Wednesday, 27 August 2008

27 August 2008

ing dishes on South Main street. But I knew nothing about picking cotton. I spent too much time disengaging the white ball from its crackly bed; the others did it in one flick. Moreover my fingertips began to bleed; I needed gloves, or more experience. There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same Godblessed patience their grandfathers had practised in prewar Alabama: they moved right along their rows, bent and blue, and their bags increased. My back began to ache. But it was beautiful kneeling and hiding in that earth: if I felt like resting I did, with my face on the pillow of brown moist earth. Birds sang an accompaniment. I thought I had found my life’s work. Bea and Raymond came waving at me across the field in the hot lullal noon and pitched in with me. Be damned if little Raymond wasn’t faster than I was!---and of course Bea was twice as fast. They worked a-head of me and left me piles of clean cotton to add to my bag, Bea workmanlike piles, Raymond little childly piles. I stuck them in with sorrow. What kind of an old man was I that I couldn’t support his own ass let alone theirs. They spent all afternoon with me. When the sun got red we trudged back together. At the end of the field I unloaded my burden on a scale, it weighed a pound and a half, and I got a buck fifty. Then I borrowed one of the Okie boys’ bicycle and rode down 99 to a crossroads grocer store where I bought cans of cooked spaghetti and meatballs, bread, butter, coffee and cake, and came back with the bag on the handlebars. LA-bound traffic zoomed by; Frisco—bound harassed my tail. I swore and swore. I looked up at the dark sky and prayed to God for a better break in life and a better chance to do something for the little people I loved. Nobody was paying attention to me up there. I should have known better. It was Bea who brought my soul back: on the tent stove she warmed up the food and it was one of the greatest meals of my life. Sighing like an old Negro cottonpicker, I reclined on the bed and smoked a cigarette. Dogs barked in the cool night. Freddy and Ponzo had given up calling in the evenings. I was satisfied with that. Bea curled up beside me, Raymond sat on my chest, and they drew pictures of animals in my notebook. The light of our tent burned on

No comments: