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‘How does it look!’ asked Papa as I passed through the sitting room on my way out the side door. Over a week had passed since he had been injured, and this was his first morning up. He was seated by the cold fireplace, his head still bandaged, his broken leg resting on a wooden chair. His eyes were on Mama at her desk.

Mama put down her pencil and frowned at the open ledger before her. She glanced at me absently and waited until I hadclosed the screen door behind me, then she said, ‘David, do you think we should go into this now? You’re still not well ‘I’m well enough to know there’s not much left. Now tell me.’

I hopped down the steps and sat on the bottom one. Mama was silent a moment before she answered him. ‘With Hammer’s half of the mortgage money, we’ve got enough to meet the June payment…

‘Nothing more!’

‘A couple of dollars, but that’s all.’

They were both silent.

You think we should write Hammer and borrow some money!’ Mama asked.

Papa did not answer right away. ‘No …’ he said finally. ‘I still don’t want him to know ‘bout this thing. If he knows I’m not on the railroad, he’ll wanna know why not, and I don’t wanna risk that temper of his when he finds out what the Wallaces done.’

Mama sighed. ‘I guess you’re right.’

‘I know I am,’ said Papa. ‘Things like they are, he come down here wild and angry, he’ll get himself hung. Long as things don’t get no worse, we can make it without him. We’ll meet that June note with the money we got there.’ He paused a moment, ‘We’ll probably have to sell a couple of the cows and their calves to make them July and August notes … maybe even that ole sow, But by the end of August we should have enough cotton to make that September payment… Course we’ll probably have to go all the way to Vicksburg to get it ginned, Can’t hardly use Harlan Granger’s gin this year.

There was silence again, then Mama said, ‘David, Mama’s been talking about going into Strawberry to the market next’No,’ Papa said, not letting her finish. Too much bad feeling there.’ ‘I told her that.’

‘I’ll talk to her… Anything we just gotta have before the first cotton come in!’

‘Well … you picked up batteries and kerosene on that last trip …but what we’re going to need more than anything is some insecticide to spray the cotton. The bugs are getting pretty bad…‘What ‘bout food?’

‘Our flour and sugar and baking powder and such are low, but we’ll make out - we don’t have to have biscuits and cornbread every day. We’re out of pepper and there’s not much salt, but we don’t just have to have those either. And the coffee’s all gone… The garden’s coming along nicely, though. There’s no worry there.’

‘No worry,’ Papa muttered as both of them grew quiet, Then suddenly there was a sharp explosion as if something had been struck with an angry force. ‘If only this leg wasn’t busted !’

‘Don’t let Stacey hear you saying that, David,’ Mama cautioned softly. ‘You know he blames himself about your leg.’

‘I told the boy it wasn’t his fault. He just wasn’t strong enough to hold lack.’

‘I know that, but still he blames himself.

Papa laughed strangely. ‘Ain’t this something! Them Wallaces aim a gun at my head and I get my leg broke, and my boy’s blaming himself for it. Why. I feel like taking a bull- whip to all three of them Wallaces and not stopping till my arm get so tired I can’t raise it one more time.’

‘You’re sounding like Hammer. ‘Am I! Well, a lot of times I feel like doing things Hammer’s way. I think I’d get a powerful lot of satisfaction from whipping Kaleb Wallace and them brothers of his.’

‘Hammer’s way would get you killed and you know it, so stop talking like that. Don’t we already have enough to worry about!

Besides, both Thurston and Dewberry Wallace are still laid up, so ] hear. Some folk even say that Dew- berry’s back is broken. In any case, Mr. Morrison must have hurt them pretty bad.’

‘Where is he, by the way? I haven’t seen him this morning,’

There was an instant of silence before Mama answered. ‘Out looking for work again since dawn.

‘He ain’t gonna find nothing ‘round here. I told him that.’

‘I know.’ agreed Mama. ‘But he says he’s got to try, David …’ Mama stopped, and when she spoke again her voice had grown faint, as if she hesitated to say what was on her mind. ‘David. don’t you think he ought to go! I don’t want him to, but afterwhat he did to the Wallaces, I’m afraid for him.

‘He knows what could happen, Mary, but he wants to stay - and, frankly, we need him here. Don’t pester him about it.’

