You’re the Sweetest One

By LASHONDA KATRICE BARNETT

May 1958

A white woman, softly sobbing, was hoisted into the back of an ambulance. On direction from the state troopers, Harvell stood idly by. For the second time since he’d arrived, the woman said the girl’s parents were Claudine and Cordezar Brown of Greenwood, Indiana. By “the girl,” the white woman meant the body lying in the ditch, covered by a sheet. Harvell looked at the bus tracks; the skid marks a few yards away, left by the fugitive car; a pair of yellow shoes about a foot apart on the side of the road.

The bus chartered by Johnson County to deliver Greenwoodians to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had stopped because of a flat tire, said the badly shaken woman. The driver worried about people getting overheated. He said anybody who got too hot should get off the bus and stir around but not too far. It was the woman’s idea that they cross Highway 31, because she wanted a cigarette and didn’t think it polite to exhale in the vicinity of strangers. How could she not have seen that car? She whispered, head down. The girl was plotting on how to meet Pat O’Connor before the car struck her. “She was so excited to see him,” the woman said, on the verge of another cry.

“Shame,” said one of the troopers as the ambulance drove off. “She’s probably no more than twenty, twenty-one.” Harvell thought he was talking about the woman in the ditch, until the other trooper picked up that thought and carried it further. “Something like this gonna keep her shook up for a while. Plus, we’re likely not to catch the heel who did it.” The troopers thought it was an indication of the changing times that a couple of women had taken Friday off of work for the Indy 500. Women could like racing, but generally as a complement to their husbands’ or sons’ real interest. Harvell looked again at the yellow shoes; he liked them, which meant he probably would’ve liked the woman in the ditch covered by a sheet.

“Where am I taking the other lady?” he asked.

“To the hospital, son—” The trooper looked at the paper in his hand. “You’re to carry Julia Brown to the nearest hospital.” He explained that in these parts only one ambulance was ever available. They often called a hearse as backup to transport accident victims, including those who survived. He left out that whites always rode in the ambulance; the hearse was for coloreds. Harvell said it was his first time getting such a call (he figured he was down on the list; probably they called white funeral homes first. He wondered how much business he had lost out on). He apologized for not having a coffin but assured them that, with his body bag and careful driving, the body would transport fine. He thought better of pressing how excellent his father was in mortuary science. They could do it all at Whipple & Sons Funeral Parlor; he yearned to say so.

The troopers looked at him funny. He didn’t need a casket. The woman wasn’t dead. They had taken the sheet from the ambulance—“as a courtesy”—so the warm May sun wouldn’t make her sick.

Not dead, just colored. “A courtesy” my foot. “How long—” Harvell couldn’t even finish the sentence. His voice was tired. It sounded froggy and weak. “Miss Julia Brown,” he began again; his legs had started to move him in her direction. “How long she been in the ditch?” Why hadn’t they let him put her in his vehicle right away? They watched all the business of the white lady and the ambulance, though their services weren’t required, when the three of them could have quickly moved Miss Brown out of the warm May sun, and away from potentially harmful bugs and road animals. Why had they allowed him to just stand there—how long?

A trooper called out to him. “What are you planning to do?”

His back still turned to them, Harvell answered, “Take her to the hospital, just like you said.”

Harvell was tired of wondering just who in the hell white people thought the colored race was. They couldn’t think of us as human, his father had rightly said. You couldn’t think on another human being and strip away their dignity at every turn. If we aren’t human, what are we? Harvell wanted to ask right now. And how long we got to be this way?

His foot landings were careful down the craggy slope into the dry gulch, where he heard soft, wounded cries. He crouched down and reached for his most soothing tone, speaking over the sheet: “You’re alright. Just a little banged up is all.” He wanted to pull back the sheet, look at her, but with the troopers watching him he thought better of it. They would wonder why he needed to see her face; he supposed anybody might wonder that. Gathering her in his arms, he noticed a deep cut on her leg that made him wince all over. He lumbered up and out of the gully, carrying the woman like a bride about to cross the threshold. He hadn’t lived twenty-five years banking on white people’s help, but it grated him that they just stood by the side of the road, watching. He walked swiftly to the back of his hearse, called over his shoulder for one of them to kindly open the door. He lay her inside tenderly, the sheet intact. “You alright?”

He could barely hear her reply: “I hurt all over.”

After taking down his information, the troopers instructed him to follow them to the hospital, then changed their minds. “We can trust you with her, can’t we?” Even if they couldn’t, Harvell knew it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that they would never trust him to deliver a white woman. They sent him on his way. In his rearview mirror he saw the piece of paper with his information float out of the trooper’s hand.

