“Guest in Black and White” by Frederick Foote
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Frederick Foote reflects on a curious six-year-old’s surprising encounter.
Guest in Black and White
by Frederick Foote
Back in 1949, I lived with my grandparents out in the country on a small farm near Richmond, Virginia. Something serious was going on one day as I entered the kitchen at five thirty in the morning. Grandpa and Grandma were standing at the sink, staring so intently out the kitchen window they didn’t even hear me come in.
Whatever they were looking at I wanted in on it. At age six I was too short to see what caught their eye. I dragged a chair over to the window. The scrape of the chair drew their attention, but just for a second.
They made space for me to stand between them and look down onto the small brook that ran between our house and the slope up to the small dirt road that led to the county road.
Grandpa taught by example. He always tried to figure things out for himself before he sought help.
I should have waited to see what they looking for, but my curiosity was too great.
“Grandpa, what we looking—“
“Watch the creek by the bushes.”
I was bursting to say, “Watch for what?”
I could feel the words trying to worm their way out of my mouth when a colored convict in a black-and-white striped suit slipped out of the bushes, looked around real quick, and sipped water from a cup he formed with his hands. Quick as a bird he disappeared back into the bushes.
“My, oh my, what are we going to do, Matthew?” Grandma asked. “We need to call the Sheriff.” She put her arm around me like she was trying to protect me as she talked.
Grandpa was quiet for a while. He returned to his seat and his breakfast. I dragged my chair back to the table and sat down with my grandfather.
“Matthew, he could be a robber or killer or God knows what. We need to call—”
“Hmm, that’s true, sure is. And it could be me, or Andrew,” he nodded at me, “or any other black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Grandma looked ready to do something even if it was wrong. “We got to look out for Andrew. That convict is right outside our house.”
“We ain’t calling nobody.”
Breakfast was angry looks from Grandma and rock still silence from Grandpa.
Grandpa picked up his lunch box and put on his hat. He put his big hand on my shoulder. “Stay close to the house. Listen to your grandmother. Keep your eyes open.”
He nodded to Grandma and looked over at the double barrel 12 gauge shotgun over the fireplace. And he was out the door.
We watched him from the kitchen window as he marched down the ridge to the creek. He walked right up to the big rock near where the convict was. My grandpa opened his lunch pail and took out a big slice of our own cured ham, a hunk of cheese, biscuits, and Grandma’s special occasion coconut cake. He put it all on the rock.
He started to turn away but stopped. He took out his thermos, pulled off the cup, and poured it full to the brim. He left the cup on the rock and walked straight and tall up to the road.
At soon as he was out of sight the convict was out of the bushes, scooping up the food and burning his mouth on the coffee.
I helped clean up the kitchen, but my mind was on the convict and my grandfather. I wondered if I would ever be as desperate as the convict or as decent or as wise as my grandfather. It’s been sixty years and I still wonder about that to this very day.
FREDERICK FOOTE was born in Sacramento, California, and educated in a racially segregated elementary school in Vienna, Virginia until he was twelve, when he returned to Sacramento and its own segregated schools. He served for three years and nine months in the USAF and retired from the State of California in 2001. He has been married for 46 years and has two daughters. He started writing short stories in the spring 2013 semester in Dr. Silcox’s creative writing class at Sacramento City College. His family, friends, instructors, and MeetUp group—Sacramento Prose and Poetry writers—have tolerated him, encouraged him, and inspired him to write and to improve his writing. You can find his work online at Specter Magazine and everydayfiction.com and in the print copy of the 2014 Sacramento City College Susurrus Literary Magazine.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jun 24, 2014
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