by Jeff Meyer
Bodies on the land signal changes in the wind...
The body was face down. The lower half was still dressed in work boots and denims; the top half was stripped naked, a deep chocolate brown in the morning light with the pink weals of fresh lash marks along the back and shoulders. And there was a barely visible hole, small and round, right at the back curve of the head.
Timmy stood there, posed like his father, staring at the dead man's back. He may have stood like his father, but the look on his face was still that of a confused little boy.
He wanted to nudge the body with his toe, maybe to turn it over, try to make sense of it. But he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. So he stared a little more, then let out a tiny grunt: "Huh." It's what Pa said when he just couldn't figure something. Timmy spit out the side of his mouth, absently longing for the time when that spit would be fat and brown like Pa's. The he turned and headed back to the house.
--- --- ---
"Where you been? Your momma been lookin' for you."
Timmy stood in the doorway of the kitchen looking at his Pa.
"I was fetchin' Shep down to the east ditch again, sir. And-- And they's a dead body, pa!" he blurted out in excitement. Then he seemed to catch himself, reel himself back: men like his Pa didn't holler like that; they just said what it was. Timmy hooked his thumb through his overalls and rocked his feet back flat on the floor. "Course it's just a nigger, nothin' important. So I turned Shep loose back to the house with me."
Wallace Davis looked at his son for a long time, thumb hitched in his own strap, mirror fashion of the boy. Not something a boy ought to be seein', by hisself, he thought. Nine-year-old Timmy stood in the face of his father's countenance, trying not to fidget.
"Alright. Go on get washed up for breakfast, son," he said gently.
After Timmy walked quickly up the stairs, Wallace looked out the kitchen window, over his thinning fields to the east. Another one. Sure, he thought, it's just another nigger. Now. But suppose whoever keeps leaving them there realizes nobody's sayin' anything, there could be bodies stacked up out there like cord wood.
"You gonna say anything about this one?"
Wallace turned, startled. His wife, Jolene, had been in the doorway to their bedroom, in the shadow of the staircase; he hadn't heard her come into the kitchen.
"Yeah," he signed in a resigned tone. "It's just anoth--"
"It's a human being, Wallace." Her reply was quiet, but strong and stern.
Wallace looked back and held her stare. "Alright, Peach," he said tolerantly. He was quiet for a moment, letting the old unspoken, unresolved conflict swirl been them for a moment. Then he broke her gaze and glanced out the kitchen window again. He sighed. "I'll get on into town and let old Teague know. I guess we need the law, after all."
She nodded her head in gratitude. Her husband was a man of will, a stubborn man, a man of the old ways. But he was a good man, and she smiled warmly at him as he walked away.
Wallace crossed the tiny parlor to the door and paused. On impulse, he reached into the closet and took out his shotgun. Outside, he pulled his beat-up Ford out of the gravel patch that served as their driveway turnoff, and he headed into town. With the gun in his lap.
Last night, it was another nigger, he thought, looking up the road. But what about today...?