He drove fast, thinking about the stranger in the back. He recalled her folks’ names. He asked her what made her a fan of O’Connor, but she felt a little dizzy and a lot like not talking. He increased his speed by five miles per hour. He was a big O’Connor fan, too. Somewhere on the hearse floor was the May 26 Sports Illustrated with O’Connor on the cover, smiling out at them—a nice thick wave at the start of his hairline; Harvell hoped he remembered to leave it at the hospital for her. He turned the radio on. He liked this song. The woman didn’t feel like talking, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t listening. A pretty good tenor, he decided to show off a little: I’m gonna buy a paper doll that I can call my own, a doll that other fellows cannot steal…. He preferred The Mills Brothers’ version, but these days the stations played Bing’s ’cause it was newer. He couldn’t help but feel a little excited. For all he knew, he was transporting his own paper doll. The kind of woman fellas behaved their very best around, then teased you about when she was gone, because she was so fine. He didn’t have one of those—and knew it was time. It tickled him how far his mind could run toward something that he might never catch. He pictured the shirt he would wear to take her somewhere—the Kiwanis Club Hayride, the drive-in, the malt shop, anywhere—when the music suddenly stopped and the announcer began an update on the 500.

This wasn’t the announcer’s first time retelling the parade lap, but Harvell thought he should still sound more excited. His voice lacked all enthusiasm, was somber even as he talked about the pace lap, how all the cars got in position for the race to start, how the opening lap started as a showdown between Dick Rathmann and Ed Elisian dueling for top speed honors. Then a pause. That pause was too much quiet on the airwaves. Harvell’s foot slowly rose off the gas pedal. In a matter of seconds, Elisian’s car had spun, carried Rathmann’s with it, and sent both cars flying into the wall, the start of a fifteen-car pileup. Harvell glanced at the dashboard and gripped his steering wheel tight. Fifty-seven meant he was twelve over the limit. He wondered if the stranger in the back was listening. Pat O’Connor had flipped his car—sailed fifty feet in the air—hit the other side of the track upside down and burst into flames.

He left the hearse running, barreled through the hospital doors and told them of her dizziness, explaining that he didn’t know the exact time she’d been hit or how long she’d lain in the ditch. The colored nurse exchanged looks with him before she took down the parents’ names. He didn’t wait for anyone to follow; he ran back to Julia. His stomach lurched while he gently removed the sheet. It took a little wading past the yellow and white plaid petticoat—both knees were swollen like melons, and broken, he believed. Blood and holes in the pretty yellow circle skirt. The white blouse—mysteriously, miraculously still tucked in—revealed a trim waist, and would never be truly white again. He imagined the magic such a full skirt had on that waistline. Despite a badly bruised chin and right cheek, everything about her face, which he studied long and hard, pleased him.

Before they whisked her away, Julia turned her head on the hospital stretcher. She was surprised to see the black Cadillac hearse with a white top and white curtains at the windows. Whipple & Sons Funeral Parlor was on the door (because his father hadn’t taken the S off of Sons after Harvell’s brother was killed in Seoul). Julia recognized the name, had seen it many times, either in the Bethel First Church newsletter or the colored newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

Bad news comes in threes, Harvell thought as the doctor spoke with Miss Brown, who’d asked him to stay. She needed surgery. That was number one. Two: the road to recovery would be long; she’d be in casts most of the summer. And she would never be able to walk independently again, if at all. Miss Brown just shook her head. She looked too hurt to cry. “What about scarring?” Harvell thought it was a funny thing for her to ask; then again, she was beautiful. The doctor said while the leg scars would be significant, they would not be hypertrophic—they would not be raised. After the doctor left, Julia asked Harvell if he knew anything about her friend. He didn’t, but he thought if this hospital took colored people probably they’d taken her to another, better one. Julia rolled her eyes. “Candy’s not white. Passes every chance she gets, but she’s as colored as the sole of your shoes. Candice Johnson—try to find her and let her know I’m alright.”

