- Unclean AcresA Memoir of the Dark and Bloody
At hill's bottom in the two-room house whose builder lies long in the earth and is now but erratic bone, they will couple and three and four in the pitch. You will say that it is evening because of the nature of what occurs there, speaking out the scant dark that is worked like pewter from the stony dusk. But really you cannot know the hour or how the sun has dialed out the day, spinning in the cloudy sky. Blood being the only true knowledge here, you say again that it is evening full on, a dark hobbled by the slate-gray shadows that time the pieces of this moment. There is the yard strewn with liquor bottles, demijohns of bad water or whisky. There are two mules, a jack and a jenny bobbing their heads in the October cool, their hides lacquered by the day's work. Certainly there is no moon. Certainly there is this night. Feral and hunted. It will frost before morning.
Here is the first of them. And he is the doer of what will be done. A short and broad man with a face blooded to a stark pale, he walks the mile from the barn where he usually takes his evenings to the small, plank-frame house. He wears no beard and holds his chin close against his chest because of the chill. The road he follows is a foot-tracing, a white blur-slur in the dim, shouldered by maple stumps and a batwing Bush Hog in the mowed fescue. He moves beyond such rusting conk whose clamor is quiet and through in the season. He walks slowly. The revolver under his mackinaw is a .32 that a month of sorghum-peddling has bought him. Here is the wayfarer while he follows the road down. And where does he go, and who does he seek, and how sits the wilderness about him in coiling and uncoiling things like ghostcloth in the open field?
Those who wait are a man and wife, alone in the kitchen with a coal-oil lamp burning between them. The house is old and smells of lumber-rots [End Page 69] and grease. The woman leans over a Bible, her eyes squinting at the slow words, the Psalms that do not come through the vague gray of the room. Sometimes she will quit her prayers and look across the table to where the old man sits paring his nails with a barlow knife, his throat arcing silver with whisker and his face shivering, the blade sharp and clean as eyeglass.
"Do you think he's coming?"
The old man quits his manicure and looks at her. He is old, but his hair is thick, a shock of white like pipecloud above his head. "Said he was. What time is it anyway?"
"Quarter 'a eight."
"Well if he don't come before too long I'm going to bed. It's dark enough for that I reckon."
The woman nods and looks again at her Bible, but she reads nothing. There are words that she does not know, and she can hear a wind choking in the rotted chimney's heart. Her mind fetches strange thoughts in those hours, a frigid cold moving like a salve upon her brow. Her dress is plain and rendered from feedsack, her thighs fettered in bunching hems where the very labor of her seam crawls like agony over the skin.
"What time did he say he was coming?"
The old man has taken up his knife again, but quits it at the sound of her voice. "Tole me it wouldn't be not later'n seven. Might tell him just to come back in the morning if he shows this late because I sure don't feel none like messing with those mules tonight."
The woman has shut her Bible. "He coming for the mules ain't he?"
"I done already said that."
The woman nods again. She stands up from the table and goes to the pan of stinkwater below the window, and in this bilge her...