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Authors: Terry Southern

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Texas Summer (8 page)

BOOK: Texas Summer
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“I ain’t gonna fool around with them jars, C.K.”

C.K. sighed and started rolling another cigarette.

“Ah jest gonna twist up a few of them sticks now,” he explained, “an’ put them off to the side.”

“When’re you gonna smoke some of that other?” asked Harold.

“What, that heavy gage?” said C.K., raising his eyebrows as in surprise at the suggestion. “Shoot, that ain’t no workin’-hour gage there, that you
Sunday
gage...oh you mix a little bit of that into you light gage now and then you feel like it — but you got to be sure nobody goin’ to mess with you ’fore you turn that gage full on...’cause you jest wanna lay back then an’ take it easy.” He nodded to himself in agreement with this, his eyes intently watching his fingers work the paper. “You see...you don’t
swing
with you heavy gage, you jest
goof...
that’s what you call that. Now you light gage, you swing with you light gage...you con-trol that gage, you see. Say a man have to go out an’ work, why he able to
enjoy
that work. Like now you seen me turn on some of this light gage, didn’t you? Well, ah may have to go out with you daddy a little later on an’ string that fence wire, or work with my posthole digger, with my light gage on. Sho’, that’s you sociable gage, you light gage is — this here other, this heavy, well, that’s what you call you
thinkin’
gage...hee-hee. Shoot, I wouldn’t wantta even see no posthole digger I turn that gage full on!”

He rolled the cigarette up, slowly, licking it with great care.

“Yeah,” he said half-aloud, “...ole fruit-jar be fine for this light gage.” He chuckled. “That way we jest look right in there, know how much we got on hand at all time.”

“We got enough, I reckon,” said Harold, understating his view.

“Sho’ is,” said C.K. “More’n the law allows at that.”

“Is it against the law then sure enough, C.K.?” asked Harold in eager interest. “Like that Mex-can kept sayin’ it was?”

C.K. gave a soft laugh.

“Ah jest reckon it is,” he said, “...it’s against all kinda law — what we got here is. Sho’, they’s one law say you can’t have
none
of it, they put you in the jailhouse you do...then they’s another law say they catch you with more than this much” — he reached down and picked up a handful to show — “well, then you in real trouble. Sho’, you got more than that, why they say: ‘Now this man got more gage than he need for his personal use, he must be sellin’ it!’ Then they say you a ‘pusher.’ That’s what they call that, an’ boy ah mean they put you way back in the jailhouse then!” He gave Harold a severe look. “Ah don’t wanna tell you you business, you unnerstan’ what ah mean, Hal, but like ah say, ah wudn’t let on ’bout this to nobody — not to you frien’ Big Law’ence or any of them people.”

“Heck, don’t you think I know better than to do that?”

Harold spat, looking away, as though surprised that the thought could have occurred.

C.K. resumed his work, rolling the cigarettes, and Harold watched him for a few minutes and then stood up.

“I reckon I could get a fruit-jar outta the cellar,” he said, “if she ain’t awready brought ’em up for her cannin’.”

“That sho’ would be fine, Hal,” said C.K., without raising his head, licking the length of another thin stick of it. “Git two of ’em if you can.”

When Harold came back with the fruit-jars and the empty shell-box, they transferred the two piles into them.

“How come it’s against the law if it’s so all-fired good?” he wanted to know.

“Well now, ah used to study that myself,” said C.K., tightening the lid of the fruit-jar and giving it a pat. He laughed. “It ain’t ’cause it make young boys like you sick, ah tell you that much.”

“Well, what the heck is it then?”

C.K. put the fruit-jars beside the shell-box, placing them neatly, arranging them just so, in front of him, and seeming to consider the question while he was doing it.

“Ah tell you what it is,” he said then, “it’s ’cause a man see too much when he git high, that’s what. He see right through everthing...you understan’ what ah say?”

“What the heck are you talkin’ about?”

“Well, maybe you too young to know what ah talkin’ ’bout — but ah tell you they’s a lotta trickin’ an’ lyin’ go on in the world...they’s a lotta ole bull-crap go on in the world...well, a man git high, he see right through all them tricks an’ lies, an’ all that ole bull-crap. He see right through there into the truth of it.”

“Truth of what?”

“Everything.”

“Dang you sure talk crazy, C.K.”

