What Do Ducks Do in Winter?
by Lewis B. Horne

A Summer to Sing—A Summer to Cry

I

[139] Loud as their Ford must have rattled, he did not hear them, not when he was twisted again inside with dare-you-or-not gropings. Below his bare feet, one on either side of the hole in the bridge, toes curling over the edge, he saw the black water, diked by the twigs caught on the rusted metal long ago fallen in. Those twigs, he supposed, you could crash through, arrowing down the dark passage, pushing the length of the narrow culvert. But what came after that? Moss, mold, rocks. Would anything block you from the opening ahead, glimmering of light and air and life again? That was the mystery. He could never know until he tried. But suppose something too strong for twelve-year-old shoulders blocked him … Terrible, he thought. A horrible death. How soon would he be found? Yet try sometime he must, sucking a treasure of air into his chest and plunge, splash, crash, slide—into the watery darkness. Stand sometime he must at one edge of the aged bridge leading into the driveway, stand in the water at the culvert’s frothing rim—and dive under to try its perilous length. Sometime … Raising one hand, he held his breath for another test, dropping the forked twig into the swirl. Then as he turned to watch from the other end of the bridge, to test the twig’s time against his own breath, the uneven rattle of the car, as though its engine lurched on half its [140] cylinders, came to him across the dry fifteen feet of ground separating him from the road.

How long had they waited? How long would they have waited? “Excuse me, son—” deferential, apologetic.

Beside the man who spoke—a youngish, blue-eyed man with an unshaved round face—sat a straight-haired woman with tired eyes and a pale mouth, a baby in diapers staring from her lap. In the back seat, three nudging children held place against a pile of bedding, Mason and mayonnaise jars, and kitchen pans. With the same blue eyes, they watched him. The boy was his age, the two girls younger. The man nodded with a smile to the house across the road. “Is that there the Bingham place? And I reckon this here is his cottonfield?”

“That’s right. All the way through to the road in front of the Jorgenson place.”

“Thank you. We’re going to work for him. We come all the way from Texas—” he said it in three syllables: “Tay-yuk-sass”—”and we’re pretty tuckered out. Mr. Bingham—he told us to just move right in when we come.”

Of course Dad was furious. Changed from swimming suit to milking clothes, DeWayne listened to him call Wes Jorgenson and Aaron Luke on the telephone and then fume because Harry Welk’s line was still busy after half an hour. He’d come home in the Model-A he drove back and forth to town, his face congesting with anger as he swung in over the bridge. He’d seen the rusting car parked in the driveway across the road. Or more likely not “parked” but “come to rest,” expired like a bony animal in the hot Johnson grass exploding among the Binghams’ grapefruit trees. Actually it wasn’t the Bingham place proper. For Ted Bingham lived at the other end of the grove with his brother Ben in the family home—in what DeWayne imagined must be a litter of beer cans and empty cigarette packs. Their fights in town and occasional weekend jail terms and especially the bruises and black eyes they inflicted on each other [141] branded them in his mind as deputies of the devil. DeWayne and his own brother, now on a church mission in Germany, had fought, but that was not the same as two rangy men in their forties pummeling each other until they both fell sore and exhausted.

“It’s a blessing old man Bingham didn’t live to see this,” his dad said later as they walked through the orange trees toward the cow pasture. “This would have killed him off—would have killed him off, bad heart or not.”

DeWayne stepped quickly to keep up. Though he stood already as tall as his father, the stubby, paunchy man drove himself on swift piston-like legs and made DeWayne extend his own longer steps to hold pace.

His dad slashed out with liver-spotted hands. “We offered him a perfectly fair price, didn’t we? You’d think he’d have accepted for his father’s sake, whether he believes in the church any more or not. How long did those people say they’re staying?”

“They didn’t tell me.”

“They wouldn’t come all the way from Texas for two weeks’ work. No, I think Ted Bingham resents old man Bingham giving the land for the old church house. Those two boys have gone to the very devil, I tell you. Must be the Indian blood in them t Sunday Dad had a meeting with Bishop Linkman. He didn’t know how the bishop could be so calm, but Bishop Linkman smiled and said they’d have to wait till Ted Bingham got it out of his system—whatever “it” was.

“I don’t have that much patience,” said Dad. “Or faith. I swear I don’t.”

