On this Friday morning, the late spring air was crisp. Pride gave Jordan stature above the noisy crowd. Eager to get started with the day’s activities, the crowd chattered with excitement around the petite Senator. Soon, the volunteers for the neighborhood cleanup project would get their instructions. Later that evening, the community barbeque she had arranged would take place on that very spot.
Seeming to outshine the sun, pride beamed on the faces of the young and the old. Since Jordan practically lived at her local office in the bustling Louisiana college community, she knew most individuals by name. Her open door policy as a State Senator was well known. Sometimes, her involvement transcended that of a stranger, as many treated her like family. She smiled at the next thought that popped into her head. “Family can be a real pain at times.”
The crowd erupted into a thunderous applause which drew her attention to the podium.
“Senator Jordan Dupré,” the master of ceremonies called, “come on up here.”
With her cropped hair blowing in the breeze, Jordan walked to the back of the pick-up truck, and then stepped onto the cinder block to ascend the makeshift stage. Unfortunately, the master of ceremonies held her hand longer than necessary as he assisted her. She scanned the audience to see if anyone had noticed her predicament.
Doreen Turner, her late husband’s secretary, was now her personal assistant. Standing near the bakery, Doreen wore a frown, which confirmed Jordan’s suspicions.
Ed Turner, Doreen’s husband, was as old as Jordan’s late husband. Now, Jordan looked at him in a completely different light. With her husband deceased, Ed was now a father figure in her life. Although Ed never made inappropriate gestures, he did take advantage of the occasional opportunity for a longer than average handhold. Winning her freedom from his grasp took some doing, but finally Jordan freed herself.
“Thank you, Councilman Turner.” She raised her hands to quiet the boisterous crowd. The sound system squealed in the microphone exchange. “I can’t thank all of you enough for your faith in me, and most of all, for your dedication and hard work. I’m here for another term because of your diligence.”
“All we needed was someone in our corner,” a man yelled from the center of the crowd.
“Thank you for that statement. That’s all anybody needs.” Her world dimmed a little, forcing a mental recovery. “I’m thrilled to have a second chance at continuing the good fight.”
A lone voice blasted from the group. “It’s a fight you won’t win, Senator.”
She searched the crowd to single out the heckler. The cantankerous voice was very familiar. During the campaign, Jordan had debated Luther Tuggs twice. There were countless barbs traded whenever their paths crossed. His signature black hat with the tiny red feather in the band stood out, making him highly visible. Once again, he was fouling the air. “Nice of you to support these people, Luther. Would someone please get him a garbage bag? Obviously, he wants to join our clean-up.”
While snickers rippled through the air, Luther seemed to swell in anger.
“You won’t be laughing for long,” he scolded.
Jordan chuckled softly, and then called, “Why Luther, I’m surprised at you. Is that a threat?”
“Call it a premonition, Senator. You don’t really think you can go toe to toe with the zoning committee, do you?”
“We’re on a roll, Luther,” she spouted. “Sling all the mud you want. Our lists of successes are growing. We have generous civic-minded doctors and nurses who volunteer their services. Done. We have an outreach for at-risk youth. Done. Further development of the business corridor in this community. Done.” She came up for air. “You see, Luther, I work for the people. We make a formidable team.”
“That last thing you mentioned…” Luther projected an air of arrogance, “good luck with it.”
“I’ve got the law on my side,” Jordan defended.
“Lady. Everything has its price.”
“Is that your personal testimony?” she called, “Who would know better than you?”
“A word of warning, Senator Dupré.” Luther sneered, and then spoke. “Be careful. The light at the end of the tunnel might be a train.”
Jordan leaned forward to project her voice into the microphone. “The people have spoken. We, the People, will ride that train to victory.”
“Then, hold on, Senator. It will be one hell of a ride.”
Puzzled by his comment, Jordan paused. “What kind of wisecrack is that?”
Frowning, Luther flipped her off, and then stormed away.
Jordan couldn’t believe how brazen he was to make such ugly comments in front of the crowd. An expert at comebacks, she was just about to hit him with a zinger. However, Doreen’s concerned facial expression stopped her. “Sore loser,” she mocked under her breath. A roar of laughter lifted above the crowd. Apparently, some of the spectators heard, and had relished the jib. She pointed randomly at individuals standing before her. “If anyone hasn’t registered, please do so. We have placed a table beneath that blue canopy.” The mike emitted a deafening high pitch. “Others should already have their assigned groups. Remember, stay with your groups, and stay on this side of the railroad tracks.”
Finished with her instructions, Jordan approached the edge of the tailgate. “Thanks again, everybody.” Two young men grasped her hands and helped her to the ground. She recognized their faces from campus and smiled graciously. Her next destination was to confront Doreen.
* * * * *
When Jordan finally reached Doreen, she was frowning with arms folded. “What were you thinking? Howard wouldn’t approve of what you just did.”
Jordan paused. “I couldn’t help myself. That man infuriates me.” She was glad Doreen didn’t bring up the handholding matter, as Ed’s attempt was quite harmless.
“Excuse me.” Doreen stepped from the path of chatting voters. “Well, anyway, I guess it’s an adequate turnout for a Friday community function.”
Upon her words, the buzz of bustling activity drew Jordan’s attention. “It’s a godsend to have so many volunteers from the college campus.” With her gaze scanning the crowd, Jordan faltered, and then did a double take.
Standing in front of Jordan, Doreen glared into her face. “What’s the matter?”
