The serial story continues. To read the first EIGHT parts, click here.
The man behind me on the bus out of Millwood finally asked why I kept staring at him. I lied and told him that he looked like someone I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he looked like one of Mama’s hogs. The man smiled, pressed me, asked me who it was. I chuckled and said, “the grand general of the black pig army, sir.” He looked at me cross ways, squinted his eyes, offset his jaw to the right and told me that if I couldn’t give a straight answer he’d carve me up like a Christmas ham. This time I laughed and noted, “ironic, I reckon.” Without breaking gaze, I pulled my cap slowly down over my eyes and reclined my seat.
We cruised along the highway, making the occasional stop at a small town bus station or diner. From time to time I’d switch buses, make the connections that would take me to New York. Through it all, the pig general followed along with a small stack of Kerouac books and Time magazines. I didn’t figure him much for a lover of Kerouac. Then again, he probably didn’t figure me for the lover of a full-figured, full gospel woman.
In Portville we boarded a bus full of hippies. They carried travel guitars and smelled of marijuana. They sat near the front, sleeping off some kind of funk. Moving further to the back, I chose a seat next to a large woman who could have been in Janell’s church choir. She smelled of boiled peanuts, coconut oil, and RC Cola. She asked me if she could bum a smoke but I told her I didn’t have none. She said that was a shame and told me I smelled like Kansas. I asked what that was supposed the mean. She just patted my arm and asked me what I was running from. Nothing, I said. She smiled and asked, “you running from love or your mama?” I told her it wasn’t like that. She turned to look out the window and lulled, “mmm-hmmmm.”
The air brakes released and as the bus eased out of the station, I thought about Janell, about the possibilities of life together. At only twelve weeks, her body wasn’t showing the changes yet. When she told me, I immediately took to planning. We talked about which side of the tracks we’d call home, asked which side had the smaller throwing stones. We considered the possibilities, considered sticking it out with the spiritual singers of Janell’s church but we knew it wouldn’t work. After all, Millwood was just like the rest of 1967 America. There were only two unpardonable sins—fascism and miscegenation.
On the Saturday before Easter, we visited Elder Johnson. We had planned on asking him to marry us quietly in his home. We’d threaten to live in sin if he wouldn’t. But when we arrived mama and little Mary were sitting on his couch, Mama visibly uncomfortable with the black protestant feel of it all. She came right out and asked us whether Janell was pregnant, said she’d heard rumors, said she wouldn’t help raise no mixed up son of a whore. Elder Johnson stood in the corner of the room. It was the only time I had ever seen him powerless. Mary, ran to my side, hugged tight to my leg. Janell fled, crying. I shook Mary free and followed after Janell. The storm door slapped shut. I looked over my shoulder through the window. Mama had taken to yelling at the Elder. Mary watched me from the window, begging me not to leave but understanding that I had to.
I caught up with Janell a couple of blocks down the road, told her I’d hop the next bus out of Millwood. She planned on taking the train. Traveling separately would help us avoid suspicion, make it more difficult for our folks to track us. Neither of us knew nothing of New York, so we chose Grand Central as our meeting place. I told her it could work, sold her infinite possibilities—her singing for money, me working a blue-collar job, us raising our child as the face of the new America.
Mary was my only regret.
The bus lumbered slowly through the Appalachians. One of the hippies in the front of the bus pulled out his guitar and started lazily strumming that stoning song Bob Dylan wrote about rainy day women. “Shut up,” the pig general yelled, “some of us are trying to sleep back here!” And without missing a beat, the hippy quickly transitioned into a more appropriate tune,
It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe
If’n you don’t know by now
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe
It’ll never do somehow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’ma travel’n on
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.
Ghosts are made for giving up. But don’t think twice, it’s all right.