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.That left a four-mile walk to Sweetwater.He'd worked up a powerful thirst by the time he reached the crushed mailbox and splintered pole at the McNair place.He could feel the heat beating up through the soles of his shoes.His throat was dry as a picked bone.Through the morning silence he could hear Jim's daddy singing about the sweet by and by.The longing rushed through him so fast he could only stand helpless.He knew—because Jim had told him—that his friend had felt his daddy's big, callused hand across his butt.He knew that once when Jim had been four and had wandered off into the swamp, his daddy had found him and had laid a switch across his legs that had made the young Jim dance a jig all the way home.But Jim's father had never come wheeling down with his fists or locked Jim in his room for two full days with nothing but bread and water.According to him, his daddy had never once, not once, raised a hand to his ma.And he had seen for himself the way Toby's hand could come down to lay gently, and somehow proudly, on Jim's shoulder.The way they would walk off together with fishing rods over their shoulders.And even though they weren't touching, you could tell they were.His throat ached miserably, and Cy fought back an urge to walk down the lane to watch Jim and his daddy slap paint on the boards of Miss Edith's place.He knew Toby would turn and smile, his teeth white as the moon against his dark skin—skin scarred by Cy's own father nearly twenty years before."Look who's here, Jim," he would say."Looks to me like that boy's ready to paint.We got us some nice tomato sandwiches for lunch.If you was to pick up a brush and get to work, might be I'd find one for you."Cy yearned toward the lane.He could almost feel his body lean toward it even as his feet stayed planted on the glass-splattered hardtop.No son of mine is going to run with niggers.Austin's voice cut through Cy's mind like a rusty blade.If the Lord wanted us to truck with them, he'dve made them white.But it wasn't that which had Cy turning away from the lane.It was the knowledge that if he spent the morning painting and eating tomato sandwiches with Jim and his daddy, he would never work up the nerve to walk the last mile to Sweetwater.His faded checked shirt was clinging to his skin by the time he turned through the iron gates.He'd walked nearly eight miles in the steadily spiraling heat, and wished now he'd taken the time for breakfast.His stomach growled ominously one minute, then churned the next, turning his sweat cold with nausea.Cy took a faded bandanna out of his back pocket and swiped at his face and neck.Maybe it was best he hadn't had that breakfast, because he was pretty sure if there was anything in his stomach, it would be coming up quick.He'd missed supper the night before, too, half sick on his share of a lemon pie he'd gorged on at the fishing hole.The thought of that lemon pie had his stomach rising.It took two hard swallows to settle it down again.He looked longingly at the cool green grass beyond the line of magnolias.He could just stretch out there a minute, press his hot face into that sweet grass.But he thought someone might see him, and he'd never get the job.He put one foot in front of the other.He'd seen Sweetwater only a time or two before.Sometimes he thought he'd imagined how grand it was, with its white walls and tall, winking windows.But it was never as grand in his imagination as it was in reality.The thought that people lived there, ate and slept there, was an amazement to Cy, who had lived his whole life in a cramped shack with a dirt yard.Light-headed from heat and hunger, Cy stared at the house as the sun splashed on those white walls and winking windows.Vapors shimmering up from the gravel made it look as though it were underwater.An underwater palace, he thought, and had some vague recollecttion of reading about mermen and mermaids who lived under the sea.He felt as if he were walking through water.His steps were slow and sluggish and the air he breathed in was like thick, warm liquid that filled up his throat instead of soothing it.A little nervous, he looked down at his feet and wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed to see his cracked and dusty shoes instead of a shiny green tail.The scent of flowers was strong as he rounded the peony bed where his father had recently kicked the shit out of Tucker.Cy hoped Miss Delia would come to the door.He liked Miss Delia with her wild red hair and colorful jewelry.She'd given him a quarter once just for carrying her bags from the market to her car.And since Miss Delia had thick muscles in her arms, Cy knew she could have carried them herself and saved her quarter.If she came to the door, she might tell him to come on around back.When he got around to the kitchen, she'd give him a cold glass of lemonade, and maybe a biscuit.Then he would thank her, real polite, and ask her if Lucius Gunn was about, so he could ask the overseer about work.A little dazed, he found himself on the porch, facing the big carved door with its polished brass knocker.He licked his dry lips, lifted his hand.The door swung open before he'd reached the knocker.Standing in front of him wasn't Miss Delia but a small, elderly lady who wore orange lipstick and what looked like an eagle feather in her hair.Cy didn't know that the shiny stones around her crepy neck were Russian diamonds.Her feet were bare, and she carried a set of bongos."My great-granddaddy on my mama's side was half Chickasaw," Lulu told the gaping Cy."Might have been a time when my ancestors scalped the hell out of yours.""Yes'm," Cy said for lack of anything better.Lulu's orange-slicked mouth curved."You sure do have a fine head of hair on you, boy." She threw back her head and let out with a screeching warwhoop that had Cy stumbling back."I just—I just—I just—" was all Cy managed to get out."Cousin Lulu, you're scaring the spit out of that boy." Tucker strolled up to the door, his grin indulgent."She's only fooling." It took him a moment to place the boy, then most of the grin faded."What can I do for you, Cy?""I… I came down looking for work," he said, then pitched forward in a dead faint [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]