Chapter Thirteen

XIII  -  Nemo's Mother a Week

with the Jaybird


Reverend Blessett tried to keep the furor going, but except for a few people who wrote to the Journal demanding that the song be banned from sale, the steam was gone from the reverend's engine. Maybe it had something to do with the long, lazy days of July; maybe it concerned the mystery of who had set that cross afire in the Lady's yard; maybe people had listened to that song for themselves and made up their own minds. Whatever the reason, folks in Zephyr seemed to have decided that Reverend Blessett's campaign was nothing but hot air. It ended with a slam when Mayor Swope visited his house and told him to stop scaring people into seeing demons that weren't anywhere but in the reverend's mind.

as for Lucifer, he was seen traveling in the trees by a half-dozen people. a banana cream pie cooling on a shady windowsill at the house of Sonia and Katharina Glass was utterly destroyed, and at any other time I'd have said the Branlins did it but the Branlins were lying low. Lucifer, on the other hand, was swinging high. an attempt was made by Chief Marchette and some of the volunteer firemen to snag Lucifer in a net, but what they got for their trouble was monkey business all over their clothes. Lucifer evidently had a sure aim and a steady spout, both front and rear. Dad said that was a pretty good defense mechanism, and he laughed about it, but Mom said the thought of that monkey loose in our town made her sick.

Lucifer stayed pretty much to himself during the day, but sometimes when night fell he shrieked and screamed loud enough to wake up the sleepers on Poulter Hill. On more than one occasion I heard the crack of gunshots as someone, roused from sleep by Lucifer's racket, tried to put a hole through him, but Lucifer was never there to catch a bullet. But the gunfire would wake up all the dogs and their barking would awaken the entire town and therefore the Zephyr council passed an emergency ordinance forbidding gunshots in the town limits after eight o'clock at night. Soon afterward, Lucifer learned how to clang sticks against trash cans, which he liked to do between three and six a.M. He avoided a bunch of poisoned bananas Mayor Swope laid out for him, and he shunned a trip-wire trap. He started leaving his brown mark on newly washed cars, and he swung down from a tree one afternoon and bit a plug out of Mr. Gerald Hargison's ear when the mailman was walking his route. Mr. Hargison told my dad about it as he sat for a moment on the porch and puffed a plastic-tipped cheroot, a bandage on his diminished left ear.

"Would've shot that little bastard if I'd had my gun on me," Mr. Hargison said. "He was a fast thing, I'll give him that. Bit me and took off and I swear I hardly saw him." He grunted and shook his head. "Hell of a note when you can't walk on a street in the daylight without gettin' attacked by a damn monkey."

"Maybe they'll catch him pretty soon," Dad offered.

"Maybe." Mr. Hargison puffed blue smoke and watched it drift away. "Know what I think, Tomi"

"What's thati"

"There's more to that damn monkey than meets the eye, that's what I think."

"How do you meani"

"Well, consider this. How come that damn monkey stays around here in Zephyri How come he don't go over into Bruton and cause troublei"

"I don't know," Dad said. "I haven't thought about it."

"I think that woman's got somethin' to do with it."

"What woman, Geraldi"

"You know." He cocked his head toward Bruton. "Her. The queen over there."

"You mean the Ladyi"

"Yeah. Her. I think she's whipped up some kind of spell and put it on us, because of... you know... the trouble."

"The burnin' cross, you mean."

"Uh-huh." Mr. Hargison shifted into the shadows, because the sun was hitting his leg. "She's workin' some of that hoodoo on us, is what I think. It's spooky, how come nobody can catch that damn monkey. Thing screamed like a banshee one night outside my bedroom window and Linda Lou about had a heart attack!"

"That monkey gettin' loose was Reverend Blessett's fault," Dad reminded him. "The Lady didn't have anythin' to do with it."

"We don't know that for sure, do wei" Mr. Hargison tapped ashes onto the grass, and then the cheroot's tip returned to his teeth. "We don't know what kind of powers she has. I swear, I believe the Klan's got the right idea. We don't need that woman around here. Her and her petitions."

"I don't side with the Klan, Gerald," Dad told him. "I don't go in for cross burnin's. That seems to me like a cowardly thing."

Mr. Hargison grunted quietly, a little plume of smoke leaking from his lips. "I didn't know the Klan was even active around here," he said. "But I've been hearin' things lately."

"Like whati"

"Oh... just talk. In my profession, you hear a lot of lips flap. Some folks around here think the Klan's mighty brave for sendin' a warnin' to that woman. Some folks think it's high time she got sent on her way before she ruins this town."

"She's lived here a long time. She hasn't ruined Zephyr yet, has shei"

"Up until the last few years she's kept her mouth shut. Now she's tryin' to stir things up. Colored people and white people in the same swimmin' pool! and you know whati Mayor Swope's just fool enough to give her what she wants!"

"Well," Dad said, "times are changin'."

"My Lord!" Mr. Hargison stared at my father. "are you takin' her side, Tomi"

"I'm not takin' anybody's side. all I'm sayin' is, we don't need attack dogs and fire hoses and bombs goin' off here in Zephyr. Bull Connor's days are done. It seems to me that times are changin' and that's the way of the world." Dad shrugged. "Can't hold back the future, Gerald. That's a fact."

"I believe those Klan boys might argue the point with you."

"Maybe. But their days are done, too. all hate does is breed more hate."

Mr. Hargison sat in silence for a moment. He was looking toward the roofs of Bruton, but what he was seeing there was difficult to say. at last he stood up, picked up his mail satchel, and slung it over his shoulder. "You used to be a sane fella," he said, and then he began walking back to his truck.

"Geraldi Wait a minute! Come on back, all righti" Dad called, but Mr. Hargison kept going. My father and Mr. Hargison had graduated in the same class from adams Valley High, and though they weren't close friends, they had traveled the same road of youth together. Mr. Hargison, Dad had told me, used to quarterback the football team and his name was on a silver plaque on the high school's Honor Wall. "Hey, Big Bear!" Dad called, using Mr. Hargison's high school nickname. But Mr. Hargison flipped his cheroot stub into the gutter and drove away.

My birthday arrived. I had Davy Ray, Ben, and Johnny over for ice cream and cake. On that cake were twelve candles. and sometime during the cake-eating, Dad put my birthday present on my desk in my room.

