By Grace Washington
I didn’t have time to worry about Momma’s shock and her sudden discovery of Pearl’s condition. Momma looked so odd sitting at the table with her mouth open trying to absorb what all had just happened. The three younger children had put their forks down completely ignoring the meal Momma had made, even though it was everyone’s favorite.
I put my arm around Pearl and walked her back to the bedroom. Pearl was barely in bed when Momma came charging into the room. She was hysterical.
“Grace,” she cried. “We got to call the amblance people! Run across the field to Lillibelle’s and see if she can call them!”
“Momma, ain’t no ambulance comin’ to this part of town after dark,” I reminded her while trying to get more towels to cover the blood that seemed to be everywhere on my sister. “They might not even come during the day!”
Momma screamed and fell to her knees.
“Oh Lordy, help us now in our hour of need,” she said. Tears were streaming down her face. The hands she lifted into the air were shaking. “I call upon the Great God of heaven to come and save this…my errant child.”
I ran to the bathroom and wrung out a wash cloth with some water. When I got back, Pearl was moaning. Her face was so pale.
“Only one person might help us,” I said to Momma. “But you’re not gonna like it.”
Momma looked up. “Who would help us now?” Her face was covered in tears like nothing I had ever seen before.
“Go to Lillibelle’s,” I said. “Call Reverend Samuels. He’s the only one with a car that might take mercy on us and drive us to the colored hospital over in Tilton.”
Mother stared at me as if I had grown horns. “What you mean, girl? I ain’t gonna call my reverend for something like this! You think I want the church people knowing what’s happened here?”
It took a couple of seconds for the impact of Momma’s words to sink in. When they did, I had to sit down next to Pearl on the bed. I felt gutted. Was my own sweet mother more concerned about what church folks thought than her own daughter’s life?
“You know Zinnia and Millie get ahold of this, and we’ll never be able to hold our heads up anywhere in this town again. ”
I turned back to Pearl. She was still moaning, but the sounds grew quieter.
“Momma, forget the church people,” I heard myself hissing at my own mother. “This is your daughter! We need Reverend Samuels’ car. If he has any soul at all he’ll see us as we are. We’re all sinners–he knows that! He’s our only hope, Momma.”
Mother slid to the floor and started rocking back and forth.
I ran to the kitchen.
“Tom, John, you all need to get to Miss Lillibelle’s house and use her telephone to call Reverend Samuels.”
They just stared at me, their eyes wider than the saucers sitting on the table in front of them.
“Is Pearl dyin’?” John asked.
Their innocent, frightened faces made me ache inside. They were getting an education and fast.
“Yes, Pearl is very sick. I need you to help her. Go on, now! And tell Reverend Samuels hurry!”
It seemed like an eternity before I heard Reverend Samuels car in the front yard. Pearl had somehow rallied long enough to scream through a shock of pain and then the fell limp on the bed.
To my shock, Mother left us only to reappear just before the reverend arrived. Her hair had been combed out and she had lipstick on. But no amount of makeup would hide her hysteria. She shook like a leaf and, before Pearl passed out, she wailed with Pearl’s every sound.
The boys led the reverend to our bedroom. He had taken off his coat and hat before he got there as if he was there for a prayer meeting. His face told me he hadn’t expected what he got.
“Reverend Samuels,” I said. “My sister’s got herself in the family way. Something is terribly wrong.”
The reverend nodded. His face was solemn and sad.
“We’re so sorry to take you out of your house tonight,” my mother said shuffling quickly to our pastor. Her words seemed meant for more civil times but her voice was screechy and wild.
To my great relief, Reverend Samuels took my mother’s hand and patted it.
“We got to help little Pearl over there,” he said. “We’re gonna do the best we can and the rest in in God’s hands.”
Momma nodded. Her face and body relaxed and, for the first time since all this happened, she went to Pearl’s side and took her hand.
“You hear that, young lady?” Momma said, her voice a little shaky but not hysterical. “We got to do the best we can. That means you too.”
“Do you know how far along she was?” Reverend Samuel’s asked while he put his coat back on.
“I think she’s about four months along,” I said. Now I understood the shame Mother had felt moments before. Speaking it out loud like that to someone of Reverend Samuel’s stature made me feel so ashamed.
“Alright then,” he said. “I already took the liberty of calling Mercy hospital to let them know we’re coming. I didn’t know how bad it was–just thought it might be pneumonia or some such.”
Without blinking an eye, he gently wedged his way between me and my sister. He scooped her up in his arms like a baby and started walking to the car.
“It’ll take us half an hour to get there,” he continued, as if he wasn’t carrying my unconscious sister in his arms. “Miss Grace, will you be so kind as to ride along with us?”
I grabbed the blankets off the other bed and hurried out with the reverend. Before I got in the car, though, Momma grabbed my arm and pulled me back.
“When all this is over,” she said, her voice filled with anger, “You got a lot of explaining to do, young lady.”
I wanted to tell her how I hadn’t tried to hide anything, that I just didn’t want her to worry, but there wasn’t time. If we wanted Pearl to live, we had to go now.
“I gotta go, Momma.”
Grace Washington is a part-time contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. Like many of our writers, she is from Texas with roots all around the South. Her stories often uncover the realities and courage of those who fight for justice.