August 23, 2019
Aug 23, 2019
Becky grew up in the provinces of the blackest, richest delta silt this side of cut & run. When the wind rampaged in from the east she could taste the soil, & naturally it was biblical. The boy came one June morning to work on her daddy’s egg farm. Both were fourteen—he three days older than she. His job was to feed the two thousand–odd white leghorn hens, to gather the pearly ovals in baskets & carry them to the grading shed where Stella cleaned off flecks of shit & held each egg up to a beaming light then place them into white dozen-size papery cartons. Sometimes Becky worked beside the tall black woman for the fun of it, mirroring her moves. Also, she liked looking at the boy gathering the eggs. But they didn’t dare let anyone else see their cat-like eyes. In their four years of stolen kisses they grew into each other. They’d lie in the tall grass, trembling in an embrace. But one day the boy enlisted in the Army. Stella would say, “Miz Becky, I know a lady who can take that spell off ya.” Of course, Becky would say, “I don’t know what you talkin ’bout, Stella.” A year later, Becky married Buster Collins from across the river. The couple built a nice brick bungalow two miles down the road. She kept saying, “Buster, I wanna baby.” Three years passed. The boy came back. He began driving a tractor & trailer across country. To this day Becky can’t say why she slipped Stella the note to give him. When the setting sun lights the door of the hayloft. The two began to meet. It didn’t make sense they both declared. But one night they caught themselves in the bedroom while Buster sat in the living room watching championship wrestling, drinking his bottles of Dixie. The boy almost called Buster’s name. He whispered to Becky, “Never again.” She pounded her fists against his chest, saying, “Over my dead body.” That was the night she ran from the bedroom crying. That was the night she told the sheriff the window was open but she only heard bullfrogs in the gully before she felt his knife at her throat. She didn’t holler because she saw murder in his eyes. When the sheriff & his two deputies stopped the truck at the state line, the sheriff said, “Boys, looka here, a dead nigger drivin a big fancy rig to hell.” He didn’t try telling them his side of the story. If he had, they would’ve killed him on the spot. Mayflies clogged the air. They dragged him bloody into a jail cell. A hoot owl called. Just before daybreak the mob appeared. The sheriff handed over the keys. Years later, after what happened, his name was the answer to an unspeakable divination. It had something to do with a tin coffee can of charred bones & ashes in a shoebox of dried rose petals. Becky said there are legends that eat graveyard clay, though she never could wrap her mind ’round that one. She caught a sundown Greyhound headed north & thought of Stella’s drinking gourd. Its orangey-gold hue. Now, she sits on a midnight curb in a ghetto, beckoning to whatever danger walks near, still trying to decide what Billie Joe MacAllister & that girl tossed off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Was it life or death? Or some damnable other something, a heavy lodestone? Becky always had an imagination to die for. Hadn’t that song showed her feet the highway? Now, after all these years, all the other stories were balled up in hers. She gazes up crook-eyed at the sky, a Delta sunset tamped down into her bones, & now a limp easing into her left leg.
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August 23, 2019