Before I found it, Johnny had to go home. His head still hurt him sometimes, and he had dizzy spells. He had brought me two fine white arrowheads from his collection. Davy Ray had brought me an aurora model of the Mummy, and Ben's gift was a bagful of little plastic dinosaurs.

But on my desk, with a clean sheet of white paper gripped in its roller, was a Royal typewriter as gray as a battleship.

It had some miles on it. The keys showed wear, and Z.P.L. was scratched on its side. The Zephyr Public Library, I later learned, had been selling some of their older equipment. The E key stuck, and the lower-case i was missing its dot. But I sat at my desk in the deepening twilight of my birthday, and I pushed aside my tin can full of Ticonderoga pencils and, heart pounding, laboriously typed out my name on the paper.

I had entered the technological age.

Soon enough I realized typing was going to be no simple task. My fingers were rebellious. I would have to discipline them. I kept practicing, long after the night had thickened and Mom said I ought to go to sleep. COERY JaT MaCKEMaON. DaVY RSU CaLKaN. JIHNMY QULSON. BEM SEaRS. REBEL. OLF MOSES. THE LaDT. BURNUNG CROSD. BRaMKINS. GREEN-FEaTHRED HaT. ZEPHIR. ZEPHTR. ZEPHYR.

I had a long way to go, but I sensed the excitement of the cowboy heroes, Indian braves, army troops, detective legions, and monster squads within me, eager to be born.

One afternoon I was riding Rocket around, enjoying the steam that rose from a passing shower, and I found myself near the house where Nemo Curliss lived. He was out front, a small figure throwing a baseball up in the air and catching it as it hurtled down again. I eased Rocket onto its kickstand, and offered to throw him a few. What I really wanted was to see Nemo in action once more. a boy with a perfect arm, no matter how frail that arm might look, surely had been touched by God. Soon I was encouraging Nemo to aim for the knothole in an oak tree across the street, and when he zoomed that ball right in and made it stick not once but three times, I almost fell to my knees and worshipped him.

Then the front door of his house opened with the ringing of chimes and his mother came out onto the porch. I saw Nemo's eyes flinch behind his glasses, as if he were about to be struck. "Nemo!" she shouted in a voice that reminded me of the stinging wasp. "I told you not to throw that ball, didn't Ii I've been watchin' you out the window, young man!"

Nemo's mother descended the porch steps and approached us like a storm. She had long, dark brown hair, and maybe she'd been pretty once but now there was something hard about her face. She had piercing brown eyes with deep lines radiating out from their corners, and her pancake makeup was tinted orange. She wore a tight pair of black pedal-pushers, a white blouse with big red polka dots, and on her hands were a pair of yellow rubber gloves. Her mouth was daubed crimson, which I found peculiar. She was all fancied up to do housework. "Wait'll your father hears about this!" she said.

Hears about whati I wondered. all Nemo was doing was playing outside.

"I didn't fall down," Nemo said.

"But you could've!" his mother snapped. "You know how fragile you are! If you broke a bone, what would we doi How would we pay for iti I swear, you're not right in the head!" Her eyes swept toward me like prison searchlights. "Who're youi"

"Coryth my friend," Nemo said.

"Friend. Uh-huh." Mrs. Curliss looked me over from head to foot. I could tell by the set of her mouth and the way her nose wrinkled that she thought I might be carrying leprosy. "Cory whati"

"Mackenson," I told her.

"Your father buy any shirts from usi"

"No, ma'am."

"Friend," she said, and her hard gaze returned to Nemo. "I told you not to get overheated out here, didn't Ii I told you not to throw that ball, didn't Ii"

"I didn't get overheated. I wuth jutht-"

"Disobeyin' me," she interrupted. "My God, there's got to be some order in this family! There's got to be some rules! Your father gone all day and when he comes home he's spent more money than he's made and you're out here tryin' to hurt yourself and cause me more worry!" The bones seemed to be straining against the taut flesh of her face, and her eyes had a bright and awful shine in them. "Don't you know you're sicklyi" she demanded. "Don't you know your wrists could snap in a hard breezei"

"I'm all right, Momma," Nemo said. His voice was small. Sweat glistened on the back of his neck. "Honetht."

"You'd say that until you passed out with heatstroke, wouldn't youi and then you'd fall down and knock your teeth out and would your good friend's father pay for the dentist's billi" again, she glared at me. "Doesn't anybody wear nice shirts in this towni Doesn't anybody wear nice tailored white shirtsi"

"No, ma'am," I had to say in all honesty. "I don't think so."

"Well, isn't that just dandyi" She grinned, but there was no humor in it. Her grin was as hot as the sun and terrible to look upon. "Isn't that just so very civilizedi" She grasped Nemo's shoulder with one of her yellow-gloved hands. "Get in the house!" she told him. "This minute!" She began to haul him toward the porch, and he looked back at me with an expression of longing and regret.

I had to ask. I just had to. "Mrs. Curlissi How come you won't let Nemo play Little Leaguei"

I thought she was going to go on in without answering. But suddenly she stopped just short of the porch steps and spun around and her eyes were slitted with rage. "What did you sayi"

"I... was askin'... how come you won't let Nemo play Little League. I mean... he's got a perfect ar-"

"My son is fragile, in case you didn't know! Do you understand what that word meansi" She plowed on before I could tell her I did. "It means he's got weak bones! It means he can't run and roughhouse like other boys! It means he's not a savage!"

"Yes ma'am, but-"

"Nemo's not like the rest of you! He's not a member of your tribe, do you understand thati He's a cultured boy, and he doesn't get down and wallow in the dirt like a wild beast!"

"I... just thought he might like-"

"Listen, here!" she said, her voice rising. "Don't you stand on my lawn and tell me what's right or wrong for my son! You didn't worry yourself crazy when he was three years old and he almost died of pneumonia! and where was his fatheri His father was on the road tryin' to sell enough shirts to keep us from bankruptcy! But we lost that house, that pretty house with the window boxes, we lost that house anyway! and would anybody help usi Would any of those churchgoin' people help usi Not a one! So we lost that house, where my pretty dog is buried in the backyard!" Her face seemed to shatter for an instant, and behind its brittle mask of anger I caught a glimpse of a heartbreaking fear and sadness. Her grip never left Nemo's shoulder. Then the mask sealed up again, and Mrs. Curliss sneered. "Oh, I know the kind of boy you are! I've seen plenty of you, in every town we've lived in! all you want to do is hurt my son, and laugh at him behind his back! You want to see him fall down and scrape his knees, and you want to hear his lisp because you think it's funny! Well, you can find somebody else to pick on, because my son's not having anythin' to do with you!"