Harvell never saw a night so long. Lonesome is a well, he thought. Most drown in it. A holler, a scream might save you. Harvell felt he had been doing that in his own way—mostly silent—just hoping, praying life would give him a break in the way of a companion, a good woman, the kind he could give his heart to all at once, not dole out piecemeal; that was not the kind of love he wanted to experience. He wanted to fall. Hell, he had fallen into lonesome hard, hadn’t he? Grief did all kinds of tricky things with your mind and time, so he doubted that it had been six years already, but it had been. He was nineteen when his family learned that his big brother, his only brother, Leonard, wasn’t coming home. What the government didn’t understand, what they didn’t understand over in Korea and would never understand here in his own country, was that Leonard was more than a navy corpsman gone greenside (which made him a marine corpsman), more than a hero with no medical background who saved lives—he was Harvell’s best friend. Life. Right when you are about to start living—hell, at nineteen he was ready to strike out—a loss like that stops you dead in your tracks. Those who knew him claimed he turned old; he guessed they were right, if duty and memory made one old. He decided not to strike out, ’cause losing one son was enough for his folks, and though he’d ignored the sign all his life, his fate was etched out on the side of a hearse door. Like a lot of folks who’ve lost people, when the duty is done, you learn to prefer loneliness, because it’s easier to remember that way. You’d be surprised what good company you can keep with your memory before the fall.

You fall down in the lonely well and it’s damn near impossible to climb out. But one thing about it: when help came along, you sure could feel it. Julia Brown was his help. At least, Hank Williams crooning on the kitchen radio was leading Harvell to feel this way. Sitting at the kitchen table in the dark, he turned his glass of beer counterclockwise for no reason, singing along in his mind: Hear that lonesome whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly—. It upset him still, the thought of a paper doll crumpled up in a ditch. They hadn’t even straightened her out, just threw the sheet over her like you cover up a hole in the floor with a rug. But right alongside the pitiful picture his mind held were his itching feet and a lifting of the heart. He had to see her again.

Harvell had never been inside a hospital that treated whites. He didn’t suppose it was cleaner, necessarily, but he knew the waiting room probably had flowers and reading material, and patient rooms were probably roomier and with windows.

The Browns looked like good people; something in Julia’s father’s stance gave him an air of honesty, and her mother had softness in her face. Harvell always admired softness in a colored woman’s face: how’d she come by it in this mean ole world? How’d she keep it there? It was a miracle to him, and Mrs. Brown had it—the softness—all over her. Like mother, like daughter. Over in the bed, Julia smiled a little smile that could light up the sky and ran a casted arm over her covers to smooth them out. Both legs were also in casts. He couldn’t see where the casts began, but they ended right at the ankle. He felt bad for her. “Is that you in there, Slim?” Julia laughed a little, not at all surprised to see him, though very glad.

“How they got you feeling?”

“Well, the worst is over. While you were sleeping, they cut me up.”

Mr. Brown explained that the surgery had been a success.

“How long you got to live like a mummy?”

“White doc says a couple of months. Colored doc says after some therapy, I’m going to walk funny. They said in a day or so I might start to itch. I wanna scratch already.” She was done with the topic. She needed to be, or else she’d start to cry and she might not stop. The driver who hit her hadn’t just hit any colored woman. He’d hit a woman with a golden ticket out of Greenwood, Indiana’s stronghold, the Stokely-Van Camp company, where she and Tilly and Mother canned.

Hue magazine’s January issue had featured a call for young women, ages seventeen to twenty-one, to submit photographs for a contest sponsored by The Gillette Company, who would feature their “first colored razor girl” in 1959’s ad campaign. The winner had to get herself to Boston, but once there, she received a savings bond for three hundred dollars, modeled for the Gillette ads, and also had a one-year modeling contract with Chicago’s Johnson Company, publishers of Ebony, Jet, Tan, Hue, and Julia’s favorite, Copper Romance. Tilly was wild about the 35mm Argus C3 Poppa had given Julia for Christmas, if a little jealous. A year younger than Julia, she felt the rangefinder should’ve been hers, as anyone could see Julia belonged on the other side of a camera. Tilly insisted they shoot a whole roll of film. They argued for days over which shot was best. In the end, Julia chose the one Tilly liked most because if she didn’t win—and she knew she wouldn’t—she could hold it against Tilly for the rest of her natural black life. Another way of putting that was: til hell froze over. She loved her sister; she loved holding grudges against her equally.

