The Seasons of Gilly Black

The Seasons of Gilly Black

Mole Ramsey scampered under the fence that divided the “haves” from the “have nots.” He didn’t know what either of those meant, but he heard his mama say it all the time. His sister Gloria’s voice carried over the fence. The smack of the tennis ball on the racket made his teeth hurt. Gloria would invite the neighbor boys over in the summer to play tennis, and Mole usually took the opportunity to avoid the drama.

At twelve, he was just shy of being two years younger than Gloria. Mole wasn’t his real name, but it was the only thing anyone called him. Gilliard Black, or Gilly to most that knew him, gave him the nickname on account of how he could scurry under the fence that divided his parents’ estate from Gilly’s farm. When Gloria and her boyfriends took over the house, he would scurry under the fence to spy on Gilly.

Mole heard his mama talk about Gilly and how he hadn’t been the same since coming back from the war. Looked like she wanted to spit talking about their neighbor. No compassion. And his mama would never spit. His mama couldn’t understand how the school let Gilly drive that bus full of kids. But the highlight of Mole’s morning and afternoon consisted of Gilly tipping his Red Man Chew hat at him when those bus doors opened.

School was hard for Mole. His family was too well off for most of the cliques, but Mole was not refined enough for the one that was his birthright. He wanted to belong. Wanted someone to look forward to seeing him when he got off that bus in the afternoons. Instead, all Mole got was the turned backs of his classmates. But Gilly’s place was home to him.

Mole liked to be close to Gilly. Once in a while, he would make himself known, and Gilly would chat with him. His favorite thing was to stroll through Gilly’s expansive garden and then take an afternoon nap amongst the tomato plants. He never saw any tomatoes on those plants, but it’s what Gilly said they were.

Mole ran his hands through the large spiky leaves. The greens varied from light to dark. Smelled like a skunk had sprayed them, and yet the smell was oddly pleasing to him. His absolute favorite part of sneaking over to Gilly’s was sitting on the top step of the porch while Gilly and his old war buddies visited.

There wasn’t laughter, but there was an easiness between them. Mole sensed they understood each other, and in turn, understood him. They too knew what it was like to be cast aside and ignored. They had a ritual, and Mole was infatuated with it.

At each afternoon visit, Mole would watch as Gilly pulled a small sack out of his back pocket and laid it on a table alongside his rolling papers. Mole paid special attention to how gentle Gilly was with the whole process, delicately licking the rolling paper at the end to give it just enough moisture to secure it. Then he would pass that cigarette around his group of buddies, always sharing. Gilly was a giver. It’s what Mole liked about him most.

One day, a buddy of Gilly’s passed that cigarette to Mole. He froze, unsure of what to do next but desperate to belong. Gilly nodded his head no and said, “Mole don’t need that. He’s fine with our company.”

On those afternoons, Mole would stretch out full length on the top step of the porch. He’d close his eyes and enjoy the earthy scent from the cigarette being passed around. Why they shared one cigarette he didn’t know, but he wasn’t going to risk asking questions and not be invited back.

He’d overheard their conversations.

I’ll pay you for it, Gilly.

No. You know I don’t charge.

It ain’t right of me to not give you something back.

You give me your friendship. It’s enough.

These words would float around Mole and mingle with the smoke, pulling him into a peaceful dreamlike state.

On his way back to his side of the fence, he’d run his hands over those tomato leaves, willing them to release their stench.

The lush summer grass was replaced with a blanket of leaves in vibrant reds and yellow. Mole still wrestled his body under Gilly’s fence. Didn’t matter the season. One day after a particularly long afternoon at Gilly’s, he slid through the back door as not to disturb his mama. He didn’t see her standing by the kitchen sink. His mama’s eyes drew together making a deep eleven between her eyebrows. She was scared.

“You reek of trash. I’ve told you not to go over there.”

She kept her eyes on the window, squinting as if she were trying to see all the way to Gilly’s. Mole stood at the back door attempting to fold himself into something so small his mama wouldn’t notice him. His mama’s body softened as she turned to him.

“I wish I knew what drew you under that fence. I wish I knew, so I could undo it.”

Mole stayed by the door. Not moving in case his mama forgot he was there and let him be invisible again.

“Go on and get washed up. We’re going to eat soon. You can help your sister set the table.”

Mole bolted from the door to his room. He didn’t understand what mama and the others in town had against Gilly. Why were they scared of him? All he had seen of Gilly was how he cared for others. What mama saw as a darkness Mole saw as a sadness. A blanket that laid over Gilly’s heart trying to smother happiness like it was a fire.

Fall had turned to winter, and the red dirt was packed down hard from the cold. The frozen dirt crumbled under Mole’s knees as he scurried under Gilly’s fence. He’d seen the smoke rising high in the sky like a signal to him. Gilly was burning trash, which meant he was standing somewhere close by. Mole didn’t want to miss his chance to be next to Gilly. See if he could uncover that sadness that seemed to follow his neighbor around.

He found Gilly right close to the fire. He was holding some photos and some letters. Mole didn’t ask to see the photos out of fear he’d be sent away. He tucked himself in tight in the hopes that Gilly wouldn’t even realize he was there. It was enough for Mole to just be close.

He watched Gilly looking at the black and white photographs, craning his neck for a peep himself. Mole spied a woman in the photograph. Gilly was in it too. He had his arm slung over the woman’s shoulders making her look like a child’s dolly rather than a woman. Her hair was so black and shiny, like an oil slick. He realized the photograph was shaking. Gilly was shaking but no noise was coming out.

