A STRANGE SUGGESTION
Amilee, though tried and groggy, tried to focus on what Sylvie was saying – as unbelievable as it was. “Remember our senior year a Bradley High, late on moonless nights we’d drive out past town, out to that place I called The Dark Mama’s? We’d dare one another to run up to the door and knock? Remember that?”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Amilee through her tears. “She was supposed to be a witch or something.”
“She’s no witch Amilee,” replied Sylvie. “From what I know about her, she’s a good person. She helped my Uncle Clyde when he broke his back. They said he’d never walk again, but Uncle Clyde’s still walking on his own good feet today. Witches hurt folks Amilee, they don’t help. And folks, especially the older folks who live out that way, they say she has special powers. They might be afraid of her, but they still say she can work miracles. And I believe it!”
“But what can she do for me? What can she do for Billy Frye? Can she bring him back from the dead?” Amilee buried her face in her hands again.
“I’m calling Uncle Clyde. If I have to drag you, Ms Amilee Wilson Allen – as soon as Uncle Clyde sees to it if it’s OK for us to go out there – I’m taking you to see the Dark Mama. And this time, we’re gonna knock on that door – and we’re going IN!
OLD ENON ROAD
“Y’all come at night,” she’d said on the phone. “I don’t want anybody seeing that I’m having company.” And so they did. They drove out old Enon Road for endless miles, over an unbelievably rough and potholed gravel road, into decrepit farm country. The area was a sad sight in the light of day – at night, positively forlorn.
The road grew more narrow, then took a sharp turn to the left. They bumped over a slight rise, and were there, the home of The Dark Mama. The headlights revealed nothing but a shanty – a smallish rectangle of warped and peeling wood. Old tires on either side of the drive, once painted white, held a few flowers. The house looked deserted. “It looks like no one’s home,” remarked Amilee, breathing nervously. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No, wait.” Sylvie noticed a small sliver of light coming from beneath the front door. “I think I can see a light,” she said, turning off the engine. With the car lights off, they could barely make out a faint glow behind heavy dark drapes covering every windows. “Come on.”
“Are you sure we want to do this?”
“Yes I’m sure! And you should be too.” Gravel crunched under foot as the two women walked to the house. A dog barked far off in the distance. Ancient wood creaked in protest as they climbed the steps onto the porch. “Go ahead Amilee, knock.” They waited a full minute or two after knocking. Nothing stirred.
“Come on, let’s go.” Amilee had second thoughts about this. The door squeaked open noisily. Brilliant light flooded the small porch, instantly destroying their night vision. A frail, dark figure stood in the doorway, outlined by the glare beyond. The brilliance behind this dark specter rendered it impossible to make out details.
“Come in chillin,” the specter said. The voice – strong, hearty, and aristocratic, didn’t match the scrawny frame standing in the doorway. “Come in, chillin’ Do come on in.”
THE DARK MAMMA
Neither Sylvie nor Amilee were prepared for what lay before them. The contrast between the outside and the inside was overwhelming. Outside, the old house was a tumbled down shanty. Inside – it was as bright, beautiful and as well-maintained as Amilee’s own home. The floors were hardwood, polished to a deep luster. A thick oriental rug was centered before a heavy, deep cushioned sofa that was to die for. Expensive accessories were in abundance. Brass lamps graced marble end tables, exquisite china filled a massive china cabinet, and two Queen Ann chairs stood off the side. It was nothing short of breathtaking. Beyond the living room, they could see into a well equipped kitchen, something out of ‘Better Homes and Gardens.’ The two ladies stood speechless.
The old woman spoke, “I can’t live like this with the windows opened – especially around this part of the county. Come in – and close the door. What folks don’t know about me won’t hurt ‘em, I say.”
What many folks in the area didn’t know about the old woman, including Sylvie and Amilee, was that the Dark Mama was white.
“You two look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said, as she ambled over to one of the chairs. “But I guess it is kinda spooky seeing and old white woman living alone way out here.” The old woman was old, that was obvious. But just how old was anyone’s guess. Her fair skin bore precious few wrinkles. It appeared as soft as a baby’s. “Actually, I am a quarter black, as if that really matters now. But that’s a different story. “Have a seat,” she said, motioning to the sofa. “If you ladies want coffee, there’s a fresh pot in the kitchen. You can fix it yourself. These old bones aren’t what they used to be.” She flopped down into the chair, resting her right foot on a small hassock. The old woman was ready to hold court.
“T-Thanks for seeing us,” stammered Amilee. “It’s very kind of you. Sylvie tells me that you don’t cotton to visitors these days.”
“Lawd no!” remarked the old woman. “Most folks are plum scared of me, and the rest of ‘em just wants to rob me blind. Yes sir, me and my cats get along just fine out here, keepin’ to ourselves.” The old woman’s face took on a look of solemn seriousness. She leaned forward a bit. She raised her right hand haltingly to her tiny chin, the thumb and forefinger gently squeezing it, making a dimple where none was before. She looked deep into Amilee’s eyes, as if trying to see into her very soul. “Tell me what ya want child. Tell me what you need from an old lady like me.”
The old woman had a commanding presence. He spirit, her essence, hung heavily in the room. Amillee was awed. And yet she felt no fear. Respect yes. But not fear. Surely this was no witch. “Do you know who I am?Asked Amilee. Have you heard of me in the papers or on TV?”
The old woman sat back on the sofa, a broad grin across her face. “Lawd no child! I have no TV and no use for newspapers, exceptin’ maybe to line the birdcage. No child, I don’t know who you are. Tell me… what brings you way out here!”
