The Waltz of Devil’s Creek
by Justine Carver
Publication date: October 20th 2020
Judith Campbell is dying, and she cannot take the painful truth about where her son came from to the grave with her. While on her deathbed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994, Judith tells him the tragic story of his conception, and which of two men his birth father could be: the young man who professed his love to her, or the pastor who assaulted her. Set in the Deep South in 1947, The Waltz of Devil’s Creek digs into the dark crevices of racism and women’s rights during a heated political climate in an era of segregation. Combined with Judith’s lack of social stature, and at a time when reporting sexual assault was unheard of, every injustice is stacked against her from the very beginning. But there is a light in Judith’s young life: her best friend, Joseph Bird, who has loved her since childhood. Joseph stands up for Judith when no one else will and proves that even in the darkest of times, a light is always burning.
“Is becoming an author,” Mr. Felder said, “what you really want to do, or is it just something you’ve thought might be…fun?”
Refusing to take his bait, either, I remained poised.
“Oh, no sir,” I said, placing my hands within my lap. “What I really want to be is an astronaut.”
Mr. Felder cocked a sharp brow; William looked confused; Mrs. Felder just kept smiling.
“Astronaut?” Mr. Felder inquired.
I took a moment to understand the confusion around the table. “The Death’s Head Meteor”? I offered. “Neil R. Jones?” I brushed a dismissive hand in front of me. “Oh, it’s just a word from a story I read in a magazine my pawpaw had.” I continued to get blank looks, even from William, who I thought could tone it down some. “Air Wonder Stories?” I tried once more, but there were no takers. I assumed a family that could afford a television probably didn’t have much time to read.
I shrugged it off.
“I’d like to be a space traveler,” I explained, using terms they better understood. I looked up at the ceiling, the light from the fixture overhead burning yellow in my unfocused vision as I dreamed out loud. “Imagine it, the first person in space could be a woman—it could be me.” Oh, how long I’d dreamed it; I was four years old when my momma first took me out into the field to show me the stars. It had stuck with me ever since.
“If anybody ever goes to outer space,” Mr. Felder put in, pulling me back down to Earth and reality, “it won’t be a woman.” He pointed at me with his fork. “Maybe you shouldn’t read so much Jules Verne; you might start to worry aliens will invade like in War of the Worlds.” He dug the fork into his mashed potatoes and took a bite.
William looked into his plate nervously, pushing his food around. Mrs. Felder remained unchanged throughout the dinner: smile intact, perfect posture, carefully selected words, like a submissive housewife that played a role and nothing more. I wondered if aliens hadn’t already invaded and taken over Mrs. Felder’s body.
In response to Mr. Felder’s jab, I clenched my fists on my lap and bit down on my tongue—but it wasn’t enough to hold it.
“Jules Verne didn’t write The War of the Worlds, Mr. Felder,” I corrected him. “H.G. Wells did. Verne wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. And I believe women can be more than nurses and telephone operators and…secretaries.” My eyes skirted Mrs. Felder; I had started to say “housewives”, but I knew that would have made me the uncivilized country rat Mr. Felder believed me to be.
Sweat stains darkened the fabric around William’s armpits; he’d stopped eating, the fork paused over his plate. He begged me with his eyes from across the table: Please, please, don’t Judith…you promised.
Mrs. Felder stood, and she smoothed her hands down her shirtdress as if to even-out wrinkles that weren’t there.
“I’ll get the cake.” She slipped into the kitchen.
His pride stung by my response, Mr. Felder chewed his food slowly, swallowed, and then went in for more, pretending he had been unfazed by my display of knowledge, and his lack thereof.
“Perhaps you’ll be the next Mary Shelley, then,” he said indifferently between bites.
“Maybe I will.” I’d said it respectfully, but in my heart, I’d meant it with the bite of a rabid dog.
Justine Carver was born and raised in the Southern United States on a heavy dose of creek-wading, lightning-bug-catching, and Saturday morning cartoons. She is a full-time writer, all-the-time reader, and every now and then, she pulls her head out of the clouds long enough to remember how much better it is up there. Author links: http://justinecarver.com/ https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/113293352-justine-carver https://www.instagram.com/author_justine_carver/