Read Suder Online

Authors: Percival Everett

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder

Suder (16 page)

“I'm going to hunt down whatever it is and shoot it,” says the large man.

I pick up the bag and as I'm passing through the doorway I bump into a real thin fella with dark glasses and a badge. He gives me a real hard look and I head on outside. I glance back in and see the badged man talking to the clerk and I can tell they're discussing me. I walk to the truck and I put the groceries on the seat beside me and, as I'm turning the key, a long thin hand slaps over the lowered window.

“Wanna turn off the motor?” asks the thin man with the badge. I shut down the engine. “I'm Sheriff—” He stops as the engine coughs. “I'm Sheriff Prager.”

I nod. “I'm Craig Suder.”

“You're black.”

I don't know what to say to him.

He smiles. “We don't get many blacks around these parts.”

“Well, I'm staying at the Tyler place.” I look ahead through the windshield.

Prager thumbs his dark glasses up his nose and spits on the ground. “Gerald Sims tells me you were asking him about some hay.”

“I was thinking of getting a couple of horses, but I decided against it.”

“Hmmmmm.” He looks at me. “The reason I ask is because somebody's been stealing hay from Michael Dobbs.”

“Oh.”

“Just asking.” He looks up at the sun. “I might just come up and pay you a little visit one day.” He smiles.

I nod and I reach to turn the key.

“One more thing,” says Prager.

“Yeah?”

“There's a little girl lost around here.”

“Is she black?”

Prager looks at me. “Why, no.” He scratches his head. “You might keep an eye out.”

“Sure.”

He slaps the truck and walks away.

I pull the cord and the chain saw revs up and I push the blade against the north wall of the cabin. This wall is without windows and the saw churns through. I hear Jincy screaming and she runs out of the cabin and stares at me, panting.

“What are you doing?” she asks above the sound of the saw.

I stop the saw.

“What are you doing?” she repeats.

“Cutting.”

“What?”

“The wall.”

“Why?”

“So Renoir can get into the house.”

Jincy's eyes light up. “Really?”

I nod and then I start the saw up again. She says something and I turn the machine off once more.

“Why?”

“I heard some people in town say they're going to shoot him.”

Jincy is silent. I look at her for a while and I pull the cord again and start cutting. As I'm cutting I look over and see Jincy stroking Renoir's trunk. I cut out a large section of wall and rig up some hinges at the bottom and with a couple of pulleys we've a drawbridge-type door for the elephant.

Inside, Jincy and I move all of our things to the south side of the cabin. I pile hay in the front corner of the elephant's side and we bring Renoir inside. Jincy is just as excited as she can be, but I'm having second thoughts because this animal has a smell to suit his size.

“I don't know,” I says, “he may have to stay outside.”

“Why?”

“He smells pretty strong, don't you think?”

“Well, yeah, but we can't let him stay out there. They'll shoot him.” She runs over to Renoir and hugs his trunk.

“He stinks something fierce.”

“I'll wash him three times a day.”

I look at her for a second. I don't know that three baths won't keep the smell away. “Okay.”

Daddy went running with Ma in the evening. It was cooler then. Bud and I were sitting on the porch and Martin came out.

“Sure is close out here,” Martin said, pulling the front of his shirt away from his body.

“Yeah, it's a hot one,” Bud agreed.

Martin looked at me. “I think that dog needs some water.”

Bud was up and to the door. “I'll take care of it,” he said and entered the house.

“How do you like Django?” I asked Martin.

“Stupid name.” Martin looked up and down the street. “Is Daddy really out there running with her?”

“Yeah.” I paused. “It's not a stupid name.”

“Out there running. I don't believe it. This is crazy.”

Daddy and Ma came into sight walking up the street and then they broke into a trot the rest of the way to the porch. Ma fell up the stairs and through the front door and Daddy sat on the steps. He was wet and breathing hard. “Man, is it hot,” Daddy said, wiping his face with his shirt.

Bud came through the screen door. “Doc! How you making it?”

“I'm making it,” Daddy answered.