Though Jordan respected Doreen, she could not focus on the alarm of her tone. “Ah.”
“Jordan, what is it?”
“N-nothing,” she stuttered nervously, caressing her abdomen.
“Nothing?” Doreen leaned back as if to examine Jordan’s face. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
Jordan felt her heart leaping inside her chest, and gasped. If her pulse had been taken at that very moment, it would have been thready. Plus, if she didn’t fight her vivid imagination, surely she would hyperventilate.
Instead of showing her fear, Jordan gathered her strength. “I’m Jordan Dupré. I eat nails for breakfast. Remember?”
“What?” Doreen touched Jordan’s shoulder, looking at her with a maternal gaze.
She appraised Doreen’s odd expression. “I can’t believe I said that out loud.” Turning she said, “We’d better get moving before it gets too hot.”
“I don’t believe you,” Doreen shook her head, “but okay.”
Jordan regained her wits. After picking up her gloves and a garbage bag, the sight of the groups splitting up prompted her to trail behind one. An uneasy feeling nagged at her. Slowly, she turned and scanned the horde of people. Movements near and far drew her attention. With banners going up in preparation for the evening’s block party, her plans were well underway. Flappers fluttered in the breeze; while the street was already barricaded against through traffic.
Once again, Jordan fell in step, but well behind everyone else. Something didn’t feel right; she looked over her shoulder once more. Still, nothing out of the ordinary captured her attention. The tenseness disintegrated, and a sense of pride enveloped her. She had set goals. Determined as she was, she would accomplish them. Earlier that month, they had cleared one empty lot of debris. Now, they combed the area to discard the unsightly litter. These efforts would enlarge their footprint for the next step in the venture.
Working meticulously, Jordan’s group was now in the next block, which resembled any struggling neighborhood in American communities.
Jordan buckled as her inquisitive nature took control. She crossed the tracks, doing just what she had instructed the groups not to do. Jordan lingered before an abandoned building with trash in hand. Sweeping her eyes over the boarded exterior, she noticed it was riddled with graffiti. She had fought tooth and nail against the rezoning of that patch of land, as it had already been zoned commercial. Her leadership prevented the rezoning to industrial. The people needed a grocery store in their neighborhood, not a waste treatment facility.
It looked as if things were falling into place, and Jordan beamed. Instead of demolishing the lone standing building, it was determined that the frame was good enough for remodeling. In her mind, she saw a thriving neighborhood grocery store, where residents could purchase fresh, reasonably priced vegetables, and meats. Until that time, she was proud of the fenced garden on the plot of land adjacent to the building. Neat rows bore healthy plants laden with vibrantly colored vegetables. A community effort, the thriving neighborhood project provided sustenance for many families.
Satisfaction coursed through her veins. “Fresh meats and vegetables, here we come.” She backed up until she stood in the middle of the two-lane street. Her enthusiasm drizzled to an end the moment she looked up the avenue. Jordan followed the double lines painted on the road until they joined in the distance. Sadness crept over her. Several months ago, her husband of nineteen years had perished in a one-car accident along that stretch of highway. Speed, the police had said, was a contributor.
The unprecedented timing of the tragedy rocked her world. A widow at the age of forty-six, the last months of the campaign, and right before the election, had tested her coping aptitude. If it weren’t for Howard’s support, Jordan would not have felt brave enough to buck the establishment. As she thought about it, Howard was her one devoted advocate in whatever she decided to do. Since she was twenty years his junior, she believed it was the wisdom of his years. He had come into her life when it was complicated beyond belief. Now, she adored his offer of love, and respected him for being there.
* * * * *
Jordan wandered back to the sidewalk, and then took a closer look at the structure. The side entrance beckoned her. A couple of missing boards made access to the doorknob possible. Getting to the knob required a bit of muscle, but she forced a space sufficient enough to squeeze through. Once inside, the rancid stench in the air attacked her. When she covered her nose and mouth, the gloves and garbage bag fell to the floor at her feet. Unlike anything she’d ever smelled, the stench was potent enough to make her gag.
She staggered toward the slit of daylight that filtered from the outside. Once she pushed her way through the boards, and hit the bright sunlight, her eyes filled with tears. Gasping to fill her lungs with fresh air, she walked a few feet from the door. Dizziness threatened to overtake her. Leaning forward, Jordan braced her hands on her knees to avoid passing out. As her body struggled to return to a normal state, she closed her eyes and willed her it to stabilize.
A dark shadow gradually blocked her sunlight. Jordan opened her eyes to a blurry silhouette dressed in black. He reached downward and gripped her arm. Though his grasp was tight, it was not harmful. When her sight cleared, she focused on a face that caused her blood pressure to rise. “Deke.” After years with no contact, her knees still knocked, and her heart ached.
“Jay. Are you okay?” The rich, mellow voice was music to her ears. He slid his hand down her arm, and then gently clutched her hand. His touch added to her jittery stance, and her stomach lurched.
Again, Jordan closed her eyes. Immediately, she emptied her stomach right at his feet. When she opened her eyes, he offered her a folded white handkerchief, and held it under her nose. Raising her head, she accepted his gesture. First, she wiped her eyes, and then her mouth.
Seeming to enjoy her presence, his spontaneous grin showed one imperfect bottom tooth; otherwise, his smile would have been perfect. She recalled him saying that the dental flaw was a family trait.
“Hi, Deke.” She responded as though their last conversation was twenty minutes ago, instead of almost twenty years. At that point, the nearly fifty year-old woman took a momentary trip back in time.
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