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Mixed Feelings

James “Rock” Reed scooped a spoonful of butter pecan ice cream and shoveled it into his mouth. He ate around the pecan pieces; over two dozen of the savory nuts were set off to one side of the half gallon container. James thought of himself as a toothless squirrel, saving the pecans for later when he went back inside to put his teeth in. As he tilted his Cleveland Indians cap visor down to shield his one good eye from the late afternoon sun, James breathed in the damp, summer air. The smell of wet pavement complimented the caramel and vanilla ice cream cooling his empty gums. Sundays were always this peaceful for James after several hours hooting and hollering in a cramped, inner-city Baptist church.

            That is, until white people passed by his block.

            Before he finished his tub of ice cream, the sun hid behind a formation of clouds, revealing a pasty, decrepit white man standing in the street as cars passed through him. The man’s nakedness used to unnerve James back in his prime, those days spent under the cruel Alabama sun without much clothing for himself. But just as time withered him, like the cedar rocking chair with its splintered armrests he swayed back and forth in, the white man’s transparent form faded too. Only black folk could see him though. And it didn’t matter how far or how fast you ran. If there were whites nearby, so was he. James found out, just as millions of others did after the Great Migration, Jim Crow wasn’t confined to a set of laws or the South.

            “What’re you looking at, Dada?” James' grandson, Matthew, asked, smiling with dimpled

cheeks.

            James hoisted Matthew up onto his lap by his Mickey Mouse and Goofy long-sleeve shirt.

            “Nothing, son,” he said, glancing down at Matthew’s bare feet. “What I tell you about walking out here with no shoes or socks? You’ll catch a pneumonia!”

            But Matthew, being the hardheaded little booger James knew him to be, dangled his feet over his grandad’s knee and continued playing with his Bert and Ernie figures.

            Ever since James’ son and his white wife moved in with him on 6105 Fenwick Road, Cleveland, Ohio, Jim Crow kept his distance. He would never pester someone like James’ daughter-in-law, seeing as white prejudice created him in the first place. 

            James winced as Jim Crow ground his serrated shark teeth, making a sound like sharpening dull knives.

His gnashing went unheard by Matthew, who clanged his hard-plastic toys together violently. James was glad Matthew couldn’t see the manifestation of the white man’s hate. If anything, Matthew puzzled Jim Crow more than anyone, considering his olive skin color. His grandson warded him off like an anti-hex and a constant reminder of the changing times.

            Mr. Tersey, a retired white police officer, walked side by side with his German shepard on the sidewalk across the street. He traipsed along in his American flag house slippers with his dog matching his pace like an ex-Marine.

            James waved to him, but Mr. Tersey shot him a sour look as if to say, I don’t wave at blacks. And in fact, he didn’t. Ever since a group of young boys from the inner city attacked him, which the clacking of his knee brace reminded James, Mr. Tersey never walked without his negro-hating canine.

            But still James waved and smiled. For the grace of God, go I, he thought.

            Besides, Mr. Tersey was the only white still in the neighborhood, and James respected him for that. Even if it just meant he couldn’t sell his house for a profit.

            Jim Crow smacked his lips and dragged his chalk white feet towards James’ strip of sidewalk. His ingrown toenails, curled like Ram’s horns, butted against each other louder than Mr. Tersey’s knee brace. The wispy consistency of his receding hairline grew a patch of golden blonde around the gray. Even his buggy black eyes and hook nose grew slightly. However, Jim Crow’s wrinkles remained unchanged. They streaked down from the hate monster’s face to his fingers and crisscrossed down his abdomen to his ankles.

            Mr. Tersey’s hate nourished Jim Crow. And he was getting closer.

            James gripped the splintered rocking chair’s armrests as Jim Crow ate a slice of watermelon. Red juice dribbled down the Southern entity’s chin, streaming through his wrinkle grooves like blood filling an altar. James dug his nails into a crack on the armrest while an albino crow flew down and perched itself on Jim Crow’s collar bone. The bird then glided to the sidewalk and pecked at the watermelon seeds Jim Crow spit onto the smooth sandstone.