“I think you're crazy to be running in this heat,” Bud said.

“Me, too,” Martin said.

“Maybe,” Daddy said.

Bud sat in the rocker. “How's she coming?”

“She's coming. She may have to walk some of the way. She ran about seven miles.”

“She's crazy,” Martin snapped.

Daddy looked at Martin and gave him a pat on the leg.

“By the way, Doc,” Bud began, “I'll be leaving in a couple of weeks. I've booked passage on a freighter to England.”

Daddy looked up at Bud. “Well, good for you.”

Bud looked at me and smiled. “How about that, Bird? From there I'll go to France.”

I didn't say anything. I scratched my arm where a mosquito had bitten me and then Django came running onto the porch. “Hey,” I said, “how did you get loose?” I looked at Bud.

“Better go tie him up,” Daddy said, “or Mr. Simpson will shoot him.”

I got up and walked Django around to the backyard. I grabbed the rope and looked at the end of it. It hadn't been gnawed through. I looked at Django and wondered how he'd got loose. I didn't want to tie him up, but I did. I walked back to the front wondering just how the dog had got free.

Daddy and Martin were still on the porch. Martin was upset. “Now everybody's going to think you're crazy, too.”

“Maybe,” Daddy said.

“Do you have to do this?”

Daddy looked at Martin. “No.”

“Then why?” Martin was almost crying.

Daddy looked up thoughtfully and then his eyes found me. “I'm not sure,” he answered. “How's the dog?”

“Tied up.”

“Shame you've got to keep him tied, but Mr. Simpson will shoot him.” Daddy groaned and stood. He placed his fist in the small of his back and stretched. “Hot, hot, hot,” he said and walked into the house.

The next morning I leave Jincy to bathe Renoir and I walk to the lake. So, I'm sitting on a rock and I'm watching this eagle gliding on flat wings and Beckwith shows up.

“What are you looking at?” the zoologist asks.

I point up at the bird.

“Oh,
Haliaeetus leucocephalus,”
he says, sitting beside me.

“Bald eagle.”

“Pretty amazing, eh?”

I look at him and hoist up my eyebrows.

“The flight,” he says.

I nod.

“You know, birds don't just flap their wings up and down.”

“No?”

“No. High-speed photography shows that they move their wings in figure eights. So, they push themselves through the air very much as a propeller pushes a boat through water.” He pulls a chocolate bar from his daypack and offers me some.

I shake my head.

“Yeah, birds are amazing.” He takes another bite of chocolate and then points across the lake.
“Odocoileus hemionus.”

“Deer,” I says under my breath.

“They're hot, too.”

“Hmmmm?”

“Birds, they're hot. They've got high body temperatures—one hundred and five degrees sometimes. Hot, just like any engine powerful enough to fly.” What he's saying is fascinating. “They've got very flexible bodies.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“More vertebrae than any other animal.”

“You don't say.”

“More than giraffes, even.”

“Ain't that something.” There's a pause. “I wish I could fly.”

He chuckles. “Wishes, wishes.”

“I think I will.”

Beckwith laughs harder and he stands up. “I like you,” he says and starts away. “I'll see you later.”

I don't say anything and I look up and there's an osprey slowly beating his wings across the lake.

I walk back to the cabin a different way and I get a little lost until I come out onto the highway. There's a car parked on the road and two fellas with binoculars are scanning the area.

“Hello there,” says one of the men.

“Hey.”

“Have you seen a little girl?”

“A little girl?”

“Yes, a runaway.”

“No.” I walk on past them.

“Keep your eyes open, all right?”

I turn back to face them and nod. I walk on back to the cabin.

When Daddy wasn't in his office he was with Ma, running with her, helping her train. Martin was annoyed; he didn't understand. I thought I understood, but I wasn't sure. All I knew was that Ma seemed closer to Daddy. She even seemed less abusive to Martin. Every morning and every night Daddy and Ma went running.

Chapter 20

I decide that flying is a distinct possibility and that being a bird is well worth my while. I've pretty much given up on the saxophone—it hurts Jincy's ears and starts Renoir in a screaming fit. One day I'm sitting in front of the cabin and I'm watching the gray jays.

