A few months ago, Jadyn DeWald asked me to participate in a reading on campus. I debated reading something about Frank Yerby or Lillian Smith; however, I chose, instead, to write a short story. Below is the story that I wrote. It is entitled “Paper.”
The numbers, crookedly locked up in an invisible column in the middle of the page against a sea of white, added up to $1,024. Nothing except the individual cost of each item and the overall tabulation stared up at me from the scrap of paper he handed me at the end of our transaction. I took the paper and folded it neatly, placing it into my coat pocket. No telling when someone may stop me and ask, “Are those yours?” I had to keep the receipt on me until I could label them as my own.
When I saw the advertisement for the sale in the paper a few weeks ago, I knew I had to be there, so I came into town specifically for these items and I’d be damned if anyone thought they could take them away from me because I didn’t have that proof tucked neatly in my pocket. This was the largest sale in the region, and everyone came to it, driving in from all over the river valley. I saw people I hadn’t seen in ages gathered around waiting for the auctioneer to pound that gavel and get the festivities underway.
I went wanting to take seven or eight of the items home with me, but I only ended up with five. Not bad, but not quite what I’d hoped for. Nevertheless, these five would work out just fine, aiding me in the various tasks around the property. I couldn’t do anything without the tools I’d won in town.
“What box do you want?” “The third one from the left.”
I rearranged some things for the trip home, moving some boxes around so I could fit everything I needed to fit. Thankfully, no one stopped to interrogate me about my recent purchases. I thought for sure some no good nosy person would try and stick their snout into my business and inquire where I picked up such fine wares. People merely stared. One woman, as I passed, looked angrily at me and my newly acquired goods. It took every fiber of my being to keep from yelling at her, but I maintained my Christian composure and merely turned the other cheek.
Deacon bolted out of the house as I turned down the lane. “What did you bring me, papa?” he inquired.
“Well, look and see.”
His eyes grew big as he looked upon what I had purchased. “Which one is mine?”
“The one on the end there. I thought it fit you perfectly. Now, go over there and grab it, take it out back, and clean it.”
Deacon did as he was told. He walked around to the back of the wagon, undid the ropes, and started to take it to the back of the house. Even at 10, he was a responsible young man.
“Where’s your mama?” I called after him as he ran away with his prize. “She’s in the kitchen.”
I left everything else tied up and went inside the house to find Adelaide. Her back was turned to me as she stood over the stove.
“What are you doing? I could have burned myself,” she screamed as I kissed her on the neck. “I just got back and brought you something. It’s out front.”
Adelaide’s mouth turned upward into a jubilant smile as she rushed into my arms. She pulled away from me, running towards the front door. Looking out at the cart, she yelled, “Thank you!”
“Is that what you wanted?” “Yes.”
Adelaide rushed over to the cart and undid the rope, taking her present into the house with her. The other three were for me. I looked them over, untied the ropes, and brought them to the barn. There, I lined them neatly up along the wall, inspecting them again to reassure myself that I didn’t make a mistake in purchasing any of them. I didn’t find anything wrong, so I got to work marking them so no one would question their owner. I’d do Deacon’s and Adelaide’s later, once they got over their excitement. They weren’t going anywhere, and no one was going to question anything here.
I often wonder whether things that I purchase will work out season after season. Time affects everything, and things inevitably break down. These purchases, though, kept up year after year. Seven years later, when Deacon went off to college, he brought his right along with him. It brought a tear to my eye seeing him so attached to something that I bought for him so many years ago.
Adelaide loved hers as well, using it every night in the kitchen as she got the meals ready. I don’t think she’d know what to do if it wasn’t there with her nightly helping her prepare all that food. The last three served me well out in the field as I worked to plant and bring in the crops each year. Those tools increased our seasonal revenue ten-fold over the course of ten years. I’d never had such excellent instruments at my disposal.
One day, I was sitting at my desk looking over some papers when Adelaide walked into the room. “What is it?”
“It’s . . .” her voice quivered as she tried to get the words out.
I got up and held her. She buried her head in my shoulder, crying as she heaved uncontrollably. I begged her to tell me what was wrong, but all she could do was gasp for breath in between tears. Eventually, she got out, “Deacon . . . he’s dead.”
My whole world stopped. I stood there, dazed and numb. I didn’t feel a thing. I couldn’t even bring myself to speak.
“He was shot. He went out hunting with some friends and got shot. They saw his horse grazing in a meadow, and when they walked over to see where Deacon was, they stumbled across his body in the tall grass. I just can’t . . .”
We stood there, Adelaide crying uncontrollably. I could only stare at her, unable to move.
We learned later that Deacon’s death wasn’t a fluke hunting accident. It was murder. I promised Adelaide we’d find whoever killed Deacon and enact our revenge, no matter how long it took. He was a good boy, loving, caring, empathetic. He never hurt anyone, yet someone shot him dead, and for what?
“Here it is. Look.”
My hands began to shake as I held the paper. I couldn’t even see straight, but I knew that one of the figures on this paper was my great-great-grandfather. Growing up, I’d heard how he escaped slavery. It was a story my family passed down from generation to generation.
Silas was owned by Deacon McIntyre. I don’t know how old Silas was when Deacon became his master. All I know is that Deacon was ten when he became Silas’ owner. Silas had to be in his twenties at that point, but we’re unsure. I don’t know who owned him before he came to the McIntyres. I do know that Silas shot and killed Deacon in 1857. Deacon was hunting, and he brought, as he always did, Silas along with him. Deacon rode his horse while Silas walked. The way I heard it, Deacon got mad at Silas for something and called him over to the horse. He reached down and whipped Silas. Silas grabbed Deacon’s leg and pulled him out of the saddle, grabbed his gun, and shot him.
Silas escaped out west and started a family. He wrote about some of his experiences with Deacon, detailing how the boy would beat him whenever he felt the urge. Deacon would chase Silas around the plantation while his dad sat on the porch and laughed. Deacon would run into the kitchen while Delia was making dinner and grab as much food as he could, knocking Delia to the ground. He’d go to Silas and eat it all, right in front of him. All the while Adelaide would tell him, “Don’t waste your appetite son.”
Deacon would sit under one of the big oak trees and watch Saul, Barnabas, and Stephen work in the fields. If he got bored, he’d go over to them and slap the mules so they’d run through the fields, dragging one of the men behind them. When Deacon went to college, he brought Silas with him. If Silas did the slightest thing wrong, Deacon would kick or punch him. This often occurred in front of Deacon’s classmates, and sometimes they joined in, relishing the camaraderie.
Here, in my hands, was the earliest reference to Silas that I had seen, and he wasn’t even here.