Swiftly, the beautiful, young lady walks
down the street clutching her waist in pain. Her
white skin is flushed from her brisk walk. Her
auburn-colored hair flows beneath her wide-
brimmed straw hat. She is dressed well, wearing
a burgundy dress with a white lace collar, and a
pair of buttoned-up heeled shoes. As she walks,
she recognizes no one, and no one recognizes
her. Still, subconsciously she feels these strangers
are wondering why she is freely walking on this
side of town.

As they greet her with smiles of familiarity, she
nervously returns the gestures, thinking to
herself:
If they only knew. If they only knew the
truth. If they knew who my mother was, they
wouldn’t greet me but rather look at me with the
lowest disdain. They would make me walk on dirt,
on top of horse manure. They wouldn’t care, not
in the least. And why should I care? I hate them
for their privilege. I hate them when they greet
me as if I was one of them, as if I belonged on
these wooden planks instead of on the horse-
manured streets.

She begins to reflect, and as she does, her
confidence grows and her pain lessens. She
smiles, thinking of how she fooled strangers
before.
I fooled them in Patesville. I fooled them
in Knoxville.
She thinks of the banker’s son who
loved her in Lynchville. She thinks of how
ignorant he was.
I will fool them again!

She notices an old lady approaching with her old,
negro, male servant and says to herself with an
air of surety:
I will fool this bent-over, old
spinster.
With innermost contempt, she
continues:
I will simply nod my head, and do my
best imitation of all the pretty girls, who wear the
pretty dresses, who live in the big, pretty white
houses. Yes, I will smile the widest smile ever or
maybe, just maybe, I will curtsy! Yes! I will even
curtsy for this old spinster. That will truly
convince her and others as to my so-called proper
upbringing.

As they get closer to each other, she prepares for
the performance of her lifetime. Suddenly, the old
woman stops a few feet in front of her, points her
walking cane at her and says sternly, ”Why are
you here?!” The young lady, taken aback, is
silent. The spinster repeats herself: “Why are you
here?!”

The young lady nervously replies, “I’m passing
through. I’m new in town. I was told the doctor
was just up the street.”

The old woman looks deeply into the eyes of the
younger woman and softly whispers, “You’re a
nigger, a nigger.”

The young lady, in shock, stares at the spinster in
disbelief, but with a sudden, striking change of
attitude, the old woman points her cane down the
road and says politely, “You’re right, my child.
Just a few more doors down. Tell Doc Mortimer
that Miss Steel says hello, and you have a good
day.”

The servant quickly apologizes to the young lady.
“Am so sorry, ma’am. Miss Steel gits dis way nah
and den. She jus’ plum loses hah mind at times.
Must be duh heat.”

Dumbfounded, the young lady simply stares at
him as he speaks. She watches as he takes the
woman by the arm. He continues to apologize as
they gingerly walk on.

The young lady, in fear, shock, and feeling
exposed, wonders:
How did she know? How did
the old spinster know?

Nearby waits a carriage for hire. With heightened
apprehension, she approaches the driver and says
sullenly, “Can you take me to Clarksville?”

“Yes, ma’am, I can . . . but you know that’s
nigger town.”

Peola, clutching her waist in pain says, “I know, I
know.”


Harper Darnell grew up in Detroit and now resides in Dearborn
Heights, Michigan. He began writing street life poetry in the
1980s under the name “Down By Law” after his life was almost
taken. He was first published in a magazine named City Arts
Quarterly by poet and author John Sinclair. Darnell is currently
finishing a book of short stories which includes “In Passing: A
Carriage to Clarksville.”

"The inspiration for this story is the novel The House Behind the
Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt, which follows the lives of
African-Americans 'passing' for white after the Civil War.
Another influence is the movie Imitation of Life starring the
black actress Fredi Washington. Peola is named after her
character."
IN PASSING:
A CARRIAGE TO
CLARKSVILLE
by Harper Darnell
DECEMBER 2020
FLASH FICTION
CONTEST 2020
First Prize
$1,000 Award
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