Walking the path burdened, but not overly so, he felt his brother settle behind him, lulled by the rhythm of movement. Yellababy's back was to Hezekiah's. What's he looking at, I wonder-- the mud? the low pond? the path winding behind us now? Any of those things will do. Just as long as he aint looking at the house where we come from where Ma's eyes are peering out through curtains that aint even hers. That used to belong to somebody else.
Hezekiah Sheehand could see his nearest neighbor leaning on the gray-white fence post, his dark brown face still as a rusted-over weather vane, his arm stretched out along the top of the wire they'd both worked hard to stretch.
His mother said poor judgment had froze the nigger up, put a stop to his dreaming, and it was just as well, but Hezekiah held his heart against that reasoning. The colored man was simply a colored man, stalled and waiting, as most were inside the year 1961. And in Hezekiah's opinion this was cause enough to be constrained and careful and quiet as a mouse.
Now Marion Calhoun knew this for a fact: the Sheehand place was pure white trash and looked it. A shameful blight for all of Agricola, Mississippi, had not Agricola with its wandering dirt roads and switchbacks not been full of exact replicas that poxed the county. Looking across, seeing those mean geese and the leaning holy yokes and the upside-down bicycles and the towers of tires, was not the half of it, either. The house itself, if one could even call it a house, was an abomination to the senses. Made up of the strewn guts of other busted-up houses, it sat in a slut-like pose, multicolored in hues no painter would be likely to claim. His place was no more than a hundred yards away, settled on a spot of land surrounded by a beautiful field full of easy-waving Jap grass. A field with its shoes off, Marion liked to believe. A field just sitting there minding its own business. He looked across and blinked and searched out the line of trees in the distance where the river ran. They were covered in morning mist and shrouded in gray. He looked to the east and then the west for a plume of dust that signaled travelers coming his way from the corner store, and didn't see any. All he could see was the Sheehand place sprawling beside him like a fast-eating cancer.
Now, Marion Calhoun knew this as well: he had a gift of acting stupid while actually being world-class smart. The weight of his knowing this thing chafed him, and stuck in his craw sharp as a fish bone, seeing how the world was just plain full of stupid people who didn't, or couldn't, know the difference. So when Hez wandered across a yard that used to be Marion's and yelled out, "How you doin, you sad ole man!" he just balled up his hands inside his pockets and let him be, thinking, Now this here Hezekiah has the gift of acting stupid as well as being stupid and me knowin this thing is enough to let the insult ride.
A dark man, with age on him, Marion peered across brown-eyed and quiet, thinking about things, his shoulders humped inside his faded blue shirt, his hands twitching once against a pocket of pennies. He finally looked at Hezekiah, who was nearing the halfway point between the two properties.
Hezekiah walked the path taller these days, but in much the same way he'd done since he was a three-year-old, just out of diapers. He had toddled then, dirty and snot-nosed. Sixteen years old now, Hez swaggered beneath a burden these days, cleaner around the face and ears, but weighed down by the cripple. Marion watched him reach around and pat his brother's leg while he walked and the way the boy's hand stayed there even after the child had stilled. The tenderness was not lost on him, and Marion wondered over it. He saw the bruise to the little brother's arm, but didn't wonder too much over that one. Marion studied the two boys for a long minute before bending his head to spit.
Copyright © 2001 Melinda Haynes
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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