This installment of our serial story was written by Abby Barnhart. After you spend some time with her installment, make your way over to her site. She’s, as we like to say, good people. THANKS ABBY!
To read the first two parts, click here.
Momma may have been righteous, but she was also a racist, plain and simple. There were no colored people in Millwood. Not a one for miles around. In fact there weren’t many people at all. You know a town’s tiny when all’s they do to name it is combine two family names. There was black folk in the city, sure, but Spokane was a pit even then. And Momma never went near it. Heathens. In the alleys, in the shelters. That’s all she saw. That’s all she knew.
When I told her about Janell – one N, two L’s – she looked like she’d seen the ghost of Sinatra himself. The girl’d started showin’ up around the paper mill when her Pop got transferred from the Spokane warehouse. She’d collect cans for nickels, and her voice made me forget everything. When Momma heard me singin’ those hymns, she said Janell might be fine in the Lord’s book, but I oughtn’t hang around with her if I knew what was best for my future. People talk, you know.
The laptop beeped, warning of a dying battery and distracting Frank from his rememberings. If anyone knew how people talked, it was his Momma. Mary would have been about the red-headed girl’s age when Frank first left home. She was equal parts accident and miracle when she finally showed up. Accident that his Daddy was even around long enough to make a baby, and miracle that his Momma, at 42, could carry one. She spent that whole pregnancy worried she’d never hold Mary in her arms, and the rest of her life trying to keep her little girl from jumping out. They never saw Daddy again after Mary was born, but the fact that he’d come back at all gave Frank some measure of fondness for the features they shared.
He slipped outside the booth, escaping the memory for a moment. The re-circulated air of the indoor mall felt mountain-top fresh to his crowded mind. The woman and babe were nowhere to be seen. He missed her already. With Thornton’s borrowed laptop under his arm, he ducked under the caution tape and headed for the security office. The smell of pretzels and Chinese food followed him past opening doors of department stores and winking marquees. They seemed to believe in him. They knew his secret.
He rounded the corner towards Penney’s and saw Thornton across the way. He was questioning a teenager clad in black with metal stuck everywhere on his skinny bones there was room. Thronton was resting his angry arms on a full potbelly, bolstering the intimidation factor he no doubt thought. The ticket-stub felt heavy in Frank’s shirt pocket as he slipped into Thornton’s office, and he thought about what his Momma would say if she knew how long he’d been holding onto it, how long he’d been a millionaire.
It took just a glance around his friend’s overly-organized closet of an office to find the laptop’s chord. In another moment he was crossing the Food Court again, heading back to his lair, back to his memories. He looked back once more to offer a salute of understanding to his lecturing friend and sole secret-keeper, but before he could manage a smirk, he saw them. An unlikely and irresistible pair. In slow motion, he watched the red hair bounce in sync with the black woman’s saunter. They slipped through the revolving doors and into the Crowning Plaza’s parking lot. Frank’s thoughts turned once to the last time he saw Janell and then to toddler Mary’s face in their Millwood window before he finally turned to follow them out.