“Hey, nigger, you about ready to die now, or you want to put that shit off until the sun look you in the eye?”
Big Smoke’s loomin over me sweatin and hackin open coconuts with his keen machete. He stoops to hand me a half a coconut full of milk. I lean back against the palm tree and try to accept the natural bowl but my hands start shakin, and the shakin ripples up my arms, across my shoulders, and my whole frame’s throbbin and bobbin.
Smoke drops down beside me, cradles me in his stout arms until the shakin slows. He puts the bowl to my lips. I sip a drop or two, lick my dry lips, try a smile, instead I deliver a grimace of thanks.
Smoke’s back to slicin the coconuts. “I use this, OK?” He holds up the big blade. “Quick, nigger you be in hell before you even realize your black ass is dead.”
I nod my agreement.
Mad Melvin staggers into the cover of the palms, kicks listlessly at my feet, wipes the sweat from his face. “Bone Man, you still hangin around? Nigger, you need to go on and give up the ghost.”
Melvin grabs a coconut bowl off the makeshift wooden table. He drains it in one swallow.
Melvin stoops with sweat dropping off his nose onto mine. “They took Nell to the infirmary, man. Don’t nobody come back from there. Shit, you stopped the Overseer, Bone… Just too late to save Nell.” He shrugs. “That bitch dead as a doornail.”
I tilt my head, beckonin Melvin closer. The fool leans in. My cruel teeth cut through his ear. I twist hard, bite through more skin and cartilage, pull back quickly. Most of his ear’s in my mouth as screaming Melvin falls away.
I spit out the ear.
Smoke roars with laughter slapping his blade on the table.
Melvin’s holdin his hand over the bloody stump of his missin ear. He stumbles to his feet and kicks me in the face.
Smoke pulls Melvin back, shakes Missin Ear Melvin, like a baby with a rattle and then tosses the cursing Melvin halfway across the clearing.
Melvin’s screamin, “Nigger, why you do that? My ear! My fuckin ear! Man, I didn’t kill her—“
Smoke waves, his machete in Melvin’s direction. “Ah, nigger, you know Bone. You know what he like. He be mine to kill. Nell was my woman, but I let you cut off an ear or two, after. After I done closed his mouth for good.”
Stella steps into the clearing, looks at the ear, looks at Melvin and Smoke, checks out the blood on my mouth, puts her hands on her hips, “Melvin, will you lend me an ear too?” She laughs like a loon as she points at the bloody ear on the ground. “You need to pick that shit up before one of them starving mutts get it.”
Melvin scrambles to his ear and holds it gently in the palm of his hand. “Fuck you, Stella.” He turns to me. “There no cause for that, Bone. No cause at all.” Melvin takes a last kick at my feet as he stumbles out into the unrelentin heat.
Stella stands near me but not too near. “Bone, before you slip into darkness, nigger before you die, while you still got some understanding, let me remind you, you were born and will die a fuckin slave. You fucked Smoke’s woman, my dumb ass sister. Everybody knew Nell was fuckin the Overseer day and night and up and down. And your crazy black ass gona protect that slut! Protect her and put us all in the shitter.” Stella coughs up a big wad of mucus and spits it like a stone into my right eye.
I see the stark anger and pain on her face. I look away. Close my eyes. I hear Smoke’s smooth deep voice. “Leave him be. Bone and Nell said they was in love. Ain’t that some shit!”
Stella turns to Smoke, “Why that nigger still breathing? He broke our law. How we treat each other.” She spins back to me. “We all get the lash for your stupid, nigger bullshit. How dare you raise your hand to the Overseer and not kill that peckerwood son-of-a-bitch. You one sorry ass motherfucker.”
I take a deep breath and gather my strength. “I had him, Stella. He was mine. He was dead, as good as dead when the house niggers pulled me off him. They beat me worse than I beat the Overseer. Tell her, Smoke, tell her.”
“Yeah, true that, true that. They was gona give em up to the Master.”
“Smoke, you should have let em give him to the white folks. Shit, he tried to kill one of their own.”
Smoke crosses to face Stella. “No! No lynchin. No picnic holiday for white folks.”
Stella’s angry, all up in Smoke’s face. “She my sister. I have some say.”
“And you done said it. You never cared for Nell at all. At least Bone had feelins for her.” Smoke turns to me. “You about ready? I can’t let them find you alive.”
I nod a weary, yes. I gather the last of my energy, “Stella, witness… please?”
Stella laughs as she gives me the finger.
Mad Melvin stumbles back into the grove with some kind of half-assed bandage on the side of his head.
“I’ll witness, and she’ll witness.” Stella snorts in protest. Melvin cuts her off. “Stella, I knows things… You know I do.”
Stella gives Melvin the finger, but she stays and turns to Smoke, “Hurry up, before we missed.”
I whisper to One Eared Melvin, “Melvin, sorry about your ear.”
I turn to Smoke. “I ain’t sorry about being with Nell, you understand?” Smoke nods. “Smoke, thank you… for everything.”
Smoke chuckles, smiles and draws back his blade.
Banner Image: By State Library and Archives of Florida [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons