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1.It was July and hot and I was putting out sticks and not thinking one whit about murder.All the other rose-field jobs are bad, the budding, the digging, but putting out sticks, that's the job they give sinners in Hell.You do sticks come dead of summer. Way it works is they give you this fistful of bud wood, and you take that and sigh and turn and look down the length of the field, which goes on from where you are to some place east of China, and you gird your loins, bend over, and poke those sticks in the rows a bit apart. You don't lift up if you don't have to, 'cause otherwise you'll never finish. You keep your back bent and you keep on poking, right on down that dusty row, hoping eventually it'll play out, though it never seems to, and of course that East Texas sun, which by 10:30 A.M. is like an infected blister leaking molten pus, doesn't help matters.So I was out there playing with my sticks, thinking the usual thoughts about ice tea and sweet, willing women, when the Walking Boss came up and tapped me on the shoulder.I thought maybe it was water break, but when I looked up he jerked a thumb toward the end of the field, said, "Hap, Leonard's here.""He can't come to work," I said. "Not unless he can put out sticks with his cane.""Just wants to see you," the Walking Boss said, and moved away.I poked in the last stick from my bundle, eased my back straight, and started down the center of the long dusty row, passing the bent, sweaty backs of the others as I went.I could see Leonard at the far end of the field, leaning on his cane. From that distance, he looked as if he were made of pipe cleaners and doll clothes. His raisin-black face was turned in my direction and a heat wave jumped off of it and vibrated in the bright light and dust from the field swirled momentarily in the wave and settled slowly.When Leonard saw I was looking in his direction, his hand flew up like a grackle taking flight.Vernon Lacy, my field boss, known affectionately to me as the Old Bastard though he was my age, decked out in starched white shirt, white pants, and tan pith helmet, saw me coming too. He came alongside Leonard and looked at me and made a slow and deliberate mark in his little composition book. Docking my time, of course.When I got to the end of the row, which only took a little less time than a trek across Egypt on a dead camel, I was dust covered and tired from trudging in the soft dirt. Leonard grinned, said, "Just wanted to know if you could loan me fifty cents.""You made me walk all the way here for fifty cents, I'm gonna see I can fit that cane up your ass.""Let me grease up first, will you?"Lacy looked over and said, "You're docked, Collins.""Go to hell," I said.Lacy swallowed and walked away and didn't look back."Smooth," Leonard said."I pride myself on diplomacy. Now tell me it isn't fifty cents you want.""It isn't fifty cents I want."Leonard was still grinning, but the grin shifted slightly to one side, like a boat about to take water and sink."What's wrong, buddy?""My Uncle Chester," Leonard said. "He passed."I followed Leonard's old Buick in my pickup, stopping long enough along the way to buy some beer and ice. When we arrived at Leonard's place, we got an ice chest and filled it with the ice and the beer and carried it out to the front porch.Leonard, like myself, didn't have air-conditioning, and the front porch was as cool a spot as we could find, unless we went down to the creek and laid in it.We eased into the rickety porch swing and sat the ice chest between us. While Leonard moved the swing with his good leg, I popped us a couple."Happen today?" I asked."They found him today. Been dead two or three days. Heart attack. They got him at the LaBorde Funeral Home, pumped full of juice."Leonard sipped his beer and studied the barbed-wire fence on the opposite side of the road. "See that mockingbird on the fence post, Hap?""Why? Is he trying to get my attention?""He's a fat one. You don't see many that fat.""I wonder about that all the time, Leonard. How come mockingbirds don't normally get fat. Thought I might write a paper on it.""My uncle's favorite bird. I always thought they were ugly, but he thought they were the grandest things in the world. He used to call me his little mockingbird when I was a kid because I mocked him and everybody else. I see one, I think of him. Hokey, huh?"I didn't say anything. I focused my eyes on the floorboards at the edge of the porch, watched as a hot horsefly staggered on its disease-laden legs, trying to make the little bit of shade the porch roof provided. The fly faltered and stopped. Heatstroke, I figured."I want to go to Uncle Chester's funeral tomorrow," Leonard said. "But I don't know. I feel funny about it. He probably wouldn't want me there.""From what you've told me about Uncle Chester, spite of the fact he disowned you when he found out you were queer" "Gay. We say gay now, Hap. You straights need to learn that. When we're real drunk, we call each other fags or faggots.""Whatever. I'm sure, in his own way, Chester was a good guy. You loved him. It doesn't matter what he would have wanted. What matters is what you want. He's dead. He's not making decisions anymore. You want to go to the funeral and tell him 'bye because of the good things you remember about him, go on.""Come with me.""Hey, I'm sorry for Uncle Chester on account of what he meant to you, but I don't know him from brown rice. Fact is, him dying, you coming around upset, and me leaving the rose fields like that, I figure 1 don't have a job anymore. He screwed up my income, so why the hell would I want to go to his funeral?""Because I want you to and you're my friend and you don't want to hurt my teeny-weeny feelings."This was true.I didn't like it, but I agreed. Going to a funeral seemed harmless enough.2.Funeral was the next day at three in the afternoon, so early next morning we drove to LaBorde in Leonard's car and over to J. C. Penney's.We went there to buy suits, something neither Leonard or I had owned in years. My last suit had had a Nehru collar and a peace symbol about the size of an El Dorado