‘But, David, if -

Before Mama finished, I spied Mr. Morrison coming west from Smellings Creek.I left the step and hurried to meet him.

‘Hello, Mr. Morrison i’ I shouted as Jack pulled the wagon up the drive.

‘Hello, Cassie,’ Mr. Morrison greeted me. ‘Your papa awake !’

‘Yessir. He’s sitting out of bed this morning.

‘Didn’t I tell you nothin’ could keep him down !’

‘Yessir, you did.’

He stepped from the wagon and walked toward the house.

‘Mr. Morrison, you want me to unhitch Jack for ya !’

‘No, Cassie, leave him be. I gotta talk to your papa then I’ll be back.’

‘Hey, ole Jack,’ I said, patting the mule as I watched Mr. Morrison enter the side door. I thought of returning to my seat on the steps, but decided against it. Instead I remained with Jack, thoughtfully digesting all I had heard, until Mr. Morrison came from the house. He went into the barn, then reappeared with the planter, a plowlike tool with a small round container for dropping seeds attached to its middle. He put the planter into the back of the wagon.

‘Where you going now, Mr. Morrison !’

‘Down to Mr. Wiggins’ place, I seen Mr. Wiggins this morning and he asked to use your Papa’s planter. He ain’t got no wagon so I told him I’d ask your Papa and if it was all right, I’d bring it to him.’Ain’t it kinda late for seeding!’

‘Well, not for what he got in mind. He thought he’d plant himself some summer corn. It’ll be ready come September.

‘Mr. Morrison, can I go with ya!’ I asked as he climbed up on the wagon.

‘Well, I’d be right pleased for your company, Cassie. But you’ll have to ask your mama.’

I ran back to the house. The boys were now in Mama and Papa’s room, and when I asked if I could go up to Little Willie’s with Mr. Morrison, Little Man and Christopher-John, of course, wanted to go too.

‘Mr. Morrison said it’d be all right, Mama.

‘Well. don’t you get in his way. Stacey, you going!’

Stacey sat across from Papa looking despondently at the broken leg. ‘Go on, son.’ said Papa gently. ‘There’s nothing to do here. Give you a chance to talk to Little Willie.’

‘You sure there ain’t something I can do for you. Papa !’ ‘Just go and have yourself a good ride over to Little.

Since it had been my idea to ask to go, I claimed the seat Beside Mr. Morrison, and the boys climbed in back. Little Willie’s family lived on their own forty acres about two miles east of Great Faith. It was a fine morning for a ride and the six miles there sped by quickly with Mr. Morrison singing in his bassest of base voices and Christopher-John. Little Man, and me joining in wherever we could as we passed cotton fields abloom in flowers of white and red and pink. Stacey being in one of his moods did not sing and we let him be.

We stayed less than an hour at the Wiggins farm, then headed home again. We had just passed Great Faith and were approaching the Jefferson Davis School Road when a ragged pickup came into view. Very quietly Mr. Morrison said. ‘Cassie.

get in back.’

‘Buy why, Mr. Mor -

‘Do quick. Cassie, like I say.’ His voice was barely above a friendly whisper, but there was an urgency in it and I obeyed, scrambling over the seat to join the boys. ‘Y’all stay down now.The truck braked noisily with a grating shriek of steel. We stopped. The boys and I peeped over the edge of the wagon. The truck had veered across the road, blocking us. The truck door swung open and Kaleb Wallace stepped out, pointing a long condemning finger at Mr. Morrison,

He swayed unspeaking for a long, terrible moment, then sputtered, ‘You big black nigger, I oughta cut your heart out for what you done! My brothers laid up like they is and you still runnin’ ‘round free as a white man. Downright sinful, that’s what it is ! Why, I oughta gun you down right where you sit -

‘You gonna move your truck!’

Kaleb Wallace gazed up at Mr. Morrison, then at the truck as if trying to comprehend the connection between the two. That truck in your way, boy !’

‘You gonna move it !’

‘I’ll move it all right .,.when I get good and ready -‘ He stopped abruptly, his eyes bulging in a terrified stare as Mr. Morrison climbed down from the wagon. Mr. Morrison’s long shadow fell over him and for a breathless second, Mr. Morrison towered dangerously near him. But as the fear grew white on Kaleb Wallace’s face, Mr. Morrison turned without a word and peered into the truck.

