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The white boy came into the open-end, dirt-floor shed where the Negro was sitting on the ground against the wall reading a Western Story magazine.
In one hand the boy was carrying a pillowcase that was bunched out at the bottom, about a third filled with something, and when the Negro looked up it appeared from his smile that he knew well enough what it was.
"What you doin', Hal', bringin' in the crop?"
The white boy's name was Harold; the Negro pronounced it Hal'.
The white boy walked on over to one side of the shed where the kindling was stacked and pulled down an old sheet of newspaper which he shook out to full size and spread in front of the Negro. He dumped the gray-grass contents of the pillowcase onto the paper, and then straightened up to stand with his hands on his hips, frowning down at it. He was twelve years old.
The Negro was looking at it, too; but he was laughing. He was about thirty-five, and he laughed sometimes in a soft, almost soundless way, shaking his head as though this surely was the final irony, while his face, against very white teeth, gleamed with the darks of richest pipebriar. His name was C.K.
"Sho' is a lotta gage," he said.
He reached out a hand and rolled a dry pinch of it between his thumb and forefinger.
"You reckon it's dried out enough?" the boy asked, nasal, sounding almost querulous, as he squatted down opposite. "Shoot, I don't wantta leave it out there no more —not hangin' on that dang sycamore anyway —it's beginnin' to look too funny." He glanced out the end of the shed toward the big white farmhouse that was about thirty yards away. "Heck, Dad's been shootin' dove down in there all week—I was down there this mornin' and that damned old dog of Les Newgate's was runnin' round with a piece of it in his mouth! I had to git it away from 'im 'fore they seen it."
The Negro took another pinch of it and briskly crushed it between his flat palms, then held them up, cupped, smelling it.
"They wouldn't of knowed what it was noway," he said.
"You crazy?" said Harold, frowning. "You think my Dad don't know Mex'can loco-weed when he sees it?"
"Don't look much like no loco-weed now though, do it?" said the Negro flatly, raising expressionless eyes to the boy.
"He's seen it dried out, too, I bet," said the boy, loyally, sullen, but looking away.
"Sho' he is," said C.K., weary and acid. "Sho', I bet he done blow a lot of it too, ain't he? Sho', why I bet you daddy one of the biggest ole hop-heads in Texas—I bet he smoke it an' eat it an' just anyway he can git it into his ole haid! Hee-hee!" He laughed at the mischievous image. "Ain't that right, Hal'?"
"You crazy?" demanded Harold, frowning terribly; he took the Negro's wrist. "Lemme smell it," he said.
He drew back after a second.
"I can't smell nothin' but your dang sweat," he said.
"'Course not," said C.K., frowning in his turn, and brushing his hands, "you got to git it jest when the flower break—that's the boo-kay of the plant, you see, that's what we call that."
"Do it again," said Harold.
"I ain't goin' do it again," said C.K., peevish, closing his eyes for a moment, "... it's jest a waste on you—I do it again, you jest say you smell my sweat. You ain't got the nose for it noway—you got to know you business 'fore you start foolin' round with this plant."
"I can do it, C.K.," said the boy earnestly, "come on, dang it!"
The Negro sighed, elaborately, and selected another small bud from the pile.
"Awright now when I rub it in my hand," he said sternly, "you let out you breath—then I cup my hand, you put your nose in an' smell strong ... you got to suck in strong thru you nose!"
They did this.
"You smell it?" asked C.K.
"Yeah, sort of," said Harold, leaning back again.
"That's the boo-kay of the plant—they ain't no smell like it."
"It smells like tea," said the boy.
"Well, now that's why they calls it that, you see—but it smell like somethin' else too."
"Like mighty fine gage, that's what."
"Well, whatta you keep on callin' it that for?" asked the boy crossly, "... that ain't what that Mex'can called it neither—he called it 'pot.'"
"That ole Mex," said C.K., brushing his hands and laughing, "he sho' were funny, weren't he? ... thought he could pick cotton ... told me he used to pick-a-bale-a-day! I had to laugh when he say that ... oh, sho', you didn't talk to that Mex'can like I did—he call it lotta things. He call it 'baby,' too! Hee-hee. Yeah, he say: 'Man, don't forgit the baby now!' He mean bring a few sticks of it out to the field, you see, that's what he mean by that. He call it 'charge,' too. Sho'. Them's slang names. Them names git started people don't want the police nobody like that to know they business, you see what I mean? Sho', they make up them names, go on an' talk about they business nobody know what they sayin', you see what I mean."
He stretched his legs out comfortably and crossed his hands over the magazine that was still in his lap.
"Yes indeed," he said after a minute, staring at the pile on the newspaper, and shaking his head, "I tell you right now, boy—that sho' is a lotta gage."
About two weeks earlier, on a day when C.K. wasn't helping Harold's father, they had gone fishing together, Harold and C.K., and on the way back to the house that afternoon, Harold had stopped and stood looking into an adjacent field, a section of barren pasture-land where the cows almost never went, but where there was a cow at that moment, alone, lying on its stomach, with its head stretched out on the ground in front of it.
