Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
Daddy stepped over to me and dropped a hand on my shoulder. He was looking in the direction that Ma had run. He rubbed my head and said, “It's all right.”
A couple of days go by and time is slipping past me like a well-hit ball on plastic grass. Three days of sun and heat and a dwindling mound of hay in front of Renoir. So, one night I drive down the road to that barn full of hay and Jincy is with me and it's raining.
“Where are we going?” Jincy wants to know.
“Over there.” I'm pointing out across the field at the barn.
“Hay.” I stop the truck and get out and open the gate. I turn off the headlights and approach the barn.
“Why'd you turn the lights off?” Jincy asks.
I look at her. “It ain't my hay.”
“You mean you're stealing it?”
“I hadn't thought of it like that, but yes.”
Jincy says nothing. I back the truck up to the open barn doors and the rain is falling harder. We get out and we're in the barn and the barn is full of the sound of water hitting the tin roof. I grab a pitchfork and start tossing hay into the back of the truck and Jincy's just staring at me.
“What is it?” I ask, and when she doesn't say anything, I says, “Help me out here.”
Jincy grabs another fork and starts throwing hay into the truck and then she stops. She looks up at the rafters and then outside at the night and says, “This is weird. I'm in a strange barn, shoveling hay for an elephant that belongs to a nigger.”
I stop tossing hay and I look at her. She's looking at me, too, and we're silent for a spell. I start tossing hay again and soon she is, also.
The morning was almost cool, with a light drizzle and a nice breeze. Ma was running, her first attempt to circle the town, and I was on my bicycle, riding along behind her. Behind me was McCoy in his white Cadillac with another man. Ma kept a good pace for about two miles, but then she began to fall off. By the fifth mile Ma was just falling forward into each step. Then she fell. I got off my bike and ran to her. She was bleeding from both knees and crying.
“I can't make it,” she said through her tears.
“Come on, Ma.” I grabbed her arm. “Let's go home.”
McCoy and the other white man were out of the car and beside us. “Well, I guess the Lord wasn't with you this time, Mrs. Suder,” said McCoy. He smiled at the other man and they turned away. “Crazy nigger-woman,” McCoy said to the man and laughed.
I looked at Ma and I could tell that she had also heard what McCoy had said. I stood up and helped my mother to her feet. We watched the big white car pull away. “Let's go,” I said.
Ma took a few steps and then she looked back. She stared angrily at the white car, which was small in the distance.
“I'm coming,” she said softly.
When Ma and I got home, Daddy was standing at the screen door, looking out. He opened the door and Ma walked past him to the sofa. Daddy looked at me and questioned me with his eyes. I told Daddy about what McCoy had said, that he had called Ma a crazy nigger-woman. Daddy scratched his chin and made a face. He walked over to Ma and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Part of your problem is you don't know to pace yourself. I saw the way you went tearing off. You've got to take it slow, slow and steady.” Tears were rolling down Ma's cheeks. Daddy looked at me. “Come on, Craig,” he said, walking to the door.
“Where're we going?” I asked.
“Sneakers.” He looked back at Ma. “Sneakers.”
It is not raining in the morning and I'm outside with the chain saw, cutting up wood for cooking, and this car pulls up the drive. I turn off the saw and step toward the car and it's Lou Tyler.
“Howdy, there,” Lou yells through the window and he opens the door and gets out.
“Hey,” I says.
And he's walking toward me. “Just thought I'd come and see how you're doing. Feeling any better?”
“Some.” I take his hand and shake it.
“Well, you're looking better.” He gazes past me at the cabin. “How do you like the place?”
“I like it.”
He walks past me toward the cabin. “Season's going okay,” he says without looking at me and then Renoir steps from around the side of the house. Lou freezes and stares at the elephant and I step up beside him. He turns to me.
“That's Renoir,” I says.
He looks again at Renoir. “An elephant,” he says more to himself than to me and he looks at me and a smile comes across his face. “Thank you.”
“For this.” He steps toward Renoir. “A dream come true.”
“I can't wait to stuff this sucker.”
I step in between Lou and Renoir. “Renoir ain't for stuffing.”
“You mean he ain't for me?”
I shake my head.
Lou looks down at the ground and scratches his forehead and kicks some dirt. He's looking back at me and he says, “If he dies, you'll let me know?”
“You're pretty attached to this animal, huh?”
Lou looks at the elephant again. “You â¦ you mind telling me how you happen to have this thing?”
“I won him in a bet.”
“A bet.” He looks up at the sky and then around at the woods. “It must cost you a fortune to feed this thing.”
“Oh.” He looks at Renoir. “Well, if he doesâ”
“I'll let you know.” I stroke Renoir's trunk. “You want to come inside?”
“Yeah.” He stops. “I forgot something. Come and give me a hand.” He walks back to the car and I'm following him. “I don't want to leave these in the trunk; they might stink the car up.”
“What is it?” I ask.
He opens the trunk. “Road kills.”
I stop and I turn around and walk back to the cabin. I watch him from the porch as he pulls a few dead dogs and cats out and puts them on the ground by a tree. He's slapping his hands clean as he walks toward the cabin.
“That's got it,” he says. “You got any coffee?”
“Oh.” He steps up onto the porch.
“What about some bacon and eggs?” I open the door and hold it for Lou.
He steps inside and there's Jincy putting wood in the fire to cook lunchâeggs and bacon. Lou is still.
“This is Jincy,” I says. “Jincy, this here is Lou.”
Lou smiles at Jincy and turns to me with a questioning expression. He's looking around the cabin. “So, you like it here pretty much, do you?”
“Where's your mother, little girl?” Lou asks.
“Where's your daddy?”
Lou looks at me. “Who is she?”
I look at Jincy and then at Lou. “My daughter.” Lou is real puzzled. “I adopted her,” I tell him.