“Sho’, they got to have it ’gainst the law. Shoot, ever’-body git high, wouldn’t be nobody git up an’ feed the chickens. Hee-hee...everybody jest lay in bed. Jest lay in bed till they ready to git up. Sho’, you take a man high on good gage, he got no use for they ole bull-crap, ’cause he done see through there. Shoot, he lookin’ right down into his very soul.”

“I ain’t never heard nobody talk so dang crazy, C.K.”

“Well, you young, Hal — you goin’ hear plenty crazy talk ’fore you is a growed man.”

“Shoot.”

“Now we got to think of us a good place to put this gage,” he said, “a secret place. Where you think, Hal?”

“How ’bout that old smokehouse out back — ain’t nobody goes in there.”

“Shoot, that’s a good place for it, Hal — you sure they ain’t goin’ tear it down no time soon?”

“Heck no, what would they tear it down for?”

C.K. laughed. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “Well, we take it out there after it git dark.”

They fell silent, sitting together in the early afternoon. Through the open end of the shed the bright light had inched across the dirt floor till now they were both sitting half in the soft full sunlight.

“Ah jest wish ah knowed whether or not you daddy gonna work on that south-quarter fence today,” said C.K. after a while.

“Aw, him and Les Newgate went over to Dalton,” said Harold. “Heck, I bet they ain’t back ’fore dark.” Then he added: “You think we oughtta go down to the tank?”

C.K. appeared to give it judicious thought, although brief.

“Ah think we do awright today,” he said glancing out at the blue sky and sniffing the air a little, “...shoot, we try some pork rind over at the second log — that’s jest where he be ’bout now.”

“We oughtta git started then,” said Harold. “Reckon we can jest leave that dang stuff here till dark...we can stick it back behind that firewood.”

“Sho’,” said C.K., “we stick it back in there for the time bein’ — an’ ah think ah twist up one or two more these ’fore we set out...put a taste of this heavy in ’em.” He laughed as he unscrewed the lid of the fruit-jar. “Shoot, this sho’ be fine for fishin’,” he said, “...ain’t nothin’ like good gage give a man the strength of patience — you want me to twist up one for you, Hal?”

Harold sighed. “Okay, but you lemme
lick
it, C.K.”

C.K. smiled, starting to twist up another. “Sho’,” he said softly, “that ain’t gonna hurt it none.”

IX

L
ATE EVENING AND
the farmhouse stood dark against the horizon, only one light burning in a room near the back.

Big Nail knelt in the shadow of the back porch listening intently for a long moment before creeping on all fours to the window and peering in. In the soft circle of lamplight from a table near the bed he could see the middle-aged couple lying there — the woman asleep with her hair up in curlers and he reading a folded newspaper. Sitting on the table, next to the lamp, was a small radio, dial glowing and fiddle music softly playing. It was “The Texas Farm and Home Program” from Waco, featuring country-and-western music, interspersed with market reports on the latest price of livestock and with special forecasts of corn and cotton futures. The music was being performed by W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. They were singing:

“Ah like mountain music

Good ole mountain music

Played by a real hillbilly band.”

Crouched in the shadows, only a few feet away, Big Nail was scarcely aware of the music, as the fingers of his right hand slowly uncovered a large heavy rock in the soft earth beneath the window.

“Ah love that country rhythm

Ah jest play right with ’em

It’s jest the bestest band what am.”

In the bed the woman stirred and raised a hand to her head. The man mistook her gesture.

“I’m finished,” he said, “if that’s what you’re about to start up on...” He dropped the folded newspaper to the floor and switched off the table lamp. “I reckon you want the radio off too.”

She gave an elaborate sigh. “Leroy, that ain’t what I was gonna say. I was
gonna
say that I felt right uneasy tonight.”

“How come?”

“Well, I
don’t know
how come.” Her impatience had turned to irritation. “But would you please leave the radio on? It’s a comfort.”

The man grunted. “Well, jest don’t leave it on all goddam night,” he said, and he pulled his pillow on top of his head and went straight to sleep — indeed so quickly that he failed to hear the creak of the board at the sill of the bedroom door.

“Roy,” his wife whispered suddenly, “there’s some-thin’...”

But Roy did not stir. And there was no more sound, except the radio’s drone, until his wife screamed at the top of her voice: “Oh my God! Roy! Where’s the gun at? Roy!”

