Samuel Teece wouldn’t believe it. “Why, hell, where’d they get the transportation? How they goin’ to get to Mars?”
“Rockets,” said Grandpa Quartermain.
“All the damn-fool things. Where’d they get rockets?”
“Saved their money and built them.”
“I never heard about it.”
“Seems these niggers kept it secret, worked on the rockets all themselves, don’t know where—in Africa, maybe.”
“Could they do that?” demanded Samuel Teece, pacing about the porch. “Ain’t there a law?”
“It ain’t as if they’re declarin’ war,” said Grandpa quietly.
“Where do they get off, God damn it, workin’ in secret, plottin’?” shouted Teece.
“Schedule is for all this town’s niggers to gather out by Loon Lake. Rockets be there at one o’clock, pick ‘em up, take ‘em to Mars.”
“Telephone the governor, call out the militia,” cried Teece. “They should’ve given notice!”
“Here comes your woman, Teece.”
The men turned again.
As they watched, down the hot road in the windless light first one white woman and then another arrived, all of them with stunned faces, all of them rustling like ancient papers. Some of them were crying, some were stern. All came to find their husbands. They pushed through barroom swing doors, vanishing. They entered cool, quiet groceries. They went in at drug shops and garages. And one of them, Mrs. Clara Teece, came to stand in the dust by the hardware porch, blinking up at her stiff and angry husband as the black river flowed full behind her.
“It’s Lucinda, Pa; you got to come home!”
“I’m not comin’ home for no damn darkie!”
“She’s leaving. What’ll I do without her?”
“Fetch for yourself, maybe. I won’t get down on my knees to stop her.”
“But she’s like a family member,” Mrs. Teece moaned.
“Don’t shout! I won’t have you blubberin’ in public this way about no goddamn—“
His wife’s small sob stopped him. She dabbed at her eyes. “I kept telling her, ‘Lucinda,’ I said, ‘you stay on and I raise your pay, and you get two nights off a week, if you want,’ but she just looked set! I never seen her so set, and I said, ‘Don’t you love me, Lucinda?’ and she said yes, but she had to go because that’s the way it was, is all. She cleaned the house and dusted it and put luncheon on the table and then she went to the parlor door and—and stood there with two bundles, one by each foot, and shook my hand and said, ‘Good-by, Mrs. Teece.’ And she went out the door. And there was her luncheon on the table, and all of us too upset to even eat it. It’s still there now, I know; last time I looked it was getting cold.”
Teece almost struck her. “God damn it, Mrs. Teece, you get the hell home. Standin’ there makin’ a sight of yourself!”
“But, Pa … ”
He strode away into the hot dimness of the store. He came back out a few seconds later with a silver pistol in his hand.
His wife was gone.
The river flowed black between the buildings, with a rustle and a creak and a constant whispering shuffle. It was a very quiet thing, with a great certainty to it; no laughter, no wildness, just a steady, decided, and ceaseless flow.
Teece sat on the edge of his hardwood chair. “If one of ‘em so much as laughs, by Christ, I’ll kill ‘em.”
The men waited.
The river passed quietly in the dreamful noon.
“Looks like you goin’ to have to hoe your own turnips, Sam,” Grandpa chuckled.
“I’m not bad at shootin’ white folks neither.” Teece didn’t look at Grandpa. Grandpa turned his head away and shut up his mouth.
“Hold on there!” Samuel Teece leaped off the porch. He reached up and seized the reins of a horse ridden by a tall Negro man. “You, Belter, come down off there!”
“Yes, sir.” Belter slid down.
Teece looked him over. “Now, just what you think you’re doin’?”
“Well, Mr. Teece … ”
“I reckon you think you’re goin’, just like that song—what’s the words? ‘Way up in the middle of the air’; ain’t that it?”
“Yes, sir.” The Negro waited.