II

Whatever Ted Bingham’s plan was and however it taxed Dad’s patience, DeWayne had no problems making friends with R. T. He tagged DeWayne on his morning chores, standing off quietly until DeWayne was finished, jumping forward if asked to help. But he was too skinny, however eager, to be much help.

They made readier equals in the afternoon when they splashed in the irrigation ditch running along the road or sat on the bank in the bay where the horses and disc entered to clean out the weeds. The water was shallow there and warm as bath water, and as their feet sank they stirred clouds of sediment. When it settled, they watched the minnows and polliwogs whip like rubber darts about their ankles. Yet the polliwogs were easy to catch.

DeWayne held one with half-formed legs, his hands cupped in the water. How long would it take this one to become a frog? Where would the frog go when he got grown? Clean to the end of the ditch, R. T. said. To the end of the ditch, into the canal—on and on till it got clean to the ocean.

“But frogs don’t live in the ocean. They’d get eaten. He’ll probably stay here.”

“But maybe the water would just push him on,” said R. T., [145] “whether he wanted to go or not.”

Now and then DeWayne’s mother gave him a dime for two Barqs at Ruiz’s Store. The first time they went, DeWayne learned something about R. T.—how the boy’s mouth could become tight, his face red, his intentions unswerving. And one of the things that made them that way. First, Dewayne tried to buy him a Barq and R. T. refused. Then DeWayne insisted, while Mr. Ruiz smiled behind the counter.

“Well, if you don’t want one,” he exclaimed finally, “take the nickel then.”

“No.”

“I’m trying to give it to you.” DeWayne handed the Mexican shopkeeper the money. “A root beer Barq. For him!”

As Mr. Ruiz popped the cap, DeWayne swung through the door, leaving R. T. to refuse. He waited on the bench under the awning, his own pop bottle cold in his hands.

R. T., face grim, eyes narrowed, stamped barefoot to the edge of the bench. He turned the bottle upside down and let the pop gurgle out.

“Hey!” DeWayne tried to grab the bottle. “You give it to me.”

They spilled the pop on themselves, until R. T. broke away and hurled the bottle at a rock.

“You stupid damn fool,” said DeWayne.

“I told you I didn’t want it.”

“Now we’ll have to pay for the bottle.”

“My mama will give me money to pay for it.”

“Do you always do such crazy things?”

“My mama will give me the money.”

Thereafter DeWayne made his offer carefully. When R. T. said he wasn’t thirsty, DeWayne said that R. T.’s mom would repay DeWayne’s. Though DeWayne knew R. T. never told his mother and was aware that R. T. knew he wasn’t fooled, this seemed to satisfy him. Better than arguing. They sat under the porch awning drinking their soda pop and stared at the churchhouse across the [146] street or at the oily dirt by the gas pump.

Such idleness worried DeWayne’s father.

“Didn’t they come here to work? Isn’t that what Ted Bingham said? He needed help?”

“Ada said she’s glad—”

“Ada is it? You spend every afternoon over there too? Watching that baby—I”

“She’s lonely, Roland. And it’s such a sweet baby.”

“Well—” DeWayne’s father grumbled. After DeWayne, as was no secret, his mother lost a three-month-old baby girl and followed that with three miscarriages. Ever since she’d been bewitched by babies. “Okay, they’ve got a baby.”

“But Dad,” said DeWayne. “There’s nothing for R. T. to do. He doesn’t want to sit in that house all day.”

“There isn’t anything for them to do,” said his dad. “What did I tell you? Sheer spite! I haven’t seen that father—what’s his name?

Jesse!—in the field at all!”

“He’s fixing up the house,” said his mother.

“He’s what?”

“Oh, not what you think. He’s just making it more comfortable.

You have to admit the yard’s cleaner now than it ever has been.”

“What about the boy then? Always over here. How’s DeWayne supposed to get any work done?”

“Dad—?”

“All right. All right.”

“This is the first time,” said DeWayne’s mom, “that they’ve lived close enough to someone R. T.’s age for the child to have somebody to play with. Now—”

“All right, I said. All right.”

