Fiction by Kenneth M. Kapp
1. The First Time
It was late afternoon and Jerry said he’d take Emily for a long ride in the bike trailer. Anna was worried but she had fallen behind on work and sitters with all the coronavirus going around were out of the question. She swallowed her misgivings – he was always acting impulsively, not seeing the big picture or any risks in his actions – and said, “OK, just be careful.”
She called her mother on the phone to gripe. “It’s a double whammy – this COVID and the murder of George Floyd. We’re just not used to being confined to quarters, especially with little Emily. She may like having Daddy and Mommy with her all the time but she’s going to be three and misses her friends and playing outside. Yeah, we alternate working and watching. He’s out with her now on his bike.”
Her mother smiled. “I know, Sweetie. None of us like it and I can appreciate how my little angel can be a challenge. You’ll survive; I did. Just wish it was safe for me to go out there with the protesters like in the old days. You were probably twelve when your dad and I took you to your first demonstration at the Capitol. Same thing. Forgot already who the police had killed that time. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We go out there, demand change, and by the end of the month, it’s more of the same.”
“Yeah, year after year, more of the same. Jerry and I wanted to go, but we’ve got our little girl to think of. And I reminded Jerry about what happened in Charlottesville, with that fascist driving into the crowd and killing a young woman. Trump incites the far right with a shit-eating grin on his face, just like the one he had when he was making believe he was a teamster in the cab of that semi. Jeez. Those MAGAs are as frightening as the cops. Cops at least have to wear a name tag.”
Her mother was about to tell her that the military called up for the President’s latest photo op were wearing camouflage without IDs and then thought better of it.
“Well, try not to worry, Sweetie. I’m sure he went over to the bike trail. Emily told me that’s her favorite. ‘I can see so many big trees as Daddy goes by. I say not so fast, I need to count the leaves.’ She’s a cutie.”
“OK, Mom. I got to go. Thanks for listening.”
Anna closed the windows and curtains. Yesterday the protest march went down the commercial street four blocks over. There were police vans in front of their apartment building and around the corner. She needed quiet to work but once in the “zone” could work for hours unaware of time or hunger.
There were three coffee cups lined up on the window sill when she needed a bio-break. She noticed that it was starting to get dark. Thinking she heard sounds in the kitchen, Anna shouted, “I’m just finishing, Honey. Why don’t you feed Emily? I’ll hurry. Thanks and kisses.”
It was almost nine when she finished. The apartment was quiet. She tip-toed into the kitchen thinking that Jerry was putting Emily to bed. The lights were off and she began to worry, half-running to Emily’s room. She could see it was empty. She quickly looked around the apartment didn’t find any sign that Jerry and Emily had returned that afternoon. Maybe they biked over to my mom and were waiting for me to call knowing how I hate to be disturbed when I’m working.
She uncovered her cell phone on the corner of her desk and called her mother.
“Hi, Mom. Hate to bother you this late but are Emily and Jerry over by you? They haven’t come home yet and I’m worried. Yeah, OK. I’ll check the answering machine and see if there are any messages on my PC. Yeah, I’ll call you back in a min. You’re right, he probably stopped for a couple of beers with a friend. Stupid opening bars so soon. Love you.”
Her mother had a bad feeling. She had been avoiding the news but opened her PC and searched for demonstrations in the city that day. Her heart fell. Downtown there had been a major confrontation when a countermarch T-boned the one demanding justice for Floyd. The lead car, confederate and neo-Nazi flags flying, crashed through a weak police line and into the other marchers. The police started to fire at the car and the fascists started swinging chains. Pandemonium broke out. The early reports said that there were at least two dozen injuries, some serious.
She called her daughter and said she was coming over. “Us Huxley women got to stick together. It was the same with me and your father. Sometimes he’d go off to a rally and I wouldn’t hear from him for a day – it was before cell phones. He would come in late, with a smile plastered from ear to ear telling me what a great demo it was. Probably Jerry following in his father-in-law’s footsteps. I’m coming, you shouldn’t have to wait alone. No, don’t worry. It’s not any problem.”
At midnight they started calling the local ERs who either replied there was no there called Jerry Snyder or said they couldn’t give out that information.
By 3 AM they gave up. Anne made up a bed on the couch for her mother. They both had a few hours of fretful sleep before the door rang at 7 AM. A representative from the police department asked to come in.
“Are either of you Ms. Jerry Snyder?”
Anne nodded. “Umm. That’s me. This’s my mother, Mrs. Mary Huxley. What’s happened? Where’s my daughter? Is Jerry all right?”
“I’m afraid not. You remember that protest march yesterday downtown? Well, another march tried to stop them. We tried to keep them apart but I guess when their leader saw the ANTIFA group march by with their signs, it was too much for him and he gunned his car through the police line. The rest of them followed, some swinging chains. We did our best to stop them, but I’m afraid there were a lot of injuries and your husband and daughter, well, didn’t make it after we got them to the hospital. I’m sorry. We’ll need you to come down to the station later today to make the official identification. Here’s my card. You should call the number on the back after 1 this afternoon.”
Mrs. Huxley clenched her fists.
