The newly married couple from Cottonplant Arkansas came as soon as the husbands mother wrote him to bring "Yourself and your new wife to join me in Detroit." She letter danced into twirling images looping around to the very edges." My pastor na' found an apartmentfor ya'll. I ain't seen the place, but pastor put in the good word. Come sooner than later pastor current tenants leaving soon son. Pastor say you can help out at the church till other work come about you hear what i'm saying soon. Soon as I get word I be waiting at the train station with Grady just let me know when. Love Mama."
One trip down that winding road to town telegram sent maked urgent husband and wife arrived the next week! Carrying overstuffed bags tears, kisses and hugs they piled into Grady's car headed to their new home. " Now like I wrote ya'll I ain't seen it but, pastor say it small," her voice dropped down to a whisper "Real small no windows but" Her son took her hand.
"Shhh mama it be fine. I could care less " taking his mama's hand to his lips he kissing it tenderly " i'm close to my mama"
Oh those words alone brought fresh tears with the overwhelming feeling of just how bad she missed her only child. The street where Grady parked was busy with the comings and going of a late Saturday afternoon comings and goings. The sidewalk in front was colored with images of childhood art. It was all new to the husband and wife country eyes. the tall building and held together by cement. different than the dirt road and wide spaces filled with families of trees.
Three flights of stairs later which he'd carred both bags and while helping both his wife and mother tho neither required it they arrived. Stood outside in the hallway with the fast talking owner who didn't offer or seem to care to have them open the door to take a look. The white man played with a ring of keys nearly as big as a dinner plate. He hardly looked at the three negroes after the first swept of his eyes. His experience told him negro's got what they was offered and the endless thank-yous was proof. He counted the bills handed them the one key. "Thank you sir" The tall dark negro spoke but by then the white man was headed down the stairs "First of the month no later" and left. They went in after playing with the lock for more than a minute one by one the husbad last kept the bags in his hands and looked around thinking.
Dis too small for a sofa ! he didn't share his disappointment even put a smile on his face but still thinking. look like it started out as a over-sized pantry. A single bed with a wore mattress sat un-inviting in the corner. He knew for sure he'd find a new home for that un-viting bed no way he let his wife sleep on it.
"Its wonderful Mama" bent to kiss the top of her head. "Yes" his wife added not a ounce of anything more but gratitude in her warm voice.Thank you Mother Hattie"
Imogene's thoughts never bothered on how small the place was. Yes it would take some getting used to driving from the train station alone told her that. Where the wide porches to sit a spell or the road to figure out which way to town and which way to fishing. All those folks in the city outside the car window was moving like a summer storm coming. But she though sitting beside her husband it didn't matter. She was more than ready to finally let go of holding her breath, A habit she'd had since way back always anticipating bad news. Her own mother God rest her soul told Imogen: the woman that caught you at birth had to slap your bottom twice to get you to breath. You come in the world fighting not to be here "I aways wondered if you knew" that was enough words said rest of the story sat between up till her mother left this world for the next. Eight months into her prenancy when the white men came and puller her husband from his bed and took him to the trees.
Nope Imogene didn't take in how small the place as her husband did. She was glad to be from the brutal hell of southern segregation. Imogene just wanted the butterflys that occupied her whole life in the south to go away just go fly off and be free.
The space they stood in wasn't always small. In 1934 the building owner took each apartment and divided them into four with a shared bathroom on each floor and raised the rent. As more than dissapointed with the arrival of Negro's he knew they was his pot of gold. He planned on dying a rich man.
The tenants in the building later let the new couple from Arkansas in on the joke :Err' corner he found bigger than a bread box he made another apartment.
Well can't get a sofa to sit on okay! So, the husband brought home an over stuffed second-hand wore out chair with faded roses one could barely make out. But, he told his wife "It got strong legs" . He didn't pay much attention to the wore faded dirty fabric he couldn't care less about the faded roses. He knew Imogene would cover it and make good. The room did not come with a window like his mama said and the window in the back faced the brick wall. His Mama Mrs. Hattie came back the next day after church gave them a lamp with a yellow shade stayed a little while got up off the second hand chair smiled "Be good now I see you at church next Sunday and dinner at my house afterwards" and headed to her small apartment less than three blocks . The kitchen was a hot plate and a ice box . The ice man told them and everyone on the top floors of the apartment buiding “I’m too old to carry ice of dem stairs “
'Well, if she don’t mind” he nodded to his wife Imogen 'I deliver the ice in this building if you give ours for free. I work nights cleaning the church can meet you on the days you deliver if I got time can make part of your route just bring me back home" Done.
One month of settling in there first home he looked around proud of what they had done to the once gloomy place. The second hand chair was recovered with a deep rich green fabric with matching pillows. He'd found a pictue frame on the street and drew a picture of southern sunrise with a rooster sitting on a hill calling his hens. Imogene gasped in complete delight at the beauty of his work "Husband I 'Didn't know you could draw. its beautiful honey read beautiful"
Embrassed in his own ability a secret he'd had since childhood starting with drawing with a stick on a dirt road he joked :Yes you did I drew the world on chocolate back starting at the shoulders down to where you sit your lovely self with my tongue night I married you! " The laughter that night through the thin walls carried 3 floors below and above them.
The day after he hung the picture he came home and found curtains hanging on the wall as if the room had a window.
'If I didn't know any better I would think...'He laughed. 'I pull those curtains back and see the outside world"
"our home not too small for you" she asked.
He sat on the chair and pulled her onto his lap "It’s small… but not to small to hold my woman’s hand' He kissed her cheek 'Bet when I fall asleep tonight my dreams don’t know nuthing about small' She smiled. He looked away momentarily her hand tucked inside of his. She whispered... nervous like hesitant She sqeezed his hand 'Ain’t …too small to tell you we expecting a baby?' The small room they shared the over-sized pantry or once maids room filled up with silence. She wished the lamp his mama gave off just a bit more light she wanted to see every muscle in his dark face. She moved closer smelling the outside world on his skin. Imogene prayed in her head for his words to come soon not knowing what to make of his silence. 'You hear me Percy?' He looked at her with tears for the first time she known of him to cry.
'I'm thinking … how much I love you right now" He lifted his chin to the ceiling. "Thinking how much I love us, love our life”. He took a deep breath and held it a moment before letting it go. He was struggling reaching into his thoughts to sort them out before he handed his words to her.
' The two things I know I can give you and our child.' He placed his hand on her belly 'Is my love and my faith in the life we building together! it will be all right no matter what Imogene... I tell you that for'sure.'
Imogene layed herself onto his chest and peeped around the first home of their life and prayed she never forget this small space small but large enough it held the tears of her man and the words he offered and believed them to be true. Big things do come in small packages.
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