Friday, December 27, 2013

Fiction Friday: Clean Steps, Part 1

Another story for this year's NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge! In each round, we're given a genre, a location, and an object that must be used in a 1,000 word story. In this round, I was given Historical Fiction / A Church / A Bucket. I decided to write a story set around the Mississippi civil rights workers' murders. Enjoy!

They called it the Freedom Summer, but for a rebellious black girl like me who thought she knew everything at age 7, it was the summer of oppression. Only halfway through June and the heat in Mississippi was already sticking my cotton dresses to my back as I suffered through a new era of injustice known as summer chores.

“If you’re not workin’ hard at school,” my daddy had said, “then you can be workin’ hard ‘round here.”

Daddy’s church was the finest in Mount Zion township. The whitest paint, the most comfortable pews, and the best gospel choir in the state. All of this was according to him, of course. He took pride in every aspect of the church and wanted me to take part in upholding its image.

“Folks want clean steps when they walk in for worship. Clean steps make them feel like they’re entering the Lord’s house.”

So twice a week, it was my job to trek across the church grounds, past the tiny house where we lived with my mama and little brother, and fill a dented old tin bucket with water to wash the steps of the Lord’s house.

Of all the chores holding down my spirit that summer, this was the worst. The pump on the well got stuck all the time and carrying a full bucket of water was nearly impossible because the wire handle would cut into my fingers. I started to make two trips with half full buckets – one for washing and another for rinsing.

On the day my world began its painful shift to the realities of the time, I arrived at the water pump to find a blonde-haired white boy shooting pebbles into my bucket with his slingshot.

“Hey!” I yelled as I approached quickly. “That’s my bucket!”

He looked up, shocked by the intensity coming from my three and a half-foot frame. “Huh?”

“I said, this is my bucket!” I grabbed it and turned it upside down, shaking out a handful of pebbles onto the muddy ground.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, watching as I placed the bucket under the spout and moved around to the handle. “You need any help?”

“No, I’m fine.” Though of course, the handle refused to move. I pulled and pulled to no avail. Suddenly, the boy was standing next to me, grabbing the handle with his chubby hands. We shook it together until it gave and water spilled from the spout. The boy smiled at the sight.

“That was fun. What else you doin’ today?”

“None of your business,” I said, pumping until the bucket was half full.

“Oh come on, I’m bored. My big brother’s mad at me again, so I can’t go home.”

“I got work to do,” I said, walking away. He was still there when I returned for my second half bucket of water.

“My name’s Joey,” he said. “What’s yours?”


Click here to read Clean Steps, Part 2

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