Thur property backt uptuh arrs as fur back as I can recall. They’on’t live but o’er at fence what marks off arr land from whuts thurs. I ain’t seen none uh them Breckinridge bawz up long the fence too much, eben though theys three ovum clostuh me in age. Reckon they’on’t laik the woods too much. Er hell, could be they just got too much land, don’t know what tuh do with.
They’ve alweez had at land. Land goes back past the Great War, hurt my Papaw tell.
You don’t hear much outta the Breckinridges. Cept fur thur one boy, a retard, hollers all night long “laik a rabbit at’s done seen the devil on’nis side,” says my Papaw.
Papaw usetuh tell us a story bout em fore the Great War broke out. Said thur people was furr-off kin tuh Mary Todd’s, up err in Lexuntun. When Mary Todd come down ere tuh ask bout families stayin with thur state, er a-goin on with the Yankees, well, ol Breckinridge, at’d be Cuthbert, great-great grandpaw uh old man Breckinridge, was a-sittin’ right thur on a porch in Lexuntun.
Mary Todd’s people a-lookin round, not a-wantin tuh stur the pot, ol Breckinridge looks up, not a-wantin tuh butt in, but feelin the silence all round im, an says, “Well, Mrs Todd Lincoln, we Breckinridges, if it be any concern to the president, shall remain with our commonwealth.”
They usetuh call Mary Todd the Hellcat, cordintuh Papaw. Well, she staret down at Cuthbert – eben tappt her little foot laik an ol hen a-noddin its beak. An Ol Man Cuthbert swangin in a rockin cheer, slowly pushin back an forth makin the pinewood slats give out a little squake with eber swang.
I’ll be damnt where I stand if Cuthbert diddun look up at err, sqarr in the eyes, take up is hat an leave without sayin a word. An “ufrunt,” said my Papaw, then he’d git-tuh grinnin.
I never did usetuh sneak ontuh the Breckinridge’s land. I’d run laik hell fur no good reason, makin danger outtuh this ur that, an then I’d lose track uh muhself till I felt uh at scraggly ol neon-green crabgrass hit muh cheek on arr side when I felt ober. Iffur addin uh been no fence, well you’d-uh still seen em eben rows uh Breckinridge rye-grass on the other side, cut diagnell to the grain, an shimmerin.
I toll muh Dad he orta plant some rye-grass on arr side. That was two years ago, I reckon.
“That thur rye-grass, it on’t look too bad.”
“What you want rye-grass fur, regler grass ain’t done fur ye?”
“Tarred uh seein’t, I reckon.”
My daddy’d done turnt back tuh makin dinner, cuttin up onions straight in the beans. He’d sharpent at black knaif so much it had a curve runnin down the steel. Evur time he cut that blade’d push out a little whait onion juice an the onion’d take just bout a half-second tuh give. Then that tiny thud gainst his sooty, hard fanger.
You ever see a man got crabgrass sproutin up in patches? I seen it ruint a naice yard er two, laik if you was-tuh see a man whats grass was alweez perfect, then all the sudden sells his house tuh’nother man don’t curr bout seed an sod an the laik. Second man’ll let them pillowy, eben rows git plum eat up with’at teethy ol yella-n-green crabgrass. A big ol stubborn patch, too nasty tuh let nothin else grow up near uvit, an island uh weeds.
Err a dirt sea. That’s how arr small patch is, dirt and patches uh nayon yella crabgrass. Daddy don’t give a shit, Papaw’s too olt.
I reckon thems the only taims I seen’em Breckinridge boys, when they was mowin at purty patch uh ryegrass at backs up to arr fence. Nearest thang tuh’at fence is full 250 yards yonder, carvt in by a little road whur they keep thur tractors by them eben rows uh ryegrass.
Thur house is on up at road a piece, backs up-tuh a crick what makes the western border uh thur farm. Thur house sits near the crick, what I’d reckon tuh be the northwest part uh that big tract uh land. At land whats alweez been thurs.
Back up the crick a piece, past whur the mayun road heads off inta town a few mails north, thurs the holler whur the Coxes an the other uh them poor folk in the holler live at. The Coxes live plum at the end. “Be glad you ain’t no goddamn Cox, son,” says muh Papaw, them “blue-skinnt” folk back ur.
