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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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Orchard of Hope (29 page)

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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It was a funny thing. The Birmingham dog poked out at Cassidy when her mama was around, but it never completely jumped out where it could get her. But once her mama was out of sight, the dog was right there, opening its big mouth to swallow Cassidy whole. She had to go hide. She had to go crawl farther back in that cave back in her mind. The dog was growling at her now.

She didn’t like it back there. It was dark and lonely that far back in the cave. But it was safe—the dog couldn’t get to her there. Nobody could get to her there. She heard Noah talking, but he was far away.

30

“Wow!” Jocie said softly after Mrs. Hearndon stalked out of the pressroom. Jocie’s hands were shaking and Mrs. Hearndon hadn’t even said the first word to her. Jocie swallowed hard and tried to think of something to say, but Noah didn’t look in the mood to talk. She smiled over at Cassidy, but the girl’s eyes were fixed on the wall as if she saw something horrible there. “What’s wrong with her?” Jocie asked Noah.

Noah was still staring at the door his mother had just gone through. “That’s just how she is. My mother thinks she has to single-handedly usher in a new age of freedom for us people of color.”

“No, not your mother. Your little sister.”

Jocie went over to Cassidy who was standing perfectly still as if she was playing frozen tag, only worse than that. Even her eyelids were frozen open. Jocie reached out to touch the little girl, but then stopped her hand in mid-air. Cassidy was breathing. Jocie could see her chest moving in and out, but it was as if the girl’s mind had gone off and left her body behind. “Are you okay, Cassidy honey?”

Noah was beside his sister in a heartbeat. He put his face right next to hers, nose to nose, and ordered, “Cassidy, you come back out here to me right now.”

For a second, his little sister didn’t respond, but then her hands started trembling a little. She whispered, “The dog. It’s going to eat me.”

“No, it’s not,” Noah said firmly. “I’m here right in front of you. You’re safe.”

“But the water might blow you away.” A tear slipped out of the corner of her right eye and slid down her cheek.

“Not this time. This time I’m right here holding on to you.”

Noah wrapped his arms around her and picked her up like a baby. He pushed on her legs to make them bend enough that he could carry her over and sit down in the chair with her in his lap. She kept her head stiff up in the air away from him.

“Should I call the doctor?” Jocie asked.

“No,” Noah said. “She’s just scared. She’ll be okay in a little bit if I can get her to listen to me. You are going to listen to me, aren’t you, baby sister?”

“You want me to get a wet washcloth or something?” Jocie didn’t know how that would help, but that was always what people did. When somebody acted sick, somebody else ran for a wet cloth or a glass of water. She didn’t think they could get Cassidy to take a drink.

“No, just rub her hands while I talk to her.”

The little girl’s hands were thin, almost fragile looking, with long, graceful fingers like her mother’s. Jocie gently kneaded Cassidy’s palms between her thumbs and fingers as Noah whispered to his sister. “It’s all right, baby. Nobody’s going to hurt you. There’s no dogs here. Not the first one. It’s all right. We’re safe and dry and the sun’s shining. Daddy’s got apple trees growing in the field, and nobody’s going to hurt us here. It’s okay. I promise. And you know I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”

Cassidy blinked, and Jocie could feel some of the tension draining out of the little girl’s hands.

“Are you feeling better, Cassidy?” she asked.

The girl’s hands went stiff again as she tried to pull away from Jocie. “Is she hiding the dog?” Cassidy whispered.

“The dog?” Jocie frowned. “My dog’s at home. Daddy won’t let me bring him to work with me.”

Noah shook his head a little at Jocie, then turned to whisper in his sister’s ear. “Shh, baby. There aren’t any dogs here. Jocie won’t hurt you. She likes you. She might even help me sing to you.” He glanced up at Jocie again. “Singing to her sometimes helps.”

“How about a hymn? That’s about all I know well enough to sing all the way through.”

“We can try one.”

He started singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” He sang so good Jocie sort of hated to mess up the song by adding her voice, but after he sang a verse, she joined in. Cassidy began to relax against Noah. Her head drooped and then dropped down on his shoulder. After a couple more verses, her eyes closed.

