Rose and Justice — Installment Eight

This is Installment Eight of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters II.xi and II.xii. It is 3,503 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.xi

Rose Jackson sat in the low crook of the live-oak where she did all her best reading.  She was only five and yet was happiest alone with a good book.  Phillip had become concerned with her in the last year.  She had withdrawn.  She was not moody or depressed — she always had her ready smile for him every time he saw her — she had just moved inside herself, somewhere so deep that Phillip couldn’t reach it.  She was a child like no other he had ever known — no, she was a person like no other he had ever known.  He often felt that she was older than him.  She saw the world in a way he thought he could only dream of.  In one way, Phillip felt he was losing his daughter.  In another, he felt he could be closer to her than ever if he listened to her every word as Plato had listened to Socrates.

Rose was reading Keats.  Her five-year-old mind didn’t quite understand all he was trying to say, but something in her spirit was drawn to his rhythms and his words.  Her reading choices were always an interesting mix of Romantic poets and Nancy Drew.  She was as likely to bring Thomas Hardy home from the library as she was the Hardy Boys.  She had outgrown Dr. Seuss by three and now bounced between Charlotte’s Web and The Canterbury Tales with an ease that indicated an intelligence beyond her parents’ ability to recognize it.  Marabelle was half-convinced there had been a switch in the maternity ward.  The only thing she knew about Keats was that his first name was John.  And if you had asked Phillip if he knew Keats, he would probably look pensive, scratch his chin, and say, “Didn’t he play shortstop for the Dodgers?”  But Rose had asked for a library card for her fifth birthday.  Marabelle had been only shocked; Phillip was downright speechless.  He prodded her for other hints — the latest doll, an Easy-Bake oven — but she merely replied that she “would like a library card, please.”  Phillip and Marabelle had purchased a few toys and items of clothing, mostly to appease themselves, but Rose didn’t light up until her father handed her a library card in her own name.

Phillip took her to the library every Saturday morning before their weekly lunch together at a fast-food restaurant.  She would not read her newly checked-out books over lunch.  That would be rude and, even at five, Rose was anything but rude.  But she would take them in the restaurant and stroke the covers like they were made of silk while eating her hamburger.  Phillip knew that she couldn’t wait to get home and climb up in “her” tree with her latest literary acquisition, so he ate his burger quickly and drove her back to the house.  He would often sit in the den and watch her perched in the live-oak, wondering what else she was learning and how much he still didn’t know about her.

Rose concentrated on the page as she always did.  From the time she had learned to read, she had been able to focus completely on the words in front of her without even seeming to be aware of any distractions around her.  She was like a little adult in her ability to still herself — no, she was much better at it than most adults.  She almost seemed able to control what her brain acknowledged, not even processing that which she wished to ignore at the moment, yet allowing those things she needed to be aware of to enter her gray matter.  That was how she was able to read at a level of deep understanding and still hear her mother call her when supper was ready.

But as she sat in the tree on this particular Keats afternoon, she was startled by a sudden lack of concentration.  The words slowly became fuzzy.  At first, she was not even aware that she had drifted away from the poem.  Her eyes steadily raised until she was staring over the book at the Magnolia tree in the far corner of the yard.  She felt something, she couldn’t say what, but she knew that a subtle change had just come over her.  The poetry became unimportant in that instant.  Deep within her a stirring began, a movement in her soul that somehow told her that from this moment her life would be about something different than it had been about before.  She sensed a presence, a feeling that she wasn’t alone.  She had no idea what it all meant, but she just knew something had changed.  She knew that this something was elusive, but she also knew that she had to find what it was even if it took her whole life.

