The Dying Ground

The Dying Ground by Nichelle D. Tramble Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: The Dying Ground by Nichelle D. Tramble Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nichelle D. Tramble
Antonia uses too many spices.” She tossed a bruised tomato into a wooden barrel. “I mash them bruised ones up and put them back in the soil.”
    “Is that right?”
    “That’s what makes my product fresher. I have customers coming all the way from Orinda and Marin now. Rich white ladies in big cars always trying to give me they old clothes. I tell ’em, just pay me my money. I didn’t ask you for all that.”
    I picked up an old copy of
The Oakland Tribune
discarded on the stairs. The headline consisted of a number: 146. Since the first murder of 1989 the
Tribune
had kept a gruesome tally, its sensationalized headlines heralding Oakland’s escalating murder rate.
    “Mrs. Johnson, has Felicia been here to see you?”
    She disappeared behind a tree, and something in her pause let me know she’d seen my friend.
    “She usually helps me out on Sunday afternoons. Last week she and that boy of hers came by here and took me to a picture show. Something silly with that Eddie Murphy boy in it.” She chuckled to herself.
    “Have you seen her since?”
    The thud of rotten tomatoes hitting the bottom of the barrel filled the air.
    “Mrs. Johnson?”
    “You remember my husband Sherman, Maceo?”
    I was caught off guard by the question. “Of course I remember Uncle Sherman.”
    “He was a good man, my Sherman. He wasn’t the kind of man you got in trouble behind. He wasn’t handsome enough for that.” She paused. “But Felicia’s boy he was handsome. Strong. Just the kind of man I went backwards around corners to avoid.
    “You know your grandmother’s sister got herself in trouble behind some man, too. Back in the forties when we first came out here. Celestine.” She shook her head. “She was fast, but she didn’t deserve what she got.”
    The murder of my great-aunt, Celestine Bouchaund, Gra’mère’s sister, still sat on the police books as unsolved. Her death was rarely talked about in our family, but every couple of years the press would resurrect the story. Her murder was to Oakland what the Black Dahlia murder was to Los Angeles,and it plagued Gra’mère like a salted wound. Except for the odd times it made the paper, no one ever mentioned Celestine aloud.
    The one time I’d asked Daddy Al about it he’d placed his finger across his lips to silence me. Then he’d whispered, “Black justice, Southern style.” I took it to mean that, like most unsolved crimes in the Black community, the people closest to the victim knew the perpetrator and had handled the payback themselves. Quiet. Swift. No police.
    “Pretty and slick were two things I never trusted in a man, but Celestine got her head turned just like Felicia did. I’m not saying her fella was all bad, but most people ain’t got lives long enough for the life he wanted to lead.
    “When Billy first started coming around here with Felicia, he didn’t think I remembered him from when y’all was little, but even my boy, Numiel, knew him. I remembered him well. The four a y’all spent that summer together at Red Fields in Claiborne Parish.”
    My mind had avoided images of that summer since Holly walked into Cutty’s. The last year the three of us could still be considered a trio, Daddy Al caught wind of the troubles that could pull us away from ourselves and each other. Too many of his friends had lost their boys to the streets, nothing new, but it looked more treacherous each year.
    Daddy Al and his cronies still lived as if they’d never left Louisiana, as if an entire city hadn’t grown up around them and choked the weeds of their country mores and traditions. The remedies they offered against modern temptations did not take root against the urban ills of their new environment, but their preference for “back home,” a home many of them had left behind nearly fifty years before, still took precedent.
    Before I could stifle images of Daddy Al’s solution to our budding manhood, a picture of Billy and Holly hitting my fastballs into the

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