III

Dad sometimes came home from the barbershop for lunch, but usually he stayed in town all day. Usually too he took the Model-A, [147] leaving the Chevy behind for DeWayne’s mom to use. But that Friday almost two and a half months after the Hanks family moved in, the Chevy was in the garage for work and DeWayne’s mother had no transportation. Otherwise, DeWayne figured, it wouldn’t have happened.

His mom came out the screen door shortly after lunch, shading her eyes with her hand. “R. T.? DeWayne?” They’d left the tadpoles to measure the length of the bridge. “You boys go tell R. T.’s mother his daddy wants her on the phone.”

“Race you,” said R. T.

DeWayne, the pavement burning under his bare feet, tore long-legged down the road. But he couldn’t keep up with R. T., who went like a rock from a sling, legs pinwheeling under his skinny back.

They burst together into the dark room, cooler than DeWayne’s house. Mrs. Hanks, lying on the bed, sat up quickly. The two girls came in from the back porch.

“R. T., you’ll wake the baby.”

“But Daddy wants you on the telephone—over at DeWayne’s.”

“My land,” she said. “Your mommy and daddy’ll think we’re nothing but beggars.” She pushed her heels into a pair of scruffy loafers. “Always wanting things—using the phone … You stay here till I get back, you hear?—case the baby wakes?”

The two girls went with her. R. T. and DeWayne sat at the table. Opposite the bed, whose quilt and pillow still showed where Mrs. Hanks had lain, was a rose-colored couch with loosened seams, shiny where the fabric had worn bare. On a dresser in the corner lay a comb and hairbrush and half-a-dozen bobby pins. Along the wall with the stove, cotton curtains gathered along a string covering board shelves. R. T. and the two girls, as DeWayne knew, slept on the back porch.

“I don’t think it would be so bad to live here really—” said DeWayne. He failed to catch himself quickly enough.

“Who says it’s bad?” said R. T.

[148] “I just mean before you came everybody talked about what a shack this place was. That’s what I meant. But your dad’s got it looking real nice.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good. He knows how to do stuff like that.”

But that wasn’t really what DeWayne had meant to say. He wouldn’t mind living here, he’d meant to say—for a while. Like camping out. But it was really a terrible place to live. If he were going to rent the place, Ted Bingham should fix it like a decent house. Or didn’t he intend to rent it? Maybe after all, Ted Bingham had only brought the Hankses as a joke on his dad and the other church members. Maybe after he got tired, after he got “it” out of his system the way Bishop Linkman said, maybe then he’d give over the land for the new church house. Then where would the Hankses go?

He understood why his mother didn’t want the Hankses to know about the squabble. Besides, R. T. would do something really crazy if he found out.

“Ted Bingham ever come around?” he asked R. T.

“A couple of times.”

“Was he drunk?”

“No, but you could sure smell him. Stink like hell. He give Daddy some money. Told him he’d let him know when he wanted him to do something. But he ain’t never asked yet. So he does little jobs around town, Daddy does.”

“And Ted Bingham pays him?”

“Mama says it ain’t right, but he thinks it’s funny. Daddy says it’s no skin off his ass.”

“Your dad’s right,” said DeWayne. “Your dad should get everything from him he can.”

Mrs. Hanks returned shortly. “My land. Your daddy got hisself sick.”

“What’s the matter with him?” asked R. T.

“I don’t know. I ‘spect it’s just some summer cold. You know how your daddy is with a bit of sickness.”

[149] “What’d he call you for?”

“He called ’cause he wanted somebody to come bring him home. That’s why he called.” Mrs. Hanks was visibly irritated. “Our car ain’t working no more.”

“I know it ain’t, R. T. I don’t know what he thought I could do. DeWayne’s daddy is gonna bring him home. His mama called him, and soon as he finishes this haircut, DeWayne’s daddy’ll bring him home.”

Outside, R. T. headed straight for the bridge. He kept wiping the hair back from his face with dirty fingers.

“If he ain’t sick, why’d he have to call?”

“Maybe he is sick.”

“Not really. He don’t know what it’s like to be really sick. He didn’t have to call.”

“And you know, I guess,” said DeWayne, hoping to joke R. T. out of his sullenness. “You been really sick.”

“No, I ain’t.” R. T. turned on him. “But that don’t make no difference, does it? Getting other people to do things for you—”

“My dad doesn’t mind.”