"What's wrong with that dang cow?" he demanded, not really of C.K., but himself, or perhaps of God—though in a sense it was C.K. who was responsible for the stock, it being his job at least to take them out to pasture and back each day.
"She do seem to be takin' it easy, don't she?" said C.K., and they went through the fence and started towards her. "Look like ole Maybelle," he said, squinting his eyes at the distance.
"I ain't never seen a cow act like that before," said Harold crossly, "... layin' there with her head on the ground like a damned old hound-dog."
The cow didn't move when they reached it, just stared up at them; she was chewing her cud, in a rhythmic and contented manner.
"Look at that dang cow," Harold muttered, ever impatient with enigma, "... it is old Maybelle, ain't it?" He felt of her nose and then began kicking her gently on the flank. "Git up, dang it."
"Sho' that's ole Maybelle," said C.K., patting her neck, "what's the matter with you, Maybelle?"
Then C.K. found it, a bush of it, about twenty feet away, growing in the midst of a patch of dwarf-cactus, and he was bent over it, examining it with great care.
"This here is a full-growed plant," he said, touching it in several places, gently bending it back, almost caressingly. Finally he stood up again, hands on his hips, looking back at the prostrate cow.
"Must be mighty fine gage," he said.
"Well, I ain't never seen loco-weed make a cow act like that," said Harold, as if that were the important aspect of the incident, and he began absently kicking at the plant.
"That ain't no ordinary loco-weed," said C.K., "... that there is red-dirt marijuana, that's what that is."
Harold spat, frowning.
"Shoot," he said then, "I reckon we oughtta pull it up and burn it."
"I reckon we oughtta," said C.K.
They pulled it up.
"Don't gen'lly take to red-dirt," C.K. remarked, casually, brushing his hands, "... they say if it do, then it's mighty fine indeed —they reckon it's got to be strong to do it, you see."
"Must be pretty dang strong awright," Harold dryly agreed, looking back at the disabled cow, "you think we oughtta git Doc Parks?"
They walked over to the cow.
"Shoot," said C.K., "they ain't nothin' wrong with this cow."
The cow had raised her head, and her eyes followed them when they were near. They stared down at her for a minute or two, and she looked at them, interestedly, still chewing.
"Ole Maybelle havin' a fine time," said C.K., leaning over to stroke her muzzle. "Hee-hee. She high, that's what she is!" He straightened up again. "I tell you right now, boy," he said to Harold, "you lookin' at a ver' contented cow there!"
"You reckon it'll ruin her milk?"
"Shoot, that make her milk all the more rich! Yeah, she goin' give some Grade-A milk indeed after that kinda relaxation. Ain't that right, Maybelle?"
They started back to the fence, Harold dragging the bush along and swinging it back and forth.
"Look at the ole root on that plant," said C.K., laughing, "... big ole juicy root—sho' would make a fine soup-bone I bet!"
He had twisted off a branch of the plant and plucked a little bunch of leaves from it which he was chewing now, like mint.
"What's it taste like?" asked Harold.
C.K. plucked another small bunch and proffered it to the boy.
"Here you is, my man," he said.
"Naw, it jest makes me sick," said Harold, thrusting his free hand in his pocket and making a face; so, after a minute, C.K. put that piece in his mouth too.
"We could dry it out and smoke it," said Harold.
C.K. laughed, a short derisive snort.
"Yes, I reckon we could."
"Let's dry it out and sell it," said the boy.
C.K. looked at him, plaintive exasperation dark in his face.
"Now Hal' don't go talkin' without you knows what you talkin' about."
"We could sell it to them Mex'can sharecroppers over at Farney," said Harold.
"Hal', what is you talkin' about—them people ain't got no money."
They went through the fence again, silent for a while.
"Well, don't you wantta dry it out?" Harold asked, bewildered, boy of twelve, aching for action and projects—any project that would bring them together.
C.K. shook his head.
"Boy, you don't catch me givin' no advice on that kinda business—you daddy run me right off this place somethin' like that ever happen."
Harold was breaking it up.
"We'd have to put it some place where the dang stock wouldn't git at it," he said.
So they spread the pieces of it up in the outside branches of a great sycamore, where the Texas sun would blaze against them, and then they started back on up to the house.
"Listen, Hal'," said C.K. about halfway on. "I tell you right now you don't wanta say nothin' 'bout this to nobody up at the house."
"You crazy?" said the boy, "you don't reckon I would, do you?"
They walked on.
"What'll we do with it when it's dried out, C.K.?"
C.K. shrugged, kicked at a rock.
"Shoot, we find some use for it I reckon," he said, with a little laugh.
"You think it's dried out enough?" Harold was asking now, as they sat with the pile of it between them, he crumbling some of it in his fingers, scowling at it.
C.K. took out his sack of Bull-Durham.
