Running From Color tells an unapologetic story about what it means to be on opposing shades of the rainbow; a story that belongs to all people of color.
Literary Fiction African American Literature
||10 publishers interested
in the 1920s in Sugarlock, Tennessee, the scandal surrounding the birth of
Wheat Grass destroys the marriage and family unit built by Paul and Mildred
Grass. Wheat's fair skin and green eyes cause a rift that leads to the death of
her mother, further separating what remains left of the family once had. Paul
Grass steps up and takes in his wife's illegitimate child to raise with his
daughter, Olive in Mound Bayou, MS, but Wheat's exotic look draws unnecessary
attention that Paul cannot single handily fight off in the racist South which
eventually leads to his demise.
After the death of both of her parents, Olive
Grass blames her baby sister for ruining her life and she eventually finds
herself running from color and settling in Chicago; leaving their grandmother,
Deary, to raise Wheat alone. But when Wheat's existence once more causes
tension in the small community of Sugarlock, Wheat must run from color herself
and the only place of safety she can find is in Chicago with her estranged
Once there, Wheat faces much opposition
from her sister but Olive begrudgingly takes her into her home. In Chicago,
Wheat learns that Olive hates her for circumstances she could never control and
that Olive herself has succumbed to society's color line while living in Chicago.
Will these sisters put aside their physical differences to tackle the hurt
caused by their past and the danger that lies ahead? Or will they run from
color once more?
Running from Color tells an unapologetic story about what it means to be on
opposing shades of the chocolate rainbow; a story that belongs to many but has
been silenced in the African American community for years.
Chapter 1: The world is introduced to the Grass family: particularly Mildred, Deary, Olive, and the newborn, Wheat. Opening in 1922 in Sugarlock, TN, readers enter the story during a rough time for Mildred Grass who has recently been abandoned by her husband after giving birth to a fair skinned child. It is here we meet Olive Grass as a child and see the foundation of the resentment she holds toward her maternal family members as a result of her father leaving. Mildred is also murdered because of speculation of the conception of Wheat by a white man.
Chapter 2: Olive races home after witnessing her mother's death to inform her grandmother, Deary. It is in this moment, Olive realizes that despite her belief that her mother ran her father off, she is now motherless and fatherless.
Chapter 3: This chapter sets the stage for Mildred's funeral and fair skinned baby Wheat's grand reveal to the negro community. Mildred's husband, Paul, also returns to Sugarlock with his twin sisters to pay their respects. Paul realizes he made a mistake by leaving Olive behind and announces that he is taking Olive back to Mound Bayou, MS with his family. Paul also promises to take on baby Wheat when she is older and able to walk as the circumstances of her birth should not be placed on her as an innocent child.
Chapter 4: The day Olive is to depart from Sugarlock, she wakes to find that someone has placed Baby Wheat in the bed with her; she examines their physical differences, poking Wheat in her green eyes and making her cry. Paul steps in to explain to Olive that Wheat's father is a white man but that he does not wish for Olive to treat her baby sister any different. He goes on to explain that Olive will no longer live with Deary and Wheat and will start a new journey with her paternal family in Mound Bayou, which Deary vocally protests.
Chapter 5: This chapter fast forwards to the summer of 1934 in Mound Bayou where we able to see an 18-year-old Olive anticipating the yearly arrival of her sister, Wheat, as Paul kept his promise and let Wheat come to spend time with his family during holidays and the summer. Wheat, now 12 years old, has recently had a visitor from her "lady friend" and is excited to tell Olive that she is a "woman" now. Paul asks that Olive have a talk with Wheat about the birds and bees as he recalls the time he tried to have "the talk" with Olive and failed miserably. It is revealed in this chapter that Paul secretly attends NAACP meetings, jeopardizing his livelihood, job, and family. Olive is vocal in her dissatisfaction with Paul's attending meetings late in the night as she fears the KKK will discover Paul's group as they did his brother some time before.
Chapter 6: Wheat examines her big sister, pointing out how big her hips and butt have spread since the last time she saw her. Olive contemplates discussing the birds and bees with Wheat as she thinks back on how she lost her virginity the summer before but decides against it, stating it is best they take a trip to see Paul's twin sisters.
Chapter 7: As they head to their aunt's home, Wheat mentions she plans to be on her best behavior to avoid conflict with her Aunt Berta. Wheat has a theory that Berta hates her and that it must have something to do with her living with Deary during the year but Olive denies it; not wanting Wheat to discover that Paul isn't her biological father. Despite efforts to avoid Berta, Wheat finds herself alone and cornered after Olive is sent off to go finish her chores. Wheat keeps her encounter with Berta to herself as she does not want to start trouble but confirms her suspicions that her aunt hates her.
Chapter 8: We meet Rebecca, Olive and Wheat's cousin. Rebecca senses the tension between Berta and Wheat and tries to explain to Wheat that Berta does not hate her and acts out of love. Wheat is so disgusted with people constantly defending Berta's actions that she runs away from her aunts’ home and returns to her father's house without mentioning the tragic events of the day to Olive.
Chapter 9: Olive's love interest, Bo enters. Displays of their pure teenage love are shown until Bo mistakenly mentions that he too has been attending NAACP meetings in secret. Olive is furious in finding out that not only is Bo attending meetings but that her father kept it a secret for her as well. Olive kicks Bo out and recruits Wheat to help her bake pies to sell at the market the next day; a therapeutic tradition passed down from their mother and Deary.