‘What’s he looking for?’ I whispered.

‘Probably a gun,’ said Stacey,

Mr. Morrison circled the truck, studying it closely. Then he returned to its front and, bending at the knees with his back against the grill, he positioned his large hands beneath the bumper. Slowly, his muscles flexing tightly against his thin shirt and the sweat popping off his skin like oil on water, he lifted the truck in one fluid, powerful motion until the front was several inches off the ground and slowly walked it to the left of the road, where he set it down as gently as a sleeping child.

Then he moved to the rear of the truck and repeated the feat.

Kaleb Wallace was mute. Christopher-John, Little Man. and I stared open-mouthed, and even Stacey, who had witnessed Mr.

Morrison’s phenomenal strength before, gazed in wonder.

It took Kaleb Wallace several minutes to regain his voice. We were far down the road, almost out of hearing, when hisfrenzied cry of hate reached us. ‘One of these nights, you watch, nigger ! I’m gonna come get you for what you done ! You just watch ! One night real soon…

When we reached home and told Mama and Papa and Big Ma what had happened, Mama said to Mr. Morrison, ‘I told you before I was afraid for you. And today, Kaleb Wallace could’ve hurt you … and the children.

Mr. Morrison looked squarely into Mama’s eyes. ‘Miz Logan, Kaleb Wallace is one of them folks who can’t do nothing by himself. He got to have lots of other folks backing him up plus a loaded gun … and I knew there wasn’t no gun, leastways not in the truck. I checked.’

‘But if you stay, he’ll get somebody and they’ll try to take you, like he said -

‘Miz Logan, don’t ask me to go.

Mama reached out, laying a slender hand on Mr. Morrison’s. ‘Mr. Morrison, you’re a part of us now. I don’t want -you hurt because of us.

Mr. Morrison lowered his eyes and looked around the room until his gaze rested on the boys and me. ‘I ain’t never bad no children of my own. I think sometimes if I had, I’d’ve wanted a son and daughter just like you and Mr. Logan … and grandbabies like these babies of yours. ..

‘But, Mr. Morrison, the Wallaces -

‘Mary,’ said Papa quietly, ‘let it be.’

Mama looked at Papa, her lips still poised to speak. Then she said no more; but the worry lines remained creased upon her brow.

August dawned blue and hot. The heat swooped low over the land clinging like an invisible shroud, and through it people moved slowly, lethargically, as if under water. In the ripening fields the drying cotton and corn stretched tiredly skyward awaiting the coolness of a rain that occasionally threatened but did not come, and the land took on a baked, brown look.

To escape the heat, the boys and I often ambled into the coolness of the forest after the chores were done. There, while the cows and their calves grazed nearby, we sat on the banks of the pond, our backs propped against an old hickory or pine orwalnut, our feet dangling lazily in the cool water, and waited for a watermelon brought from the garden to chill. Sometimes Jeremy joined us there, making his way through the deep forest land from his own farm over a mile away, but the meetings were never planned; none of our parents would have liked that.

‘How’s your papa !’ he asked one day as he plopped down beside us.

‘He’s all right,’ said Stacey,’ ‘cepting his leg’s bothering him in this heat. Itching a lot. But Mama says that’s a sign it’s getting well.’

‘That’s good,’ murmured Jeremy, Too bad he had to get hurt when he done so’s he couldn’t go back on the rail- road.’

Stacey stirred uneasily, looked at Christopher-John, Little Man, and me, reminding us with his eyes that we were not to speak about the Wallaces’ part in Papa’s injury, and said only. ‘Uh-huh.

Jeremy was silent a moment, then stuttered, ‘Ssome folks sayin’ they glad he got hurt. G-glad he can’t go make that railroad money.

‘Who said that!’ I cried, jumping up from the bank. ‘Just tell me who said it and I’ll ram ‘Cassie! Sit down and be quiet,’ Stacey ordered. Reluctantly, I did as I was told, wishing that this business about the Wallaces and Papa’s injuries Were not so complex. It seemed to me that since the Wallaces had attacked Papa and Mr. Morrison, the simplest thing to do would be to tell the sheriff and have them put in jail, but Mama said things didn’t work that way. She explained that as long as the Wallaces, embarrassed by their injuries at the hands of Mr. Morrison, did not make an official complaint about the incident, then we must remain silent also. If we did not, Mr. Morrison could be charged with attacking white men, which could possibly end in his being sentenced to the chain gang, or worse.

