All Right Now

All Right Now charcoal drawing
All Right Now short story illustration. Charcoal drawing by author.

All Right Now

The boy went to Alexander Day School.  Alexander Day School was a private school, one started in response to desegregation in the South.  Alexander’s graduating class was only a hundred students, but that made it the largest and most successful private school in the Delta.

Most of Mississippi’s large plantations were located in the Delta, and this meant there were more kids with checkbooks and BMWs and tennis courts at Alexander than at any other school in the state of Mississippi, including the larger private schools in the state capitol of Jackson.

The boy hated the kids at school.  Their clothes were nicer than what his parents ever wore to work, or church or anywhere else, and they all knew it. He was virtually invisible except for when he was being picked on or put down in some way.  The boy hated the rich white kids for a thousand reasons, but mainly for how much pleasure they took in petty cruelty.

But the boy hated the poor black people too.  Of course he didn’t know any black people, not really, but he knew he hated what he saw all over the Delta, the falling-down shacks and the blue-smoking cars and the trash dumped on the street, the fighting and the drunkenness, the pregnant little girls and the naked children, the walking-dead addicts and the prostitutes.

The boy hated them all for their extreme poverty and misery, and for what it seemed to say about his own prospects at ever finding anything like happiness. In this way, they were just like the greasy handprints on the refrigerator, the worn-out carpet, the smell of the sewage plant.  He hated them because they were a constant reminder that his own life would always be depressing.

At times, the boy would become overwhelmed with disgust at everything, and he hated the whole world.  These bursts of hate were short-lived and intense, but they always died down into a despair that would not leave.

Then something unexpected would happen, just some small act of kindness by a stranger.  The janitor at the post office would smile and say good morning and all right now and snap his fingers and make him laugh.  The joyous fat woman at the deli counter at Jitney Jungle would sneak an extra potato log or two into his sack and say, “Sugar, it’s gone be all right. A boy yo age can’t be that sad about nothin for too long.”

How did they always seem to know, these black strangers who sent him love when he needed it the most?

short story by Joe Riverson Smith