Oh, he was wild. Yet, unlike so many men, wildness wasn't a choice for Luther, and he meant no harm by it. He'd have corrected it if you could have explained to him what it was. But that was like explaining stone to water, sand to air. Luther worked at the factory and when he wasn't working he was playing ball and when he wasn't playing ball he was fixing something and when he wasn't fixing something he was running with his boys through the Columbus night and when he wasn't doing that he was with Lila, and she had the full force of his attention because whatever Luther focused on, he focused on it to the exclusion of all else, so that when it was Lila he was charming, he was making laugh, he was pouring his full self at, she felt that nothing, not even the warmth of the Lord, projected such light.
Then Jefferson Reese gave him the beating that put him in the hospital for a week and took something from him. You couldn't right say exactly what that something was, but you noticed the lack of it. Lila hated to picture what her man must have looked like curled in the dirt trying to protect himself while Reese pounded him and kicked him and unloosed all his long- bottled savagery. She'd tried to warn Luther off Reese, but Luther hadn't listened because some part of him needed to buck against things. What he'd found out, lying in the dirt while those fists and feet rained down on him, was that if you bucked certain things--the mean things--they didn't just buck back. No, no, that wasn't enough. They crushed you and kept crushing and the only way you escaped alive was through pure luck, nothing else. The mean things of this world had only one lesson--we are meaner than you'd ever imagine.
She loved Luther because that kind of mean was not in him. She loved Luther because what made him wild was the same thing that made him kind--he loved the world. Loved it the way you loved an apple so sweet you had to keep taking bites from it. Loved it whether it loved him back or not.
But in Greenwood, that love and that light of Luther's had started to dim. She couldn't understand it at first. Yes, there were better ways to get married than the way they did, and the house on Archer was small, and then the plague had come to town, and all of this in a short eight weeks--but still, still they were in paradise. They were in one of the few places in the whole world where a black man and a black woman walked tall. The whites not only left them alone, they respected them, and Lila agreed with Brother Garrity when he declared that Greenwood would be a model for the rest of the country and that ten to twenty years from now there'd be Greenwoods in Mobile and Columbus and Chicago and New Orleans and Detroit. Because the blacks and whites had figured out how to leave one another be in Tulsa, and the peace and prosperity that came with that was too good for the rest of the country not to sit up and take notice.
Luther saw something else, though. Something that ate away at his gentleness and his light, and Lila had begun to fear that their child would not reach the world in time to save its father. For on her more optimistic days, she knew that's all it would take--for Luther to hold his child so he'd realize once and for all that it was time to be a man.
She ran a hand over her belly and told the child to grow faster, grow faster, and she heard a car door slam and knew by the sound of it that it was that fool Jessie Tell's car and that Luther must have brung that sorry man home with him, the two of them probably high as balloons that 178 had lost their strings, and she got up from her chair and put her mask on and tied it behind her head as Luther came through the door.
It wasn't the blood she noticed first, even though it covered his shirt and was splashed up along his neck. What she noticed first was that his face was all wrong. He didn't live behind it no more, not the Luther she'd first seen on the ball field, not the Luther who smiled down into her face and brushed back her hair as he moved in and out of her on a cold Ohio night, not the Luther who'd tickle her until she screamed herself hoarse, not the Luther who drew pictures of his child in the window of a speeding train. That man did not live in this body anymore.
Then she noticed the blood and came toward him, saying, "Luther, baby, you need a doctor. What happened? What happened?"
Luther held her back. He gripped her shoulders as if she were a chair he needed to find a place for and he looked around the room and said, "You need to pack."
"Blood ain't mine. I ain't hurt. You need to pack."
"Luther, Luther, look at me, Luther."
He looked at her.
"Jessie's dead," he said. "Jessie's dead and Dandy, too."
"Worked for the Deacon. Deacon's dead. Deacon's brains all over a wall."
She stepped back from him. She touched her hands to her throat because she didn't know where else to put them. She said, "What have you done?"
Luther said, "You got to pack, Lila. We got to run."
"I ain't running," she said.
"What?" He cocked his head at her, only a few inches away, but she felt as if he was a thousand miles on the other side of the world.
"I ain't leaving here," she said.
"Yes you are, woman."
"No, I'm not."
"Lila, I'm serious. Pack a fucking bag."
She shook her head.
Luther clenched his fists and his eyes were hooded. He crossed the room and put his fist through the clock hanging above the couch. "We are leaving."
She watched the glass fall to the top of the couch, saw that the second hand still ticked. So she'd repair it. She could do that.
"Jessie's dead," she said. "That's what you come home to tell me? Man got himself killed, near got you killed, and you expect me to say you my man and I'm'a pack a bag right quick and leave my home because I love you?"
"Yes," he said and took her shoulders in his hands again. "Yes."
"Well, I ain't," she said. "You a fool. I told you what running with that boy and running with the Deacon would get you and now you come in here covered in the wages of your sin, covered in other men's blood, and you want what?"
"Want you to leave with me."
"You kill tonight, Luther?"
His eyes were lost and his voice a whisper. "I killed the Deacon. I shot him straight up through his head."
"Why?" she said, her voice a whisper now, too.
"Because he the reason Jessie dead."
"And who'd Jessie kill?"
"Jessie killed Dandy. Smoke killed Jessie and I shot Smoke. He probably die, too."
She could feel the anger building in her, washing over the fear and the pity and the love. "So Jessie Tell kill a man and then a man shoot him and then you shoot that man and then kill the Deacon? Is that what you're telling me?"