(Excuse the racially charged terms. This work does not represent my own stance on these matters, but rather that of the fictional character in the story. It will probably be strongly edited in the Reflections it comes out in.)
The Nigger Next Door.
By Joe Johnston.
We wore the white, pointed hoods when we met at night, to represent the ghosts of Confederate soldiers, returning from the dead to take revenge on their enemies. They also came in handy as an incidental disguise, just in case. I knew little of who my fellow Klansmen were. And few knew who I was. It was safer that way.
We weren't racists. As long as the nigger kept his head down and stayed in his place, we lived and let live. They were useful as scum to do the scum jobs that needed doing. --Every society needed its dark to make the good look brighter. It was only when they tried to vote or intermarry or some such foolishness that we had to step in and keep them in line. Exercise a bit of the rod to drive these notions far from them.
Tonight there were no lynchings, no beatings planned. Oh, they happened occasionally--and it was good to get one's blood stirred up every once in a while to teach a good lesson--but in today's Oklahoma of the 1920's, under the Ku Klux Klan's able guidance, the niggers had learned to keep out of our way and stick to a meek profile. Tonight was just talk. Angry talk, but just that. Perhaps tomorrow we'd burn a cross or something, to keep things moving.
The meeting was dismissed early on account of the gathering clouds. Some sort of a storm was brewing high up above us and as one could never tell the severity of these things, it was recommended that we head straight home. Most of us did. A few still had things to do. It was late, but I had to pick up my cheque. My young ones still needed to eat in the morning, and at midnight the workshop where I made a living would close for the weekend. Schultz said he'd have my paycheck ready before closing time. I figured I would get a rare opportunity to learn the use of the windshield wiper as I drove home, if the storm did decide to break.
The air was thick but the drops hadn't started falling yet as I turned off my car and stepped into the workshop. Isaiah, a half nigger mechanic, was just shutting down for the night. I looked through him and barked, "Schultz here?" Mulattos were the worst of the scum. It meant some cheap black filth had mated with one of our kind and produced a halfbreed disgrace to white people. I saw no white in him. Only filth.
"Upstairs, sir," Isaiah nodded back.
I took the stairs two at a time to Schultz' office. Isaiah smelt like a nigger and had a rebellious gleam in his eye, I thought. I couldn't stand too much of him at a time. Maybe one day he would dangle.
Schultz was here alright. Asleep in his chair. They said he didn't have a family or anyone to go home to, that was why he slept in the office. He said it was to guard the place. That would make him a pretty sad husband or father, if he was one. Either way, the boss was the boss and he paid well, even if he was a nigger lover. According to Schultz, Isaiah was just a temporary hire until a more suitable hand could be found. Better be. Time would tell.
The cheque was balanced on the edge of Schultz' desk for me to find. One more breath of air through the open window and it would have been on the floor. I picked it up and looked it over. The amount was right. Ten dollars more than my earned salary meant, "Don't wake me up." It also meant, "Please tolerate Isaiah for another month while I find a suitable replacement." I sighed heavily at it. I knew that good mechanics were a hard find, especially in a small town these days. Anyone worth anything was migrating to the damned cities, and we were left with the blacks. I wouldn't wake him up. Schultz had my pity. For another month.
Isaiah had none of it though. I glared at him as I passed by without a word. The glass paned door was polka dotted with tiny crystal drops and I shoved it open and strode out to my car. The rain had started.
The car was slow in starting. Wet ignition or some such. The wheels splashed through a few puddles to get to the road, which was fairly dry, thank God. It was coming down pretty hard now, but home wasn't far.
I pulled out the little handle to start the windshield wiper. You twisted it one way and the wiper swept all the water off the glass. You twisted it back when you couldn't see again. And you steered the car with the other hand. These inventions were marvellous. A marvel of convenience. Imagine, a clear view in the middle of a thunderstorm? It was unheard of. And with the headlamps, it was no different driving at night in a tempest than in a beautiful day with the clearest skies possible. I wondered why, even in these modern times, it was still avoided so fiercely, going out in unfavourable weather, or at night. It seemed so quaint.
I quickly found out.
