Good Enough, A Short Story
Betty wrapped the fried bologna, egg and hoop cheese sandwich in white waxed paper. She dropped it into a bag and then handed it out the window to Harry. Harry smiled and gave Betty two dollars. She shook her head and gave one of them back.
Betty Smith owned and operated Betty's Place in the small town of Dismal, South Carolina. Harry Ferguson was Dismal's first and only black police officer. He accepted the bag with his usual mock salute.
Harry ordered a plain egg sandwich, but Betty added the bologna and cheese free of charge and without asking. He normally stopped by twice a day and had since he started on the job a year ago in April of 1948.
Three months later a split in the Democratic Party over civil rights would cause Southern Dixiecrats to hold a states rights convention and nominate Governor Strom Thurmond to run for president. One year prior Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Betty invited Harry to eat inside, but as always he politely declined.
"You coming back by for your Pepsi Cola this afternoon, Harry Lee?" Betty asked as she smoothed a lock of her premature gray hair back behind her ear and slid the screen window closed.
"Spect, I will." Harry said. He splurged on the breakfast for lunch sandwich but saved money by bringing his supper with him. He often ate behind Betty's Place in the shade of a big oak tree. In the summer when the sun bore down and the dust rolled off the dirt street, the spot gave Harry a respite from his walking tour. It wasn't hot today but he ate the sandwich there anyway, before walking the six blocks to his next assignment.
Officer Harry Ferguson's usual beat was the juke joints, the one taxi stand and the dozen or so other black owned businesses on the East side of town. The only time he was good enough to serve on the white side of town was as a crossing guard at the West Side Elementary school. Other cops were too lazy to get out of their cars and griped when they had to pull the duty there. Harry didn't spend much time worrying about the things he overheard about him; he was just happy to have the job and looked forward to his early afternoon duty at the school his son would never be allowed to attend.
The five room school house was nestled among a forest of tall pines at the bottom of the hill on Third Street. Harry's left knee rarely gave him trouble going down that hill, but sometimes the shrapnel left there by the army medics gave him a fit going back up. It didn't hurt this fine afternoon and Harry felt a bit younger than his fifty years.
Herb Pickins parked the old Ford panel truck in front of the Dismal General Store and looked down the hill where Henry had just stepped off the sidewalk in front of the school. He shook his head slowly from side to side and spoke to his companion.
"What's this world a coming to, Mack?"
Mack saw the cop at the bottom of the steep hill at the school, but if he had an opinion he didn't offer it. Instead, after being scratched behind his long floppy ears he hopped down on the floor out of the sun. Herb pulled the gear shift on the floor into reverse and Mack nestled himself comfortably against it dropping off into dreams of rabbit chasing, creek swimming, and barking at full moons.
Herb headed inside to get the months supplies. Five minutes later it was the barking of another dog off in the distance that caused Mack to jump up and knock the truck out of gear. At first it didn't move at all, but then slowly the tires began to roll and the truck silently picked up speed.
Most of the kids at the school didn't speak to Harry as he stopped traffic to let them cross, but over the past few months, a few had begun to nod or smile at him.
Sally was different. She yelled and waved at him every afternoon even though she couldn't hear his replies. She had learned to read lips years before and often carried on conversations with Harry seemingly oblivious to the color of his skin.
"Good afternoon, Officer Ferguson!" She yelled.
"You have a great day, Miss Sally!" Harry mouthed the words silently as he touched the brim of his hat.
Sally waved and smiled.
Always the last to leave and never crossing the street, Sally rolled up the sidewalk in a chair way too big for her. Her mother had used pillows from their house to cushion the wooden back and seat. Sally didn’t wait to talk today, but headed toward her home a block away where her nanny waited on the porch with a tall glass of iced tea.
When Harry first turned and glanced up the hill he saw the truck, and naturally assumed the shape of Mack behind the wheel was the driver. About the time he realized the driver of the truck was a dog, it hit a hole in the dirt street, veered right, picked up speed and bore down on Sally. Adrenalin spiked as Harry ran toward the truck, then he realized that it was going to miss Sally. Oblivious, she rolled slowly out of it's path. Still he ran on, hoping to stop the truck.
Herb's first thought when he stepped out of the general store with his box of flour, sugar and the months supply of chewing tobacco was that someone had took his truck. Then he heard Mack howl and looked down the hill. His second thought could not be repeated in mixed company. The box dropped from his arms, the flour bag burst sending flour spraying into the air.
Just when Harry thought he'd make it to the truck, the shrapnel shifted to a spot behind his kneecap. The pain, instant and bright as lighting on a dark summer night, filled him and he went down. He never even heard his own scream, but the dog did. Mack howled and as he scrambled through the open window his hind legs caught in the steering wheel. The truck tracked left and now it bore down on Sally. Less than one hundred yards separated the child and four tons of black panel truck.
Harry’s vision cleared. He saw Sally stop, look over her shoulder at him and watched as concern began to cross her smiling face. Then she saw the truck and terror exploded in her eyes.
Harry struggled to his feet with most of his weight on his good leg. He hopped three good steps, saw he couldn't make it that way and gritted his teeth. He hobbled along on both legs as quickly as he could as the pain began to again darken his vision. He was almost to Sally when he felt himself falling...he stretched out, and as one hand touched the back of the chair...
One month later:
"I want one of those bologna sandwiches," he said.
Betty heard the voice but at first didn't see anyone. She slid the screen open, poked her head out, and saw the boy looking up at her with his big brown eyes. She had never seen him before, but knew immediately who he was.
"I got the money, Miss Betty."
The screen slid shut.
Betty came outside, took Harry Ferguson, Jr. by the hand and led him into her crowded business. A hush fell over the place as she sat him on a stool at the counter directly in front of the grill.
"This here is Harry's son," Betty said. "Most of y'all..." She hesitated, shook her head, then started over.
"Most of us thought his daddy wasn't good enough to eat in here. Its true enough that I invited him but, deep down, part of me was glad he never took me up on it. Happy to avoid the trouble, happy to keep all my fine customers..."
Two stools from the far end of the place Herb Pickens sat smoking a Lucky Strike and flicking the ashes into his finished plate. He stared straight ahead and was the only guy in the packed place not looking at Betty.
"Well, this boy won't ever get to hug his daddy again," Betty said. "But because of what Harry did that day I get to hug my little Sally today, and every day."
Betty stared down the counter, made eye contact with every man in the diner, except Herb and then put her hand on the youngster's shoulder.
"Your Daddy was good enough to eat here, son. And so are you."
Next to Herb, a farmer dressed in bib overalls, straw hat and muddy boots cleared his throat before speaking.
"I ain't eating in here with no nig..."
Herb didn't even realize he had back handed the guy until the man hit the floor.
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