Instead of replying, R. T. glared. A glare that showed DeWayne that R. T. knew how his father felt, that showed DeWayne that if DeWayne’s mother had driven the shame wouldn’t be nearly so strong—still there maybe, but not nearly so strong.

R. T. was right of course. When DeWayne’s father dropped Jesse Hanks off at the Bingham place, R. T. ran home. DeWayne followed his father into the house.

“Sick, you say? Sick!” DeWayne’s dad bellowed.

“Well, Roland. How was I to know?”

“Almost an hour out of the afternoon. Do you know how long I had to wait for him?”

“If somebody calls and says he’s sick, you don’t ask him how sick.”

“Ted Bingham would get a big laugh out of this.”

“I don’t think Ada would have done this—”

[150] “Not R. T. neither,” said DeWayne.

“Never mind,” said his mom, shushing him. Then to his dad, “Now that you’re home, why don’t you nap before milking. You don’t really have enough time left to—”

“Nap! Some people’ve got to work! Somebody’s got to buy gas for this ambulance service.”

DeWayne’s mom lifted her arms. Dad had reached that state. No sense talking to him when he was like this, liver-spotted hands batting at the air, voice sharpened to a bark. No sense trying to hold him back as he pushed out the door, still talking, still gesturing.

“If he could just forget this Bingham business for five minutes …” The Model-A started—ratcheting, ratcheting. DeWayne listened to it go out the driveway, waiting for it to be gone, so the fumes of anger could clear, allowing the summer afternoon to curl back upon them like a lazy dog. But the loud noise shattered those expectations.

“He hit the hole, Mom!”

“Oh, dear.”

At the bridge, they found the two back wheels sunk, one in the rip in the middle of the bridge, the other in the hole at the edge DeWayne peered into so often. His dad, without a word, stood at the back of the car, beating steadily with one hand at the roof of the Model-A now sunk low enough to be his own height.

His mother barely hesitated. “I’ll call Aaron Luke,” she said. “See if he can come help.” She fled to the house for DeWayne knew—as certainly his mother did—that if she hesitated a second his dad would try to do it alone.

After a moment, with ostentatious calm, Dad said, “DeWayne, get the jack. And tell your mother to get off the phone.”

His mother, who was still trying to get the Lukes, said, “Tell him Aaron Luke’s on his way.”

When Aaron Luke arrived in his pickup with Wes Jorgenson, DeWayne and his dad had a jack, a redwood 4-by-4 left over from [151] mending the corral, and part of an old beam. Aaron asked if it wouldn’t be quicker if he went home for his tractor. DeWayne’s dad shook his head. This would just take a minute.

“If the three of you—”—he meant DeWayne and the two farmers—”can boost this enough for me to get a jack underneath—”

“Roland,” said DeWayne’s mom. “I wish you’d let Aaron get his tractor like he said.”

His dad only frowned at her, guilty for calling him home. Aaron Luke said, “This will likely work just as well, Lenore.”

Using the beam as a base, they angled the fence post under the rear of the car.

“Now see if we can lever it up—”

With DeWayne’s father the three of them pushed down, and the car rose, its wheels lifting from the two holes. Gently they lowered it again, satisfied that it would work. DeWayne’s dad adjusted the jack and dropped to his hands and knees.

“Once more now—”

DeWayne saw R. T. in the distance watching. When DeWayne’s mom saw him, she smiled and motioned him to her. She put her hand on his bare shoulder, and they stood aside like partners in crime.

“DeWayne, you going to help or not?”

Slowly, they raised the car once more. It tilted on the end of the post, balanced against the pressure of their arms. DeWayne’s dad slipped in under the Ford, pushing the jack forward, maneuvering it carefully with his fingers.

“Better hurry, Roland,” grunted Aaron Luke.

The jack fell over. DeWayne’s dad scrambled in farther.

“Roland—”

“Hold it steady. I’ve got it set.”

“Roland, it’s slipping.”

“Roland,” called DeWayne’s mom.

His dad scurried back, rump first, jerked out his head, but before his left arm was free, the car, which had been sinking, [152] dropped and caught his arm.

“Quick,” said Aaron Luke. “Lift.”

Together they hoisted the frame of the car high enough for DeWayne’s dad to slide his arm out. His face was pale and wet.

“How bad’s it broken?”