‘I - I ain’t the one said it, Cassie,’ stammered Jeremy by way of apology.

‘Well, whoever saying it ought not be,’ I said huffily,

Jeremy nodded thoughtfully and changed the subject. ‘Y’all seen T.J. lately!’

Stacey frowned, considering whether or not he should answer. There had been much talk concerning T.J. and the Simms brothers, all of it bad. Moe Turner’s father had told Sapa that T,J. had stopped by with the Simmses once, and after they hadleft he had discovered his watch missing: the Laniers had had the same experience with a locket. ‘That T.J. done turned real bad,’ Mr. Lanier had said, ‘and I don’t want nothin’ to do with no thief ..,’specially no thief runnin’ ‘round with white boys.’

Finally Stacey said, ‘Don’t see him much no more.’

Jeremy pulled at his lip. ‘I see him all the time.’

‘Too bad,’ I sympathized.

Stacey glanced reproachfully at me, then lay flat upon the ground, his head resting in the cushion of his hands clasped under his head. ‘It sure is beautiful up there.’ he said, pointedly changing the subject again.

The rest of us lay back too. Overhead, the branches of the walnut and hickory trees met like long green fans sheltering us.

Several feet away the persistent sun made amber roads of shimmering sunlight upon the pond. A stillness hovered in the high air, soft, quiet, peaceful.

‘I think when I grow up I’m gonna build me a house in some trees and jus’ live there all the time,’ said Jeremy.

‘How you gonna do that !’ asked Little Man.

‘Oh, I’ll find me some real strong trees and just build. I figure I’ll have the trunk of one tree in the bedroom and the other in the kitchen.

‘How come you wanna live in a tree for!’ Christopher- John inquired.

‘It’s so peaceful up there … and quiet. Cool, too,’ answered

Jeremy. ‘‘Specially at night.

‘How you know how cool it is at night!’ I said.

Jeremy’s face brightened. “Cause I got my bedroom up there.’

We looked at him unbelieving.’I-I do - really. Built it myself and I sleeps up there. Come these hot nights. I just climbs in my tree and it’s like going into another world. Why, I can see and hear things up there that I betcha only the squirrels and the birds can see and hear.

Sometimes I think I can even see all the way over to y’all’s place.’

‘Ah, shoot, boy, you’re a story,’ I said. ‘Your place too far away and you know it.’

Jeremy’s face dropped. ‘Well .,,maybe I can’t see it, but that don’t keep me from pretending I do.’ He was silent a second, then hopped up suddenly, his face bright again. ‘Hey, why don’t y’all come on over and see it! My pa’s gonna be gone all day and it’d be lots of fun and I could show y’all -‘

‘No,’ said Stacey quietly, his eyes still on the trees overhead.

Jeremy sat back down, deflated. ‘J-jus’ wanted y’all to see it, that’s all…’ For a while he looked hurt by Stacey’s cold refusal: then, seeming to accept it as part of the things that were, he again took up his position and volunteered good- naturedly. ‘lf y’all ever get a chance to build y’all-selves a tree house, just let me know and I’ll help ya. It’s just as cool…

Papa sat on a bench in the barn, his broken leg stretched awkwardly before him, mending one of Jack’s harnesses. He had been there since early morning, a frown line carved deep into his forehead, quietly mending those things which needed mending. Mama told us not to bother him and we stayed away from the barn as long as we could, but by late afternoon we drifted naturally to it and began our chores. Papa had disappeared within himself and he took no notice of us at first, but shortly afterward he looked up, watching us closely.

When the chores were almost finished, Mr. Morrison arrived from Strawberry, where he had gone to make the August mortgage payment. He entered the barn slowly and handed Papa an envelope. Papa glanced up questioningly, then ripped it open. As he read the letter, his jaw set tightly, and when he finished he smashed his fist so hard against the bench that the boys and I stopped what we were doing, aware that something was terribly wrong.

They tell you!’ he asked of Mr. Morrison, his voice curt, angry.

