I heard it through the grapevine

Joseph Green sat on the front porch, the wooden veranda creaking with the forward and back motion of the sturdy swing. He loved to sit there penning poems, the gardenias filling the air, offering inspiration. His muse, Phyllis, his beau since 6th grade, had been the subject of most of his prose. This one was different though, it was not a love poem but a poem about betrayal. His heart lurched with every stroke of the pen. His twentieth birthday loomed hard and heavy with the weight of his dilemma. It had been set in stone for so long but how could it now. He was a good Christian boy and she was supposed to be a good Christian girl, it was the principles he had abided by for the whole of his life. He thought she had too, how wrong could he be. He though he knew her so well, now the truth would prevail. His heart ached with the deceit that he had witnessed. His whole world was falling apart. He had always known that he would propose on his 20th birthday but now his plans were in disarray. What should he do, confront her or go ahead as planned?
“Hey son, are you OK?” The veranda door squeaked with more annoyance than normal, his Mamma stood there half in and half out of the house. “Do you want a hot chocolate?” She seemed to think that a hot chocolate would solve his problems. He shook his head without turning round. She sat down beside him and looked at the blank piece of paper and placed her soft, warm brown wrinkled hand on his forearm. “People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear”. He knew she was reciting a song but it didn’t matter, he knew she understood his pain.
“I don’t know what to write Mamma.”
“Write what’s in your heart son. Let her know how you feel, that’s what you usually do and today is no different.” He knew she was right but this poem was so much harder. He had never felt a pain so bad and he didn’t know how to articulate these feelings in the same way. He was no longer in control, his feelings were. She got up and walked away. She was a kind sole, never over bearing but always there when he needed her. She was his brick, his rock, his haven in times of despair, but little comfort now.
Joseph looked up at the throaty rumble of the T Bird drawing up at the front of the house. Cherry red, the colour of lipstick that exuded sexuality, it could only mean one thing, Bobbie was in town, Bobbie his friend from elementary school who popped into and out of his life with the finesse of a tornado, leaving devastation in his path. The resident bad boy who broke all the rules and some hearts along the way, but besides all that, he was the white boy who dared to associate with a black boy, the only one who accepted Joseph as himself, he saw beyond the colour of his skin, beyond his Christian upbringing, but more than anything else beyond the prejudice.
With one arm casually slung over the blood red leather passenger seat, Bobbie leaned forward and shouted his long standing friend with a bolshiness that only he could get away with. “Are you going to sit there all day writing about what could happen or are you going to live it?”
Joseph could not say no to Bobbie, he had this knack of getting his own way, even if it caused trouble along the way. Joseph carefully set his paper and fountain pen down on the swing chair, opened the creaking veranda door and shouted something inaudible to his Mamma. He knew she did not approve of Bobbie, not because she didn’t like him but because he crossed the line, blacks and whites mixing was a line that wasn’t to be crossed and it always ended in trouble. Secretly she was proud of Bobbie for standing up to the bigots but the repercussions on the family were great. It was never the white persons fault, the hammer always fell on the dark side. Life with Bobbie was always exciting if not a little bit on the dangerous side.
“Come on slow coach, this beast needs to be set free.” He said tapping the steering wheel with affection and revving the 225hp engine, causing Mrs Green to stand in the veranda doorway shaking her head with disapproval. Joseph jumped in along side his partner in crime, Bobbie engaged the 2 speed automatic transmission, sending the two souring down the road leaving a farewell wave to his Mamma hanging in the air. With Bobbie in town he would have no time to dwell on his predicament, there was fun to be had.
Bobbie parked the car outside Jo’s Speakeasy Burger Bar, a local hangout, that gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons. But it was cool to hangout there, even though it was not the sort of place your parents would approve of.
“Are you sure about this?” Joseph turned to Bobbie.
“It’ll be cool man, don’t stress.” Nothing seemed to worry Bobbie, he took it all in his stride, but he was a good friend to have. He was the complete opposite to Joseph, a sensitive soul, who tried to stay on the right side of the law.
Entering the bar, Joseph had an uneasy feeling, he wasn’t a drinker and it was renowned for illicit alcohol. The closest he got to alcohol was a root beer and that was in name only.
“Two coffees please, bar tender.” Bobbie winked at the slightly balding man from across the bar, who acknowledged his order with a nod. The bar tender knelt down and produced two beers. Joseph started to protest but Bobbie shot him a look that said don’t. Joseph took the beer and they sat down in a booth. They had a lot of catching up to do, Bobbie had been away in the army for the past six months. He regaled about his life, all about his conquests and Joseph listened intently. His life was so far removed from Bobbies, but in some ways that is why they got on so well, ying and yang. Joseph had missed hearing Bobbies stories, it was like leading a second life without all the worry because he knew how the story ended.
“So what have you been up to mate?” Bobbie said slapping him on the back, “Had any steamy affairs whilst I’ve been away?“ Bobbie knew only too well there was only on girl for Joseph. Joseph bowed his head in contemplation of how to answer.
“She’s been cheating on me. I don’t know what to do about it, I heard she was chatting up some white guy, she was all over him.”
“Don’t be daft, not Phyllis, she wouldn’t.” Bobbie sat back on the cool leather and draped his arm over the back of the seat trying to take in the news.
“I’ve heard talk too. You know my plans for my birthday, now I don’t know what to do.”