II.xii

Jared Malone sat on the top step of the wooden porch surrounding his cabin.  He stared at the gray Spanish moss that hung from the live oaks surrounding the cabin clearing, but didn’t really see it.  Instead he saw the ocean.  That mental image was the handiest for him if he wanted to avoid what was immediately around him.  If he had been paying conscious attention to the screaming coming from inside his house, he would have walked down the path to the tower almost a quarter mile away, climbed it, and actually seen the ocean.  But he had long ago learned to block out what he didn’t want to be aware of, and so the screams existed only on the dark and hazy fringes of his consciousness.  In his trance of imaginary water, he thought about surprisingly mundane things — checking the fence on the north side of the property, getting with Tom about the night watch schedule, what was needed on the weekly supply trip.  He did not think about his child being born.  Nor did he think about the agony that Melinda was enduring as she attempted to give birth without the benefit of drugs.   Betty Vale, acting as midwife, had given her two large shots of Jack Daniels.  It might as well have been water — at least then she wouldn’t be so damn thirsty.

Jared took a long swig from the half-empty bottle of Jack he held loosely in his right hand.  It was the same bottle the midwife had confiscated moments before for “medicinal purposes.”  The bottle he now held was the closest thing he had to a connection with his wife’s birthing experience.  It was the closest he wanted to get.  Jared held ideas in his mind that had nothing to do with the times in which he lived; they were direct descendents of the ideas held for Malones for at least five generations.  Like the land he owned outright since his father passed away the previous spring, Jared’s thought processes were his birthright, his inheritance, and the legacy he would pass on to his own son.  It was sure to be a boy.  Malones always had boys, and Jared was the manliest of the Malones.  Incorrectly assuming that the gender of his child was directly attributed to his own level of testosterone, Jared didn’t even consider the possibility of a girl.  As he took another swig of bourbon, his trance broke and he heard Melinda clearly for the first time.  He stood slowly and arched his back in a stretch then ambled away from the cabin down the tower path.  In his mind, having babies was as much women’s work as cleaning toilets, and he wanted nothing to do with it.  In fact, he now felt a little odd at having been that close to the process as long as he had.

The path to the tower was famous in the Malone family history.  It had been a deer path centuries before, then used by the Creek tribesmen who used to roam freely in Southern Georgia.  After that, the Spanish had traveled it until James Oglethorpe, the British general central to so much of Georgia’s history, had fought for and won the path and the Island with the help of British regulars and Scottish Highlanders from Darien.  After the Revolutionary War, great plantations sprung up on the island and planters on horseback used the path to travel between Kelvin Grove and New St. Clair.  There had never been any attempt made to drastically alter it.  Jared’s father had put boards across the low spot where marsh water tended to back up, but other than that the only changes to the path were created slowly through use.  This path was the oldest on the property and most well preserved.  Other paths had been carved out over the years and access roads had been cleared and graveled, but the tower path was almost sacred.  Jared would never allow it to be tampered with.

Every time Jared walked the path, at least twice a day, he thought of his father and his grandfather.  It was along this path that the adolescent Jared heard the stories of his family heritage, and it was on this path that he had followed his male ancestors, both living and dead, a million times to fish for mullet and kingfish in the tidal rivers and marshes that were the offspring of the Atlantic.  It was here that he had walked, .22 rifle over his shoulder, in search of the rabbit, squirrel and deer which would feed his family.  The west side of the compound was mostly salt marsh.  Along this part of the path, Jared had spent his life among herons and egrets, competing with them for shrimp and oysters.

His family had escaped the Scottish Clan Wars and come to the new world generations before.  His distant ancestor, a grandfather with about eight greats in front of the title, MacDonald Malone, had been a corporal with the Darien Highland Independent Company, the same Scotsmen who came to the aid of the British and helped drive out the Spanish at the Battle of Bloody Marsh.  MacDonald Malone returned to Darien and raised up good little Scotsmen for several generations.

Jared’s great-great-great grandfather, Marshall Malone, was a gambler of considerable talent.  During a high stakes poker game in Brunswick, he had won 250 acres of Kelvin Grove off an intoxicated James Postell.  The planter was not typically much of a drinker, preferring to collect seashells instead, and considered the rare inebriated gambling episode the greatest shame of his life.  But, he was a gentleman and determined to make good on the bet he could have easily covered with cash.  He promptly deeded to Marshall Malone the 250 most useless acres of his 1600-acre plantation, mostly salt marsh, almost uninhabitable.

