Chapter 1: Savior
HERE’S THE THING ABOUT ME: I ain’t normal. Never have been, never will be. So? That’s my private business and nobody else’s. I got no interest in drawin’ attention to myself for any reason other than my good looks and memorable personality. They don’t understand what I did yesterday, so they’re makin’ a big fuss. I hate it, but what am I sposeta do? Refuse a newspaper interview, with my mother so proud she’s finna combust?
“Can you remember what you were thinking when you first noticed that something was wrong?” a young reporter asks me. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was in high school too.
“Nothin’,” I say. “I could just tell it was gonna fall, so I had to get them outta the way.” This is silliness. Who wouldn’t have done what I did?
He asks a few more questions; then he makes me pose for a photo with the family. The Pritchards. They flash toothy smiles at me, their savior. Had I not been there yesterday when a big ol’ oak tree was about to fall on them and their new, shiny T-Bird convertible, we would not be sittin’ here all sweet and harmonious.
The flashbulb blinds me, and I’m finally free to go. Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard thank me once again. Their toddlers run circles around us, and Mrs. Pritchard’s fat with another one on the way. T-Bird ain’t exactly a family car, but that’s none a my business.
“You should come over to our house for supper one night,” she offers. In a fraction of a second, Mr. Pritchard shoots her a look. Ain’t no way in hell he’s ever gonna let me step foot into his house. Not that I’d wanna go. Plus, white people can’t cook.
“Thank you, but I’m just glad y’all are safe,” I say in my good-girl voice with my forced good-girl smile. I leave the newspaper office’s steps with Mama beamin’ beside me.
“Imma stop sayin’ it, but I am so proud a you, baby. You’re so brave and selfless.”
“Honestly, I just didn’t have time to think,” I say.
“That means savin’ folks is just who you are then. Don’t lessen it. This is a great thing you done.”
We get to the bus stop and wait.
“Whatcha wanna eat tonight? I’ll make whatever you want, and you don’t even have to help me.”
“Maybe chicken and dumplin’s,” I tell her.
“Shoulda known. I was guessin’ you’d say shrimp and grits, but chicken and dumplin’s woulda been my second guess,” she says.
I mighta said “shrimp and grits,” but the last time I asked for it, she complained about the rising price of certain kinds a fish, so I thought it was off limits.
She bumps me with her shoulder, and I can’t help but grin. It’s a weird affectionate thing she used to do when I was little.
Mama doesn’t know the whole story, though. I’m not a hero.
It’s the end of a mostly mild spring. There was no storm or high winds. No reason for a giant oak like that to just plummet to the ground. I was foolin’ around cuz I got mad. I’d ridden my trusty Schwinn into a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. Hadn’t meant to, I just wasn’t payin’ attention. I stopped to figure out where I was and how I ended up there when a man approached me.
“Who do you belong to?” he asked, givin’ me the dirtiest look.
“No one. I just got lost,” I explained, backing me and my bike away from him.
“I suggest you get unlost ’fore you catch some real trouble,” he barked, and then he marched across the street to the car where his wife and kids waited for him. The wife was hollerin’ at the little ones to get in the car, but they didn’t pay her no mind.
When he got to the driver’s-side door, before gettin’ in, he said something to the woman, and she got closer to him. They talked for a few more seconds—I was too far away to hear what they said—and the wife looked over at me, shakin’ her head in disgust. Like the very sight a me was ruinin’ their whole day.
That ol’ oak tree was big enough and near enough that I thought, Wouldn’t it be somethin’ for these folks to have an accident right now?
It was a quick thought, and I don’t think I meant it, but it didn’t matter. A sharp headache ripped through me, and the tree started rockin’ at the bottom of its trunk. And it kept on rockin,’ harder and harder. Couldn’t believe my eyes. I tried to make it stop, but then I heard the unmistakable creakin’ sound of wood startin’ to snap.
I ran over and shoved the family outta the way. All of ’em. And then the tree came down, crushin’ that shiny new car.
Once they got over the initial shock, the kids started cryin’ and screamin’, and their parents tripped over each other thankin’ me. I made the mistake of tellin’ ’em my name, which is how the newspaper found me.
So yeah. Sure. I guess I saved the Pritchards from certain death. But nobody knows I tried to kill ’em first.