Bess ran as fast as her legs could carry her; sweat dropping from her forehead, dampness between her thighs, her eyes open wide as if she’d seen a ghost. She came to the river edge, stopped and looked wildly behind her, searching around like a deer chased by hounds. She was breathing hard, her breast rising a falling, her head shaking. She’d heard about lynching, but not seen one until just now at edge of town; the crowds jeering, laughing, smiles, as if it were some damned circus come to town. She put her arms around her in a caress of her body, a comforting gesture, a need of closeness. She pricked up her ears for sound; any sound; the jeers and laughter had gone now, only birds, slight wind in the trees, undergrowth rustling. She listened, stiff with fear. She heard disturbance in the undergrowth, movement. She stared into the woods, her eyes fixed for movement. Someone was coming, she could sense them, smell them, she was sure. A young white youth came out; it was Morrison.

- What you doing here, Bess? Thought you were going to meet me later?
Bess stared at him, her mouth fixed in openness, words not coming.

- What’s the matter; look like you’ve seen a ghost?

Bess moved away from the edge of the river, walked slowly towards him. Her lips made the motion, but still words couldn’t come. Morrison opened his arms to her, but she stood a few paces away staring at him. Her large eyes searching his features, his lips, his blonde hair.

- What is it? My daddy been at you again?

Bess shook her head. She turned, pointed behind them. Her thin coloured finger gesturing into the woods.

- Hanging, Bess mumbled. Seen a man hanged.

Morrison looked back toward the woods.

- Who? Who was hanged? Morrison asked, placing his hand on Bess’s shoulder.

- They lynched Paul Smith, Bess muttered, sensing Morrison’s hand on her, feeling its coolness against her hotness.

- I heard lot of shouting and such, but I thought it was some partying going on or some such thing, Morrison said.

- White men, boys even, seen them, jeering, laughing, Bess said, her voice pinched tight.

- I thought Paul Smith was in the jailhouse?

Bess nodded. Her tight curls moved like a small dark sea.

- He was. They went took him out. No one stopped them.

Morrison said nothing; he moved his arms closer around Bess. She gazed at him uncertainly.

- Think your daddy was there.

- He was?

-Yes. Bess laid her head on Morrison’s shoulder.

- How could he? Damned if I know him, Morrison said.

- He’s just like the rest; ain’t no different, Bess muttered, anger rising in her voice.

- I’m different; I ain’t like them, Morrison said, sensing Bess’s tenseness beneath her blouse.

- If your daddy knew you were here with me, he’d lynch me too.

- Madness, Morrison said, madness got him and them.

Bess breathed in deeply. She could hear Morrison’s heart thumping beneath his shirt. It was vibrating against her ear.

- I’m scared, Bess said, scared of what will happen next?

Morrison held her closer to him. He kissed her tight black curls.
- Have to go elsewhere; up to New York or some place, Morrison said.

- With what money, Morrison? I ain’t got any, Bess said.

- I got some; money I’ve saved.

- Where’d we go? Even in New York, we’d be shunned. White boy and black girl wouldn’t go down well, even there. Not together, not holding hands, kissing.

Morrison frowned in thought. He could smell her fear; could feel her anger in her stiffness.

- Better than here; at least there’d not be hangings. We could see each other without all this creeping around at nights in out of the way places, Morrison said.

Bess lifted her head, kissed Morrison’s cheek. She put her arms about his waist, squeezed him tightly.

- If we did go, when would this be? Bess asked softly.

Morrison breathed heavily. He looked at her eyes staring him.

- Soon. I’ll find out about trains. Get news about jobs.

Bess shook her head. She smiled weakly.

- What would I do?

- There’d be work for you.

- Doing what?

- More than there’s here to do.

- And where’d I stay? We couldn’t live together. Bess looked at Morrison’s eyes gazing at her.

- I’ll sort some place out.

- Doubt it’d be together.

- Might be.

Bess shook her head.

- No, she muttered.

- I’ll find us a place together.

- No one’s take us together.

Morrison stared at Bess’s lips, the way they were parted, her tongue just visible in between.

- I’ll find us a place, Bess.

- What if there isn’t no such place?

- There will be some place.

Bess sighed. She wanted to believe Morrison, wanted what he wanted, but she couldn’t believe that such a place existed.

-Not if people like those I saw just now have their way there won’t be such a place, Bess said.

- There’s got to be a better place, Bess, where people like us can be together, there’s got to be, Morrison said.

- There are laws against it; against us marrying, anyway, I heard.

- I don’t care about laws. I care about you and me, Morrison said. He leaned forward and kissed Bess.

There was a noise behind them; they parted, moved away from each other. They stared at the place where the noise came from. Bess felt the fear rise in her again. She clutched her hands together, recalled the hanging man swaying from the tree, the jeering, the laughter, the white smiles. Morrison moved toward the area to noise came from, his eyes peering hard.
A rabbit ran out; stopped and stared at Morrison. Its eyes scared; its ears pricked up. Suddenly it turned, ran back into the woods. Bess let out a withheld breath; fixed her eyes on Morrison. He turned, smiled at her. She ran to him, embraced him; to drive out the fear, drive away the images, to feel his closeness, his warmth, his love.

Morrison sensed her fear relax, her arms around him, her breast again him, her lips kissing his, all words gone, all fears put aside, and somewhere the other side of the woods, the body of black man swayed in the breeze unknowing, unaware, unfeeling, yet maybe his spirit, moving through the woods, released at last, would witness, would hope, would maybe bless.



Horsham, United Kingdom

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