Lloyd reads in his Bible to me every night. One night he read something about children of wrath and that just sort of jumped
into my head and stayed there. I guess that’s what Junior Lee and me was. Folks didn’t like Junior Lee ‘cause
he was black and they didn’t like me ‘cause I had a bad face. When I was born one side of my face fell down. Part
of my mouth could smile but the other part just seemed to be sulky and mad looking. I wasn’t hardly never mad but part
of my mouth looked like I was.
The Fosters called Junior Lee, “nigger” and me,
“freak” and Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Nettie, “nigger lovers.” That didn’t bother me none cause I
knew they sure wasn’t nothing special but they scared Junior Lee a lot. I loved Junior Lee and I reckon he loved me.
I wished we was brothers.
Ever time I went to his house I wondered how come that old cabin didn’t
fall into the river. It just clung to the bank like a loose tooth that wouldn’t come out. Two old hound dogs was always
laying in the shade of a Chinaberry tree in the front yard slapping their tails in the dirt. Junior Lee said they didn’t
bark they bayed.
Junior Lee’s grand pappy was named Moses Brown. Aunt Nettie said Moses
was spry and thin as a wisp of smoke and his white hair looked like wool. All I knew was his skin glistened and was smooth
as could be till he laughed then it crumpled up like wadded paper. His eyes was gentle and twinkled like stars. Till I met
Junior Lee I was awful lonesome.
My mama died and my daddy was in prison and I didn’t have
no brothers or sisters, only Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Nettie. I couldn’t never have got a better family though.
I remember one day Junior Lee took hold of my hand and looked at me with them big black eyes
and asked me why white folks didn’t like black folks. I told him I didn’t know. I told him
I liked him. There’s just mean folks around is all I told
him. I don’t spect God likes them kind of folks no better than they like us. He said yeah and asked me what I thought
God looked like. I told him I figured if God was black he must look like Junior Lee’s old grand pappy Moses Brown.
He laughed and
asked me if I thought God was that old.
Junior Lee, I told him, God is older than the whole world. How could he have
made the world if he wasn’t? His eyes got real big and he said yeah.
Seems like only yesterday Uncle Lloyd give
me and Junior Lee some Double Bubble Gum and we went to sit under the old oak tree in the back yard. We’d been playing
we was robbers robbing a stage and we was near bout run out. So we was resting. We got to blowing bubbles to see who could
blow the biggest before they busted and plastered our faces. There wasn’t no use to lie about it Junior Lee was the
even remember the sun was low and leaves was blowing in the wind. It was a real lazy-like day and it felt good just being
alive sitting there with my friend under that big old oak tree. I grinned at him and dropped my gum and it got all gritty.
He said he’d give me some of his. He took his gum out of his mouth and broke it in two pieces and give me some. I popped
it in my mouth and grinned at him again and told him now I was gonna blow a bigger bubble than him and with his own gum. Junior
Lee bowed up and said naw you ain’t. I can still hear him saying that. And he was right. I didn’t.
Me and Junior
Lee got up and waded out into the pond. After a while I got out of the water and ran to the shade of a big old pine tree at
the edge of the pond and called him to come on. I said I was about cooked. I told him to look how red I was. He laughed and
ran after me. He said he reckoned he’d be red too if we could see under his black skin.
We threw ourselves down on the pine straw. We didn’t
say nothing for a few minutes. Then I
pointed to the sky and asked him if he saw that big old white cloud up there. I said it looks like
a face don’t it and he said it looked like a fat man with long ole whiskers and I said yeah.
Junior Lee turned
them soft eyes on me and said Lucas Matthew does you ever think about things and I asked him what things. He said you know
like yore face and my skin. And he asked how come some folks gits borned ‘flickted like me and some gits horned with
black skin like him. I told him I’d thought about it but I hadn’t figured it out yet. I told him Uncle Lloyd said
we was twisted branches and he said huh.
I pointed to a tree and told him to look at all the limbs. Now
and again there’ll be a twisted one. Uncle Lloyd told me the twisted ones was just as good as the straight ones but
different in how they look. He said the twisted ones was really even a little bit stronger. But folks don’t like twisted
ones as much as they like the straight ones. And Junior Lee said it wasn’t easy being a twisted one was it? And he asked
me if I ever wisht I wasn’t. And I said yeah.
