You better git...’ was all Junior could say before Mouse had his stiletto buried, maybe just half an inch, in the field hand’s gut. I was lying between them, looking up. I could see Mouse smiling and I could see Junior’s face grow pale. Mouse quick-grabbed Junior’s neck with his free hand and said, ‘You better drop that stick or I’ma stir the soup, boy.’

I think I would rather have the beating than to see that, and smell it too.

So I was listening to Mouse with great respect.

‘... but you know, Easy, all that is past. I ain’t the type’a man to bear no grudge. Po’ men cain’t afford no grudge. Shit! It’s hard enough for a po’ man t’get through the day.’

He slapped my knee and leaned back in the chair. When he threw his leg over the armrest I knew I was safe.

‘S-so what ‘bout yo’ stepdaddy?’ I asked.

‘Yeah.’ Mouse stared at the ceiling with a smile. ‘You got that cigarette yet?’

I started rolling again.

‘Yeah, my stepdaddy got a big pile’a money out on that farm somewhere. Big pile.’

‘He wanna give you some’a that?’

‘Well, we ain’t on the best terms me an’ daddyReese. You know he’s a farm boy down t’his nuts an’ he see everything like a farmer see his world. So when I come along he figgers I was the runt’a the litter and I should be put in a burlap sack and dumped in the river.’

Mouse was smiling but he wasn’t happy.

‘Shoo, man! Even a farmer love his chirren.’

‘I ain’t none’a his. My momma had me when she was still footloose an’ feelin’ good. DaddyReese come nosin’ around later.’

‘So how’s that gonna help you and Etta?’

Mouse pulled up his pant leg, leaned forward, and slapped my knee again. He said, ‘That’s just what I been thinkin’, Easy. How one rich ole hick gonna help me when he cain’t stand my face? I been thinkin’ ‘bout that fo’ days. I go t’sleep thinkin’ ‘bout it an’ then I wake up in the same frame’a mind.

‘You know I went down to Galveston ‘cause Etta wanted me t’see if I could get sumpin’ down on the docks. Could you see me in that filthy water? Shit! But I went down there because you gotta respect yo’ woman.’

That was Mouse to a word. Children loved him and their mothers did too.

‘I was down on the docks eatin’ a sandwich and watchin’ the boys down there. They had this game they played. You see, in the hot day them ship rats crawl up on the top’a the pilin’s to git some sun. They just lay out in the sun an’ bake with they long nekked tails hangjn’ down an’ wavin’ ‘round the logs. Uh! It’s disgustin’. But anyway, them boys sneak up to where the rats is an’ they wait real quiet right next to the tail.’

Mouse sat up straight and clapped his hands like a gunshot.

‘Then they grab the tail an’ swing that rat through the air till it smash on the pier! Oh, man, that was sumpin’! I watched ‘em do that fo’ a long time. Shoot, they musta killed twenty’a them things... Then I caught a ride on a vegetable truck comin’ back t’Houston. I was still thinkin’ bout them boys, when it hit me. You know I kept thinkin’ that those boys couldn’t hesitate a minute ‘cause that rat is ready t’bite the first thing you touch’im, an’ you know the on’y thing worse than a rat bite is a man bite.’

Mouse sat back, showing his teeth.

I handed him the cigarette and he lit it up. He laid back and took a deep draw.

It looked like he was through talking, so I asked, ‘So what, man? What you gonna do ‘bout the money?’

‘I’ma go up to Pariah an’ get it, that’s what.’

‘How you gonna do that?’

‘I don’t know, Easy. All I can tell ya is that I ain’t gonna hesitate one minute.’

Mouse wanted something from me, and he wanted me to ask him what that something was. But I was too stubborn to give in to that.

So he puffed on his cigarette and I fumbled around with my glass. When he’d look at me I’d just look back. Mouse had light gray eyes.

Finally he said, ‘So, Easy, what you workin’ at now?’

‘Gardenin’ for the Lewis fam’ly. They man is sick.’

‘You know how t’drive a car, right?’


‘I tell you what. I give ya fifteen dollars t’drive me to Pariah fo’a couple’ a days.’


‘Yeah, man, I ain’t lyin’.’

‘Let’s see it.’

Mouse got that wary dog look again and said in a quiet voice, ‘I ain’t never asked you t’prove nuthin’, Easy.’

I knew right then that he wanted to trade; that he’d forget about me and Etta if I’d drive him to Pariah for a fifteen-dollar IOU. That’s how Mouse was, he didn’t care about me and his woman; the only thing that ever got

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