Ruby Mae Jackson was filled with helpless anger and didn’t know what to do about it. Ever since she started growin’ them titties, her life was turned all upside down. Them boys at school would grab them and squeeze, sometimes so hard it hurt real bad! With her light caf?u lait complexion and hair that hung down in close waves rather than tight kinks, she showed promise of a great beauty that took the best features or both her African and her European ancestry. The cheap cracked mirror at home told her she was beautiful and becoming more so with each passing day.
It seemed them old boys just wouldn’t leave her alone! Willie Lincoln was the worst of the whole bunch, pullin’ his big old thang out and rubbin’ it up against her like that. People like him needs to be shot or have it chopped off or something. And that nasty Daisy White was as bad as any old boy, what with her catty tongue an’ all. She was just jealous an’ mean ‘cause she was so ugly with that dam’ flat nose that looked like somebody hit her with a big old ugly stick. Why can’t I be jus’ a little ugly so people likes me?
The thought ran through her head again and again. I don’t acts all snobby and all. Why don’t people jus’ see what I gots inside? They keep sayin’ I try to look white. Well, I wish I could pass and not have all this nigger shit come down on me!
She reached her destination, the big red brick house where her Mama worked for the Johnsons. She walked around to the back door and knocked. She heard the sound of approaching footsteps and Mister Johnson opened the door. Oh shit! She thought to herself.
“Why Ruby, my dear,” he greeted her, “What a pleasant surprise! I suppose you have come to help your mother do the outside windows!” The fat, short, balding lawyer stood in front of her, openly looking her up and down just like she was a prize horse for sale. His greedy stare made her feel all dirty inside.
Perspiration beaded his forehead and great wet patches showed on his shirt where he perspired heavily even though the day was in no way hot. She got a nasty, squirmy feeling in the pit of her stomach as she felt his eyes roam all over her body.
“Hello, sah, is my mamma here? I s’posed to help her wash them outside windows.” She kept her eyes looking down at her feet so she couldn’t see his leering face. ‘Sides, some white folks got all surly if a colored looked ‘em straight in the eyes.
“No, my dear, she and Misses Johnson have gone to deliver some stuff and things for the upcoming church bazaar, They’ll be right back. You just come on in and wait, they’ll be right back.” He stepped back and held the door open for her.
Reluctantly she entered the cool interior of the house. She wanted to refuse but didn’t dare. He closed the door and immediately placed a hand on one cheek of her rear end. He gave it a little squeeze and she twisted out of his grasp. “Oh no, Mist’ Johnson, you hadn’t ought to do that. It ain’t right!” She backed away from him and kept backing until she came up against the wall.
He followed her and grabbed a breast as soon as she couldn’t retreat any further. “It’s okay, my dear! I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. Just let me have a little feel! See, it doesn’t hurt a bit and you’ll soon grow to like it! His other hand reached down and grabbed her crotch. Then he reached up under her dress and began to fondle her in a way no person had ever done before.
He slipped a finger up inside her where it met a resisting barrier. She slipped sideways and tried to get away. “Please, Mist’ Johnson, sah! Please don’ do this! It ain’t nice. You doin’ a real bad thing. Please don’t!” she moved sideways until she was in a corner and no way left to go. “She stood there, head down, tears of shame and frustration rolling down her cheeks. “Oh please don’t do this, please, Mist’ Johnson,
Please!” He continued to fondle her.
“Mist’ Johnson, if you don’t stop this, I gonna tell my mamma!”
He was breathing heavily as her told her, “Why, you don’t want to do that, my dear, then I’d have to let your mother go and she would no longer have a job. And I’d make certain nobody would ever hire her again in this town. You just relax and enjoy it!” He dropped to his knees and brought his head up under her dress and began to feverishly lick her.
Resigned to the circumstances she found herself in, she stood there, unmoving and permitted herself to be used by this white man she now hated passionately. She stood there, legs apart, his fat, sweaty face buried in her crotch. She stood there silently and waited for the ordeal to be over. A firm resolve began to form in her breast as she waited for him to finish. If he could have read her mind, he would not have felt so passionate.
After a few minutes that had seemed like hours, he stopped and labored to his feet. “There, now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Why, before long you’ll learn to like it! They all do!”
She didn’t answer, but turned away and slowly walked outside, her fifteen-year-old heart filled with a terrible rage. I gonna get my ‘venge on you, she silently swore to herself. I gonna makes you wish you never heard of me! Her soft, full lips firmed with terrible resolve. That ol’ white man was goin’ to pay and how! This she knew from deep in her heart. Oh I gonna make you pay real bad! She waited for her mother and Misses Johnson to get back.