Mr. Morrison nodded. ‘I tried to get them to wait till after cotton picking, but they told me it was due and payable immediately. Them’s they words.’

‘Harlan Granger,’ said Papa quietly. He reached for his cane and stood up. ‘You feel up to going back to Straw- berry.., tonight!’‘I can make it, but r don’t know if this ole mule can.’ Then hitch Lady to it,’ he said motioning to the mare. He turned then and went to the house. The boys and I followed, not quite sure of what was happening. Papa entered the kitchen; we stayed on the porch peering through the screen.

‘David, something the matter, son !’

‘The bank called up the note. I’m going to Strawberry.’

‘Called up the note!’ echoed Big Ma, ‘Oh, Lord, not that too.’

Mama stared at Papa, fear in her eyes. ‘You going now!’

‘Now,’ he said, leaving the kitchen for their room.

Mama’s voice trailed him. ‘David, it’s too late. The bank’s closed by now. You can’t see anyone until morning…

We could not hear Papa’s reply, but Mama’s voice rose sharply. ‘You want to be out on that road again in the middle of the night after what happened ! You want us worried to death about you !’

‘Mary, don’t you understand they’re trying to take the land !’ Papa said, his voice rising too so that we heard.

‘Don’t you understand I don’t want you dead !’

We could hear nothing else. But a few minutes later Papa came out and told Mr. Morrison to unhitch Lady. They would go to Strawberry in the morning.

The next day Papa and Mr. Morrison were gone before I arose. When they returned in the late afternoon, Papa sat wearily down at the kitchen table with Mr. Morrison beside him. Rubbing his hand over his thick hair, he said, ‘I called Hammer.’

‘What did you tell him !’ Mama asked.

‘Just that the note’s been called. He said he’d get the money.

‘How!’‘He didn’t say and i didn’t ask. lust said he’d get it.’

‘And Mr. Higgins at the bank, David,’ said Big Ma. ‘What he have to say !’

‘Said bur credit’s no good anymore.’

‘We aren’t even hurting the Wallaces now,’ Mama said with acid anger. ‘Harlan Granger’s got no need ‘Baby, you know he’s got a need,’ Papa said, pulling her to him. ‘He’s got a need to show us where we stand in the scheme of things. He’s got a powerful need to do that. Be- sides, he still wants this place.

‘But son, that mortgage gives us four more years.’

Papa laughed dryly. ‘Mama, you want me to take it to court !’

Big Ma sighed and placed her hand on Papa’s. ‘What if Hammer can’t get the money !’

Papa did nor look at her, but at Mr. Morrison instead. ‘Don’t worry, Mama. We ain’t gonna lose the land… Trust me.

On the third Sunday of August the annual revival began. Revivals were always very serious, yet gay and long- planned-for, affairs which brought pots and pans from out- of-the-way shelves, mothball-packed dresses and creased pants from hidden chests, and all the people from the community and the neighboring communities up the winding red school road to Great Faith Church. The revival ran for seven days and it was an occasion everyone looked forward to, for it was more than just church services; it was the year’s only planned social event, disrupting the humdrum of everyday country life. Teenagers courted openly, adults met with relatives and friends they had not seen since the previous year’s ‘big meeting,’ and children ran almost free.

As far as I was concerned, the best part of the revival was the very first day. After the first of three services was dismissed, the mass of humanity which had squished its way into the sweltering interior of the small church poured onto the school grounds, and the women proudly set out their dinners in the backs of wagons and on the long fables circling the church.

Then it was a feast to remember.

Brimming bowls of turnip greens and black-eyed peas with ham hocks, thick slices of last winter’s sugar-cured ham and stripsof broiled ribs, crisply fried chicken and morsels of golden squirrel and rabbit, flaky buttermilk biscuits and crusty cornbread, fat slabs of sweet-potato pie and butter pound cakes, and so much more were all for the taking. No matter how low the pantry supplies, each family always managed to contribute something, and as the churchgoers made the rounds from table to table, hard times were forgotten at least for the day.

The boys and I had just loaded our plates for the first time and taken seats under an old walnut when Stacey put down his plate and stood up again. ‘What’s the matter!’ I asked, stuffing my mouth with cornbread.

Stacey frowned into the sun. ‘That man walking up the road …

I took a moment to look up, then picked up my drumstick. ‘So?’

