Mouse mad was if you played with his money or caught him in a lie. This was just business, plain and simple.

‘What kinda car you got?’

‘Thirty-six Ford. Drive so smooth you think you was in a boat.’

‘Now where you gonna get a car like that an’ you don’t even drive?’

‘Otum Chenier want me t’take care of it while he gone down Lake Charles.’ Mouse grinned and rubbed his chin. ‘Seem like one’a his folks is sick.’

‘And when you wanna go?’ I asked.

‘Maybe half hour ‘fore dawn.’


‘Com’on, Ease. It’s late. I got business down south an’ I’ma pay you fo’it too. I ain’t got no time t’waste.’

‘I got a job, man.’

‘Easy, you work fo’them three weeks an’ you be lucky t’get fifteen dollars. Soon as they man is back you know they gonna put yo’ butt out. An’ I got food, an’ whiskey, an’ gas money. I know ev’ry pretty girl in Pariah. An’, man, Etta deserve a good weddin’, ‘cause you know she sumpin’ else.’ He winked at that.

I wanted to go. I knew it from the minute he yelled in my door. I was a young man then, barely nineteen years old, and alone in the world. Mouse was my only real friend, and even though he was crazy and wild I knew he cared for me - in his way. He made me mad sometimes but that’s what good friends and family do.

I wasn’t mad because Mouse had won Etta. I was mad because when they got married I was going to lose my friend to his wife and family. This was going to be the last time we would go running in the streets together. I’d’ve gone with him without the threats and the IOU.

‘I want my fifteen dollars, man,’ I said, ‘You know I ain’t doin’ this fo’my health.’

‘Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, Easy. We both git sumpin’ outta this.’ Mouse was curled up in my second-hand upholstered chair like a little boy. The room was all kinds of gray from light that leaked in through the torn shades and the cracks in the door. He fell asleep as soon as the light went out, but I woke up then. I laid there in the dark thinking about the time Mouse had saved my life.

I remembered Junior holding his bloody shirt and running from the bar. Then I thought of what Mouse had said when I tried to thank him.

‘Shit, man, I din’t save you. I just wanted to cut that boy ‘cause he think he so bad... See what he think now...’ And we never talked about it again.

Chapter Two

Early morning is the best time. You’re fully rested but not awake enough to remember how hard it all is. Morning is like being a child again, and morning before the sun is out is like those magic times that you hid under the bed and in between the clothes hanging in your mother’s closet. Times when any kind of miracle could come about just as normal as a spider making her web.

I remember waking up in the dark once when I was very small. I jumped right out of bed and went up next to the screen door on the back porch to see what kind of fantastic thing was going on outside. At first I couldn’t see anything but there was a clopping sound, nickering, and a deep voice that made me feel calm and wondering. Slowly, coming out from the darkness, I saw a gray shimmering next to a tall black pillar. The shimmer turned into a big horse and the pillar became my father holding out an apple and cooing hi his bass voice, ‘Ho! Yeah, boy,’ even though the horse was tame and eating from his hand.

I drifted into sleep thinking that we were poor and didn’t own a horse. When I woke up it was light and there was no horse to be seen. I asked my father about it but he told me that I was dreaming - where were poor people like us going to find big gray stallions?

But there were horse chips behind the barn and hoof-prints too.

I decided that it was a magic horse and man that I’d seen. From that day on I believed that magic hides in the early morning. If you get up early enough you might find something so beautiful that it would be all right if you just died right then because nothing else in life could ever be better.

It was still dark when we made it down to Lucinda Greg’s house. She was Otum Chenier’s girlfriend. I warmed up the engine while Mouse changed clothes and made lunch inside. He came out in gray pants and a gray shirt, work clothes that fit him like dress clothes.

When we drove off it was still way before dawn. Mouse was sleeping against the passenger door and I was driving with the few feeble lights of Houston behind us. It was going to be a warm day but the air still held a light chill of night. I wanted to sing but I didn’t because Mouse wouldn’t have understood my feelings about magic and the morning. So I just drove quietly, happy on that flat Texas road.

People don’t understand southern Texas. They think that the land there is ugly and flat. They take their opinion about the land and put it on the people but they’re wrong on both counts. If they could see Texas in the early dawn like I saw it that day they would know a Texas that is full of potential from the smallest rock to the oldest woman on the farm.

The road wasn’t paved or landscaped. On either side there were dense shrubs and bushes with knotty pines and cherry and pear trees scattered here and there. I was especially aware of the magnolias, their flowers looking like white faces staring down from shadow.

They say it’s like a desert down there, and they’re right - at least sometimes. There are stretches of land that have hardly anything growing, but even then it’s no simple story. Texas is made up of every kind of soil; there’s red day and gray sod and fertile brown, shipped in or strained over by poor farmers trying to make the land work. That earth gives you the feeling of confidence because it’s so much and so different and, mainly, because it’s got the patience to be there not ever having to look for a better place.

But there’s no such thing as a desert down near the Gulf. The rains come to make bayous and swamps and feed every kind of animal and bird and varmint.

As the night disappeared the last foxes and opossums made their way to shelter. Animals everywhere were vanishing with the shadows; field mice and some deer, foxes, rabbits, and skunk.

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