As soon as they returned, Mama got out the ammonia and the soap and the vinegar and a pile of old newspapers and they set to work. Because of her weight, Mama couldn’t climb up a ladder to wash the outsides of the many windows on both floors of the Johnson house. Ruby leaned the rickety old ladder up against the house so that the top of the ladder rested on the upper part of the window frame. She then reached through the rungs and applied hot, soapy water laced with ammonia with a natural sponge. The fumes stung her eyes and nose. That was just as well because she had started to silently cry again. She didn’t want Mamma to see.
Then the window would be rinsed with warm vinegar water and shined with old crumpled newspaper. The finished result was a spotless glistening window. She would then climb down, move the ladder again to the next window and repeat the process. During the long afternoon, she never said a word. She silently did her work, lost deep in her own thoughts and feelings of shame and humiliation.
“What’s th’ matter, sugah?” Mama asked her. “You been so quiet all afternoon. Is you sick or somethin?”
“No, Mama, I just feel a little down. I be okay in a little while. She forced herself to smile at her mother as she moved the ladder to another window. “I guess I been studyin’ too much in school, that’s all.” Mama looked at her with loving concern and decided that she had better keep a closer eye on her only child. Maybe she was coming down with something. It just seemed that as soon as children got over one sickness, there was another waiting to get them sick all over again. Yes, she decided, I gonna keep my eye on her. I sho’ don’t want her to come down with nothin. That chil’ jus’ so precious to me!
Finally, the upper windows were all finished and glistened in the late afternoon sunshine, not a speck of dirt showing on any of them. Ruby thankfully began to put everything away. The soap and the ammonia went under the sink and the vinegar was placed back in the big pantry where it belonged. Mama beamed a big white glistening smile of pride at the fine job her little girl had done.
Mister Johnson came out and admired the fine finished work and fished a five dollar bill out of his pants pocket and handed it to a dumfounded Mama. “Here, Clara, give this to that sweet and hard working daughter of yours. This is just a little token of my appreciation for her fine efforts. Why I bet you’re real proud of her.” He turned and went back inside the house leaving a thunderstruck Mama behind, staring at his retreating back.
“Why, what come over that man? He never done nothin’ like that before.” She looked at her approaching daughter and then back at the door Mister Johnson had just gone through. A faint suspicion started to form in her mind. Immediately, she rejected such a foolish notion. Her Ruby was a good girl, she wouldn’t do anything wrong. ‘Specially with no old fat white man like that Mister Johnson. Yes! My Ruby is a real good girl! She repeated it to herself, over and over again. Her Ruby just wouldn’t ever ho’ or do anything with no old white man.
“What Mist’ Johnson want, Mama?” Ruby asked as soon as she was close to her mother.
“Why, I don’ know what all that was about but he give me this here five dollar bill and said it was for you for doing such a good job! Why he get so generous all at once? That man usually make a nickel bend, he hold onto it so tight!”
“Well, Mama, whatever the reason is, you just hang onto it. I don’t need nothin’ right now. “You keep it, Mama.”
The last doubts she had about her daughter’s chastity faded and vanished. If she had of been bein’ a ho’ she would have wanted the money! “Thankee, God, fo’ my daughter Ruby! An’ please fo’give me fo’ doubtin’ her! Amen,” she prayed half aloud. She smiled proudly at the thought of her wonderful daughter and went inside the house to begin to prepare the Johnson’s evening meal. Every evening she would prepare the food and start the cooking process so that all that was left was for Misses Johnson to take it off the stove or out of the oven and serve it to her husband and teenage son. Randolph. Then Mama would go home and repeat the process, cooking for herself and her daughter.
Ruby turned and started down the steps, off the back porch when Mister Johnson called to her, “Ruby, I’ll expect to see you here next Wednesday right after school.” He smiled tightly and then added, “I do believe that your mother is deserving of a five dollar a week raise, if this works out.”
“But that’s my mama’s day off, Mistuh Johnson, sah!” She started to protest and then shut up, as she understood what he was telling her. “You means that iffen I don’t come, my mama lose her job. An if I does come, she gets fi’ dollas mo’ ever’ week. I gots to be you’ ho.” A heavy weight seemed almost to crush her into the sidewalk.
“Now, don’t be so downcast, my dear; why you just might get to enjoy the experience!”
“This real wrong, Mist’ Johnson. This not right what you makin’ me do.” She looked up at his smiling face and saw no respite there for her, none at all.
“Now you just run along and I‘ll see you next Wednesday.” He smiled and went back into the house.
