Rebels, Turn Out Your Dead

Rebels, Turn Out Your Dead

by Michael Drinkard


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780151011193
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/01/2006
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

MICHAEL DRINKARD holds an MFA in writing from Columbia University and is th

Read an Excerpt

Rebels, Turn Out Your Dead

By Drinkard, Michael


Copyright © 2006 Drinkard, Michael
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0151011192

James hated moccasins. He wore big boots that cracked twigs. Seventeen and newly conscious, he was given to symbol and metaphor. When there was nothing to be excited about James was especially. Day or night, indoors or out, coarse woolen trousers or no trousers at all, girl or no, he was often hard. He wondered if this happened to all seventeen­-­year­-­olds, but his curiosity was never satisfied because he never whispered his question ­aloud.
           "Mend the fence," demanded Salt, the father, the moccasin­-­wearer. Tall and ruddy, today he turned forty. With three ax blows he felled a balsam fir a half­-­foot in diameter and dragged it to his son's pile. Work well done was backmaking, not backbreaking, a message he was determined his son learn. Thick red hair grew on Salt's head and down his cheeks, stubble battling to overtake his face. He wore buckskin leggings and a hemp shirt that his wife, Molly, had ­sewn.
           "Who broke it should fix it," James ­said.
           "Boots don't make a man." Salt timbered another tree. The zinging woodchips incensed a half dozen sap­-­drunk yellow­jackets, which in turn spurred the blue jays to jerk their crests and ­squawk.
           Drinky Crow, Salt's farmhand, winked at James. At least somebody was listening. Where moccasins were false on his father, they were true on Drinky Crow. Because he was Indian. Plus Drinky Crow, James had been told, died already seven times. Nobody believed this literally. But anybody that dead everybody ­liked.
           Drinky Crow looked younger than sixty, or older, depending. His black face had soaked up the decades. Jet hair ruffled like the feathers of his namesake. His squint made eyeballs seem unnecessary. The offspring of rape--a runaway negro, a squaw--Drinky Crow had been sold on a plat­form in Newport to a tobacco farmer. When he turned nineteen his master died, leaving a will that stipulated his slaves be manumitted, and Drinky Crow most significantly, with one­-­sixty­-­fourth of the estate. Drinky Crow had been a capitalist ever since. He lived with four or five women on a spit of sand at land's end in Rockaway. Maybe there were six ­women.
           Squatting opposite each other, he and Salt hoisted the naked trunks, lifting in parallel choreography, interlacing the logs six high at a slight angle, like fingers at the top knuckle, while James bound the projecting butts to a post with rope. The next section would zag, followed by one that zigged, and so ­on.
ormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 24.0pt"           "Why go to pains when they're going to tear it down again?" James ­fumed.
           "I won't do something but the right way." Salt knew they could save time and trees by setting the fence in a straight line, without the slight angles, the way they did in Virginia. Some people said the South was about fast money, others that there weren't trees enough. Everyone admitted that straight Southern fences toppled after a season or ­three.
           "What good is a fence, for that ­matter?"
           "What kind of a question is ­that?"
           "There's no purpose for ­it."
           Salt scratched his sideburns. "To keep the cows from the corn, for ­one."
           "What cows? Thieves got every last ­one."
           "Careful who you call ­thieves."
           It made Salt happy, physical labor. And the blue sky made him happy, too, and the small ears of corn each stalk yielded, and the fresh scent of hewn wood, and the dangling legs of flying yellowjackets, and the companionship of son and farmhand, and his moccasins and hemp ­shirt.
           James spat. "It's not even your ­fence."
idi-font-size: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'"           Until just this moment, Salt had been able to forget that he was not in fact working for himself. "What's good for your granddad is good for us ­all."
            James was quick, the rope a blur, hands a flash. In a snap the joint was ­lashed.
           "Now can we eat?" Unlike his father, James did not like toil. Nor did he share his father's illusions about the task at hand. This work was not backmaking; it was the opposite. Some people--and everyone knew who those some people were--had broken the fence and taken the logs for their own purposes. Some people had stolen not just the fence but the hours that had gone into its construction. It frustrated James that his father did not share his rage. As for Drinky Crow, James did not hold him to account in the normal constellation of human emotion; Drinky Crow was ­mad.
           On this job, as on all jobs, James got it over with--this required less effort than to make a statement by not doing it, or to prolong agony by doing it negligently--so he could get back to shooting things with ­guns.

