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DROWNED EDWARD TUG/Mary Bucci Bush Summer, 1904 Edward Tug was nobody special to Step Hall, especially now that he was a dead man. Step waited on shore while Fred Titus and Elmo pulled the body onto the grass and laid him next to the half-submerged boat they'd found drifting among the cypress stumps that morning . Edward Tug himself had washed into the cypress cove and come to rest against a broken branch dragging in the water. Two fat ducks had paddled noiselessly around the body, diving now and then for bottom grass, then flicking their tails sharply before bobbing upright. They were still paddling near the farthest stumps, undisturbed by the men. Step nudged the toe of his shoe against what remained of the boat. It was made of old waterlogged pieces of road timber strapped to a mule watering trough, the whole thing not much bigger than a coffin. Any fool would have known with just one look that the thing would never stay afloat. But Edward Tug was worse than a fool. He was in love. Or had been, as of last night when he was still a living man. Now he was no better than the rotting hunks of soggy timber dragged up on shore. The only difference was that Tug would be put into a dry box and planted several feet deep in the ground, whereas the old boat would be left where it lay to break apart and sink into the mud and eventually support a growth of quack grass, bramble, and locustbush, thus returning to the earth at a somewhat different rate than the man who had built it. Tug had come to work at neighboring Red Leaf plantation not a year ago, and somehow in that short time his bloodhound nose had sniffed out young Lizzie Birdsong at Sweet Hope, and he'd been courting her a month now. At first he'd been able to take the short route across the lake—walking on water, they called it—over the wide sandbar that appeared in summer at low water. But with nearly a month of rain, the lake had risen enough to cover the bar. If he'd been free to cross in daylight, he might have tried slogging through water over his knees, but at night there was no way to tell where the submerged bar lay. What did it matter now, anyways? Step wondered. Dead was dead. They hauled Edward Tug's body up onto the grass and rolled him on his back. "I suppose somebody gotta go tell Miss Lizzie," Fred Titus said. The Missouri Review · 45 They studied the dead man. His face was young and peaceful, with one side of his mouth turned up a little, like he had just thought of something pleasant. "What about over to Red Leaf?" Elmo asked. "Ain't he got no family?" Step Hall shook his head at the foolishness of Elmo's question. "Was a travelin' man," Fred Titus told him. "Look like he come to the end of the road," Elmo answered. They rolled the dead man inside a tarp and hefted him onto the back of Step's wagon. It was getting toward midmorning, and the air was hot and steamy and full of lake sounds, frogs and buzzing insects and splashing fish and calling birds. They had to get moving. This last onslaught of rain and flooding had caused a lot of damage. Farmers were still pulling out flattened, rotting plants and cutting broken branches in hopes of giving the standing cotton a chance to recover, a chance neither the crops nor man nor animal would have had if the levee had broken like it had threatened. The rain had come at a bad time, with some of the crop starting to open up, though many of the plants were still in boll and looked like they might make it. There were worse things that could have happened—a tornado tearing through the fields and ripping out entire acres, or rain and flooding when the bolls were all opened. There was no saving green cotton battered down into the muddy earth by wind and...


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