Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)
TITLE: Days of No Recourse
By Leigh MacKelvey
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Honorable Henry C. Jacobs comes in through the door behind his bench and motions his court back into their seats.
“Mr. Bailiff, call in the jury.”
I watch twelve white men file in somberly, as if they had just spent two months instead of two hours sweating out their decision. But I seen ‘em look up at me and curl their lips into sneers. They stare straight through Benny’s face, though, like he ain’t even here.
Standing in the upper balcony with all the other Negroes pressed side by side just like Pappy’s brown sausages sizzling in a frying pan, I feel the sweat dripping and my thin cotton dress stick to my back. Once Benny glances up at me from the defense table. His nervous tic is twitching away and I can see he’s biting his lip so’s he won’t let loose the sobs that come so easily to him ever since he seen his parents get strung up in the woods by them Ackerage boys. His face looks right green and he mumbles something to his lawyer who stills him with a hand on his arm.
Jeb Wade and I got married when my parents passed and left me to tend fer myself. I was fifteen and Jeb was thirty-five and a good man. His Pappy and his ma, Mis’Maybelle, was fond of me. I become the daughter they’d always longed fer. Jeb’s brother, Benny, was just a kid back then and he had the kindness of heart I ain’t never seen in nobody. He’d walk miles into Dennisville so’s he could take that little boy who had his skin burnt off his body to the store. But then when Pappy and Mis’Maybelle got killed, Benny was too skeered to walk anywhere much anymore.
It happened on the outskirts of Dennisville here in Mississippi. The Ackerage boys had a habit of drinking all day and making mischief with colored folk at night. The moon swung low through the pine trees, just low enough to light a path for Pappy, Mis’Maybelle and Benny to lead the new mule through the woods. They stumbled onto the Ackerage boys who was finishing up a case of beer under a tall pine. Them boys decided Pappy had stolen the mule from a white man. Benny went running for help, but there was none. We found Pappy and Mis’Maybelle hangin’ from the branches of a pine tree, the crows already swooping down to pluck at their flesh. Everyone knowed about the Ackerage boys, but they ain’t never laid no charge on ‘em. Not a one. After the funeral, Jeb and I figured we had no recourse, so we went home, changed into our overalls and slopped the pigs.
Jeb died that winter and then it was just me and Benny. I kept him close by me ‘cause he was nervous, and rightly so. He’d seen what went on in them woods and them boys wanted him gone in case someday someone brought up the hangin’ again. So when Sheriff Dawson showed up at my cabin and said he was taking Benny in for the murder of Joe Polsen during the robbery of his dry goods store, I weren’t surprised. Sheriff said there was witnesses who seen Benny running out the back door after shots were heard. I reckon I knowed just who those witnesses were.
I took the stand and sweared on the Bible that Benny had been with me all day working the mule and at the time of the murder, he’d been curled up on the rug next to my cot. Nothing swayed me from the truth, not even the cross from that sly-lipped prosecutor.
But now, as that jury files in, I watch, and I see the winks directed at the prosecutor. I ‘speck I already knows what the verdict's gonna be and I knows Benny won’t spend a day in jail. Whispers are floating about a “lynching tonight”. So because I cain’t bear to say good-bye to Benny and because I knows there’s no other recourse, I’m gonna walk out of this court, go home, peel off my sweaty cotton dress, change into overalls and slop the pigs.
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