Chapter 10: Paul wakes early the next morning to cook breakfast for his daughters before they head out to the Hill Market. Olive sells pies at the market twice a month and is sought out by people all over the Delta, black and white. Wheat plays and runs around the market with friends and runs into the infamous Hill family; the Hills are known for their involvement in the KKK. The Hill boys are fascinated with Wheat's skin color as they assume she is a white child playing with dirty negro children. One of the Hill boys reach out to touch Wheat when Paul steps in and claims Wheat as his and threatens to kill the Hill boy if Wheat is harmed. Paul flees with Wheat and Olive as the Hill boys threaten to handle him later.
Chapter 11: The Grass Family returns from the Hill Market in panic and Paul reveals that he and Bo have been secretly making plans to relocate their families up north and must leave immediately due to the threat of the Hill family. Paul instructs Bo to take his wagon to bring back Paul's sisters, Berta and Bertha, and their children. Hours later, just as Paul thinks all is in order to go hide in the creek until nightfall, the KKK arrives at his home, burning a cross in the front yard. Olive witnesses the murder of Paul which ignites a new sense of hate in her towards Wheat as she summizes that the death of her parents are direct results of Wheat.
Chapter 12: The KKK runs Berta and Bertha out of town with the children advising them never to return. The family travels all night until they make it to Sugarlock where they spend the night with Deary. After the children are put to bed, the aunts reveal to Deary that they are leaving Wheat behind to go to Detroit and have no intentions of ever dealing with Wheat again because of the bad luck her presence brings. The next morning, Wheat learns that her father is dead and Olive is leaving her; Olive refuses to ever talk to Deary or Wheat again.
Chapter 13: Enter Part II of Running from Color. This chapter opens in the summer of 1939 in Sugarlock, TN. Wheat has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and is working for the same family that once employed her late mother. She cares for the only child of the Henry family, Cole Henry. It is revealed that the Henry couple is having marital issues as Zola Henry has fallen back in love with her high school sweetheart and Clay Henry is a jobless drunk with a jealous streak. Zola announces that she is leaving Clay but Clay pleads with her for a second chance. Zola tells Clay that he has two weeks to find a job, sober up, and treat Cole like a son and not a stranger. Zola tells Wheat that while she is away in Mississippi, she still expects Wheat to care for Cole and the house.
Chapter 14: After Zola’s announcement, Wheat finishes work for the day and heads to the general store to fix a sweet tooth before going home. While at the general store, she is propositioned by the owner, Mr. Taylor, to sell pies again as no one in town has had one since Mildred’s death. Wheat opts to discuss the idea with Deary first, unsure if baking pies would bring back bad memories. Wheat arrives home and gossips with Deary about the Henry house and Deary expresses her concern for Wheat; she doesn’t think Wheat should work while Zola Henry is away. Wheat agrees to let Deary help her at work for a few days until Deary is convinced of her safety. Deary also agrees to help Wheat bring back the tradition of baking pies.
Chapter 15: Wheat and Deary spend the weekend backing pies and bonding. Deary is still unsure on how she feels about baking pies for profit again but she does not reveal this to Wheat. On Monday morning, they both deliver the pies to the general store before heading to the Henry house.
Chapter 16: Wheat and Deary arrive to the Henry house to discover Clay Henry sitting in the dark because he failed to pay the light bill. Clay is on his best behavior in Deary’s presence. He informs Wheat that Cole is sick and needs to be tended to; Wheat finds Cole hiding in a closet. She discovers Cole has urinated on himself and has bruises but keeps the discovery to herself. After a days work, Wheat and Deary return home; Wheat worries about Cole’s safety as he is left with Clay for the rest of the night.
Chapter 17: A week passes and Clay Henry is still sober and unemployed, causing him to turn to alcohol once again. Wheat arrives at work one morning to find the Henry house a mess and Clay passed out and Cole with a black eye and busted lip. Wheat delicately tends to Cole and then quietly cleans the house as not to wake Clay from his hangover. While cleaning and cooking, Clay sneaks up behind Wheat in the kitchen and corners her, revealing she might be his sister and the only reason he ever employed her was because his father made Clay promise to do so on his deathbed. Clay pins Wheat in a corner and attempts to rape her but is interrupted by Cole, allowing Wheat to escape. But when Wheat arrives home, she realizes she has left Cole behind and returns to the Henry house to find Cole laid out on the floor; she carries him out of the house and runs for the general store to ask Mr. Taylor for help.
Chapter 18: Mr. Taylor and the Sheriff rush Cole to a whites only hospital while Wheat is sent back home to wait for news of Cole’s status. Mr. Taylor returns to the general store to locate contact information for Zola’s family in Mississippi to make them aware of Cole’s hospitalization. Zola arrives hours later with her parents, the rich and influential Duncan and Desiree Dream. Clay also arrives with his in-laws in a suit and is sober. Mr. Dream makes it clear he plans to pursue Wheat to the full extent of the law, blaming her for Cole’s injuries.
