This is Installment Ten of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters III.iv, III.v, and III.vi. It is 4,085 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!
“Over my dead, cold body.”
“But, daddy, you’ve always said it was important to know things, to be well-informed.”
“Everything you need to know you can learn from me. That’s what tradition is all about, son. I learned from my father and you learn from me. The only thing you could possibly learn at the University of Georgia is gonna’ come from those liberal communists who teach at universities. I won’t have it.”
Justice lowered his head and felt his brain spinning to land on another logical argument. He had just turned eighteen and had gone about as far in his studies as his mother and aunt could take him. Colleges had finally realized that home-schooled children were often very intelligent, well-adjusted, and desirable students. The University of Georgia had developed a special program for evaluating the home-schooled that included a test of math, history, and science, along with a two-page essay. By the time Justice was 15, his mother had convinced his father that it would be perfectly okay for Justice to periodically visit the public library since he was a much smarter boy than she felt qualified to teach and the library at the St. Simons Welcome Center was only about a mile and a half away, walking distance for an outdoor boy like Justice. It was in this library that Justice discovered a virtual world of freedom thanks to the computers the nice librarian, Eleanor, had taught him how to use. He had come across the UGA home-schooled admissions requirements and secretly completed the on-line test and essay. He never expected to even hear back from the university. It was just a way to pretend he was a part of the larger world outside the walls of his family’s land. But then he received a letter from the school.
“Congratulations. Based upon the test scores and essay you recently submitted, you have been awarded a probationary full academic scholarship to the University of Georgia.” The letter gave specific details about how to accept and keep his scholarship. He would have to maintain a 3.5 GPA each semester. He didn’t even know what a GPA was, but suddenly he was determined to get to Athens somehow. Before he even approached his father, he had devised a plan for running away. But he knew his father would find him and there would be no discussion then. No, his best bet was to try to get his father to approve his plan for school, no matter how disgruntled that approval might be when and if it ever came.
“Dad, you’ve been teaching me for 18 years. Do you think I’m just going to forget everything you ever told me? I mean, it’s not off in California somewhere. It’s the University of Georgia. I’m sure I’ll meet plenty of good southern boys who are just like us.”
Jared leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest. He still felt like a young man, but he was beginning to look exactly like his father before him in these moments of contemplation. The very act of thinking about it gave Justice more hope than Jared probably wanted him to have.
“What would you study up there?”
“Well, I don’t know. Business, maybe. Or history.” There was no way Justice was going to tell his father that he had every intention of majoring in biology. Jared hated scientists almost as much as he hated the government. They perpetuated subversive notions like evolution and abortion and racial equality. And half of them worked for the government anyway, or at one of those damn liberal universities. Justice, on the other hand, was fascinated by the world and the way it worked, the way it all seemed to fit together, the way that every cell, atom and subatomic particle had a specific job to do. He wanted to know, as intimately as possible, the world he had been denied for so long.
“Electrical engineering. That’s what you’ll major in. The history they teach is all biased. And business majors are all the sons of rich men in bed with the government. No, I think some education about electrical engineering might serve us well here. I want to make this place as self-sufficient as possible.”
The thought of electrical engineering was disgusting to Justice. There was still a scientific aspect to it, but it was the science of cold hard machines. He wanted to study living things. But, that little glitch seemed like the smallest of anthills to him at the moment. His father had all but said he could go. They talked a little while longer without Jared ever giving a truly definitive answer. He avoided them whenever possible. When they finished, Justice walked calmly out of the cabin and across the common area where he knew his dad could still watch him from the window if he chose. He strolled with his hands in his pockets until he was behind the storage shed on the far side of the residential section of the compound. Then he did the first cartwheel he had done since he was 10 years old.
Jared tried to balk a few times before Justice left, but it was mostly for show. He seemed accepting of his son going to college, and at times even a little proud, but he remained wary of the influences Justice might be subjected to. Melinda was about to burst with pride. Justice would never know just how many times Melinda had saved this chance for him, how many times Jared had changed his mind late at night after a half a bottle of Jack Daniels and Melinda had calmed him down and repeated again all the fine and wonderful things Justice would learn and bring back to their little village.
Jared and Melinda drove him to Athens on the Saturday before registration. The dorms were chaotic with the moving in of thousands of students. The chaos worked to Justice’s advantage. No one paid them much attention or stopped to chat. It was odd for Justice to see his father in this situation. The man who ruled an entire kingdom, modest though it was, looked almost scared in this crowd. He walked carefully and peered around like a rabbit in a den of dogs.
