Two women, who looked too close in age to be mother and daughter, but that’s what they were, sat on their porch. They were looking at the river. The river flowed as slow as cool pads of butter over oven hot biscuits, and that’s the way they liked it. Life was isolated and peaceful. At least it was, until a month ago.
Everett Jackson, the nearest neighbor upriver, had set up a river rafting- inner tubing tourist stand. And damned if it didn’t quickly become the biggest attraction in the sleepy county. People around these parts were not fond of change, or a neighbor coming into good fortune with a start-up business that was flourishing. The women looked at the river and floating tourists. Many were rumored to be Yankees, coming uninvited to these rural waters. These intruders were riding on inner tubes in their river, half-naked and more than half-drunk.
The older of the two women- Mary, who smokes two packs a day and was not living a so-called healthy lifestyle, looked too young to be a grandmother, which is what she was. Mary said, “What’s this country coming to? I wish all those YouTubers would just leave us alone!”
“Not ‘You’ tubers ma, they are just tubers.”
“Well, they ruin the river,” Mary said. “We all laughed at old Everett Jackson who had failed at everything he turned his attention to, until now. Thirty years of failure and now I got Youtubers on my river.”
“Not Youtubers ma, just tubers.”
Mary knew that this Memorial Day weekend was ruined. “We are good country folk. Good southern folk don’t carry on that way.” She looked at her daughter Dolly, hoping that was true.
Dolly had an assertive disposition and suffered fits of passion. Despite not having a gym membership or a diet of smoothie breakfasts, she had a body that others envied, the kind that looked constructed and fake but wasn’t. She had a natural provocative figure - skinny with big boobs. She looked stunning in a bikini, which she was now wearing. It was a bikini only recently acquired, her first, around the time the first tubes started drifting down the river. She stood there baring all, or almost all. Certainly more than her mother approved of. Mary knew it was too late to give Dolly a piece of her mind over her attire, as it was Dolly who had made her a grandmother before the age of forty.
Dolly knew she was cute, she had a face that was at least an eight. Unlike Dolly’s best friend, Cindy who was a dancer, and also had a stunning body, but had a face that had been described as a five on at least two separate occasions. Dolly was the whole package. Men liked her, boys liked her, women liked her too, as she found out last year at the State Fairgrounds. Everyone liked Dolly.
The early verdict was still out on Dolly’s son Braxton, who was seven years old. Dolly did not know if he was dimwitted like his laybout father, or slow or something. There had been no tests done to determine his mental capacities. He was a boy. Aged seven. And impressionable. He worshiped his uncle Bedford. In the whole of the world, this brought Bedford’s admirers to the grand total of one.
It wasn’t that Bedford doted on Braxton, but if the right combination of drugs were kicking around inside Bedford’s brain, he would rattle away in fantasy and delusion about his pedophillia-ring conspiracy theories. He’d convinced Braxton that their farm was under siege, and was going to be infiltrated at any moment. Bedford was going to be kidnapped and would be a prisoner of war and made to be a sex slave in Tijuana.
Braxton did not comprehend sex in Tijuana but he had heard about slaves, and he didn’t want to be one. Bedford used the N word repeatedly. When Braxton had used that word Dolly slapped him. Even though they were cousins Bedford had made sexual advances towards Dolly, which Dolly had quickly shut down. This led to Bedford bad mouthing Dolly to her son. Along with the slap, Braxton has confused feelings toward his young mother, he would admit he loved her, but he also sorta hated her, as he was supposed to hate all women, according to Bedford.
“Women can’t be trusted. They are coming to kill us. The good lord made guns to keep us safe!” Bedford always said in his sermons. “God is an American! You are a true American!” But even if that’s where Uncle Bedford’s desultory proclamations usually petered out, it stuck with Braxton. He was enraptured. Of course, it was the ignorant, tired rhetoric of racist rednecks Dolly had grown up with and could not stand. She wanted more of a world for her son and so she would not have that talk in her house. Mary’s house, but still.
Braxton thought Bedford was the only adult who would keep him safe. Together they had guns. Lots of guns. He had practiced shooting the wild animals and once killed one of the domesticated pigs. He would not become a sex slave in Tijuana. They were proud Confederates against kiddie porn and black folks.
Bedford went to the foot of the porch. Braxton stayed behind, by the side of the barn, staring at the pigs playing in mud.
Bedford was dressed in his usual summer wear- only flip flops and Confederate Flag long boardshorts, dirty and not popular in the prime surfing parts of the world. He was going to try to get some money from Mary. Though he thought the old witch would probably not give in.
“What do you want, Bedford?” Dolly asked.
“Just want to talk to Mary.”
“Don’t give him any money ma,” Dolly said. “And don’t be filling my boy’s head with your nonsense. I told you I don’t want you coming around any more.”
“I only speak the truth. The truth shall set you free!”
Mary did not only have tubers in her river. She had one on her lawn. His name was Jesse.
Jesse was a mixed race young man from Harlem, named after Owens. Jesse was born and raised by a single mom, who escaped to the city form North Carolina - from an abusive alcoholic White - man. A man Jesse has not seen since the age of 10.
Education was important in the household- going to school was important. And in the home Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Public Enemy was on the stereo and James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Paul Beatty on the book shelves. Jesse listened. Jesse read.
Jesse was a tuber, but he needed to pee, and couldn’t quite figure out how to pee in the river without being seen. And unlike country folk who whip out the pecker in any field they happen to be standing in, city folk are used to peeing inside.
May I use your bathroom, please?” Jesse asked.
“This here is private property?” Mary said.
