The note was written in a scrawl
Political shenagians, money and murder affect the people of a small Southern town in the 1950s as the clutures of Whites and Negroes clash.
The deck of life had nine cards
Love poker heart blood forgive abandon revenge
The truth card was lost
The last card was unknown maybe it was the future
The fate of each card was delivered in a handwritten note

Chapter 1) The Love Card
Contents    Next chapter
Maggie stood at the edge of an old shallow on a hilltop overlooking a field of grass. The blades were tall and hung heavy with dew.

She was hoping the sun would burn off the morning chill, but the trees cast shade that refused to warm with the air.

You couldn’t forget Maggie.
She was beautiful. Tall.

She was there because of the note.
Intrigue was one of those things she didn't like.
Except there was a mystery about it.
The note felt warm in her hand. The words made her laugh.

The handwriting was a bit of a scrawl, written in brown ink.
The brown ink was unusual, and the handwriting not anybody she recognized.
Even so, it might've been someone she knew.
It was worth the chance to go.

The note. It spoke of romance. She would meet a man.
Next year would be her senior year. She was almost 17 and expected to be married soon
Quite popular at school. The other girls seemed to like her but there might have been one or two that didn’t.
The boys knew her. But not like that, she was a nice person.

She liked the boys but mostly she liked one more than the others.
The man most in her eye was Tad. They looked forward to seeing each other, and going to parties and social events.
He was popular too, and together they were admired by teachers and parents for the standard of courtship they embraced.
While she hoped the note came from him, the handwriting didn't match.
She was realistic. Tad might be the one, but she was holding herself for a man with a good job.

Her mother had five children, two of them died young.
Sadness haunted her family.
The death of her younger brother was still fresh.
He was 5 years old. She remembered the turmoil of his fever and the linger. Her mother's wails and sobs could not be washed off that room, even with a new coat of oil.
Her older sister was sad, but recovered.

Her middle sister, Joddie was numbed.
They used to have such fun together, Maggie and Joddie, but the death changed Joddie. After that, she was a beautiful girl, but without a soul.

Ah, the morning sun was higher, and the fingers of warmth finally reached her face.
The change was welcome as a breeze stirred into a sudden gust.
The mist was getting pushed away and the grass began to dry.
It was going to be a good day.

The note said ‘they would meet between the trees.’
It had to be the Live Oaks at the top of the hill where she stood.
She loved those trees and the long branches that swung down touching the ground and then back up.
The note must have come from someone who knew those trees held happy memories, when her family ventured far from town for picnics and adventure.

Another half hour passed. She realized nobody was coming. Oh well.
Who would play such a joke?
She moved over to the biggest tree sitting on one of the low branches.
A tractor was moving along the dirt road in the field below.
Maybe this is who it was?
No it was Carl, he was a trusted Negro, and worked around town for some of the men including her father.

Her father, Joel Winston, was important around town. He owned the feed store. He was a decent quiet strong person, and expected a rigid backbone from those around him.
Most Tuesdays, a railcar arrived at the siding and the men would unload bags into the storeroom.
In the front was the loading dock. Trucks would back up to the platform to load feed and fertilizer.
The men would talk.
That's the way it was done in her beautiful little town of Trinity.
She was born there, and it would be her home forever.

Her oldest sister, Bonnie, got married the year before to an ambitious man, Howard Ray. He went to work at the feed store with her father to learn the business and become a partner.
They moved into the corner house down the street. The first baby was due in August.

Her middle sister, Joddie was different. She talked ordinary and wore her mother's Christian cross but then she ran away and married an older man.
That man, Richard Bob Stewart, was a strange one. Gaudy and loud. Maggie felt like cold flesh when he was around. He called her Maybe, and was constantly confused about proper names and who he was married to.

Her parents pretended things were fine. But they weren’t. Maggie was the last child left in that big empty house.
Maggie worried what would happen to her mother after she moved out. There was pressure for her to stay, but Maggie refused to see herself trapped by the heartache.

