Lee Williams


Today, I’m driving my old black hearse, Thunderbolt, out of the church parking lot and into Mills Avenue. Every time the hearse clunks into one of the potholes that pit Mills, the coffin in the back rattles.

           I take a quick inventory of my life, finding myself unexceptional in almost every way. Is that why I never left this town?

           Pelham, Georgia, is tucked away behind the evergreens, hidden like an unwanted stepchild. “Sleepy,” is the word that comes to mind to describe this metropolis of single-lane streets and dirt roads. As I drive into town I see the occasional lime or neon-orange paint slopped across a house, the type of mistaken absurdity seen in backward, satellite towns. If Pelham were a living thing, it would be a caterpillar stuck inside its cocoon: too ugly to go back, too unprepared to move ahead.

           The blacks live on the north side, along the cotton fields and the brick Baptist churches that line the vacant highway. Glancing in the rusty rear-view mirror, I can see a line of dusty vehicles trailing behind me. I keep on, my foot hovering over Thunderbolt’s gas pedal with a light touch. Our procession creeps past the mud-soaked streets pocked with pants-sagging youths. Before jail or drugs claim them, they are free and living on borrowed time.

           The road is narrow. The subwoofers of passing cars vibrate Thunderbolt’s tinted windows, and I can almost see the sweating pitchers of sweet tea and Kool-Aid on the counters of the subsidized housing units as I pass them. It’s a diabetic’s paradise, this town. And it’s got all the diversity of a chess board—black squares and white squares—with a dash of Hispanic red thrown in.

           The whites to the east are oblivious to their backwardness, to their South Georgia accents dribbling like gravy dangling from a spoon. The saintly among them attend the Catholic church, ignoring the skeleton of the abandoned Randall building next door.

           Today’s Sunday. As Thunderbolt clanks up a brick road, I receive nods from the churchgoing white ladies, always proper. They like to clasp their darkest secrets between their gloved hands. They will never leave their broken homes.

           A few more minutes and I and my snail-trail funeral convoy reach the outskirts, where the asphalt meets dusty trails. The pristine woods out here hold Southern secrets, too. I turn the wheel and Thunderbolt trundles off the trail onto a rock drive toward an open field studded with headstones, each row resembling crooked teeth. Beneath the ground, ash black spots appear, flesh decays, loved ones leave you. Once you’ve been grabbed up from this world, like an expired item from a shelf at Marshall’s Grocery, you, too, will take a one-way trip to decomposition.

           Living here, death is release and we learn this early; then the empty, foolish ambitions of a better life escape us, like flickers of flame in a thunderstorm. What we refuse to believe will be extinguished. And then, so shall we.

Lee Williams is a published author and full-time writer living in Florida. He is passionate about educating through writing and personal empowerment. Currently, he is writing a short story compilation and working on several novels.