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Read the story to the end. What do you think of the ending ? Do you think the story may not be a piece of fiction ? Why ?
Big Poe sat on the ground. The entire dark team stood around him. The doctor bent down, probed Big Poe’s ankle, saying, “Mmmm,” and “Pretty bad. Here.” And he swabbed medicine on it and put a white bandage on it.
The umpire gave Cosner the cold-water eye. “Hit the showers !”
“Like hell !” said Cosner. And he stood on that first base, blowing his cheeks out and in, his freckled hands swaying at his sides. “I’m safe. I’m stayin’ right here, by God ! No nigger put me out !”
“No,” said the umpire. “A white man did. Me. Get !”
“He dropped the ball ! Look up the rules ! I’m safe !”
The umpire and Cosner stood glaring at each other.
Big Poe looked up from having his swollen ankle tended. His voice was thick and gentle and his eyes examined Jimmie Cosner gently.
“Yes, he’s safe, Mr. Umpire. Leave him stay. He’s safe.”
I was standing right there. I heard the whole thing. Me and some other kids had run out on the field to see. My mother kept calling me to come back to the stands.
“Yes, he’s safe,” said Big Poe again.
All the colored men let out a yell.
“What’sa matter with you, black boy ? You get hit in the head ?”
“You heard me,” replied Big Poe quietly. He looked at the doctor bandaging him. “He’s safe. Leave him stay.” The umpire swore. “Okay, okay. So he’s safe !”
The umpire stalked off, his back stiff, his neck red.
Big Poe was helped up. “Better not walk on that,” cautioned the doctor.
“I can walk,” whispered Big Poe carefully.
“Better not play.”,
“I can play,” said Big Poe gently, certainly, shaking his head wet streaks drying under his white eyes. “I’ll play good.” He looked no place at all. “I’ll play plenty good.”
“Oh,” said the second-base colored man. It was a funny sound. All the colored men looked at each other, at Big Poe, then at Jimmie Cosner, at the sky, at the lake, the crowd. They walked off quietly to take their places. Big Poe stood with his bad foot hardly touching the ground, balanced. The doctor argued. But Big Poe waved him away.
“Batter up !” cried the umpire.
We got settled in the stands again. My mother pinched my leg and asked me why I couldn’t sit still. It got warmer. Three or four more waves fell on the shore line. Behind the wire screen the ladies fanned their wet faces and the men inched their rumps forward on the wooden planks, held papers over their scowling brows to see Big Poe standing like a redwood tree out there on first base, Jimmie Cosner standing in the immense shade of that dark tree.
Young Moberg came up to bat for our side.
“Come on, Swede, come on, Swede !” was the cry, a lonely cry, like a dry bird, from out on the blazing green turf. It was Jimmie Cosner calling. The grandstand stared at him. The dark heads turned on their moist pivots in the outfield ; the black faces came in his direction, looking him over, seeing his thin, nervously arched back. He was the center of the universe.
“Come on, Swede ! Let’s show these black boys !” laughed Cosner.
He trailed off. There was a complete silence. Only the wind came through the high, glittering trees.
“Come on, Swede, hang one on that old pill...”
Long Johnson, on the pitcher’s mound, cocked his head. Slowly, deliberately, he eyed Cosner. A look passed between him and Big Poe, and Jimmie Cosner saw the look and shut up and swallowed, hard.
Long Johnson took his time with his windup. Cosner took a lead off base. Long Johnson stopped loading his pitch.
Cosner skipped back to the bag, kissed his hand, and patted the kiss dead center on the bag. Then he looked up and smiled around.
Again the pitcher coiled up his long, hinged arm, curled loving dark fingers on the leather pellet, drew it back and — Cosner danced off first base. Cosner jumped up and down like a monkey. The pitcher did not look at him. The pitcher’s eyes watched secretively, slyly, amusedly, sidewise. Then, snapping his head, the pitcher scared Cosner back to the bag. Cosner stood and jeered.
The third time Long Johnson made as if to pitch, Cosner was far off the bag and running toward second.
Snap went the pitcher’s hand. Boom went the ball in Big Poe’s glove at first base. Everything was sort of frozen. Just for a second. There was the sun in the sky, the lake and the boats on it, the grandstands, the pitcher on his mound standing with his hand out and down after tossing the ball ; there was Big Poe with the ball in his mighty black hand ; there was the infield staring, crouching in at the scene, and there was Jimmie Cosner running, kicking up dirt, the only moving thing in the entire summer world. Big Poe leaned forward, sighted toward second base, drew back his mighty right hand, and hurled that white baseball straight down along the line until it reached Jimmie Cosner’s head. Next instant, the spell was broken.
Jimmie Cosner lay flat on the burning grass. People boiled out of the grandstands. There was swearing, and women screaming, a clattering of wood as the men rushed down the wooden boards of the bleachers. The colored team ran in from the field. Jimmie Cosner lay there. Big Poe, no expression on his face, limped off the field, pushing white men away from him like clothespins when they tried stopping him. He just picked them up and threw them away.
“Come on, Douglas !” shrieked Mother, grabbing me. “Let’s get home ! They might have razors ! Oh !”
That night, after the near riot of the afternoon, my folks stayed home reading magazines. All the cottages around us were lighted. Everybody was home. Distantly I heard music. I slipped out the back door into the ripe summer-night darkness and ran toward the dance pavilion. All the lights were on, and music played. But there were no white people at the tables. Nobody had come to the Jamboree. There were only colored folks. Women in bright red and blue satin gowns and net stockings and soft gloves, with wine-plume hats, and men in glossy tuxedos. The music crashed out, up, down, and around the floor. And laughing and stepping high, flinging their polished shoes out and up in the Cakewalk, were Long Johnson and Cavanaugh and Jiff Miller and Pete Brown, and — limping — Big Poe and Katherine, his girl, and all the other lawn-cutters and boatmen and janitors and chambermaids, all on the floor atone time. It was so dark all around the pavilion ; the stars shone in the black sky, and I stood outside, my nose against the window, looking in for a long, long time, silently.
I went to bed without telling anyone what I’d seen.
I just lay in the dark smelling the ripe apples in the dimness and hearing the lake at night and listening to that distant, faint and wonderful music., Just before I slept I heard those last strains again:
“…Gonna dance out both of my shoes, When they play those Jelly Roll Blues;
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