The officer held up his hands. “Ma’am, I sorry I’m just the messenger and can’t tell you anything else. Trust me; I don’t like this either. I’ve got to go. Maybe you should see about getting a lawyer but I never told you this. I’m sorry for your losses.”
They engaged a civil rights lawyer who suggested that while it was conclusive that both her husband and daughter were severely injured by the car it might be difficult to prove that it was the sole cause of their deaths because of the subsequent riot. Indeed, Jerry seemed to have been hit by several rubber bullets. A better tact may be to sue the city for not providing adequate protection for the marchers.
Anna told him that she thought Jerry was only there to lend his moral support.
The lawyer asked if this was the first time Jerry was at a demonstration.
Anna answered, “No, but it was Emily’s first time.”
“Hmm, in that case I think it would be best to wait for the dust to settle before deciding on a course of action.”
Ten days later the bodies were released for burial.
2. The Last Time
“Tyrone, you listening to me?”
Tyrone, not bothering to look up from tying his sneakers, grunts, “Yeah.”
“Tyrone Washington, you hear me? No way you taking our daughter to that protest. She’s only three. I don’t give a rat’s ass that that Pence pansy is going to be there and they got signs with every brother that’s been put down by the police lined up from downtown to the airport. You keep away.”
He mutters, “They planning to say those names as he drives by – starting with George Floyd,” but Nakisha goes on, her voice getting louder. “Don’t care if it was orange-ass himself coming and across the street was another lineup with the names of all those lynched since 1619. No reason for you to be there with our daughter. You understand what I’m saying, Mr. Washington?”
“Yeah, loud and clear. Don’t worry, the little angel and I’ll have fun. Maybe bring us some chocolate ice cream back for dessert.”
On the way down the stairs, he whispers to his daughter, “Your mother is one righteous woman, Sweetpea, that’s for sure. Just shouldn’t have said anything about lynchings. Couple in my mom’s family caught up in that Tulsa massacre, be a century next year. Got most of them things filed way back in my head. Don’t like what it does to me when they come up front. Mom says we all lost people you go back far enough, lynching being a southern sport.
“You’ll learn soon enough. There’s three in Springfield, Missouri – Fred Coker, Horace B. Duncan, and Bill Allen. Read they were hung under a replica of the Statue of Liberty – ain’t that a joke to make you choke!”
Tyrone holds his daughter’s hand as they cross the street to his car. As he opens the back door and secures her in the car seat, he says, “Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner – now Chaney’s one of ours, but them boys down from New York should’ve known the Klan would finish what Hitler started. They was shot – bet the dopes forgot the ropes.”
As he fastens his seatbelt he looks in the mirror and says, “I could forget a lot, but not that boy Emmett Till!” He blinks a tear from his eye. “Can’t even read about him now. Damn!”
* * * *
Nakisha opens the door and finds a black officer in civilian clothes. Her ID is out – Lieutenant Anna Speights. “You Ms. Washington?”
“Yeah, so what?” She’s starting to worry. Normally she has no gripes with police and certainly not with a Sister.
“There’s been an accident and I need you to come with me to Mt. Sinai. You’ll get a ride back. My own car’s down the street. It’ll look like I’m a friend. Just bring ID.”
She holds onto the doorframe to steady herself. “Is it my daughter? I told Tyrone…”
“I’m sorry; I don’t have any information. They just sent me to get you.”
When they get to the car, Nakisha tries to act composed and snorts, “In this ‘hood’ you don’t think they can’t smell pig?” Her stomach is churning over with premonitions.
* * *
Lt. Speights brings her to the nurse’s station on the ICU floor. A nurse escorts them down the hall to a room with “T. Washington” in the name slot on the door. She blocks the door and, when Nakisha looks in the window, indicates to the policewoman that the little girl is dead.
She coughs gently and says, “Ms. Washington, your husband has been in an accident downtown and is badly hurt. He was hit by a car; he has internal injuries and a broken leg. He should recover completely but is heavily sedated now. I can’t let you visit for more than five minutes and I need to stay with you.”
She opens the door and Nakisha goes up to the bed. She grabs the rails, shaking as she takes in the various tubes snaking in and out of her husband. “What you do with my daughter? Damn you, Tyrone, what you do with my daughter?
The nurse slides a chair over and persuades her to sit down. Crouching between her and the bed she whispers, “I’m afraid your daughter has passed. I’m told she was killed instantaneously when she was hit by the car.” The blood leaves Nakisha’s face. Afraid she’ll faint, the nurse stands and places her hands on Nakisha’s shoulders. “Will you be OK? Please let me know if you need anything to help with your pain.”
Nakiska pushes her away. A single snort registers her contempt as she rushes to the side of the bed. Her face mottles and tears cascade down her cheeks. She tries to speak and chokes on her words. The nurse rushes to her side. Tyrone opens his one good eye. A quick glance confirms that their daughter is dead. Nakisha’s teeth begin to chatter.
She barely gets herself under control. “I warned you – you promised. You had to take her, didn’t you? You had to take her hear those names. Now you say her name. Now you better say her name – it be the last time – go ahead, say it!” Venom fills her voice as she strikes out. “Last time you ever say it, you hear me! I never want to hear you say her name again, ever!”