The pecan tree got itself sheared by a storm ten years back, its lower arms were jagged now. No pecans for the past four years for want of a good liming. But for occasional goose shit there'd been no attempt at fertilizing. That tree out there needs attention, near about as bad as Hezekiah, he figured. Marion looked at those blue eyes again, thinking, This one's harnessed with a burden not of his makin. And it don't seem right. Not with sixteen as fresh as it is, and boys runnin round gettin some all up and down the river. And this one here with his yellow hair and big arms and fresh face not likely to anytime this decade.
"Chalktown's no good. You got no business goin there," Marion said.
"Im goin anyhow."
"You ort leave them folks be. Go somewheres else."
"I made up my mind on it."
There was silence then, and the sound of field thrush and warbler drifted up from the thick border of the woods. Marion cleared his throat. "Seein how you aint learned to listen worth a lick, it'd be no trouble for me to sit the boy if you want to go on by yourself," he said. "I'd watch him good." Marion had suddenly remembered the gal near Basin who never wore underpants. Not even on Sunday. He supposed he could spread a blanket out in the sun, and place the five-year-old there while he trimmed up the old pecan and laid down a lime drip. "I'd make sure she stayed clear of him ... " He gave one furtive look at the little boy's yellowing bruise.
Just like an open door, it was there between them. Marion's knowing and Hezekiah's knowing that he knew, and then the door shut again. Hez, his face placid and unconcerned, looked at the man. "Yellababy aint ever seen much of anything other than the lower half of life, and I feel that's a shame, don't you?"
"If that's what you think."
"Yep, that's what I think."
"Caint say I believe hell remember much of what he sees, though." Unless maybe he were to see that gal who don't wear her underpants. I reckon that female would make a blind man swear to sight, quick as Bartemaeous.
Yellababy blablablaed, singsong and idiot-like, while a goose waddled over and stood by the pump shed. In Marion Calhoun's opinion it was too still for a goose, even a good one.
"He knows moren we think, I'd just bet." Hez hitched up the straps of his brother's harness again.
Marion spit brown tobacco juice over the fence and watched it disappear into the baked dirt path.
"Anyhow, I don't worry so much when he's with me."
"That's a way to look at it, I reckon," Marion said.
"Yessir, it is. The only way I got right now."
His arm stretched along the top of the fence, the man stood still as a tree while Hezekiah walked toward the graveled road. Yellababy's face peered out from his pack, those stiffened-up arms swinging like somebody's broken puppet.
Four geese waddled with outstretched necks to the road, and then stopped as though a hand were there, pinning them back, penning them in. Marion Calhoun watched the two Sheehand boys until they were two indistinguishable specks shrinking on the horizon. Looking up and down the long stretch of dirt road, those sweet mornings when it was just the birds and the quiet wind and Marion Calhoun seemed as far away as the Carolina mountains.
"Well, I guess it's true what folks say." Marion watched the geese stranded near the road, their feet glued to the earth. "Nobody ever really leaves this place. They just fool themselves into thinkin they do."
Copyright © 2001 Melinda Haynes
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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