Friday, 19 February 2016

Nelle and True (for Harper Lee)

“I hate going outside, I absolutely hate it, hate it, hate it,” said Nelle to the sad looking boy standing at the porch door. 
“You’ve gotta come, ya just gotta,” said the boy. 

“P…l….e…a….s…e!” He said in one of those elongated ways, that folks from town always used. This was Alabama and the way people talked could be used as a weapon, as well as a way into your heart. 
“If the sun is too hot, I ain’t coming,” said Nelle. 
“When is it never too hot?” Asked the boy. 
“Oh you,” shouted Nelle and then stamped her feet. “If you weren’t my best friend, True, I would surely hit you in the face.” 
“No ya wouldn’t,” said True, calmly. 
“No I wouldn’t,” added Nelle sheepishly. 
“So you coming?” 
“Looks like I ain’t got no other choice.”  

True and Nelle had been friends since they were embryos. The first one born probably waited on the other to arrive. They were close as any two souls could be. Nelle loved True’s bouncy hair and True loved the fact that Nelle didn’t realise she was a girl. 

The place they were heading was over on the other side of town, a place her father, Amasa, had told her never to go near. Her mother, on the other hand didn’t care, she never cared about anything Nelle or True got up to. Or anything her father did, either. 

“How did you know it was there?” Nelle asked her pal. 
“I heard two boys talking about it as I passed the old café, said he’d been there for some days.” 
“I guess he must be stinking by now,” said Nelle in a boyish way that True admired.  

On the way there, True had stopped to get a big stick, not to protect himself with, but so he would be able to jab the body when they got there. 
Before True had called on Nelle he’d already had a peek at the body. All he had seen were the feet but the smell told you that someone was lying dead. 

“There he is,” said True, pointing at where he’d seen the feet but True was looking in another direction - just in case – although he wasn’t quite sure what it was he might see if he looked directly at the body. 
“Well I’ll be,” shouted Nelle excitedly. “If it ain’t a dead man.”

And sure enough, that is exactly what it was. Nelle walked right over to the body just as a wave of decomposing flesh hit her nose. Undeterred, she covered her face with her bottom of her shirt and went in for a closer look. 

“Can’t say if he’s a black man or whether the sun just roasted him,” she said. 

True told her that he heard it was a black man who had been chased out of the next town over on account he’d been cheating. 
Nelle asked True what he’d been cheating at, was it playing cards or something? True hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation from the boys but he was sure that they had mentioned something about someone’s wife. 

“He’d been cheating at cards with someone’s wife,” said Nelle, nodding her head as if she’d got to the core of the mystery. 
Not wanting to show any fear, Nelle crawled over and turned the body over. Half of the man’s face had been eaten or bashed in, neither of them were sure. What they were sure of was, that both were just as fascinated by the dead man as each other. 

“You think it’s weird that I think dead people are worth looking at?” Asked True. 
“Nope, ‘cause I was thinking just the same. Dead folks are worth looking at,” said Nelle. 
“You kids should be at school,” said the man behind them blocking out the sun.
“It’s Saturday,” said Nelle and True together. 
“Still, dead bodies ain’t no place for kids,” said the man who turned out to be a policeman. 
“Where you from?” Asked the cop. 

And Nelle and True told him they came from way over the other side of town. 
“What’s your names, so I can inform your folks, and no lies mind, you’ll only make it worse if you do,” said the man. 
“Mine’s, Nelle Harper Lee,” said the girl. 
“And mine’s Trueman Capote,” said the boy. 
“Well skoot,” said the cop. “And don’t let me catch you round this way again, ya hear me?”

By then Nelle and True had wandered off looking for another adventure, but the picture in their heads of the dead black man stayed with them for a long time after. 

bobby stevenson 2016

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