“C’mon, Roland,” said Aaron Luke. “I’ll drive you to Doc Weber’s.”

DeWayne looked from his father’s face to his mother’s. He looked at R. T., whose blue eyes were round. Suddenly, R. T. spun and tore across the road to his house.

“Oh, dear,” said DeWayne’s mom, turning to watch him.

When DeWayne’s dad got back from town with his arm in a cast and pain pills in pocket, Wes Jorgenson and two other farmers had gotten the Model-A out with a tractor. By himself, DeWayne had almost finished the milking.
DeWayne ate supper late that evening, a little tired from the excitement of the day, his arms aching from having milked all the cows. His mother asked, “Why don’t you go over and see R. T. for a while? Your father needs to sleep, and I think R. T. might like a little company.”

R. T. was leaning against the gate, his hair white as a star in the evening.

“I was going to help you milk,” said R. T. “But Mom said I better stay away, seeing as how I ain’t never milked a cow before.”

“That’s okay.”

“And besides your daddy—” DeWayne couldn’t tell whether he stressed “your” or not— “I bet it hurts like hell—a broken arm does.”

“He’s okay. The doctor gave him some pills.”

“My daddy didn’t need to see no doctor.”

For a time, they were silent. Finally, without signal, they crossed the bridge. DeWayne took off his milking shoes, crusty with manure and mud, and they sat on the edge, dragging their feet like weights in the water.

[153] DeWayne said, “It’s really kind of a trap, this bridge is. Dad says he’s got to fix it, but he never does. Once you know how to get the car out, it isn’t so bad. The lemon tree there is the problem—it’s so big.”

The tree grew just to the side of the gate. Large as a mansion, its branches bulged into the driveway and dragged the ground.

“The tree needs pruning,” he said, “but we haven’t done that either. If it wasn’t there, you could see, but the way it is, you know—” to DeWayne it was important that R. T. understand—”you have to duck in your head when you back the car out. That’s why my dad hit the holes this time. He was going fast and couldn’t see.”

“He was going fast,” said R. T., “’cause he was mad.”

DeWayne couldn’t deny it. A bullfrog began to thrum.

“Hey, listen to that,” he said. “Ain’t he loud!”

R. T. chuckled. “We couldn’t sleep the first couple of nights we were here. My daddy come out looking for him even. You was probably snoring, ’cause it was way to the middle of the night. I’m glad he didn’t find him.”

“My mom says he sings her to sleep every night.”

The reverberation of the sound enclosed them, setting them—with the sound of the running water—almost adrift from the day.

“I’d like to be that old bullfrog,” said R. T. “Sit in the same place and sing. His place and not nobody else’s—he knows it’s not nobody else’s. ‘Cause I bet he knows everybody listens and everybody likes it. Just sit as comfortable in that mud … And sing. The water comes out from this here bridge, and he watches it go by just cozy in the mud. And he sings.”
As he lay half asleep on the screenporch, after R. T.’s mom had called him home to bed, DeWayne drifted with the pulsing boom of the bullfrog. When it suddenly stopped, he broke awake. R. T., he thought. What’s he doing out there? But then, catching himself, he thought, R. T.’s asleep. He can’t be out there. He listened and heard nothing and after a time went on to sleep.

IV

[154] The next day, R. T.’s mind was on the bridge, not on the bullfrog.

DeWayne didn’t feel like seeing him. The sun, brazen and stinging, carried the hot and frustrated consequences of earlier excitement. DeWayne’s dad insisted on going to town. DeWayne’s mom gave up her hold on calm, and out of the quarrel that followed DeWayne’s dad expanded the circle of blame: Ted Bingham who rented out land the church needed, the Hankses who rented that land, DeWayne’s mom who liked Mrs. Hanks, DeWayne who liked to play with R. T., the bridge that he might have time to fix if he once got the business of the land cleared away … Never mind the pain of the broken arm! DeWayne’s mom threw up her hands. DeWayne sat in silence. After the sound of the Model-A disappeared down the road, DeWayne’s mom refused to let him sympathize with her. She began fighting furniture and scrubbing floors, and unless he wanted to help, she said, he could get himself out the door and out of her way.

Who wanted to see R. T. after that? Yet there he was, star-haired, blue-eyed, standing on the bridge without so much as an invitation.

