July 1, 2009
These last few months have been a-frightful terror to my conscience. My body is weak and I been doin’ much ruminating on the subject of my life now that I feel it endin’. That golden chariot my Daddy always told me about seem destin’ to swoop on down and carry me up to heaven and I don’t wanna be left wit’ no regrets. But ever’body got ’em.
Now here I am, all laid up in the infirmary, just watching an ole’ clock tick the seconds away. There’s a newspaper on the table that says President Roosevelt just got shot. He didn’t die though. That’s a violent way to go. A body’s got no time to do any thinkin’ goin’ out in such a manner. I understand now why Daddy had that calmness in his eyes. He looked at peace well before he went to meet his maker. He was thinkin’ back. Just thinkin’ back.
I’m older than my Daddy ever was by a long shot. Nearly sixty now. Don’t know any other black folk that come to live that long. The other boys down at the yard already callin’ me Papa Methuselah! Now, I find myself lookin’ back down the dusty road of my life. There’s a clearness you get in your mind when you knockin’ on the door. You recall the story of your life and all the cast of characters in it. You remember the hero’s and the helpers, the victims and the villains. You remember the gal’s who you done gave a few slivers of your heart to every now and again. Most folk can love a few people I expect, just giving out little pieces of their soul one at a time.
Not me though. I gave my whole heart to one woman. And that girl ran wit’ it all the way to Tennessee. And she ran off wit’ it for the sake of an ugly man who she just fell in love wit’, leavin’ me all alone.
Now, I ain’t never reckon’d myself to be good lookin’ man. I ain’t a good dresser; the sense of fashion passed over my head like barn swallows headin’ South come winter time. Not that I could afford them kinda clothes anyway. Ha! Imagine me walking around like Jack Johnson with tailored suits, makin’ the white women swoon. HeHe! Not in Alabama, boy! No sir. That’d never fly down here. Especially from a railroad worker such as myself. Hell, even the black folk woulda made a great game of my apparel. Folk say that I got a face of a worker, whatever that means. I always took it to mean sturdy and strong, but not particularly graceful, so fancy suits would never suit me. But I’m a good man and I deserved a good woman.
I wasn’t never one for romance neither. My momma told me -and lying on this hospital bed with regrets around me a-swirlin’, I expect she was right- that little girls are the downfall of man. Even in Bible times it was usually women-folk makin’ the trouble. Jezebel tricked the people worship a false god. The Lord turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed him. And Eve got her man kicked right outta Paradise for all of eternity, all for a dumb apple! Those was some lessons I shoulda takin’ mind to. But when you see a pair of red lips like my baby’s, red as the eyes of Satan, it’s hard to remember all that Scripture.
So I fell in love. Head over heels over head over heels in love. We was inseparable. But she was a Jezebel herself and she played an awful trick on my heart. After 8 months of tenderness, she met another man. A man by the name of Joe.
Now I knew Joe. I expect everyone did. Ugliest man in town, they said. Hair like a hazelnut bush, a flat nose that looked like it’d been iron’d and starched by a housemaid, and an eye that was unmistakably sickenin’. But no one ever let him know that he was ugly on the count of that he was a large man, unscrupulous too. Joe was a bootlegger and a moonshiner. Fact, that was the reason his eye was off; the boy drank so much corn-whiskey that his left eye done clouded over and turned as white as a piece of cotton.
Well, they ran off together right behind my back. I been alone ever since. And now on this here mattress with the Golden Chariot roundin’ the corner, I can’t help thinkin’ about Joe and how he ran off with my baby. Now I don’t know where he came from and I don’t know where he gone with my girl. All I do know is that if it hadn’t a’ been for Cotton Eye’d Joe, I’d a’ been married a long time ago.