Chapter 19: The sheriff and Mr. Taylor leave the hospital and arrive at Deary’s home. They both deliver the bad news that Duncan Dream intends to blame Cole’s injuries on Wheat. Mr. Taylor offers the resolution of helping Wheat leave town to live with her paternal family up north until her innocence can be proved. Wheat protests leaving Sugarlock and looks to Deary for support but Deary agrees that it is best Wheat leave town. Wheat breaks down as she prepares to depart from the only home she’s ever known, worried her paternal family still hates her and will turn her away after so many years.
Chapter 20: Mr. Taylor and the sheriff escort Wheat to Memphis to catch a train to Detroit. They purchase a first-class ticket, indicating she needs to “pass” in order to sit in first class and not be discovered. Before her departure, Mr. Taylor gives a care package to Wheat and leaves her with a family heirloom that makes her question her identity but it is no time to ask questions as the train departs for Detroit.
Stay tuned for more, this manuscript is nearly complete!
Running from Color will attract readers from all walks of life
but is specifically targeted toward people of color, ages 25-45. With the
commercial success of novels like The Color Purple and Waiting to Exhale ,
African American Literature has proven to be an attractive genre to readers of
all backgrounds. Running From Color will also attract millennials as they have proven to be a generation that seeks
out knowledge of their history and events that have led to the current status of their
community. Lastly, fans of my
previous works, Taste of Insanity and SHHH, will enjoy my continuous cause
of giving voices to the voiceless and producing works that reflect the African
American community and taboo subjects we tend to avoid.
Morenikè is a native of Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Provine High School and graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor’s in English. A graduate school dropout, Nija decided to focus on her writing and produced her first short film, "Shoe-icide," in 2011 while simultaneously releasing her debut and sophomore novel, "Taste of Insanity" and "SHHH," respectively. Morenikè has been writing short stories and poems since she was a young girl in elementary school. Her passion for reading and writing stemmed from her early introduction to reading from her parents. She states that, “Reading was very important in my home, my parents’ relationship started from the discussion of a book, reading created my family.” Her goals are to one day become a world-renowned novelist, focusing on African American fiction, poems, short stories, film, and tv shows that reflect the African American community. Nija currently resides in Dallas, TX and is working on the completion of a third novel, "Running from Color," and a screenplay.
The buying power of minorities in the United States is
increasing thus the availability of products that reflect their lives should be
continuously made available for their consumption; Running From Color is one of those products.
“With African American Millennials being the most intense
users of the internet in the USA, based on length of time and frequency, this
is a group that should be of particular interest to advertisers investing in
online campaigns. The current marketing literature states that minorities
respond more favorably to media and imagery that is targeted to them.”
Yuvay Jeanine Meyers, Allison Janeice Morgan, (2013) "Targeted marketing and African American millennial consumers", Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, Vol. 7 Issue: 1, pp.6-17, https://doi.org/10.1108/17505931311316716
I plan to use the internet as a primary tool of marketing and promotion for Running From Color via Facebook,
Tumblr, and Instagram. I plan to purchase advertising blocks and/or acquire
interview slots from reputable sites/venues. A few examples of those outlets
Lastly, I plan to touch base with local book clubs in the Dallas Metro Plex
(Texas), Atlanta Metro Plex (Georgia), and the Jackson Metro Plex (Mississippi)
as I have done with my previous works.
By Nella Larsen
Published by Alfred A. Knopf (April 1929)
a novel set in the 1920s in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. The story
focuses on the rekindling of a friendship of childhood friends that meet again
in adulthood. Clare, who is part black, moves in with her two white aunts after
the loss of her father. In her new household, Clare grows up “passing” as a
white woman and ends up marrying a racist white man. Irene, lives in Harlem and
is married to a darker skinned black man. She can “pass” but takes pride in her
race. It is a tragic mulatto story about the repercussions of denying one’s
truth. Running from Color is similar in that it touches on passing but specifically focuses on colorism
and how it affects the family unit, friendships, and one’s self-worth.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston
Published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. (September 18,
Zora Neale Hurston’s best known work is set in south
and central Florida in the early 20th century. It follows the
journey of Janie Crawford from her teenage years to womanhood. Janie is of
mixed race; a result of her grandmother being raped by her slave owner and
Janie’s mother being raped by a school teacher. Janie is married off to an
older farmer but runs off and secretly marries a smooth-talking politician and
settles in an all-black town. Janie seeks more in life than a man that talks
big talk and she becomes disinterested in the stagnant life they have built. Their
marriage turns abusive as a result until her second husband becomes ill and
dies. His death sets Janie free and she begins dating Tea Cake, the talk of the
town, whom she eventually marries. In her third marriage, Janie feels alive as
she discovers voice, love, and newfound independence. But Tea Cake is bit by a
rabid dog during a hurricane two years later and Janie is forced to kill him.
She is put on trial but the all-white, all male jury finds her not guilty. From
her experiences, Janie is at peace with herself as she realizes she has grown
full circle in life. Running from Color is just as thrilling as this story but
it involves the dramatic climax of a black woman accused of abusing a white
child in which she cares for; Morenike` shares Running from Color from multiple
points of view, sharing different tones.
The Bluest Eye
By Toni Morrison
Published by Holt, Rinehart, & Winston (1970)
This story is set at the end of the Great Depression
in Ohio. The Breedlove family is dysfunctional and broken. Pecola Breedlove is
obsessed with Shirley Temple as a result and because she associates whiteness
with beauty and thinks her black skin is ugly. As tension and abuse within the
household grow worse, Pecola thinks that she would be loved more if she had
blue eyes. Sexual abuse causes Pecola to lose her mind and she finally believes
she has blue eyes. Running from Color taps into self-image and mental illness within the African American community.
