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The Sharpshooter Blues
By Lewis Nordan

Chapter One

The island where Mr. Raney had his fishcamp was a strip of high ground far out in a strange bayou, the vast, unbounded backwaters of many lakes and rivers; from underground, somewhere, salt water, brackish at least, mineral salts, filled up the swamp and broadened it far across the Delta. The water seemed limitless, everywhere, even to a boy who grew up on the island; it was a black mirror, colored by the tannic acid that seeped into it from the knees of cypress trees.

Beavers had felled the trees, a few trees anyway, sweetgum and tupelo, and built dams and houses as big as igloos, or tepees; and they swam in and out, the size of collies.

Turkey buzzards floated above the swamp like prayers and admired their own reflections in the water. Blue herons and cranes and snowy egrets stood on long legs and ate snakes and minnows in the shallows. Cottonmouth moccasins hung in the willow branches, turtles sat on the logs, alligators lounged in their big nests, which smelled of sugarcane and sorghum and rice and fish. Rats the size of yellow dogs clung to the bark of trees by their toenails and yapped like puppies and then dropped into the water and held their noses up above the flood and swam to high ground where they sat and howled at the moon by night.

Somehow dolphins, porpoises, whatever they were, had made their way up here to the Delta, to this vast water, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico--who knows how, or why, up rivers and canals, to this inland sea--and they swam and bred and gave birth and fed upon the million carp and mullet and the other bony fish that populated the swamp. Minerals in the fresh water made it somehow fit habitation for these sea creatures, no one understood quite how. Scientists were forever arriving here from Jackson and Biloxi, with water-testing equipment; maybe they knew.

Mr. Raney named the porpoises--Sister Woman, and Renford, and Lamar, and St. Elmo--and could recognize them, and call each by its name, even at night, six feet long some of them, with a million sharp teeth and a naughty grin. Often when he floated past in the boat and watched their playful wheeling, in and out among the cypress knees, he called out to them,"Lamar, we are all alone in the world!"or"Renford, cork is an export product of India!"

The echo of his voice across the wide water of the bayou was like a heartbreaking song, a music of the swamp.

Hydro said, one time, many times,"Do they understand what you tell them?"

Mr. Raney said, each time,"Nobody knows"

Sometimes they had this exchange, father and son, but not tonight. Tonight the bloody deaths of the boy and girl at the William Tell Grocery occupied their minds, the two of them.

Hydro was quiet, quiet in the front of the boat. He thought it might be a good idea to jump in the water and drown, he was not sure why. He sat in the bow of the little boat like a mermaid carved out of wood in the prow of a sailing vessel, eyes forward and watchful of the sea.

The waters were wide, they stretched far out across the Delta. In some places the deep-water trenches were bottomless, or seemed so; and nearly a hundred years ago, ironclad vessels floated here, warships of the Confederate and Union navies. Men died in the swamp for reasons that must have seemed good at the time, and women waited for them in vain, and children grew up without daddies. People said these deep-water trenches were caused by an earthquake, a long time ago, but nobody knew for sure when, and nobody knew for sure if it was true, it could have been. The scientists from Jackson, maybe they knew.

In the front of the boat, Hydro thought of what it would be like to slip over the side, into the black water, through the looking glass. He imagined that he could breathe there and be happy, swimming among the bluegills, laughing with St. Elmo, his smiling face. He believed he might find the boy and the girl there, beneath the surface, the lovely children, alive again, and that they would love him and speak to him of Texas and tortillas and love and Dinty Moore. They might be happy there, underwater, the three of them together, his head might be a normal size, no longer large, he might be smart, with no atrophy of the brain, they might not call him names. This was the deep water that he imagined, the excellent world on the other side of the mirror of the lake.

At times the surface of the water broke, though, and Hydro saw a little face, wet whiskers shining in the moonlight. Here and there muskrats swam and dived and surfaced, smiling like rich children in the blue water of the Leflore city swimming pool, beneath the diving board, beneath the lifeguard stand where a bronze young man sat with a steel whistle on a lanyard around his neck, above the benches where Hydro had been allowed to sit and watch but never to dress in a swimsuit or to swim, it was so dangerous, his daddy would have worried about him.

In these swampy places, these wide shallows, a man in chest-waders might walk long distances, twenty-five miles, without ever stepping in over his head. Sometimes scientists did do this, walked so far, men from Jackson, looking for an ancient flock of buzzards that lived there, far back in the woods, trying to take their pictures.