“Well…” Amilee hardly knew where to start. “I’m an attorney in town. A few years back I was the Assistant District Attorney for the county. The law practice has done well.” A bite relaxed now, she continued. “There’s a lot of us who feel the state needs a woman at the capitol, one who looks out for all the people, not just the same good ole boy bunch as usual.” She paused to take a deep breath. “I’m running for governor, and I’m told that I have a good chance this year.”
“Do tell,” the old woman added.
“Sylvie and I met in high school. We were classmates. Maybe you heard that she was raped. It created quite a stir – a racial stir I might add.”
“The boys, white, came from wealth families – the old rich if you know what I mean – money AND power. It was swept under the carpet.” The old woman nodded. “A few years ago, when I was assistant district attorney, I forced the case to be reopened. We brought the 2 boys to trial – and won. They’re in the state pen now, where they belong.”
“And -” the old woman leaned forward again, focusing on every word.
“Obviously, the boy’s daddies would like nothing more than to see me fail.”
“Ah-ha!” the old woman exclaimed, rocking back on the sofa. In a scoffing tone she remarked, “So you want me to help you with ya political ambitions!”
“No. No!” pleaded Amilee. “No. Not that at all. That’s something I’ve got to do on my own.”
“Then what child? What is it what you want from this old woman?”
“Yesterday,” began Amilee, “I was on my way to a press conference – a very important press conference. I had a thousand and one things on my mind. I really shouldn’t have been driving, I know that now. My mind was so filled with stuff that I might as well been drunk. I guess I was going too fast. I – yes – I was. I was running late. But that’s no excuse.” Leaning forward, a tear rolled down Amilee’s cheek as she continued – “I hit a young boy on his bicycle – on his way to school. He was only 12. And I killed him!” Amilee burst into retching sobs.
“Here dearie, take these.” The old woman reached to hand Amilee a box of tissues. Deep compassion filled her face.
“I don’t care about the governor’s mansion now. They can have it! All I want is for that young boy to still be alive!” Amilee twisted and tore at the tissues, unaware that pieces were falling like snowflakes onto the carpet. Amilee fell back into her chair, drained. She’s bared her soul, and now she was spent. Her mouth made no sounds, but her eyes said it all with an intensity which literally screamed, “HELP ME!”
The old woman sank back in her chair, which seemed to swallow her. “I’m not a miracle worker, child,” she said. “I’m no witch either, although folks round here swear I am. And – I’m no magician! Fact is child, there’s no such thing as magic.” Even before she completed the words, the old woman’s hand was slowly rising. “The truth is, child, I can’t help ya. I can’t do nothing for you.” She reached forward, and thrust a boney finger straight at Amilee. “Folks don’t understand this – but most times we make our own miracles.”
She leaned back into the sofa. “How much do you want this thing? How much do you want this miracle. And this would be a miracle! How much do you want this boy to still be a-living?”
Amilee practically leaped from the chair. “More than anything,” she cried. “More than anything in the world!”
“Let me tell ya a story,” the old woman began. “It’ll explain to you how I come to be helping folks like you to help themselves.” The old woman seemed to be gathering herself. Anticipation of great news and great truths filled the room as if it were static electricity.
“I was born and raised way up in Wisconsin. That’s because my great-grandmomma got her hide as far from the South as she could. Great-Grammie was a slave, somewhere in Alabama. She and her brother were owned by a fellow from Boston. He owned the Alabama place, but was hardly ever there. He left the place under the care of the devil’s own brother – maybe the devil’s daddy. Not just mean – that ole coot was plain evil!” She paused for a moment to place a peppermint in her mouth.
“White folks now-days want to think that was all was sunshine and roses on the plantations; happy workers slavin’ merrily away in the fields while little pickaninnies ran around eatin’ ice cream all day. Baloney! No child. It was hell on earth – especially in Alabama where my Great-Grandmother was.” She paused to take a couple of deep breaths.
“Just for the sport of it, that slave-master raped my Great-Grandmother Laud knows how many times, right there in the fields for all to see – right in front of her own brother – who couldn’t do a blessed thing about it.” As if trying to remove the bitter taste of those words, she popped another peppermint into her mouth.
“At the far end of the field was an old Oak tree. Big ole thing. Reached half way to the sky. When she could, my Great-Grammie would slip off and lay under that ole tree. It was like her tree. She felt safe there. She told my momma that she’d lay there, wrap her arms around that ole tree as far as they would reach, and think, and dream, and plan – and wish. Of course, her grandest wish of all was for that evil tyrant to go away. She thought about that long and hard. That was her big wish.”
Amilee and Sylvie hung onto every word.
“One day she slipped off to her tree. She lay there hugging that wooden source of strength, praying’ and hoping’ and wishing’ that devil out of her life. She must-a been wishing mighty hard. My Great-Grandmother was so focused on her wish that she didn’t see him he walk up! He just stood there, looking down at her with those evil, lust-filled eyes. It was a spring morning. The sun was high. Not a cloud in the sky. Just as the ole devil began unbuckling his belt, a blinding flash a light – and a deafening crash a thunder shook the old tree. Outta no-where, a bolt a lightning split that old tree right smack down the middle! The ole devil looked up just in time to see it come crashing down right square on top of him! It smashed that devil flat! Momma said that Great-Grammie WILLED that devil dead.”
“And you child,” she said, pointing a boney finger at Amilee, “If you want it bad enough, you can have your wish too!”
“But I do want it!” said Amilee, tears streaming down her pleading face, “I really do! I want it more than anything!”