“You’ve got to have it out with Phyllis man, you need to hear her side of the story.” Bobbie took a big slug of beer, wiping the residue from his chin with the flick of his back hand. Joseph’s still sat on the table untouched, his hands wrapped around the bottle like he was praying. The smell of food and the sound of her name made the bile rise in his stomach, he felt like he was going to be sick. His tongue felt rough with dryness at the mere thought of confronting her and asking her outright if she’d been cheating, it was more than he could handle. Even though his mouth was dry he could not bring himself to sip his drink.
A shadow cast at their booth, but Joseph still remained with his head down. The silent figure stood with his arms folded, his entourage casting an even darker shadow.
“What’s eating you Collins?” Bobbie was the first to speak, never one to shy away from a fight.
“Well I was just wondering what that bad smell was, can you smell it?” Joseph kept his head down not wanting to draw any attention to himself but fully aware what was going on.
“Collins, go do one, you’re not welcome here.” A defiant Bobbie shot him down but they both knew that was not the end of it.
“So what do we have here?” Collins grabbed the drink from Joseph’s grasp, sloshing the amber liquid all over the table. Collins took a large swig, then pretending to look at his watch tipped the remainder over Joseph’s bowed head. Bobbie immediately sprung to life and grabbed Collins by the throat, pinning him against the cushioned wall of the bar. What happened next was not obvious to onlookers as everyone was focused on Bobbie and Collins but with the flick of a knife, a blade sliced through Joseph’s side, blood seeping onto the cream leather seats. Joseph looked down at the blood that was seeping through his splayed fingers and then up at the empty space that surrounded him. The dark shadows had disappeared, the fracas between Collins and Bobbie had ceased and all eyes were on Joseph. It was almost like slow motion that Bobbie responded.
“Oh my God. Quick someone call 911. No I’ll take him.” Without another thought Bobbie grabbed some napkins off the bar and passed them to Joseph. “Keep applying the pressure.” Bobbie put his arm around Joseph’s back and put Joseph’s arm around his shoulder and holding his left hand he dragged a semi conscious Joseph with flailing legs to his car. Using every horse power the engine could muster Bobbie threw the car round corners like a bullet ricocheting off a metal hoarding. Screeching to a stop outside the County hospital, he jumped out of the car and ran round to pull Joseph out.
“Help please, help, my friends been stabbed.” Two nurses came running out to see what all the commotion was. Once inside Joseph was rushed in to be assessed leaving Bobbie standing in the middle of the foyer, his hands bloodied and his white shirt smeared with the aftermath of the fight. He bowed, feeling the pain of his dear friend, his bloodied hands holding his head, trying to make sense of it all. So many questions rattling round in his head, but the big one, who cut Joseph?
“Bobbie what are you doing here?” A pretty black nurse, quizzically looked at him.
“Sit down Phyllis.” Bobbie guided her over to the nearest seats and sat her down. “It’s Joseph.”
“What my Joseph? What about him?” Phyllis looked down at Bobbies blood stained hands and then back up at Bobbie.
“What have you done to my Joseph?” She was frantically looking around for some sort of sign that he was OK.
“There was a fight.” Bobbie was trying to explain but the words just wouldn’t come out.
“Joseph in a fight?” Phyllis couldn’t believe what she was hearing, Joseph was a good man, he would never fight. He was her life, he meant everything to her.
“Not Joseph, me…… Collins started a fight with me to distract I think and next thing I know Joseph is sitting there with blood dripping from his stomach.”
“Where is he now?”
“They’ve taken him through but I haven’t heard anything since.”
“Wait here I’ll go find out.” Phyllis disappeared leaving Bobbie to his thoughts. Why would anyone want to hurt Joseph he was such a good man, respectable, quiet and blameless. It seemed like forever before she came back. A tear stained Phyllis sat down next to Bobbie.
“What’s happened?” Bobbie searched Phyllis’ face for some clue, he was thinking the worst. She was a pretty girl, he could see what Joseph saw in her, she had jet black hair, drawn back from her face exposing her high cheekbones and flawless skin. Suddenly she started laughing, much to Bobbies dismay.
“What are you laughing at, it’s not funny.” Bobbie was starting to get angry. “I suppose you’ll be happy as this let’s you off the hook.”
“What are you talking about, why would I want to be let off the hook?” Phyllis replied indignantly.
“Rumour has it you’ve been playing around behind Joseph’s back.”
“What?” Phyllis looked perplexed. “Where did you hear that?”
“Joseph told me.” Phyllis’ laughter turned to tears. She sat looking forward hands clenched in a tight grip on her lap.
“Now it all makes sense.” Phyllis turned to Bobbie. “Just as Joseph was being taken down to theatre he proposed to me. I would never cheat on him, he’s my soul mate. I couldn’t bear life without him.”
“But you were seen with another man, huddled up chatting.”
“So is it a crime to talk to another man now? I have been speaking to lots as I’ve been trying to organise a surprise for Joseph’s birthday.” It all made sense now.

Phyllis turned to Joseph and said “I do.” Then the hospital Chaplin pronounced them man and wife. Although Phyllis knew she wouldn’t be Mrs Green for very long.

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

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