Seventeen was too young to matter, too old not to. James thrust his hand into his pocket to rearrange himself, but first he gave it a yank. Another. And one last. Then he got his pistol out of its holster, which was set on a fallen tree. His father and Drinky Crow both had Pennsylvania rifles. You could bark a squirrel in a tree at three hundred yards with a Pennsylvania rifle. But all James got was a pistol. He was lucky when he hit a turkey ten feet from his face. It wasn't fair. The pistol was just better than nothing. It was made in Britain, a gift from his grandfather. The handle's walnut grain gave him comfort, the bullet inside reason to ­care.
           "Rope?" Salt offered a leather pouch to Drinky ­Crow.
           Drinky Crow took out a pinch of dried hemp, brought it to his nose and sniffed. Eyes lost in wrinkles, he loaded up his pipe. It was made of white clay with a tapered cooling stem. They smoked. Drinky Crow had been the one to show Salt a type of seed that produced hemp that was fibrous and useful. But Drinky Crow's purple seed had a unique ­quality.
           The sparrows sang in the trees, a treble chitter that was in fact dozens of interwoven, contrapuntal melodies, with no bass notes to anchor. Three chords were all that were required for Salt's moment of perfect happiness, maybe two. Just one, if a minor seventh. Another smoke and he knew he'd hear ­it.
           "Good ­rope."
           Molly had packed Salt and James a lunch of roast turkey, boiled yams, and cinnamon buns. Fine sticky things, sweetened with honey. Molly saw to it that desires Salt didn't even know he had were met. A wave of relaxation passed through him. The yellowjackets, buzzing loudly, held still, and the world around them ­bobbed.
           Drinky Crow offered Salt a slab of dried and salted cod. In his pack there was also a tangle of seaweed, and a boiled phalarope egg. Despite its glistening greenness, or maybe because of it, the seaweed looked appetizing--another effect of the hemp. Salt helped himself, and offered Drinky Crow a sweet potato and a ­drumstick.
           The yellowjackets descended upon the cod, the cinnamon buns, and neither Drinky Crow nor Salt made any attempt to wave them away. The blue jays hopped from branch to branch, eyeing the ­pickings.
-FAMILY: Times; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'" 
           "Father, can I practice with your . . . Penn . . . Pennsylvania rifle?" James asked. He was careful about his word choice. Practice instead of shoot. Pennsylvania, a mere modifier, as if the gun were more important than the ­colony.
           Salt heard the appeal as self­-­conscious and stammering. He did not encourage his son's interest in guns. James was gawky, pimply, Adam's apple abob in a too­-­thin neck. Engrossed in firearms and solitude and two­-­shilling pamphlets. Hands too often moving about in front ­pockets.
           "Eat something. Your mother went to ­trouble."
           "Why can't I join the Continentals?" James blurted. Next to him was a leather hunting bag, its contents spilled: lead balls, a knife, patching material and powder ­horn.
           "I told you we'll discuss it when you turn eighteen," Salt snapped, worn by the ­topic.
           "Yes sir," James dutifully ­glowered.
           "Pistol. You may practice with your pistol." Despite himself, Salt was pleased with his son's resourcefulness. The papery nest would indeed make good wadding to cram down the barrel after the powder and the lead ball. "But only if you eat ­afterward."
           "What's that in your ­hand?"
           James held up a small wasp nest. "Wadding." It looked like a cross between a daisy and a piece of coral, a stem opening to a bloom with a colony of holes, some of them covered with a membrane, pupae inside. Two or three wasps darted here and there in its defense. "For ­the . . . rifle."
           "Die!" Drinky Crow slapped the back of his neck. In the palm of his hand was a crushed yellowjacket. He brought it to his mouth and, with his incisors, carefully extracted the stinger. Drinky Crow's teeth looked new, elegant, the tiniest serrations not yet ground away, the canines true as daylight; they took the attention his eyes denied, but his smile did not express joy. Drinky Crow knew that Salt would make slaves of people like himself if given the chance. And he knew too that James was a spoiled thing, born of privilege, incapable of seeing any point of view outside his own, content to grope himself and lick gunpowder from his ­fingertips.

Copyright © 2006 by Michael Drinkard
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