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Summary: I loved her, even when she didn't know love was possible. Most folks don't see the beauty in that, but if they saw what I felt, maybe the world would be a little less blind.
This story is going to hurt. It's going to make you uncomfortable. It's going to be painful and offensive and at times, make you angry. You are going to scream and yell and pray and cry for a happy ending because damn it, something's got to give.
It just has to.
Welcome to Birmingham.
Chapter One: (Prologue)
"If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
She first heard them by the river when she was six years old. She knew she shouldn't have traveled down Glory Road from school, but it was the easiest route instead of going the long way around. Sue should have been with her that day, but according to her brother Billy she had smallpox, and their mama wouldn't dare allow Sue to be in the company of other children. So she walked alone that Tuesday afternoon.
Her books were heavy and they bounced against her side, slipping down the palm of her hand, which was sweaty from the late spring's sweltering heat. All that walking made her ruffled, white socks slide into her Mary Janes, and every so often she'd have to stop and pull them up. It took twice the effort and with the sun blazing down, she sang the alphabet to keep her mind at ease. Her blonde pigtails swung to her tune and she skipped happily down the road.
She had less than a quarter mile to go and for the last time, her books dropped right from her hands. She bent over and picked them up, trying to cradle them in the nook of her forearm.
That's when she heard them.
"Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God's gonna trouble the water…"
It was an old gospel hymn, the kind folks sang from the pit of their bellies right into another's soul. It seemed to hit her soul too. Her shiny black shoes appeared to wade on the dust themselves, carrying her past a blackberry bush and thick thistles with prickly stems. The choral melody got louder and louder the closer she got. She even started singing along, the lyrics easy to memorize for someone who loved music like she did.
"Wade in the water…" The six year old giggled to herself, not understanding what wading was or why God, Jesus's Father, was going to trouble anything. She figured she'd ask her own mama when she got home. There was another bush in the way, but with a swing of her hand she could see and hear the water flowing against the edge of the bank.
She saw an oak tree too, the kind that was rotted near the base with ants crawling all up and down it. It stood mighty and strong and there, right there, was the source of that beautiful music.
There were a lot of folks, she thought—six she counted—just standing out there in the woods. She wondered if they were playing a game. It looked mighty fun and she wanted to be a part of it. The other people didn't look happy; in fact, they wore rags with red strawberry jam smeared all over them. Well, it looked like jam to her. And they were awfully sweaty, but they were singing.
"Little girl, what you doin' out here child? Git!" The tall man wearing a straw hat and dirty overalls had a long rope in his hand. It was tied in a circle, knotted real tight, and hung from a tree. "And y'all shut that racket up!"
I bet they're playing doggies, she pondered to herself. It was something she and Sue did often, pretending to be dogs and owners; only they had a real leash from Sue's dog, Mr. Wrinkles.
The singing stopped and those sweaty people looked at her, fearful and wide-eyed. The little girl got a sinking feeling in her tummy, like when her daddy knew she didn't eat all of her lima beans at supper.
But she stood there, unmoving, in her black Mary Janes that weren't so shiny anymore.
"Fine, you wanna watch, youngin'? See what happens when these darkie ingrates you feed and home steal from you." The tall man in the straw hat put the rope around a young boy who couldn't find it in his heart to sing anymore.
He begged though, screaming and hollering while those beside him did the same.
There were no more songs sung that day, no more wading in the water.
The little girl watched the mean man do a horrible thing with that rope and that young boy and that tree.
She stared in horror as the life drained from the boy's eyes and cried like Jesus himself had died when the boy finally stopped kicking.
When she found the strength to move, she ran as fast as she could, her books long forgotten.
My name is Esme Platt. When I was just a child, I watched a boy hang for the color of his skin. It resonated with me, the fact that a person could be treated with such indignity simply because they were different. I carry that memory with me every single day, pondering why God chose me to live in a world with such hatred.
At 19, I married the love of my life. His name is Carlisle Masen and in the eyes of the Lord, I'm Esme Masen. By law, I'm shunned and the wife of no one. A year after we wed, I bore a son. He's a beautiful boy that's as sweet as blackberries and as innocent as an angel.
I wish he had never been born.