"I don't want to pick on-"

"Get in the house!" she shouted at Nemo as she pushed him up the steps.

"I've gotta go!" Nemo called to me, trying desperately to keep his dignity. "I'm thorry!"

The screen door slammed behind them. The inner door closed, too, with a thunk of finality.

The birds were singing, stupid in their happiness. I stood on the green grass, my shadow like a long scorch mark. I saw the blinds on the front windows close. There was nothing more to be said, nothing more to be done. I turned around, got on Rocket, and started pedaling for home.

On that ride to my house, as the summer-scented air hit me in the face and gnats spun in the whirlwinds of my passage, I realized all prisons were not buildings of gray rock bordered by guard towers and barbed wire. Some prisons were houses whose closed blinds let no sunlight enter. Some prisons were cages of fragile bones, and some prisons had bars of red polka dots. In fact, you could never tell what might be a prison until you'd had a glimpse of what was seized and bound inside. I was thinking this over when Rocket suddenly veered to one side, narrowly missing Vernon Thaxter walking on the sidewalk. I figured even Rocket's golden eye had blinked at the sight of Vernon strolling in the sun.

July passed like a midsummer's dream. I spent these days doing, in the vernacular of my hometown, "much of nothin'." Johnny Wilson was getting better, his dizzy spells abating, and he was allowed to join Ben, Davy Ray, and me on our jaunts around town. Still and all, he had to take things easy, because Dr. Parrish had told Johnny's folks that a head injury had to be watched for a long time. Johnny himself was just as quiet and reserved as ever, but I noticed that he'd slowed down some. He was always lagging behind us on his bike, slower even than tubby Ben. He seemed to have aged since that day the Branlins had beaten him senseless; he seemed to be apart from us now, in a way that was hard to explain. I think it was because he had tasted the bitter fruit of pain, and some of the magic carefree view that separates children from adults had fallen away from him, gone forever no matter how hard he tried to pedal his bike in pursuit of it again. Johnny had, at that early age, looked into the dark hole of extinction and seen-much more than any of us ever could-that someday the summer sun would not throw his shadow.

We talked about death as we sat in the cooling breezes from the ice house and listened to the laboring lungs of the frosty machines within. Our conversation began with Davy Ray telling us that his dad had hit a cat the day before, and when they got home part of the cat's insides were smeared all over the right front tire. Dogs and cats, we agreed, had their own kinds of heaven. Was there a hell for them, tooi we wondered. No, Ben said, because they don't sin. But what happens if a dog goes mad and kills somebody and has to be put to sleepi Davy Ray asked. Wouldn't that be a hell-bound sini For these questions, of course, we only had more questions.

"Sometimes," Johnny said, his back against a tree, "I get out my arrowheads and look at 'em and I wonder who made 'em. I wonder if their ghosts are still around, tryin' to find where the arrow fell."

"Naw!" Ben scoffed. "There's no such thing as ghosts! Is there, Coryi"

I shrugged. I had never told the guys about Midnight Mona. If they hadn't believed I'd shoved a broomstick down Old Moses's gullet, how would they believe a ghost car and driveri

"Dad says Snowdown's a ghost," Davy offered. "Says that's why nobody can shoot him, because he's already dead."

"No such thing as ghosts," Ben said. "No such thing as Snowdown, either."

"Yes there is!" Davy was ready to defend his father's beliefs. "My dad said Grandpap saw him one time, when he was a little kid! and just last year Dad said a guy at the paper mill knew a guy who saw him! Said he was standin' right there in the woods as big as you please! Said this guy took a shot at him, but Snowdown was runnin' before the bullet got there and then he was gone!"

"No. Such. Thing," Ben said.

"Is too!"

"Is not!"

"Is too!"

"Is not!"

This line of discussion could go on all afternoon. I picked up a pine cone and popped Ben in the belly with it, and after Ben howled in indignation, everybody laughed. Snowdown was a hope and mystery for the community of hunters in Zephyr. In the deep forest between Zephyr and Union Town, the story went, lived a massive white stag with antlers so big and twisted you could swing on them as on the branches of an oak. Snowdown was usually seen at least once every deer season, by a hunter who swore the stag had leaped into the air and disappeared in the gnarly foliage of its kingdom. Men went out with rifles to track Snowdown, and they invariably returned talking about finding the prints of huge hooves and scars on trees where Snowdown had scraped his antlers, but the white stag was impossible to catch. I think that if a massive white stag really did roam the gloomy woods, no hunter really wanted to shoot him, because Snowdown was for them the symbol of everything mysterious and unattainable about life itself. Snowdown was what lay beyond the thickness of the woods, in the next autumn-dappled clearing. Snowdown was eternal youth, a link between grandfather and father and son, the great expectations of future hunts, a wildness that could never be confined. My dad wasn't a hunter, so I wasn't as involved in the legend of Snowdown as Davy Ray, whose father was ready with his Remington on the first chilly dawning of the season.

"My dad's gonna take me with him this year," Davy Ray said. "He promised. So you'll be laughin' through your teeth when we bring Snowdown back from the woods."

I doubted that if Davy Ray and his father saw Snowdown, either one of them would pull a trigger. Davy had a boy-sized rifle that he sometimes fired at squirrels, but he never could hit anything with it.

Ben chewed on a weed and offered his throat to an ice house breeze. "One thing I sure would like to know," he said. "Who's that dead guy down at the bottom of Saxon's Lakei"

I pulled my knees into my chest and watched two ravens circling overhead.

"ain't it weirdi" Ben asked me. "That your dad saw the guy go under, and now the guy's down there in his car gettin' all mossy and eat up by turtlesi"

"I don't know," I said.

"You think about it, don't youi I mean, you were there."

"Yeah. I think about it some." I didn't tell him that hardly a day went by when I didn't think of the car speeding in front of the milk truck, or my dad jumping into the water, or the figure I'd seen standing in the woods, or the man with the green-feathered hat and a knife in his hand.

"It's spooky, for sure," Davy Ray said. "How come nobody knew the guyi How come nobody ever missed himi"

"Because he must not have been from here," Johnny commented.

"Sheriff thought of that," I said. "He called around other places."

