FROM REBELS TURN OUT YOUR DEAD:
James hated moccasins. He wore big boots that cracked twigs. Seventeen and newly conscious, he was given to symbol and metaphor. When there was nothing to be excited about James was especially. Day or night, indoors or out, coarse woolen trousers or no trousers at all, girl or no, he was often hard. He wondered if this happened to all seventeen-year-olds, but his curiosity was never satisfied because he never whispered his question aloud.
Mend the fence, demanded Salt, the father, the moccasin-wearer. Tall and ruddy, today he turned forty. With three ax blows he felled a balsam fir a half-foot in diameter and dragged it to his sons pile. Work well done was backmaking, not backbreaking, a message he was determined his son learn. Thick red hair grew on Salts head and down his cheeks, stubble battling to overtake his face. He wore buckskin leggings and a hemp shirt that his wife, Molly, had sewn.
Who broke it should fix it, James said.
Boots dont make a man. Salt timbered another tree. The zinging woodchips incensed a half dozen sap-drunk yellowjackets, which in turn spurred the blue jays to jerk their crests and squawk.
Drinky Crow, Salts farmhand, winked at James. At least somebody was listening. Where moccasins were false on his father, they were true on Drinky Crow. Because he was Indian. Plus Drinky Crow, James had been told, died already seven times. Nobody believed this literally. But anybody that dead everybody liked.
Drinky Crow looked younger than sixty, or older, depending. His black face had soaked up the decades. Jet hair ruffled like the feathers of his namesake. His squint made eyeballs seem unnecessary. The offspring of rapea runaway negro, a squawDrinky Crow had been sold on a platform in Newport to a tobacco farmer. When he turned nineteen his master died, leaving a will that stipulated his slaves be manumitted, and Drinky Crow most significantly, with one-sixty-fourth of the estate. Drinky Crow had been a capitalist ever since. He lived with four or five women on a spit of sand at lands end in Rockaway. Maybe there were six women.
Squatting opposite each other, he and Salt hoisted the naked trunks, lifting in parallel choreography, interlacing the logs six high at a slight angle, like fingers at the top knuckle, while James bound the projecting butts to a post with rope. The next section would zag, followed by one that zigged, and so on.
Why go to pains when theyre going to tear it down again? James fumed.
I wont do something but the right way. Salt knew they could save time and trees by setting the fence in a straight line, without the slight angles, the way they did in Virginia. Some people said the South was about fast money, others that there werent trees enough. Everyone admitted that straight Southern fences toppled after a season or three.
What good is a fence, for that matter?
What kind of a question is that?
Theres no purpose for it.
Salt scratched his sideburns. To keep the cows from the corn, for one.
What cows? Thieves got every last one.
Careful who you call thieves.
It made Salt happy, physical labor. And the blue sky made him happy, too, and the small ears of corn each stalk yielded, and the fresh scent of hewn wood, and the dangling legs of flying yellowjackets, and the companionship of son and farmhand, and his moccasins and hemp shirt.
James spat. Its not even your fence.
idi-font-size: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'" Until just this moment, Salt had been able to forget that he was not in fact working for himself. Whats good for your granddad is good for us all.
James was quick, the rope a blur, hands a flash. In a snap the joint was lashed.
Now can we eat? Unlike his father, James did not like toil. Nor did he share his fathers illusions about the task at hand. This work was not backmaking; it was the opposite. Some peopleand everyone knew who those some people werehad broken the fence and taken the logs for their own purposes. Some people had stolen not just the fence but the hours that had gone into its construction. It frustrated James that his father did not share his rage. As for Drinky Crow, James did not hold him to account in the normal constellation of human emotion; Drinky Crow was mad.
On this job, as on all jobs, James got it over withthis required less effort than to make a statement by not doing it, or to prolong agony by doing it negligentlyso he could get back to shooting things with guns.
Seventeen was too young to matter, too old not to. James thrust his hand into his pocket to rearrange himself, but first he gave it a yank. Another. And one last. Then he got his pistol out of its holster, which was set on a fallen tree. His father and Drinky Crow both had Pennsylvania rifles. You could bark a squirrel in a tree at three hundred yards with a Pennsylvania rifle. But all James got was a pistol. He was lucky when he hit a turkey ten feet from his face. It wasnt fair. The pistol was just better than nothing. It was made in Britain, a gift from his grandfather.