The winning photo showed Julia in a starched pink oxford shirt and white shorts (too short, Poppa said, til Tilly reminded him that in order to sell razors Julia had to prove she had legs, and though, in Tilly’s opinion, they weren’t shapely enough, they did go on for days and days. Even Tilly knew that was something any modeling scout would appreciate.) With trimmed bangs and the rest of her hair pulled back into a high ponytail, she showed off a pair of Mother’s pearl earrings that dangled an inch below the lobe. It was the shot before the last of the film when Mother hollered out. She grabbed her red handkerchief, unbuttoned the first two buttons of Julia’s shirt, and gave her the ascot effect. They told her to stand by the new floor-model television. Julia hadn’t thought anything should detract attention from her, but Tilly said let the judges see that the Browns were modern people. Julia put her right hand on her hip, her left hand on the television console, but Tilly said that pose didn’t do anything to accentuate her legs. Julia thought of her drum majorette days and assumed the stance: knee slightly bent forward, foot poised on tippy-toe. Tilly ran off a list of things she could think of to bring out the very best smile. Julia was convinced that the thought of never again having to look down into a vat of pork and beans stewed in tomato sauce had done the trick.

She tried to push the photograph and lost opportunity from her mind. It was May 31; there was no way she would heal in time for a September trip to Boston.

The Browns asked Harvell if they could pay him to drive Julia back to Greenwood in a week. “No, sir.” They couldn’t pay him, but they could give him the honor. Julia liked that he said that. She liked that he asked her father about the layout of their home, and if he needed assistance moving furniture to situate her. Harvell was smart, she knew it. What made a man like him determine to drive a hearse for a living? She would ask him on the way home, she thought, but it didn’t take that long. He started dropping by daily. On June 1, he was there with a magazine and a fancily wrapped slab of fudge (her favorite sweet—how in the world could he know that?). She tore into the fudge so fast it embarrassed her. The wrapping was pretty; she hadn’t meant to destroy it. Harvell got a kick out of watching her chew as she thumbed through the Sports Illustrated. She complained of itchy legs. They discussed the tragedy of the race. Julia said that if she ever had a child—boy or girl—she would call them Pat. That made Harvell smile, though he wondered when in history a white person had named a child after a Negro hero. He chuckled at the thought of towhead children named Septima and Selassie.

“Did you remember to get in touch with Candy?”

It was the first time that Harvell gave her a look that made her understand that any requests of him might as well be treated like promises.

“I was about to tell you—she’s over at St. Mary’s in Plainfield. Said she feels just fine, but they’re keeping her, you know, to make sure—”

Julia rolled her eyes. She was going to stop fooling with Candy. Something wasn’t right about how she lived. “Did she even ask about me?”

“You know she did. I told her what Doc said, and she said if anybody would walk again, that somebody was you.”

“Yeah, well, let’s see how long it takes her to come and see me.”

Even when she was being difficult, Harvell was touched by Julia. He couldn’t explain it; he didn’t want to.

That night he sat at the kitchen table again, but the light was on and his glass of beer was getting warm as he untwined a wire hanger, made it as straight as he could. He ripped open the package of raw cotton. On one side, he applied glue and covered the hanger with cotton. He wound it with the dullest sandpaper he could find—just enough of a grain to do the job.

The next day he asked, “Which leg itched you today?,” and told her to throw back the covers. They both had, she said, but pointed to the right one. Harvell walked to the right side of the bed with his invention. He raised her gown just a little. The cast had an opening where Julia had pried with her finger; he maneuvered a portion of the stick inside, then handed it off. All the way back to Greenwood, Julia talked about how the little stick soothed her.

 One night in early August, Julia walked by herself with a cane she hardly needed, to the bus. It had been a battle getting Harvell to let her come to visit him on her own, even though his “Harvell-smarts,” a phrase she coined especially for him because of his knack with problem-solving, had paved the way. In June, the day after he brought her home from the hospital, he rang the bell at 9:15 and inquired about the bus stop nearest to her home. He carried her there. When the bus rounded the corner, he stood her up. He paid their fare, whispered in the bus driver’s ear. The driver nodded, “Fine.” For the past nine weeks, her bell rang between 9:00 and 9:30 and Harvell took her to the bus stop. For the past nine weeks, he’d stood right behind her while she grabbed the ceiling belts, making her way up and down the aisle like a kid on monkey bars. Monday through Friday, with an unstable ground beneath her feet, she gained balance and practiced walking. Half-hour increments at first, with Harvell’s steady hand at the small of her back, his voice gently at her ear: “Come on now. They’re your legs—don’t let Doc, don’t let nobody tell you you can’t use them.” By the third week, passengers greeted them, included them in their talk of the morning news. Mrs. Myers brought them cinnamon rolls.