But I done seen at pole way at the end uh the holler. Sets up clar up the northern corner, whur the woods curl round an create it, laik a stage fur a play what only God can see. An I done been up early nuff.
An I done seen how tender’n red Milly Cox’s neck’ll get when she looks tarrt at school.
Milly wears them jellies tuh school, them sandals whats made uh plastic bands-at squeak when she walks, coverin up brown socks with green whurr the toes is. Sturs at them thangs whole day long. I seen a boy one time, Carter Dougherty, a junior I thank, plum take uh-holt uver shoulders an shake er. Laik she wuddin nothin but uh burlap sac.
“Milly, Milly! Yer daddy’s comin!” he yelt. “Hide! Hide, Milly!”
Milly just pickt up her book, went raight back at them green-toed, dirty socks, walkt off.
Milly Cox, she’s got some brothers, don’t do nothin but run round the trash out front uh thur trailer. Them poor boys all got skin laik wax paper, an thur eyes sit way back in skinny little heads ain’t big nuff fur thur bodies. They look atcha through them big sockets, laik caves with the blue uh thur veins streamin all the way backtuh thur eyeballs. An whait! You ain’t neber seen whaiter skin than the Coxes. At’s whur the crick done goes on up in the mountain.
Igo Mountain. From the southeast I come.
Doc Breckinridge saw me one day, a-sneakin round his land. I’s just thur tuh get closer’n I’d been tuh’at barn. An tuh run out on at rye-grass a piece.
I’s 11 at the taim. It was fall an the leaves had done thur changin, had started tuh all look brown’n ornj, laik swirls uh rust an puss gainst the hills.
I got well up tuh five yards tuh that old yaller barn, with whait trim, an I thought I’d have me a look at thur mowers, threshers’n such. I ain’t neber seen em stowt, them John Deere tractors. Bushwhacker, too. Papaw don’t curr if I take smoke, but my Daddy’ll pretint it borthers im. Thought I’d partake of one uh them too.
I’d stole a pack uh Lucky Strikes from at tobaccer express store round about arr middle school, tolt the owner I’s a-wantin a laighter fur muh daddy. Soon as he turnt round, well, I just shovt a pack Luckies, one uh Virginia Slim Light 100 Menthols an a can uh Copenhagen down by breeches. Diddun much want the Slim Light 100 Menthols, but they was thur all a-suddin.
Copenhagen made me sick in muh head, had-tuh lay down an sweat, then puke up brown’n green juice fur a half-arr er so. But I kindly laikt the smokes.
Well, I come round the corner uh that yaller barn, door waid open. But soon as I went for at door, the air changed, got thick an eber grain uh dirt under muh boots tooktuh makin the awfullest racket. Eber creak an pop stayt in the air laik a song at’s got-tuh hoverin in yer ear deep down, pullin yah twort sleep. Soon as the one ‘uhd startet tuh fade another’n’d join in, laik the quarr at First Baptist Church in Coney.
At crackin an at poppin langert in the air till it was deep an thick. Air laiktuh freeze soon as I came in, colt and crisp. Soon as a rush uh colt air comes upon me a’hint the door I see a tractor an three burrells, two layin on thur saids an one set up. It smellt uh old hay an rotten wood an the sweet smell aull’ll take when it’s done seprut from a gas mix.
They diddun really startle me when they come up.
Doc Breckinridge had one uh them voices, clar as a bell, an with a rangin on the end uh each word laik he was holdin ontuh the last bit just a little longer tuh push on its meanin: “Mister Lykins, what are you up to in my barn, milling about those barrels as if they contain something of interest to you?” Emil was there too.
Doc Breckinridge’s voice cut through’t, partin all the muffle. He put his thumb in his pocket a-restin four fangers on what sure as the world looktuh be dress-pants. His fangers were long, clean, an I thought I hurt em tappin on the hem uh them thick dress pants.
“I – I hurt a commotion down’ere, Doctor Breckinridge, an thought I better come down, take a look.”
“A commotion? What sort of a commotion did you hear, son?” Emil staret at somethin beyond the barn, laik a hardent mule won’t look you in the face.
“It sounded laik this here tractor was a-chokin out.”