It was as if Gilly’s body couldn’t contain his emotions anymore, and Mole watched as the shaking escaped Gilly in sobs. His neighbor’s knees fell to the ground and the photographs fluttered close to the fire. Mole snatched them up and pressed them to his chest face down so as not to intrude on Gilly’s pain. Seemed like the right thing to do. Mole waited patiently while Gilly sobbed, allowing his neighbor, his friend, to let all that pent up sadness release. Although, Mole had a hunch it would just fill an empty space inside of Gilly again, pushing and shoving itself further and further into his body until it was all dark.

Gilly got to his feet and pulled a yellowed handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped his face. Mole continued to clutch the photographs to his chest.

“Mole, you ever just have something push at you. Push at your insides until it just spills right out cause it ain’t got nowhere else to go?”

Mole nodded. He knew exactly how that felt. His sister Gloria pushed him out. His mama pushed him out. Most of the kids at school didn’t mean to push him out, but they just weren’t interested in what Mole was interested in. They made him feel like he had twenty years on them rather than the preteen boy that he was.

“I just left her there. I left them all there. We were supposed to be there to help those people. But that ain’t what we did there.”

Mole nodded again. He wanted to comfort his friend, but he sensed that Gilly had more to say. More he must say.

“I can’t close my eyes without being back over there. Thought maybe if I burned those then it would disappear. That I could forget I ever went. But the mind don’t work like that, Mole. Just don’t work like that.”

Mole made eye contact with Gilly, and then he laid his hand on Gilly’s back, patting at it awkwardly like he’d seen the men do when they were on the porch smoking.

“Thank you, Mole. You’re a good boy. A good person. Your mama must be real proud of you.”

Without thinking first, Mole piped up, “She’s not. She don’t even know who I am.”

It was Gilly’s turn to awkwardly pat Mole on the back.

“The people we love. The people that love us back, well, they can have the hardest time seeing who we are. I bet your mama is proud of you. She just don’t have the right words to say it.”

Mole wasn’t convinced, but he followed Gilly up to the porch and watched him pull his baggie and rolling papers out. His ritual. Mole stretched out on the top step and let the sun warm his body as the skunky smoke wafted over his face.

Winter stretched to summer, and Mole’s routine of slipping under the fence continued. He passed his days with Gilly and his buddies, stretched out on the top step baking himself brown like a cake of cornbread. Soon August turned to September, and another school year found Mole. He hated to see the summer leave. He’d enjoyed his time spent in Gilly’s garden and on his porch. He hadn’t even minded the smack of the tennis balls courtesy of Gloria and her parade of boys.

It was the first week of school when Gilly got fired. Mole had been on the school bus the day Gilly lost it. At least that’s what the town folk called the incident. Losing it. But if Jimmy Hambright and Doyle McClain hadn’t been teasing Artie Hunnwacker for being a girl that dips snuff, then there wouldn’t have been no incident for the town folk to yammer about. Gilly had grabbed those boys by their scruffs, dragged them off his bus, and whacked them both right in the kissers. When Jimmy and Doyle climbed back up those steps, they didn’t even turn their bodies Artie’s way. But Mole was alone in thinking that Gilly was a champion of the underdog.

The bus ride to school used to be Mole’s favorite part because Gilly was behind the wheel. Mole missed his friend, but he still scurried under the fence as soon as his feet left the bus each day.

Mole’s ritual began one afternoon. Feet slapping down on the asphalt and carrying him to the fence. He rolled under and stopped at the tomato plants, running his hands through them so they’d release their stench. He caught a whiff of smoke in the air. He could hear his mama calling his name, but he chose to let her voice drift away and let his body pull him towards the smoke.

As he made his way out of the row of tomato plants, he saw the bottoms of Gilly’s shoes. Puzzled, he stopped. He could still hear his mama calling his name, but he continued to ignore her. Sounded like her voice was closer though.

Mole’s mind was telling him to stay put, but his feet moved him forward. He peeped around the edge of the tomato plants and saw Gilly. He was on his back next to the smoldering fire. The black and white photographs Mole had seen were scattered around him. He ran to his friend. There was a neat hole in the side of Gilly’s head and a small revolver at his side. A photograph fluttered into what was left of the fire. Mole scooted over on his knees and pulled it out of the ashes just as the woman with the oil-slick black hair’s face started to curl up from the heat.

Gilly’s service was simple and quick. The same men that had flooded his porch with stories and smoke showed up to bid him farewell. As they folded the American flag draped over Gilly’s coffin, Mole watched to see who they would give it to. A man laid it beside a charred and wrinkled framed photo of the woman with oil-slick black hair. Tears dripped down Mole’s face and soaked into his shirt front. One of Gilly’s friends put his hand on Mole’s shoulder.

“Drop by the porch. The fellas are going to gather this afternoon.”

Mole nodded. His mama had brought him to the funeral, but she wouldn’t get out of the car. Stayed inside the giant Cadillac working on her cross stitch. But he knew he would slip away and scoot under the fence.

Later that day, Mole laid across the top step of Gilly’s porch. He didn’t understand exactly what had unfolded, but he knew he was different now. No longer a boy. He listened as the friends’ words and smoke swirled above his head and blanketed him in comfort. Gilly Black had seen Mole’s own sadness inside of him. Been the only person to acknowledge it. Tell him it would be ok, and there was light on the other side. Mole had seen through Gilly’s sadness too.

As Mole’s eyes closed and he drifted off to the sound of Gilly’s friends weaving tales about their friend, he felt a slight nip to the air. Fall was coming.


About the Author

Katy is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, Reckon Review, Cowboy Jamboree, Salvation South, and elsewhere. She has a prose collection forthcoming with Belle Point Press (2025). She was born and raised in South Carolina and lives with her spouse and two pups, Finn and Betty Anne. You can find her work at


Image by Dirk (Beeki®) Schumacher from Pixabay