D.C. in a strange sort of way.

He always believed that he would die at a relatively early age in some dramatic way, either a motorcycle crash or falling from a mountain he was trying to scale.  Since there were no huge mountains to speak of around Cullman and he didn’t own a motorcycle, these options seemed a little far-fetched, but they still seemed more real to him than living a long life and dying of old age in Cullman, Alabama.  He had even thought of the romance in being murdered, but since no one liked him enough to hate him, that also seemed unlikely.  Briefly, the idea of suicide had crossed his mind.  He had shuddered at the thought.  It seemed the last thing he could bring himself to do even as much as he hated his life.  The closest he could come to suicide was Marlboros and Jack Daniels, so he smoked and drank.

When the twins started high school, Daniel took up golf and joined the Cullman Country Club.  D.C. 3 was a senior at the University of Alabama on a football scholarship, Mary Jo had married Sonny Burtress right out of high school, Clinton went into the Navy, and neither of the twins seemed to be Harvard material, so he relaxed his feeling of responsibility a little and did something for himself.  The country club was a perfect escape.  He went almost every afternoon after work, even if he didn’t play golf on that particular day.  He would go to the lounge and talked to other club members or June Hensley, the bartender.  It was a great way to waste time.  It sounded like he was actually doing something, to say he was going to the club, but all he really did was wile away hours so he wouldn’t have to really live them.  That’s when Jack Daniels became a daily friend to D.C.  On Saturday mornings, he was the fourth for his daddy, Bart Kuntsler, and David Smoot.  They could drag out a round of golf until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then they would adjourn to the bar.  He rarely arrived home before 7:00 pm.  Sundays he would try to last it out with the family, but usually found himself headed for the club by the time the Sunday dinner dishes were being cleared.  After so many years of being responsible, D.C. slipped comfortably into a life where a day without a buzz was hard to remember.

The difference now was that he rarely, if ever, actually got drunk.  He just wanted to get lost, and the alcohol was a good camouflage for his brain.  He was 39 years old and acted like a well-seasoned middle-aged man.  He counted the days until retirement and played the rest of the time.  Nothing seemed to give him any satisfaction, not even the golf or the drinking.  Oh sure, a cigarette after dinner gave some kind of temporary good feeling, but he had none of the fulfillment of ever accomplishing anything.  Even the kids — he could have jacked off into a cup and handed it to Sandy for all he had done in their existence.  He paid for the meals and the clothes and the summer camps and the doctor bills, but that’s all he had done.  He felt like his only purpose in life was to fulfill everyone else’s purpose.  He had lived his life according to his mama and daddy’s blueprint until the unfortunate mishap with Sandy and then he had lived his life trying to make up for that mistake.  He had never once done anything for himself.

He often thought of leaving the day the twins completed college, which was their mother’s dream for all her children, though only D.C. 3 had accomplished it so far.  Once he had no more responsibility, he could leave Sandy everything they owned and the money in his savings.  She could live fairly well off of that and the support she would get from both their families.  He could just leave.  Take nothing, maybe one small satchel of clothes, and hit the road.  He could hobo across the country on trains or hitch rides with truckers.  He would just disappear and go to parts unknown.  Sandy and his parents would miss him for awhile, but he knew they’d live and get over it.  His kids would fare well enough and remember him in whatever way it was that they thought of him.

But, the biggest difference would be for him.  He could escape.  He could be free.  He could go searching for whatever it was he thought was out there.  He could finally, after all these years, become.  Become the person he had never been and always wanted to be.  Become happy.

So while he marked a mental calendar with the months and years leading to a retirement watch, he also noted that Curtis and Carl would graduate from college in six years.  And if he had the guts, he’d follow them out of the nest.