            James winced, pulling back his right hand from the armrest. He stared at the splinter, no thicker or longer than beard stubble, embedded underneath his index fingernail. When he looked up, the crow was gone. Jim Crow however, stood under the shade of the half-dead crab apple tree in the far-right corner of the yard, closer than he was before.

            His shadow and the crab apple tree’s crept across the front yard, blotting out the sun’s radiance. Their tendrils formed shadowy nooses as they swallowed the greenish brown grass and scattered dandelions. The thick, ink-like darkness flooded over James’ white orthopedic shoes, staining them black with hate. Shadow nooses unstrapped the Velcro strips and slowly seeped into his brown dress trousers while tainting his caramel-colored skin charcoal black.

            James shivered underneath Jim Crow’s 400 years of hate. It clung to him like ants on a meat skin and weighed heavier than a ball and chain fastened to his ankle. Voices of white folk, both young and old rang in his ears, reminding him of what he would always be, regardless of how many mulatto grandchildren he had.

            “Colored!”

            “Nigger!”

            “Coon!”

            “Porch Monkey!”

            Thousands of racial slurs spoken in every regional accent drowned out his grandson’s own voice.

James took a deep breath and exhaled. “Close your eyes,” he said, setting Matthew on Jim Crow’s long shadow, which along with James’ body, was now full of hate.

            Millions of hateful voices and screams surged through James and into Matthew. His grandson acted as rubbing alcohol against Jim Crow’s hate, numbing James’ pain and weakening the hate monster. His grandson trembled and moaned in horror, but no matter how much he struggled to break free, James squeezed Matthew’s forearm tighter until the child’s eczema flared up. Ten seconds later, the voices died out, replacing racial slurs with soothing lullabies. But sadly, these lullabies had the voice of a devil as opposed to an angel, and as soon as James released his grip of Matthew’s forearm, the young toddler dropped his Burt and Ernie figures  and ran up the driveway in tears.

            Once James heard the back door shut, he leaned back in his rocking chair and gazed up at Jim Crow.

The Southern monster smiled with fried chicken stuck between his shark teeth. Even though Jim Crow couldn’t physically harm James, his halitosis breath seemed all too real. Just like the blurred color lines in this so called “racially integrated community,” Jim Crow was still real. As real as and as grim as the incarceration rate for negroes.

            Jim Crow disemboweled himself with his own rotting, gangrene fingernails. He pulled his large intestine out like a magician and jumped rope with it. There was no blood and no gash in his wrinkly gut, just the ghastly gray innards squelching as he skipped over them.

            James’ stomach churned at the sight of him. His disgust gave way to fear as Jim Crow wrapped his intestine around James’ neck. Slowly but surely, Jim Crow tied the noose tighter, the smell of boiled chitterlings becoming unbearable even for James.

            James inhaled and exhaled calmly. With that, the intestinal noose passed through his neck and Jim Crow’s form faded. But not before slurping his intestines back down like spaghetti.

            “Trouble don’t last always,” James said, picking up Matthew’s toys, which granted him selfish strength. “And neither will you.”

            Jim Crow leaned over and smacked his lips next to James’ ear. “And, uh, when will hate become irrelevant?” he asked, the folds of his chest wrinkles resting on James’ shoulder like pig skin.

            “When you start learning to hate yourself as much as I do myself,” James said, placing Burt and Ernie inside Matthew’s footprints on Jim Crow’s shadow.

            The shadow sizzled and slowly disintegrated, revealing the cement walkway. Jim Crow hissed as he grabbed his shadow and wrapped it around himself like a wet person would a towel. His shadow dripped inky droplets, shapeshifting into a horse which the weakened hate monster mounted. The black steed’s hooves clattered like four sickening sponges as it galloped away with Jim Crow slumped on its back.

            James dumped his pecans on the lawn and headed up the driveway where his daughter-in-law stood glaring at him with crossed arms.

CJ Reed is a writer living in Cleveland, OH. He has been writing for over a decade, and  is working on several novels for publication. Outside of reading and writing, he loves pugs, working out, travel and other things most would consider outlandish and daring. Facebook: www.facebook.com/bedtimestrangler. Instagram: www.instagram.com/bedtimestrangler. Twitter: https://twitter.com/ColinRe78318931.
 

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