With the stubbornness of a good Scotsman, Marshall carved out an existence on what few high spots he could find on the land.   He would be damned before he admitted he really hadn’t won much off the bet.   The great irony of the situation was that the land he had won included the site of the Battle of Bloody Marsh, the same conflict his earlier ancestor had fought in so bravely.  It was also the twist that would set the Malone family on a path of hatred and distrust.

Marshall Malone had been raised with the stories of how his family had owned fertile and abundant land in Scotland that had been stolen from them.  The legacy he received was a love of land second to no other love in his life, not even the half-Creek woman he had married.  Maris was a gentle woman who had the native appreciation of land, an appreciation that could not conceive of the concept of land ownership.  The land was not to be owned.  It was to be used, replenished, cherished, and protected.  Both of them loved the land, but from different ends of a spectrum.  Maris wished to give to it and receive from it.  Marshall wanted to possess it and guard it.  And this he taught to his son, who felt it deeper and taught it to his son, who felt it deeper and taught it to his son.  Jared’s father had just taken full possession of the land after the early and sudden death of Jared’s grandfather when the government condemned and purchased just over 200 acres of the Malone family property for an historical battle site park and protected wetland reserve.  They had been paid well, but no amount of money could ease the pain and anger that began to blossom like a cancer in the Malone family tree.

With the money from the federal government, Jared’s father built a twelve-foot wall around the remaining 48 acres in the areas where the marsh didn’t make it impossible.   And started buying guns.   Jared was the fifth generation of Malone men to occupy the 48 acres of loblolly pines, saw palmetto, live oaks, and salt marsh, land not really good for anything except owning.  Once a contractor had approached Jared about selling, but Jared had simply escorted the overdressed man off his property, ready to do so at the point of a gun if necessary.

By the time Jared was eighteen, he had inherited a burning hatred of the government and just about everyone and everything that did not conform to his view of the way the world should be.  He began to accumulate a small group of friends that more closely resembled a band of followers.  As each one joined Jared’s circle, a cabin was built on the property.  Melinda and the other wives came from the same pool of like-minded people and accepted completely the men’s total dominion over their lives, thoughts, and actions.  That was the only way it could have worked.

When Jared was 24, his father died the same kind of unexpected early death of his father before him.  By the time Jared turned 25, there were 10 people living on his compound.  Bob Vale and his wife, Betty, lived in the cabin closest to Jared’s.  In a clearing 200 yards away were two more cabins where the others lived — Jared’s brother, Aaron, and his wife, Mary; and Clete Camden, his wife, Cherise, and their four-year-old son, Clete, Jr..  Several storage buildings completed the small village, including what could only accurately be called an armory, where guns and ammunition were kept, inventoried, and regularly added to.

The men took turns hunting game, fishing the marshes and seining for shrimp, digging wells, maintaining the buildings, and standing guard against some imagined enemy.  The women sewed, cooked, cleaned, chopped wood, bore children, and attended to every personal need of the men.  They grew everything they ate, kept 4 – 5 cows at any given time for milk and meat, raised pigs and chickens, and managed to keep a six-month supply of meat in the smokehouse.  They lived in a prison of time, not progressing with the rest of the world and, in fact, completely resistant to anything that resembled a break with Malone tradition.

Once or twice a month, Jared and the other men would go into Brunswick and stock up on essentials they couldn’t grow — flour, sugar, corn meal.  They could have gotten everything they needed on the island, but Jared was paranoid about island residents knowing anything about him or his compound.  He insisted on going to Brunswick and feeling the comparative anonymity brought on by crossing the Frederica River.  The money for these few supplies always came from Jared’s pocket.  He never had a lot on him, but always enough, and no one questioned where this seemingly endless supply came from.    When each new member joined Jared’s little group, they added whatever money they had to the pot.   Beyond the supplies, the only expenditures were for guns, ammunition, and occasionally a johnboat or four-wheeler.  Jared was the undisputed leader and in control of all assets and decisions.  By 27, as he waited for his first child to be born, Jared was the master of a small empire of unknown worth.

