Many times in life we are just passing through a moment. A place where temporary things happen, and there is no expectation of remembering the fleeting glimpse of a stranger’s life. So the first time we saw each other it was no big deal. She was just this unconventional somewhat skinny girl who wore a black tee shirt that advertised a country music station. She drove a pickup truck, wore nerdy glasses, and talked with a slight southern drawl. Her tone and verbal style was more than any man from my crowd could imagine, especially, coming from the mouth of a girl who grew up on the other side of the tracks. Michelle was, is, and always will be an enigma.
We crossed paths several times in college. Our first academic encounter was in an English literature class. The class opened my eyes to literature far beyond the chronic symbolism that represented a repressive past of enlightened humanity, to literature written in a different voice. Our class read and discussed short fiction. Michelle and I read and critiqued, The Gilded Six Bits, by Zora Neal Hurston. A short story about deception— love and loss of trust—and the sadness that fuels desperation, prevalent in poor small southern towns. We had a few more encounters in college. There was the class on teaching diverse populations. When I walked into the class, late, I saw her on the other side of the room, sitting by herself at a large table. There she was, the enigma, wearing a black tee shirt with a confederate flag blazoned on the back and the caption, Hell No We’ll Never Forget!. No one could figure her out. Does she think she’s a southern girl? For the other students there was too much risk sitting next to her, this girl who seemed to show southern pride—my pride.  But for me, she was a magnet, an attraction of ubiquitous desire that I had to be near. We both nodded recognition, as I took my seat, and smiled at one another. Once again we were partners, but this time we shared personal goals and opened up to each other, as we worked on class projects.
After college, we didn’t see each other for several years.  I got married, started a family, and got divorced. During the divorce, I lost my job. After a period of unemployment, desperate for any income I accepted a sales position with a local supply house.  The Hammons family owned six stores selling plumbing supplies to various contractors. I missed the first party that they threw at the end of every year, but I made it the following years. That year I also brought my kids with me. I never shielded them from the type of people I now loathed, haters, and this party was full of those kinds of people. Venomous false prophets of love and unearned respect. It was always a drunken country bash complete with hay bales, tin roof gazebos, and the smell of cow and horse manure wafting through an open barn, full of unusable broken equipment.  That was where Mr. Hammons handed out the meager bonus check and feigned appreciation for his well underpaid employees. I never fit in, with my boss, a heavy drinker, or his employees, amongst them, former Klan members, haters of life that always blamed another race for whatever they felt like blaming them for: after all, it made their inferiority vanish. So I wandered through the party, hundreds of people, dancing, joking, using a rich man’s money for a free good time. As I walked and listened, I thought about who I once was. How I used to talk with them agreeing with them. Being on their side and thinking. Yeah, they’re lazy alright. I wondered towards the music, hearing an old song I liked, Love in the First Degree, by Alabama. I put my hand up to a post and rested my foot on a hay bale, then glanced over the crowd. There she was—the enigma—leaning on the far wall by herself. When the music stopped I walked over to her and we began to talk.
She told me the whole story, the tale of why she was there. It was a fable of life—for one poor family that had become intertwined——with a seemingly generous man. Her father had worked for Mr. Hammons on the farm. Now her brother worked there. She told me they were nice to her family. Mr. Hammons still helped her mom with bills and paid her rent for the beauty salon that her mother owned. She tapped her hands on her knee while she spoke; creating the imagines of benevolence that flowed from her tongue and through her lips. It was a strange moment for me. I was listening, partially, but my mind was wandering. As I watched her lips move, and saw a gleam in her eyes, I could only think about the taste of her skin, kissing her lips while staring into her eyes, and listening to that soft voice tell me her version of tales of entanglement. She still didn’t have any serious relationships to talk about. She wanted someone. She told me she wanted someone, as her eyes, dark and sensual as her skin, focused on my eyes, piercing blue of master race builders. I looked at her while images of her body filled my fantasies. Then my kids found me. I left.
The next year went by quickly. I was hell bent on getting another job, but was unable to find a better position, with a better class of people, so I stayed, hating every minute of every day I spent at work. Then the announcement for the party was made on December first. I was still single, and … Will she be there? Will we talk? Of course we will.  
I arrived on time. In previous years I’d show up right before the bonuses were handed out then leave. But last year changed that, now I had a desire to stay, to chase a fantasy of forbidden desires, lust, and pleasure with the woman who spoke in tones, foreign, but sensual. Michelle was walking through the crowd, alone. We saw each other. As we walked closer, the weight of our stare prevented any distractions from revelers. We embraced. Together we walked towards the spread of gloriously fried southern food, and raised a few eyebrows, as we passed through odors, malodorous, that emanated from food and people. Permeable odors that I could wash from my clothes, but never from my psyche. Michelle liked the aroma in the air. Maybe my memories would be different this year. We sat down in the center of a table, ate our okra, fried chicken, and fat swelled mash potatoes. I asked her to dance. She smiled at me, and then took my hand. We stepped onto the dance floor while Don’t Close your Eyes played over the loudspeakers. The band was on a break, and everyone cleared the floor and headed to the bar. It was just me and her. Do it now! Kiss her now. Don’t wait. An announcement came over the public address system— meeting in the barn.
 I got my bonus. When I walked out of the barn she was waiting. The hecklers started, but we didn’t care. They’d all trade with me for a piece of that smooth ass in the darkness, and run at the first sign of light. My heart was racing, pounding in my chest. She stared and watched me, the man, the man who knew and understood race, but didn’t care, the fool who would let his lousy job go for a kiss, a touch, anything. We walked away from the crowd, the sly reserved hecklers that used to burn down houses of hard laboring families had gone back to dancing, and booze.
There was a full moon that night. We stood alone in the pasture. Her skin a luscious illumination under the light. She put her hand on my chest to feel my heart. We embraced, kissed, and took each other’s breath with deft compassion and held that breath, allowing that precious air to fill our lungs, as if a nourishment to unending hunger, then we let all the years from our past, catch us in the moment. Our clothes fell to the ground and the kisses flowed over two bodies that became a congealed mass of emotions, lust and an unforgiving release. Did I betray my own kind? She’s as American, as I am. We laid on our pile of clothes, bare to the world, two souls under a bright white moon, as we caressed, kissed, and talked.  We talked about the revelers, the family of perceived benevolence, and her father. I told her I knew who her mother was, that I knew about the agreement with the Hammons family. She laughed and told me her mother was no fool. I asked her, “Do you know about their past?” ‘Yes I do.’ Was her response while she stared into my eyes. Do you really know what those people have done in their past?”  “Yes I do,” then she got up and added “let’s go back.” My answer came in my actions. Once, is not enough. I kissed her breasts, her lips, and worked my way around her body and massaged her warm smooth ass that so many others wanted. I felt their envy, feigned desires, and concealed hate. Their suppressed wrath, cloaked in drunken smiles, while I, the man of a perceived moral compass, guided by right and wrong, pursued passion and a love they never had the courage to ask for. We finished our rite of passage into unknown thoughts, love, and emotions, then dressed and walked towards the party together.
   We stopped at the edge of the pasture, just before we emerged from a seductive cover of live oaks holding a grand drapping vail of southern moss, kissed again and held each other’s hands, then, as one being, self-possessed, re-entered the world of illusory unions and placed ourselves among the unforgiven.

Final version. 
Proof again before adding to book. 
(c) copyright 2017  Artemis J Jones 


Aaron Homsher said...

Interesting story of change. I like how you left out some descriptive words and let me the reader imagine the situation.

Anonymous said...

At first I didn't realize the culture difference. But I figured it out. Interesting. Great Short Story. Write more.
BDH Florida