Hydro would not look to the back of the boat at his daddy. He did not look right or left, only straight ahead into the dark swamp. He wished his daddy would fall out into the water and drown. He imagined this, hoped for it, so that finally everything would be lost, there would be no more waiting.

He looked above him, for parrots, whatever they were, wild birds, of jungle colors, red heads and curved yellow beaks and long green tails, seen nowhere else in Mississippi, not even on the Gulf of Mexico, that sailed through the skies at morning, and cried out in African-sounding voices. He saw only the moon, only the stars above. There were no parrots tonight, no jungle birds. Were there ever, had he ever really seen parrots, had he ever loved anyone, even his daddy?

In the deepest swamp, where now the boat pushed on, outwards, towards the island, wild monkeys leaped from tree to tree, and rested in the shade and nibbled upon the tender leaves and the beards of Spanish moss. Hydro looked up in the treetops and saw them there, asleep beneath the big moon, little families with daddies and little child-monkeys, and even mamas who loved them. Somebody said these monkeys came from a pair of tame creatures, pets, who escaped from a one-man band, long ago.

Except for the fishcamp on Raney's Island, there were no houses anywhere nearby. Mr. Roy, once a week, delivered mail, in a flat-bottomed motor launch, and sometimes stayed talking with Mr. Raney too late to be confident he could find his way back to the mainland without getting lost in the dark, or hitting a stob and shearing a pin in the launch's propeller, and so he spent those nights in the camp, telling old stories until late at night, and ate fried fish for breakfast, with hushpuppies and catsup and Tabasco sauce, and then he motored out across the wide water, towards Arrow Catcher, until he saw the Roebuck bridge and the flagpole down at the post office.

Mr. Roy was handsome enough to go to Hollywood, everybody said so, and it was true. He could easily break into show business, if he decided to. He wore his uniform wherever he went, gray slacks and white shirt with patches, and billed cap, even on Sundays when he went to church, even when he and Mrs. Roy went out to a cafe, a supper club they called it, and ate and drank bonded whiskey over ice, and sometimes mixed it with a Coke or Seven-Up, on a Saturday night. Mrs. Roy said she could never resist a man in uniform and she didn't see no reason to start resisting now. This was a joke they shared and they always laughed together, and always, always seemed to be in love.

When Mr. Roy pushed off in the morning, after he had delivered the mail and told the old stories and spent the night, like the story about the snake he thought he killed with a flashlight but it turned out to be his own arm, gone to sleep and he beat it to a bloody pulp, Mr. Raney would be standing on the dock, ready to say goodbye. He might wave to Mr. Roy as the launch pulled out.

Mr. Raney might say,"Bring me out some wanted posters next time. Them with the pitchers on them. My boy likes to look at them ones with the pitchers."

Hydro would be standing on the dock waving goodbye, too.

Mr. Roy might say,"Hydro, what you need with a wanted poster?"

Hydro said,"I don't know."

Mr. Roy said,"You don't know."

Mr. Raney said,"He plays a game. He plays like the men in the pitchers are folks he knows. He makes up stories about them. He plays like the women are his mama."

Mr. Roy said,"Well, ain't that nice."

Hydro said,"That ain't all, though"

Mr. Roy said,"It ain't?"

Hydro said,"I might catch me one of them desperate criminals."

Mr. Roy said,"You might catch you a desperate criminal?"

Hydro said,"I might"

Mr. Roy said,"What you going to do with a desperate criminal when you catch him?"

Hydro said,"I might turn him in. I might get me a reward. I might get us a new mama."

Mr. Roy said,"Get you a new mama! Oo la la!"

Mr. Raney said,"Don't tease the boy, Mr. Roy."

Mr. Roy said,"Well, wanted posters can be educational, I grant you that. Very educational, sure now. You can learn a-plenty from a wanted poster, sure can. Wanted posters can be as good as school. I always said so. And, well, I don't know, they might help you meet people, too, interesting people, somebody you might want to, I don't know, invite home and make her your mama. I'm trying to take you serious, Hydro, but I ain't altogether sure how you mean that about a new mama."

Hydro said,"I was just pretending. I was just telling a story. You can go oo la la, if you want to."

Mr. Roy said,"Well, and it's a good one, too. A fine story. A reward, a new mama, off a wanted poster. That truly is a good one, Hydro. You had me going there for a minute. You had me fooled. Oo la la."

Hydro said,"It might be true."

Mr. Roy said,"Well, that's a fact, it might be. I ain't ruling that out neither, I ain't ruling nothing out. It could be true."