Justice was most concerned about the roommate the university would place with him. He desperately hoped the roommate was some good old boy from South Georgia. If he was liberal, long haired, tattooed, disrespectful, or, god forbid, non-white, his father would throw his ass back in the truck so fast he wouldn’t even have time to formulate an argument.
Mark Miller seemed ordered up special just to make this work for Justice. He was a fourth generation Georgian from Waycross. He wore Levi’s, work boots, a dirty well-molded Atlanta Braves baseball cap, and, most importantly, a sleeveless t-shirt with a rebel flag emblazoned across the back. When they first met him, Jared actually smiled. Mark said all the yes sirs and yes ma’ams needed to impress Jared and Melinda, then excused himself explaining that he had to finish helping a friend of his from Waycross move in on the fourth floor.
When Jared and Melinda left later that afternoon, Justice felt odd. He had never experienced this kind of freedom before. It was exhilarating and somewhat scary too. He pulled the desk chair over to the window and sat for a long time just staring out on the campus. There were people moving about, freely, yelling hellos to friends and playing catch with a football. He watched them with envy until he realized that he was no longer trapped behind the wall. He could walk out of this building and across the lawn as freely as any of them. He stopped seeing the wall altogether. Just the window. The wall had been conquered.
“Man, you have got to be blowing smoke up my ass.”
Mark Miller’s reaction was pure disbelief. After two weeks, Justice told Mark the story of his upbringing, about his family and the compound and even the Malone family credo – “I live and would die for God, family and race.” Justice had never intended to tell Mark, or anyone else for that matter. But after two weeks of navigating his way tentatively around the university and relying time and again on Mark for help, Justice knew that he was going to have to trust someone. He needed one person who understood where he had come from and who would cover his backside in this new, strange, and oh-so-wonderful place.
“I wish I was.”
“How did you learn enough to even get accepted to college, let alone get a scholarship?”
“You pick up things here and there. We were taught at home. My mom and the other women in the compound were our teachers. But mostly I read everything I could get my hands on, and listened, and watched. My dad didn’t care for a lot of books, but he never saw anything wrong with our schoolbooks, so I devoured them. I could probably recite, word for word, my entire science book from when I was twelve.”
“Shee-it. And you never left this . . . ‘compound’ except for occasional trips to town?”
“That’s right. And then my father was always with me. I mean, we went to town, yeah. But it was simply to get supplies and then get back to the compound. When I got older he let me go to the library, but only to the library. Nowhere else.”
“You never told him you were going to the library and then snuck off to do other stuff?”
Justice opened his eyes wide, as if the thought alone would have gotten him in trouble. “No.”
“You never hung out with your friends? You never went to the movies? You never went to high school, for Chrissakes? Bo-eh,” Mark sprawled out “boy” in the southern way, “you have got a lot to learn. And ole’ Mark Miller is just the one to teach you.”
And that was how Justice began the first and best friendship he ever had or would have in his life. Mark seemed to know just how skewed Justice’s view of the world was, even more than Justice knew himself. He didn’t laugh as he carefully explained what a GPA was, how it was calculated, and the impact it had on your college career. He stayed close by when Justice went to his first football game and off-campus party. He patiently explained what fraternities were and why all the members acted like shit on a stick. Justice thought they sounded like mini-compounds. In short, Mark Miller taught Justice much more that first semester than all his professors combined.
It was with Mark that he shared his discontent over the major his father had chosen for him. Mark had a southern father, too, though nothing like Jared Malone. He understood that kind of pressure and seemed to know just how to maneuver through it.
“Don’t beat your head against the wall,” Mark suggested. “Big Daddy wants you to major in electrical engineering, then do it. And double-major in biology. You’re smart enough to handle both of them.”
It was an option Justice hadn’t even considered. And, yes, he was smart enough to do it. In fact, he was much smarter than he could possibly have known with no one against which to measure himself. He was the sole reason Mark managed to escape introductory biology and freshman math with a respectable pair of Cs.
Justice loved helping Mark with his homework. His adoration of his new friend might have bordered on idolatry if he hadn’t been able to pay him back just that little bit. As it was, they built a friendship wherein each felt immensely grateful for the other’s contributions. Justice gave Mark a real shot at actually earning a college degree. Mark gave Justice a whole new world, and a new way of looking at the world he had already known.