‘He looks like ,.,Uncle Hammer!’ he cried and dashed away. I hesitated, watching him, reluctant to leave my plate unless it really was Uncle Hammer. When Stacey reached the man and hugged him, I put the plate down and ran across the lawn to the road. Christopher-John, with his plate still in hand, and Little Man ran after me.

‘Uncle Hammer, where’s your car!’ Little Man asked after we all had hugged him.

‘Sold it,’ he said.

‘Sold it?’ we cried in unison.

‘B-but why?’ asked Stacey.

‘Needed the money,’ Uncle Hammer said flatly.

As we neared the church, Papa met us and embraced Uncle Hammer. ‘I wasn’t expecting you to come all the way down here.’

‘You expecting me to send that much money by mail!’

‘Could’ve wired it.’

‘Don’t trust that either.’How’d you get it!’

‘Borrowed some of it, sold a few things,’ he said with a shrug. Then he nodded towards Papa’s leg. ‘How’d you do that!’

Papa’s eyes met Uncle Hammer’s and he smiled faintly. ‘I was sort of hoping you wouldn’t ask that.’


‘Papa.’ I said, ‘Uncle Hammer sold the Packard.’

Papa’s smile faded. ‘I didn’t mean for that to happen, Hammer.’

Uncle Hammer put his arm around Papa. ‘What good’s a car! It can’t grow cotton. You can’t build a home on it. And you can’t raise four fine babies in it.’

Papa nodded, understanding. 2’Now, you gonna tell me ‘bout that leg!’

Papa stared at the milling throng of people around the dinner tables. ‘Let’s get you something to eat first,’ he said, ‘then I’ll tell you. Maybe it’ll set better with some of this good food in your stomach.’

Because Uncle Hammer was leaving early Monday morning. the boys and I were allowed to stay up much later than usual to be with him. Long hours after we should have been in bed, we sat on the front porch lit only by the whiteness of the full moon and listened to the comforting sounds of Papa’s and Uncle Hammer’s voices mingling once again.

‘We’ll go up to Strawberry and make the payment first thing tomorrow.’ said Papa. ‘I don’t think I’d better go all the way to Vicksburg with this leg, but Mr. Morrison’ll take you there - see you to the train.’

‘He don’t have to do that,’ replied Uncle Hammer. ‘I can make it to Vicksburg all right.

‘But I’d rest easier if I knew you was on that train headed due north … not off getting yourself ready to do something foolish.

Uncle Hammer grunted. ‘There ain’t a thing foolish to what I’d like to do to them Wallaces… Harlan Granger either.

There was nothing to say to how he felt, and no one tried. ‘What you plan to do for money!’ Uncle Hammer asked after awhile.

‘The cotton looks good.’ said Papa. ‘We do well on it, we’ll make out all right.’

Uncle Hammer was quiet a moment before he observed, ‘Just tightening the belt some mole, huh !’

When Papa did not answer, Uncle Hammer said, ‘Maybe I better stay.

‘No,’ said Papa adamantly, ‘You do better in Chicago.

‘May do better but I worry a lot.’ He paused, pulling at his ear. ‘Come through Strawberry with a fellow from up in Vicksburg.

Things seemed worse than usual up there. It gets hot like this and folks get dissatisfied with life, they start looking ‘round for somebody to take it out on… I don’t want it to be you.

‘I don’t think it will be …’ said Papa,’… unless you stay.

In the morning after the men had gone, Big Ma said to Mama, ‘I sure wish Hammer could’ve stayed longer, ‘It’s better he went,’ said Mama.

Big Ma nodded. ‘I know. Things like they is, it don’t take but a little of nothin’ to set things off, and Hammer with that temper he got could do it. Still,’ she murmured wistfully, ‘I she’ wish he could’ve stayed…

On the last night of the revival the sky took on a strange yellowish cast. The air felt close, suffocating, and no wind stirred.

‘What do you think, David !’ Mama asked as she and Papa stood on the front porch looking at the sky. ‘You think we should go!’

Papa leaned against his cane. ‘It’s gonna storm all right… but it may not come till late on over in the night.’