He reached the end of the path and climbed the wooden ladder to the platform 25 feet in the air.  His brother, Aaron, was standing watch.  Aaron had his back to the ladder, automatic rifle over his shoulder and a pistol in his holster, as Jared climbed as silently as a cat onto the platform.  He came up right behind Aaron, stood almost breathing on his neck for a long moment, then grabbed Aaron’s left arm and wrenched it behind his back while reaching around to pin his right arm to his chest, all in about a half second.

“What the fuck?”  Aaron struggled, then turned as Jared released his grip.  “Goddamn it, Jared.  You scared the shit out of me.”

“I’m kinda’ worried about you, little brother, lettin’ somebody sneak up on you like that.  It may not always be your brother doin’ the sneakin’.  You’d do well to remember that.”

Aaron rubbed his arm and nodded his agreement.  Jared was rarely disputed.  He had the natural air of command that all leaders possess, but his 6’5” frame and 240 pounds didn’t hurt either.

“I didn’t mean to cuss you, Jared.”  Aaron always seemed to be apologizing for what Jared did to him.

“Forget it.  What are you seein’ out there today?”  Jared grabbed the binoculars and focused on the ocean.  The tower sat on the extreme east side of the property.  You would have had to cross a salt marsh, Ocean Road, and a small residential area before reaching East Beach and the Atlantic, but from the tower there was a clear view of the ocean.

“Not much.  Coast Guard cruiser’s been by three times.  Wonder what they’re up to?”

“Probably lookin’ for people exercisin’ their constitutional rights so they can arrest them.”  Jared was not making a joke.  He said this with the seriousness of conviction.

Aaron was quiet while Jared scanned the water and then broke the silence with the news he had heard in town.  “There was a girl in Brunswick got raped by a nigger last night.”

Jared slowly put down the binoculars and stared at the sea with a gaze of steel.  It was his firm belief that the complete degradation of the south had begun when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.  The government was his prime target mostly because it seemed so willing to aid and abet, in his mind, the rise of inferior races, like the Blacks and the Jews.  Whether he heard of a black person rising in society or confirming what he was convinced was their true character, his blood would boil with five generations of anger.  “Where’d you hear this?”

“I saw Jack McCafferty at the post office when I went to get the mail this mornin’.  He told me about it.”

“They know which nigger it was?”

“Nah.  The girl just said he was black.  You know they all fucking look the same.  Especially at night.”

“Goddamn it!  This whole damn country is being run over by a bunch of mud people who don’t even belong here.  This is our land, god damn it, and I’ll be damned if I let them rape our women, take our land, and then live off our tax money.”  Jared paused to breathe heavily in anger for a moment then spoke again.  He didn’t normally get involved in anything that took place outside the compound, but prided his own willingness to engage in vigilante justice when he felt it was required.   “You get a message to Jim McCafferty.  You tell him to let us know anything he knows about this and we’ll take care of it.”

“I’ll do it today, Jared.”

Jared turned to leave.  As he stepped on the first rung of the ladder, Aaron asked, as an afterthought, “How’s everything going with Melinda and the baby?”

“She was havin’ him when I came here.  I guess I’ll head back and see if she’s done.”

By the time Jared returned to the cabin, such a rage had stirred in him that at first he almost didn’t notice the way the screams from the cabin had changed.  Instead of Melinda’s clawing, desperate yelps, there was a weak and piercing cry of arrival.  Jared entered the cabin and walked into the back room without knocking and with the same assumption with which he entered any space.  The midwife was cleaning up blood and mucus.  Melinda sat up on the bed trying to get her newborn to nurse for the first time.  She looked like she had been beaten.

Jared walked to the edge of the bed and peered over into the bundle in Melinda’s arms.  “Boy?”

Melinda smiled.  “It’s a boy.  This is your son, Jared.”  She almost said the name she had picked out, Marshall Jared Malone, but something stopped her.

Jared nodded, then turned and walked away.  At the door, he turned back just long enough to say, “His name is Justice.”

© Deborah E. Moore – 2011

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