As 18-year-olds do, they had a million endless conversations that first semester, often lasting until the sun came up. Justice had a brilliant mind, but was completely ignorant about the world. Sometimes it was just in listening to Mark ramble on about girls, politics, girls, religion, and girls that Justice would begin to hear a new way of thinking. Mark never told him what to think, but more than he would ever know he showed him how to think.
The first semester of college passed as quickly as time had ever passed for Justice. When final exam week began, he suddenly realized that he would have to go home again in a few days. The Christmas break was almost four weeks long and Justice knew it would be one of the longest months of his young life. He talked this over with Mark in a late night confab.
“I know I spent 18 years there and only 16 weeks here, but this feels like home now. I hate the thought of even stepping foot back in that prison, let alone staying there for a goddamn month.”
“Why don’t you come home with me? My folks wouldn’t mind.”
“God, I wish I could. But, you don’t know my father. He wasn’t sure about me coming here to start with. I just get the feeling I should be careful. I mean, if he accepts me going to your house by our junior year then that would be speedy progress for him. And . . .” Justice had been about to continue, but then abruptly stopped himself.
“And what? There’s something else, isn’t there.”
Justice moved his gaze to the floor. His voice softened. “Actually there are two something elses.”
“Marsh and Hannah. If they don’t get out of that compound, they’ll be lost forever. It may already be too late for Marsh, but Hannah, she’s . . . god, Mark, she’s a genius, and far too good to rot away in that hell.”
“So what do they have to do with you?”
“Don’t you see? I’m the guinea pig. I’m the test case. If anything, and I mean anything about this doesn’t set right with daddy, he’ll never even consider letting the others come.” Justice paused, then put his fingertips to his forehead. “Even beyond his wall, I’m still in his prison.”
Justice and Mark finished finals, Justice breezing through and Mark gratefully passing, then left Athens behind them. Waycross was only about 50 miles west of Brunswick, so Justice rode with Mark that far. Jared had planned to meet them in the parking lot of the Waycross Piggly Wiggly grocery store. It wouldn’t do for Mark to drive directly to the compound, although Justice knew he would have if he had been asked. About 15 miles outside of Waycross, Mark did something he never would have thought of doing in any other time or place, or with any other man. He reached over and took Justice’s hand.
“You keep your chin up, y’hear?” A slight crack in his voice gave away his emotion. He pulled his hand away quickly.
They were silent the rest of the way, but when they finally said their goodbyes, Justice saw a slight glistening in Mark’s eyes, the closest to crying a southern boy dared come.
The dread is worse than the doing, so they say. Justice found the visit at home not as horrible as he had expected. It was no joyride, but not horrible. It helped to think of it as a visit. Seeing his mother brought a happiness he had not anticipated. In the male-dominated world of the compound, his mother had been only teacher and servant. Now he saw her with new eyes. He watched her move through her days, gently living out the life and ideas she had passively accepted, a model of pure grace. He was determined to tell her he loved her before he left to go back to school. He had never done that in his life.
Marsh was immersed in compound life. He had discovered his own brand of freedom when Justice left for college and he was no longer under the shadow of his older brother. Marsh worked harder than most of the men trying to prove himself to his father. He seemed to need his daddy’s approval to even survive. Justice instinctively knew he wouldn’t be able to share his true college experience with his little brother. Justice loved Marsh, but there was something scary about him too. When he shot a rabbit there was a gleam in his eye that was more than joy over having provided the family with a meal, but rather a feeling of victory usually accompanied by his own unique war whoop. Seining the river for shrimp was Marsh’s least favorite job since it didn’t included hooking or putting a bullet into something. The younger Malone loved to inflict pain, and Justice knew Marsh could make big trouble for him if given half a chance.
It was Hannah that Justice was most happy to see. Before Mark Miller came along, Hannah been the closest friend Justice had. Despite their four-year age difference, he felt closer to her than anyone from home. He had waited four days to meander over to her cabin and then lead her off into the woods, hoping his father wouldn’t see them going off for one of the secret walks and talks they had shared so often.
“Tell me all about college, Justice. I want to know everything. Is it just the greatest?” Hannah walked behind Justice, holding the tail of his shirt.
“Wait ‘til we get to our tree. Then I’ll tell you all about it.” There was a giant live oak on the edge of the compound farthest from the cabins. Moss swung in slow motion from the low curving limbs. They had spent many hours under that tree together, talking about the world as they knew it, sharing their true feelings with the only other person each felt comfortable doing that with, and singing. Justice didn’t think he sang too well, but Hannah always wanted to sing and insisted that he sing along. It took 25 minutes to get to the tree.
