Sightlines of Trouble
Dougie told Eunice the annual klan meeting was called a round-up and the location had been determined. He had found out via word of mouth. He explained how the round-up was always the Saturday nearest the new moon and the location kept secret to ward off any meddling authorities.
Once the location was known, the night rides would commence, where hateful propaganda was distributed door to door and tossed from pick-up trucks like grocery store flyers. The ads promoted round-up attendance, recruitment and included a self-congratulatory newsletter, with plenty of stories to excite the base. Folks new to the neighborhood might wake up to a special surprise on their lawn.
They were sitting in Dougie’s kitchen drinking Sanka instant coffee, “Come on, tell me Dougie, where’s it going to be?” she asked, pretending to beg but she really needed to know. She planned to go with or without anyone.
“The back woods over near Huntsville,” he said.
“Is that Alabama?” Eunice asked.
Her eyes must have danced with eagerness because Dougie said, “You aren’t going there little girl. You just got yourself mended up. You’re in hiding remember?” he said.
“Dougie, I just know Sam will be there. I’ve been having premonitions since the ashram,” she said.
“He might well be there. Your daddy seems to think Sam’s pretty close to finding what he’s looking for. All the same, this thing is bigger than you,” Dougie said.
“Well I’m going!” she said, aware of her manipulation that he join her.
He looked conflicted between a man who should represent a responsible father figure blended with the tone of someone who wouldn’t stop her.
“Golly, you remind me of Madeline. She was determined to kick her disease,” he said, pointing to a picture of her near the window. She looked motherly and reminded Eunice of a nurse.
“So what do you say, Doug?” she asked.
“I’ll be damned. You have such fire in you,” he said.
“I’m sorry. I learned from the guru you sent after me,” she pat him on the arm, “My trouble is connected to foolhardy courage. I never cared about kicking and screaming my way around. But Dougie when I think of James Byrd, that beautiful soul dragged to death for miles, I’m absolutely sickened. Look at the trouble we can clear away for Daddy. Sam isn’t street smart like we are. If he gets caught they’ll murder him. I’ll risk dying for it,” she said.
Dougie stared out the window for several moments.
“Alright. I suppose the time has come. I’ll call Cal. We’ll need help,” Dougie said, relinquishing his paternal authority.
“Listen to me. You’ll need to get into Huntsville during daylight so you can find your way around. You’ll hide out until nightfall. I don’t imagine hiding will be a big deal for you,” Dougie said.
“Thanks for not stopping me Doug,” she said.
Eunice took some time alone in her room to think things through. This time when her save the world mentality kicked in it wasn’t solely to feed her ego. Instead her selfish desire was to show Sam Hood, she was ready to love and accept his love. The thought of losing him gave her a peculiar lump in her throat.
“They do the ritual stuff near midnight,” Dougie had said. “The ceremonies have evolved, to staged horror spectacles. It takes more to scare folks into membership than it used to. Skepticism makes people dismiss the klan as archaic and farcical. It’s become a sick circus,” he said.
Isolation in Memphis and meditation with Kavi had messed with Eunice’s heart and short circuited her thinking. Things she’d been fearless of before, felt nerve-wracking like being brazen. Yet, she also felt brave in areas that previously eluded her, like running to tell Sam she loved him.
The legacy of klan attacks and the inhumanity of dragging a human beings three miles behind a truck proved to her lynching’s were not a thing of the past.
An image of Angela standing firm, with intelligence and passion came to her. She had been determined to show the world women were capable of enforcing right from wrong.
Eunice wasn’t afraid to go home to Montgomery, even if it meant prison or body bag. Living a lie wasn’t working for her anymore. She wasn’t about to hide behind a fictitious name like the klan hiding behind masks.
Her love for Sam was do or die!
As per Dougie’s plan, Eunice set off from Memphis to Huntsville driving Madeline’s Aerostar beater. He had gone ahead with Cal and a few other riggers, he called them. She arrived in late afternoon without trouble and parked in a mall lot to wait it out. Her stomach was upset with anticipation.
“Do you know how to make fresh water into salt water?” Dougie had asked her, after agreeing to the mission,
She nodded no.