hubcap on a chain a little smaller than you might need to tow a butane truck. Leonard's last suit had been designed by the military. Suits from Penney's didn't come with a vest and two pairs of pants anymore, least not the decent ones, and the prices were higher than I remembered. I thought perhaps we ought to go over to Kmart, see if they had something in sheen green.Something we got tired of wearing, we could use to upholster a chair.I ended up with a dark blue suit and a light blue shirt and a dark blue tie. I bought black shoes, socks, and a belt. I tried the stuff on and looked at myself in the mirror. I thought I looked silly. Like a tall, biped pit bull in mourning.Leonard bought a dark green Western-cut suit, a canary-yellow shirt, and a tie striped up in orange and green and yellow. Shoes he got were black with pointy toes and zippers down the side. Kind of shoes you hoped they stopped making about the time the Dave Clark Five quit making records."You're gonna bury Uncle Chester," I said. "Not take him on a Caribbean cruise. Show up in that, he might jump out of the box and throw a blanket over you.""Jealousy is an ugly thing, Hap.""You're right. I wish I looked like a head-on collision between Dolly Parton and Peter Max."We changed back into our clothes, and I paid up because I was the only one working these days, even if it was sporadically, and because Leonard never let me forger it was my fault his leg was messed up. He'd say stuff like, "You know I got this leg messed up on account of you," then he'd pick something he wanted and I'd pay for it, because what he said was true. Wasn't for him, my funeral would have come before Uncle Chester's.The services were in a little community on the outskirts of LaBorde, and after we went home and hung our awhile, we put the suits on and drove over in Leonard's wreck with no air-conditioning.Time we got to the Baptist church where the funeral was being held, we had sweated up good in our new suits, and the hot wind blowing on me made my hair look as if it had been combed with a bush hog. My overall appearance was of someone who had been in a fight and lost.I got out of the car and Leonard came around and said, "You still got the fucking tag hanging on you."I lifted an arm and there was the tag, dangling from the suit sleeve. I felt like Minnie Pearl. Leonard got out his pocket knife and cut it off and we went inside the church.We paraded by the open coffin, and of course, Uncle Chester hadn't missed his chance to be guest of honor. He was one ugly sonofabitch, and I figured alive he hadn't looked much better. He wasn't very tall, but he was wide, and being dead a few days before they found him hadn't helped his looks any. The mortician had only succeeded in making him look a bit like a swollen Cabbage Patch Doll.After the eulogies and prayers and singing and people falling over the coffin and crying whether they wanted to or nor, we drove out to a little cemetery in the woods and the coffin was unloaded from an ancient black hearse with a sticker on the back bumper that read BINGO FOR GOD.Underneath a striped tent, with the hot wind blowing, we stood next to an open grave and the ceremony went on. There was a kind of thespian quality about the whole thing. The only one who seemed to be truly upset was Leonard. He wasn't saying anything, and he's too macho to cry in public, but I knew him. I saw the way his hands shook, the tilt of his mouth, the hooding of his eyes."It's a nice enough place to get put down," I whispered to Leonard."You're dead, you're dead," Leonard said. "You told me that. It's a thing takes the edge off how you feel about your surroundings.""Right. Fuck Uncle Chester. Let's talk fashion. You'll note no one else here looks like a black fag Roy Rogers but you."That got a smile out of him.During the preacher's generic marathon tribute to Uncle Chester, I spent some time looking at a pretty black woman in a short, tight black dress standing near us. She, like Leonard, was one of the few not trying out for the Academy Awards. She didn't look particularly sad, but she was solemn. Now and then she turned and looked at Leonard. I couldn't tell if he noticed. A heterosexual would have noticed if there was anything romantic in her attitude or nor. It can't be helped. A heterosexual dick senses a pretty woman, no matter what the cultural and social training of its owner, and it'll always point true north. Or maybe it's south, now that I think about it.The preacher finished up a prayer slightly longer than the complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and signaled to lower the coffin.A long lean guy with his hand on the device that lowers the coffin pushed the lever and the coffin started down, wobbled, righted itself. Someone in the audience let out a sob and went quiet. A woman in front of me, wearing a hat with everything on it but fresh fruit and a strand of barbed wire, shook and let our a wail and waved a hanky.A moment later it was all over except for the grave diggers throwing dirt in the hole.There was some hand-shaking and talking, and most of the crowd came over and spoke to Leonard and said how sorry they were, looked at me out of the corners of their eyes, suspicious because I was white, or maybe because they assumed I was Leonard's lover. It was bad enough they had a relative or acquaintance who was queer, but shit, looked like he was fucking a white guy.We were invited, not with great enthusiasm, to a gathering of friends and family, but Leonard passed, and the crowd faded out. The pretty woman in black came over and smiled at Leonard and shook his hand and said she was sorry."I'm Florida Grange. I was your uncle's lawyer, Mr. Pine," she said. "Guess I still am. You're in the will. I'll make it official if you'll come by my office tomorrow. Here's my card. And here's the key to his house. You get that and some money."Leonard took the key and card and stood there looking stunned. I said, "Hello, Miss Grange, my name's Hap Collins.""Hello," she said, and shook my hand."You know my uncle well?" Leonard asked."No. Not really," Florida Grange said, and she went away, and so did we.