Their Problem

by , under Fiction Prompts, Friday Fictioneers

“Abel and Moses won’t be coming today,” she said, reading the note the boy had given her. “They’re down with the itch.”

“Goddamn them shiftless sons of bitches,” he said. “We got three days of harvest, and they got to be sick.”

“Doc Jenks thinks it’s some kind of Negro smallpox,” she said. “Most of Darktown got it. He’s issuing a quarantine.”

“So you’re saying none of them are going to help us get the wheat in? Well, that beats all.”

“Those poor people.” The baby fussed against her breast.

“God’s judgment. Nobody asked them people to come up here.”


Friday Fictioneers


Historical note: At the turn of the 20th century, the United States had managed to avoid a major smallpox epidemic for the better part of a generation. But in 1900, a small wave of illness washed over communities of black farmers and laborers in a few southeastern states. The white community wasn’t alarmed. The disease, which some called “nigger itch,” was a Negro problem. As one local newspaper put it at the time: “Up to the present, no white people have been attacked and there is positively no occasion for alarm.” The blacks, it was believed, had brought it on themselves.

Then the disease began spreading to white people. The smallpox virus was colorblind. 


  1. rochellewisoff

    Dear J Hardy,

    People need only to go back a few years to see that the Western world blessed the Native Americans with the disease. The voice in your story is infuriatingly well written. Made me want to punch someone in the face.



  2. Iain Kelly

    Great voice and character and an appropriate tale to shine a mirror on the present state of race relations in the US too. Well done.

  3. Lynn Love

    Can I echo others by saying, wonderful, believable, awful voice you’ve created there. Feels so real. So very good, Josh

  4. Joy Pixley

    Compelling characterization and voice. It’s too easy to forget how people can treat anyone classified as “others” so horribly, even believing they’re so unlike that they’re not susceptible to the same diseases.

  5. gahlearner

    Great voice, excellent writing, horrible, ignorant people. The perhaps-honest-compassion of the wife makes it even harder to swallow.


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