The story also spotlights the cohesiveness of family through thick and thin.
The Color Purple
By Alice Walker
Published by Harcourt (1982)
The Color Purple is an epistolary novel set in rural
Georgia. It focuses on the torn sisterhood of Celie and her younger sister,
Nettie. Celie is raped by their stepfather in which she gives birth to two
children. The stepfather then marries Celie off to keep Nettie to himself. The
two are torn apart as Celie is married off to an older man who consistently
reminds Celie how ugly she is and denies her the opportunity to communicate
with her sister. Celie’s marriage is an emotional rollercoaster of abuse and
depression until she encounters resilient women like Sophia and Shug Avery.
Celie spends her days living in the shadows of her husband until she uses her
life experiences as a source of strength to free herself from her abusive
marriage and she eventually reunites with her sister and biological children.
Running from Color focuses on sisterhood torn apart by color and how sisters
must empower one another to free themselves from societal limits.
The Darkest Child
By Delores Phillips
Published by Soho Press (2004)
This story is set during segregation in 1958 in
Pakersfield, Georgia. Rozelle is a mother of ten fatherless children. Beautiful
and fair skinned, Rozelle has a violent hold over her children and is more
concerned with bedding men than caring for her offspring. Her sixth child, Tangy
Mae Quinn, is the darkest of all her siblings and the ugliest per Rozelle.
Tangy Mae has been chosen to be a part of the first integrated class at the
local white high school but she struggles with breaking from her mother’s tight
grip while in pursuit of bettering her life. Running from Color is similar in it touches on the difference in
how fair skinned and darker skinned family members or friends are treated but
it also unfolds in entertaining layers on how to overcome colorism in the
African American community.
March 7, 1922
Mildred Grass bundled up her three-month-old baby in a yarn blanket knitted by her mother. The blanket was big and bulky but she needed to keep baby Wheat's head covered while she was sleeping. She stuffed the baby into a sling across her chest and fumbled with it until she felt her daughter was secure. She turned around to see that her six-year-old daughter, Olive, was still struggling to put on her sweater. Mildred sat down at the battered kitchen table and called to her daughter, "Olive, come hea baby, let mama help ya." Olive stopped fumbling with her sweater long enough to look up at her mother and quietly snarl. She was an unpleasant little girl these days. She let the sweater fall from her hands and she dragged it across the floor until she reached her mother's knees. She put her head down and held the sweater up. Mildred paused in frustration; the child needed a good lashing but she didn't want her to be unruly the rest of the day.
She dusted off the sweater and gently grabbed Olive's face. Olive frowned and folded her arms. "Baby, I need ya to be sweet fa me today. I gots to get these pies out." Olive ignored her and turned her back to Mildred and held out her arms. Mildred sighed heavily and helped her daughter into the sweater. There was no use with Olive, she just prayed she would keep her mouth shut while they were out. She'd never seen her daughter act out like this. Ever since Mildred had given birth to Wheat and her husband, Paul, had walked out, Olive wasn't the same. Every day she frowned and asked Mildred, "where's my Pa Paul? You run him off ain't chu?" And every day Mildred would turn the other cheek as her mother, Deary, spanked the child for being disrespectful. Mildred couldn't whip her; Olive had every right to be mad. She had always been a smart little girl, keen on everything. Olive knew her Pa Paul left because of Wheat. Olive hated her baby sister even though some would say she was too young to even exercise such a strong emotion. She wouldn't hold Wheat, let alone look at her. One night she prayed to God that Wheat would die in her sleep so her Pa Paul would come back. She even promised God she would stop peeing behind the General Store with the boys and start "acking like a lady" as her Grandma Deary would say. But it had been two months and Wheat was still alive and her Pa Paul was still gone.
Olive followed Mildred out of Grandma Deary's little shack. Since Pa Paul had left they were occupying Grandma Deary's main room. Olive missed her old house. It wasn't much but an old stick in the mud but the roof didn't leak and she had her own room right across the way from Mildred and Pa Paul. Now she slept in a bed with her Mama and the baby sister she wished was dead. She had to take a bath in the kitchen, which was connected to the main room, and she had to get dressed in front of the fireplace to keep from shivering. Grandma Deary's house was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It was spring time in Sugarlock, TN and if it wasn't raining then it was windy as hell. Olive slept right under a water leak because Mildred said Wheat was too young to get wet.
"Olive, go git ya sack! Run back in the house and git it! We gots to make the best of this sunny day and get these pies out." Olive trudged back up the steps to the front door, greeted by Grandma Deary. "Look like ya forgot sumn." She held out a sack with five sweet potato pies wrapped firmly so they wouldn't be ruined on the journey. Olive snatched the sack and ran back down the steps before her grandmother could lay hands on her. Grandma Deary yelled out from the front porch, "I'm gone spank that hide raw when ya get back ya hea!" Olive ignored the threats and caught up with her mother, four pies had been delivered and six quarters had been collected.
