“Boy,” he said, with his mustache dampened by corn whiskey and his perfect blue eyes dancing in his head. “Don’t you know you’re a colored boy? We don’t like coloreds ’round here.”
Harry dug his slender fingers into the rim of his hat and edged towards the door. He instinctively knew that sickly sweet tone held the space between the words together with cyanide and generations of malice. That tone was a Venus Fly Trap and he knew it through the lens of his DNA. He would not be lulled by the gentle way in which the bartender’s words slithered lazily along the floor, climbing each prickly millimeter of his spine.
DNA was pretty much all that Harry had. The only thing he could remember of his mother was the loud wailing as he was ripped out of her arms, and the blow to her head that had silenced her forever. His daddy and he had been sold together; the long ride out west had taken them so very far from the place they’d called home. Harry could sometimes remember the way the land fell from green and full of honey bees to brown and swallowed up by the sky. That journey had seemed one hundred lifetimes ago.
At this moment there was sawdust packed between weathered boards and scuttling across the floor, propelled by an easterly wind whipping down from the peaks of the Rockies. Harry’s senses, in the stifling heat, were under assault by the smell of horses and leather, the unwashed bodies of white men with dust on their boots and nicotine stains on their thumbs and forefingers. The saloon was not a place young Harry had ever been before, but the feelings he got there were like familiar faces in a crowd.
He would head on down the road now, not stop at another shop, not here. The saloon was where all the locals typically sharpen their canine teeth and file their fingernails to a stiletto point. He could sense that as one senses the electricity in the air before lightning strikes.
Word would fly now through the cracks in the shutters, the gap under the back door, cling to particles of smoke and paint the ceiling, whistle through the tunnels forming between angry faces, whispering.
And Harry knew the volume of those whispers would rise and form a micro burst around the tender temples of his nappy, curly head. He knew that his neck would find the noose not long after his face found knuckles and the crunching of bones; that his feet would leave the ground. Harry wanted to keep his feet on the ground. He even enjoyed the way his stride kicked up dust as he hurried from place to place.
He was thirteen, with arms the color of the great Mississippi after a mighty rainstorm, but his soul knew that the pink on the tender tips of his fingers could not save him. He was thirteen going on two thousand and three.
Harry made it through the door. And when he could let the stale air out of his lungs again, and breathe deeply, he could almost smell the Magnolia scented breeze of home for a fleeting moment. This was no time for tears or nostalgia, he willed his feet to fly.
He heard the saloon doors shrieking behind him. In rapid succession, swinging back and forth on rusty hinges, they were being thrown open by the hands of bankers and barbers, cow hands and grave diggers.
Young enough to laugh, but wise enough not to, he ran. And as he sprinted past the waving limbs of a weeping willow, Harry convinced himself that he was free.