Old Mike's Body

I didn’t like playing Legend of Boggy Creek. Leonard was always the Fouke Monster, and our cousin Odie and my little brother Jack would go into the woods looking for him. I liked going out to East Texas but I didn’t like playing Legend of Boggy Creek.

Odie would say, “He’s real, Jordan.”

He’s your big brother and too old to be playing in the woods, I thought.

Jack grinned. Even Odie knew what I was thinking. I don’t talk much. Not at all anybody can hear. Why should I? People complained at first, but then they got used to it. Sometimes I think they even kinda like me a little better quiet as I am. I ain’t deaf. And I hate the word dumb. People use stupid words for things they don’t understand.

I like not talking, because some of the things I think, I figure I ought not say to anybody anyway. Like that I know the whole world’s alive, and I mean really alive to speak and all. It’s just some can hear it and some can’t. Not everything talks to me but Uncle Darwin’s house did the morning before. I felt sorry for Uncle Darwin and Aunt Betty and our cousins, the coal company making them sell what Uncle Darwin had built with his own hands—he’d learned brick laying in the army, he said, “Over in Japan after the war.”

Don’t let the digger git me, said the house.

I’d been up earlier than anybody but Mamaw that day and she give me a biscuit and sausage and I went down the road to Uncle Darwin and Aunt Betty’s. I went through the woods that used to go so far you could get lost and sat at the edge where all the trees and every sawbriar and all the flowers and weeds had been cut and hauled out to make room for the dragline way off in the distance. It was so big you could still see it good. That cleared out land looked like the moon under Neil Armstrong’s foot when I was little and the TV showed him and Buzz Aldrin walking on it.

Papaw had told me how the digger—what he called the dragline—had to walk to move, it was so big. And he was right. Even that far away you could see it lift a big foot on its side and move it on ahead and then stand up the whole dragline bigger than a house and set down further on. I watched it walking a long time before it reached out to make the first cut. The crane bent in front and the bucket touched down like it was trying not to wake up the earth underneath it, and then it pulled back a stretch of dirt like it was a giant peeling an orange. The crane swung up the bucket and the whole thing turned toward Uncle Darwin’s house like it was teasing it, and then the bucket curled up like a big hand and dropped a whole hill of dirt that would of covered our backyard back in Mesquite.

I watched it until I heard them yelling for me to come in for breakfast at Uncle Darwin’s. I come out of the woods and you could see how nice the house was to be one out in the country like that. Uncle Darwin had built it where Mamaw and Papaw used to have a wood house and their old outhouse still sat behind the backyard, even though nobody used it anymore. Leonard and Odie were country cousins all right, even if they had a brick house like us in Mesquite.

“Don’t work no higher’n corn nor lower’n taters,” Uncle Darwin liked to say. Everybody quoted him on that. “Take the ground and make it square, stack ’em up and looky there.” Seemed like he was near as old as Papaw, even though he’d married my daddy’s sister. Uncle Darwin had been all over the world before he bought the old place and built on it.

I felt sorry for them having to move soon, but also for their house. Uncle Darwin’s hands was as red as bricks and about as worn. They’d try to get away from him when he lit his cigarettes. If his hands had touched all them bricks, then something of life had gone into them added to the straw and mud he said made them up to begin with. If we was made of mud and that was alive, and bricks are too, then why don’t people think a brick is alive as much as them?

Cause they’re too busy talking to listen.