After Wheat was born, Mildred had stopped baking and delivering pies for a while. She was overwhelmed with her duties as a maid and nanny at the Henry House while dealing with Pa Paul leaving her with Olive and a newborn. Glo Ann Henry had finally given Mildred a day off to deliver pies because as she put it, "I declare, if the women of this town don't stop bothering me about your pies! I promised them at church I would give you a day off just to bake and deliver pies so I guess it's my Christian duty to keep that promise." Glo Ann extended a small piece of paper to Mildred then retreated when she remembered that Mildred couldn't read her own name if she wanted to. "Just make twenty-five pies; ten sweet potato and fifteen pecan. I'll tell you which houses to take them to later. I even raised the price a little. They gone give ya twenty-five cents per pie!" That same night, Mildred prepared her pies with the help of Deary. They needed the money badly. Deary had passed the pie business down to Mildred when she stopped working for white families in town. Her shack was paid for and her land was fertile. All she needed was the land and God to get her through until she went to be home with Him.
Olive held her sack firmly as they made their way down the dirt road. They had already delivered pies to some of the poorer white ladies. The further into town they walked, the richer the families were. The rich ladies always gave an extra dime and a peppermint to Olive. As much as she hated delivering pies, Olive knew she had to smile when they got into town. If she acted up in front of the rich, white ladies, it would be bad for Mildred and Grandma Deary. She knew this was her mama's bread and butter. Every house they stopped by so far wanted to "see that pretty baby" Mildred had been hiding. They fawned over Wheat until Mildred felt uncomfortable and announced that she had to move on to deliver some more pies. Olive didn't understand what the big fuss over Wheat was about; Mildred had kept her home since the day she was born. They hadn't even been back to church since Wheat was born. When Olive asked why, Mildred offered, "don't want all dem sinners and gossipin heathens roun my precious Wheat."
Right before they were to cross the train track into town, Wheat woke up fussing. They only had fifteen more pies to deliver but Wheat wasn't going to wait that long. Mildred went off on a path into the woods until she found a tree stump to rest on. She carefully positioned her sacks against the stump so her pies wouldn't fall. Olive's sack was empty so she used it to sit on the ground. She sat Indian style and rested her chin in one hand while she played with a stick in the dirt until Mildred scolded her, "don't get dirty! Las thang I need ta hea roun town is that I got a dirty Olive!" Olive rolled her eyes and threw the stick away. She was a little tomboy and she loved getting dirty. She loved the way mud felt between her fingers and toes and she got a spanking every time she came home filthy. One day Grandma Deary spanked her and made her get in the basin tub immediately after; she had to wash Olive three times to get all the dirt off her. When Grandma Deary asked her why she loved playing in dirt so much, Olive muttered, "cuz it's pretty like my skin. Pa Paul say so and he don't ever lie."
Olive took a peppermint out of her sweater pocket and sucked on it. Mildred unwrapped Wheat and took her out of the sling so she could get some air. She unbuttoned the top of her dress and held Wheat to her free breast. Wheat squirmed and fussed until she could taste the sweet milk. Mildred sang to Wheat to calm her down. Through Mildred's soprano voice, Olive could hear sticks breaking. She dropped her peppermint trying to get up off the ground. She surveyed the wooden area with her hand on her hip until she saw her classmate, Palmer Wilson, spying on them, watching Wheat suck on a titty! Her mama's titty at that! Olive was mad and wanted to throw something at her mama for taking her titties out in the woods but she was even more upset that a weasel like Palmer Wilson could see it. She balled up her little dark chocolate fist and punched the air. She yelled out, "Palmer Wilson you better git outta here befo I tell everybody you still suck ya thumb and piss in the bed!"
Palmer hadn't realized he'd been seen and foolishly fell on the ground trying to run away. Mildred stopped singing once she realized what was going on. She held Wheat to her breast firmly while scolding Olive and Palmer. "Palmer Wilson, I be sho to tell ya Ma and Paw bout this! Olive Grass, git back ova hea and sit! I bet not ever hear ya swear front of me again!" Olive angrily plopped back down on her sack. "I was tryna save you and I gets in trouble." She folded her arms and pouted. She told herself, nobody told ya to pull out ya tit in the woods no way.
Once Wheat had been burped, played with, and rocked back to sleep, Mildred rewrapped her in the blanket and stuffed her back into the sling. She transferred five pies into Olive's sack and they continued. Olive's frown turned unto a half smile as soon as they crossed the railroad track into town. It was time to put on for the white folks and she knew better than to walk into town frowning. When they delivered pies in town, they had to walk around to the back of houses to the rear entrance. Olive HATED delivering pies to the rich white folks.
They stopped by the barbershop and hair parlor first. Olive delivered one pecan pie to Mr. Tommy Grover. Mr. Grover was one of the nicer white folk in town. He gave Olive a quarter for the pie and he gave her another quarter to keep for herself. She smiled and thanked him as she ran out of the barbershop to wait for Mildred. She examined the shiny quarter and tucked it away in her sweater pocket. She didn't want anyone to see it because she wanted to save it for a rainy day. Olive looked through the glass window to see what was taking her mama so long. Once again, the white women were fawning over baby Wheat. Olive could tell that her mama was nervous but she wondered why; Mildred was "a pro at charming de white folk" according to Grandma Deary.
