1/21/2021 3:12:21 PM
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A Native New Yorker, born in Harlem and raised in The Bronx. I spent a great deal of time visiting, living in and working in Virginia. As a result, many of my short stories are in the vein of Zora Neale Hurston, with extensive use of southern black dialect.

As twenty-year old Edward "Rusty" Rainey lay sprawled spread eagle on his back, with his eyes closed, amid pieces of broken glass on one of the check-out counters at the MBD Mini-Mart, he could hear shouts and people running. "Don't move, Rusty," a man's voice said. "De rescue squad's onda way. Should be hair any minute."


Throughout middle and high school, his unusually dark, red, skin and hair, which was the result of the presence of fat under his skin and carotene, had garnered him derisive nicknames. As someone with his skin's pigmentation was what mean-sprited, ignorant children and teens thought how Native Americans looked, it wasn't unusual to hear a "Yo, Geronimo" or a "Hey, Injun Joe" shouted in his direction across a school cafeteria or in the halls. This was often followed by the person patting their hand on their lips, as they imitated the fictionalized Native American actions and sounds they'd seen and heard in western movies. It also didn't help that the Washington Redskins professional football team was based less than fifty miles away from Rusty's hometown of Creston, Virginia. Eventually, however, his peers decided that Edward wasn't so much red, as rust-colored, so "Rusty" became his nickname.


Blood was flowing moderately from two, fairly deep gashes in his forehead and another across his nose. A mini-mart patron had grabbed rolls of paper towels from the shelves and was wadding up sheets of it in an effort to stanch the blood oozing from his wounds. Someone had also placed a coat over him to keep him warm against the cold air coming in through the mini-mart's shattered window.


Rusty heard a man's voice - - it sounded like Didney Marshall - - say, "He mus’ be alright, cause he's still chewin' on some peanuts." In his shock, and without even thinking about it, Rusty had continued chewing the peanuts he'd had in his mouth just before he tumbled through the glass.


Rusty then recalled that he'd been eating a bag of peanuts, while riding his bicycle; a bag he'd been holding in his right hand. Unfortunately, this had made it difficult for him to get a good grip on the right handlebar. That, coupled with the patch of ice on which he'd skidded, had put him in his current position.


Another voice, "Damn, boy. Ya sho know howta make an entrance." Then laughed softly. "But, you gon' be okay." Rusty recognized it as Arthur Walker's.


"Edward, stay still. Helps on de way, baby."


"That sounds like Mrs. Chichester," thought Rusty. "Ah didn't even thank she knew my real name."


Rusty, a lifelong resident of Creston, remembered his laborious pumping of the bicycle's pedals as he came up the hill on Darlington Pike. Pass the bank. Pass the library. Pass the hardware store. Pass the Virginia Electric and Power Company building. Moving slowly, he could feel the cold air against his face, on his hands, and see his breath when he exhaled. He finally reached the top of the hill.


Milner Street, just passed the nursing home, was another hilled street. Only this time, he'd be going down, so it shouldn't be a problem. "Nope," he thought, "No problem at all." Except for the peanuts held by three fingers that should've been with their two other companions gripping the right handlebar and its brake. That and the patch of ice he didn't see on the street. 


He wasn't speeding, and in fact, he'd gently pulled the left handbrake several times, as the bicycle was moving. Now, as he lay on the counter, feeling disoriented and weak, he couldn't help but think that he should've tossed away the bag of peanuts and used the right handbrake, too.


By the time Rusty saw the ice, which was barely visible on the black asphalt, it was too late. In his panic, he squeezed the left handbrake too hard when he ran over the ice. This caused the bicycle's back wheel to turn too quickly to the left. He lost control of it and skidded sideways fifteen feet just as he reached the mini-mart's large, front window. When Rusty hit the angled, concrete barrier in front of a parking space, he was flipped and thrown through the glass.


Fortunately for Rusty, he'd had enough time to brace himself for impact just before he hit the glass; his left shoulder took the brunt of it. Broken glass had sliced him across the forehead and nose during his flip. Additionally, when he landed on the hard plastic counter, the impact had knocked the breath out of him.


He lay still, quiet and bleeding. At one point, someone had taken away blood-soaked paper towels to put on clean paper towels. He looked up to see the large, cardboard sign hanging hanging across the mini-mart's entrance. The sign listed the names of people who had written bad checks to the mini-mart, and could no longer write or cash checks there. The names, neatly written in large, block letters in heavy, black magic marker, had three simple words above them: "DO NOT CASH ". 


"Guess dis means Ah cain't write no mo' checks in hair eever," he thought to himself and smiled.


"Hey, y'all! He's smilin' an' chewin'!" someone shouted. "Ah hope 'at don't mean he's gittin' delirious on us." Rusty thought it sounded like Tommy Craig.


"Naw, he's okay," said a voice Rusty recognized as the store manager's. "Ah don't thank he hit his haid."


"But, he sho' did slam down on my counta kinda hard," responded the cashier. "Knocked all de bags uppin de air. Ah hope he's gon be alright."


