Tally appeared to be perfect, though. She gazed thoughtfully across the cotton fields, and I admired her dirty dress once again.
I knew my grandfather and Mr. Spruill had come to terms because Mr. Spruill started his truck. I walked past the trailer, past the man on the tailgate who was briefly awake but still staring at the pavement, and stood beside Pappy. "Nine miles that way, take a left by a burned-out barn, then six more miles to the St. Francis River. We're the first farm past the river on your left."
"Bottomland?" Mr. Spruill asked, as if he were being sent into a swamp.
"Some of it is, but it's good land."
Mr. Spruill glanced at his wife again, then looked back at us. "Where do we set up?"
"You'll see a shady spot in the back, next to the silo. That's the best place."
We watched them drive away, the gears rattling, the tires wobbling, crates and boxes and pots bouncing along.
"You don't like them, do you?" I asked.
"They're good folks. They're just different."
"I guess we're lucky to have them, aren't we?"
"Yes, we are."
More field hands meant less cotton for me to pick. For the next month I would go to the fields at sunrise, drape a nine-foot cotton sack over my shoulder, and stare for a moment at an endless row of cotton, the stalks taller than I was, then plunge into them, lost as far as anyone could tell. And I would pick cotton, tearing the fluffy bolls from the stalks at a steady pace, stuffing them into the heavy sack, afraid to look down the row and be reminded of how endless it was, afraid to slow down because someone would notice. My fingers would bleed, my neck would burn, my back would hurt.
Yes, I wanted lots of help in the fields. Lots of hill people, lots of Mexicans.
Excerpted from A Painted House by John Grisham Copyright 2/6/01 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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