By Allen Ballard
It was early of a fall Carolina morning, and the sky was blue as could be. Dora Lee got out of her bed, put on a pair of slacks and a blouse, started a pot of coffee to percolating, and walked out of Boatwright's house as she often did when she was troubled to the point of despair.
She began walking down the long dirt road that led to the main highway. The trees were full of singing birds, and Dora Lee saw one squirrel running along a power line, balancing itself like a trapeze artist. He seemed to want to keep pace with her. When she stopped, he did too and rose up on two legs. Then she'd begin walking again, and the squirrel would drop back on all fours and keep up with her.
The dust of the road was very red here, reminded her of all the blood shed over the years in the city where she’d grown up laughing and playing hopscotch on hot sidewalks with Jewish, Puerto Rican, Irish, and Chinese children. Dora Lee felt just like she did when Obie got called up to serve in the Persian Gulf war and the Iraq war. Like she was a wife on the home front, waiting for the battles to be over up there in New York.
With Boatwright driving the van, Teshina had been safely delivered to Oberlin College. And here they were back in Carolina with Henry's first day of classes coming up tomorrow. It would also be Dora Lee's first day as a secretary at a hospital in Durham. She'd even managed to buy an old Dodge Colt to get her back and forth to the job. But she had no peace in her soul.
So as Dora Lee walked along the red dirt road she began to sing a hymn she loved:
Are you weak and heavy-laden,
’Cumbered with a world of care?
Precious savior, still my refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
As at so many other times in her life, a sense of fullness and satisfaction began to replace the heaviness and emptiness in her chest. She talked out loud, first telling God about her situation, how torn up she was, how frightened….
And so this tall, ebony-colored woman walked on and on down the road with her hips moving slowly back and forth in a timeless African rhythm, asking that God somehow reunite her with her husband, remove the danger that pervaded all their lives, assuage her desperate, sickening fear.
Allen Ballard, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Kenyon College, received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. Currently a professor of history and Africana Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY, he has published one previous book, “Where I'm Bound,” a novel about African-American troops during the Civil War. “Dora Lee” is an excerpt from his novel, “Carried by Six.”