Mr. Raney said,"Don't tease the boy."

Mr. Roy said,"What else can I do, Raney? I'm doing the best I can, talking about wanted posters."

There was not much other traffic in the deep bayou, not tonight, under the starlight, not ever.

Mr. Raney called out to Hydro over the rattle of the engine:"Look yonder."

He was pointing at a big tree, with construction materials up in the top of it.

Hydro didn't look back, didn't look side to side. He knew what his daddy was pointing to. He always pointed to it. The tree house, what was left of it, a three-story tree house, that still had a dinette set sitting up on the top layer of plywood.

A long time ago, when Hydro was just a baby boy, a family lived there, in that tree house, an elaborate construction of plywood and ropes and pulleys and corrugated metal and trapdoors, away out here in the swamp, only a few miles from the camp. A man and his wife and their three children, white foLks, lived in iL His daddy said they did, Hydro guessed it was true, he never did meet none of them.

They fished and they trapped water birds and gathered dock and wild onions and poke salad and parboiled it and ate it and didn't get diarrhea, they was used to it, not like normal folks like Hydro and his daddy. Wild vegetables would have sent Mr. Raney to the slopjar and kept him there a week, if he just boiled and ate them, right out of the swamp. They poached electricity, the tree house family, from the hot wires that passed through the trees to light Mr. Raney's place. It was dangerous but they did it, and it worked too, they burned lights, Mr. Raney paid the extra nickels and dimes it cost him on the monthly bill.

On the weekends, Mr. Roy delivered the Sunday newspaper to them, and in the evening the man and his wife, wearing overalls, sat up in the trees in overstuffed chairs, reading Alley Oop and Little Orphan Annie and The Katzen-jammer Kids and listening to Amos 'n' Andy on the radio. One of the children kept a pet, a dog or a cat, nobody remembered which. It was rumored that they ate monkey meat, their long-tailed neighbors who lived nearby, in the trees, which some people thought was cannibal behavior, a scandal they said, a crime and a shame, a long, long time ago, probably not even true, nobody knew for sure, it might just be a story, like so much else in the world.

Hydro one time said,"How do they go doodies?"

Mr. Raney said,"Well, pretty much the same as anybody else, would be my guess."

Tonight Hydro would have liked to have asked again, but he didn't intend to give his daddy the satisfaction. He knew they went doodies like everybody else--how did they get it down out of the tree?

They were gone now, the tree people, and only the tree house remained, fragments of it. Nobody knew the whole story. Hydro said he never saw them, he couldn't remember.

His daddy said,"Sure you can."

He said,"I don't."

Sometimes a game warden motored out, too, once or twice a year. He checked Mr. Raney's licenses, renewed them when necessary. He brought saltlicks for the deer on the island. He usually stayed a day and a night and brought along a casting rod and a Lucky 13 and got some fishing done.

Once, in an unusual winter, cold as the North Pole, the swamp froze solid, ice as far as you could see, and the game warden drove his Jeep all the way out to the island, across the ice, and let Hydro shoot his pistol. Everybody in Arrow Catcher remembered that day and talked about it for a long time.

Mostly Mr. Raney and Hydro spent their days alone. They didn't get much company, so far out, like they was. Hydro liked to be sung to, love songs mainly, so they did that, a lot of tunes from the olden days, especially"Let These Red Lips Kiss Your Blues Away,"but also a couple of new songs by Elvis Presley,"Blue Moon over Kentucky"and"When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again."

Hydro said,"How can the moon be blue?"

Mr. Raney said,"Nobody knows"

Hydro said,"What is Kentucky?"

Mr. Raney said,"Nobody knows that neither."

Hydro said,"They don't? Nobody knows what Kentucky is? It's a state, that's what I heard."

Mr. Raney said,"Hush up, if you want me to sing you any more songs"

Or Mr. Raney told Hydro about the olden days, when he was a boy and there were many families of tree people, and still a few wild Indians who tamed the looseherds, and rode wild ponies without no saddles and carried bows and arrows across their backs, and when all the sidewalks were made of wood, and about the time when wild bison roamed the Delta, even out on Runnymede plantation.

Hydro said,"Daddy, was you a real cowboy?"

Mr. Raney said,"Well--"

Hydro said,"It's just a story, ain't it?Just for fun"

Mr. Raney said,"Well--"

Sometimes Hydro thought he made the stories up; other times, when a small herd of swamp elves clattered out of the cane and disappeared in a flash into the deep bayou, he didn't know, he thought maybe there were looseherds of wild horses and herds of buffalo, not so long ago, and maybe a wild Indian or two, the stories might be true.