II.iv

            Juliet and Hal had gone over their simple plan so many times that a mistake seemed highly implausible at this point.  She was to leave as soon as a full nine months had passed.  She had heard from the light and was surprised to find how uneventful that was.  It was almost like talking to herself from the deepest part of her soul.  In fact, once it had happened, she had a sneaking suspicion that it could have happened at any time if she had just willed it to.  She had made her reservations with Chris, and then she and Hal waited and planned.  Hal forced her to wait the entire term, convincing her it would be better in the long run.  Besides, the longer she waited, the closer in age she and Romeo would be in the next life.

Hal tried to keep Juliet’s mind off it, but the fact remained that Romeo could remain in his current incarnation for another 30 or 40 years.  That would make things a little more difficult, of course, but not impossible.  Hal assured her that he would keep a close eye on the arrivals list and inform Romeo of the plan as soon as he fully awakened.  Romeo had awakened quickly every other time, like suddenly awakening from a worn-off anesthetic, so it looked promising that he wouldn’t sleep too long this time either.

When the day of her trip arrived, Juliet was so excited she could hardly eat.  Hal forced her to gulp down a good breakfast.  The trip was difficult and taxing; she would need as much strength as possible.  She ate two large golden flapjacks and three eggs over-easy washed down with a glass of orange juice that seemed to never empty.  After Hal was satisfied that she could make the trip without doing any damage to herself physically, he walked with her slowly to the tunnel.

“It’s going to be very lonely here without you,” he said.

“I’m going to miss you, too, Hal.  Just think, only one more lifetime and I’ll be back with my Romeo.  Then we won’t ever have to leave.”

“Hmmm, yes,” Hal said thoughtfully.  He knew things would be different when she returned, whether with or without Romeo.  Their magical time was coming to an end, but the next time would be just as magical in its own way.  He loved her so deeply and so completely that all he could really think about was how much he wanted her to find Romeo.  By truly loving her, he desired the absolute best for her.  And he knew that Romeo was her best.  He would do anything to have them reunited.  But, still, he couldn’t help but be a bit selfish and wish he could keep her here for eternity for them to play in the baths and frolic in the meadows and talk and talk and talk.  Hers was the purest spirit he had ever known and he hated losing her.  But, the plan was set and when it was fulfilled, she would come back forever and never leave again.  Of course, he’d have to share her with Romeo, but Hal understood true love and knew that it didn’t subtract from any other love.

“I wish there was a way I could contact you while I was there,” Juliet interrupted his thoughts.  “You know, just call up your mind now and then and let you know how everything is going.”

“Some people can.  But, it’s very rare and a real burden to the incarnated being.  Besides, you won’t even remember me after your trip.”

“Oh, Hal!  I can hardly stand to think of that!”

“Well, it’s true.  But, if it makes you feel better now, I’ll be watching you as closely as possible.  Remember, I‘ll always be just a frequency away.”

“Well, that is a little better.  But, still, I wish you could go with me.  That’s the part I hate the most, leaving you here.”

“But, just think, I’ll be here when you return and neither one of us will ever leave again.”  Hal tried to smile.  This transition was just as painful for him as it was for the humans who remained on the earth-plane when a loved one returned to the eternal Here.

They reached the boarding zone and could feel the wind from the tunnel.  Juliet turned to Hal one last time.  “Don’t forget.  St. Simons Island.  Keep an eye on me from wherever you are.”

Hal brushed back a tear.  “I will.”  He swallowed hard and tried to keep his sadness to himself.  “You’d better get a move on.  There’s a woman in Georgia who’s going through laborious pains waiting for you to stop hem-hawing around.”  He smiled unconvincingly.

Juliet threw her arms around his neck.  “I love you, Hal.  I don’t know what’s worse, not having Romeo or leaving you.  It’s taking everything within me to walk into that tunnel.”

Hal hugged her back, then stiffened and firmly, but gently, pushed her back.  “It’s time, Juliet.  You must leave now.  I’ll be waiting for you.”