With only the orange glow from the radio dial illuminating the room, events there were seen in the most obscure and unreal way — predominantly the horrific countenance of Big Nail, moving inexorably closer, and very fast, yet caught up for a terrible instant, highlighted in the radio-glow by a thousand beads of perspiration. The woman also moved quickly and was half out of the bed when the first blow of the rock in Big Nail’s hand struck her behind the ear with tremendous force, the heavy rock that then struck the man still in bed time and time again.

And the nasal twang of “Pappy” O’Daniel was unrelenting:

“Ah’ve heard Hi-wah-yans play

In the land of Wicky-Wacky

But ah must say

They can’t beat ‘Turkey in the

Straw,’ by cracky.”

Later that same year, “Pappy” O’Daniel ran for governor of Texas and was elected by a landslide.

X

U
SING A RUSTY TIRE-IRON
C.K. slowly pried the old corral fence-board, weathered and broken, away from the post, which creaked and groaned as the nails were gradually wrenched out of the hardwood post that had held the board for so many years.

Farther along the fence, Harold was attempting to remove another board, by executing a series of whirling karate type back-kicks in its direction.

Having taken off one board, C.K. picked up another one-by-six, aged but sound, and started nailing it in place. While he hammered he sang one abrupt verse, Paul Robeson style:

“Dere ain’t no ham-mah

Dat can ringa like mine, boy...”

Harold, having successfully connected with one of his kicks, yelled over at C.K.: “Hey, C.K.! Look!
Kay-
rotty de-fence! Aiee-ee!”

He attempted another whirling kick to demonstrate his technique on a broken section of fence-board, missed, and fell down in a graceless fashion.

“Dang it,” he said and got up quickly, brushing himself off.

C.K. laughed. “Say ‘Kay-whut kinda rotty fence’? Hee-hee...look like you ‘Kay’ ain’t no good ’gainst this rotty ole fence, hee-hee-hee!”

He resumed hammering and singing, while Harold glared at him, before blurting out: “You can’t sing worth a dang, C.K.! What kinda dumbell old nigger-song is that anyhow?”

C.K. looked at him with half-closed eyes and assumed a mockingly supercilious tone: “Well, that there jest happen to be a ver’ famous ole Negra-song — sung by famous ole Negra slaves...all obah dis worl’.”

Harold, still rubbing his knee, didn’t laugh. “I reckon you think you’re bein’ smart, don’t you?”

And C.K. got slightly annoyed in turn.

“No,” he said quietly, “but ah tell you what ah do think — ah think we bettah git on with this fence patching ’fore you daddy come out an’ start kickin’ ass — namely, you ass an’ mine!”

Harold frowned darkly. “Dang it, sometime I can’t believe how crazy you are! Now watch this and learn something! This is Kung Fu
Kay-
rotty, a really old and ancient art of defense.”

He took a careful stance, and tried the kick again.

“Aiee-eee!”

This time he managed to connect, and knocked off a dangling piece of the rotten fence-board.

“See there,” he said, brushing his hands, “‘
Kay-
rotty
de
fense!’ That’s what they call that! I’ll show you how to do it some time.”

“Awright,” said C.K., “ah could use myself some good
de-
fense.”

“Yeah,” said Harold with a short laugh, “you ain’t just a’wolfin’ you could — from what I hear tell.”

“Say what?”

“You heard me.”

“Ah hear you tryin’ to
signify
somethin’ you don’t know what you tryin’ to signify — that’s what ah hear.”

“Yeah, well I heard that you’re still messin’ aroun’ with somebody else’s woman — namely, Big Nail’s!”

C.K.’s eyes widened in mock astonishment. “Cora Lee Lawson? Where you hear that?”

“Aw come on, C.K., everybody says that.”

“Well, ah don’t know you ‘Mistuh
Everbody,
’ but he be ‘Mistuh
Wrongbody,
’ he say that. Ah ain’t study that with Cora Lee — she fambily. Ah take care her boy, Booker, that’s what ah do. Booker be ’bout you age, Hal, he like my brother. He a good boy — you meet him someday. Shoot, ah think you like ole Booker. Anyhow, me an’ Cora Lee be nobody business but us.”

“Well, I just think you must be crazy to mess aroun’ with her, after he’s awready killed somebody for doin’ it.”