“What are you thinking about?” Jincy asks, sitting down beside me. Renoir is munching hay.

“Flying,” I says. “I'm gonna fly.”

“Where to?”

“I just want to fly.”

Jincy is silent for a spell. “You mean fly in an airplane, right?”

“No,” I tell her. “I mean fly like a bird.”

“How?” Her eyes are wide and curious.

“I figure I'll make some wings and, in general, act like a bird.”

“Like how?”

“I plan to raise my body temperature and loosen up my neck and eat worms.”

Jincy frowns. “Eat worms?”

“Yeah.” I pause. “I figure I'll make wings and step off Willet Rock.”

“Willet Rock?”

“Yeah, you can see it from this side of the lake, way up. I guess it's about two thousand feet. You've got to go around the mountain to get to it because it's on the steep face.”

“Two thousand feet?” Jincy looks over at the peak of the nearby mountain. “I don't think you should try it.”

I don't say anything and then I hear a car coming. “Quick,” I bark, “get Renoir into the house.” I run into the cabin and lower the wall and Jincy steps inside with the elephant. I pull up the wall and kick his hay around and this pickup pulls up with two fellas.

“Howdy,” says the driver. Both men are out of the truck. They're rangers.

“Hey,” I greet them. “What can I do for you?”

“This is going to sound crazy,” says the one who was driving, looking at his partner and smiling, “but we're up here looking for an elephant.”

“An elephant?” I question.

“Yeah,” says the second man, chuckling. “Some folks claim they seen an elephant up here.”

“You mean an elephant with a trunk, like in a circus and all?”

The driver laughs. “Yeah.”

And I laugh loud and then Renoir gives a blast from his snout.

“What was that?” asks the driver.

“Stereo,” I tell him. Then I yell back at the cabin, “You want to turn that down in there?!”

The two men look at each other and the driver shrugs his shoulders. “Well, if you see anything …,” the driver says and stops. “Probably just a moose way off track. It ain't enough that everybody's running around seeing Bigfoot, we got to have an elephant.” They get back into their truck. “Sorry to bother you.”

“No bother,” I tell him and they leave and I go back into the cabin to check on Renoir.

That night I come back from my walk and Renoir ain't outside and when I step into the cabin he ain't there. Jincy's in the cabin, sitting at the table, drawing pictures of Renoir.

“Where's Renoir?” I ask.

“Outside,” she says without looking up.

“No, he's not.”

“Sure he is,” she says, standing and walking to the window. She looks outside and then at me. “He
was
out there.”

We go outside with a couple of lanterns and we can see Renoir's tracks. They're real deep because the dirt drive is still wet from the last rain. We follow them for about three miles and I get real nervous because it looks like Renoir has gone into town. We don't go back to get the truck as we're already halfway to Parkdale.

Jincy is very upset, almost crying. “I hope Rennie doesn't get shot.”

We walk on through the darkness, swinging our lanterns and whistling for Renoir. Finally we find him behind a split-level and he's in a duck pond.

“Are you sure it's Rennie?”

I call him and Jincy calls him, but he won't come. I end up stepping into the water and leading him out by one of his ears. Then we're walking through backyards and dogs are barking at us and an occasional light snaps on. Jincy is riding on top of Renoir and we make our way back to the road. A car comes up behind us and Jincy is becoming hysterical. It turns out to be Beckwith.

Beckwith stops his car and he walks around to me and he looks at Renoir.
“Loxodonta africana,”
he says. He looks at me. “You've got a
Loxodonta africana.”

“Elephant.”

“What are you doing with a
Loxodonta africana?”

But I'm just walking away and leading Renoir home, muttering, “Elephant.”

Beckwith gets into his car and drives away and he's at the cabin waiting when we arrive. “Now, tell me what you're doing with a
Loxodonta africana.”

“He's a pet,” I tell him.

Beckwith walks around the elephant, examining him closely. “He's a fine one.”

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