"Yeah," Ben went on, "but he didn't call everywhere, did hei He didn't call California or alaska, did hei"

"What would a guy from California or alaska be doin' in Zephyr, dopei" Davy Ray challenged him.

"He could've been! You don't know everythin', Mr. Smart!"

"I know a big dope when I see one!"

Ben was about to fire a reply back, but Johnny said, "Maybe he was a spy," and that halted Ben's tongue.

"a spyi" I asked. "There's nothin' around here to spy on!"

"Yes there is. Robbins air Force Base." Johnny systematically began to crack his knuckles. "Maybe he was a Russian spy. Maybe he was watchin' the planes drop bombs, or maybe there's somethin' goin' on over there that nobody's supposed to know about."

We were silent. a Russian spy killed in Zephyr. The thought gave all of us delicious creeps.

"So who killed him, theni" Davy Ray asked. "another spyi"

"Maybe." Johnny contemplated this for a moment, his head slightly cocked to one side. The lid of his left eye had begun to tic a bit, another result of his injury. "Or maybe," he said, "the guy at the bottom of the lake is an american spy, and the Russian spy killed him because the dead guy found out about him."

"Oh, yeah!" Ben laughed. "So somebody around here might be a Russian spyi"

"Maybe," Johnny said, and Ben stopped laughing. Johnny looked at me. "Your dad said the guy was stripped naked, righti" I nodded. "Know why that might bei" I shook my head. "Because," Johnny said, "whoever killed him was smart enough to take the dead guy's clothes off so nothin' would float up to the top. and whoever killed him had to be from around here, because he knew how deep the lake is. and the dead guy knew a secret, too."

"a secreti" Davy Ray was all ears now. "Like whati"

"I don't know what," Johnny answered. "Just a secret." His dark Indian eyes returned to me. "Didn't your dad say the guy was all beat up, like somebody had really worked him overi How come whoever killed him beat him up so bad firsti"

"How comei" I asked.

"'Cause the killer was tryin' to make him talk, that's why. Like in the movies when the bad guy's got the good guy tied to a chair and he wants to know the secret code."

"What secret codei" Davy Ray asked.

"That's just for instance," Johnny explained. "But it seems to me like if a guy was gonna kill somebody, he wouldn't beat him up for no reason."

"Yeah, but maybe the dead guy was just plain beat to death," Ben said.

"No," I told him. "There was a wire around the guy's neck, chokin' him. If he'd been beat to death, why would he get choked, tooi"

"Man!" Ben plucked up a weed and chewed on it. Overhead, the two ravens cawed and flapped. "a killer right here in Zephyr! Maybe even a Russian spy!" He stopped chewing all of a sudden. "Hey," he said, and he blinked as a new thought jabbed his mind like a lightning bolt. "What's to keep him from killin' againi"

I decided it was time. I cleared my throat, and I began to tell my friends about the figure I'd seen, the green feather, and the man in the green-feathered hat. "I didn't see his face," I said. "But I saw that hat and the feather, and I saw him pull a knife out of his coat. I thought he was gonna sneak up behind my dad and stab him. Maybe he tried to, but he figured he couldn't get away with it. Maybe he's steamed 'cause my dad saw the car go down and told Sheriff amory about it. Maybe he saw me lookin' at him, too. But I didn't see his face. Not a bit of it."

When I'd finished, they didn't say anything for a few seconds. Then Ben spoke up: "How come you didn't tell us this beforei Didn't you want us to knowi"

"I was gonna tell you, but after what happened with Old Moses-"

"Don't start that bull again!" Davy Ray warned.

"I don't know who the man in the green-feathered hat is," I said. "He could be anybody. Even... somebody we all know real well, somebody you wouldn't think could do such a thing. Dad says you never know people through and through, and that everybody's got a part they don't show. So it could be anybody at all."

My friends, excited by this new information, flung themselves eagerly into the roles of detectives. They would agree to be on the lookout for a man in a green-feathered hat, but we also agreed to keep this knowledge to ourselves and not spread it to our parents, in case one of them happened to tell the killer without knowing it. I felt better for having relieved myself of this burden, yet I was still troubled. Who was the man Mr. Dollar said Donny Blaylock had killedi and what was the meaning of the piano music in the dream the Lady had told my mom abouti Dad still refused to visit the Lady, and I still sometimes heard him cry out in his sleep. So I knew that even though that ugly dawn was long behind us, the memory of the event-and of what he'd seen handcuffed to the wheel-haunted him. If Dad went out walking at Saxon's Lake, he didn't tell me, but I suspected this might be true because of the crusty red dirt he left scraped on the porch steps on more than one afternoon.

august came upon us, riding a wave of sultry heat. One morning I awakened to the realization that in a few days I would be spending a week with Granddaddy Jaybird, and I immediately pulled the sheet over my head.

But there was no turning back the clock. The monsters on my walls could not help me. Every summer, I spent a week with Granddaddy Jaybird and Grandmomma Sarah whether I wanted to or not. Granddaddy Jaybird demanded it, and whereas I spent several weekends throughout the year with Grand austin and Nana alice, the visit with Grand-daddy Jaybird was one lump sum of frenetic bizarrity.

This year, though, I was determined to strike a bargain with my folks. If I had to go to that farmhouse where Granddaddy Jaybird jerked the covers off me at five in the morning and had me mowing grass at six, could I at least go on an overnight camping trip with Davy Ray, Ben, and Johnnyi Dad said he'd think about it, and that was about the best I could hope for. So it happened that I said good-bye to Rebel for a week, Dad and Mom drove me out from Zephyr into the country, my suitcase in the back of the truck, and Dad turned off onto the bumpy dirt road that led across a corn field to my grandparents' house.

Grandmomma Sarah was a sweet woman, of that there was no doubt. I imagine the Jaybird had been a rounder in his youth, full of vim and vigor and earthy charm. Every year, however, his bolts had gotten a little looser. Dad would say it right out: Jaybird was out of his mind. Mom said he was "eccentric." I say he was a dumb, mean man who thought the world revolved around him, but I have to say this as well: if it wasn't for the Jaybird, I would never have written my first story.

I never saw Granddaddy Jaybird perform an act of kindness. I never heard him praise his wife or his son. I never felt, when I was around him, that I was anything but a-thankfully temporary-possession. His moods were as fleeting as the faces of the moon. But he was a born storyteller, and when he focused his mind on tales of haunted houses, demon-possessed scarecrows, Indian burial grounds, and phantom dogs, you had no choice but to willingly follow wherever he led.