Juliet turned slowly and walked towards the tunnel.  She turned back several times on the way, but only saw Hal standing upright and stiff, like a sentinel guarding her procession.  For the first time, she wondered if she could abort the journey at this late stage, yet she knew she wouldn’t.  She had to go.  She had to find Romeo.  She turned again for the last time and then felt the wind grow stronger behind her.  She took no more steps; the tunnel sucked her in and she was gone.

Hal watched the tunnel entrance for a long time.  He was supposed to be above the realms of time and space here, but he felt such a deep loneliness now that she was gone.  He knew how to make the time fly past and knew she would be back in a much shorter relative time span than a lifetime feels like on earth.  But, still he missed her and felt the sadness a goodbye brings on any plane.

II.v

            Marabelle Quatrease Jackson wanted to pull every nappy hair out of the head of her husband, Phillip.  Her labor wasn’t long, none of hers ever were, but it was more intensely painful than any of her other deliveries had been, and they hadn’t exactly been joyrides.   She had arrived at Brunswick Memorial at midnight thinking she would pop this young’un any minute.  She thought she could handle the delivery gracefully since she was getting to be a pro at it, but instead she was growing tired of the ceiling of the delivery room and wished some benevolent doctor would just come cut her open and rip this thing out.  Phillip stood by her side being annoyingly helpful.

“It won’t be much longer now, baby.  You’re dilated ten centimeters and our baby’ll be here any minute.  Keep breathin’, baby.  Just like they told you.  You just keep breathing.”

She wanted to say, “I am breathing, Phillip.  I’m still here, aren’t I?”  But, she knew what he was really trying to say and worked harder to breathe the way the nurse had instructed her.

Phillip looked like it was his birthday, or Christmas, or every great day rolled into one.  He had been there for the birth of all their children, even though he had to fight the doctor to do so every time.  By 1974, the fight was starting to get easier.  Some men actually stayed in the room while their wives gave birth now, and the same doctor had delivered all their children, so he was familiar with Phillip’s position on the issue.  This would be number four, and Phillip just seemed to get more excited each time.  Having babies didn’t grow old to him.  Of course, he didn’t have to experience a human life being expelled from his sexual organs either.  Phillip and Marabelle had three sons, and it was Phillip praying for a girl this time.  Marabelle had realized long ago that boys were easier and had no desire to complicate her life with pigtails, explaining menstruation, and beating off young suitors.  Phillip relished the idea.

Phillip, Jr., Paris, and Peter were good boys.  Phillip, Sr., had been what some would call “strict” with his sons.  They knew they had better call adults “sir” and “ma’am,” open doors for ladies, and bring home good grades to assure admission into a strong academic college.  They would be good big brothers to a little girl and Phillip felt confident that he had trained them well for that particular role.  A daughter born into the Jackson family wouldn’t have a chance.  If she had some strong compulsion to be an unwed mother or drug user, she would have to get through an army of Jackson men to do so.

The Jackson heritage was something Phillip could have scorned, but instead he chose to parade it as a badge of honor.  George Jackson, Phillip’s great-great-great grandfather had been a slave on the Clarington Plantation just south of Jesup.  He had married a slave named Mary from the Moore Plantation six miles away in Broadhurst.  When freedom came, they didn’t know whether New York City was a hundred or a thousand miles away, but George Jackson did know a thing or two about raising the cotton he had been forced to pick his entire life.  They walked to Brunswick and inquired about tenant farming.  It seemed the cotton grown on the barrier islands had been about the finest anywhere and the plantation owners were in a bad way with no work force all of a sudden.   St. Simon’s had been the most successful of the islands during the pre-emancipation cotton-growing era and many of the former slaves were staying around to scratch out whatever opportunity there was in paying your former owner for the privilege to do the same work you used to at least get fed for.  George Jackson was a newcomer, but he was a hard worker and enough people had left the island for a better life somewhere to make a little room for him.

