The Shooting

Earl Stubbs

nonfiction

Heavy moisture saturated the bitter north wind that sullen afternoon in December. It was 1940, and this was my first year in public school. I left the rural school building, crossed federal highway 67, and made my way past the Old Union Baptist Church.  Mama had long since ceased meeting me at the highway crossing. After all, I was six, and it interfered with one of her naps.  I hurried down the dirt road as the wind bit through my thin trousers. It didn’t take long to get there, since only a short distance seperated our small white house from the church.

As I approached, I noticed a strange car in the drive. John L., my foster-sister’s wayward husband, laughed and talked to the occupants of the car.  Then his wife, Ellie, came charging out of the house, waving Johnny’s old .38 pistol.  As usual, she cursed a blue streak.  She pointed the gun toward the car and pulled the trigger several times.  Dull, thumping sounds insued.

The driver the car backed it toward the dirt road and then, with wheels spinning, hurtled toward the highway intersection.  I managed to move out of the way as the car roared past. I could hear people yelling.

Ellie, her fit of anger depleted, dropped the gun, fell to the ground, and sobbed. Johnny picked up the weapon and stared at it.  Then, he tossed it back on the ground, got in his car, and charged off leaving a trail of exhaust.  Ellie struggled to her feet and began calling for her mama.

I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t go back to school, and I couldn’t face the insanity inside the house.  I needed some time to process this new situation.  There had been lots of shouting and threats before, but never been any shooting, and it was scary.

Due to the thick clouds, and general gloom, the road past our house was exceptionally dark that day, but for some reason, the tunnel of elms didn’t look so bad.  That road had always frightened me.  Never able to explore past the rise before, I made my choice, fastened my aviator cap under my chin, and dropped the glasses over my eyes.  I walked past the house and tossed my book satchel into the yard.  Then, I hurried into the quickening breath of the north wind.

Much to my surprise, the road past the rise was pretty much the same as the rest.  I felt no yearning to return home, so I kept on moving.  As dusk approached, the darkness increased along with the cold.  My light coat was not getting it done, so when I came upon a creek with a large culvert, I decided to get out of the wind. I sat down and did my best to ward off the freezing air.  I became drowsy and soon slipped off to sleep.

The sounds woke me.  Hounds bayed and people shouted. Then, I discovered that I was freezing cold.  My teeth chattered.  Soon, something wet touched my face in the form of the long tongue of a hound dog.  Within a minute, strong hands lifted me from the culvert and wrapped me in blankets.  I don’t recall much about the trip back home, but I do remember feeling the warmth of the feather bed overcome the discomfort of the cold.

We never saw John L. again, which was better for everyone, especially John L.

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