“By adding table salt!” he said.
“Really table salt, where’d you hear that?” she said.
“I never told you I used to work in fisheries, in South Carolina. I worked with this guy Cal on the docks. Helped hoist these big ole fish from the fishing boats and hoisting them onto trucks using pulley systems.”
“Okay I’ll bite. What’s a pulley system,” she laughed at her own joke.
“It’s really a primitive machine. If you want to lift a really heavy weight there’s only so much force a man’s muscles can supply. By using a simple machine, like a pulley you can effectively multiply the force your body produces,” he said.
“Dougie I know you’re speaking in code. Who do we need to hoist Sam?” she asked.
“Pulley systems are also used by acrobats. We called it flying fox in Carolina but folks also call it a zip line.
It made her think about circus trapezes.
“Ah now I see. Can you get me a harness and pulley?” Eunice asked.
“Now slow down. They got shotguns Eunice and they is all hunters with good aim. A wee girl like you or a ten-point buck is all the same to them. They shoot to kill,” Dougie said.
Her eyes narrowed and locked onto his. Right from wrong had never been more clear to her.
Sitting in the parking lot waiting, Eunice had a few hours before heading to the location in Dougie’s instructions. She decided to try relaxing, with the seaweed meditation again. Arpita said it was for these very situations.
With her eyes closed and head against the backrest she inhaled and exhaled. The images flew by her mind quicker than the last time; her mother alone at home, her father in a cell, and an image of a Cabbage Patch doll.
The doll named Cleon looked as if he could have been her own daughter with similar skin tone. It was one of a kind signed by Xavier the leader himself. Cleon came with a birth certificate and adoption papers.
It was Uncle Vic who flashed the doll to her. She caught a quick glimpse of it tucked inside his doctor-style travel bag. She’d already told herself she would do anything for it. She pushed away her gut feeling Cleon was connected to something very bad. She denied the thought.
It was Uncle Vic, so friendly and sweet. He kept promising such wonderful things like dollar bills or McDonald’s pies but she’d never been interested in those things.
She heard Kavi’s calming voice, “Keep going Nina keep searching where are you now? What happened next?”
Uncle Vic did the worst thing to her. Perhaps the thing that changed everything. He said he would give Cleon to his niece Lucy instead so the offer was time sensitive and had consequence. It was the exact moment she felt colossal unfairness.
“Yes, Uncle Vic, whatever, yes, I want…” she said.
“Come sit on my lap and you can hold the doll,” he said, holding Cleon on his knee as he pat the other.
Eunice’s sights zoomed in on his lap near his groin. Something didn’t look right. Shapes, sizes and colors weren’t usual. Some kind of vibrating went through her limbs like the time she put her finger in the wall socket sending a current down to her foot. He pat, pat, pat his knee. Eunice took two large runway strides and kicked Uncle Vic’s shin as hard as she could with her glossy black Mary Jane’s.
“What the christ girl?” he howled. The doll fell to the floor crumbled face first.
At that moment Aunt Angela’s distressed voice hit within earshot and broke Eunice’s spell.
“Oh my God EUNICE! Is he at you?” Angela shrieked, as she hurled herself like a quarterback into his chest with her hands and full body weight.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Eunice cried out. She had fallen to cradle Cleon in her arms, “I’m sorry, I wanted the doll!”
“It’s not your fault, go to your room,” Angela shouted. Her arm extending pointing to the door.
Eunice never heard her voice raised like that except when the adults were all laughing and telling loud stories. She went to her room as commanded.
She sat on her bed feeling a burning all over her face and cheeks, afraid and ashamed of herself. You asked for it. She wanted to please Uncle Vic for the doll.
“I wanted the dolleeee!” Eunice cried uncontrollably in her bedroom mirror. She was about to do whatever was required to have the doll. She had no idea what that was but assumed by Aunt Angela’s reaction it was bad.
Eunice had only just remembered. No wonder she’d always had an invisible umbilical cord attached to Angela.
In nightmares the dimensions were messed up. The doors and windows too tall and too skinny. Her mother checking in on her stood in silhouette in her doorway, squished into a three inch crevice.
