Excerpt from “An Uncertain Justice”
1922 Daisy, Tennessee
“Isn’t that your little sisters?” Sherman pointed to a group of people having a picnic. Several families were gathered along the creek bank on blankets with picnic baskets. Edna’s family sat toward the middle of the group.
“Edna! Mr. Morton!” Thadda called, running toward them with Dot right behind. “Come on Mr. Morton.” Thadda grabbed Sherman’s hand and pulled him toward the little party.
Edna matched his step and began introductions. “This is my Daddy — Thad Springfield.” The lanky gentleman rose to his feet, shook Sherman’s hand and exchanged pleasantries.
“This is my brother, Hab,” Edna pointed to a 13-year-old blonde.
“Hey.” Hab waved, grabbed a friend’s arm, and started toward the creek.
“And this is my brother, Frank.” Edna pointed. At that moment she realized Sherman was probably around Frank’s age. She hadn’t had enough nerve to mention their age difference yet. But Frank was nineteen, and she thought Sherman looked about the same.
Frank waved, then tipped a mason jar of whisky to his lips. He passed the jar to his father and leaned back on the blanket, resting his head on his hands. “Good night for a picnic,” Frank sighed.
Edna could feel Sherman’s hand stiffen in hers. She looked at him, wondering what had caused the sudden stern expression on his face. His eyes were on her father, who tipped the jar to his own lips.
“Have a seat.” Maude motioned to an open spot. “There’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob.”
Sherman removed his hat and they sat down together. Edna filled a plate for Sherman, handed it to him, and then got her own. While they sat there eating, music began playing on the other side of the creek.
“Where’s that coming from?” Sherman asked.
“It’s the gypsies. They play at night. We like to come out here and sing along with them.” Edna pointed across the creek to a group of campers swathed in brightly colored clothes and scarves. Sherman’s eyebrows rose.
“Have you never seen gypsies before?” she asked.
“No, can’t say that I have,” he replied, his eyes still fixed on the band of colorful travelers.
“Then you’re in for a treat.” Frank slapped Sherman on the shoulder and took another swig of liquor. While Sherman and Edna ate their supper, the instrumental music turned to singing.
“It’s the Gypsy Love Song,” Edna explained.
In the twilight the gypsy voices carried across the creek:
The birds of the forest are calling for thee
And the shades and the glades are lonely
Summer is there with her blossoms fair
And you are absent only.
The people on the creek bank responded:
No bird that nests in the greenwood tree
But sighs to greet you and kiss you
All the violets yearn, yearn for your safe return
But most of all I miss you.
The voices of the picnickers joined with the gypsies:
Slumber on, my little gypsy sweetheart
Dream of the field and the grove
Can you hear me, hear me in that dreamland
Where your fancies rove.
Gypsies: Slumber on
Picnickers: Slumber on
Gypsies: My little gypsy sweetheart
Picnickers: My little gypsy sweetheart
Gypsies: Little gypsy
Picnickers: Wild little woodland dove
Gypsies: All my heart’s true love
Everyone: Can you hear the love song that tells you All my heart’s true love?
The song repeated and Frank got up, grabbed a partner, and started dancing. Everyone clapped and sang. Folks loved to watch Frank dance, and he held nothing back on this occasion. People laughed and cheered. Soon everyone was dancing. Thad and Maude joined in, Hab grabbed a freckle-faced girl, and Dot and Thadda danced with each other. This left Sherman and Edna sitting on the blanket alone.
Sherman watched the people as if he’d never seen anything like it.
“You wanna dance?” she offered.
He shook his head negatively. “I don’t dance.”
She rose to her feet and held out her hand. “It’s not hard. I can teach you.”
“I’d really rather not.” He shook his head vigorously.
“That’s okay,” she shrugged, sitting back down beside him and resting her hand on the blanket. “We don’t have to.”
Edna felt her eyes misting a little and was grateful for the darkness that had settled over the area. The neighbors had started a bon fire, but they weren’t close enough to it to betray her emotions.
She watched the fire and the people dancing. Somewhere along the way she’d used her last strike. The problem was she couldn’t decide when. She thought things were going so well while they were walking, but ever since they reached the creek, Sherman had become sullen and stiff. It was obvious he felt uncomfortable. He didn’t like her family; or worse, he didn’t like her. He certainly didn’t want to dance with her. Sherman acted as if the very thought of it would be like facing a rattlesnake on a trail.
Just as she decided he wasn’t interested in her at all, she felt his hand cover hers and give it a gentle squeeze. She looked toward him and realized he had been watching her while she had been watching everyone else.
He had an entirely different expression on his face now. He stared at her as if he were admiring a work of art. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered just before he leaned over and kissed her cheek. The simple gesture rekindled her hopes.
“An Uncertain Justice” is scheduled for release in summer 2009.