The macabre, it may be said, was his territory. He was grave smart and life stupid, as he'd never gotten past the fourth grade. Sometimes I wondered how my dad had turned out as he had, having lived seventeen years in the Jaybird's strange shadow. as I've said, though, my grandfather didn't really start going crazy until after I was born, and I guess there were sensible genes on my grandmother's side of the family. I never knew what might happen during that week of suffering, but I knew it would be an experience.

The house was comfortable, but really nothing special. The land around it was, except for the stunted corn field, a garden and a small plot of grass, mostly forest; it was where the Jaybird stalked his prey. Grandmomma Sarah was genuinely glad to see us when we arrived, and she ushered us all into the front room, where electric fans stirred the heat. Then the Jaybird made his appearance, clad in overalls, and he carried with him a big glass jar full of golden liquid that he announced to be honeysuckle tea. "Been brewin' it for two weeks," he said. "Lettin' it mellow, ya see." He had mason jars all ready for us. "Have a sip!"

I have to say it was very good. Everybody but the Jaybird had a second glass of it. Maybe he knew how potent the stuff was. Within twelve hours, I would be sitting on the pot feeling as if my insides were flooding out, and at home Dad and Mom would be just as bad off. Grandmomma Sarah, who was surely used to such concoctions by now, would sleep like a log through the whole disgusting episode, except in the dead of night she was liable to make a high, banshee keening noise in her sleep that was guaranteed to lift the hair right off your scalp.

anyway, the time came when Dad and Mom had to be getting back to Zephyr. I felt my face sag, and I must've looked like a wounded puppy because Mom put her arm around me on the porch and said, "You'll be all right. Call me tonight, okayi"

"I will," I vowed, and I watched them as they drove away. The dust settled over the brown cornstalks. Just one week, I thought. One week wouldn't be so bad.

"Hey, Cory!" the Jaybird said from his rocking chair. He was grinning, which was a bad sign. "Got a joke for ya! Three strings walk into a bar. First string says, 'Gimme a drink!' Bartender looks at him, says, 'We don't serve strings in here, so get out!' Second string tries his luck. 'Gimme a drink!' Bartender says, Told you we don't serve strings in here, so you hit the trail!' Then the third string's just as thirsty as the devil, so he's got to try, too. 'Gimme a drink!' he says. Bartender looks at him squinty-eyed, says, 'You're a danged-gone string, too, ain't yai' and the string, he puffs out his chest and says, ''Fraid not!'" The Jaybird hooted with laughter, while I just stood there staring at him. "Get it, boyi Get iti ''Fraid not'i" He frowned, the joke over. "Hell!" he growled. "You got a sense of humor as bad as your daddy's!"

One week. Oh, Lord.

There were two subjects the Jaybird could talk about for hours on end: his survival through the Depression, when he held such jobs as coffin polisher, railroad brakeman, and carnival roustabout, and his success as a young man with women, which according to him was enough to turn Valentino green. I would have thought that was a big deal if I'd known who Valentino was. anytime the Jaybird and I were away from the reach of my grandmother's ear, he might launch into a tale about "Edith the preacher's daughter from Tupelo" or "Nancy the conductor's niece from Nashville" or "that buck-toothed girl used to hang around eatin' candy apples." He rambled on about his "jimbob" and how the girls got all fired up about it. Said there used to be jealous boyfriends and husbands after him by the dozens, but he always escaped whatever trap was closing around him. Once, he said, he'd hung on to the bottom of a railroad trestle above a hundred-foot gorge while two men with shotguns stood right above him, talking about how they were going to skin him alive and nail his hide to a tree. "Thing was," the Jaybird said to me as he chewed lustily on a weed, "I spoiled them girls for every other fella. Yeah, me and my jimbob, we had us a time." Then, inevitably, his eyes would take on a sad cast, and the young man with the flaming jimbob would start slipping away. "I bet you I wouldn't know one of them girls today if I passed her on the street. No sir. They'd be old women, and I wouldn't know a one of them."

Granddaddy Jaybird despised sleep. Maybe it had something to do with his knowing that his days on this earth were numbered. Come five o'clock, rain or shine, he'd rip the covers off me like a whirlwind passing through and his voice would roar in my ear: "Get up, boy! Think you're gonna live foreveri"

I would invariably mumble, "No, sir," and sit up, and the Jaybird would go on to rouse my grandmother into cooking a breakfast that might have served Sgt. Rock and most of Easy Company.

The days I spent with my grandparents followed no pattern once breakfast was down the hatch. I could just as well be handed a garden hoe and told to get to work as I could be informed that I might enjoy a trip to the pond in the woods behind the house. Granddaddy Jaybird kept a few dozen chickens, three goats-all of whom closely resembled him-and for some strange reason he kept a snapping turtle named Wisdom in a big metal tub full of slimy water in the backyard. When one of those goats stuck his nose into Wisdom's territory, and Wisdom took hold, there was hell to pay. Things were commonly in an uproar at the Jaybird's place: "all snakes and dingleberries" was his phrase to describe a chaotic moment, as when Wisdom bit a thirsty goat and the goat in turn careened into the clean laundry my grandmother was hanging on the line, ending up running around festooned in sheets and dragging them through the garden I'd just been hoeing. The Jaybird was proud of his collection of the skeletons of small animals which he'd painstakingly wired together. You never knew where those skeletons might appear; the Jaybird had a nasty knack for putting them in places you might reach into before looking, like beneath a pillow or in your shoe. Then he'd laugh like a demon when he heard you squall. His sense of humor was, to say it kindly, warped. On Wednesday afternoon he told me he'd found a nest of rattlesnakes near the house last week and killed them all with a shovel. as I was about to drift off to sleep that night, already dreading five o'clock, he opened my door and peered into the dark and said in a quiet, ominous voice, "Coryi Be careful if you get up to pee tonight. Your grandmomma found a fresh-shed snakeskin under your bed this mornin'. Good-sized rattle on it, too. 'Night, now."

He'd closed the door. I was still awake at five.

What I realized, long after the fact, was that Granddaddy Jaybird was honing me like one might sharpen a blade on a grinding edge. I don't think he knew he was doing this, but that's how it came out. Take the snake story. as I lay awake in the dark, my bladder steadily expanding within me, my imagination was at work. I could see that rattler, coiled somewhere in the room, waiting for the squeak of a bare foot pressing on a board. I could see the colors of the forest in its scaly hide, its terrible flat head resting on a ledge of air, its fangs slightly adrip. I could see the muscles ripple slowly along its sides as it tasted my scent. I could see it grin in the dark, same to say, "You're mine, bub."

