Mah last walk down Hope Street.
By Henry P. Thompson
Ah remember when there wus a general store there – right there, that spot in all. They knocked it down a good few year back now, though. That an a few other lil places that made up the Eastan most side of Hope Street. Built themselves up one of those “super” markets. A Winn Dixie. Ah personally do not find anythin’ super about the place. Is just too damn big an too damn over priced an all. A dollah five for a loaf of Wunderbread, that’s whut it has come down to now.
That’s just how it is ah ‘spose. The past is all done an sold up an died out to make way for the new. Everythin’ keeps getting’ faster an faster an more proficient whether anyone want it or not. Same with people too! Remove the old an replace em with the young. Faster an smarter an all whut else.
Seems these days all whut wus is just takin’ up space for whut all will be.
Ah wus born here an ah always knew ah wus gonna die here. Is not uncommon, not uncommon at all, for folk to live an die in one place. Spend they whole lives in the same town. When ah wus a boy, ah quite fancied the thought of seeing Paris. Ah have always been told it to be a beautiful place. Kinda place you remember your whole life an all. But there you go. Ah mahself have never been outta state. Nor will ah ever.
Ol’ man Denny, he whut done owned the general store, when they bought him out, recession they he said, didn’t make much of it. His family took him down Louisiana way an ah ain’t seen him since. Folk like us that may as well be Paris it’s so far! Sad to see him go, but that’s life. Here an gone. Rise an fall. Did get a postcard one time. Said ‘all is well’. Good for Ol’ Denny. Can’t say ah can say the same nowadays for round here.
Ah step off the blacktop an onto the sidewalk, west side, into the shade. Heat is a killer this time of year. More than a few full bodied fellas been struck down by ol sunny than a bullet round here. Back when all the ol timers would be stretchin out in chairs all along in the shade here just waitin’ for a sale or someone to talk to em for a spell. Too fast for all that’n now.
Caruthas comes out whut used to be McKinney’s hardware, carrying one of them plastic coffys. Smug little crackah. Always givin’ the stink eye to us old folks. But today he wide eyed as a badger in a trap! That’s right, back up. An in he goes. Oh he probably tell em everythin. Ah don’t care.
This street used to be alive. Aptly named. It gave us hope as youngins. We never did have much cept each other. Community. Oh ah could tell you everyone’s name an where they going when they pass me in the street ah could! But not these days. Like a ghost town. No one walks no where no more. Drive everywhere. Street smells of gas an exhaust. Ah don’t like it much. I miss the smell of wood.
Ol’ man Denny whaddin’t the only one to get kicked out. Fella named Smithy used to run the hardware store. Ol’ Anderson, he had himsell a lil butchers stand, sellin’ off the hogs an all from Swanson’s farm. Fresh vegetables from miss Swanson down at the side of the general. Sweet ol’ girl, even gave us flowers, just ‘cause they were pretty an it looked nice havin’ one in yo lapel or pocket. Boy she could make any old body feel a right gentleman that one.
Hot day like today, any onna em would set you down an give you a big ol’ glass of lemonade whether you ask or not! You walk through now jus’ a stranger in a strange place. Most time these days ah’m invisible. Just some ol’ nigger, come in now an then for food an out again. Not today. No sir! All them peoples lookin’ on me today. Ah see em across the street, jaws on the god damn floor! ah don’t even care.
After Ol’ Denny went unner ah got mahself a job at that “super” market. They said ah couldn’t do much ‘cause of mah age. So they had me take people’s bags to they cars. Like they damn arms are broken an all! People these days is lazy. When ah wus a youngin times wus tough. Had to work the fields with little to eat, drink, an ah wus thankful for every second god would do spare for me to take for mahself. Now everyone just got time for they selves. Too much time. An ah’m all out. As it goes.
Ah cross the intersection to the North side of Hope street. Not far now. Ah can feel butterflies in mah basket for the first time in ah don’t know how long. Ah don’t much have call to be this far inna town. Don’t got much call for nothin’ really. Truth be told. In this world, you get to a certain age an you do little more than wait to leave it. It’s not right. Ah did all that bullshit of cryin’ on to god an all else for a spell. But be fair, it ain’t gods doin’ leavin’ a man like this. We all just livin’ too long now. World ain’t got a place for us no more. It’s technology.
Young white couple stop dead in they tracks an cross the street. Ha, they practically runnin’! you’d think they never seen a nigger with a shotgun before.
Thissen here used to be a lil bar, The Horseshoe. Now it’s a gymnasium. Not a sports like gymnasium. A weights an whatnot gymnasium. People are so lazy these days. Computers an all else that they need to build they muscles because life ain’t doin’ it for em no more. As it goes.