“Now, tell me.”
They sat on the ground, facing each other. “Okay, but you have got to make a solemn promise that everything I tell you will be a secret between you and me.”
Hannah crossed her heart. “I promise.”
“I mean it, Hannah Elizabeth. Not one word of this to a soul. I’m as serious as I have ever been about anything.”
“I promise.” She emphasized the word as if to say that her promise was all he needed. And he knew it was.
“College is the best thing that ever happened to me. Hannah, there is a whole big world out there, and I mean more than just Athens, and it’s filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas. And those people have fun, and they laugh, and they don’t seem to care if you think something different from what they think. It’s freedom, Hannah. It’s freedom.”
Hannah looked as if she were hearing that heaven was real and just a few miles east of Atlanta. “What kinds of ideas, Justice? What kinds of things do they think?”
“All kinds of things. Different ideas about the government and law and religion. There are about as many different ideas about these things as there are people in the world. And, Hannah,” he paused, “there is so much music.”
She took a sharp breath in, then whispered. “Tell me about the music.”
“People come to college to study music. They play instruments, more instruments than you can imagine. And they sing, too. The band plays at the football games – remind me to tell you about the football games – and there are hundreds of them. Hundreds of people marching around and playing trumpets and drums and clarinets and saxophones and tubas. Every time I see the band, I think of you, Hannah. And that’s why this has to be such a secret.”
Justice paused. “Because I want you to go there some day, Hannah. I want you to get out of this place and play music and sing all you want. So all this stuff about all the different ideas people have has to be a secret. You do understand, don’t you?”
“I understand.” Hannah was as serious as she had ever been about anything. “Nobody will ever hear a word from me. Nobody will ever keep me from going to college and playing music.” She paused. “Will they, Justice?”
“Not if I can help it they won’t.”
They talked for as long as they dared stay missing from the cabins. Hannah kept wanting more. She wanted to know about even the tiniest details of life outside the compound.
“Are there mud people there, Justice?” She didn’t use the term the way Jared did, spewing it out with spite and hatred. She simply used the only term she had ever heard to describe people whose only difference was one she couldn’t see.
“Yes. And they’re not ‘mud people,’ Hannah. They are just like you and me except their skin is a different color. I mean, as far as I can tell, at least. They’re African-Americans. And some people are Hispanic and some are Asian – that means they’re from China or Japan or Korea or someplace way on the other side of the world. There are all kinds of different people in my classes. There’s a guy in my math class and he’s an African-American, and, Hannah, he is the funniest guy in the world. He sits right behind me and is always making jokes under his breath about the teacher. He’s really nice, too. He even invited me to his church once.”
“Church like we have?” Sunday morning church was mandatory on the compound. It consisted of everybody singing some lame old song, out of tune, and Clete Camden reading from the bible and talking about how you should fear God, and then Jared talking about how the bible clearly gave the white man dominion over all other animals, including mud people, and how those animals should fear the white man just as the white man was to fear God.
“Nothing like we have. I went to his church with him. It was kinda’ scary because, you know, I hadn’t ever been around a lot of Black people – that’s another name for African-Americans. But, in nothin’ flat they made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere else that Sunday morning. Everybody shook my hand and the ladies all hugged me. And then church started. You talk about music. Everybody sang for almost an hour. Then the preacher started shouting about how good God is and then everybody started singing again, and then he would shout, and then everybody would sing again. It felt like there was electricity in that room, Hannah.”
“Did he shout about the white man having dominion over all the animals?” Hannah was testing the line she had been fed all her life.
“He never once said that. But he did say that everybody was an heir to God’s kingdom, and I just assumed he meant white and black people. He said that God had health and happiness and prosperity and every good thing, and because we are all God’s children we automatically have all those things too. And then he said that God was everywhere and ‘workin’ in every situation.’ Those are the exact words he used – ‘God is workin’ in every situation.” I remember that because he said it like 50 times.”
Hannah had a look of deep thought on her face. She was a natural philosopher and often read into situations what Justice could not see. Rarely did she have to retract anything she said since she never said anything that she hadn’t thought through and determined to be true. She took in a deep breath and said, “Well, that sounds like what God oughta’ be. And if that is so, then God is working in you being at college and us having this talk and me being here at the compound, too. That would mean that God was even working when he made us cousin’s, huh, Justice?”
Justice smiled through a tear. “God musta’ been workin’ then most of all.”
© 2011 — Deborah E. Moore