EVENING IN THE SPRING OF '68 - flash fiction
This unexpeted event is my excuse for re-running the following piece which first appeared back in January. It's a short story version of the opening section to, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age love story set against the background of changing values, the Vietnam war, and racial tensions in a small southern town during the summer of 1968. The story appeared in the inaugural edition of, Chick Flicks. (see links)
Evening In The Spring of ‘68
by Bill Fullerton
Headlights off, three large cars glide through the muggy Louisiana night like nocturnal birds of prey. Each front door brandishes an angry, ornate star and the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department.
In the dark cab of a pick-up truck, two men watch as the cars turn right onto a dead-end street with no lights and no name in a nowhere place called Sandtown. On one side of the street a derelict chicken coop, several rusting cars, and a weed-choked baseball field occupy an otherwise vacant lot.
Three small frame houses perch on the other side as if ready to flee at the slightest noise. All are tidy but patched and weatherworn. Short fences outline bare-dirt front yards. The quiet procession halts in front of the third house.
No dogs bark as uniformed white men get out. One circles behind the dark house. The others set up a cordon around the front and sides.
A tall, beefy man wearing western boots and a cowboy hat steps up on the porch. After a last glance around, he hitches up his pants, wipes sweat off his face, and then pulls a pearl-handled .44-caliber revolver from its hand-tooled holster. He yanks the screen door open and bangs on the wooden, hollow-core front door. With his first blow, red lights start flashing on top of the cars.
“Open up! This is the Sheriff. Come on out, Amos. We know you’re in there.”
From inside comes the sound of scurrying feet and frightened whispers. The tall man hits the door even harder. The noise echoes in the night. “This is Sheriff Tobias. Get out here, now!”
“I’m a’comin’. Jes let me gets my pants on.” There are more loud whispers. Someone peers out from behind the curtains of a front window. The door opens a few inches.
A black face with wary eyes looks out. “What’s ya want, Sheriff? I ain’t done nothin’.”
“Don’t give me that shit, boy. Get out here or I’m gonna bust in and drag your sorry ass out.”
“You don’t hafta do that. My Momma’s in here. You already done scared her ‘bout half to death.” The door swings inward. A wiry, barefooted man wearing khaki work pants and a bib undershirt steps out. ”What y’all doing here dis time of night, Sheriff?”
“Shut up, nigger!” The big white man holsters his pistol, reaches behind his bulky frame, and produces a set of handcuffs. “You’re going to Pinefield, to jail.”
The black man steps back. His face shows surprise and fear. “How come? I ain’t done nothin’.”
“I told you to shut up. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back.” After a momentary hesitation, the voice of white authority overwhelms any outrage or bewilderment. The man named Amos does as ordered, and the cuffs snap into place.
The Sheriff spins him back around, steps away, pulls out his revolver and uses it to motion for another white man to join them. Then he glares at his prisoner. “You’re a goddamn pervert—you know that, boy? We got an eyewitness who saw you looking into the bathroom window of a white, widow-lady named Myrtis Oglesby. Amos Little, you’re under arrest as a Peeping Tom.”
“A what? Sheriff, I ain’t been looking in no white woman’s window.” The prisoner turns from the Sheriff to the deputy, looking for support. “Least of all no dried-up, crazy old white woman like Mrs. Myrtis.”
Bathed in the rhythmic, flashing glare of red lights, the sweeping motion of the Sheriff’s right hand resembles something from a flickering silent movie as his fist, and the revolver it holds, smash into the side of the prisoner’s head. A scream comes from inside the house. He staggers in a macabre, jake-legged dance of insensibility, then drops to his knees.
Sheriff Odell Tobias leans close and hisses. “Nigger, you’re talking about my wife’s aunt. Now it looks like we’re gonna have to add a charge of resisting arrest.”
Another deputy joins the first. They pull the prisoner to his feet, drag him off the porch, and shove him into the back of the lead car. A ragged volley of closing doors soon follows. With sirens on and lights still flashing, the three large cars with the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department and an angry, ornate star on each front door swing around and leave. As they drive past the dark pick-up truck, everyone but the prisoner waves at the two men sitting inside.
Thin red streaks emerge from the cab, arc through the still night air, then land with small bursts of glowing embers. Headlights come on and the truck moves down the now deserted street. It stops across from the third house, the one with the front door still open. Inside, a black widow-lady named Bernice Little is alone and crying for her son. The men get out, lift something from the bed of the truck, and lug it into the vacant lot.
A small flame soon spreads up from the base of a wooden cross. Jack Boudreaux and Delmar Bullock get back into the truck. They stop at the intersection to make sure the cross is burning properly. Assured it's another Klan job well done, they head back towards Pinefield.
It was another turbulent evening in the spring of ’68. Student protests raged from the Sorbonne to Berkeley. Civil rights demonstrations and anti-war rallies were turning violent. Martin Luther King was dead; Bobby Kennedy would be soon. Hundreds of other Americans were dying each week in South Vietnam. Soldiers patrolled the streets of Saigon, Paris, and Washington. Soviet troops prepared to invade Prague. And in a nowhere place called Sandtown, an innocent black man was beaten and arrested.