Little Neet ran splashing

Posted: March 11, 2014 in Little Neet ran splashing, Short stories, starts & writing

Little Neet ran splashing through the mud and puddles back towards the unfussy, orderly clapboard houses, her little coat flaring out at her sides as she went. I could hear faint music from somewhere, but couldn’t quite make out the song. Was it Eddy Duchin? Could I hear a voice singing? Or was it Benny Goodman? Something lazy, whatever it was. Romantic, piano and horns. But what? I couldn’t pick it. The sky didn’t have any ideas, so I looked around the yard instead.
The music went on, fading in and out with the wind that was blowing around, and a face appeared from the shadows behind the fly-screen door of Carnegie’s weather-beaten store-house. I guessed it must have been one of their children. The sight I must be to that face staring out at me from that clean, cold, calm, little store-house hit me like electricity. I sensed a confusion and panic and it arced across the muddy yard at me in brief x-ray flashes like lightning at night. White explosions in the broad daylight, massive reports that made barely a sound.

I took a deep breath and began to whistle. I couldn’t help it. Then the words to a tune, but not necessarily the one I could half hear, were rolling and quavering off my tongue. Not a big voice by any means, but I could hold a tune. I just sang softly was all.
“Lovely to look at, delightful to know, and heaven to kiss.”

The face in the store-house receded into the darkness, Neet disappeared indoors behind a slammed door, and I was left alone in the yard. I didn’t have the inclination to go after Neet. Everyone was going to find out soon enough so there was no use scaring her any more than I already had. No point in postponing the inevitable. Just keep on singing.
“A combination like this, is quite my most impossible scheme come true. Imagine finding a dream like you.”

The women had apparently all left the washing to soak and cook in the steaming coppers. The fires under the coppers crackled quietly, the steam wafting away into the breeze, and the car standing in front of the house ticked gently as it cooled. Not long arrived, or so it seemed. Picturing it roaring up the rutted dirt road to the camp, I thought of the little bubbles that would have been left swirling and fizzing away in the puddles when it had come splashing into the yard. I knew there would not have been that look of confusion and panic from the face at the door of Carnegie’s store-house when this car arrived. This car was well known in these parts. Not necessarily welcomed, to be sure, but well known. They all knew.

The women, all bar one at any rate, judging by the presence of the car, were most likely out back of the house at the camp kitchen, smoking cigarettes and speaking practicalities of household, husbands, the trials and triumphs of children, the back-breaking work in the orchards, talking about better times. The bar one would doubtless have her hands full.
“You’re lovely to look at, it’s thrilling to hold you terribly tight.”
I went on whistling.

The men, at this time of day I knew, were all at work in the orchards. A lean season was likely and that could mean there might not be a promise of work come the season after, so they were all making the most of what work there was. In a climate of such uncertainty, everyone of those men out in the orchards had a plan. A course of action for the day the boss let him go. A direction he would go once he had upped-sticks. Blurry notions of heading for this, that and the other, and working here, there and anywhere. The eternal search for the wholesome sanctuary and warmth of gainful, ongoing employment.

It had been a long Winter, Spring had been a disappointment, and even now it was still unseasonably cold. When the sun appeared from time to time, from behind the clouds fleeing out towards the coast, it was almost pleasant to be out-of-doors. But the smell of wood smoke and cold mud, and the puddles of water lying all around, created in the mind the idea that it was the dead of Winter. Never mind that it was getting on near the end of May.

I’d picked at F.R. Ransom’s for a week the previous Summer. I was a scab. A traitor. Every foul name under the sun. They said some hot-head had gone up and tossed pails full of stones at us from the old tub used for crop-dusting. The thing was always buzzing around, though, and it didn’t seem like any more than usual that week of picking. Certainly didn’t seem to be any sign of stones falling from the sky. There were plenty went running around squawking like the sky was falling, though. Besides, there were far worse things to worry about than some Communist lobbing rocks from a passing plane. Trucks full of gun-toting, axe-handle-wielding thugs, deputised in town and given permission by the Sheriff’s department to terrorise the labour camps and orchards using any means they saw fit was a good start. And all just to appease the dirty politicians who were doing it to appease the rich growers who were doing it so they didn’t have to appease the unions and pay the workers an extra one-half of a cent per box of fruit. Half a cent per box of back-breaking sweat and gut-busting toil. But everyone knew they weren’t really standing up to that.
Even in those lean, mean times, half a cent per box wasn’t going to break the growers. Maybe some of the little ones, but certainly not the big boys. What they were standing up to was the threat of an organised, informed, unionised workforce. The threat to their rule. Because their panic was the same. The same brief x-ray flashes like lightning at night, and white explosions in the broad daylight. So they railed against the possibility of the Mexicans uniting, appealing to their White brethren to stamp out the possibility of a strike, of dirty foreigners taking their jobs, and painted all the labour camps Red. Capital “R”, “e”, “d”.
Daring to stand in a picket line got you the “Anyone who ain’t gonna work is a Commie!” quickly followed by axe-handle across the back of the knees, or the threat of the tommy-gun, and generally plenty of swinging fists and boots aimed in your direction. And no-one was safe. Not even the women, albeit Mexican, that came out to the orchards that week to exhort us to renounce our scabbiness, resign from our scabby jobs and join their maridos and hermanos in union. Many of them were dragged away, kicking and screaming, kicked and beaten. And worse probably.

I shivered inadvertently. With my one hand, I did my best to pull my coat tighter, shrugging down into it and scrunching it at my throat. In the camp, in the shelter of the houses, the store-house and other out-buildings, the biting wind coming down off the Rockies was nowhere near as bad. Out on the road it was a frozen devil, icy pitchfork through your coat at every opportunity. It shivered and sizzled the branches of the few trees that stood taller than the houses, clattered the bare branches of a  big dead elder tree. But in the yard, in the lee of the buildings, it only rippled the surface of the brown puddles occasionally and set the washed and wrung-out bed-sheets on the clothes-line gently billowing and ruffling, swaying back and forth.

Watching the tumbling of the hems on those sheets reminded me of little Snow White’s dress as she took flight, running away from the Huntsman, aimlessly, losing herself in the terrifying forest, and all those evil, evil eyes watching her from the black shadows as she sobbed her heart out. Those evil eyes turned out to be nothing more than cute little bunny rabbits and timid baby deer and raccoon. The same cute little bunny rabbits and timid baby deer and raccoon, it has to be said, that fearlessly chased the wicked witch to the lonely rain-swept ledge where a thunder-bolt struck her down and the leering vultures watched her die.

It was Eddy Duchin. I could hear it clearly now.
“For we’re together, the moon is new, and, oh, it’s lovely to look at you tonight.”

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