Maggie's house was among the perfectly-kept, magnificent homes at the top of North Peachtree overlooking the town's 3 church steeples.
The streets were paved with brick, laid by Negroes from Blacktown during the Civil War, back before the Union bastards freed them.

Maggie knew the Negroes were supposed to be free. Maybe the governor acted like they should vote or get paid, but they were as likely to work for handouts and a whipping instead of a paycheck. And they ought not to break farm equipment or start trouble because a black man found dead along the tracks was not news.
There were white people that did care, but didn't speak for justice. Unless you could afford a new barn after the fire, but liable another fire would follow.

There was a grocery store, dry goods, the meat market, and Woolworth's around the courthouse.
Toward the railroad were shops and small factories that repaired shoes and built furniture.
The Southern Augusta rail line, stockyards and grain elevator were on the west side close to the river.
The main highway blew in from the East, crossed over the river at the new cement bridge, and split into two roads on the other side.
Seemed like there were too many cars for the town and the highway brought nothing but dust and dirt and strangers anymore.

About three miles south of Trinity, along on an old dirt road, next to the river was Blacktown. The Negroes were free to live there, as long as they paid the rent.

White people were not supposed to go down to that place. It was too dangerous.
The hard men about town would take care of that business.
Her father was not much concerned.
He had a couple Negroes working at the feed store.
Maggie didn't talk to them.
And they better not look at her. They knew that.

She was there alone on top of the hill and started feeling nervous, looking around.
Twinge of fear hit.
Maybe she should run away.
Except there was an exhilaration in the air.
She felt strong and bold. Her nervousness disappeared.
Yes she would walk down to the river. Just a half-mile below.

She told herself, the note was a joke, so enjoy the day.
Somebody must be laughing pretty hard. Forget them.
She imagined that her suitor had his arm around her and together they would walk to the river, and it would be the man who wanted her hand in marriage.

The river had a smell about it.
Watch for snakes. Buy you would never see them.
The birds were flying about. The water was up, not quite flooding, but it was brown and swirling as it washed away the farmland.

The day was so peaceful with the river’s song lapping rhythm with a breeze pushing through the spring leaves.

Walking closer she approached a cluster of trees, and then caught her ankle.
It was a peculiar accident.
How could that happen?
She was trapped for a moment but freed herself.
It was a soft spot in the ground where the old branches below were covered with dirt that gave way just as she stepped.

It hurt so bad that she couldn't stand. She had to sit and put her ankle up on a log, but it was so fierce.
The old dirt road was 50 yards away.
Where was Carl now? Maybe he would come back.

She couldn’t walk.
It was so pitiful. What a predicament.
All she could do was sit and scooch toward the road.
She told herself, well if that's all you have, then that's what you do. She felt her mother’s stubbornness.

Then she saw a figure standing at the river looking at her.
She was more than 2 miles from home. Nobody knew she was there.
Oh this was so foolish. She scolded herself for being romantic instead of practical.

If only she could get up and run away.
The man was coming and she couldn't see who it was.
She shouted, I’m Maggie Winston, as if the name would ward off evil.
The reply came back, it’s River Boy.

Oh no. How could it be worse? It was River Boy.
She knew him. He was bad.
He looked white but he lived in Blacktown. He was always dirty didn't come to school very often.
Nobody talked to him. He sat in class and said nothing.
People around town said he fished at the river with Negroes, and stole chickens. That much was known.
People saw him out late at night walking around Trinity. She knew there were a lot of stories.

Now he was looming over her with his dirty torn shirt, standing like a Negro.

He said, hi Maggie what you doing? Looks like you caught your ankle. Need to be careful along the river. Lots of snags and holes.

Maggie was still trying to skootch away like a turtle caught by a cat.
He rolled his head back and laughed.
She was mad and scared and helpless all at once, her dress dirtied by the ground, and demanded to know, are you laughing at me?
He said, no, let me help you up.