“Uh-huh, well, like ah say, you don’t have to study none ’bout that, ’cause you don’t know what you talkin’ ’bout.”

“Well, how come they call him ‘Big Nail’ anyhow?”

“’Cause before he own a knife or a razor, he carry a sixty-penny nail — he use that ’stead of a knife...”

“Is that what he used to kill that guy with?”

“No, by that time he be usin’ his razor.”

Harold was impressed. “Dang, he must sure be tough.”

C.K. chuckled. “He ain’t tough, he jest ugly.”

“Uh-huh,” said Harold at his most skeptical. “Well, I sure wouldn’t want to tangle with him.”

C.K. smiled. “Well, ah jest don’t think you ever be called on to do so, my man.”

“An’ neither should you,” added Harold in an instant of concern.

“Ah reckon not,” said C.K. almost absently.

Harold’s new calf wandered out of the barn and into the corral.

“How come you’ calf ain’t out to pasture?” asked C.K.

“I brung ’im in to weigh him — shoot, I bet he’s gained a full pound, maybe two, since yesterday. I’m gonna take him over later on an’ weigh ’im on Les Newgate’s cotton scale.”

C.K. stopped working, walked across to the calf, and looked at it. “Yep, he puttin’ it on awright...” He carefully encircled the calf’s chest with his arms and lifted it.

“How much you think he weighs now?” asked Harold.

“Ah say sebenty, sebenty-five...”

“Lemme see.” Harold went over and, with much greater effort, lifted the calf.

“Dang!” said Harold, lowering it, “feels like more than that to me! Feels more like a sack of feed — they weigh a hunnert.”

“Well, that’s jest ’cause you cain’t git no good grip on a calf, you see, an’ you usin’ different muscle to lift, that’s all that is.”

They returned to their work. “Shoot,” said Harold, “I just bet you anything he weighs more than seventy-five pounds.”

“Maybe,” said C.K., then smiled, sly and mischievous. “Now ah tell you a secret, Hal — ’bout how you can use this calf to win a lotta money an’
im-
press all you friends, an’ all you fambly.”

Harold stared at the calf. “What the heck are you talkin’ about now, C.K.?”

“Awright, you know how you done lift that calf off the ground jest now?”

“Yeah.”

“Well now you is a strong boy, Hal, an’ you gonna git stronger. All you gotta do is lift that calf one time ever day.”

“Huh?”

“Now say this calf gain one pound weight by this time tomorrow, you still be able to lift it, ain’t that right? I mean, you be able to lift jest one more pound, ain’t that right?”

“One more pound? Heck yes.”

“An’ next day, too — you be able to lift that calf if it just weigh one more pound than day before.”

“Uh-huh.”

“An’ you be able to lift that calf ever day it weigh only one more pound than the last time you lift it — you unnerstan’ what I say?”

“Yes, dang it!”

“Awright, say that calf gain one pound weight ever day an’ you liftin’ it off the ground ever day — in about two year’ time you be liftin’ a eight-hunnert-pound
steer!
Now what you think ’bout that?”

“Huh?”

C.K. assumed a dramatic stance. “That’s right,” he proclaimed in an announcer’s voice, “you, Hal W. Stevens, be the first man in history able to lift a eight-hunnert-pound steer clean off the ground! Shoot, Hal, we make us some good money on this if you keep at it! Hee-hee!”

Harold, annoyed at having been tricked, stared at C.K. with a look of infinite exasperation.

“You keep at it, you’re gonna get somethin’ you ain’t lookin’ for...”

C.K. laughed. “Like what? Some of you rotty ole Kung-fence-Fu? Hee-hee-hee...”

“You’ll see,” said Harold grimly.

C.K. stared at him thoughtfully for a moment.

“You know what you got to do, Hal — ah mean aside from liftin’ this calf ever day — you got to work on you sense of huma’.”

“My what?”

“You don’t know what sense of huma’ is?” Contorting his face, he went through a series of laughs: “Hee-hee-hee...ho-ho-ho...har-har-har...see what ah mean?”

Harold glared at him, hopeless. “Will you jest git on with what you’re suppose to be doin’ and stop playin’ the dang fool.”

“Yessuh, massaboss,” said C.K., and he resumed hammering and singing, while Harold continued to glare before going back to practice his ancient art of manly defense.

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