Mr. Raney tried to teach him many things, gentleness for one, and to talk about how it felt to hear people make fun of his big head, and not to be too scared of the fire whistle when it blew, and not to chase cars when they went into Arrow Catcher, and to identify fish, by color and shape and fin and gill, bream and crappie and bass and buffalo and carp and a fish his father called a chinquapin, after the trees they nested near, and to understand tail, and how it made Mr. Raney love Hydro's mama even more, when she was alive and they once in a while knocked off a piece in the afternoon, just for fun.

Each evening Mr. Raney iced down a cargo of fish, which he pulled up in wide nets from the swamp and threw a heavy tarpaulin over them while they were still flopping, and fired up the little Evinrude and hauled the fish into Arrow Catcher in his boat and sold them for pennies on a low pier alongside the Roebuck bridge and then baled ice water out of the boat with a rusty lard bucket, before setting out across the bayou, on the way back home.

This night, though, the night that Hydro killed the two lovely children after confession at William Tell, shot them square between the eyes like a sharpshooter in a circus sideshow, Hydro and his daddy did not call to the dolphins, did not speak of fish or love or the looseherds or gentleness or Kentucky or the wild buffalo. For the first time in a long time, Mr. Raney just didn't know what to say. He did not know what to say.

The island came into sight, a light on the pier, and another up in the main house. Mr. Raney cut off the Evinrude and let the boat drift in to the dock. It made a small sound like ka-chunk, wood against wood, when it struck there.

Hydro stood up in the bow and took the length of hemp rope that was tied to a steel ring and looped it around a piling and pulled them in tight and cinched the rope up against the post so the stern could swing around. Water lapped up against the boat and made the sound of waves against wood.

Mr. Raney said,"You go on and get out first"

So Hydro got out, stepped up on the dock and steadied himself

Hydro looked back over his shoulder in his daddy's direction, but he didn't seem to see his daddy.

Mr. Raney said,"I'm fine, jess fine, no help wanted, thank you, thank you very much"

Hydro turned away.

Mr. Raney started to climb up out of the boat.

Hydro walked on ahead, towards the house.

His daddy said,"Well, you go on to bed, honey. You're tired. You just go right ahead on. I'll finish up down here."

Hydro kept on walking.

His daddy said,"You go on to bed, son, you're tired."

While his daddy was down at the dock, securing the boat for the night, Hydro climbed up the ladder and crawled up through the trapdoor that led into their house. He came out on the upper porch, where he stood for a moment and listened. He heard jungle sounds across the swamp, the gators calling like old cows, a parrot somewhere far off, the final nighttime chatter of a sleepless family of monkeys. Nothing told him the secret that might save him from this pain.

He passed through the kitchen, with the huge old Chambers range, where his daddy baked peach pies and fried fish, and with the two refrigerators, one full of bullet holes. A cypress tree grew up through the kitchen, and the roof was open above him where the great silver-trunked tree spread upwards, out into the summer air, and stretched its limbs and leaves like a canopy above him. During the long hard Delta rains, in April and September, the rain fell into the house and the floor was slick here for a month at a time and had to be mopped each day.

Down below, he heard the paddle and the little anchor make their familiar sounds, as his daddy secured the boat. For the first time in his life, he did not want his daddy to sing him to sleep. He thought of taking the boat out alone, in the dark middle of the night. He thought of floating far, far away.

He went into the room where his bed stood beside a screened wall. Cypress limbs outside brushed up against the screen. The room was called the sleeping-porch, and the bed was really a sort of divan, wide and flat and comfortable, not like the little army cot at William Tell. His daddy kept clean sheets on the bed, and big feather pillows with white pillow cases. There was a patchwork quilt somebody made, always pulled back and folded over in the summertime.

Hydro sat on the side of the bed and took off his shoes and looked at them, inspecting for blood stains, and saw none. He dropped each shoe on the floor, and then pulled off his socks, one at a time, from the toe, and stuffed them into his shoes. He kept on sitting there. He heard his daddy come up the ladder.

Mr. Raney said,"Good night, son"

Hydro looked at him.

