"Christsakes, Mayurn," Hezekiah said. "Susan-Blair's got her busy eyes on me. And I tell you what." He pointed his finger for emphasis. "There's not a day goes by that I aint more and more convinced Im not born to those two. If I could ever find the durn birth certificate, I bet I could prove it, too." Hez tugged at chest straps with bulging upper arms and hands that looked too rough and conscious of humanity to not be middle-aged.
"I see you aint learned to listen worth a lick."
"I listened." Hezekiah grinned.
"In one ear and out the other."
"I listened, though."
"You gonna get caught goin truant and then what? What you planning on doin once they pick up your scrawny ass and take you to county lockup? I bet you aint thought that far down the row yet, neither."
"True. I aint." Hez smiled and his blue eyes crinkled, happy and worry-free.
"How's Yellababy?" Marion reached around and played with stiff fingers that seemed oblivious to touch. The bruise to his arm was ugly yellow. The color of a vegetable gone bad.
"Same as yesterday and the day before that and last year and the year before that." Hez turned around so the man could judge for himself and then at the silence, turned back around again. The five-year-old made strangled, gurgly sounds. Hiccupped once.
"How'd he bruise up?"
"Ma says he rolled into the anvil." Hezekiah's eyes were sweetwideblue and trusting. "I swear to Jesus, Mayurn. There are times if I could get my hands on that durn Billy Reuben I would surely clean his clock."
"You would, would you?" Marion realizing the boy's heart was good as gold, but upstairs he was barely brighter than white flour.
"You bet your black ass, I would."
They both glanced upward to the sky, Hezekiah judging the sky to be inordinately blue for February. A few soft luminous clouds done up in pink and white swirled near the horizon.
"Looks like one a them big-ass suckers you buy once a year at the fair, and then don't dare eat because the durn thing's so pretty," he said.
"You gonna end up a hunchback for sure toting him round like that. He's full-blown five now, and too heavy."
Hez shrugged. "You don't seem to mind me luggin your load of feed into the barn ever time you come back from Lucedale. You don't worry much then."
Marion spit across the fence, the boy's logic reasonable.
"So I guess worryin depends on what you need doin at the time. Or maybe what you don't need doin. Folks tend to worry when they don't need you to be their own personal nigger-boy, but don't give a rat's ass about it when they need somebody to do their liftin." Hez studied the sky again and Marion's eyes followed to keep from looking at what was riding on Hezekiah Sheehand's back.
"That sounds true enough to make a holy yoke of." Marion's voice was low and thoughtful. "There aint been a new one painted in a while." He looked over at the one leaning against Susan-Blair's porch: HE THAT PASSETH BY AND MEDDLETH WITH STRIFE NOT HIS OWN IS LIKE A MAN WHO TAKES A DOG UP BY THE EARS. Proverbs 26:17.
"Holy yokes is Ma's business, Mayurn. Not mine." Hez was looking up again. "I figure by the drift of the clouds and the color of blue that it ought to be good walkin. No rain in sight."
"Was a red sky this morning," Marion said, cutting himself a fresh chaw, his pocket knife flashing in the sun like a silvered fish.
"More pink than red, I'd say. Five miles to Chalktown. Then five miles back. Shapes up proper. Easy enough, even with my brother." Hezekiah shifted the haversack higher on his back.
Marion saw the lump that was Yellababy and then looked away, uneasy. There was a crippled pecan tree out in the front of his yard and he stared at it thinking, Seems like everthing within four hundred yards of me is afflicted somehow.
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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