"Well, I tell you what we goin' have to do," he said with genial authority, "... we goin' have to test it."
He slipped two cigarette-papers from the attached packet, one of which he licked and placed alongside the other, slightly overlapping it.
"I use two of these papers," he explained, concentrating on the work, "that give us a nice slow -burnin' stick, you see."
He selected a small segment from the pile and crumpled it, letting it sift down from his fingers into the cupped cigarette-paper; and then he carefully rolled it, licking his pink-white tongue slowly over the whole length of it after it was done. "I do that," he said, "that seal it in good, you see." And he held it up then for them both to see; it was much thinner than an ordinary cigarette, and still glittering with the wet of his mouth.
"That cost you half-a-dollah in Dallas," he said, staring at it.
"Shoot," said the boy, uncertain.
"Sho' would," said C.K., "... oh you git you three for a dollah, you know the man—'course that's mighty good gage I'm talkin' 'bout you pay half-a-dollah ... that's you quality gage. I don't know how good quality this here is yet, you see."
He lit it.
"Sho' smell good though, don't it?"
Harold watched him narrowly as he wafted the smoking stick back and forth beneath his nose.
"Taste mighty good too! Shoot, I jest bet this is ver' good quality gage. You wantta taste of it?" He held it out.
"Naw, I don't want none of it right now," said Harold. He got up and walked over to the kindling-stack, and drew out from a stash there a package of Camels; he lit one, returned the pack to its place, and came back to sit opposite C.K. again.
"Yeah," said C.K. softly, gazing at the thin cigarette in his hand, "I feel this gage awready ... this is fine."
"What does it feel like?" asked Harold.
C.K. had inhaled again, very deeply, and was holding his breath, severely, chest expanded like a person who is learning to float, his dark brow slightly knit in the awareness of actually working at it physically.
"It feel fine," he said at last, smiling.
"How come it jest made me sick that time?" asked the boy.
"Why I tole you, Hal'," said C.K. impatiently, "'cause you tried to fight against it, that's why ... you tried to fight that gage, so it jest make you sick! Sho', that was good gage that ole Mex had."
"Shoot, all I felt, 'fore I got sick, was jest right dizzy."
C.K. had taken another deep drag and was still holding it, so that now when he spoke, casually but without exhaling, it was from the top of his throat, and his voice sounded odd and strained:
"Well, that's 'cause you mind is young an' unformed, you see ... that gage jest come into you mind an' cloud it over!"
"My mind?" said Harold.
"Sho', you brain!" said C.K. in a whispery rush of voice as he let out the smoke. "You brain is young an' unformed, you see ... that smoke come in, it got nowhere to go, it jest cloud you young brain over!"
Harold flicked his cigarette a couple of times.
"It's as good as any dang nigger-brain I guess," he said after a minute.
"Now boy, don't mess with me," said C.K., frowning, "... you ast me somethin' an' I tellin' you. You brain is young an' un-formed ... it's all smooth, you brain, smooth as that piece of shoeleather. That smoke jest come in an' cloud it over!" He took another drag. "Now you take a full-growed brain," he said in his breath-holding voice, "it ain't smooth—it's got all ridges in it, all over, go this way an' that. Shoot, a man know what he doin' he have that smoke runnin' up one ridge an' down the other! He control his high, you see what I mean, he don't fight against it...." His voice died away in the effort of holding breath and speaking at the same time—and, after exhaling again, he finished off the cigarette in several quick little drags, then broke open the butt with lazy care and emptied the few remaining bits from it back onto the pile. "Yeah ..." he said, almost inaudibly, an absent smile on his lips.
Harold sat or half reclined, though somewhat stiffly, supporting himself with one arm, just staring at C.K. for a moment before he shifted about a little, flicking his cigarette. "Shoot," he said, "I jest wish you'd tell me what it feels like, that's all."
C.K., though he was sitting cross-legged now with his back fairly straight against the side of the shed, gave the appearance of substance wholly without bone, like a softly-filled sack that has slowly, imperceptibly sprawled and found its final perfect contour, while his head lay back against the shed, watching the boy out of half-closed eyes. He laughed.
"Boy, I done tole you," he said quietly, "it feel good."
"Well, that ain't nothin', dang it," said Harold, almost angrily, "I awready feel good!"
"Uh-huh," said C.K. with dreamy finality.
"Well, I do, god-dang it," said Harold, glaring at him hatefully.
"That's right," said C.K., nodding, closing his eyes, and they were both silent for a few minutes, until C.K. looked at the boy again and spoke, as though there had been no pause at all: "But you don't feel as good now as you do at Christmastime though, do you? Like when right after you daddy give you that new Winchester? An' then you don't feel as bad as that time he was whippin' you for shootin' that doe with it neither, do you? Yeah. Well now that's how much difference they is, you see, between that cigarette you got in you hand an' the one I jest put out! Now that's what I tellin' you."
Excerpted from Red-Dirt Marijuana by Terry Southern. Copyright © 1967 Terry Southern. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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