If there could be a school for the imagination, the Jaybird would be its headmaster. The lesson I learned that night, in what you can make yourself describe in your mind as true, I couldn't have bought at the finest college. There was also the subsidiary lesson of gritting your teeth and bearing pain, hour upon hour, and damning yourself for drinking an extra glass of milk at supper.

You see, the Jaybird was teaching me well, though he didn't have a clue.

There were other lessons, all of them valuable. and tests, too. On Friday afternoon Grandmomma Sarah asked him to drive into town to pick up a box of ice cream salt at the grocery store. Normally the Jaybird didn't like to run errands, but today he was agreeable. He asked me to go with him, and Grandmomma Sarah said the sooner we got back the sooner the ice cream would be made.

It was a day right for ice cream. Ninety degrees in the shade, and so hot in the full sun that if a dog went running, its shadow dropped down to rest. We got the ice cream salt, but on the way back, in the Jaybird's bulky old Ford, another test began.

"Jerome Claypool lives just down the road," he said. "He's a good ole fella. Want to drop by and say howdyi"

"We'd better get the ice cream salt to-"

"Yeah, Jerome's a good ole fella," the Jaybird said as he turned the Ford toward his friend's house.

Six miles later, he stopped in front of a ramshackle farmhouse that had a rotting sofa, a cast-off wringer, and a pile of moldering tires and rusted radiators in the front yard. I think we had crossed the line between Zephyr and Dogpatch by way of Tobacco Road somewhere a few miles back. Obviously, though, Jerome Claypool was a popular good ole fella, because there were four other cars parked in front of the place as well. "Come on, Cory," the Jaybird said as he opened his door. "We'll just go in a minute or two."

I could smell the stench of cheap cigars before we got to the porch. The Jaybird knocked on the door: rap rap rapraprap. "Who is iti" a cautious voice inquired from within. My grandfather replied, "Blood 'n Guts," which made me stare at him, thinking he'd lost whatever mind he had left. The door opened on noisy hinges, and a long-jawed face with dark, wrinkle-edged eyes peered out. Those eyes found me. "Who's hei"

"My grandboy," Jaybird said, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Name's Cory."

"Jesus, Jay!" the long-jawed face said with a scowl. "What're you bringin' a kid around here fori"

"No harm done. He won't say nothin'. Will you, Coryi" The hand tightened.

I didn't understand what was going on, but clearly this was not a place Grandmomma Sarah would have enjoyed visiting. I thought of Miss Grace's house out beyond Saxon's Lake, and the girl named Lainie who'd furled her wet pink tongue at me. "No sir," I told him, and the grip relaxed again. His secret-whatever it might be-was safe.

"Bodean won't like this," the man warned.

"Jerome, Bodean can stick his head up his ass for all I care. You gonna let me in or noti"

"You got the greeni"

"Burnin' a hole," the Jaybird said, and touched his pocket.

I balked as he started pulling me over the threshold. "Grandmomma's waitin' for the ice cream sa-"

He looked at me, and I saw something of his true nature deep in his eyes, like the glare of a distant blast furnace. On his face there was a desperate hunger, inflamed by whatever was going on in that house. Ice cream salt was forgotten; ice cream itself was part of another world six miles away. "Come on!" he snapped.

I stood my ground. "I don't think we ought to-"

"You don't think!" he said, and whatever was pulling him into that house seized his face and made it mean. "You just do what I tell you, hear mei"

He gave me a hard yank and I went with him, my heart scorched. Mr. Claypool closed the door behind us and bolted it. Cigar smoke drifted in a room where no sunlight entered; the windows were all boarded up and a few measly electric lights were burning. We followed Mr. Claypool through a hallway to the rear of the house, and he opened another door. The windowless room we walked into was layered with smoke, too, and at its center was a round table where four men sat under a harsh light playing cards, poker chips in stacks before them and glasses of amber liquid near at hand. "Fuck that noise!" one of the men was saying, making my ears sting. "I ain't gonna be bluffed, no sir!"

"Five dollars to you, then, Mr. Cool," another one said. a red chip hit the pile at the table's center. a cigar tip glowed like a volcano in the maelstrom. "Raise you five," the third man said, the cigar wedged in the side of a scarlike mouth. "Come on, put up or shut-" I saw his small, piggish eyes dart at me, and the man slapped his cards facedown on the table. "Hey!" he shouted. "What's that kid doin' in herei"

Instantly I was the focus of attention. "Jaybird, have you gone fuckin' crazyi" one of the other men asked. "Get him out!"

"He's all right," my grandfather said. "He's family."

"Not my family." The man with the cigar leaned forward, his thick forearms braced on the table. His brown hair was cropped in a crew cut, and on the little finger of his right hand he wore a diamond ring. He took the cigar from his mouth, his eyes narrowed into slits. "You know the rules, Jaybird. Nobody comes in here without gettin' approved."

"He's all right. He's my grandson."

"I don't care if he's the fuckin' prince of England. You broke the rules."

"Now, there's no call to be ugly about it, is th-"

"You're stupid!" the man shouted, his mouth twisting as he spoke the word. a fine sheen of sweat glistened on his face, and his white shirt was damp. On the breast pocket, next to a tobacco stain, was a monogram: BB. " Stupid!" he repeated. "You want the law to come in and bust us upi Why don't you just give a map to that goddamned sheriffi"

"Cory won't say anythin'. He's a good boy."

"That soi" The small pig eyes returned to me. "You as stupid as your grandpap, boyi"

"No sir," I said.

He laughed. The sound of it reminded me of when Phillip Kenner threw up his oatmeal in school last april. The man's eyes were not happy, but his mouth was tickled. "Well, you're a smart little fella, ain't youi"

"He takes after me, Mr. Blaylock," the Jaybird said, and I realized the man who thought I was so smart was Bodean Blaylock himself, brother of Donny and Wade and son of the notorious Biggun. I recalled my grandfather's brash pronouncement at the door that Bodean could stick his head up his ass; right now, though, it was my grandpop who looked butt-faced.