Dressed like a cat thief in black tights, a snug black jacket and gloves she was to wait patiently for nightfall until she could get behind enemy lines.
At sundown she started making her move to the suggested location. Driving she spotted the neon orange ribbon on the guardrail right where Dougie said it would be. She pulled onto the gravel shoulder, then parked on a private road of someone Dougie knew.
Eunice got out of the car and proceeded on foot to a path over rocky terrain. The sky had a deep purple veneer and the air smelled of fire smoke. The pines and sycamores were dense and it already seemed dark in the forest.
When she got closer, she veered off the path so no one could creep up behind her. She walked a few hundred more feet, until she caught a glimpse through the trees of a gathering.
Thirty or so men, women and children in the distance, some costumed in klan gear, some with masks and some without. The kaftan robes were mostly white but some had color-strips embroidered into the trim delineating rank perhaps.
She found a hiding place between a boulder and low brush to wait for the next part to unfold. Minutes later a couple of women having a private conversation came nearby.
“We are very discreet you know. You might have a next-door neighbor in the klan and you’d never know it,” the woman in a white sheet said.
The other woman in jeans and a blouse listened. She held a white robe over her arm as if still unsure whether this was for her.
“Right here, at the round-up we’re just regular housewives holding bake sales, raising money for white children and elderly,” she said.
“Now that is important. Taking care of our own and all,” the civilian woman said, putting on the robe evidently convinced.
In the distance over and above their conversation, Eunice heard voices on a loud speaker. Possibly the grand wizard rehearsing a speech.
The women moved toward the action. Eunice carefully followed doing her best to evade detection. She found a spot to hide behind a tree. The clearing was lit by a huge bonfire at the center.
The congregation were in full costume with hoods. The sight of mask after pointy mask made gave her a chill. It looked like mother’s First Baptist Choir rehearsal from a twisted episode of the Twilight Zone.
She could hear the speaker clearly. The event had begun.
“… in California where they let the zoo animals roam free… See what happens?” He bellowed, “You can take the n* out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the n*,” The grand wizard said. The crowd applauded.
Eunice felt bulletproof to the grand wizards obscenities. If only the serenity of Arpita was with her. Or even the jaguar she’d visualized. She counted to twenty in her head envisioning the jaguar.
“If I said I hated fags because it’s forbidden by God’s law, praise God for AIDS, they’ll be the first ones to hang for their sins…” the cloaked grand wizard droned on.
Eunice’s blood boiled at his instigation of violence. Freedom of speech was one thing, but to sell ignorance and influence through brainwashing with hate was evil.
The sky was pitch black with no help from the moon, which was covered by unseen clouds. The fire had been stoked so burned bigger and brighter. Crowds had grown, accumulating beyond the shadowed periphery into the forest. Some homemade masks were ghoulish Jack-o-lanterns with crooked eye holes. She estimated there were a few hundred in attendance.
The plan instruction was for her to get closer to the podium at the time of the sacrifice. When she’d asked Dougie how she’d know what the sacrifice was, he said, it’ll require no explanation and she’d know it when she saw it.
The grand wizard continued his program amid intermittent roars of approval, erupting after each pointed exclamation.
“No klan faction has ever been as successful as our South Dixie! We have recruited Marines! We have joiners from the U.S. Army. Just think of it folks we’ll need army trained soldiers for the upcoming battle,” he said. The inflection in his voice and raised alleluia arms inspired cries of anger and glee. Their goal was to incite a race war using politics. Eunice’s heart sank.
Three huge crosses were lit by way of pyrotechnics as they whooshed into instant flames. The crowd was ballistic. The setting must have been staged after Gone with the Wind crossed with Wizard of Oz in glorious Technicolor.
“We can affect change legitimately through the political system by voting our klan members into office! We no longer need loose radicals, committing rogue terrorist acts to scare voters off the undesirable voting bloc,” the grand wizard, now yelling with his neck engorged.
This guy is fuckin’ nuts!
The pitch black sky and dense forest were united into one black hole. She’d hit the mutherfuckers where it hurt. Burning crosses were nothing compared to what they were gonna get!
With a changing of the guard on the podium the grand wizard stepped aside. Eunice figured her time had come.