When a Sparrow Won’t Do
Rufus leaned Papa’s old squirrel gun against a lightening-blackened walnut tree and stepped towards Cedrick with his fists balled tight. “You lay a hand on my sister or bother her again and your tombstone will read ‘Died 1901.’ Now, git!”
“I’m leaving,” Cedrick muttered, “but I want that bird. If it don’t show up to the mine ‘fore sundown, I’ll be back with some of the boys.” Cedrick wheeled to leave flinging a kick at Rufus’s blue tick hound sniffing his scuffed boots.
They watched Cedrick hurrying down the twisting mountain trail until he disappeared in a grove of Red maples. “Cyndy, if I told you once I told you a hunnert times -- stay away from Cedrick.”
“I was just here by the spring picking some poke salad for supper when he showed up. We ain’t got hardly anything else to eat, Rufus. You ain’t kilt a squirrel, I see.”
“I know, Cyndy. It ain’t your fault. But, if Papa don’t get back today with them canaries we’re gonna haft to deal with Cedrick.”
“Well, even if Papa don’t, he ain’t getting Peety!”
“Cyndy, Papa never should’a given you that bird. ‘Course, he couldn’t a’knowd that truck load of canaries was gonna turn over and kill ‘em all. They’re in desperate need of birds down to the mine and he’s hired to go git ‘em.”
“I know, Rufus. But, Peety is the onliest thing I own in this world. His singing pleasures me fiercely. Them miner’s think canaries is the only hope they have of living to old age. But, Rufus, without Peety I’d simply die. Ain’t I important, too? They can’t have him even if they need him.”
“Cyndy, our friends have to be more ‘portant than our pets. Them miners have families. If Peety gets loaned to them for awhile, it don’t mean he’s gonna croak. But if he did, he told ‘em to find some good air quick. That’s better’n no chance.”
“All I can say is Papa better spur that mine-train mule on up the mountain. Cedrick ain’t getting Peety. They can just shut that ole mine down ‘til they get their own birds. Or they can use a mouse. I heard they work same as a canary.”
“Yeah, but not as well. When a mouse keels over you got precious little time to git. He don’t give much sign.”
“I don’t care, Rufus. Peety stays with me.”
“Git on tuh the house, Cyndy. See what you can put on the table. There may be a few grits in the sack behind the salt crock. I’ll make a round and be along soon. Maybe I’ll find sum’pin for the pot.”
Cyndy grabbed her bag stuffed with pokeweed and headed home. Peety would be looking for her, turning his golden head side to side as he sat on his perch singing his little heart out. After Momma died trying to have number three, grandma passed and Papa crippled a leg in a mine accident. Grandpapa had already died of black lung. Rufus would start working in the mine soon and the mine would claim him too.
Any way you looked at it, no one in her family would be around very long. So, come hell or Cedrick, she was keeping Peety. He was the only thing that she could count on to put a bright spot in her gray days.
Cyndy and Rufus had finished a meager meal and sat outside on the rickety splintery steps watching darkness creep up the mountain. Far below five torches bobbed and weaved climbing higher on the trail. Cedrick was coming.
“What’cha gonna do, girl? If you don’t loan ‘em the bird, I’m gonna hafta stomp Cedrick or help him. Either way, I lose. I hate you gotta make a choice, but drat it Cyndy, right or wrong, they think Peety is the only hope their men-folk have. You can’t smell or taste bad air in the mine. You have to have a canary to have a chance.”
“I heard all that before, Rufus. I don’t want anyone to die, but…”
“It will just be ‘till Papa gets back. He will likely be here tomorrow. So, you gonna loan ‘em Peety?”
“Only the good Lord knows, Rufus. Momma ain’t here to read the Good Book for me and you can’t. He needs to tell me quick if I need to change my mind.”
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