Jocie sang along with Noah as they started the first verse over. When they’d sung that verse all the way through without Cassidy opening her eyes, Jocie whispered, “Is she asleep?”

“I think so.” He stroked her head gently. “Poor little girl.”

“What was wrong with her?” Jocie asked. “Some kind of seizure?”

“I guess you could call it that. She just gets scared and freezes up. It started after what went on down in Birmingham last year.”

“What happened in Birmingham?”

Noah looked at Jocie as if she were asking who was president or something. “I guess you probably don’t know. You people here in Hollyhill just sit tight in your little town and don’t worry a bit about what goes on anywhere else.”

Jocie clamped down on her irritation at his attitude. “I know there were marches down there and trouble. I saw the headlines in the daily papers, but I don’t know why that has Cassidy so scared that she’s seeing dogs where there aren’t any dogs.”

Noah put his hand over Cassidy’s ear as she lay against his shoulder, but she didn’t show any sign of hearing them. Then he sighed. “I’m sorry, Jocie. It’s just that I get so mad when I think about what happened to her. To us.”

“You don’t have to be mad at me. I wasn’t there.”

“I wish I hadn’t been there either, and I especially wish Cassidy hadn’t been.”

“Were you down there when the church bomb killed those girls?” Jocie didn’t even like to think about that. Girls her own age dying while they were at Sunday school learning about the Lord. She couldn’t understand it, but her father said nobody could really understand the kind of hate that made people do things like that.

“No, that was later. This was in May last year. The Children’s March in Birmingham. The city down there had just closed up everything—the parks and playgrounds and swimming pools—so they wouldn’t have to let black people in after the judges said they couldn’t keep us out. So the Reverend King and some others got the idea of having a thousand children marching because they thought newspapers all over the country would eat that up and print a lot of stories. Plus they didn’t think the police would do anything too bad to a bunch of kids.” Noah paused a second and touched Cassidy’s head again before he went on. “They probably wouldn’t have to a bunch of white kids.”

“What happened?” Jocie asked.

“The police arrested all the children marching and took them to jail.”

“Were you and Cassidy arrested?”

“No, it might’ve been better if that’s all that happened to us. We didn’t march that first day. Daddy didn’t want us to march at all. He and Mama fought about it, but Mama said her family, her children needed to stand up and be counted along with all the other children. She left the twins with a neighbor and borrowed a car. We left while Daddy was at work.”

“Did you want to go?”

“I could hardly wait,” Noah said. “I’d caught the freedom train fever from my mother. Me and Cassidy were supposed to march that first day, but we had a flat tire on the way down south and didn’t get there until after the march had already started. I don’t know who was the most disappointed. Me or my mother.”

“Not Cassidy?”

Noah looked down at his little sister and his voice softened a bit. “No. Cassidy didn’t want to march at all. She’s always been on the shy side. Never liked it when anybody had a fuss or she had to go into a new place. Mama should have let her stay back in Chicago with the twins. But she was old enough at nine years old. They wanted kids between six and eighteen, and Mama kept telling us she wanted us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Something that would change things.”

“But you got there too late.”

“Too late for the first day, but the people organizing things decided not to let the police beat them. They gathered up another thousand children from somewhere. Maybe a bunch of other people had been late like us. Maybe the police turned loose the kids they’d arrested the day before. Maybe they went out and recruited Birmingham kids. I don’t know. But the next day we all lined up to march again. Mama told me to keep Cassidy right beside me, and I wouldn’t have been able to get away from her anyway. She practically attached herself to my leg, she was so scared. All those people yelling as we started along the street. I don’t even know where we were marching. Maybe to one of the parks or to the mayor’s office. Some of the older kids were leading the way in the front. Me and Cassidy were just following along.”

“I remember something about that now. How what happened started riots down there last summer.” Men had talked to Jocie’s father about how the president should send in troops to calm things down, but it had all seemed so far away to Jocie. She listened to the talk, read about it in the papers, and even saw bits of the riots on the TV news, but it was all so alien to what was happening around her in Hollyhill that it was as if it was all going on in some foreign country a million miles away. But it hadn’t been that way to the boy and girl in front of her. They’d lived it.

