‘I’ma show you how t’fish while we down here, Ease.’

I jumped when Mouse spoke.

‘Man, ain’t nuthin’ you could tell me. I been droppin’ my line in the water since before I could talk.’

‘That’s all right,’ he said with a sneer. ‘But I show you how the master fish.’

He took a fried egg sandwich from a brown paper sack and tore it in half.

‘Here you go.’

We were both quiet as the sun filled in the land with light. To me it was like the world was growing and I was happy to be on that road.

After a while I asked Mouse how it was that he happened to get Otum’s car just when he needed a ride.

Mouse smiled and looked humble. ‘You know Otum’s a Cajun, an’ them Cajuns is fam’ly down to the bone. They’d kill over a insult to their blood that normal folks like you an’ me would just laugh at. An’ Otum is a real Cajun. That’s a fact.’

Mouse knew how to tell you a story. It was like he was singing a song and the words were notes going up and down the scales, even rhyming when it was right. He’d turn phrases that I wanted to use myself but it seemed that I couldn’t ever get the timing right. Sometimes what he said fit so perfectly I couldn’t ever find the right time to say it again.

‘.. . I always known that a message from his momma would light a fire under Otum. An’ puttin’ out fires is my especiality.’ We laughed at that. ‘So that night I come home from Galveston I stayed over at Lucinda’s, for a weddin’ gift she said. I thought ‘bout how she take care’a Otum’s car an’ how they got a phone down at that beauty shop she work for. . .’

Mouse smiled with all his teeth and put his foot against the dashboard so he could sit back comfortably, ‘You know once Otum got that message from Lucinda he knew he couldn’t take his car down there. The bayou ain’t no place t’drive no good car. So Lucinda tole him that you would start it up for him and look in on it every once an’ a while.’


‘Well, yeah, it had t’be you, Easy. I cain’t drive no car. Anyway, Otum never did trust me too much.’

We had been going southeast for dose to two hours when we saw two people with thumbs out on the road. A big young man and a girl, maybe fifteen, with a healthy chest and smile.

‘Pull on over, Ease,’ Mouse said. ‘Let’s pick ‘em up.’

‘You know ‘em?’ I asked as we passed by.

‘Uh-uh, but oppu’tunity is ev’rywhere an’ I ain’t passin’ up no bets.’

‘Man, you don’t know what they’s up to. They could be robbers fo’all you know.’

‘If they is then this here gonna be they last stand.’ I shifted the clutch down and put on the brake. As soon as we stopped, Mouse was out with the door open and the seat folded up. He waved at the couple and they came running. The boy was dragging a duffel bag that was bigger than his girlfriend.

‘Come on!’ Mouse shouted. ‘Jump in the back wit’ me, man. ‘Cause Easy got all kindsa dirty rags back here an’ you don’t want no girl in that.’

‘That’s all right. We sit together,’ the young man said in

a gruff tone.

‘Uh-uh, Clifton,’ the girl complained in a high voice. ‘I don’t wanna get filthy! Go’on an sit back there wit’ him.

You can still see me.’

Mouse smiled and gestured for the boy to get in. Clifton did as he was asked to do, but he wasn’t happy about it.

I could see in his face that Clifton hadn’t had a happy day in his life. His jaw was set and his eyes were hard but he couldn’t have been over seventeen. He was what Mouse called ‘a truly poor man.’ Someone who doesn’t have a thing and is so mad about it that he isn’t likely to ever get anything.

‘Where you-all goin’?’ I asked.

‘Down t’N’Orleans,’ the girl said. She looked in my eyes to see how surprised and jealous I’d be. She had a wide face and a forehead that sloped back. Her eyes were so far apart it looked as if she couldn’t focus both of them on the same thing. Her look was careless and lazy, and I looked away before I got myself into trouble.

‘Where you people from?’ Mouse asked in his friendliest tone.

‘Nowhere special,’ Clifton mumbled. ‘Where you-all goin’?’

‘Pariah,’ Mouse announced. ‘Farmin’ capital of south Texas.’

‘Hm!’ The girl frowned. ‘I ain’t never even heard’a that place.’ She turned her back to the door and put her bare feet on the seat, her toes grazing my leg.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked as I shifted gears.

‘Ernestine.’ She showed me her full set of teeth. ‘What’s yours?’

‘They call me Easy, an’ they call him Mouse.’

She laughed and dug her toes under my thigh. ‘Them ain’t even names at all. What’s yo’ real name?’

I never liked telling strangers my real name, but with her toes wiggling under my leg and Clifton breathing down my neck I didn’t feel like arguing.

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