“What about him?” Jesse asked, pointing at Bedford, who stood dumbfounded in his confederate flag shorts- ruining the summer fun vibes. Like Jesse he was shirtless, but instead of a washboard stomach - Bedford looked simultaneously malnourished and obese- skinny legs stuck out like twigs - while his belly bulged and his face was red and bloated.
“This one’s kin.”
“Oh, I am sorry.” Jesse apologized.
Then Jesse really saw Dolly, not just a glance over, but a look that took her all in. He was instantly smitten. The bikini worked.
“It’s okay Mom,” Dolly said to Mary. I’ll let him pee outside, on the backside of the tractor.” Dolly and Jesse hurried off to be alone.
“Ok, but be quick.” Mary said, “I don’t want our yard trampled by those Youtubers.”
Mary walked into the house to get away from Bedford. She had no money to give him.
Braxton stopped staring at the pigs. He came out of the barn. He saw Bradford drive off in a huff, the tires on his 4X4 spraying gravel as he left. He did not know why Bredford had departed. He thought they would spend the day together. Maybe it was time for war.
Braxton took his finger out of his nostril and put it in his mouth. He sucked. His beady eyes trying to focus on the inner tubers - trying to find where his mother was in that grownup drunk gaiety. He’d never seen adults splash around before. He’d only ever seen adults either sweat with hard labor, or lay around moaning and cursing existence. There was never any recreation and joy. But maybe that was a ploy. Maybe this was an invasion.
It made him furious. His mother should not be a part of this debauchery. He couldn’t see his mom. Maybe the tubers did something to them, maybe they drowned them, the boy thought. Maybe the tubers were actually Navy Seals in disguise.
He went to the barn. He got a gun. An assault rifle, a gun of war, because he knew right where it was. It was the same gun he had used to slaughter the family pig.
Braxton took the gun to the edge of the river. He held down the trigger until the adults stopped screaming. He held down the trigger until the bodies stopped moving. He held down the trigger until the river ran red.
When the first shots rang out, Jesse and Dolly were past the barn, behind the tractor. Jesse was in Dolly’s mouth. He was quick to react. Still hard, he dialed 9-1-1. “There is a shooting, lots of fucking shooting!”
“Stay here, stay down,” Jesse told Dolly. He put his dick away and went into action. Limber and alert he approached the barn, in that 30 seconds - that seemed an eternity, the shots continued to ring out.
A feeling deep inside that had lived with Jesse his whole life was a feeling that he did not belong, not in the south, not in Harlem, he was too black or too white, not country or city, he always wished he could have always been all black rather than what some called half black. And it was just his bad luck to be here now.
When the shooting stopped, Jesse peered around the corner. There was the little boy, standing by the edge of the river. He was holding a spent semi automatic. On the river, bodies were strewn in the water - many floating face down. Dead, but they had not drowned.
Jesse ran to Braxton. Grabbed the gun. Getting it was easier than imagined. Jesse wants to slap the boy, slap the everlasting shit out of him. It would be the most justified slap in the history of the world. But then a slight sense of serenity comes over Jesse, in the heart of all these lost souls and carnage, like the spirit of the universe has seen enough pain for one day. Besides, that slap would have been nothing compared to what is coming for the boy.
Jesse was kneeling next to Braxton, holding the gun when the cop arrived. It wasn’t a lot of cop cars - just the one. A local sheriff. Jesse turned to address the cop and explain the situation when the cop started firing. The sheriff's aim was so bad that every shot missed.
Dolly’s immediate grief at the realization of Braxton’s actions was total. She wished she was dead in that river. She was fighting total collapse and yet she mustered the strength to yell.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot them Daryl. It wasn't him!”
“Who was it then?” Daryl shouted, still pointing the gun, his hands visibly shaking like he’d been electrocuted.
“Braxton,” Dolly sobbed. “Oh Jesus.”
Sheriff Daryl shook his head side to side like he was searching for his ears and couldn’t believe what he heard. Sheriff Daryl was in a panic. Sheriff Daryl didn’t listen, he saw a black man holding a gun and ran forward and continued to fire. He kept missing his target. He slipped, his left leg falling behind him, his right knee coming forward and up, the hand holding the gun bounced off his knee, then Sheriff Daryl inexplicably shot himself in the eye, his first and last ever, bullseye.
Sheriff Daryl slumped over dead.
Jesse thought his luck was maybe changing. A little late, but he’d take being alive.
It took over three hours for the state police and FBI to arrive and secure the scene. Jesse was taken to the hospital. Dolly was detained with Braxton and kept on the property. There was an APB for Bedford. Mary was arrested and taken to the local jailhouse.
Dolly sat in the back of a car. The sorrow was all consuming. She felt like she was falling. There was nothing but emptiness, a hole had opened inside her and her soul fell to a bottomless pit.
An FBI agent was transfering Braxton to a Specialist Juvenile Detention Center in Atlanta. Legally Braxton was underage, too young to be prosecuted- but this was tragically new territory. There was no way the killer was walking free, no matter how young. The ramifications would be worked out later.
It was going to be a long drive. They took Braxton out of the squad car and led him to the truck. A profiling officer with a PHD in child psychology, was helping transport Braxton. In between vehicles, the doctor stopped Braxton and bent down to look into the young boy's eyes, she was braced for pure evil. But she just saw a vacant stare, a lonely dazed expression, the kind her own son got after too much screen time.
The boy put his hand down the back of his pants and was wiggling around.
“Hands where I can see them.”
“I have an itchy butthole.”
“Hands where I can see them!”
The boy put his finger in his mouth.
“Jesus Christ, that's gross!” She said, losing all professional decorum.
The doctor grabbed the boy's wrist.
“Hands by your side.”
“Ok,” said Braxton.
“Why, why did you do it?” The doctor asked.