Mr. Raney said, al wouldn't worry too much about Morgan killing them two lovely children, if I was you"

Hydro said,"I don't want no songs tonight."Nobody but Hydro knew who really killed the two lovely children. Everybody else thought it had to be the sharpshooter, the young gunslinger whose real name was Morgan. Nobody believed it could be sweet, simple Hydro. Mr. Raney brightened up some at the sound of his son's voice. He said,"Well, no, I wouldn't think so, sure wouldn't, I agree. You're too tired. It's been--well, it's been a long day"Hydro didn't say anything else. Mr. Raney said,"Well--"There was nothing left to say, nothing Mr. Raney could think of anyhow. Finally, he said,"You don't want no songs"

Hydro was still sitting on the divan-bed. He held up his hand in front of his face and looked at it in the moonlight that filtered through the screened wall. The right hand, the one that had held the gun. He inspected it, first one side and then the other. He was surprised at the long blunt-end fingers, the blue veins in the back, the creases in the palm. It was a man's hand. He had expected to see a child's hand, for some reason. He looked at the finger that had pulled the trigger. He put his hand to his nose and breathed in, to discover its smell. There was nothing. No gunpowder, no death, no sex. What had happened tonight? What was that ancient noise inside his head?

He held up the other hand, the left hand, and inspected it as well. He compared the two, to see whether there was any difference. One hand had killed a boy and a girl, the other hand--well, where had it been? It might as well have been on another planet, as far as Hydro remembered. He had forgotten he had another hand. His left hand had been invisible while the right did its bloody murder. And yet it looked just the same as the hand that had held the pistol. He could tell no difference, none at all. He wondered whether this was because of his atrophied brain, the fluid inside his skull. Sometimes he almost wished his daddy never had explained that part to him so good.

Far across the swamp Hydro listened for the sound of some voice that would tell him the secrets that others must already know, the whispered words that would explain what had happened to him this night, or about life and death and hope for the future, of which he believed there was none, or even African animals, and tree people, which he wasn't so sure he believed in neither.

He heard his daddy, first out in the kitchen, then at the other end of the fishshack, taking off his own shoes, getting ready for bed. Hydro thought about his mother. He tried to imagine her face, or at least her dress, or her arm, or hand, which never killed nobody, her little shoe.

But for all the stories he had heard of her--skinning a catfish, riding a wild horse, making fig preserves in jars with paraffin lids, reaching a hand in a bee tree for a honeycomb, knocking off a piece of tail in the afternoon, just for fun, stomping a rat, sewing on a button--he could not see her. She was not there. She never had been. He suddenly understood that he had no mother, that he never had had a mother, that he had never known her or seen her and never would know or see her, no matter how hard his daddy tried to keep her alive in their hearts. He was a motherless child. That was what he was today, just as he had been on the day of his birth. No matter how old he became, or how many people he killed, he would always be that, maybe always only that, a motherless child, all alone.

Maybe he even killed his mother, as tonight he had imagined killing his daddy, and as he had surely drawn a bead and, with a steady hand, fired bullets into the brains of the two lovely children, who, unlike himself, did have mothers somewhere who loved them and whose hearts broke for their absence, even before they knew what had happened to them, even before they received a phone call from a man who looked like a giant in the circus telling them that some big-headed idiot like himself had pulled the trigger of a gun, careless of their babies' health and safety, and selfishly, because he was so scared, had taken away their dear lives forever.

Hydro went to sleep then, a sudden, hard sleep; you wouldn't have thought he could have a dream in a sleep as deep and quick, but he did, and it was almost real. He didn't take off the rest of his clothes, he didn't even stretch out. He just leaned over onto the big pillows, with his feet still on the floor, and laid his big old head down, and dreamed his mama was a porpoise, swimming as graceful as a water angel in the bayou, and so Hydro tried to holler out to her from the boat,"I am all alone in the world, Mama,"but the words got all scrambled up in his head and so what came out of his mouth was,"Cork is an export product of India,"and then he woke up thinking about wild Indians and looseherds and the wild buffalo, and he screamed out loud and sent strange echoes through the swamp and woke up a parrot somewhere, far away, and he wished that he could die. The parrot screamed,"Bloody murder!"

He sat up in bed, then, and looked around the sleeping-porch and let his eyes get adjusted again to the moonlight, and finally he saw where he was, in his own home, in the fishhouse, and so he calmed down a little bit. He said,"Wild parrots cain't talk"He got up then and undressed and went back to bed and got under the sheet.

In a minute his daddy came in the room. He stood by the door and said,"Did you have a bad dream, peaches?"

Hydro was lying on his pillows, staring up through the roof. He said,"I killed them two lovely children, Daddy. I'm the one done the shooting at William Tell."

