June 12, 1963
Excerpted from A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg Copyright © 2008 by Shana Burg. Excerpted by permission of Listening Library (Audio), a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Now get this: there's a boy in Jackson so rich that when he finished high school, his daddy bought him a brand-new car. At least that's what I heard. In my family, we don't have that kind of money, but my uncle gives a whole dollar to any Pickett who graduates Acorn Elementary School. It's tradition.
So here I am, soaring through the sky on my swing that hangs from the oak tree, when Uncle Bump calls out the door of his shed, "Go on. Get your brother. He'll take you." He stretches a dollar bill between both hands and I jump right off. Sure it's not enough for a car, but that dollar can buy a whole lot of good, like twenty Hershey bars. After my brother graduated elementary school, he bought a baseball. But I'm not going to waste my dollar on something dumb. I want something important, like dye to turn my flour-colored dress new for the first day of school.
"Mama will be proud you're spending your dollar to make a bright impression at County Colored," Uncle Bump tells me.
"It's West Thunder Creek Junior High School," I tell him, and stuff the dollar into my sock. Sure I'm going to the Negro junior high school, but a school's a school. Folks should call it by its proper name and make it sound important.
"Don't dillydally, Addie Ann," Uncle Bump says. He pulls the harmonica out of his pocket and blows a chord. And it's real good to hear him sound those notes, because ever since our boss, Old Man Adams, got the whooping cough, Uncle Bump hasn't had time to play music. "Mama's bringing home some hen tonight," he says. Then he sinks down on the steps of his shed and slides that harmonica across his lips.
I'm heading across the tracks to the white side and I reckon some furry company won't hurt. My cat, Flapjack, and me have a secret code. When I whistle and click my tongue twice, he comes running. Tweet, click, click. Tweet, click, click. Other folk think it's magic, but here he comes, dashing across the pine needles, purring as he threads a figure eight round my ankles.
When we pass Brother Babcock's chicken shack, my stomach growls. And when we get to Daisy's Dry Goods, I kick up the dirt on the path, because I've been itching to buy a real new dress in there, but right about now, we don't have the money.
As always, once we cross the railroad tracks everything seems whiter and brighter, and I don't mean just the people who live here. The fresh-painted shingles and the white picket fences gleam in the late-afternoon sun. Even Flapjack's tan fur lights up a fiery orange. And my feet are glad to walk on pavement.
By the time we get to the edge of Mr. Mudge's place, the sun's diving into the horizon. Flapjack and me pass by Mr. Mudge's greenhouse and his stable full of cows and pigs, on the way to his farm where my brother works. "Now don't squish the squash," I tell Flapjack before we head across the leafy rows to meet Elias, who's bent like a rainbow over the tomatoes. He's been working this land since he was five.
"Uncle Bump says you've gotta take me to get the dye," I say, and hold up the dollar to prove it's true. But Elias stares straight past me like I'm not even here. Mama always says he's "half legs, half smile," but today his grin is gone. His eyes are sad and distant.
"What's a matter?" I ask. He's probably worried up about getting into college, so I tell him, "I bet you'll even get a scholarship to Morehouse. Then I'll come to Georgia and visit you and we'll--"
"Shut up," he says.
Usually Elias doesn't live on the edge of his mind like me, so right about now I don't know what to think.
"Don't you know 'bout Medgar?" he asks.
"Medgar Evers got shot. Down in Jackson. Late last night. Someone killed . . ." His voice stretches and tightens. Then he swipes the side of his hand under his nose. That's what he does when he gets close to tears. Usually it stops them from sliding down.
Here one guy I never heard of gets shot dead, and now my brother's all ripped up and I'm just about crazy. "He a friend?" I ask.
"He owe you money?"
"No!" Elias rolls his eyes.
"Well, if he ain't a friend and he don't owe you money, what's a matter?"
"Don't you know anything?" he asks.
I turn away. Elias knows I know something. Otherwise, why did I get the highest score on the geography quiz in the whole sixth grade? Okay, sure there are only four kids in the sixth grade at the Negro elementary school, but still, a ninety-six is a ninety-six. I want to remind Elias of this but my throat squeezes shut. I swipe my hand under my nose but my tears get out anyway.
My brother puts his hands on my shoulders, tries to turn me round. "Sorry," he says. "Sometimes I forget you're a little kid."
"Seventh grade's not little," I tell him. Then I blink a lot to get the tears to stay inside. "Now come on. Tell me! Who's this Edgar Mevers?"
"His name is Medgar Evers," Elias says. "He's from the movement."
I nod so my brother will think I know what he's talking about. But I wonder why he can't answer my questions plain and simple. If he's so smart, why doesn't he tell me this: Why do they call it the movement? How can he swipe under his nose and stop crying? And why did Medgar Evers's mama give him such a silly name?
"Well, someone killed him," Elias says, and looks away again. "Left three young children without a daddy."
I reckon Elias probably knows how those poor children feel.
From the Hardcover edition.