An Excerpt from: Red Tail Heart: The Life and Love of a Tuskegee Airman

Copyright © 2011 Kenneth W. Williams

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

I sat on the edge of a 17th century fountain with streams of water flowing from the genitals of well-eroded cherubim. I stared at my face in the still waters at the base of the small pool. I was an old man. When did that happen? Where had I been when it happened? In those few seconds, I woke up from a thirty-year nap. I wondered if it was the pursuit of love that sustained me and not the attainment of the love I pursued. What I had missed in pursuit of a love I wasn't even sure would or could be returned. Will she see this wrinkled, rusted-out, old body and turn away in disgust, or will she see me, the ageless me inside that has on some incomprehensible level always loved her? Will she recognize me as the brown man she brought back to life?

Doubt brought on by fear is a mean son-of-a-bitch. It whipped my ass in that square on the first day she caught my eye. Only forty-five minutes remained before the last train that would get me home to Chris in time. The person I wanted more than any other in the world was before me, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even bring myself to call her name. I couldn’t grab the brass ring that eluded me for so long, that stood unobstructed only a few feet away.

I took the long train ride home and returned to the fountain for twelve straight days. Every one of those chilly mornings, I left our flat, having made up my mind that I would reclaim my true love that day. These were mornings following close on the tail of sleepless nights spent wallowing in self-pity and shame. Then every afternoon, just when she came into view, I’d decide not to complicate her life by reentering it. Her rides seemed so simple and pleasurable, her days organized and predictable. No just man, I convinced myself, could take that from her.

On day thirteen, my world seemed to collapse in on itself. I arrived at the square with Chris in tow and every shred of courage left in my body stuffed tightly into my puffed out chest. This is the day I will make myself known to Marie, I repeated to myself all the way to Rouen. I decided to sit on the bench outside the post office this time, too near to run away and too close to hide. I decided to sit directly in her line of vision, thinking that if she felt even an ounce of what I did for her, we wouldn’t need to exchange words. She peddled around the bakery and onto the main road near city hall. She was still beautiful. I removed my brown fedora and sat as erect as my aged bones allowed. When she passed the bakery, barely a block away, a voice called out to her, “Mama.” She stopped her bicycle, laid it against a lamppost, and greeted her son.

Time stopped for me. The man calling her name was mixed, I could tell from where I sat. He was in his thirties with jet-black, wavy hair, and yellow skin. Could he be our son? No, the answer came soon when another called, “Mama.” He was mixed too. His hair was tighter and brown. His skin was browner. I overheard them discuss dinner at her house for that night with their other three brothers and their families.

“Do you know those people, Uncle Roy?” Chris asked.

“Maybe. I don’t know yet,” I answered.

So, she has moved on, I thought. My answer stood before me. She didn’t feel what I felt. The cables holding my elevator snapped and sent me plunging to the ground floor twenty flights below. Every emotion, dream, and hope that formed the foundation of my life up to that point suddenly receded into darkness. I was free falling into the hell of despair with no reason, desire or way to stop. From one minute to the next, my life lost purpose.

I remember being silent, imploding into myself and breaking down. Everything that was wrong with that quaint French city--the screeching train wheels, screaming babies, and haggling marketers--was suddenly pounding relentlessly on my head trying to get in and cause havoc.

I was up from the bench and dragging Chris behind me before I thought about fleeing. I was walking toward the train station before I thought about leaving. I remember wanting to hit something, anything. I wanted to hear the sound of splitting wood, breaking glass, or even crushing human bone. I wanted a reason to explode, to destroy and decimate order. I wanted to kick myself in the ass until I couldn’t walk any more. I wanted to curl up in the middle of the street and waste away to nothing bearing the entire pain and disfigurement attendant thereto. The next train would leave in less than thirty minutes, and I wanted more to throw myself under it than ride in it. I remember wondering whether I would feel any pain when it tore across my body, or whether I was now beyond physical pain and suffering.

As I walked away, it was then that I drew her attention. Marie told me later that I cried out her name like a drowning man exhaling his last breath. I don’t remember that. She said my cry jolted her, almost knocking her off her feet. It was then that she answered and called out to me. Her familiar voice drowned out the noise and destruction pounding inside my head.

“Roy! Please, my God, let it be you.”

I turned to find Marie suddenly in my arms. She was warm, frail, and her mostly gray hair still smelled of honeysuckle. Tears streamed down her reddened cheeks, and she could barely take in air. When she touched me, we dropped to our knees, finally succumbing to the burdens of thirty-five years apart.

“Why so long?” she asked. Before I could answer, she placed two fingers across my lips gently and said, “Never mind why; today is yesterday; today is tomorrow; today is forever.”

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