With despair in her heart, the young girl turned away from the Johnson house and slowly walked home. “I hates bein’ a Nigger! Even half is too much! I hates ol’ Mist’ Johnson! I hates ever’body!” She thought a moment and added, “’Cept Mama, that is.” She kicked a can that was in her way and blindly walked home, unaware even of her surroundings.
All the way home she made and unmade plans to grow rich and take her and Mama completely away from the town of Woodman. She fantasized finding gold and having Mama so proud of her as she took her to a place where nobody got looked down upon for being black or even partly so. Suddenly she looked up and saw, with a start, that she had fantasized her way home.
Then she did the only thing she could do. She put all fantasy aside and commenced cleaning house so it would look real nice when Mama got home. Her thoughts never strayed far from what had happened to her that afternoon. She kept reliving the ordeal over and over again, time after time. Finally, the housework all done, she slipped into her room and knelt and prayed. That did her no good either. For the first time in her young life she felt completely alone, adrift without an anchor.
The following Wednesday she slowly and reluctantly walked toward the Johnson’s house. A car drove up behind her and stopped. “Wait, Ruby, get in.” She turned and saw Mister Johnson there, leaning across the front seat, his sweaty face grinning. “Get in, girl.”
As if sleepwalking, she slowly opened the door of the new 1939 La Salle and got in. She sat as far away from her tormentor as she could; her knees pressed tightly together, her schoolbooks anchored firmly on her lap. She didn’t say anything.
Johnson didn’t talk either as he started the car and pulled away from the curb, headed in the opposite direction from his house.
Dreading the answer, she asked, “Where we goin, Mist’ Johnson?”
“Oh,” he answered her gaily, “Misses Johnson is having a garden club meeting. I thought it best if we don’t disturb her; wouldn’t you agree, my dear?”
Ruby didn’t answer, but just stared straight ahead. He drove them across town. He was silent for the rest of the short trip across town. They stopped in front of a small neat cottage. He turned of the engine and slid out, impatiently motioning for her to follow. She got out and followed him inside. She was resigned to the inevitable. She would endure the indignities this man inflicted on her and then go home.
This time he made her undress. As she stood naked in front of him, he undressed also. She looked at his fat belly set on scrawny legs. She shuddered and waited for whatever would happen next. He told her to lie down on the bed and bring her legs apart. He crawled up between her legs and buried his face in her crotch again. She lay there unmoving, staring at the ceiling, waiting for it all to be over. Mercifully it took a very few minutes and then he was back up on his feet donning his clothes and urging her to hurry and get dressed. She hurried willingly.
“Mist’ Johnson, if you likes to do that so much, why you don’t do it with yo’ wife. Miz Johnson, she a nice lady.”
He shuddered at the thought. “Well, my wife is not as young and fresh as you are, Ruby. No, I definitely would not care to do that with my wife. She is not only fat, but almost forty. Besides, the one time I tried it with her she got mad and wouldn’t speak to me for almost a month. No, we can discount that idea completely. Besides, I noticed that you didn’t react quite so negatively this time. See? I told you that you would get to enjoy it!” He smiled and drove he back to where he picked her up and let her out. “See you next Wednesday!” he called, as he drove off.
Ruby trudged home and put the whole experience as far out of her mind as she could. She wanted to get the house picked up before Mama got home from her weekly shopping. Not that there was all that much to do. She and Mama were very neat and clean and kept the old three-room house spic and span always.
Once the routine was set, it never varied. Every Wednesday, Ruby was met by Mister Johnson who drove her to the same house and repeated the same sexual indignities. She stoically endured for the mercifully few minutes and then they both dressed and he took her back and let her out, even repeating the same farewell each time, “See you next Wednesday, Ruby.” This continued for nearly a year, until one Saturday she was again helping her mother make preparations for a party at the Johnson house.
“Ruby,” Missus Johnson called to her, “Mister Johnson is out in the garage changing the oil on his car. Would you take this glass of ice tea out to him?” She handed the glass to Ruby and walked away, saying, “I don’t know why that man doesn’t hire someone to do that little chore. It’s not like we can’t afford it.”
Dutifully Ruby carried the glass of ice tea out to the garage and opened the door. “Mist’ Johnson, here yo’ ice tea.” She saw his legs sticking out from under the car.
The car was supported by one screw jack placed precariously under the front cross member of the frame.
As he shifted under the car, bringing his upper torso out from under the car, he bumped the jack and the car fell off, pinning him to the garage floor. There was no sound other than the thump of the car falling off the jack and a great exhalation of breath as it settled on the pinned man.
