Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sleeping Tiger Wakes; Her Name is Maggie

This is either a short story on it's own, or a prelude to a chapter for something longer I'm writing...haven't decided yet. If you have time to read, please let me know what you think. Thanks in advance, Rose

Scoobie slapped the erasers against the large pine sending a white cloud of dust into the air. It was Friday and she had made it through the first week of school. She was happy that nothing bad happened, happy to take a deep breath for the first time all week. From hearing the muffled conversations of the adults around her, she had expected the worst. She wasn't exactly sure what "the worst" was, but she was relieved it hadn't happened.

Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.

She finished her chore and took the erasers back into her homeroom. Mrs. Grant smiled thanks as she looked up from her stack of papers and grading book.  Scoobie was sure that was probably the spelling test from this morning as she grabbed her books and lunch box and headed to the far side of school and the playground. She might be able to play a game of marbles or swing a little before the buses came to pick them up.

As soon as she rounded the corner of the building, the sight that greeted her eyes drew a tight knot in the pit of her stomach. For just a second she felt sick, like she was going to puke. There, by the slide, was a circle of children around Joseph.

Maggie Bell stood directly in front of him, smirking her plump lips, smeared with her mama's lipstick, into a smile that genuinely revealed her spiteful nature. She stood with her hands on her hips, head cocked to one side, rocking slightly to and fro as she spoke.

"Well, looky here, as if it ain't bad enough that they are a-sendin' coloreds here to our school," she paused and glanced around the crowd of children as if to solicit support, "they had to make matters worse by sending a damned retard! Ain't that a goofy-looking face, looks like he just woke up and cain't even open his eyes wide from being so sleepy!"

"Yeah, Maggie B., you're right, he shore does look crazy!" yelled Tate, Maggie's younger brother. "What you grinnin' at, you stupid little retard?"

Joseph flinched at the raised voices directed at him. The smile slipped from his mouth and he lowered his head like a dog being scolded. He raised his eyes just enough to glance around the group of children for a friendly face when he caught sight of Scoobie striding toward the group.

"You'd best leave him alone, Maggie Bell Hoover! He ain't nothin' but a little boy and he ain't doin' nothin' to you. Just back off, you hateful old cow!" Scoobie was mad as she had ever been in her life, but even so she couldn't believe the words coming from her mouth.

"I'd best do what? Why, I can beat the hell out of you, little Miss Goody Two Shoes, so YOU better turn around right now while you can still walk away, 'fore you have to crawl!"
Maggie's eyes flashed fire and she had balled her right hand into a fist, shaking it in Scoobie's direction.

"You ain't never been nothin' but a little smart-ass teacher's pet your whole life and I'm jest 'bout sick of you. Course, I ain't surprised, you takin' up for this little retard, since all you ever had to play with out there in the sticks where you live is them niggers!"

By now Joseph had tears streaming down his face and snot running out of his nose. He was frightened and looked timidly up at the big blond girl who was arguing with Scoobie. He attempted to walk out of the circle and to safety, but he was halted by Maggie's hand on his shoulder.

"Just a minute, Retard, I didn't say you could go nowhere, now did I? Come on, Sco-o-o-obie, walk over here close enough so I can jack your jaws for you, you little chicken-shit!" Maggie drawled Scoobie's name mockingly and jerked Joseph closer to her by grabbing his overall strap.

Scoobie walked towards Maggie and her hostage, trembling with each step, but trying to look brave. As she walked past Martha she heard her friend whisper, "Scoobie don't, she'll hurt you and him."

Then, Martha abrubtly turned and bolted toward the school office.

"Martha Hendley! Don't you run your skinny little ass in there and tattle on me girl; I'll get you, too. You just wait and see!" Maggie hurled her threats at Martha's fleeing back.

Scoobie stopped just short of Maggie's reach. She looked around the circle of children. There were ten there, and three of them were Hoovers. She looked each one of the other children straight in the eyes.

"What are y'all gonna do, just stand there and watch her pick on a little boy," Scoobie asked incredulously.

