two Maybe this is true. But how could I tell it? I would not know how to tell my own. Perhaps it is a fact that others see you better than you see yourself and, therefore, get at the core of what it is that mattered in, or was an influence on, your life. I definitely spent a great deal of time studying Rita and her ways. So, yes, I am sure this is true. But there must have been things about her that I could never know, hence her complaining about my selfishness, and that being a shock to me. Her words puncturing my chest in a way that made clear a hidden resentment that could not make room for more straws were not born that day. The back was broken. She cried out. I was absolutely blindsided by it. But it did not weaken either parent’s idea of me to hear contradictions to their predictions… because time would tell, and Old Man and my mother were pretty sure that they had seen the signs all the while… so time was on their side. They were simply waiting for the day they could finally say I told you he was going to be a preacher, or I knew he was going to be the one to take over the farm. Throughout childhood I’d be my father’s apprentice and object of my mother’s adoration. Whosever side time resided with had no bearing on me. I knew what I knew. And did what I had to do. Still… just because I knew I ain’t want a do none of those things with my life did not mean I knew exactly what I would do, and everybody who’s not born into it got to do something with themselves, if they expect to live. Make your living is what they say — ain’t that what the people always want to know? How you make your living? What you do for a living? Like we the maker of life. I do not know, on the other hand, if there was anything at all about my life that she could not detect. She said things I thought were in my mind alone. I was a very private person, even as a very young child. And even now. She is the only one who truly ever knew me, because she’s the only one who truly ever knew how terrified of people I have always been, especially when I am with people I have just met. Rita was attentive enough to notice that I had armored myself with an overly whimsical personality to get through awkward dealings with people who try to get to know me. Even when dealing with our own family, I had lightened up the conversation to avoid speaking my mind. It was a weekday, the summer before seventh grade, when Red shook his head to Sam and Peebo, two boys who wanted credit on a couple of Zero chocolate bars. They were dragging their heads out the place until they saw me. I caught them before they could reach the door and walked them back to the counter. Bought a Zero for everybody. We carried the candy back to my house, so we could swing our legs off the porch. And on finishing the bars and cleaning it from our hands as best we could… we sat. We looked out at Old Man’s cows across the road. Besides the heat and the mosquitoes tagging you on your legs, it was an all right place to sit, right above where the chickens hopped in and out of the crawl space, or I can also say, where Raymond used to sneak one of the Jones girls while I kept lookout, when I was single digit age and too worried about my job as lookout to hop down and peak in there at them, though I wanted to more than anything. Right above there, we sat. Where Peebo and Sam talked about not having to go to Walton’s farm. They talked about all those hills they had never seen from any other part of Georgia. The hills were on the other side of the pasture, where we could see that yes the world was round… the way it curves you’d think they would have noticed that earlier. Nobody should have ever mistaken it for flat. One did not have to get on a boat to know that there was nothing you could do with that horizon but let the imagination take over. We had never been many places, so thinking about what it was like on the other side of a distant hill was to fill our minds with stuff we had never seen with our own eyes but had gotten in there somehow, by some reading or telling of some kind. Beneath the hills were the cows, so we watched them. The different hide patterns sauntering in pace enough to keep up with the shade of a single sycamore. We didn’t worry about clipping the lawn or edging it. We didn’t worry like those living around here do now about springtime mulch spread around shrubs and trees to cover up the dull, deadened color of the mulch beneath it. The cows did it all. And we watched them. The sluggish cows are what I miss most about the South when I am away. It didn’t matter to them that they masticated, with rounded jaw motion, the grass from our land where barbwire imprisoned them, or that Old Man carried his shotgun across the road, whenever we needed to add to the stock in the smokehouse. I had always sat on our porch where I could look across the road and lose myself, lose track of the fact I am really sitting right there, front of the house. While Sam and Peebo sat with me, I told them the places I had been whenever I forgot I was sitting. And they would tell me they ain’t never been nowhere like that. That’s how the friendship began. See, it was one thing to get a couple of kids from White Hill over for a chocolate bar. It was another thing that had to occur, before the sense of divide between their world and my life out on Lou Walker was wiped from our minds. We managed. In the beginning the visits were few and spread, still Sam and Peebo started to see and go places too. We’d talk and talk and talk and let it take us all over, when we was doing nothing but sitting. Sitting and looking and dreaming. Mind traveling. I saw them more often. I saw them before and after church every Sunday, and Wednesdays at bible study, when they could get there. Peebo caught rides to town with Leelack, and I’d see him. Or he and Sam rode bikes up there, and I’d spot them, when they waved. Of course, I was up in town with my father’s okra, getting it weighed and ticketed by Mr. Scott. My father, who everyone in town called Old Man, including his children, was an okra and corn farmer. And he had cows and hogs that were mainly for the family’s food — the Pritchards, and the Candy Lady did come down the road in winter months. Our family got by on hefty harvest time meals, winter preserves, and on earnings from okra and corn and livestock, and this continued on up until three dozen cows were nearly the last thing left of the farm, and Old Man too old to do much else besides walk across the road with a feed bucket in one hand, while using the other to whistle. He would sell the cows off a little at a time, as he needed the money — mainly for taxes — not faster than the rate they popped out calves. When he died, he left the eight of us thirty-two cows, three or so hogs, two mules and a horse. Five of us had been in cities where we hadn’t dealt in cattle since childhood, when we worked long hours beside him every day, hating every minute of it. And he forever telling us how we’d soon have all of it — all we saw was ours, if we pulled it together and managed to acquire the sense of obligation to a solid work ethic — or telling us how we had it made… Marvin, Mary, Ken, Kaisha, Raymond, Rob, Rita, and I had it made. His father didn’t give him half the leisure we got. And in due time I would come to believe that. Papa Man… what we called my mother’s father… put us to work the moment he happened to drive up, as we were resting, after spending the early half of one day pounding in a whole line of fence post into a barely Why you don’t tell them that then, Duke, Rita told me, when I told her that I didn’t want to be a preacher or a farmer, because that was what Old Man (farmer) and my mother (preacher) wanted me to do with my life… and they had been telling me so ever since I can remember. She said that I should act like it. Act like the person I had conjured in my mind, be that person without shame. I couldn’t exist in my head forever. You scared you gonna break they heart, she said. But her life… she told me, that was what I should be concerning myself with, if I wanted an interesting story to yelp about. If I wanted to be the center of attention, I needed to know that stories were about struggle and conflict, falling or rising on up. Suffering for long enough… and then rising on up. Hers fit that demand. It was the more compelling and the one people paying attention to would sympathize with. They would feel the heroine in her story for sure, no question.