Rusty recognized the voice as belonging to the girl from checkout counter Number 3. Her name tag read, "Toni". No matter how long her line was, he always waited for her to ring up his purchases. She was cute, pleasant and had a great smile. And, now, that he thought about it, he remembered her as being a year behind him in school.


"Don't worry, little girl, he's a strong boy," said the Arthur Walker voice. "Ah seent de way he carries dem big, ole bags downnat de feed sto'."


"Ah got Ed's bicycle," said another voice, he recognized as the salesman from Bankin's, the sporting goods store on the bypass. He'd once heard Rusty's mother refer to him by that name, and decided he'd use it from then on, as well. "It's still in good shape. Might need a new back tire. Ah'll take it ta his folks."


No one had ever shown him this much concern before. In school, his unusual physical appearance kept him from having any real friends. Circumstance caused him to bond with the other targets of bullies; they, too, were outsiders for various reasons. As a young adult, for the most part, he was just considered that odd looking guy who road around town on a bicycle and worked at Barnes' Animal Feed store.


Additionally, since his dark red skin tone was shared by an aunt and an older cousin, it was nothing special to Rusty's family. They were all accustomed to seeing it. Every now and then, a visiting relative or new family friend might remark, "Ah'll be damned, if he ain't got de same colorin' as Aunt Desi." Or, "Ah swear, nobody could evva say you an' James ain't kin, wif dat skin color." Further, as he did nothing exceptionally remarkable as a child, teenager and, so far as a young adult, he wan't given any special attention, good or bad. 


A woman’s voice said, "He looks familiar, Mark. Ah think he went to school with Dennis." She was holding a clump of paper towels against his forehead.


"Yes, honey," came the response of a male voice. "Ah remember seein' him at graduation."


"Dennis always said he was such a nice boy," the woman replied. "Ah think his name is Eddie. At least that's what Dennis called 'im."


"The Boswells," thought Rusty. They were the white family and he and their somewhat timid son, Dennis, had been two of their high school's bullies' victims. This forced them to moderately bond.

Rusty couldn't help but think that his unusual skin color made him stand out among both white and black students at his Lennix County High School's 1973 graduation ceremonies. Therefore, it was little wonder that Mr. and Mrs. Boswell would remember him. He smiled.


‘He's doin' nat smilin' an' chewin' thang agin," said the Tommy Craig voice. "Might have a concoction or sumfin. Rescue squad betta hurry."


But, now, in his stunned state, he had a myriad of people - - old, young, black, and white - - concerned about his well-being. 


Rusty soon heard the sounds of sirens in the distance.


"No, not yet," Rusty thought to himself. 


He tried to get up from the counter. "He cain still move his arms an' legs, so he ain't a cripple," said the Arthur Walker voice. Then Rusty felt someone gently pushing him back down.


A Creston Rescue Squad van pulled into and came to a screeching halt in the mini-mart's parking lot. Two paramedics got out of the van, took a wheeled stretcher from the back of it, and then rushed towards the store's entrance. The mini-mart's manager met them and the door and was explaining what happened as they briskly walked over to Rusty. While they examined and prepared him for transport to Lennix County Hospital, one of the paramedics asked, "Anybody know his name?" 


Rusty heard a mix of voices shout, "Rusty! Edward! Eddie! Ed!"


After they placed Rusty on the stretcher, one paramedic smiled, leaned over to him and said, "What should we call you, son?"


Through a dry throat, he replied, "Edward."


"Good, good. Okay, Edward, we're gonna getchu outta hair an' up ta de hospital, so they cain check you out. Somebody uppair will let your people know where you are an' what happened. But, Ah'm sure some of your friends hair will probably beat 'em to de punch." He smiled.


"Thank you," came Rusty's barely audible response.


As he was slowly being wheeled out of the mini-mart, Rusty could hear all of those wonderful voices wishing him good luck, telling him that he'd be okay, and they'd be around to check in on him. 


Tears formed in Rusty's eyes, with one slowly rolling down his right cheek.


"Don't cry, son. You gon be okay," came the reassuring voice of the paramedic with whom he'd been speaking.


Rusty, however, wasn't crying out of pain or concern for his health. He was crying, because he didn't want to leave the mini-mart. Even more importantly, he didn't want to leave the people in the mini-mart. They'd shown more concern for him, and given him more attention than he'd ever had in his life. He wanted that back. He wanted that again.


In addition to receiving seven stitches on his forehead, Rusty was kept in Lennix County Hospital for three days for observation and tests.  During that three-day period he was visited by everyone who had been in the MBD Mini-Mart on that fateful day he’d made his calamitous and painful entrance through its front window.  Now, as his uncle was driving him home from the hospital, he had a thought, "Wheeler's Market has a plate glass winda at de front of it, too. Ah jus' haveta gitta new back tire fo' ma bike, firs'."


Several weeks later, Edward "Rusty" Rainey broke his neck and was killed as he tried to ride his bicycle through the window at Wheeler's Market.


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