Mr. Emmett Manning lived near Benning, MS. He was the second to last house on Tutweiller Lane. Lane is a more pleasant word, some suppose, for Dead End. When we were kids, Lamar Green and I would sneak across an adjoining field and throw rocks at an old school bus Mr. Emmett used for storage. Sometimes we would sneak onto the bus and steal from his endless boxes of twenty two bullets and use them to shoot at catfish in the old man’s pond. Mr. Emmett loved the changing of the seasons, and you could tell him because this was the only time he would be on his front porch. One evening he was there when Lamar Green and I walked by on the tar and gravel road. “Smells good don’t it boys?” We reluctantly agreed in that special sauce of teenage egoism and psychopathy and told him that it did. I admit that I like it too, love it in fact, but to say so out loud at fifteen years old would have been against everything I stood for back then. I breathed it in and tried to ignore Mr. Emmett who was still watching and talking to us as we passed by on the way to Millen Tutweiller’s house with our pockets full of stolen bullets. As Mr. Emmett disappeared behind us, the sun finished doing the same, and as we topped the hill that smell of dusk in the Spring gave way more and more to the smell of smoke.
Mr. Emmett always hated the Tutweillers, something about Millen’s grandfather stealing a recipe for a barbeque sauce. Like anything else around Benning, I’m sure it boiled down either to religion, race, or the two homogenized along with two cups of love bugs in the Sunbeam blender of South Mississippi. Worse still was that the barbeque sauce recipe never belonged to Mr. Emmett. It belonged to a friend of his. I could only imagine what would have happened if the recipe had been his. The Tutweillers would have suffered far greater tragedies than what I am about to clumsily unveil.
Sidebar: Incidentally, though social media evidence says otherwise, we around Benning seem to resemble one another far more than we ever have, thanks to the wonderful chemicals that cause humans to place procreation above all other things, that and an increasingly unfiltered Sun. Maybe once all of our melanin has been leveled out, we can begin to see that we enjoy far more than we hate about each other, eg. music, sports, food, sex, family, and watching other people get hurt on Youtube. Anyone who doesn’t see this is either lying for some sort of profit or simply needs to search for the Great Algorithm for pictures of what life was like back in the early days around here to correct that ignorance. Turn off the safe search, as you only live once.
So basically, Mr. Emmett had what could be described as a feud with the Tutweillers, though they attended the same church, had the same color skin, went to the same school, and watched the same sports on television and at our local high school . Though we like to say otherwise, the Algorithm has been seen fit to program humans so that we are still, at our base, rats bumping into plexiglass walls, searching frantically for the cocaine drink fountain in order to release the dopamine our stingy limbic system holds onto . We are apes with reason, an organism that has evolved far faster intellectually and socially than we have physically. In our minds we fly through the cosmos, but in our bodies (especially our pants) we roam the open Savannahs as hot drool drips from our stupid slack-opened mouths. Though Mr. Emmett Manning had never been to Colombia any more than he had been to Oxford, he was as much of a mouth breathing coke head as the rest of us. He simply enjoyed his own particular brand of it, and that brand was simple hatred for the Tutweillers, though Millen’s grandfather had been buried for more than 10 years when we passed Mr. Emmett on the porch that evening to see Millen’s house turning from a gray painted brick ranch style, to a glowing ember. To be continued…
Scott Roberts is a writer, teacher and electrician in Hattiesburg. He is the author of the novel “Well #9.”