BALANCE OF POWER
“You’re the lawyer in the family, James! Can he do something
like this?” Martha Ferrell has gotten over the shock of her husband’s
untimely demise, turning her attention instead to his last will and
testament. For her, it is a mystery novel, a work of fiction fraught
with plot twists and turns, and a bitterly cruel ending.
“He did,” her son says flatly.
“Can’t we say that he wasn’t of sound mind when he did this?
Look at the crazy thing he did, going to Scotland in the middle of the
goddamned war!” There is a lot of that going around.
“Mother! . . . . , swearing will not change anything. When she
turns 21, Maggie Lou “Ferrell”, he clears his throat, “will officially
own over 100 acres of Tallahassee.”
“People are calling him a hero, Mother. Cousin Matthew tells us
they are thinking about naming a new bridge after him.” Agnes is
proud of her father, void of the material acridity.
“James Barrie can rot in a bog, for all I care. He is the one who
whined his way into making John feel guilty. ‘Our people are
starving’, ‘we have no petrol for our motorcars’. Huh! I for one
am glad he could not make the funeral . . . . some silly play about a
“When the war is over, he is going to bring A Kiss for Cinderella
to the United States. I told him that I would find a theater for him.
He even said I could be an “understudy”, he called it. If Cinderella
falls ill, I could be the lead.”
____222 Gwendolyn Hoff
“How silly would that be? You could make two of her, I’m sure,
but yes if Cinderella is single, you would be perfect for the part, 34
and without a man.” Martha’s dour mood turns vicious.
“Cyril has been talking about the future quite a lot lately, I’ll have
you know. Then you will be all alone, does that make you happy?”
“That is enough bickering!” A lawyer hears his fill of petty
wrangling on a daily basis. “Maggie owns the land and that is the
bottom line, though I wonder how he was able to keep the land a
secret for all these years.”
“He was very good at secrets, correct?” She cannot let it go.
James ignores her, continuing, “But from my point of view, there
is still more than enough to go around. My God, even Joseph gets a
“Sure, now I suppose he will leave me too, he’s got family in
Pennsylvania you know.”
“Joseph is too old to go off to the North, besides if he did, he’d
find out how bad they treat Negroes up there. No, he’s got it good
here and he knows it, although I have advised him to buy some land
and farm a little on his own.”
“Are lawyers’ official advice givers as well? You could have a
weekly article in the Tallahassee Democrat, people would write in
with a question and you would answer them in print. Let me see,
something like: ‘Dear Lawyer James; my husband was killed by a
U-boat and left half his estate to his illegitimate daughter of our
upstairs maid. What should I do?’ signed Scorned Spouse.”
“Do not tempt me,” he thinks, then goes forward, “Dear Scorned
Spouse; It sounds like you should have been doing your own laundry
and cleaning. Be thankful that she doesn’t own your house. If she
does, perhaps you could use a job.”
“Now that’s not funny!,” she protests.
“Speaking of things in print, did you see the last Pearson-Eastman
Journal, it just arrived yesterday? Daddy looks so happy, look at him
with that golf club,” she points to a picture of Matthew the senior
showing John how to hold it, both of them about to split a gut.
“I like the one where he is singing folk songs with the Barries.
I can almost hear his out of tune voice.” The Ferrells did not bring
tonality with them when they crossed the Atlantic.
“Looks like he’s full of whiskey to me.”
____The Life and Times of a Black Southern Doctor 223
“These are his last days, Mother. The least you can do is to respect
the spirit in which the article is presented. Harv and Judith Pearson
certainly do; this magazine and the beautiful eulogy they gave at the
funeral.” Agnes has the spirit.