Title: Stork Bite
Author: L.K. Simonds
Genre: Historical Fiction
“Everything has to be reconciled eventually.”
Caddo Parish, 1913. On an October morning, a Klansman confronts seventeen-year-old David Walker at a hidden oxbow lake where he has gone to hunt. David accidentally kills the man and hides the crime. His determination to protect his family from reprisal drives him far from home and into manhood.
Shreveport, 1927. Cargie (rhymes with Margie) Barre and Mae Compton are two vastly different young women, but both are defying convention to reach for their dreams. The men in Cargie’s and Mae’s lives help and hinder them in more ways than one. After years in hiding, David Walker finally resurfaces, and we discover the past is never as far from the present as it seems.
When David Walker was seventeen years old, he killed a man.
A white man.
If David had taken the pig trail—his usual path—that Saturday morning, he wouldn’t have been on the highway when a rusted Ford Runabout passed, driven by a man who glared and scowled. The motorcar disappeared around a curve. David heard the engine slow. He stopped walking, and his dog, Huck, sat at his side. The car’s engine revved and grew louder again.
Bourbon Democrats. That’s what Gramps called the rural whites who despised their darker neighbors. They were sprinkled through the countryside.
“Stay away from them,” Gramps said.
“How will I know them?”
Before that October day, the center of David’s secluded, rural life was his maternal grandfather, Gramps, who called David “Big Man.” David was not a big man. He was tall but thin as a rake, so thin he might’ve toppled over in a stiff breeze if the air could’ve gotten hold of him at all.
Gramps had been a sharpshooter in the Union Army’s 7th Louisiana Regiment during the Freedom War. By the time Gramps was seventeen, he had killed many men. But that was war. Afterward, David wondered if war made it easier or if the man’s face haunted you just the same.
When the war ended, Gramps did not go home to Port Barre. Instead, he landed on the staff of his former captain, first in Shreveport, then in New Orleans, where Captain C. C. Antoine served as lieutenant governor for four glorious years that were heady with promises of equality.
David had killed his first deer with Gramps’s Sharps rifle. He patiently fixed the sight on the crease behind the buck’s shoulder and held the long barrel steady, arms burning, until he had a clean shot. He squeezed the trigger. The hammer and the deer seemed to drop at the same time.
“That’s a better use for this gun,” Gramps said.
Gramps was the reason David hunted ducks with a .22 rifle.
“Ain’t nobody hunts ducks with a rifle,” the white man had said.
“I do,” David answered.
That seemed to set him off.
When David heard the Runabout turn around, he said, “C’mon, Huck.” He and the dog hurried into the woods and crouched behind a bramble. The Runabout passed by slowly, the white man half-standing in the vehicle, peering toward the woods. Toward them.
David put his index finger to his lips. “Shhh,” he breathed. The dog looked up at him, his pale blue eyes luminous in the gloom, and licked David’s hand. Huck was a Catahoula Hound, obedient only to David.
The car rolled out of sight. “Let’s go,” David whispered. They made their way to the pig trail they often followed on their reconnoiters. It meandered through the woods for miles. The previous Saturday, David had followed it farther from home than ever—across the Arkansas line—and discovered an oxbow lake that swarmed with mallards.
By the time they reached the lake, David had forgotten all about the Runabout and its driver. There was a pirogue overturned on the shore, with a long paddle tucked beneath it. He wrestled the boat over and laid his rifle and haversack in it. He pushed it to the water’s edge, took up the oar, and prepared to shove off. As soon as he turned to call Huck, he saw the white man step out of the woods. The man wore a pistol on his hip and a badge on his shirt.
The man walked to the boat and raised one boot onto the gunnel. He removed his spectacles and cleaned them with his handkerchief, taking his time about it. He looked over David and Huck and the contents of the pirogue, then he put his glasses back on, hooking a wire arm over each ear.
“Why you takin’ so much trouble to dodge me, boy?” the man asked.
David looked at the ground.
“Say,” he insisted.
“Didn’t mean to be dodging anybody.”
“You’re lyin’ on that count.” The man kicked the pirogue with the side of his boot. “This here boat’s for whites only.”
“Didn’t know that,” David said. “I was just gonna use it, the way folks do.”
The man squared himself on both feet and put his hands on his hips. “Matter of fact, this here county’s pretty much whites only. I know all the coloreds around here, and you ain’t one of ’em. You musta come up from Lousy-ana.”
David did not answer.
The man reached into the boat and fetched out the rifle and the black-tarred haversack. The haversack was Union army issue, surplus gear Gramps had brought home from the war. It had been packed away for many years until Gramps gave it to David on his thirteenth birthday. For the first time in his life, David was thankful no insignia adorned it.
The man sighed. “Reckon I better take you in for trespassin’. You and that Leopard dog.”
Fear thrashed in David’s gut like a pain-savaged animal. He tightened his grip on the long paddle, feeling his knees might give way.
“This is pretty good stuff,” the man said. “Might be enough to pay the fine for you. It ain’t enough for you and the dog. He’ll have to come with me.” He looked David up and down. “Ain’t you a dandy? Outfitted real nice, ain’t ya? New boots. Store-bought clothes. Looks to me like you got money to burn. Where’d ya get all that money?”
“I don’t have any money. You can check.”
“I ain’t checkin’ nothin’! They ain’t no reason for you to be up here poachin’ white folks’ game, now are they? Wha’chu huntin’ anyway?”
“Ain’t nobody hunts ducks with a rifle.”
The man looked at him sharply. “Well, you is just full a cheek, ain’t ya?” He dropped the haversack and took a step forward, lifting the rifle. “Get on the ground!”
Huck barked and rushed him.
The man swung the rifle toward the dog, and David swung the paddle toward the man. The blade of the five-footer left the ground and landed on that milky temple with such swift force that the oar broke into two pieces. The splintering wood sounded like a shot, and David smelled gunpowder. He turned toward Huck.
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In these days of pandemic and restlessness, people lone for a sense of connection to others. We are all more alike on the inside than we are different on the outside, as the title Stork Bite suggests. A stork bite is a birthmark, a metaphor for the way that old stork bites each of us before turning loose. Some of us are hard-bitten, others less so, but it is our humanness and the commonality of our nativities that bind us to one another. Stork Bite celebrates that humanness and that bond.
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