Then he said Lucas Matthew God made all them limbs didn’t
he? The twisted ones too. And I said he sure did. I told him the twisted ones wasn’t bad, it was just that some people
wanted to think they was so they good feel like they was better ‘cause they was straight limbs. Well he said he wondered
why they couldn’t feel good about being straight limbs without having to go around hating twisted ones.
I said I didn’t
know. I asked him if he was rested now. And he said yeah. He jumped up and we raced to the pond and jumped in again splashing
and laughing and we forgot all about that stuff.
Christmas come Junior Lee spent Christmas Eve with us. We went with Uncle Lloyd to cut the tree. It
was snowing just like Junior Lee and I prayed it would. We chunked snowballs at each other.
We put the tree up by the fireplace and made popcorn strings
and decorated it and put our presents under it. We ate supper, then went in by the fire and opened our presents. That was
my best Christmas cause Junior Lee spent it with me. I remember Uncle Lloyd hugged me. Junior Lee stood to one side his eyes
big and round and kind of hopeful like and Uncle Lloyd pulled him into his other arm and hugged him too. I ain’t never
seen a brighter grin.
I remember lots of good times we had and I think about ‘em a lot.
Junior Lee got sick. It was awful cold and wet. The river flooded and the doctor wouldn’t go down there to see about
him. Uncle Lloyd went and took him some medicine. And I got to go with him once but he had to carry me cause I kept getting
stuck in the mud and falling down.
I took Junior Lee his favorite comic book and some lemon drops.
I opened the door to his room and his eyes got big when he saw me. I ran to him and hugged him and touched him with my cheek
and his hot skin burned me. That was when I knew how sick he was and my heart near beat itself out of my chest. I was so scared
my knees got weak.
Junior Lee’s voice was raspy and soft and whispery when he said I is awful
sick Lucas Matthew. I wiped my eyes and said I know you are but you’ll get well real quick won’t you? He took
a big deep breath and I begged him to promise me he’d get well and he nodded. He tried to smile but he couldn’t.
I said promise and he took another loud breath and said I promise I’ll try Lucas Matthew.
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and took hold of his hand. The few words he said made him awful
tired like. Mamie his mama got up out of her chair and sat me in it. She whispered to me to sit with him awhile said he’d
like that but said don’t make him talk no more. She told me talking made him too tired and he needed his strength to
fight the sickness. I couldn’t help it. I
bawled like a baby. Mamie brushed my hair back with her fingers. Her smile lit up her whole face like
the sun was shining on it. And when she spoke her voice was always so soft it was like she reached out and touched me. Lucas
Matthew she said I spect you be just about the best medicine we can give him right now. And she went in with the grownups.
Junior Lee died.
I knew he would. I didn’t hardly never get mad but I was awful mad at him for a while for dying when he promised me
he’d get well. He didn’t really promise me that though. He promised he’d try and I reckon he did but I was
lonesome and mad and hurting and I wanted to die too. Everybody knows kids ain’t supposed to die. Old folks die.
Lee died something got tore out of me and I thought I wouldn’t never be whole again. I cried so much and so long Aunt
Nettie and Uncle Lloyd got to worrying a whole lot.
I’ll never forget ole Moses Brown coming across them woods to our
house to tell me bye. They was taking Junior Lee to Tupelo to get buried. Moses hugged me and told me not to fret too much.
He said when you love somebody you can keep ‘em with you always in a secret place in your heart. He said he reckoned
the Good Lord let Junior Lee die while he didn’t have no sin so he could be with the other angels.
Moses gave me
a little matchbox and told me Junior Lee wanted me to have it. Inside was his
best treasure, a penny a train had
run over. It was as bright as could be. Junior Lee was like that
I reckon it was cause it made me know that treasure ain’t
what some folks think it is. Treasure is
a penny’s worth that can’t never
be spent up. Bye Junior Lee. Save me a place by you.
Your friend, Lucas Matthew Turner
# # #
By Margery Casares