“The riots were later. After that day. We were home in Chicago by then. It was what happened that day that makes Cassidy try to go off somewhere to hide.”

Jocie hesitated. She wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. It might be easier to keep bad things off in that foreign country where she never had to think about them. But she asked anyway. “What happened?”

Noah looked down at Cassidy’s face. “Are you hearing me, baby sister?” Her face stayed soft in sleep. Not even an eyelid twitched. Noah looked back up at Jocie. “I wouldn’t want to send her running back into her hiding place after I’ve pulled her out, but I don’t think she’s hearing us. Mama says it would be better if we could get Cassidy to go on and talk about it anyway, but she can’t even think about it, much less talk about it.” He shifted in his chair as if his legs were going to sleep.

“You want to try to lay her down somewhere? The floor’s out. It’s filthy, but we could push two chairs together or something,” Jocie said.

“No, she’s fine. She’s not that heavy, and she’ll wake up in a minute. She sometimes goes to sleep for a while after she gets scared like that. I think her head has to reset after she sees that dog coming after her.”

Jocie looked at Cassidy. She hadn’t really paid that much attention to the little girl before. Cassidy had always acted so shy, almost afraid to even look at Jocie; and the twins were so cute. Jocie had the twins described in detail in her journal, but now she looked at Cassidy with new eyes. “What is it about the dog?”

“I’ll get to that.” Noah looked at the wall behind Jocie for a minute before he started talking again. “The police down there, they told us to go home, but we weren’t going to listen to them. We were going to march through the streets and make the city of Birmingham start treating us right, the way the courts said they had to. It was exciting being in the middle of the action. I began to see why Mama liked getting on that freedom train.

“Of course, Cassidy didn’t feel that. She was crying by the time we lined up to march down the street. I should have taken her back to Mama and made Mama let her stay with her, but if I’d done that, they’d have started the march without me, and I didn’t want to miss being part of it. Being part of history, as Mama had said that morning. So I just held Cassidy’s hand tight, and we started walking all together at once. A thousand of us. Demanding to be treated fair and equal. There were even a few cheers here and there.

“The police were in the street waiting on us.” Noah frowned at the memory. “Police with dogs. And firemen with hoses. I didn’t know why the firemen were there at first, but this boy next to me said he’d heard they sometimes turned water on marchers when things got out of hand. But we weren’t doing nothing but walking. Peaceful as can be. We weren’t even yelling. Just walking. Slower, but still walking.”

“How about Cassidy?” Jocie asked.

“She was still walking too. We didn’t have much choice. We were about three rows from the front, and all the kids behind us were pushing us forward toward the police and the dogs and the firehoses.”

“What happened?”

“They turned on the water. You could see the firehoses on the ground filling up, turning into something live, and then the water was shooting out with so much force that it took one of the boys in front of us and threw him completely over a parked car. I tried to hold on to Cassidy and get her out of there, but then the hose turned on me. I had to turn loose of Cassidy or she would’ve been thrown in the air with me. The water just lifted me up and carried me with it. Then I guess the fireman turned it on some other kid, and I landed against the curb. My arm was sitting at a funny angle and my head was ringing, but I couldn’t think about whether I was hurt or not. I had to find Cassidy. It took me maybe five minutes but it seemed like hours. I kept thinking about having to go back to Chicago and tell Daddy I turned loose of Cassidy’s hand and lost her.”

“You had to turn her loose to keep her from getting hurt.”

“That’s what I told myself, but I don’t think Daddy would have believed it. He would have thought I should have done something.” Noah tightened his arms around Cassidy a little. “I finally spotted her. She was sitting in the middle of the street with one of the police dogs right in her face. The policeman holding the dog’s leash was yelling at her, I guess telling her to get up and move off the street, but she was too scared to move. I jumped right in front of that dog and put my back to its teeth. The policeman was still yelling, but I don’t know what he was saying. I picked Cassidy up. My arm hurt so bad that for a minute I thought I might pass out and the dog would have us both, but then somebody came and helped me and we got to a church somewhere. That’s where Mama found us. She took one look at my arm and Cassidy’s face and loaded us up in the car she’d borrowed and drove us straight back to Chicago.

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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