R. T. dropped some leaves from the lemon tree into the hole. “Somebody who could go under there could do anything,” he said. “If you could go through there, you’d never be afraid of anything again. Anyway I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t care if I got washed clean out to the ocean—not if I’d gone through there.”

“That’s a crazy thing to say. Clear to the ocean.”

“Maybe so. But it’s true.”

They stared at the frothing water. Finally R. T. said softly, “You ain’t never been under there, have you?”

“What do you think?”

“I never could. Never in my life.”

“Watch this,” said DeWayne. He scooped a polliwog from the [155] ditch. He held it, water falling through his fingers, over the gargling mouth in the bridge. The water streamed out until the polliwog was left wet and flopping in his palms.

“Drop it quick,” said R. T. “In the water.”

“Hold your breath.”

They filled their chests. DeWayne let it fall. They ran to the end of the bridge, dropping on hands and knees, staring as far down into the flowing water as they could. DeWayne didn’t breathe until, head swelling, he heard the mailman stop at their box. When R. T. heaved for air, DeWayne let his lungs go again. He felt as though five minutes had passed.

“When you suppose it’s going to come out?” asked R. T.

“We probably didn’t see it.”

“I’d sure to have seen it,” said R. T. “You shouldn’t have dropped it in. Something ate it.”

R. T. said “et.” DeWayne peered at the boiling water. Crazy. At least a polliwog couldn’t drown.

“Yes, sir,” said R. T. “Something ate it.”

“Don’t keep saying that.” The idea of a monster-fish, another dark obstacle … For a moment it felt to DeWayne as though the bridge, like an ark, lifted beneath his feet. “You didn’t see it when it came out. That’s all. Besides, what would eat a tadpole?”

“There’s something under there—”

“There isn’t anything under there. Don’t you think I should know?”

“Why? Because you saw the tadpole? Because you swum under the bridge?”

“You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to.”

“Tell me then. When did it come out? Before the mailman stopped?”

“Yes. Before the mailman stopped.”

“The hell! I was looking. Something ate it.”

“But there isn’t anything to eat it. I know.”

“Oh yes,” said R. T. “You do know.”

[156] “You don’t believe me, you go under.”

“Don’t trick me.”

“You scared”?

“Hell, no. I ain’t scared. Besides, you ain’t never swum under there.”

Then quickly, with scarcely a breath, “I have, too.” Instantly, the ground settled. He heard his mother shaking out a rug. The air was motionless.

But R. T. persisted. “No, you ain’t. Ain’t nobody ever swum under there. Not even that bullfrog.”

“How come you don’t try then? Go find what ate it?”

“Cause you’re here. How come if you’re such big stuff and your daddy has his own house—how come you never swum through when somebody could watch?”

“I can go through anytime I want. And if I don’t want to when some half-pint Okie from Texas—”

“Don’t call me no Okie!”

“A scared half-pint Okie!”

R. T.’s lips, thinning to a scar, reeled forward. DeWayne raised his arms against his hands, flailing like mallets.

“Chicken-shit.”

DeWayne struck back, and R. T. stumbled, glaring. His face glowed behind the fallen hair and his shiny chest flamed with the mark of DeWayne’s blow.

“You stay on your side of the stinking road,” DeWayne panted.

“Don’t you worry.”

“And while you’re about it, go on back to Texas. Nobody wants you here.” Suddenly the whole story spilled off his tongue —quickly—like something too hot before politeness or second thought restrained, as though—off balance—he couldn’t speak rightly.

Tears washed R. T.’s voice. “I wish we would. I sure wish we would. Because I ain’t never coming over here no more … I ain’t playing under no lemon tree, I ain’t playing in no ditch, and I ain’t swimming under no stinking damn bridge.”

[157] “That’s fine with me.”

“Good.”

“Yeah. Good.”

He was gone, flying down and across the road. Gone and good riddance. Good.

DeWayne went into the house, glad to be out of the sun. The furniture was askew, the throw rugs draped hither and yon, vases atilt on the floor, magazines and newspapers spilled in the doorway, as though the house had been shaken in a tempest. His mom in faded Levis was on her hands and knees with a bucket of suds.