Joseph was crying harder now. He had come to the playground, slipping away from his three brothers, to where the younger children played because it was the one he was used to when school was in session. He liked this side because there was a slide and the swings were lower to the ground. His brothers and the other Negro children were at the back of the school on the swings or playing kick ball.

Integration was new here at the elementary school; it was only the end of the first week of the school year. But already, invisible lines were drawn on the playgrounds. Everyone knew what was unspoken; it was like a rotting carcass on the highway that no one would move. They just put up with the smell and waited for it to pass.

Everybody was on edge; Scoobie could sense it and told her parents so. When asked last night at supper about how things were going, she said everyone was walking on tiptoes like there was a big old mean tiger in the room and they didn't want to wake it. Her daddy laughed, and then stopped when Momma shot him "The Look."

"So nobody's gotten in any fights yet?"

"No Ma'am. But Maggie's been saying things under her breath about Miss Hodges. She says it just loud enough so those around her can hear, and some of them start giggling. Miss Hodges had to send her to Mr. Edward's office this afternoon."

"Scoobie, at the first sign of any trouble from that girl, you let a teacher know, you hear me? If she starts talking back to Miss Hodges or heaven forbid, tries to strike at her, you go straight to Mr. Edward's office."

Scoobie assured her mother she would. The promise was now ringing in her ears. She knew she couldn't go get anybody right now; she had to do this herself. She was hoping Martha found someone soon.

She looked Maggie square in the eyes. Maybe she could reason with her.

"Maggie, let Joseph go, he's only six years old and he ain't hurting anybody."

"NO!" Maggie shouted. "He should have stayed around there on his side of the building! They may force us to sit in the same classroom and eat in the same lunchroom, but school's out for the day and he had no business coming over here. This is OUR side after school."

She shook Joseph's suspenders roughly, making the child cry out in fear.

Scoobie lunged towards Maggie and the frightened boy, not knowing what she would do, except probably end up getting the pure heck beat out of her. She was stopped short by Miss Hodges' angry voice.

"What is going on here? Maggie, let go of that child's clothes right now! I mean it girl, I won't have you picking on anybody, especially a first-grader!"

Maggie held Joseph defiantly, the sides of her jaws working as she clenched and unclenched her teeth. She darted her eyes back and forth from Miss Hodges to Scoobie, while everyone waited for her next move.

The early September heat, combined with the tension, stifled their breath. Had her look of wrath and contempt been a weapon, both Miss Hodges and Scoobie would be withering in agony on the ground as they drew their last gasping breaths. She shook Joseph free from her grasp with such force that he fell to the dirt at her feet. He quickly scooted away towards Scoobie, whimpering like a scolded dog as he went.

Miss Hodges started towards Maggie and was startled into a dead stop by the scream that spewed from the girl's mouth.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" It was a howl of utter rage and she drew back her hand in the posture of a slap.

"I'd think long and hard about that, young lady," Miss Hodges uttered in a low voice that was carefully controlled between her gritted teeth.

"For Gawd's sake, Maggie B., you cain't hit a teacher, even if she is colored!? Tate shouted, "'Sides, ain't none of 'em worth the trouble! Come on, let's go home!"

He turned and walked away towards the road, glancing back after a few steps to see if his sister was following. Maggie had dropped her hand and was looking at the crowd coldly.
"Well, ain't none of you chicken-shits got nothin' to say? Why don't you back me up on this, or are y'all all nigger-lovers too?? She looked defiantly at the group, none of which would return her gaze.

"Bunch of lilly-livered, nigger-lovin' asses," she muttered in disgust, cutting her eyes toward Miss Hodges, as she turned to follow her brother. The other two Hoover brothers slunk away after their siblings. The crowd watched them disappear around the corner and stood quietly, only Joseph’s whimpering breaking the awkward silence.

Then, the sound of the high school bus horn, blowing to warn the elementary school children that it was coming, startled them into action. They scattered like squirrels towards the front of the school to gather books and lunch boxes and assemble in a line to board the buses.

Scoobie squatted down to help Joseph. She patted him reassuringly on the back as Tyrone came running around the corner of the building. He stopped in his tracks for a moment when he saw Scoobie and his baby brother.