George and Mary’s second son, Julep, hated farm life and read every book he could get his hands on in an attempt to educate himself.  He married Felicia Donald and worked his entire life to give her what he knew she deserved, but it was hard on a stable master’s pay.   Julep was self-educated to a degree most college graduates didn’t reach, but all anyone seemed to want from him were his remarkable skills in animal husbandry.  He worked for the sons of former slave owners and said all the same “yassuhs” his ancestors had grinned through.   But, once or twice a year he would catch a ride on a shrimp boat and spend a month on Jekyll, an island you could see from the southern end of St. Simons.  Jekyll Island was owned by a group of the richest men in the world, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, Morgans and Pulitzers.  They would come to the island to escape, live the simple life uninterrupted by business, reporters, or scandal.  Their idea of the simple life, however, included gourmet dinners in mansions they insisted on calling “cottages” and hunting excursions that entailed an entourage of people and horses.  It was for these excursions that Julep would go to the island.  His horseman skills were unequaled in Georgia, perhaps the entire south, and it became quickly apparent to the wealthy men who would temporarily employ him.  They paid him well and tipped him generously.  Every hunting season, they would offer Julep full-time employment on Jekyll and each time he would kindly turn it down between grins and “well, suhs.”  He knew full-time employment would mean the same barely livable wage the rest of the Jekyll Island staff was given.  No, he’d rather stay special and in demand.  And by doing so, he earned as much in two months on Jekyll as he did in ten months on St. Simons, which is exactly how all three of his boys managed to go to Morehouse University.

Julep and Felicia’s third child, Phillip’s grandfather, Franklin Jefferson Washington Jackson, studied physics at Morehouse and then returned to St. Simon’s and the only job he could get – as an apprentice bookkeeper for a large hotel not far from the lighthouse.

Franklin Jefferson Washington Jackson’s only son, William, broke the still new Morehouse tradition and went to Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee.  He returned as a doctor, settled into a family practice in Brunswick and lived his life on an income pathetic by the standards of most of his colleagues.  He and his wife, Cynthia, had six sons – Paul, Peter, Potter, Plato, Pan, and Phillip, the last being the anticipatory father making Marabelle crazy in the delivery room.  The first five became doctors and all settled in Atlanta where they had burgeoning practices and rolled in the dough.  Phillip attended two years of college as a pre-med major, then switched to his true love – music.  At the risk of being disowned by his father, Phillip worked harder than all of his brothers combined to become an accomplished musician.  He received a master’s degree in music performance and taught band at Glynn Academy.  During the summers, he played the resort hotels on St. Simons and Jekyll, now both connected to the mainland by causeways, with his jazz combo, The Jackson Four.  Phillip and Marabelle moved back to the island where his ancestors had lived when they got married, poor but happy in the modest house on the Island’s south end.

Phillip had provided for his family well, but as it grew he began to realize that he had taken the hard road.  He wanted his children to do what they loved, but hoped it wasn’t music.  It just didn’t pay.  He sent his hard-earned dollars through the mail for Morehouse sweatshirts for his three boys.  He drove them south for Florida A&M football games.  He took them along when his high school band played in a music festival at Howard University.  He mollified himself with the knowledge that he could have been a famous musician, but chose to provide a stable life for his family.

Phillip knew his little girl would be special.  She would have everything it was in his power to obtain.  He was a wonderful father and believed that it started from before his children were even born.  That’s why he stood at the edge of Marabelle’s bed and offered whatever encouragement he could offer.  Somewhere deep within him, he just knew his children couldn’t be born without him there coaching, sweating, and smiling through every labor pain.

Phillip knew that Marabelle loved him.  He had also been through the birthing experience enough times to know that her love wouldn’t be overly evident during labor.  He smiled every time she cussed him under her breath.

“Damnit, Phillip.  This is the last baby we’re havin’.  I don’t care if it’s a boy, girl, or puppy, this is the last one.  Do you hear me?”  Marabelle ended her question with a scream of pain.

“Don’t you worry, baby.  This is all.  You’re right.  In just a few minutes we’ll have our little girl and our family will be done.  Just keep breathing, baby.”

© Deborah E. Moore – 2011

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