A few minutes later Mildred rushed out of the hair parlor and lightly pushed Olive to follow her. "We gots two more ta deliver. Let's hurry so we can git back home." The last pie belonged to the family Mildred worked for. They made their way around the back of the house and climbed the steps to the back door. She knocked on the door and shifted baby Wheat around. Olive stayed at the bottom of the stairs and waited for her mama. No one came to the door so Mildred knocked again. She could hear things being knocked over in the house; something told her to turn around and leave. Glo Ann Henry answered the door in her housecoat with her rollers in her hair. Red lipstick was smeared across her lips and right cheek and a cigarette dangled from her mouth. She was drunk and the rancid smell of alcohol spilled from her pores. Mildred blocked Olive's view so she couldn't see her misses in such a state.
Mildred hated to see her boss like this but she was accustomed to it. Glo Ann had always been a drinker; it ran in her family. But ever since she'd been diagnosed with stomach cancer she had become depressed. Some days she drunk herself into a stupor and would fall asleep in the tub praying she would drown but Mildred never ran enough water for that to happen and Glo Ann was too drunk to ever realize it. "What chu come hea fa? You don't preciate a day off do ya?" Her words slurred and her slim frame swayed from side to side. "Miss Glo Ann, is you okay? I come by to give ya a pie for ya hospitality. Thanks to you, I gots a double order of pies fa next week." Glo Ann dragged on her cigarette and watched delightfully as the smoke cloud settled over Wheat's blanket. "I suppose you gone wanna take off ta make all dem pies too huh." Her eyes were bloodshot red and her pupils dilated; Mildred could tell she had been crying.
"Miss Glo Ann don't look like ya feeling too gud. Let me help ya get in bed." Mildred carefully took baby Wheat out of the sling walked back down the stairs and handed the bundled baby to Olive. She whispered to her daughter, "hold her tight; you drop her I'll have your hide. Stay right hea, I'll be back." Olive didn't want to hold Wheat but she didn't want a spanking either. She rolled her eyes at her mother and held the bundle tight. Mildred walked back up the steps and met hostility. "You used to bring that Black Olive roun here all the time. How come you don't let nobody see that Wheat of yours?" Mildred ignored her boss and tried to take the cup from her hands but Glo Ann slapped her hand away. "You got some nerve Mildred Grass. How dare you bring that bastard child here!" Mildred took a step down and held her head down while Glo Ann scolded her in front of her children. "No ma'am, she ain't but a baby, that there both is Paul Grass chirren. You 'member my husband don't chu?"
Fury exploded from Glo Ann's mouth like hot lava. She dropped her glass and it shattered all over the steps. She began to tremble and the cigarette finally fell from her mouth. She poked Mildred in the chest causing warm milk to wet her top as accusations spewed from Glo Ann's mouth. "Don't you sass me! You think I'm stupid? You think I don't know what people been saying? I know what you been up to you black bitch. You been sleeping with my husband. I bet she look just like my Calhoun Henry; lemme see that baby!" Glo Ann tried to get down the stairs to see Wheat but Mildred blocked her with her thick frame. "Move out of my way dammit. You been laying up with my husband in my house and bring a bastard child into this world I deserve to see it!" Glo Ann tried to get past Mildred once more but she was blocked. Mildred turned around and saw fear in Olive's eyes. She silently pleaded with her daughter to run but Olive didn't understand; she was frozen. "I said move out of my way!" Mildred gasped as she floated into the air. She wanted to scream but her voice was trapped in her throat. Mildred hit the ground with a heavy thud, her head landing on the very last step.
Glo Ann vomited at the sight of it all; what had she done? She hadn't realized Olive had seen everything. Olive's eyes filled with tears. Her little chocolate hands tightened around Wheat. She looked into Glo Ann's eyes and filled her with fear. Glo Ann's hands trembled and her voice shook violently, "Olive, baby, come to Miss Henry." She tried to coax the child into walking around Mildred and up the stairs to her but Olive wouldn't budge. Olive slowly unwrapped Wheat from the heavy blanket, her eyes never leaving Glo Ann's; she threw the blanket over her mother's body. Wheat felt much lighter now, so light, Olive figured she could run with her. "Olive this was a mistake ya hear? Just a mistake; come to Miss Henry, come on now." Glo Ann tipped down the stairs and before her toe touched the bottom step next to Mildred's bleeding head, Olive was gone. "Get back hea you monkey!"
Olive had never run so fast in her life. She could hear her heart pounding as she ran through town. Bugs slapped her face and the wind burned her eyes. People called out to her wondering 'why on Earth would she run around like that with that baby. Mildred and Deary gone kill her,' but Olive didn't have time to stop and explain why she'd be excused from a hiding this time. Wheat woke up to wind whipping past her face; the feeling was foreign to her, just as everything else had been these few months in the world. She began to cry, giving her big sister the adrenaline rush she needed to run even faster. By the time she made it to the porch of the sheriff's office, she was out of breath. She stuffed Wheat's thumb in her mouth to shut her up. She stood in the doorway of the office and panted like a tired hunting dog.