It wasn’t until the fourth week that Julia wanted Harvell’s head on a platter. “Strut!” he started to call after her, from at least three feet behind. “Strut! Strut!” Her legs were getting stronger, but she was still far off from anybody’s strutting. She liked to imagine the bus screeching to a halt, Harvell flying through the air and out the windshield, sustaining no real damages, just ending the “Strut!” Sometimes passengers applauded, but Harvell never did. He never once told her how hard she was working. One day, she gave him the silent treatment until he coaxed out of her that she resented him for withholding any form of praise. “Start dribbling a ball down a court if you want a cheerleader,” Harvell said. “It’s my job to make sure you strut in Boston for Mr. Gillette.”

It wasn’t until recently that Julia realized what Harvell had done for her was more than a gesture; it was a kind of devotion she had never known. In school she’d been good enough, but never special to the point of winning sustained attention. A few in her class had been singled out and pushed toward university, not her. Girlfriends came and girlfriends went while she refused to believe suitors who told her that along with beauty came envy. Like in a fairytale, Harvell had changed the atmosphere in Greenwood, in her. She hobbled down the bus steps and greeted two young women on the sidewalk.

That evening a few of Harvell’s friends, and their companions, were meeting in the little carriage house behind the Whipple home to commiserate over last week’s ad. The Indianapolis branch of the NAACP had placed the ad in the white Indianapolis Star denouncing Southern sit-in movements. Each member had signed their name. Harvell was smoking mad. “A real affront!” one of his friends said. Everybody knew how costly ad space was in white papers. Harvell said the Northern NAACP couldn’t sign his toilet paper. “As for me and my friends,” he announced, “we ought to show support for last month’s sit-in down in Greensboro.” Everyone agreed except Julia. The thought of him getting hurt, of a cop laying one hand on him, made her sad. After his company left, she told Harvell that because of him she was confident that in a few weeks’ time she’d be able to go to Boston. She asked him not to participate in the sit-in, not this time, because she needed him to be with her—not just to take her, but to be with her.

Harvell wondered if he’d ever be able to tell Julia “No,” and wished like crazy Leonard was around so he could ask him. Duty was done for the day, but Julia had replaced the remembering time with courting. He asked her about the factory; she shrugged her shoulders and said she couldn’t stand the foreman. “He gets after me for no reason at all!” She didn’t bother telling him how it embarrassed her to get reprimanded in front of Mother; she half blamed her for being there in the first place. Weren’t parents supposed to dream big for their children? And encourage dreaming once the children got some size? Mostly, she appreciated her folks. They’d done their best and she knew this, but since the accident, since Harvell, she wanted more.

Harvell hated when the slightest shadow of sullenness fell across Julia’s face. He reached across his kitchen table to hold her hand. “I won’t lie: I envy the white man a few things, but I don’t envy him this. I betcha they can’t court half as good as colored people do. Not enough at stake. Not enough day-to-day strain to remind him of the necessity of romance. The world’s made for him. And to top it off, there are no traps set for him. If he should happen to get caught up in something, ain’t nothing for him to wiggle his pink ass out either. Your foreman’s got all that, but he doesn’t have this right here.” Julia watched him turn his glass of Coca-Cola and thought, I could get tired of this. Yet she knew where it was coming from, and where it would lead. It was desire, she supposed, that helped her to listen, graciously, and desire that made him go on and on. “All I’m saying is a man like that ain’t really no man. He ain’t made of the cunning, the smarts, the grit—hell, I’ll make it plain: he ain’t made of the tough shit I’m made of.” Even though he felt his words weren’t adding up to anything smart, Harvell thought he should keep talking. He wanted to tell Julia not to pay him any mind; he was only talking to have cause to look into her beautiful face. He must keep talking, or else he’d be in big trouble, with her looking pretty enough to frame, and smelling like a thousand blooms. Julia asked him to put on some music. “Enough about Mr. Pork and Beans. Come on, snake, let’s rattle.” He didn’t have it in him to deny the lady a dance, and she was tired of playing backseat bingo; she wanted him, with his sweet self. The first record on his pile was her favorite. “Twilight Time!” She snapped her fingers in the air and wiggled her hips a little. Deep in the dark your kiss will thrill me like days of old, lighting the spark of love that fills me with dreams untold….                                   

He pulled her close, wishing he could open his chest and set her right in there, on top of the heart. The point of his chin bored into the top of her head, and the curly hairs on his chest tickled her nipples, but this was the perfect cradle. She was aware of his skin, his scent, his sweet-smelling breath. She hated that he smoked the pipe but liked the fragrance it left behind. She liked being held tight like this. Lovemaking made Harvell chatty. Julia really listened to him, to the feelings beneath the words that sounded like disgust, hate even, and fear for certain. He’d been left out in the cold a time or two, questioned his own purpose. She could deal with all of that, share in the disappointments, just so long as he shared in the making of joy. He could come in from the world’s cold into her warm love again and again. She hoped he would.

