The Convict and Other Stories - Page 45
“I done told you, it was me they was trying to kill. All them people out there, they’d like me drug behind a car. But that don’t make no nevermind, do it? You worried about some no-good nigger that put a dirk in my neck and cost me eight years.”
“You get out of here,” my father said.
“I ain’t going nowhere. You done already broke the law. You got to help me.”
“Go back to the house, son.”
I was frightened by the sound in my father’s voice.
“What you doing?” the convict said.
“Do what I say. I’ll be along in a minute,” my father said.
“Listen, I ain’t did you no harm,” the convict said.
“Avery!” my father said.
I backed away through the trees, my eyes fixed on the shotgun that my father now leveled at the convict’s chest. In the moonlight I could see the sweat running down the Negro’s face.
“I’m throwing away the knife,” he said.
“Avery, you run to the house and stay there. You hear me?”
I turned and ran through the dark, the tree limbs slapping against my face, the morning-glory vines on the ground tangling around my ankles like snakes. Then I heard the twelve-gauge explode, and by the time I ran through the back screen into the house I was crying uncontrollably.
A moment later I heard my father’s boot on the back step. Then he stopped, pumped the spent casing out of the breech, and walked inside with the shotgun over his shoulder and the red shells visible in the magazine. I knew then that neither he, my mother, nor I would ever know happiness again.
He took his bottle of Four Roses out of the cabinet and poured a jelly glass half full. He drank from it, then took a cigar stub out of his shirt pocket, put it between his teeth, and leaned on his arms against the drainboard. The muscles in his back stood out as though a nail were driven between his shoulder blades. Then he seemed to realize for the first time that I was in the room.
“Hey there, little fellow. What are you carrying on about?” he said.
“You killed a man, Daddy.”
“Oh no, no. I just scared him and made him run back in the marsh. But I have to call the sheriff now, and I’m not happy about what I have to tell him.”
I didn’t think I had ever heard more joyous words. I felt as though my breast, my head, were filled with light, that a wind had blown through my soul. I could smell the bayou on the night air, the watermelons and strawberries growing beside the barn, the endlessly youthful scent of summer itself.
Two hours later my father and mother stood on the front lawn with the sheriff and watched four mud-streaked deputies lead the convict in manacles to a squad car. The convict’s arms were pulled behind him, and he smoked a cigarette with his head tilted to one side. A deputy took it out of his mouth and flipped it away just before they locked him in the back of the car behind the wire screen.
“Now, tell me this again, Will. You say he was here yesterday and you gave him some canned goods?” the sheriff said. He was a thick-bodied man who wore blue suits, a pearl-gray Stetson, and a fat watch in his vest pocket.
“That’s right. I cleaned up the cut on his chest and I gave him a flashlight, too,” my father said. Mother put her arm in his.
“What was that fellow wearing when you did all this?”
“A green-and-white work uniform of some kind.”
“Well, it must have been somebody else because I think this man stole that shirt and pants soon as he got out of the prison van. You probably run into one of them niggers that’s been setting traps out of season.”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I helped the fellow in that car to get away.”
“The same man who turned him in also helped him escape? Who’s going to believe a story like that, Will?” The sheriff tipped his hat to my mother. “Good night, Mrs. Broussard. You drop by and say hello to my wife when you have a chance. Good night, Will. And you, too, Avery.”
We walked back up on the porch as they drove down the dirt road through the sugarcane fields. Heat lightning flickered across the blue-black sky.
“I’m afraid you’re fated to be disbelieved,” Mother said, and kissed my father on the cheek.
“It’s the battered innocence in us,” he said.