Sheriff Lynch Evans could sense trouble. He walked out to the porch with a tin cup of water and handed it to the child as he took the baby out of her arms. He wasn't worried at all; he would just throw the cup away later. He rocked Wheat like she was a porcelain baby doll while starring curiously at Olive. She gulped the refreshing liquid down and looked on in disbelief. She'd never drank out of a white man's cup before or seen a white man hold a black baby. She handed the tin cup back to Lynch. "You Paul and Mildred Grass youngin aint chu?" Olive looked him straight in the eye, unafraid, "yessuh." Lynch was taken aback by how bold she was; he looked back down at baby Wheat's precious face. "Guess the rumors are true; what a shame. Come inside and tell me what got you running roun town like a rabid dog." Lynch turned around to walk into the makeshift station. Olive tugged at his shirt. "I ain't come hea to go in there, I come hea to tell ya Miss Glo Ann Henry, my Mama misses, she kilt my Mama. I need my baby back now suh." Olive extended her hands up to retrieve Wheat but she wasn't tall enough.
Lynch looked bewildered. "What chu just say?" Olive repeated herself; never taking her arms down. She needed her baby sister back. Lynch let her words register with him. He wished she was lying but everybody in town knew Calhoun messed around with any nigger girl he could get next to; just looking at Wheat, she was the spitting image of him. A lot of the men in town messed with nigger girls but it was rare to see offspring from these affairs. A man would do whatever he needed to do to make a nigger girl get rid of his pure, white seed. Unlike the other good Christian men in town, Calhoun was shameless. He paraded around town and did as he pleased and now it'd come to bite him in the ass. "Git on back to your Deary. Tell her I'll be on to see her soon." Olive tightened her grip on Wheat once more and ran out of the sheriff's office. "Don't drop that baby! Deary'll have your hide!" But it was too late, Olive had crossed the train track and was already on the dirt road back home.
Deary was sitting on the porch, shucking corn, and soaking her feet when she noticed Olive running up the road. Rufus, the family mutt, lie at the edge of the porch sleeping while gnats hovered over his head. Rufus didn't budge but Deary's old bones had never moved so fast. Water spilled all over the porch as she jumped to attention. "What in de hell has gotten into dat gal? I'm gone beat her blue!" Deary stomped into the house to find something to whoop Olive with. She was tired of Olive's attitude and behavior. She didn't like punishing her but if Mildred didn't do it then no one would. She looked around the kitchen and the only thing she could spot off hand was a skillet. "She need a beating, but she don't need it that bad. I ain't tryna kill her." Deary decided against threatening the girl with the skillet and shuffled back out to the porch. "I'll just make her pick a switch." Deary huffed and plopped back down in the rickety, wooden chair. By the time Olive made it to the steps of the porch, Rufus woke up in a fit of terror. He barked as his canine instincts told him something wasn’t right. "Hush up dammit!" Rufus whined and sat back down. Deary grabbed Wheat and calmed her down as she screamed at the top of her new lungs; red in the face and blinded by tears. Olive stood on the steps panting like a tired race horse.
"What de hell is wrong wit chu running with her like dat? Go get me a switch! I'm bout tired of you. And where is Milly?" Olive ran past Deary to the basin she'd been soaking her feet in, deciding not to disturb the tub full of corn. As she splashed her face and cupped water into her mouth, Deary slapped at her hide out of frustration. "Don't chu ignore me! Girl what has gotten into you?" Olive raised her arm to avoid her grandmother's sharp blows. "My Mama ... she dead. Miss Glo Ann Henry ... kilt my Mama." Deary stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn't believe the child would go so far as to tell such a lie. She placed Wheat in the groove of the old chair and kneeled on her fragile knees to Olive's height. She grabbed her granddaughter's shoulders and looked into her beady eyes. "Olive Grass, dis lying you been doing lately ain't gone bring ya Pa Paul back. I know you miss him but do you realize had some white folk heard what you just said you'd be hanging from somebody's tree right now?" Olive frowned at the image her grandmother painted. "Dis ain't bout Pa Paul! My Mama dead and I ain't lyin!"
She started to cry, finally facing that Mildred was dead and that she'd seen it happen. Wheat squirmed in the seat of the chair causing it to wobble. All Olive could see was her Mama floating in the air like a black bird; soaring helplessly as a clumsy, white dove flew right past her. Suddenly, she heard a cracking sound and the black bird's neck was broken. "I'm not lyin Deary!" She wiped tears from her eyes and jumped at the sound of more cracking. She was now paranoid and jumpy and in her mind the black bird's neck kept breaking. Rufus sat up again and barked madly. Deary and Olive looked out at the dirt road and saw Sheriff Evans coming by wagon. Moses, the only black carpenter in Sugarlock, was on the back of the wagon; his head held down. The wheels of the wagon creaked along the path as the old horses galloped at their own desired speed toward the shack. Deary began to panic and shook Olive till she was dizzy. "No, Lord, no! What have you done? Say it's a lie! Tell me it's all a lie Olive!" Deary yelled at Olive repeatedly. Sheriff Evans took off his hat to show his respects as he pulled the wagon in front of the porch. Deary let go of Olive and covered her mouth at the sight of her daughter. Olive was dizzy with regret; wishing she could take back everything she had ever done to deserve a hiding. All she wanted was to be a good girl. She looked over into the back of the wagon to see the blanket covering her Mama's legs. It was too late to be a good girl now; the black bird was dead and the dove was still clumsy, but free.
