Excerpt from Before It Was Legal

She was merely going to watch a man teach Spanish, Anna reminded herself as she removed one dress at a time from the narrow closet, held it up for inspection, put it back. He had come downstairs from the WPA office and stood by her desk, his dark eyes flickering with an affability that made her forget she was shy.

“You’ve asked me about my teaching philosophy,” he’d said. “Why don’t you come see for yourself? Tonight.” Out of politeness—that’s all the invitation had been, a polite gesture. And she was responding with friendliness.

She finally settled on a dress of turquoise wool, more stylish than her other clothes, with ample shoulder pads and a flattering gored skirt. A comb through her shoulder-length blond hair, a dab of lipstick on each cheek to add color, a glance in the mirror to make sure her stocking seams were straight, and she was ready to go.

A light snow began to fall as she drove her ‘36 Chevy coup to the high school where adult classes met in the evening hours.

Watching him from the back of the room, she found this Daniel Winters even more compelling than at the office. In his teaching he had a self-confidence and dynamism she hadn’t seen in many men. Even though he was a Negro and the students were white, his enthusiasm as he led students through Spanish verb tenses kept everyone involved.

When the class ended, she remained seated as men and women drifted out of the room. Gathering his papers and books, Daniel paused to look over at her, flashing a smile that made her heart lurch. For fear she was blushing, she turned away slightly.

“I assume you drove,” he said.


“How about if we drive around for a while?”

Minutes later, Daniel behind the wheel of her car, they talked about the U.S. economy and tensions in Europe. He pulled the car to the curb and turned off the engine. Soon snow clung to the windows, diffusing the glow of the nearby street light, hiding the houses beyond the sidewalk. Insulated from the outside world, their vulnerabilities protected from its harshness, they began to speak of personal matters. Anna found herself telling him about feeling abandoned through much of her childhood, how her sister and brother-in-law had included her in their family.

Though at work Daniel exuded self-confidence, it was a different voice she heard as they sat in their cocoon, his words spoken so softly she had to strain to hear. With a tremor in his voice, he talked about his love of sports and how, because he was a Negro, his playing opportunities had been limited. He told about another night when the snow was falling, being barred from a YMCA locker room while his white teammates went in to change, how lonely his young self had felt.

She was the one who finally had to remind them both that tomorrow was a work day. Daniel shifted his body and started the engine. With his handkerchief he wiped away the fog that had gathered on the inside of the window and turned on the wipers to brush away the snow. As he leaned back, waiting for the windshield to clear, he rested his arm on the seat behind her. Slowly he let it drop to her shoulder, then pulling her toward him, he kissed her.

It was a gentle kiss, wonderfully tender. The meeting of their lips, one of his hands resting ever so lightly at her waist, the other pulling her toward him—even through her heavy winter coat, her body was sensitive to every place he touched her.

Their lips parted; his hands returned to the steering wheel; the car moved forward. They rode in silence until Daniel asked, “Are you sorry I kissed you?”

“I’d rather you hadn’t.” Which wasn’t exactly the truth, for the single kiss had stirred a desire for more. On the other hand it was the truth. This wasn’t the right man.