Emil kept gazin at Lord knows what, sun beatin down on his forehead. Doc Breckinridge lookt down at me an cockt his head tuh the side, peerin at me narrower now, askin a question with his wranklt brow.
“Well, I diddun see nobody an knew at tractor shouldun been on … an I – I’s aimintuh come down here an help y’all out, but I ain’t seen nobody down ere, laik I say, an I diddun know what come over me tuh blieve I hurt it chokin.” I lookt at Doc Breckinridge. “I ain’t sure what I was a-hearin, Doctor Breckinridge, my Papaw’ll hear a train ain’t run through here in thirty-odd year, but he’s an old man, an I just reckon I come down on accident, but I was aimin tuh help you an –”
I cut off when I seen fur the first taim at Emil was a-holdin his daddy’s other hand, not taight-laik, but laik thur two arms maight just start a-swayin back an forth in the wind if they’d been half a breeze up in that thick ol air out’uh the barn. At boy’s 14 year old.
I reckon Doctor Breckinridge notict me noticin, but he diddun move that hand fur nothin. Kept on with at laight touch. The other hand a-tappin, laik a Sunday woman.
“Well, son, I do thank ye for checking to see about a sound at wasn’t there coming from a choking engine emitting no smoke. Hearing things can take innocent turns – and otherwise.”
Emil lookt at me for the first taim.
“I don’t suppose I should let your father know of this, as your intention was certainly a pure one, perhaps even a noble one; but, I would ask you to first just pick up a telephone – did they stretch the line up to your trailer yet? – Oh, yes, that was as late as last year, wasn’t it? Anyway, just pick up the phone and dial. We are just as interested in phantom tractors as you are.”
Thur’s this copse what overlooks Cox’s holler my daddy’on’t know I go to. It ain’t on acccount uh the Cox’s, but thurs a break in the ridge’er, an right up next the copse runs a little bit’uh cave rock whats covert up with laichen. Purtiest tulip poplar hangs raight over at mossy-soft rock.
Look down on Cox’s Holler an’ you can see the Cox’s trailer alraight.
Milly diddun looktuh rair back er nothin, at one night. She kept on starin at the smasht-up, sandy dirt outside the Cox trailer, but she ain’t have em brown-green socks tuh stare at. Mr. Cox ain’t needtuh push’er.
His whait truck came roarin up the holler. I felt uh the dead big leaf maple what fell in front uh that purty poplar. The bough was dry, an as I dug my fangers in tween the bark lains I could feel uh the smaller cracks an ridges in the lains, laik some endless, bone-dry riverbed. The ridges kept gettin smaller an smaller till I couldun make out newuns. Eben-no I knewt it was them, I laiktuh rip up tween one of the smallest ones when Doc Breckinridge an Emil steppt down from the doctor’s Ford.
Cox diddun look back, kept on a-leadin Millie, boots a-clompin down, back bowt ovur. Door slammt. Emil took a-holt uh his daddy’s hand in front uh the whait Ford.
Mr. Cox has a coal-black beard an eyes shovt way back in is skull laik a goat. He diddun shake from at look, them buried eyes an at mouth what only sounded when his beard tooktuh shakin.
I couldun make out neither eye nor beard from up the copse. But I hurt Cox, saw Dr. Breckinridge tappin four fangers on his dungarees, grass-staynet an dusty, after he let go uh Emil. He diddun move a muscle, laik a statue he stood fore at truck while Emil follerred Millie Cox an her daddy tuh the lumnum pole what came out thick an staunch from a clearin in the tall grass.
Then I seen Dr. Breckinridge go ober’n get what lookttuh be a black bag out’uh the pickup. He slammt Emil’s open door shut, but moseyed back easy to’s truck. Helt the bag in t’other hand, but I could tell from up behind at maple tree that it wuddin no taight grip. He let it balance off them whait fangers, all gentle and long.
Mr. Cox jerkt his head back from the rope comin from halfway up the pole. He cusst it, diddun look back at the doctor er Millie, who was raight next to’im, hollert oncet in Emil’s direction.
Lookt forwart and huncht.
Cox fumblt with the loop in the rope.
Cox cusst an cusst till I.
Millie lookt up Igo mountain, out.
“Git on up’eer, you cat.