I had a very clear view of the giant, ghastly log washed into the road by the rains--the one that I was about to crash into. The one that would shrug me off its shoulders like a brusque villain with no conscience, tip me into the swollen river that paralleled the road like a fatal, suffocating safety net. I preferred a quick death to the slow motion agony of drowning. Or no death at all. I jumped on the brake pedal with both feet as I wrenched the steering wheel left, away from the water.
Something was wrong--nothing happened. Wet conditions must somehow affect brakes, I quickly surmised. What a revelation! Why had no one told me this before? Maybe that was what they had meant by, "We recommend that you head straight home." And I was on a downgrade. There was no hope. The car wouldn't stop.
I skidded into the log sideways and collided with a blind beast, sending water and glass spurting high in many directions. My tires slipped backwards into the river and I clawed at the broken windows to clear a way out. The front tires stuck in the muddy banks and held the car buoying there at an angle with only the hood and a tiny fragment of the cab sticking out of the cold, agitated water. Why hadn't the windshield shattered at least?
I pounded weakly at the windshield. It was good as new. Because the car had gone sideways into the log, my head and the impact had only broken the side windows. It was amazing I was still conscious. Probably bleeding. I wondered how much.
The car wasn't slipping, wasn't precariously balanced, wasn't going anywhere. I had time--a bit. Time to pray for my soul. I heard cars passing by occasionally above me. Maybe they thanked me for clearing the killer log out of the way. Maybe they just concentrated on working the wiper. Either way, none of them stopped. They had their reasons. I was half dead already--probably whole dead before long. It wasn't worth stopping. What could they do?
Then a torch pierced through the glaring droplets on the windshield. Someone shouted down at me and I mustered everything within and shouted back. It hurt my head sharply. Little purple designs crept up from the sides of my eyeballs and I gripped the side of the submerged seat and forced my eyes open, forced my head above the water. I was going fast, but someone was coming so it was worth it. I heard footsteps finally, splashing, hesitating, then someone dived in. There was tapping on the side of the car then a face outside my window, perched on the slippery hood, silhouetted in a sharp shadow against the moon. I saw eyes above me, and fear in them. But they weren't looking at me, instead were fixed on the seat beside me in horror. I pleaded back at them.
Something inside my rescuer's mind was made up and he turned around, scrambled to the front of the car and leapt off to the riverbank. I sunk down beneath the water, bubbles from my nose streaming up in defeat and devastation to the murky surface. I closed my eyes and waited in patience for the purple designs to smother me.
Something blocked the moonlight again on the other side of my eyelids and I jerked them open and rushed to the surface. He was back. His arms were raised above his head, his face contorted with exertion or anguish. I saw his barred teeth and determined, fiery eyes. Then I recognized him. Isaiah. Nigger mechanic. Had he come to finish what nature and my foolishness had started? His fists came down fast with something clenched in them and I ducked beneath the surface again and groped to bury myself down deep. There was something glowing brilliant white beside me on the seat and I fingered it dazedly, astounded. That was what Isaiah had seen. It was my Ku Klux Klan hood and cape, carelessly left in view, identifying me as the enemy, as the hater and destroyer of everything he stood for. Suddenly I didn't blame him. What would I have done if nature had thrown me such a fine hand?
Then I heard something slam down inches from my head and a sheet of glass somewhere exploded into ashes. I heard the pieces rain down onto the surface of the water and I felt his hand reach in and fumble for my collar. He pulled me up and the glass tinkled like chimes on a windy day as my body swept through the fragments floating above me. He laid me out on the hood and laid his head close to my heart. Yes, it was still beating, albeit fast. I whimpered, "Isaiah?"
"You gonna be just fine, neighbour" he said, and threw me around his shoulders, but I wasn't sure what he meant. He lived in the black section of town.
He got me into his car and as I succumbed to purple I heard him say, "You just rest there, Charlie. We gonna get you to a hospital now," and I didn't worry. Somehow Isaiah was looking past my skin and my clothes. I would just rest.
Jesus leaned back in the couch and looked straight into my eyes, through me almost. He said, "Now, what made the black guy his neighbour?"
I said, "Because he showed him mercy, I guess."
Jesus said, "Because Isaiah loved Me enough to love even his own enemy as himself. That's love. That's what I'm talking about. Go, and do thou likewise."