After a long day a work we’d all cram up in that Horseshoe an have a drink or two. Ah remember like it were yesterday, there were this mighty storm came up an the Swanson’s place took it pretty hard. Lost a lot of crop an all an it wus bad times. No money comin’ in an little work beyond resowin’ an still, we all cooled off with a cool beer an talked it out. Ah met mah Rose there. Prettiest young thing you ever did see! Ah can still remember the first time ah saw her, ah didn’t quite have the courage to say much but ah did buy her a drink. An ah kept buyin’ em till ah wus pulling out mah pockets! Ha ha!
Every week we’d come back, an if the times were good, the drinks were flowing an if the times weren’t so good, we’d just stare at each other an talk. We took it slow, as you did back then. Of course.
Ah remember when she died. After the funeral ah planted her a sycamore tree just yonder on the edge of the cemetery. Every now an then ah’d come an on days ah felt up to it ah’d come an talk to her for a spell by her graveside an tell her how the kids been doing or whatnot an those days that ah missed her too much ah’d just stand by that tree an lean against it an just kind of look on over her grave from a distance.
Since they cut our tree down ah ain’t been over thissen ways that much. Ah just miss her too much these days. Ah can smell her on mah pillow as ah wake after all these years an it brings a tear to mah eye every mornin’.
With the kids all grown up an gone an everyone else gone or dead, ah just stuck mahself into mah work an with that gone now, there isn’t much but mah memories left. But ah am not an invalid. Ah’m a little slow, yeah, but ah am a man still an ah can work. He had no right to make me leave jussen ‘cause ah got gray hair. Whaddin’t even given a chance. Ain’t that just the way it is though? Faster. Smarter. Younger an all. As it goes.
Ah stop at the edge of the verge where Hope street ends an MLK street begins. Right at the edge of the divide, bordering the neighborhood ahead an the cemetery to the side is the stump of our tree. Too many rings on that flat thing to count with mah eyesight. Ah can’t bring mahself to look up to her grave yonder. Wherever she is, ah hope she ain’t watching me. An if she is, ah hope she has open arms, waitin’ for me.
Ah walk forward onto MLK an pass a few houses. You can always tell a rich neighborhood. ‘cause it’s a hot day like today an there ain’t no one sittin’ out on they porch. All inside, the hummin’ of air condition units like crickets. Ah had always promised her ah’d have got her a place like this. Jus’ didn’t work out an all. Ah’m sorry for that. Little else, though.
House number twenny three. Ah knock on the door an can’t help but tremble an take a minute. Mah eyes are waterin’ something fierce.
Little white thing comes to the door, Mrs. Tyker ah suppose. Before she can close the door ah bust it clear off its hinges an make mah way into the house. Ah grab her and push her forward, already ah’m feelin’ mah age an outta breath. Ah throw her to the floor an aim mah shotgun at her. Tell her to get her husband out here.
He comes out shakin’ like a shittin’ dog. Please oh please an all, ah tell em to shut up an get down on his knees. He does so. Bet it kills him inside, takin’ an order from an ol’ nigger like me! Know who ah am? I ask. He shakes his head. His white face. White walls. White carpet. Hell he even got a white TV! This man, this Mr. Tyker set me down in his office an told me ah’m too slow, ah’m no use. No good. Ah said ah’d have nothing. He said that ain’t his problem. Well it’s his problem now ain’t it?
Ah had a plan to come here an tell him everything. How much ah’ve lost an how all ah had left wus mah job at that market an how without cause, jussen ‘cause ah’m old, he kilt me. How ah ain’t got social security. Ah ain’t got a pension. Ah ain’t got mah wife. Mah kids. Ah ain’t got anything. Ah ain’t even got mah tree no more ‘cause when he came an they built up the neighborhood he said it wus a stain on they view. Mah Rose’s tree!
Ah have nothing. But ah had that job, an he took it away from me. Jussen ‘cause he could.
The pain ah been through. Ah can see on his face an from his house an his perfect life he ain’t been through none of it. He ain’t had to beg or fight once in his whole life. An ah know he don’t know how it feels to lose someone you love. His wife has her eyes closed. He’s asking me to stop pointing mah gun at her. Asking me please. So it goes.
Ah say “You don’t remember me.” He don’t say nothing. Ah say “but you ain’t never gonna forget this.” Ah ain’t got much ah can do with mah life. But decide how it’d end. An this seems right fittin’. Ah turn mah shotgun round an watch his face twist up. Ah ask Rose to forgive me an ah pull the trigger.
An leave a stain on his white carpet that ain’t never comin’ out.