Mildred's funeral was short and sweet. No one saw a need to drag out the events surrounding her death by pressing for an investigation. Everyone knew Glo Ann Henry pushed her down those steps and everyone knew none of Sheriff Lynch Evans's boys was going to look into it. Nobody cared about niggers in Sugarlock, TN. After the funeral and burial, the congregation set up on the front lawn of the church to eat. Deary sat at a picnic table and held Wheat as the women of the church hovered over the baby Mildred had been hiding all this time. Olive sucked her teeth as the 'heathens' fawned over her baby sister. In her eyes, it was Wheat's fault their Mama was dead. Olive observed her surroundings in disgust. All the niggers in Sugarlock were on the front lawn of the church eating and gossiping when they should have been mourning her mother's death. Everybody looked so content like they were happy Mildred was gone. It was like a burden had been lifted off their shoulders. Maybe Mildred’s death could be a lesson to the people of Sugarlock: no more mixing with the other kind.
"Ya daddy wants ta see ya, he down there by the oak tree." Olive felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned around to see her Aunt Berta towering over her. "Yessum." To her surprise, Pa Paul and his sisters had come up from Mound Bayou, Mississippi for the funeral. Olive walked slowly down the hill to the oak tree. Paul's tall, slender frame leaned against the trunk of the tree. As Olive approached, he slid down and crossed his legs. "Come here Miss Olive." She took a seat next to him and collapsed into his ribcage. Paul held her tightly as his shirt grew wet from her tears. "I shouldna never left you. What happened 'tween me and yo ma had nothing to do with you." Olive's chest began to heave. As she listened to her Pa's soothing voice she tried to calm down but the tears had overcome her. "I'm sorry about everything that's happened while I been away. You don't know how much I missed you. It ain right for a girl child ta have ta grow up without a mama." Olive finally pulled away and wiped her eyes. She didn't know what to say; if her father would have been there to protect her none of this would have ever happened but if Wheat had never been born he would have never left. Olive concluded that everything was Wheat's fault. "I hate Wheat, this all her fault. She the reason why, ain she? She the reason you left?"
Paul looked into his little girl's eyes and grew disappointed in himself; his actions had led her to hate an innocent child and that's something he never wanted. He had to admit to himself it had been hard to lay eyes on Wheat again. It wasn't her fault she was conceived. The day she was born, Deary walked out of the room with her head hung in shame. He ignored her foreboding spirit out of sheer excitement ready to finally meet his baby boy and was instead greeted with Mildred's tears and the fresh cries of a white baby girl with green eyes and red hair. The rumors in town were true: some white man had gotten hold of his Milly. Out of anger, Paul slammed the door and roared, "why didn't you say sumn befo!" Mildred shook with fear and held the baby to her breast to feed and quiet her. "I couldn't; it was 'gainst my will. I had to protect my family. They would've hung you." Her words sunk into his ears. She was right; if he knew a white man in town was cornering his wife he would have been dead months ago, but he felt weak and powerless regardless of the fact. What man couldn't protect his family? He stormed out of the room and kissed Olive on the cheek before grabbing his coat and leaving the house. Mildred was too weak to go after him and Deary was too busy restraining Olive from stopping him. Paul went back to his hometown, Mound Bayou, and never looked back until news came that Mildred was dead.
Paul grabbed Olive's face and looked deep into her eyes. "You listen here, ain't nobody raising you to hate nobody. This ain't Wheat fault and it's best you remember that befo you grow up with a black heart." Olive snatched back from her father and folded her arms. "Gone head pout then; I know you got better sense than that to blame this on a baby. If this is anybody fault its mine ..." Paul couldn't finish his sentence as he looked down at Olive pouting like a two-year-old. She was a smart girl but he couldn't expect a grieving child to be logical. He had always been frank with her about things but now it was time he handled her more delicately. He stood up and pulled Olive up with him. "Forget about this for now; let's go get some of Deary's pie." they walked back up the hill to join everyone else as Olive grew dizzy thinking about black birds and pie.
Later that night, Paul rocked Wheat and Olive to sleep. He had never held a white baby before and it felt odd watching it sleep next to his Olive. He tip toed out of the room and entered the candlelit kitchen. He walked in on an intense conversation between Deary and his twin sisters Berta and Becca. "Now I know what my Milly done was wrong but this hea ain gone make it right and you know it!" Paul placed his heavy hand on her shoulder. "What's going on in hea Deary? What yall talkin bout?" Deary held her head high to get her point across and to let Becca and Berta know she wasn't folding on her word. "Your sisters thank they takin Olive outta hea. Ain no sense in tearing them chirren apart! I won't stand fa it. This ain't they fault!"
Berta interrupted. "I don't eem see why you keeping it. Go put it on that white lady doorstep; let her and her husband take care of it." Paul sat down at the table. "We not tearing them apart. Olive can spend her summers with us in the Delta; I won't keep her from you Deary but that baby gotta stay with you. Once she's older and walking she can come down with Olive. Lord knows I don't want my child growing up with hate in her heart 'gainst her sister. Now I said my peace, Berta and Becca you stay out of it. Don't ever talk down bout my late wife front of my daughter again; she don't need to hear that." Deary rolled her eyes at Berta and Becca. She saw no reason to argue with Paul. "Thank you, Paul, for doing the right thing by those chirren." Paul sighed out of frustration and rubbed his temples. "It's all I know to do. Sisters, get cha some rest. We leaving in the morning and we taking Olive wit us."