He rushed over to them. "Joseph, I'm so sorry I weren't here to help you. Why did you leave? You knows you 'sposed to stay on that side with us." He extended a hand to help Joseph off the ground.

Looking at Scoobie he smiled. "Thank you for standin' up for him Scoobie, he cain't hardly take up for hisself."

"Well, she did a fine job of taking up for him, so don't you worry about that!" said Miss Hodges as she walked toward the children. "And, I intend to let Mr. Edwards know everything that went on here so don't y'all worry about any trouble from Maggie."

Scoobie sighed heavily. Miss Hodges didn't know Maggie very well at all, having just started teaching this school year. She didn’t know any of the Hoovers, they could be real mean.

She tried to explain, "Well, those Hoovers ain't exactly the kinda people you want to make mad, Miss Hodges. I appreciate your tellin' Mr. Edwards but I'm gonna have to watch my step around here for a while with her as it is, so I hope she don't get in too much trouble . It'll just make her that much madder at me."

 Scoobie turned and started towards the buses.

 Miss Hodges caught up with her, laying a hand on her shoulder, "You did the right thing Scoobie. I know it was hard, but you listened to your heart."

Scoobie nodded her head in understanding; her eyes were filled with tears. "I know, I know and I'm glad I did, but it won't make this year any easier for me."

The bus ride home seemed to take forever and Scoobie sat a seat at the back staring out the window, her mind racing. This was not the way she had planned for the school day to end. Maggie could make life miserable for her and she knew it.

She didn't relish having to be on her toes all year as a means of surviving the wrath of a Hoover. They had been known to hold grudges for years, sometimes even to the point where the other person had forgotten the argument, and then strike back.

Just going to the bathroom would take a lot of thought and planning, because the last thing Scoobie would want is to be caught in that bathroom at the same time as Maggie Bell. She was sure that girl would beat the living daylights out of her first chance she got! Maggie would be willing to face the consequences just to get even, Scoobie had no doubt of that.

Scoobie felt weary, she was glad it was Friday. At least she had the weekend to shield her from Maggie's wrath. She heard someone walking down the aisle towards her. They stopped short of her seat. She looked from the bus window to see who it was.

It was Joseph. His eyes were swollen from crying, and he wore a tenuous smile. Scoobie patted the seat beside her and he slipped in.

"Are you alright Joseph?"

"I okay. Tank you Coobie."

Scoobie was used to Joseph's limited speech due to his impediment. His momma worked for Scoobie's family and she had known him and his brothers ever since she was a little girl. 

Living in a small turpentine village, as the only white family, Scoobie grew up having all the colored children as playmates. She didn't understand the big to-do about integration. She didn’t understand why so many people were so mad that they were all going to go to school together.

"I'm glad you're okay, Joseph. I'm sorry for the awful things she said to you. She's a mean girl; her whole family is that way. She had no right to treat you like that." Scoobie reached out and patted Joseph's small hand.

The child looked up at Scoobie and smiled, his face soft with gratitude. He leaned his head against her shoulder.

Scoobie felt her breath catch and her eyes tear up. She wondered why the world had to be so hard and hateful sometimes.

Outside the pine trees whirled by as the bus rolled along the highway towards their little village. She took a deep breath and sighed. Today she felt much older than her twelve years. Momma and Granny often told her she was an old soul.

Today, for the first time, she thought she finally understood what they meant.

It was going to be a long school year. She would have a tiger stalking her every move.

Rose S. Williams


  1. This story was born out of both my memory and fiction...things that happened may not have been exactly this way, that's why we call it fiction, but it serves to tell a story that was repeated in various forms, all over the South during the intergration of the schools.
    The characters are no one person, and yet they are all of us...what parts we played, we know in hour hearts. I've tried to portray the language true to what I remember in terms of slang and dialect and words used...even the painful ones that we try to avoid. To leave it out, would be pretending it wasn't said...when we all know it was.

  2. Our hearts...not hour hearts :)

  3. I finally read this, I'm glad I did, had a pretty long discussion about people who think racism, segregation, slavery, etc. Is over and people should get over it. Ignorance, especially when they don't truly know what "it" is. I love you cuz! P.Roe