Weren’t our hearts burning inside us
when he talked with us on the road…(Luke 24:32)
Late, on the first day of the week, Cleopas and I caught our breath on Harmony Road—still dirt back then. We stopped to talk and rest our tired legs by a fence row of climbing yellow roses that were only leafed-out in spring green the week before. We didn’t know—not then—that plants all over the County burst like melons into bloom that morning under a sudden rain. Our shoes were caked with mud, so we cleaned the sog with sticks by the rose-bank, thinking about those crazy Pentecostal women who tore into the hardware store (Mr. John had opened for us to meet) hollering about Angels and lightning and maybe a tornado, saying “Hallelujah! He ain’t dead!” I swear, those women smelled like a pound of Avon dusting powder. And, I hate to say it, but who knows what a Pentecostal woman really “sees.”
Well, the dark was coming on deep cause of the new moon, so we slumped back into the wet road. And I wished even more that our mules weren’t sick. But not ten steps toward home and a rain-coated man appeared from nowhere—as if he stepped out of the deep roses themselves. I saw Cleopas reach for his side and stare, cause we know everybody in these parts, and we’d never laid eyes on this man. Could hardly see him now, in fact. But his familiar “Howdy” seemed warm and kind, and I declare I could smell roses like I’d never smelled before. When he said “Can I walk a ways with y’all?” something in us had already changed, and out of the blue we both blurted “Yes.”
Frankly, we were sad and wanted the company. We’d lost a friend on Friday. A black man we loved named Jules got caught up in a rumor about a white-trash woman on the other side of town. We knew he couldn’t of done it, so we set out to stop what couldn’t be stopped. But once the words are going and “white” and “black” are said in the same sentence and the guns are loaded and it’s good and dark—it’s already too late. By the time we reached the railroad tracks past the city limits, we saw the crowd and knew what would be hanging from one of the pines. I wouldn’t tell nobody this ‘cept you, but Jules ate at our own table with us, off my dishes, told me I made the best cornbread and greens he’d ever et, and I said “A little sugar and fatback will do the trick.” And day after day, true as the sun, he showed up to our place, dug holes, and fenced a hundred acres of cow pasture near the creek. Nothing we paid could match that man and his post-hole digging hands.
When we neared the house, our visitor acted like he’d go on, but we’d done told him about Jules, which didn’t surprise him much, and he’d said, “Some things cain’t be helped—but some can.” And hunger was gnawing in me and Cleopas like a sinkhole, so I knew this rainshod fellow might want—might need—some bread, vegetables, and ham. While I set the table, Cleopas arranged a rosette of damp wood in the hearth, struck a match, and blew hard till the fire smoked and popped to life. We took our seats and the traveler we almost knew said he’d be glad to pray—a good sign—and he did “in the named of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” And just as I passed the squash, he turned his chambray collar down where we could see the parchment brown circle of rope burn, twined like snakes his whole neck round. And how we didn’t know what we know now, I’ll never know. But I dropped those squash on the floor like a woman electrified, Cleopas sprang back so fast he broke his chair, and Jules—like a gust of holy smoke—was done up and gone.