A provocative African American physician makes a dramatic decision to work in a small, rural Alabama town, where he will draw the atttention of the town's councilman and KKK member, become entrapped by the councilman's seductive wife, and gain the admiration and love of a poor, white family, especially the oldest daughter, Margaret.
When Dr. Warner Rutherford opens his medical practice in a small, rural Alabama town, he will experience a "heart of darkness" as he is warned to leave town by the town's councilman and leading KKK member. Not easily intimidated, Rutherford opts to stay, striking up a unique relationship with John Tyler, a prison guard, and his two daugthers, especially the oldest, Margaret, on the brink of womanhood. Unfortunately, he will be lured by the councilman's seductive and striking wife. He will end up fighting for his life in a courtroom, represented by a lawyer with his own haunted past that is tied to the councilman's, as well.
A light rain fell against my hands and raincoat as I faced Daddy's casket. The cool day was unusual for an Alabama summer. The cemetery was split in half by a narrow, seldom-traveled highway. There were no magnolias, no cheerful dogwoods, just a few small pines dotted among the gravestones. The service had just ended. It was cancer.
I spent many occasions with my father, who lived here in Marigold, Alabama, all of his life, but this was the first time I had been back since leaving forty years ago. I knew that after coming here today, a door of my life would close, to be opened only on rare occasions by the knock of a scent, a taste, or maybe a voice.
I grew up in Marigold just a few miles away. It was a small, sultry town, as much in my blood as the air I breathed, but events drove me away, or rather kicked me out like an unwanted stray.
I looked to the left of Daddy's casket. A grave marker read: Ruth Ann Tyler, Born 1925—Died 1950. That was my mother. Next to it was another, my sister, Sara Jean Tyler, Born 1945—Died 1955, sweet Sara. The ugly came to our family a lot.
I saw another grave: Robert Greenfield. In 1955 he was the man who spread the leprosy of racism, igniting infectious sores of hate and diseased boils of ignorance through his own blind contagion.
I glanced at the diamond watch on my wrist, so expensive it was worth a small treasure, but it was no treasure compared to the one I experienced in 1955, my last year in Marigold—a treasure of a few moments, a treasure of a lifetime, a gift only God could send, because only God could know.
A handful of people stood around me—the young preacher I did not recognize, Lawson and Roberta Hennessy, our closest neighbors when we were growing up, and Truman Howard. An old man now, Truman worked all his life at the cotton mill.
Truman's great-grandparents were shipped to America as slaves, and that made Truman a proud colored man—too proud. As much as he loved his heritage, he hated any colored to rise above him. For Truman, it meant a person was trying to be white, Catholic, or a Jew.
Truman's face looked like a crumpled brown-paper lunch sack. Hate aged people. His watery eyes met mine. Gone was the intensity I remembered, or so it seemed. One can never tell what really lurks inside a person. Sometimes the hatred sleeps behind the eyes until something wakes it and again it destructively filters our perceptions.
The last time I had looked into Truman's eyes, he held a shotgun, double barrel, side by side, to my face. I turned away from the memory those eyes thrust me into, away from the pain.
Several Kilby Prison guards, from the prison where Daddy used to work, milled about in their uniforms, lighting up Marlboro Reds now that the service had ended. When they saw me, they tipped their hats and addressed me as "Miss Margaret."
Standing off a way in an expensive overcoat was Kaitlin Harper—Kaitlin Greenfield now. We were the same age, but plastic surgery had been good to Kaitlin.
She quit speaking to me years ago, after years of coming to our house to hide from her abusive father. The last time I saw her, she told me that she loved the man who destroyed my life, Robert Greenfield, but all I could see back then was that she went from one monster to another. To see her now, dressed in wealth and refined . . . well, life was strange sometimes.
The sound of a quiet engine caused me to turn as a freshly washed Jaguar, the color of a silver pearl, pulled alongside the road. The chrome around the fenders and bumper shone as if it belonged somewhere on an English estate and not in a tiny Alabama cemetery.
A driver stepped out, then helped a man from the back seat. I watched as Bobby Greenfield maneuvered himself into a wheelchair. He wore a fitted navy suit, white shirt, and red tie. Despite his paralysis he was a statesman like his daddy, from his thick blond hair, distinguished by gray, to his straight Elvis nose. It was Bobby who married Kaitlin, but it was his daddy, Robert, she had really loved.
It was a sad thing, him being paralyzed. As I watched him, flaming memories suddenly melted away the years, taking me back to 1955. Bobby Greenfield, tall, blond, and rich—I was ready to let Bobby love me, high-school style, fast, hot, and good while it lasted. I wanted Bobby Greenfield and all that came with him, because it was new, it was clean, and it was pretty. Later I would find that the ugly was underneath it all like the rotted liver of an alcoholic.
I blinked away the raindrops from my eyelashes as I looked across the road to where more graves lined the grass like white candles on a long green cake, but these graves were different. They were merely small, white wooden crosses, each bearing a name and year of death. Though my mother's and sister's graves bore only their names and dates because we could afford no more, these small crosses bore only names and dates because they were inmates from the Kilby Prison.