A thousand miles to Boston, an easy stretch of road before them, Harvell coasted along Lincoln Highway, his right arm flung over Julia, who cuddled close like they were on a sofa instead of the front seat of his cooper ’57 Chevy Bel Air. The Negro Travelers’ Green Book assisted in devising a route that saved time and potentially lives; it spared them humiliation from establishments not open to their race and kept them out of inhospitable towns. They left late morning, were lunching in the car, driving straight through Ohio. Birdie’s Guest House on Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District would be their first home away from home that night. The next day, seven highway hours would deliver them to the greatest Negro metropolis, Harlem, USA. The Green Book starred the Royal Hotel property, for which Julia had been able to supply her parents with “University 503210” for calling. Phones and radios in all rooms, air condition to boot and, best of all, room service. She could hardly wait. On Sunday, they’d rise before the rooster—coffee and rolls for the road. Lunch without incident at New Haven’s Monterey Restaurant on Dixwell Avenue. They could freshen up, Julia added. Harvell didn’t like to burn his gas on the air conditioner, but she planned to tell him it was Windows Up after New Haven, so that a couple of hours later, when they entered the lobby of the Harriet Tubman Hotel on Holyoke Street, Bostonians greeted a dignified couple. The Green Book’s section on tips for motorists reminded them that they were more than travelers; they were “good-will ambassadors of our race.”

Julia reached down in the picnic basket for the aluminum bundle of chicken. She took a bite first. She would always help herself first—something he liked about her. She put the chicken leg up to Harvell’s lips.

“Your momma sure knows how to put a scald on chicken,” he said. He’d never tasted fried chicken so good.

Julia tickled his ribs with her free hand. “Mother stopped cooking for us long ago.”

“Well, tell Tilly she sure can burn.”

Julia laughed. “Maybe you ought to marry her.”

“Well, if you could season a bird and fry it that good, I’d marry you.”

Julia thought she’d like that very much. “Okay, we get married. Then what? I’m about to make ads for Mr. Gillette, then on to Chicago to work for Mr. Johnson.” Whatever happened, she knew not to depend on Poppa. She’d made a temporary enemy out of him. With indisputable facts on his side, Poppa had fussed that Ike’s recession was the worst the country had seen in years. She was irresponsible to quit Van Camp’s. But what was she supposed to do when they didn’t want to give her time off for Boston? If push came to shove, she thought now, she could press hair. Mother and Tilly always told her how good she was with a hot comb. She’d be on her feet all day, but the factory had trained her for that. “Even if this modeling doesn’t work, I’m not going back to Pork and Beans, Indiana. No, sir.”

Harvell thought for a minute. It would be hard to leave his parents. Maybe he could convince them to let him open up a funeral parlor in Chicago—many more coloreds living there. Could be great for business. He didn’t know what he’d do if this life denied him her forever love. They’d make it in Chicago somehow.

Julia returned the drumstick to Harvell’s lips.

“What will it be like? Marriage with you?” he mumbled with a mouthful.

“Heaven!”

Harvell laughed and nearly choked. “Well, don’t you wanna know how it’ll be, married to me?”

“I already know.” She took the clean bone and placed it in the bag designated for waste.

“Slim, what do you know?”

She wished he could take his eyes off the road and stare into his heart. She knew many things, and the knowing is all there is. She leaned back into the crook of his arm. She knew the mornings would bring the sunshine; sometimes they’d bring the rain. She’d plant a garden in the spring; he’d do the winter shoveling. She didn’t need a preacher or a judge; she was taking him for better and for worse here and now. Julia Brown Whipple said none of these things. She simply reached for the knob of the radio.

 

LASHONDA KATRICE BARNETT’s Lammy-finalist debut novel, Jam on the Vine, was an Editor’s Choice pick at the Chicago Tribune, won ELLE Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Prize, and was awarded the Stonewall Book Award by the American Library Association. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her short fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Guernica, New Orleans Review, SNReview, Juked, C4, Gemini Magazine, and elsewhere. Currently, she’s at work on a novel set in the Gilded Age. Her next book, Broken Shoes for Walking (Wings That Never Fit): Short Stories, is forthcoming.

 

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