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Yes, Directly on the Face
"...AND OTHER PLACES, OTHER extremities of the body if you will," he added, wanting to make the whole deal sound as brainy as possible. "That's what you'll tell 'em boy, got it?"
"Yes sir." The response was reluctant, soft. Malcolm was only seven at the time, and not especially athletic. As it stood he was the only son the family could boast, curse him, so what else could they do? White folks weren't in this position, no, having to make the youngins go tromping all about in the interest of making money. If only Hershel were still with them...
"Come on now, whip that thing like I done showed you." With crossed arms he stood back and watched his son go at it with alacrity, working up his nerve with each stroke to part the air. "Good, good, could be better though."
This was his scheme of schemes; no way could this fail to bring home the bacon. They were caught in a summer break like any other, which is to say all these shiftless little freeloaders needed to be put to work. Yes, hmm, yes ... the boy seemed to be getting the hang of it. After growing resentful, day in and day out, of seeing that four-foot length of thorn branch laying on top of the tool shed--well, what passed for a tool shed anyhow--July had finally put the wretched thing to use. This son of his would go from door to door, yes, with that supple, imposing thorn switch, and he would hawk his wares, oh yeah, unlimited whippings for just five bucks.
Just then the wife burst in on the scene, eyeballing the sugar bag which had been split open after a particularly vicious and poorly aimed fling ofthe thorns. "July! July, what in the world is all this commotion?" Without waiting for an answer Ernestine spat out, "Don't you have any sense in that head? The girls are asleep and here you are," she paused, flailing her arms aimlessly trying to imitate them in that god-awful pink muumuu, "thrashing the family belongings with that there stick! Don't got any sense between the two of you, man and boy."
As the man of the household July simply could not let this affront slide. "We are working. You, woman, are just standing around, taking up space, and blabbering like some kind of signifying monkey! Now get yourself gone and let us work."
"How dare you talk to me that way? Malcolm," Ernestine croaked, snapping her fingers at the confused boy, "go up to your room right this instant. Me and your father are going to have ourselves a conversation."
July wanted to smack those pursed lips right off her face but instead found himself saying, "Malcolm you aren't going anywhere, you're staying right where your father tells you to."
"No, you are not boy; you are marching right on up to that room of yours this instant!"
The befuddled boy looked back and forth between his embattled parents like a tennis spectator, his anxiety mounting, one gloved hand still nervously clutching the thorn branch. At the first indication of movement on Malcom's part July chimed in with, "Uh-uh-uh!"
With hands on hips Ernestine retorted: "Oh uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh! And leave that stick down here boy, what's wrong with your head?"
"He will do no such thing! If I tell to him to hold onto that he will--"
"Oh no he won't!"
"--and if I tell him to whip you with it then by God he will!"
"Oh!" Ernestine exclaimed. "Why don't you go on and slither around on your belly while you're at it! And Malcolm you put that stick down this very instant!" Certainly the girls had been awakened by now, but that was no longer the point.
"First of all, you ignoramus, that is not a stick, it is a fibrous vine, that means it's stiff and hard and bendy--"
"Oh, well, it's 'bendy' is it?!"
"Yes, it is! And second of all, Malcolm ... whip your mother!"
"He will do no such thing! July you--"
"Oh yes he will! Oh yes he will! He's my son! Boy, you take that there length of thorn bush to your mother's hind side this instant!"
Repulsed by the scenario they had created for themselves Ernestine turned her wrathful glare to her son. "Malcolm Elijah Baxter, if you raise that stick to me I swear, I swear, on the grave of your grandmama, that I will disown you here and now!"
"Malcolm!" July cried, the ligaments in his neck threatening to spring loose. "What're you waiting for?! I'm gonna count to three and if you don't whip them thorns on your mama's flesh I will, and you know I mean it when I says it, I will whip them thorns on you!" Hershel would've whipped her...
"Don't you listen to him. I gave birth to you, he didn't," Ernestine stated in a last-ditch attempt at maintaining control.
"July, you are turning into a white devil!"
Suddenly the boy let loose a startling scream, stress-induced tears squirting inches from his eyes as he shrieked horribly. Then, quaking almost to the point of convulsions, he fled the confines of the argument, of the house, taking the thorn branch with him as he ran.
Quietly cultivating a terrible rage July turned on his wife, his gloomy eyes wide and unmoving like a zombie. "Damn it woman, you up and turned our boy into a sissy!"