"Like hell he does," Bodean told him, and when he laughed again he looked around at the other gamblers and they laughed, too, like good little Indians following the chief. Then Bodean stopped laughing. "Hit the road, Jaybird," he said. "We've got some high rollers comin' in here directly. Bunch of flyboys think they can make some money off me."

My grandfather cleared his throat nervously. His eyes were on the poker chips. "Uh... I was wonderin'... since I'm here and all, mind if I sit in for a few handsi"

"Take that kid and make dust," Bodean told him. "I'm runnin' a poker game, not a baby-sittin' service."

"Oh, Cory can wait outside," the Jaybird said. "He won't mind. Will you, boyi"

"Grandmomma's waitin' for the ice cream salt," I said.

Bodean Blaylock laughed again, and I saw the crimson flare in my grandfather's cheeks. "I don't care about no damned ice cream!" the Jaybird snapped, a fury and a torment in his eyes. "I don't care if she waits till midnight for it, I can do whatever I damn well please!"

"Better run on home, Jaybird," one of the other men taunted. "Go eat yourself some ice cream and stay out of trouble."

"You shut up!" he hollered. " Here!" He dug into his pocket, brought out a twenty-dollar bill, and slammed it on the table. "am I in this game, or noti"

I almost choked. Twenty dollars to risk playing poker. That was an awful lot of money. Bodean Blaylock smoked his cigar in silence, and looked back and forth from the money to my granddaddy's face. "Twenty dollars," he said. "That'll hardly get you started."

"I've got more, don't you worry about it."

I realized the Jaybird must've raided the cash jar, or else he had a secret poker-playing fund hidden away from my grandmother. Surely she wouldn't approve of this, and surely the Jaybird had agreed to get the ice cream salt as a ruse to come here. Maybe he'd just planned on dropping by to see who was playing, but I could tell the fever had him and he was going to play come hell or high water. "am I in, or noti"

"The kid can't stay."

"Cory, go sit in the car," he said. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

"But Grandmomma's waitin' for-"

"Go do like I said and do it right now!" the Jaybird yelled at me. Bodean stared at me through a haze of smoke. His expression said: See what I can do to your granddaddy, little boyi

I left the house. Before I got to the door, I could hear the sound of a new chair scraping up to the table. Then I walked out into the hot light and I put my hands in my pockets and kicked a pine cone across the road. I waited. Ten minutes went past. Then ten more. a car pulled up, and three young men got out, knocked on the front door, and were admitted by Mr. Claypool. The door closed again. Still my grandfather didn't emerge. I sat in the car for a while, but the heat was so bad my sweat drenched my shirt and I had to peel myself off the seat and get out again. I paced up and down in front of the house, and I paused to watch ants stripping a dead pigeon to the bones. Maybe an hour went past. at some point, though, I realized my grandfather was treating me like a little piece of nothing, and that was how he was treating Grandmomma Sarah, too. anger started building in me, beginning in the belly like a dull, throbbing heat. I stared at the door, trying to will him to come out. The door remained closed.

The thought came to me, shocking in its decisiveness: To hell with him.

I got the box of ice cream salt, and I started walking.

The first two miles were all right. On the third, the heat began getting to me. Sweat was pouring down my face, and my scalp felt as if it were aflame. The road shimmered between its walls of pine forest, and only a couple of cars passed, but they were going in the wrong direction. The pavement started burning my feet through my shoes. I wanted to sit down in some shade and rest, but I did not because resting would be weakness; it would be saying to myself that I shouldn't have tried to walk six miles in hundred-degree heat and blazing sun, that I should have stayed at that house and waited for my grandfather to come out when he was good and ready. No. I had to keep going, and worry about my blisters later.

I started thinking about the story I was going to write about this. In that story, a boy would be crossing a burning desert, a boxful of priceless crystals entrusted to his care. I looked up to watch hawks soaring in the thermals, and when my attention roamed from what I was doing I stepped in a pothole, twisted my ankle, and fell down and the box of ice cream salt burst open beneath me.

I almost cried.


My ankle hurt, but I could still stand on it. What hurt me most was the ice cream salt glistening on the pavement. The bottom of the box had broken open. I scooped ice cream salt up in my hands, filled my pockets, and started limping on again.

I was not going to stop. I was not going to sit in the shade and cry, my pockets leaking salt. I was not going to let my grandfather beat me.

I was nearing the end of the third mile when a car's horn honked behind me. I looked around, expecting the Jaybird's Ford. It was, instead, a copper-colored Pontiac. The car slowed, and Dr. Curtis Parrish looked at me through the rolled-down passenger window. "Coryi You need a ridei"

"Yes sir," I said gratefully, and I climbed in. My feet were about burned to the nubs, my ankle swelling up. Dr. Parrish gave it the gas, and we rolled on. "I'm stayin' at my grandfolks'," I said. "about three miles up the road."

"I know where the Jaybird lives." Dr. Parrish picked up his medical bag, which was sitting between us, and put it onto the back seat. "awful hot day. Where were you walkin' fromi"

"I... uh..." Here was a crossroads of conscience, thrust upon me. "I... had to run an errand for my grandmother," I decided to say.

"Oh." He was quiet for a moment. Then: "What's that spillin' out of your pocketi Sandi"

"Salt," I said.

"Oh," he said, and he nodded as if this made sense to him. "How's your daddy doin' these daysi Things ease up at work for himi"


"You know. His work. When Tom came to see me a few weeks ago, he said his workload was so tough he was havin' trouble sleepin'. I gave him some pills. You know, stress can be a mighty powerful thing. I told your dad he ought to take a vacation."

"Oh." This time I was the one who nodded, as if this made sense. "I think he's doin' better," I said. I gave him some pills. Dad hadn't said anything about his work being tough, or that he'd gone to see Dr. Parrish. I gave him some pills. I stared straight ahead, at the unfolding road. My father was still trying to escape the realm of troubled spirits. It occurred to me that he was hiding part of himself from Mom and me, just as the Jaybird hid his poker fever from my grandmother.

Dr. Parrish went with me to the front door of my grandparents' house. When Grandmomma Sarah answered his knock, Dr. Parrish said he'd found me walking on the side of the road. "Where's your granddaddyi" she asked me. I must've made a pained face, because after a few seconds of deliberation she answered her own question. "He's gotten himself into some mischief. Uh-huh. That's just what he's done."

"The box of salt busted open," I told her, and I showed a handful of it, my hair wet with sweat.

