Tag Archives: How Emma Jean Crossed the River

“How Emma Jean Crossed the River” – Fiction by Shawn Frazier

Go Down Death - Aaron Douglas, 1927
Go Down Death – Aaron Douglas, 1927

A woman on the run from the Klan ends up on an otherworldly journey in “How Emma Jean Crossed the River,” Shawn Frazier‘s powerfully gothic short story from our Winter 2016 issue.

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“I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence.” —Socrates

FLASHLIGHTS SPREAD OVER THE WATER LIKE BRIGHT EYES. I ducked. Branches scratched at my legs and arms. The white devils still chased after my Jacob. I tumbled over fallen logs and fell down into the river. The current dragged me under. Quick. I saw so many poor souls stuck between rocks. If black folks knew what was buried in Darlington’s River, they stop holdin baptisms.

We was on our way home once we heard the hounds. We’s stompin through the wood, back from warnin folks that the Klan was comin.

“Emma Jean, go hide by the oak tree where we first kissed. I promise to be there.” Jacob told me. The fool—he called them Klan boys crackers. But I was proud—it was the first time I seen him hold his head up to white men. It was always Yes sir, no sir, and thank you sir before. Where would you like me to nail this sign? NO COLOREDS WANTED, sir.

Under the water. I seen one skeleton dressed in a suit and a woman in a nightgown holding a baby. A man in overalls had some flesh still on his face. He turned his head at me, seemed he grabbed the hem of my skirt. I pulled and pulled, for I don’t know. Til finally my skirt tore and I floated away and up to the surface where orange and brown leaves floated. I reached land and crawled to a patch’a oak tree. My face and my hair and clothes was wet and filthy with mud.

In the sky, the moon looked like a silver coin. And there was stars. I rested on land and stared at the twinklin. I smelt gardenias. Like a good bottle of perfume I once broke whilst cleanin a house. I wanted to be rid of that odor, but it grabbed a hold of me. A rattlesnake slithered in the gardenias and dashed off through the grass when it seen me.

I put my hand around a flower stem, but the petals fell. Each time I touch one, it died. The white petals crinkled and the perfume smell disappeared. I placed my hand on an oak tree, the leaves fell. Leaves turned yellow, brown and orange. The branches of the oak become toothpicks, stripped of their leaves.

An as I sat there, soakin wet, the moonlight shone out on a ship floating toward where I rested. Big black letters was scrawled on the ship’s surface: R.I. and a third word was all but washed away. There was a loud noise from the boat and the white sheets billowed out from the masts like clothes drying in the sun. A faceless boat covered by fog. Someone held a lantern. That ship dropped its anchor and the water splashed. And they pushed a bit of wood out onto the shore. A young colored boy came down the plank.  He read my name off a clipboard.

“Emma Jean, I apologize for coming so late. A storm came.” He made marks on his clipboard with a feather pen.

Bats hung beneath the ship’s railing. I stepped out from behind the oak.

“I am the ship’s captain, Henry.” Henry smiled—his teeth was cracked and yellow. He said, “Don’t be scared, Emma Jean.”

He wore a cotton blue navy uniform and had medals on his great coat. I never seen nobody, especially no colored, dressed so well unless it was for a funeral or he was headed to trial or it was a Sunday. A red carnation hung out his penny-shaped pocket. His swoll belly stuck out, strainin his coat buttons.

I whispered because I thought the Klan was still in the woods. “Did you see a man? He got on a pair of overalls. This tall,” I held up my hand, “and wears a hat. His name is Jacob.”

“Emma Jean, we are ready to go.”

“How you know who I am? What do you want? I am a married woman and my husband is out here with a rifle.” I lie about being married. I stepped away not sure what he wanted. A wind shook the leaves what was left on the oak.

And Henry said, “Poor thing, you look tired. Come with me. I will take you to where he went.”

I thought that why did Jacob leave me? He went where it was safe. Sure he would. If he was someplace safe, I would be there too with him. Continue reading “How Emma Jean Crossed the River” – Fiction by Shawn Frazier