Lou frowns and then he looks at the stuffed animals about the cabin. “Thelma asked me if I knew where you were. I told her you were scouting the farm teams. I told her I'd tell you to call her.” He pauses. “Peter misses you.”
“Yeah, well, I miss him.”
Jincy is staring at me.
“What about them eggs?” I ask and pull the skillet down and drop it on the stove.
Lou walks to the window and looks out at Renoir and then he turns back to Jincy. “Your mama's dead?”
“As a doornail.”
Lou straightens up and tilts his head. “And your old man's in the slammer?”
“Last I heard.”
Lou looks back out the window. “I don't believe you've got an elephant.” He sighs.
Lou's in the cabin taking a nap and Jincy is outside with a stick, pulling mud from between Renoir's toes, and I'm heading out for a walk. The late-afternoon sun is hot, but I can't really feel it until I'm by the lake. I'm standing by the water and there's that osprey flying real high and then he takes his wings in and plunges down into the water and comes out with a fish.
comes a voice from behind me. I turn to the voice and it's a short man, stocky, with glasses. He steps toward me. “Hello there.”
“Hey,” I says.
He points to the osprey.
I frown. “Osprey,” I says, and just like that, there's that bald eagle screaming and scaring the osprey and stealing the fish.
he says, pointing at the eagle.
“Bald eagle,” I says.
“I'm Richard Beckwith.” He shoves his hand out.
“Craig Suder.” I'm shaking his hand and noticing that his glasses seem to be a quarter-inch thick.
He tilts his head. “Craig Suder, the ballplayer?”
I look out over the water. “This sure is a pretty place. This lake got a name?”
“Yeah, this is Ezra Pond.”
“I'm from Oregon State.” He smiles. “I teach zoology. You are the ballplayer, aren't you?”
“Yeah.” I look at his eyes and he nods and I says, “I'm on vacation.”
Well, this guy takes to walking with me and he's talking about the weather and wildflowers and just generally making noise. And I figure I've got to shake him if I'm going to see any birds that ain't flying away. And this fella insists on calling everything by its Latin name, which annoys me to no small degree, and I'm making a point of correcting him.
And I says, “Rabbit.”
Finally, we come to a fork in the trail and he tells me he's got to go left and I tell him I've got to go right. There's a grouse waddling along in front of us and I'm waiting and Beckwith says,
“How do you know it was this dog?” Bud asked Mr. Simpson, the next-door neighbor.
“I saw him,” said Mr. Simpson. “I saw that mutt digging in my garden.” He pointed at Django.
“I'm sorry,” Bud said, “but you should have a fence around your garden.”
“You're telling me what I should have in my own yard?” Mr. Simpson was really mad. “You'd better keep that dog out of my garden.” He paused. “Who are you?”
I got down on my knees and stroked Django's head. “We're sorry, Mr. Simpson,” I said.
“Look, you've upset the boy,” Bud said.
Mr. Simpson pointed again at the dog. “Listen, I don't know who you are, but you'd better keep that dog out of my garden. If I catch him in there again, I'll shoot him, so help me God.” He turned and marched away.
Bud looked down at me. “I guess we're going to have to tie Django up.”
“Tie him up?”
“I'm sorry, Bird.”
We found some rope and tied Django to a tree in the backyard. Django barked and ran several times to the rope's limit and was snatched back violently.
“He won't hurt himself, will he?” I asked.
“No, but he's going to be upset for a while.” Bud looked at the ground by his feet and kicked some grass. “Damn.”
“It's not fair,” I said.
“Why does he have to be tied up? Why can't we just let him run around?”
Bud didn't say anything. He just turned and walked into the house. Django barked and pulled at the rope.
I walk on back to the cabin and as I get close I hear screaming. I run and there's Jincy standing between Lou and Renoir, screaming. Lou's got the chain saw in his hands and he's trying to get around the girl to the elephant.
“Lou!” I shout, running to him.
He turns the saw off. “Shit.”
Jincy runs to me. “He was going to kill Renoir.”
I'm looking at Lou.
“You don't understand,” Lou says. “I have to have that animal. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. I need this animal.”
“Give me the saw,” I says.
“You're really fond of him.” He looks at Renoir.
“The saw,” I repeat.
He hands it over and rubs his hands together nervously. He looks at me with wet eyes.
“Let's eat dinner,” I says.
Eggs and bacon.
Night comes and we all go to bed, but I don't sleep. I'm lying there watching Lou and he's lying there watching me watch him. Every time Lou sits up, I sit up.
In the morning Lou is in his car. “I just can't be trusted around that elephant. Hurry up and get better.”
“Okay,” I says.
He's looking at Renoir and then he turns his eyes to me. “See ya.”
“I'll call you if he dies.”
So, a couple of days later I'm in Parkdale and I'm in the little store buying eggs and bacon. There are some fellas standing around and I hear their conversation.
“I tell you,” says a large man in overalls, “the shit I found in the woods wasn't dropped by no horse.” He pauses. “Nor cow.”
Another man chuckles. “What do you think it was, Justin? Bigfoot?”
Then the clerk says, “Some people was in here a week or so ago claiming they seen an elephant by the lake.”
“An elephant?” The second man laughs and pushes the brim of his tractor cap up.
“An elephant, huh?” questions the large man and he hooks his thumbs around the straps of his overalls and rocks back and forth on his heels. “This might have been elephant shit.”
“An elephant would have left tracks,” the second man says.
The large man tilts his head. “Yeah, but I wasn't looking for elephant tracks.”
“This is it?” the clerk asks me, pulling the things on the counter toward him. “Looks like five bucks to me.” I pay him and he's putting the things in a bag. He turns to the two men. “So, what're you going to do, Justin?”