By Lin Morris
Henry and me are collecting the pecans that blew off the trees during last night’s storm when a man drives up in his big car.
“Your mother home, son?” the man says, coming through the gate. He looks nice, but I’m scared of his fancy suit and big warm coat. I’m wearing my dern old sweater. “Son?” he says again.
“No, sir, she’s gone fishin’ yonder.”
“She left you boys alone?”
“I’m twelve, almost,” I say. “Henry here’s only nine, but I can watch ‘im good, I reckon.”
“Well, you’d best go find her, son.” The man sits down on our steps and shoos us off. “Tell her it’s important.”
We run to the lake to fetch Mama. It’s colder’n usual for November; the lake froze over a good month early. All week, Mama’s had to saw the ice for a fishing hole. She never complains, not even when the townsfolk laugh at her, telling her she just needs to find herself a good husband.
There’s a Depression on, she likes to say, and poor folk do what we gotta do.
She’s sitting on her bucket, the fishing pole she made from a hickory branch held over the hole in the ice. The wind’s blowing against us, so we have to shout and wave our arms before she sees us. It takes her a long while to cross the ice.
“Mama,” yells Henry, “there’s a man to see ya!”
She looks down at her empty bucket. I know she’s wondering if it’s more important than us having something for supper tonight.
“You want me to stay and fish, Mama?” I ask, hoping she’ll say yes. Her eyes answer no.
We walk the trail home, shivering against the north wind. Henry babbles the whole time. A stranger is the most exciting thing he’s ever saw. But he don’t remember the last time a stranger come, to tell us our daddy was dead.
The man stands as Mama opens the gate, tipping his hat. “Ma’am.”
“Yes,” she says, not like a question. “You sellin’ somethin’...?”
“No, ma’am, nothing like that,” he says. “Perhaps we could speak inside?”
Mama looks at him with careful eyes. Then she sighs, and drops the bucket and fishing pole on the grass.
“Come in then,” she says. “Mind you wipe yer feet.”
Inside, the man gestures to our chairs, like it’s his house. We all sit. The man puts his leather bag on our table, then smiles.
“My name is Mr. Boyne. I’ve come from Boston, Massachusetts. Your house was difficult to find. These rural addresses are tricky.” “What is it you need, Mr. Boyne?”