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SET A ????/Steve Yates LEIGHTON SHAY MORKAN'S negress Judith wanted to gossip about a local hanging, but she could not keep his attention. It was a scandal in a nearby town much bandied in the papers, and he was leery of talk about it. Sitting in the mudroom of his farmhouse in Galloway, Missouri, he dug two fingers through Urne paste mixed in a spittoon. On a cedar bench knee-to-knee across from him sat his negro hand Isaac, tense as a hound. Twice in the last two weeks Leighton's accountant had been robbed at gunpoint riding from Sunken Quarry with new contracts and receivables. It was time. Leighton drew the muck of lime across Isaac's stubbled face, painting the negro ashen gray. The bench creaked as Judith pressed her fleshy side to Leighton's arm. Though she longed to chatter at him, she would share nothing with Isaac, a field hand and beneath her. So she whispered in Leighton's ear as he worked to disguise Isaac's black face. "And they hanged that man and that woman at one rope from the bois d'arc right in the town square, can you believe that?" The door to the mudroom was open, but no breeze lifted the hotJuly air. Isaac's eyes, black pupils in parchment yellow, ceased to foUow Leighton's fingers and instead narrowed on Judith's bosom, pressed to Leighton's shoulder. Leighton wore dungarees, stiff and spotted with cement, and an old white shirt, thinning to show the ovals of his powerful chest and arms. On his feet were engineer's boots so hardened with lime they seemed hammered from iron. And on his head he wore, bill backward, the Yankee campaign hat now mottled gray so that at a distance a person could not tell on which side he had served. With his full black beard and slanted blue eyes, he was a white man to be reckoned with. Isaac shuddered at Judith's closeness to Leighton. "AU account of them having babies. One black and one white as milkweed." Her lips were so close to his ear that they left a wet circle as she spoke. Leighton nudged her away with a hard shoulder. Judith snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. Isaac smiled. "Be still, Isaac," Leighton said, smearing lime at his lips and cheeks. "I ain't moved___" Leighton's father had bought Isaac, a slave, eight years before, in '57, with the Galloway farm. Leighton's mother had died of smallpox the year after that. After losing his father to consumption at the war's end, 38 ยท The Missouri Review Leighton was left with two negro hands, his former slaves. At nineteen years old, Leighton held a decaying farmhouse on one hundred acres of lime and chert, amid brambly forest. In nearby Springfield he owned the most mechanized quarry west of the Saint Francois Mountains. It surprised him even now that his two freed slaves had stayed, but he felt no pride in that. The war was won leaving nothing but the charred fingers of chimneys where fine houses had been. Outside his circuit of farmhouse and quarry, the world was dangerous and deteriorating. Beneath Leighton's fingers Isaac's whiskers crackled with the gritty lime. Judith crowded Leighton again when she saw Isaac bristle. Though Leighton was unsure of Isaac's age, he knew he was older than Judith. She was at most four years Leighton's senior, but from the gloss of her cheeks, from her dark, flawless complexion, she looked somewhat younger. She wore her hair as short as a burro's mane and kept her dresses altered with multicolored patches of curtain scrap, denim, yellow gingham, and poplin to accommodate her expanding girth. Isaac, a long, leannegro, wore a battered pair of trousers, a purple shirt handed down from Leighton's dead father and brogans stitched together with baling wire. Ui the crow's feet atthe corners ofIsaac's eyes, the Urne dried from ash gray to white. "Get thatpart there." She pointed, her arm so thick that the cuff ofher dress creased her wrist, making her seem swoUen. For Leighton...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 38-46
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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