He seemed different. In school, he didn’t fit. But now he was natural and his kindness showed past the torn shirt that revealed half his chest when he leaned over.
He smiled as he touched her arm and lifted her up.
She'd never seen him smile, as if anyone of her importance would pay attention anyway.
She was mumbling still trying to squirm away, feeling quite endangered.

He was strong. One quick movement and she was up.
He was much taller than her. He wasn't that tall in school.
Here, loop your arm around my neck. My house is just up the hill over there. We can get you a ride back to town.

House she thought. House?
There no house down here by the river.
There was an old chicken shack.
It wasn't a house.

Forget that. She was NOT going with River Boy, no matter what. She said, take me to the road and I'll wait for the tractor.

He grinned real big, and said, it’s okay. Old man Carl goes back on the other road. If he comes back this way, it’ll be dark. He’ll probably run you over.

What a horrible situation. She would rather get run over by a tractor.
He understood what she was thinking, but it didn't matter.

That’s when the world intervened, and it started to rain softly.
He helped her over to the dirt road. Then playfully plopped her down and asked, are you going to sit in the rain all day?
Her clothes and hands were filthy, and he just put her in the mud. It was wet and cold. She couldn’t walk. Finally, she laughed.

Together they hobbled over to his house.
People used to say that an old colored man got out of prison and built a shack somewhere along the river.

Back a few years ago, an old barn fell down outside of town, and bit by bit the metal and wood disappeared until it became the shack the colored man built.
Maggie realized the story was true, and this was the place.
She asked River Boy, do you live here?
He said, yes, I live with Grandpa.
That was disgusting. River Boy was black. All this time, she thought he was white, but he was just a Negro …. and he touched her.

River Boy felt her question. He said, dear Maggie, it doesn’t matter. My Grandpa saved me.
That bit of familiarity begged another question, but Maggie dared not express interest in this fellow. She remembered how her mother said, no matter how bad things look, you are a lady.

River Boy let everything inside Maggie’s head pass by, and helped her into a chair next to the cold fireplace that looked like a pile of bricks stuck together with mud.
In the corner was a small window. The door was still open. It was chilly.

As her eyes got accustomed to the light she saw a clean, organized room with things carefully stored on shelves. There was a small kitchen and sink. There were fishing poles on a rack next to the door. And in the opposite corner, under the window, was a wood desk with one drawer.
That was Grandpa's hand carved desk made from golden oak. It almost gleamed in the light she wanted to touch it.

River Boy lit a fire and said, Grandpa is still fishing at the bridge. He'll be home soon. Hope he catches something.
He heated a kettle of water and made root tea for her to sip. He laid a blanket across her shoulders, and she wrapped it around herself.
The room filled with the dancing light of an amber fire and Maggie was overtaken by the warmth. She was so apart from her own world. It felt magical like she was transformed into a small girl again. It was conflicting. The lady inside her kept snapping back into common sense. She asked, when can we get a ride?

She turned around and River Boy was naked with his back toward her, changing into dry clothes. She looked away quick, having wished to not seen a Negro that was completely bare.

She heard him chuckle, and he said, I’d offer you dry clothes, but they might not fit. Then he added, Grandpa is coming back soon with the Deacon quartette and Bangin' Gypsy. They’re driving over from Niddles to sing at the church tonight and stop here for lunch. They have a car, and a white manager.

River Boy moved between Maggie and the fire. His proximity alarmed her.
At least he was dressed.
He tossed two pieces of wood in the fire and took some hot water out of the pot. Then sat down in front of her and began taking off her shoes. She resisted until the pain in her ankle caused her to stop.
He wiped her bare feet with a cloth dipped in warm water, and looked at the small swollen line on one ankle.

His hands were gentle. His charm was irresistible.
She wanted to touch his hair.

He could feel her.
He said, it's just a muscle. It'll take a few weeks.

Contents   Top  Next chapter