A journal of narrative writing.
Like in a Western
Page 2

In the fall, Shay spends a whole week “laying low” out at the camp a mile back of the house, in the woods. Mink misses the bus just once. He befriends most of the cats in his aunt’s absence, all but the fat yellow one that plays dead in Shay’s arms.

When she comes back she has money, lots of it, but still forces Mink to cut wood for the stove and coerce the sickly hens to lay eggs.

“Your mama was purty,” Shay says again. “And you are purty, too. Like a girl is purty.”

Ike writes that he will not be home for Thanksgiving, nor Christmas. He says one of the fellas cut his arm off in the shop. They sent him home early.

“I’d do it, too,” Ike’s Good Samaritan writes, “but then I couldn’t ride bulls no more.”

At the first good freeze, the killing frost, in early November, Shay goes berserk. She sets the woods on fire and shoots her bolt-action rifle at trucks out on the highway. But the law never comes.

“This is Buffalo City,” she sneers at Mink, on the porch where he eats dinner in the cold twilight. “It ain’t no law come here. Not since the old boys stopped running whiskey. The law don’t come here no more. It is a lawless place out here, boy.”

He believes her because there is no reason not to. It is the next morning, a cold and bright Sunday, when she goes into what, in a warning to his son, Ike called “rock bottom crazy.”

It is as quiet as he has heard it around Shay’s, not even the soothing whisper in the pines. Shadows are blue in the house and the yard, light is pure as crystal. She stands at the tailgate of her rusted truck – which has no motor. She stares into the bed, from which the fog of someone’s breath rises.

Mink steps along the porch to the pipe handrail. It is cold to the touch. The shadow of a bird crosses the dying grass between them.

Shay lifts and points the nose of her pistol at the person laying face-up in the back of her Ford.

“It’s a snitch, boy,” she calls out calmly. She looks at Mink for a second, a flash. “A lousy damned snitch.”

Then she shoots out the back window in the cab, which was already cracked. It brings an echo through the thick woods, a gentle tinkling within the truck. The breaths stop fogging the bars of light above the bed.

Mink hears a man’s voice moan please. Then he hears Shay cock the old revolver. The cats are moving in the shadows, stirred by the gunshot. They stay like this, it seems forever, till the dust and rumble of a big shiny diesel truck gets their attention.

Shay just stares at it as the driver’s door swings open, a bell going ding-ding-ding in the cab. Mink watches a tall slender man step out, wipe his gray hair back with his fingers, and look around. He wears expensive Western boots, a white dress shirt and black leather suspenders, comb in his pocket, pleated silver dress pants. Mink hasn’t seen his grandfather in two years.

Orin Corprew walks to Shay, grips her arm – right at the knotted muscles of her elbow – and stands her up straight as a flagpole, at arm’s length. He speaks, low and firm, till her face goes blank.

Orin turns to Mink and beckons him with a finger. He tells the boy to climb in the truck. The snitch has lifted himself to sit in Shay’s truck, watching. He wipes his nose and Mink tries to recollect if he has seen this bearded dirty man before.

Orin lets Shay’s arm go and he points the pistol down, like he is a bear trainer or lion tamer, with some quiet, unspoken magic to his skills.

“Get right with the Lord, son,” he tells the snitch. He never says another word to Shay. He just drives off with Mink and leaves them to their situation, to let whatever happens happen in rock bottom crazy.

* * *

This is one of Mink’s best days. Even though it all happens because his daddy is penned in the state farm, he is all smiles and energy, butterflies in his stomach.

“Nobody rides a bull like that, when he is light of having hair on his arms,” Orin concedes proudly, as they push through raw open farmland in bright sun. “Old boy could rope with one hand, shoot crows with the other.”

“Like in a Western,” Mink whispers, watching the rough grasses speed by.

“Like in a Western, yes,” Orin nods. “Same as old Roy Rogers or Tex Ritter. But without the singing.”

He laughs and says it is tough to raise a son with no wife nor mother to help, but that he did it. Orin is one of the owners of a peanut mill in Corapeake, up north an hour from Mink and Ike. He admits money helps to raise a child on your own.

“We ain’t so broke,” Mink says, wiping his nose. Orin turns and holds his iron gaze on the boy. “We got enough to get by on most of the time.”

“Most of the time? What about times when you don’t?”

“Well,” Mink says, trailing away. “I forget.”

“You forget just that then? Just when you don’t?”

Mink nods, fidgeting, looking for the prison which is soon to appear up ahead, fences, low towers, cinderblock bunkhouses, scraggly men filing around the yard.

“I ain’t but a boy, granpop,” he says. “I can forget things. It happens at my age.”

“I reckon it does,” Orin says, seeing the prison now, a bleak campus huddled darkly among the swamps. “Folks say the same thing about men my age.”

“Do you forget?”

Orin shakes his head. “Not my style, son.”

They are led along a couple, maybe three unlit corridors to a waiting area. Mink had expected it to be a noisy place, with hollering and laughing heard all over. Instead, it has less noise than a hospital. They are at one end of a long table with a hangdog-faced woman at the other end. She has a fancy red tie and a leather bible in her hands. She acts like she is protecting them from thieves.

Orin starts to whistle softly while they wait. The young woman lifts her big brown eyes over at him and tilts her head.

“Ain’t that a purty song,” she smiles. She is pretty when she smiles.

“It’s Jim Reeves,” Orin tells her.

“It’s purty,” she says.

Then three guards come in and the head one starts reciting all the rules and how things will work during their visit, which is limited to one hour.

Mink looks back over to the pretty young woman, but she has returned to staring gloomily down at the tie and bible she has brought for some wayward man.