Beads of sweat dripped down my back. My nails dug into the palm of my hands. The urge to kill grew stronger and stronger the longer I stared into his dark eyes.
“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel tugged on my arm.
“I’m not going anywhere.” I started to pull away from my grandmother, but even in the height of anger, my good senses prevailed. Disrespecting Grandma Hazel was something I’d never do.
“Listen.” Grandma Hazel pulled me closer to her. “I don’t have Sally so don’t start nothing.” She barely parted her lips as she spoke.
Sally’s the pistol Grandma Hazel kept underneath her bed.
“I don’t need Sally.” I’d never deny myself the pleasure of feeling the life seeping from his worthless body. I couldn’t say that part out loud from fear of Grandma Hazel thinking I’d gone off the deep end.
John Walker stood at least six feet seven and maybe weighed about two hundred pounds. He was a big man, always had been, but in my eyes and in my mind, he was as small and as cowardly as the crime he’d committed.
John cleared his throat and kept his eyes on Grandma Hazel as he spoke. “I’m sorry I just stopped by to pay my respects.”
The bass in his voice shook me to my core. As cold as it was outside, on the inside I was on fire. I could feel the heat warming my face. My golden skin never disguised my anger.
“Respects? You came to pay respects? Did you respect him when you killed him?” I inched closer. Grandma Hazel held on a little tighter. “Was it out of respect that you aimed that gun at him and fired?” My voice echoed through the trees surrounding us.
“You need to leave.” My grandma’s hand trembled around my arm. “My grip won’t last much longer and I can’t protect you from the rage this girl’s been holding inside.” She warned him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He stood a little longer. His weary eyes now stared at me. I glared back and refused to blink. I wanted him to see every ounce of anger I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hiding behind it, not even for a second.
Without another word, he left.
My breathing was uncontrollable. I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but seeing my father’s murderer standing at his grave triggered a major one. I tried to catch my breath as I sat in the cold grass at the foot of my father’s grave. At times like these he’d know what to say to calm me down, but my calming mechanism, my protector from all things bad, was no longer here. He hadn’t been here for a very long time. Over twenty years as Grandma Hazel reminded me earlier. Twenty-two years to be exact. My family calls it the accident, but what John Walker did was no accident.
“Doll, listen to me.” Grandma Hazel stood over me. “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself over someone like John Walker. Your daddy would not want you living like this.”
Grandma Hazel was usually right, but not this time. My daddy would want me living like this because I’m the only one willing to fight for his justice. Looking for the system to help was no longer an option. That hope faded with each year that passed. I’m my daddy’s only means to justice and it will come.
“Are you listening to me?” Grandma Hazel asked.
“I’m listening.” I stared at the picture on the tombstone of my dad. I remembered that day so well. It was the day of my seventeenth birthday. My dad had surprised me with my first car. It was a light blue Honda Accord that’s still parked behind my Grandma’s house. I don’t drive it but the thought of letting it go makes my heart hurt. That was the last gift my father could give me, and I promised him that I’d keep it forever. When I waved, and drove my brand-new car out of the driveway, I had no idea what I’d be coming home to later on that night. I could still hear their voices as they argued over only God knows what. I followed the commotion to the back door and that’s when it happened. My daddy warned him not to come back there again. He took a step towards John and then there was the shot. One single shot that caused him to drop to his knees.
I didn’t realize how hard I was crying until Grandma Hazel leaned down and started making small circles on my back. That was her way of soothing me when I was upset. As a little girl she’d instruct me to lay on her lap while she’d rub my back and hum Amazing Grace, her favorite hymn. Back then it worked, but today the anger overrode Grandma Hazel’s touch.
“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel tugged at my arm again.
I held my finger up signaling that I needed a minute.
I crawled closer to my dad, forgetting about the high priced clothing that I normally took great pride in protecting.
“I’ll give you some time alone.” She smoothed the top of my hair down before she walked away.
“Daddy, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there sooner.” The warm tears streamed down my cheeks. At every visit I apologized. I should’ve been home to save him instead of out joyriding with Tasha.
I sat a while longer until I started feeling better. Even in spirit he had a way of making everything okay. I stood and brushed off the grass that clung to my wool coat. I blew my daddy a kiss and slowly made my way back to the car.
The drive back to Grandma Hazel’s was filled with so many mixed emotions. I spent the ten-minute drive plotting how I could get away with murder, just as John had. Self-defense was his claim and the jury bought it, but that was no surprise. His dad was the most brilliant legal mind in Bayou. He had a lot of high profile clients from all over the world who paid him good money to make things happen in their favor. He’d never lost a case, and I’m sure it’s because of the stories I’d heard about him. In many of his cases witnesses would either change their stories at the last minute, or in some instances come up missing. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to know who was behind those mysterious disappearances.
“Oh Lord.” Grandma Hazel’s exasperated tone drew my attention to her.
She pointed towards her house at my cousin Anthony, or Tony as we’d always called him, sitting on the front porch.
My mood instantly lifted. Tony is my favorite cousin. His father, my Uncle Ken, is Grandma Hazel’s oldest child and only son. Growing up, Tony and I lived right next door to each other which was the norm here. Family tend to settle across the street, next door, or even in the same yard as other family members. Tony is the only person in our family who never acted like I was crazy when I shared what I saw the night my father died. No one believed John, sweet quiet John, would ever hurt anyone on purpose. It had to be an accident. That was the only logical explanation.
Tony loved me because I accepted his truth, just as he accepted mine. I loved Tony for who he was designed to be. I didn’t always agree with the way he spent his time, but I was the last person who could judge anyone for the choices they’d made. Grandma Hazel, on the other hand, wasn’t so accepting of Tony or his choices.
“Hey.” I wrapped my arms tightly around Tony, but I could barely feel his arms around me. I stepped back to examine his face. That’s when I saw the moisture in his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I placed my hand on his shoulder and tried to comfort him the best I could without knowing the cause of his tears.
“Did you know?” He looked past me and directed his question to Grandma Hazel who’d finally made it up the porch.
“What are you talking about?” Grandma Hazel’s narrowed eyes and snappy tone were evidence of her dislike for her grandson. Her disposition towards Tony was something the public would never see. That’s what I meant when I said we Freeman’s were good at putting on a show for everyone else’s viewing pleasure.
“About my parents. Did you know?” Tony shifted from one leg to the other.
“I know a lot and you wouldn’t be able to handle half of it. I knew you’d find out one day, but the answer you want will not come from me, now go home.” Grandma Hazel stared at Tony for what felt like eternity before she finally disappeared behind the door.
I didn’t know what the conversation was about, but I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. I knew coming back to Bayou I’d risk the chance of being exposed to more family secrets. It always happened, which is why I chose to stay away. Pretending to be normal was much easier around strangers. I’d hoped this issue with Tony was it, but little did I know this was just the beginning. There was so much more I wasn’t prepared to learn or accept.
Written by L.A. Lewis
Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson