“This shit’s getting old. As soon as I get this money I’m bouncing.” John said, blotting the sweat from his cornrows as the southern sun scrawled across the sky like solar graffiti.
“It’s done been old, boo.” Juanita replied, wiping down her side of the car at the carwash where they worked in Greenville, South Carolina. She dredged the towel slow and methodical, a slight tremble to her hands, as dark and leathery as an old family bible. “And John, when you’re done with that side do the tires.” She stood up and noticed he was gone.
She had the tired and eternal weariness that only the Sun and the stars and ancient things knew.
Since six years old Juanita had worked the share cropper fields, plucked potatoes from dirt and converted them to moonshine to sell. And now nearing sixty, she was forty years deep at the carwash. She had seen the civil rights movement tidal in, and crack apart in the eighties.
She had borne witness to the sit in at Woolworth‘s, local leader Jesse Jackson’s rise to the national stage, and yet the cars still flowed in, cars she’d never drive, going places she’d never see. But most of all she watched generations of children rise and fall, born and buried beneath that southern sun.
After a half-hour, Juanita’s nineteen year-old trainee John returned cloaked in cannabis smoke, enraged. Smoking up had done little to quell his anger. This summer alone, three of her trainees at the carwash had been arrested, two had been shot, not all of them black, but all of them young men with a fever in their hearts.
“That motherfucker,” John sniped, furiously wiping down the wet car with a rag, kicking the supply cart. His eyes narrowed on an idling Coupe de Ville on the corner.
Juanita sighed, and continued to dry her side. “Now calm down sugah before you get too worked up.”
Like a train engine ignoring a gnat, he hammered on. “These motherfuckers be tripping, saying I owe them money. Nah, fuck that and fuck them, they be the ones that shorted me.” He slid his red shirt up to reveal a 9mm. “I always keep it trill.”
Juanita closed her eyes, whispered a prayer to the Lord to guide John’s heart, and wiped the sweat from her brow.
“Now we ain’t need none of that foolishness, it ain’t worth it.”
The summer sun poured down like rum, brains fried, sweat bulbed up from scorched black skin, stinging eyes, and the cars continued to tidal in. Thrice now, to John’s ire, the same candy-painted Coupe de Ville with tinted windows had circled.
“Just let it go,” Juanita soothed.
To Juanita’s frustration the carwash had become a smuggling station for firearms and narcotics. Cars were driven in with products stashed under seats, and the products swapped for cash by a worker. It moved as precise as celestial bodies in the night sky. Until earlier that day when a kilo of cocaine came up light and accusations swarmed around John. The system had broken.
And so had Johns patience, he hurled a bucket against a wall, soap and sponges spinning in the air. He bounded in the direction of the idling car. The Coupe de Ville roared up. Back window open. A kid flashed a Glock out the window, taunting John from behind a shroud of weed smoke.
John, defiant, raised his arms up and stepped towards the vehicle. Before his confidence could shift, percussive pops and rising smoke filled the air. The first bullet struck his artery. The second bullet broke his movement as effortlessly as an autumn wind snaps a leaf from a tree.
John’s body twitched in mid-stance, and collapsed. Juanita barreled over as fast as her arthritic knees could carry her, screaming for help. The Coupe de Ville was already around the block before she had made it to John.
As the sound of distant sirens warped the air Juanita knelt there, staring at John’s body, now hollowed of soul with blood spreading from his back like wings.