A book excerpt from Stephanie’s upcoming novel, Season of the Blood: Necessary Evil Part III.
Been working at Shadow Bay General long before the name change. We were City Hospital back then. I still remember when they had chickens and geese roaming on the front lawn. The patients loved to feed the ducks out at the pond. Even fished a couple people trying to end it all out of there too.
Should be sitting at home collecting my pension and whatever the government doles out. But what’s at home? No grands to speak of or bake cookies with. All that ended when my Antoine Sebastian died.
He didn’t just die. He was murdered.
Named him after my ex husband Antoine and my father Sebastian. Wanted him to have the names of the men that changed my life. Both made me what I was: a daughter and a mother.
Both of them gone too. Antoine by choice when he took up with a neighbor down the street and moved to Atlanta. My dad worked them smelter pots down at Bethlehem Steel with a bit of cigar clenched between his teeth. Senility and cancer took what was left.
My Antoine Sebastian was a good boy. I know. I know everybody says that, but even before he was born, I knew everything was going to be okay. Had him later in life, but that was fine. Carrying him was like carrying an old friend. Being in labor for nearly 48 hours would take the salt out of anyone, but not me. I wanted my little man to come when he was good and ready and not a minute before.
Took so long in making up his mind that the doctor taking care of me dosed off against my belly! Round nine in the morning after finding his keys and his wallet my boy made his arrival. He was madder than a wet hen when he came out. Screamed in my face and crapped on the doctor!
But he was here. Thanked him and God for choosing me. Told Antoine about the plans I had for him. Made promises too.
Told him about my dreams of seeing him sing on the church choir and going on his first date and graduating from high school and college. Getting married and giving me grands. Even had my nickname all picked out; Glamma!
Told him I’d even let him play sports if he wanted to. The books had to come first though. And he did all of those things and more. Got in his fair share of trouble too, but he still managed to get a full ride to that University upstate for Engineering.
Knew something was wrong that morning.
Felt it in my waters.
Antoine was just going to hang with his friends while I packed my bag and put an envelope full of mad money in his suitcase under his socks. Wasn’t much; just enough if he got in a pinch. Wouldn’t take it when I tried to put it in his hand. Told me to hold onto it and that he was going to take care of me.
Antoine’s shirt had red and white stripes on it. His blue jeans were pressed, and his sneakers were as clean as my nurse’s shoes he always polished for me.
They told me is was a regrettable error and that he matched the description of someone that had been causing problems in the neighborhood. Same neighborhood he grew up in. Same sidewalks he shoveled for spending money in the winter. Same lawns he mowed in the summer. Same lawns he raked of leaves in the fall.
Didn’t explain the bruises on his neck or the bullet wounds or how a wallet could be mistaken for a gun.
Olivia, a girl he had a crush on in high school came to the door covered in blood. At first, I thought she’d been hurt, but then I saw her grandmother, Patrice, my best friend come up the steps clutching my boy’s sneakers to her chest.
Followed them, denying it and bargaining with God.
Wouldn’t even let me hold him. Just kept telling me they were sorry for my loss. Sorry for such a regrettable error.
I’m old enough to remember the bodies hanging from the lower branches of trees in my hometown of Bunn, North Carolina.
Even older when I came up on my 18-year work anniversary as a nurse; so, I knew how to clean and wrap a body.
And now, my Antoine Sebastian.
Max Caldwell was the coroner back then and now. He bent the rules for me and cried with me as I bathed my son one last time.
Wasn’t till later that one of Antoine’s friends told me the police were really after him, not Antoine and that he’d run away because he was holding. He was a pall bearer at the funeral if you can believe that.
I forgave him, but it didn’t make any difference. Antoine was still gone.
Olivia’s all grown up now. That little bit of a thing is a doctor, a surgeon no less. Traveled the world and made a name for herself. Patrice’d be proud. Girl even saw fit to come back home to Shadow Bay with the world at her feet. Olivia is paler though; frailer than she was back then. She looks haunted… hunted.
Air feels like it did when Antoine died. It’s thick and aged and painful like I imagine a fine Irish Malt. I look at that Olivia and my waters are troubled.
Her grandmother is long gone now.
But my waters…. My waters.
In my life I have shed my share of black tears. Stood shoulder to shoulder with mothers and fathers wondering why our children are being slaughtered. Driving while black. Jogging while black. Sleeping in your own home while black and the false accusations because they dared to ask a question or establish boundaries.
Thank God for cell phones!
I mean what is it? What sin is there in the color of our children’s skin?
A child no older than my Antoine came in here tonight more dead than alive. The maggots crawling from her nose confirmed what I already knew. Smell drove more than a few from the room.
Somebody needed to be there until it was time for her to let go. Just finished bathing and wrapping her.
I think of Olivia and a man with hellfire eyes.
Keep a hedge around her Father God.
I cannot bury another one.
Excerpt from Season of the Blood: Necessary Evil Part III
Copyright© 2020 by Stephanie Freeman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portion thereof in any form whatsoever.
No one ever told me that grief felt like fear.