Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
Some say that once you have the Lord in your life, He won’t ever leave you alone. But that can’t be all true. I recall a time when Jesus left Birmingham, Alabama. Seems so long ago now, that Sunday morning, like maybe it never happened at all.
But it did.
I can still remember the moment it occurred.
I’d only just turned fourteen the week before. Surely that made me a man, right? In the Jewish religion boys are bar mitzvahed at thirteen, delegating adult responsibilities to the newly-proclaimed man. We weren’t Jewish, my family and me, but I’d been reading up on these things. That, and the fact that Timmy Horvath, a Jewish boy in my math class, had been given all the rights of a man just a year earlier. Timmy had been bar mitzvahed.
I figured I’d test the moment and see if maybe I could be seen as a man now rather than just a boy.
“Ma,” I said, working over the tone of the conversation I was certain would follow my all-important request. “Do you think I could skip church today, maybe stay home with Dad?”
“Get your shoes on, boy,” is what she said. “I won’t raise a heathen.”
“I still believe,” I argued. “And I’ll still read my Bible. I was just thinking I could—“
“I won’t tell you again, boy.”
My dad drifted through the kitchen, tossed me a grin on his way to the breakfast table. He didn’t believe in God or Jesus or anything that couldn’t be seen with his own two eyes. The only time I could recall seeing him in a church was when my Uncle Delbert died in a car crash and they had the funeral at Birmingham Baptist.
“Once you’re eighteen,” my dad said, “you can do what you want. Until then, you best listen to your mama.”
“Timmy Harvath was bar mitzvahed,” I explained. “His folks treat him like a grown man.”
“We’re not Jewish,” my dad said, stuffing a strip of bacon into his mouth.
The suddenness of the boom is what startled me the most. The rumble that followed threatened to shake the windows of our house to shards.
My mother let out a “Dear Jesus! What was that?”
Janie, my little sister, bolted from her room, panic-stricken and bound for tears. “Is it the Russians?” she cried.
A blur of bodies traipsed past our house, destined for the corner at the top of our street.
A column of black smoke reached for the sky in the distance.
“Keep the kids inside, Madeline,” my dad said, stepping into his battered work boots.
I can’t say for sure what it was, that notion that shoved me forward, put in my father’s line of vision. His eyes fixed on me; a moment’s hesitation drifted between us before he dropped a nod.
I followed him through the front door, across our lawn, and into the street with all the other men from our neighborhood. Urgency filled the air with a thick acrid smell.
We blended in with the crowd gathered at the corner. Voices made claims of this or that being the culprit in the disruption of our morning routines. Truth is, nobody on that corner knew for sure what had happened.
“Let’s take a walk down further,” my dad said, leading the way toward Sixteenth Street.
Others stayed back, preferring to remain grounded on our own street, as if venturing too far away just might put them at risk of some as-yet understood force.
Ronnie Dooley tore past us on his bike, offering nothing by way of explanation of what he might have seen closer to the source of all that smoke.
My dad’s quick steps lost something off their pace the nearer we came to the moment that would forever change the both of us.
We saw it at the same time, that hole in the back of the church building up on Sixteenth Street.
The colored’s church.
Baptist by denomination—same as us. But white Baptists and black Baptists don’t ever mingle on Sunday mornings.
“Dynamite,” a man claimed, moving away from the scene.
My dad said, “Let’s get on home, son.”
I didn’t think to argue with him, to challenge his idea to leave the chaos to the authorities. I just followed him back, the both of us walking in a slow silence.
Anguished faces crowded the screen of our Philco television set all that night. Black faces, mostly; those belonging to the men and women digging through what remained of their place of worship.
Twenty-two met with injuries.
Four lives were lost.
Just four little girls, they were; those of an age where they’d giggle at boys making eyes at them.
The man on the television read their names as if telling the score of a baseball game. “Addie Mae Collins, age fourteen; Carole Robertson, age fourteen; Cynthia Wesley, age fourteen; Denise McNair, age eleven.”
“The work of the Devil,” my mother proclaimed. “Those babies should always be safe in the Lord’s house.”
Even my father, who’d never really shown a fondness for the colored race, lost tears that day. Those girls were my age, he said. There’d be families missing pieces that night, and what would he do if he sat down to dinner and found an empty place at his table?
“I’d surely die without my kids,” he whispered to my mother, the words thick in his throat.
My sister spoke the question I’d been pondering from the moment we learned the truth.
“Why didn’t God stop those men from doing this?” she asked.
My mother stammered a few words meant to soothe her youngest child.
But words of my own found my tongue pliable to the accusation they meant to administer. “It’s because Jesus left Birmingham today. He left those people when they needed Him most.”
Terror didn’t just leave its mark on the black folks of Birmingham that Sunday morning. Faith of a fourteen-year-old white boy suffered as well. I won’t say I quit believing in God and the salvation of Jesus Christ; but how do we live our lives not knowing if He’ll protect us or if He’ll look the other way?
It’s what they call collateral damage in the modern world, those unexpected casualties during an act of terror.
I don’t believe I was the only one, either.
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