"We'll get us a new box. We'll save what's in your pockets for the Jaybird." I wasn't to know it for a while, but for the next week every meal the Jaybird sat down to eat would be so loaded with salt his mouth would pucker until it squawked. "Would you come in for a cold glass of lemonade, Dr. Parrishi"

"No, thank you. I've got to get back to the office." His face clouded over; a concern was working its way out of him. "Mrs. Mackenson, did you know Selma Nevillei"

"Yes, I know her. Haven't seen her for a month or more, though."

"I just came from her house," Dr. Parrish said. "You know she'd been fightin' cancer for the last year."

"No, I surely didn't!"

"Well, she put up a good fight, but she passed on about two hours ago. She wanted to pass at home instead of a hospital."

"My Lord, I didn't know Selma was sick!"

"She didn't want a fuss. How she got through her last year teachin' I'll never know."

It hit me who they were talking about. Mrs. Neville. My Mrs. Neville. The teacher who'd said I should enter the short-story contest this year. Good-bye, she'd said as I'd left her room on the first day of summer. Not see you next year or see you in September, but a firm and final good-bye. She must've known she was dying, as she sat behind that desk in summer's light, and she had known that for her there would be no new class of grinning young monkeys in September.

"Thought you might like to know," Dr. Parrish said. He touched my shoulder with a hand that had two hours ago pulled a sheet over Mrs. Neville's face. "You take care now, Cory." He turned around and walked to his Pontiac, and my grandmother and I watched him drive away.

an hour later, the Jaybird came home. He wore the expression of a man whose last friend had kicked him in the rump and whose last Washington had snickered as it sailed off into another man's pocket. He tried to work up a show of anger at me, for "runnin' off and worryin' me half to death" but before he could get steamed up on that route Grandmomma Sarah derailed him by asking, very quietly, where the ice cream salt was. The Jaybird wound up sitting by himself on the porch in the fading light, moths whirling around him, his face long and haggard and his spirits as low as his flagging jimbob. I felt kind of sorry for him, actually, but the Jaybird was not the kind of man you felt sorry for. One word of regret from me would've made him sneer and swagger. The Jaybird never apologized; he was never wrong. That was why he had no true companions, and that was why he sat alone on that porch in the company of dumb gleaming wings that swirled around him like his ancient memories of pretty farmers' daughters.

One last incident marked my week with my grandparents. I had not slept well on Friday night. I dreamed of walking into my classroom, which was empty of everyone but Mrs. Neville, sitting behind her desk straightening papers. Golden light slanted across the floor, bars of it striping the blackboard. The flesh of Mrs. Neville's face had shriveled. Her eyes looked bright and large, like the eyes of a baby. She held her back rigid, and she watched me as I stood on the threshold between the hallway and classroom. "Coryi" she said. "Cory Mackensoni"

"Yes ma'am," I answered.

"Come closer," she said.

I did. I walked to her desk, and I saw that the red apple there on its edge had dried up.

"Summer's almost over," Mrs. Neville told me. I nodded. "You're older than you were before, aren't youi"

"I had a birthday," I said.

"That's nice." Her breath, though not unpleasant, smelled like flowers on the verge of decay. "I have seen many boys come and go," she said. "I've seen some grow up and set roots, and some grow up and move away. The years of a boy's life pass so fast, Cory." She smiled faintly. "Boys want to hurry up and be men, and then comes a day they wish they could be boys again. But I'll tell you a secret, Cory. Want to hear iti"

I nodded.

"No one," Mrs. Neville whispered, "ever grows up."

I frowned. What kind of secret was thati My dad and mom were grown-up, weren't theyi So were Mr. Dollar, Chief Marchette, Dr. Parrish, Reverend Lovoy, the Lady, and everybody else over eighteen.

"They may look grown-up," she continued, "but it's a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They'd like to feel free, and know that there's a momma and daddy at home who'll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can't be hurt." She put aside the papers and folded her hands on the desk. "I have seen plenty of boys grow into men, Cory, and I want to say one word to you. Remember."

"Rememberi Remember whati"

"Everything," she said. "and anything. Don't you go through a day without remembering something of it, and tucking that memory away like a treasure. Because it is. and memories are sweet doors, Cory. They're teachers and friends and disciplinarians. When you look at something, don't just look. See it. Really, really see it. See it so when you write it down, somebody else can see it, too. It's easy to walk through life deaf, dumb, and blind, Cory. Most everybody you know or ever meet will. They'll walk through a parade of wonders, and they'll never hear a peep of it. But you can live a thousand lifetimes if you want to. You can talk to people you'll never set eyes on, in lands you'll never visit." She nodded, watching my face. "and if you're good and you're lucky and you have something worth saying, then you might have the chance to live on long after-" She paused, measuring her words. "Long after," she finished.

"How's all this stuff supposed to happeni" I asked.

"First things first. Enter the short-story contest, like I told you."

"I'm not good enough."

"I'm not saying you are. Yet. Just do the best you can, and enter the contest. Will you do thati"

I shrugged. "I don't know what to write about."

"You will," Mrs. Neville said. "When you make yourself sit and look at a blank piece of paper long enough, you will. and don't think of it as writing. Just think of it as telling your friends a story. Will you at least tryi"

"I'll think about it," I said.

"Don't think too hard," she cautioned me. "Sometimes thinking gets in the way of doing."

"Yes ma'am."

"ah, well." Mrs. Neville pulled in a breath and let it slowly out. She looked around the classroom at the empty desks carved with initials. "I have done my best," she said quietly, "and that is all I can do. Oh, you little children, what years you have ahead." Her gaze returned to me. "Class dismissed," she said.

I woke up. It was not quite light yet. a rooster was crowing to herald the sun. The Jaybird's radio was on in their bedroom, tuned to a country station. The sound of a steel guitar, alone and searching over the dark miles of woods and meadows and roads, has always had the power to break my heart in two.

Mom and Dad came to pick me up that afternoon. I kissed Grandmomma Sarah good-bye, and I shook the Jaybird's hand. He put a little extra pressure into his grip. I squeezed back. We knew each other. Then I went out to the pickup truck with my folks, and I found they'd brought Rebel along, so I climbed into the truckbed and let my legs hang over the edge and Rebel nudged up close to me and blew dog breath in my face but it was fine with me.

Grandmomma Sarah and the Jaybird stood on their front porch and waved good-bye. I went home, where I belonged.

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