Bloody Sunday Redux
March 7th, 1965.
Grey and cold.
The Alabama River below the bridge riled and green. Us troopers lined up, blocking one end a the trestle bridge. The darkies, all dressed up in they Sunday best, slouch across the bridge two-by-two like animals going into the Ark in a old picture bible.
All quiet; none a their damn singing for once.
I tap my baton side a my leg in time to their march. Bobby on one side a me; Stillwell on the other. Itching to get her done. I’m a big old boy just turned twenty-one, wearing the uniform of a Alabama State Trooper: blue shirt with a tin star pinned over my heart; grey pants with a velvety blue stripe; black boots shined up Sunday special. Sporting one a them old tin hats jest like I’m in a war my granddaddy fought.
Our gas masks give us a apocalyptic air.
We are young and strong.
Black flesh will bleed today.
It is biblical.
We know them nigras is going to break the law of the state of Alabama. They know damn well they in the wrong. Governor Wallace hisself done warned them in no uncertain terms. The captain bull-horns them, trying to talk them down. But, they just keep on coming. Ain’t none a them smiling. They got dead eyes that nigras get when they know they done wrong, like hounds. They stop a good twenty yards from us troopers.
Just the wind and river for a minute and I say, “Come on, come closer, I got something for you boys.”
The baton heavy and righteous in my hand.
Stillwell holds his baton with two hands across his chest and walks slow toward them like when you dealing with a dog been acting funny. I got Stillwell’s back, and all us troopers surge forward, and the nigras, they eyes get all wide, and we walk faster and finally we running and we plow into them like The Bear’s Crimson Tide football team on a sweep right, and still them darkies don’t fight.
One falls and we get all mixed up, and I swing my baton like a scythe. We smite them—sounds like we hitting squash, but they quiet. With one whack, I break one boy's arm like a green stick, bent all to hell.
Blood on the road.
The stench of puke.
I’m breathing hard.
Someone wailing like a child.
They scatter, and we hit them with the tear gas and the horses and the screaming and what all.
Hot damn my blood is boiling.
I’m strutting around that bridge and Stillwell puts his arm around me and when the wind blows away the gas, I rip off the mask and breathe in the cool air off the river.
I’m alive like never before.
They give us free steaks and beer down to T-Bones that night.
* * *
Every March for near half a century they show us boys on TV whipping them darkies.
Old Stillwell says my picture’s in a text book for them fancy schools up North. Says I got the crazed look a Samson slaying the Philistines with the jawbone of a ass.
Was a time us boys had anniversary celebrations down to T-Bones when we seen ourselves on the TV. Me and Bobby and Stillwell’d be getting free rounds all night.
We was right.
We was good.
Then behind our backs the world slowly become a different place, changed in ways we never dreamed, and the people everywhere got all self-righteous, saying sweet Jesus look how jest plain evil them State Troopers was to them Negroes.
As if they wouldn’t a done the same they was in our boots that day.
Our kids come to know it was their Daddy on TV doing that evil. They eyes wished it weren’t me or Bobby or Stillwell. Like to tore me up to see it. Nothing worse than your own child looking at you like you the devil. Come March, we stayed away from T-Bones. We left the TV off. We shut the door on any reporters.
We stopped talking about that Sunday.
Now it ain’t nothing for blacks to go pretty much wherever they wish. Things is better for them.
They got the vote.
Even got they President.
Life ain’t a bowl a peaches, don’t get me wrong. Ain’t a picnic for nobody. Not a doubt, they still hard feelings out there. I don’t mix with them people myself.
Too old to start that kind a thing.
* * *
Another March is here, and this year they want a ceremony, a reenactment of that long ago Sunday. I’m retired from The Force now. They ask me I want to do it, to participate in the reenactment, and I say, “Yessir, proud to do it, proud to do it.”
Even find my baton in the cellar.
I stand on that bridge in Selma once again, and the African-Americans—all old and washed out now—shuffle across the bridge, and us troopers, a bunch a fat old boys now, too, our uniforms shrunken and faded. A few boys who wasn’t even born yet on that day fill in for them who gone to their maker or too ashamed to show their faces.
We stare across the bridge at each other just like we done in March, 1965, as if all those years hadn’t happened. I squint, and the shaky old men across the bridge are young again, and Stillwell’s shoulder rubs against mine, and I can almost believe it’s that day again.
In the center of the bridge, a couple black and white kids sing America the Beautiful with no music but their voices.
The baton is heavier than I remember.
I feel sick.
I’m tapping the baton side my leg, and I’m thinking about what I done, and my hands shaking, and I’m moaning inside my cracked old gas mask. I can’t breathe, so I rip the mask off and everyone sees my old man’s tears, and I throw my baton over the railing: whup, whup, whup, it flies through the air to the river below; and I walk, then run as fast as a fat old man can across the invisible line to where them people stand and their eyes big just like before, and they move back except a one young one and an old man. No way the boy was on this bridge on that Sunday, but the old man, maybe he’s the one I busted up all them years ago.
For a second I’m back then but the old man is smiling with beautiful white teeth, and my hand is a fist along the side of my leg, and the boy must see the fist and see the act in my eyes but before I do it the boy grabs my arm, his hand so strong my fist is crushed into a bunch of broke fingers, and the old man, the old man hugs me, and he smells like clean laundry, and I’m kind of stiff about the hug but then we crying in each other’s arms, and I look around and everyone is crying.
Even old Stillwell.