dontravis.com blog post #495
Courtesy of Dream Time
Thanks for your comments regarding last week’s post about a computer scam I fell victim to. Apparently some of you have had similar painful experiences.
This week, I wanted to give you a second peek at Donald T. Morgan’s novel, Miasma. As was I, Don was raised in Oklahoma, and his writing certainly revives memories of my birthplace.
On November 5 of last year, we gave you a peek at the prologue and first chapter. Same warning as last time: some of you might take offense at some of the language, but it sounds true to my ear as a reflection of those times. In this selected reading from Chapter 2, the little girl confronts the old White man who lives on the hill. She doesn’t know it yet, but at that moment, her life takes a dramatic turn.
To give a little background, ten-year-old Miasma has gone downtown to the white part of Horseshoe Bend, Oklahoma to pick up the mail and go to the library where she’s previously discovered the librarian Miz Loring doesn’t object to occasional Colored patrons. On her way home, she is loaded down with the mail, a Montgomery Ward catalogue, and a magazine from the library. As usual, she sings as she walks, partially because she likes singing and partially to hide her fear of being outside the confines of the more familiar Colored Town. The Tizzie mentioned is her best friend Letitia Dean, more commonly called Tizzie or Tiz.
By Donald T. Morgan
Miasma was puffing a little and not singing at all by the time she approached the big white house. The old man was still there, but he was sitting in a rocker on the porch. For the first time, she realized the house didn’t face the road, it sat facing the side street. She glanced around. All of them did on this stretch of her journey, presenting a side view of the houses.
She saw the very minute he spotted her. He sort of started in his chair before getting up and tripping down the steps to wave her over.
Miasma’s stomach did a funny little dip. Maybe she oughta play like she didn’t notice, but then he called out, and she had no excuse. Butterflies replaced the empty feeling in her gut as she altered her steps. If The Man told you to do something, you did it or you bugged out and made sure to never see him again.
She stepped onto the side street and walked along the verge between the man’s fence and the embankment that dropped down to the road she’d been walking. She halted in front of him with the wire fence between them.
“I wanted to tell you that you have a marvelous voice. Don’t ever stop singing. It gives me a great deal of pleasure, as I’m sure it does many others. Sunday mornings, I sit out here on the porch and listen to the choir in the church at the bottom of the hill. Lovely music. At times I imagine I hear your voice among them. Do you sing in the choir?”
“What’s your name, child?”
Miasma Elderberry, sir.”
The man looked startled for a moment before smiling broadly. “Lovely name for a lovely young lady. My word, that looks like a heavy load you’re carrying.”
She shifted the cumbersome book to the other hand, almost dropping the February edition of the library’s magazine. “Yessir.”
“Is that a Montgomery Ward catalogue?” After she nodded, he went on. “Ah, Monkey Ward’s wish book. Do you look through it and dream?”
She shook her head. “It’s for my mama.”
“Does she buy from it?”
“Uh-uh. She just looks and wishes. Don’t know why.”
He tapped his nose. “Let me take a guess, Miasma. You’re a reader, aren’t you? I see you have a National Geographic there. Do you read that?”
“And why do you read it? Are you looking for places to go?”
“No. But maybe someday.”
He smiled. “And it’s like that for your mother. She reads the wish book because for a few minutes she’s in another place.”
Her mouth dropped. That made a lota sense and raised the fine hairs on her arms. Mama escaped their little house just like she did.
“As to your awkward load, if you’ll wait here for a minute, I think I can help. Will you do that?”
“Yessir. Uh, what’s yours?
He doffed his hat. “Excuse my rudeness, Miasma. My name is Horace Parsley. Most people call me Ace. Can you do that?”
“No, sir, but I can call you Mista Ace.”
He beamed. “How wonderful. I like that. Mr. Ace. I surely do.” He hesitated. “How old are you?”
“Turned ten last month.”
“A May baby. Delightful.”
She studied him as he walked to the house. Nice looking man despite the wrinkles. ‘Bout as tall as she imagined her daddy would be. How old was he? She shook her head. Could be fifty, could be eighty. She could never tell about a Whitey.
A few minutes later, he came out of the house and handed her a green canvas satchel with a strap that went over the shoulder. “Put everything in this, and it’ll make it easier to carry.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll bring it back when—”
“It’s yours, Miasma. It’ll make your books easier to carry when school opens next fall.”
“Yes, sir. It will.”
“And now,” he said. “Here’s something in honor of a very important birthday. Everyone’s tenth birthday should be special.” He held out his hand and opened it.
Miasma’s breath deserted her. She felt like she was drowning. A piece of jewelry rested in his palm. A pin fashioned as two musical notes, one white and the other yellow. Clear stones and green stones alternated down the center of each, catching the light and glistening when he moved. When she finally drew enough air, she whispered. “I couldn’t.”
“Of course, you can. It’s Age’s gift to Youth.” He clasped her hand and placed the pin in it. “The green stones are emeralds, and the white stones are diamonds. Emeralds are your birthstone. Every girl should have something with her birthstone on it.”
He laughed, and it was a good sound. “They’re chips. Not worth much except as sentimental value. But one note of the pin is sterling silver and the other eighteen carat gold. I ought to know. I made it myself.”
She examined the glittering pin in her hand. “You made it?”
“Oh yes. I’m a jeweler, you know. Or was. Sold my store a year or so ago.”
“You had a whole store full of jewelry?”
“Yes, indeed. But all that’s in the past. I have a few pieces left to remind me of my former life, but I’m retired now.”
Her heart about went crazy. “Thank you, sir!”
“Now, now. No more sirs. You know my name, use it.”
“Thank you, Mista Ace. Thank you again and again.”
“Now put it in your satchel and take good care of it. Whenever you wear it, sing your heart out.”
She left feeling like she was going to faint. One side of her head fought with the other. Was it all right to take a gift from the man? Nobody did something for nothing. What did he want from her? She wrinkled her nose. Liked her singing, he’d said. She shrugged. Oh well, she had a good feeling about the old man. He had a good heart. She was sure of that. He didn’t leave her cringing on the inside like when she talked to most Whities.
At least her load was made easier by the satchel. The bag was great, but the pin! It was wonderful. She bet most of the White girls—those that stuck their tongue out at her downtown—didn’t have nothing so fine. Tizzie was going to be jealous. Miasma smiled and broke out into song. Tizzie would get over it.
Voices and people from my own past. I can hear them and see them clearly. I enjoyed the read. Hope you did too.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
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See you next Thursday.
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