His daddy was just wearing his drawers, nothing else. He walked over to the bed and sat beside Hydro.

He said,"Okay, peaches, okay, honey. You calm down. You just had a bad dream, that's all. Ain't nothing going to hurt my baby. It was all just a dream, just only a bad dream, that's all it was."

Hydro said,"It wont a dream."

Mr. Raney said,"Was you dreaming about parrots? I heard you hollering."

Hydro said,"No! It wont no dream. I done the murder. A wild parrot said I done it too, said, 'Murder!'n

Mr. Raney tried to take Hydro's hand, to stroke it, but Hydro pulled away. Mr. Raney said,"Maybe you need to go see Dr. McNaughton tomorrow, sweetening. Why don't we take the boat in and talk to the doctor tomorrow."

Hydro said,"I hate you! I hate you, I hate you!"

His daddy said,"Peaches--?"

He was screaming. He was crying. He was crying his guts out. Mr. Raney hadn't seen his son lose control like this for a long time.

His daddy said,"Let me sing you a couple of tunes. How about I sing you a verse or two of 'Sixty Minute Man, darling, see don't it calm you down a little bit."

Hydro said,"The Prince of Darkness ain't no madman. The Prince of Darkness is the onliest person in town what'll say the truth. I'll live forever with the blood of them two lovely children on my hands and wont nobody even let on that I done it."

His daddy's voice was tinny and thin with grief and confusion. He sang, There'll be fifteen minutes of squeezin', and fifteen minutes of teasin' . . .

At the mention of sex, Hydro began to scream. He screamed and screamed, like his daddy had never heard, not even in the old days before the medication. Hydro screamed and kept on screaming. He would not be comforted.

His daddy said,"Oh baby, oh sweet baby--"

The screaming went on. It got worse. The lake echoed with Hydro's screams. Swamp animals woke up, in their dens and nests. Parrots and jungle birds screamed back. Monkeys chattered in the trees.

Mr. Raney said,"Oh baby, oh gentle boy, oh honeylamb--"

Hydro would not be consoled. He listened to nothing, heard nothing.

Mr. Raney tried to sing to calm him. He sang"Salty Dog, he sang"Candy Man, he sang"Honey Hush"

Hydro stopped screaming. He looked at his daddy. The glare in his eyes was as violent as a spotlight. His daddy shut his mouth, in fear and amazement. The silence was long; it was more frightening than the screaming.

Hydro said,"Shut your stupid mouth, you stupid motherfucker, you stupid son-of-a-bitch."

Mr. Raney said,"Oh, punkin--"

Hydro said,"Morgan ain't killed nobody. Morgan has got too much hope in his heart to be killing nobody. I'm hopeless. I might shoot somebody else. My pitcher ought to be up on the wall in the post office. I ought to have my very own wanted poster. Somebody ought to be offering a reward"

Mr. Raney said,"I'll just lay down here beside you till you can drop off again. I won't sing no more songs, I promise. I'll be here, I'll just be laying here, in case you have another bad dream. Marshal Webber Chisholm has some bad dreams, too. Did you know that?"

Hydro was finished. Now he only cried. He cried for a long time without stopping. Deep sobs, and lots of tears, and then more quietly. He got snot all over his pillowcase. Finally he quit a little bit.

He just kept lying there. He pulled the pillow over his head. Mr. Raney didn't know what to do, what to say. A long time passed.

Finally Hydro did speak. He said,"Marshal Chisholm does?"

It caught Mr. Raney a little by surprise; then he said,"Well, sure now. Webber Chisholm suffers turrible from nightmares. I hate to think about how he's doing tonight. He's tossing and turning. He's crying just like you. The Prince of Darkness probably made him wash them lovely children's hair tonight. At least you didn't have to wash their hair."

Hydro lay still. He whimpered a little, and every now and then he flinched and sucked in a quick breath, but it was mostly over now. Mr. Raney went into the next room to get him his medication and a glass of water.

When he came back, he said,"You close your eyes, sweetening. You drift on off to sleep, if you can. I'll stay here, I'll be right here all night, you just wake me up if you want to talk, if you get scared."

Hydro stretched out on the divan and turned over on his side, away from Mr. Raney.

Mr. Raney sang in his low, gravelly voice, I'm drinking TNT, I'm smoking dynamite--

After a while Mr. Raney thought Hydro must be asleep, so he eased out of the bed and went into a farther room, where he dropped off to sleep, content in the belief that when he woke up, he would see the morning sun, and know what to say to his boy.

© 1995 by Lewis Nordan

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