Wednesday July 6th 2022

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Back to the Swale



Luz, Angel and little Angelito followed the garishly dressed woman through the door in the basement of the senior center. It led to a passageway that got narrower and lower as they walked. As they were about to step into near complete darkness, Angel turned and looked at Agnes, the kind elderly woman who had found them, fed them and given them hope. She seemed to shrink as they departed, and her face contorted in tears. I”™m sorry. I”™m so sorry: that is what Angel heard. But whether those words came from Agnes, or from the walls closing in on him, he could not say.

Their journey continued for several minutes, with no light and only the raspy words of Cindy Keefe to follow. Luz knew her from the worst part of her past; a past that would not let her be; Angel had just met her, and knew that she could not be trusted. But what else could they do but follow?

They emerged in the middle of an alleyway, behind a tall, wooden garage that must have once been used to keep a horse and wagon. Angel instinctively knew where they were: in the middle of the swale. Of course it was the swale, he thought. Everything is connected to the swale: my ancestors, Luz”™ ancestors, our accusers.

Seven years before, on Angel”™s first searching, he had learned about the swale from Mr. Bussey, a teacher he had had at Roosevelt. The swale was a low spot between Bloomington and Cedar, not good for farming when farms were still here, but a good place for hiding out. Escaped slaves had passed through, refugees from the 1862 war, smugglers, women fleeing their husbands. It was a place of promise and of peril.*

“Where are we?” little Angelito asked his father.

Before Angel could answer, the strange woman bent down to him and said,

“Why would a nice boy like you need to know that?”

“How would you know what was nice or not?” Angelito asked. He slipped closer to his father and put his hand in Angel”™s pocket.

“Oh, just like his mom and dad,” Cindy Keefe laughed. “I”™m sure you”™ll find out, sonny.”

She led the group down the alley to another old barn, from which a mysterious hum was emanating. Even though there was but one window in the old building, light and steam and a clanging noise poured out. She took them to a side door, which led down to a set of stairs down to a basement. She turned to little Angel and whispered:

“You keep your mouth shut, and you don”™t look at anyone. Nosy boys who notice things get in trouble here.”

But little Angel had noticed something: the number 2647 painted near the top of the roof, and an old horseshoe nailed above it. He kept saying the number over and over. He wasn”™t sure why it was important, but he would do all he could to remember it.

To be continued”¦

* For a fuller description of the swale, see Chapter 9 of the novella “Searching”, previously printed in The Alley News.

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