They decided we would go. Most other families had come to the same decision, for the church grounds were crowded with wagons when we arrived. ‘Brother Logan,’ one of the deacons called as Papa stepped awkwardly down from the wagon, ‘Reverend Gabson wants us to get the meeting started soon as we can so we can dismiss early and get on home ‘fore this storm hits.’All right,’ Papa said, directing us toward the church. But as we neared the building, we were stopped by the Laniers. As the grown-ups talked, Little Willie Wiggins and Moe Turner, standing with several other boys, motioned to Stacey from the road.

Stacey wandered away to speak to them and Christopher-John, Little Man, and I went too.

‘Guess who we seen!’ said Little Willie as Stacey walked up. But before Stacey could venture a guess, Little Willie answered his own question. ‘T.J. and them Simms brothers.’

‘Where!’ asked Stacey.

‘Over there,’ Little Willie pointed. ‘They parked by the classrooms. Look, here they come.’ All eyes followed the direction of Little Willie’s finger. Through the settling dusk three figures ambled with assurance across the wide lawn, the two Simmses on the outside, T.J. in the middle.

‘How come he bringin’ them here!’ asked Moe Turner angrily.

Stacey shrugged. ‘Dunno, but I guess we’ll find out.’

‘He looks different.’ I remarked when I could see T.J. more distinctly. He was dressed in a pair of long, unpatched trousers and, as sticky hot as it was, he wore a suit coat and a tie, and a hat cocked jauntily to one side.

‘I s’pose he do look different.’ murmured Moe bitterly. ‘I’d look different too, if I’d been busy stealin’ other folkses’ stuff.’

‘Well, well, well! What we got here!’ exclaimed T.I. loudly as he approached. ‘Y’all gonna welcome us to y’all’s revival services!’

‘What you doing here, T.J.!’ Stacey asked.

T.J. laughed. ‘I got a right to come to my own church, ain’t I! See all my old friends!’ His eyes wandered over the group, but no one showed signs of being glad to see him. His wide grin shrank a little, then spying me he patted my face with his moist hand. ‘Hey, Cassie girl, how you doin’ !’

I slapped his hand away. ‘Don’t you come messing with me, T.J. !’ I warned.

Again he laughed, then said soberly, ‘Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do. I come all the way over here to introduce myfriends, R.W. and Melvin, to y’all and y’all actin’ like y’all ain’t got no manners at all. Yeah, ole R.W. and Melvin,’ he said, rolling the Simmses’ names slowly off his tongue to bring to our attention that he had not bothered to place a ‘Mister’ before either, ‘they been mighty fine friends to me. Better than any of y’all. Look, see here what they give me.’ Proudly he tugged at the suit coat. ‘Pretty nice stuff, eh! Everything I want they give me ‘cause they really likes me. I’m they best friend.’

He turned to the Simmses. ‘Ain’t that right, R.W. and Melvin!’

Melvin nodded, a condescending smirk on his face which was lost on T.J.

‘Anything - just anything at all I want - they’ll get it for me, including’ He hesitated as if he were unsure whether or not he was going too far, then plunged on. ‘Including that pearl-handled pistol in Barnett’s Mercantile.’

R.W. stepped forward and slapped a reassuring hand on T.J.’s shoulder. ‘That’s right, T.J. You name it and you’ve got it.’

T.J. grinned widely. Stacey turned away in disgust. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘service is ‘bout to start.’

‘Hey, what’s the matter with y’all!’ T.J. yelled as the group turned en masse and headed for the church. I glanced back at him.

Was he really such a fool!

‘All right, T.J.,’ said Melvin as we walked away, ‘we come down here like you asked. Now you come on into Strawberry with us like you promised.’

‘It - it didn’t even make no difference,’ muttered T.J.

‘What !’ said R.W. ‘You comin’, ain’t you ! You still want that pearl-handled pistol, don’t you !’

‘Yeah, but -

Then come on.’ he ordered, turning with Melvin and heading for the pickup.

But T.J. did not follow immediately. He remained standing in the middle of the compound, his face puzzled and undecided. I had never seen him look more desolately alone, and for a fleeting second I felt almost sorry for him.

When I reached the church steps, I looked back again. T.J. was still there, an indistinct blur blending into the gathering dusk,and I began to think that perhaps he would not go with the Simmses. But then the rude squawk of the truck’s horn blasted the quiet evening, and T.J. turned his back on us and fled across the field.

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