JAMES LINEBERGER

 

Alonzo

i don't know of any woods like this
around here now
but when we were kids my brothers and me
got lost in some woods
behind our uncle atlee's house woods
that looked all right when we went in
but all of a sudden
changed when we found out we didn't know where
we were or which way to get out again
woods that kept
getting deeper and deeper
and richard like usual decided he had got bit
by a snake a hoop snake this time
he said
and he could feel
the poison which didn't spread near as fast as a copperhead
more in one place like when you touch
a waffle iron to see if it's hot
and what was the use of keeping
on walking he said
if he was dead anyway
and he just sat down and refused to go any further which
was his usual game of somebody had better
carry him or he was a goner
well fuck that
bud said i aint carrying your dead ass nowhere
go on and die see if i care crybaby
but just then a owl sailed right past us close
as my arm
and richard was up and running like a shot
and we had to tackle
him and bring him down saying
fool fool
that will just make the poison go faster through you
so without a knife to lance him
we had to take turns with him on our backs
because a person can lie and lie and there will still be
that one time when it's the truth
but while i was taking my turn
it got darker
and darker through the trees till you couldn't hardly see each other in front of you
and richard had either fell asleep on my shoulder or else
he was in a coma
i thought and i had begun to imagine what it would
be like if he was to die like that
with me carrying him
and i could see the funeral with the rain and the umbrellas
the way they do it in the movies when
they really want to make you feel it the worst
and i told bud
and he said to hold still so he could feel for a pulse
but if richard had one it was awfully faint
bud said
and he shook richard and said richard richard look there's mama
which brought him around thank god
and he raised his head trying to see through the trees
saying yeah i can see her he said
and he let go with one arm and pointed out in the darkness
look look over yonder he said
and it was true there was somebody or something moving through
the trees like ghost lights floating
and bud got down
and started to throw leaves all over his self trying to hide
but it was too late
they were floating closer and closer
dark figures with puff balls of light all around
and jesus this deep voice all of a sudden said
what chall doing way out here
and then we could see it was a wagonload of cotton behind two mules
and up on top was this colored tenant farmer
and his family that we had seen
one time at barber junction when uncle atlee said
that nigger owes me twelve dollars
and bud was still
covering his self with leaves whispering don't say nothing
and richard hugged me tight with his legs locked around me and his eyes
shut playing dead
but somebody had to take charge
so i said
i said if y'all take us outa here my uncle atlee will give you
twelve dollars
which made the colored man narrow his eyes
where he said you get a figure
like twelve dollars you just make that up or is your uncle atlee just love
to give money away
well i knew how to talk to people like him i might not of been
but twelve but you couldn't help
but learn
if you watched everybody else in this world
take it or leave it i said
twelve dollars that's three dollars a piece that's twelve aint it and the man
stared down at me like they do at the grocery
store when you
handle the candy bars and they know you aint got a dime
git up
he said and let out a rattlely cough and shook his head
and i lifted richard up
and pulled bud out of the leaves
and we sank down in that big load of cotton with the whole family around us
must have been ten kids
with their hands scabby and bleeding from the cotton
and their big mama
who wore a straw hat and a pair of sunglasses that had one
of the lenses missing which would have looked funny only she had
this beautiful sad smile
like even when she was happy
she was thinking about something else
and her husband
said something to the mules and we went lumbering off and he never
even turned around when he said
y'all know how far you come you come ten miles through
them woods it's a wonder
you not dead
little city boys like you i be damn i just be
damn
he ought to know better than let chall run around loose
in the middle of nowhere
well okay then mister twelve dollars it is only don't say nothing
till after i'm gone
and then you tell your uncle atlee
alonzo
said to just add it on to that other twelve i won't never
get back from him either


First Place IBPC Contest Winner.