His eyes grew wide as he tried to breath. One hand reached for her in supplication. His eyes silently pled with her to jack the car back up and free him. Ruby saw what was happening and smiled. “Why Mist’ Johnson, I does truly believe that you is in deep trouble! An’ they is just me to help you. But you knows what, Mist’ Johnson? I hates you for all you done to me! I guess I better tell somebody that you is dead! But we is goin’ to wait, just to make real sure!” Almost a minute passed. “Bye Now, Mist’ Johnson, don’t you move now!” She sat the ice tea carefully down and walked away. The arm dropped and a hopelessness came over him as the world went black. For the first time, the only time, he realized what hatred this young girl had for him. By the time Ruby brought Missus Johnson out to the garage, he was dead.
The police came and the ambulance. All efforts failed. The body was hauled off to the mortuary. Nobody felt that any more than a perfunctory inquest was needed. The undertaker was called to testify and old Doc Manners. Yes, it was decided that the car fell off the jack and crushed the poor fellow. “Yes,” Doc told the jury. If only someone had been there to help, the poor man would almost surely have been saved. It’s a pity no one was there.”
Ruby cried tears of relief at the funeral. She and Mama were in the back row alone. Whites didn’t sit in church next to coloreds, in those days. Mama cried tears of sorrow for that poor nice man who, out of the kindness of his generous heart had given her a raise of five dollars a week, paying her almost as much as a white woman would be paid for the same work.
Missus Johnson had seen Ruby’s expression after the funeral services. With a shock, she suddenly realized the reason for her late husband’s “generosity” to their maid. Ruby saw the look of comprehension on Missus Johnson’s face. She averted her gaze and hoped Mama wouldn’t be punished.
As they were leaving the church, Missus Johnson came up to Ruby and Mama and said, “Ruby, if it would be all right with your mother, I would like to have you help me at the church tomorrow. Mama looked at Ruby and nodded her head and said, “If Ruby feels up to it, it’s fine with me, ma’am. It be okay with me if it okay with her.
Ruby nodded her head and said, “Yes ma’am.”
Missus Johnson smiled briefly and left, taking her dry eyed son in tow. Ruby and Mama walked slowly home. “Honey, if you don’t want to help Missus Johnson, she’ll understand.”
“That’s okay, Mama. Missus Johnson is a nice lady, I don’t mind.” Mama smiled tenderly at her daughter and they walked on in silence.
The next day, a Wednesday, Missus Johnson picked Ruby up after school in almost the same spot her dead husband had. As Ruby climbed into the car, a small Ford, Missus Johnson fumbled in her purse and withdrew three one dollar bills. She handed them to an uncomprehending Ruby. “Here, take these,” she told the young girl. “I didn’t really need any help, but I needed to talk with you. Go ahead and take the money. It proves you ‘helped’ me.
Ruby accepted the money and waited quietly for what she was very certain was coming next. She said nothing, just stared ahead and waited.
“Oh dear, this is so hard to do!” She paused a moment and then plunged right in to the subject. “Perhaps you noticed that I didn’t seem too grief stricken at my husband’s death.”
Ruby nodded and waited for her to get to the point, even though she knew what the “point” really was.
“Oh, Ruby, was there a ‘special reason’ my husband gave your mother five dollars a week more in wages?”
Ruby nodded once, keeping her eyes to the front, her young body tense.
“Softly, in a hesitant voice, she asked, “Were you the reason for the raise in pay?” She cupped one fist in another and began to chew on her knuckle, her eyes showing her anxiety over what she already knew the answer to be.
“Ma’am, I didn’t want to do it! But he say he fire my mama if I don’t let him do what he want. Please, ma’am, don’t make my mama lose her job over this! Please!”
Missus Johnson patted the young girl on the shoulder and told her, “You just hush that sort of talk. Your mother’s job is safe for as long as she wishes it. Let’s hear no more of that. Now that he is gone, I’m going to need her more than ever.”
She took a deep breath and continued, “My husband was a pig, a filthy pig! The only reason I didn’t leave him was that there was no way I could take care of Randy, if I left him. I have an idea what he wanted of you.” She looked at Ruby who nodded once and looked straight ahead again.
“Tell me, were you there when the car fell off the jack?” Ruby nodded once, still not looking at her. “Er, uh,
Ruby, did you …?” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh no ma’am! I wouldn’t do nothin like that! But I did see it happen and I just stood there and told him how much I hated him an’ that I was glad he was goin’ to die! But I never would of…” She shook her head. It’s just that I didn’t hurry to tell nobody. Tha’s all.” She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them.
“Thank you, Ruby,” She told the young girl, “Thank you. I better take you home now.”