She turned on him, red in the face, a string of hair catching in the corner of her mouth. “Didn’t you hear what I said! Unless you want to help—”

DeWayne was beginning to feel nauseous. The red marks of his fists on R. T.’s chest. The tears glittering like rainwater in R. T.’s eyes.

“I heard what you said.”

Something in the tone of his voice seemed to catch at his mom. She pulled the hair out of her mouth and sat back on her heels, head atilt. She looked up at him the same way she had looked at R. T. the afternoon the Hankses moved in.

“Oh, hon,” she said. She stepped around the displaced sofa, wiping her hands, and pressed DeWayne to her. “I have two such fine boys …” DeWayne felt the memory of her losses loosen the tightened muscles and nerves of her body. “I came in to help you, Mom,” he said.

Together they had the house finished by midafternoon.

Before that, while they ate their bread and milk for lunch, they heard Mrs. Hanks across the road, calling, “R. T. … R. T. …” Her voice rose in the middle and fell away with the sound of “eee.” “Oh, R. T. …”

DeWayne’s mom asked, “You see R. T. today?”

“Just this morning.”

Mrs. Hanks was still calling when, floor dried, he and his mom [158] pushed the furniture back into place. They had not quite finished when DeWayne’s dad arrived home. Early.

“Roland, don’t you feel—”

“Of course, I feel well,” he said. He kissed his wife on the cheek. “I got tired and thought I might come home for a nap. Besides, my arm started to ache.”

His dad had no sooner taken shoes and shirt off and stretched himself out on the bed, however, when a soft knock came at the door. Mrs. Hanks peered anxiously around DeWayne’s mom when she opened the door and shook her head when DeWayne’s mom asked her in.

“No, Lenore. I wouldn’t have come ‘cept—DeWayne, have you seen R. T.? I don’t get no answer at all.”

“Not since this morning.”

“I sent the girls down to Ruiz’s Store, but he ain’t there, and I been up and down the road … His daddy went back to work. His cold’s better today, you see. But I can’t find R. T. nowhere.”

DeWayne’s dad appeared in stocking feet. Mrs. Hanks stepped back, apologetic. But anger was gone. Probably, he said, R. T. had gotten so involved in something and forgot the time. Boys were like that. “But R. T. ain’t never gone off by hisself before,” said Mrs. Hanks. “Not like this.”

“Tell you what,” said DeWayne’s dad. “DeWayne can go scout the back field. I’ll get in the car and try the schoolyard.”

“Oh, no. I can’t ask—”

“It’s all right, Ada,” said DeWayne’s mom as his dad went for his shoes. “He can’t be gone far.”

DeWayne loped out the back door and down through the trees, running along the top of the borders thrown up for irrigation. He was glad to leave, for he and R. T. had been together so much someone would soon wonder why they weren’t together now. Then the quarrel would come out, and DeWayne felt that too much of the blame was his own.

It came from sharing the idea of the bridge with R. T. For [159] months it had been his dream and nightmare, his alone. After his brother left on his mission, DeWayne had begun to think of the bridge and what he could do. If Kaiserslautern and Landstuhl and Miesau and Bruchmülbach belonged to his brother—if those names were woven into the design of his life as a missionary—then the bridge from which his brother had held him by his knees and let him dangle in exquisite terror was what dominated the design of his own life this summer. Threat and joy.

That—when he disclosed to R. T. his nightmare-dream—was what he had shared with R. T. That was what R. T. had almost wrecked this morning with the idea of a gobbled tadpole. And that, DeWayne knew now, was what he himself had wrecked on the reef of their quarrel. For joy was gone.

His was the blame … R. T. hiding, his mother distraught.

As DeWayne was climbing through the barbed wire fence, the thought made him reel.

That would be a crazy thing to do! he told himself. Yet because it was crazy, he was all the more sure.

He tore through the ]ohnson grass in the orchard to the corral next to the ditch. There was the headgate, where he shoved in boards to back the water up and make it shallow at the bridge. Then up the road, running slow compared to R. T.’s slingshot speed, he reached the bridge. The water in the ditch had dropped to less than a foot. It rose barely over his ankles.

But now he was here, what was he to do?

He realized then how long it had been since he had heard R. T.’s mother calling him, how long it was since R. T., voice breaking with tears, had run from him. The question came: how long had R. T. been under the bridge? The thought like a drumbeat: R. T. dead. R. T. dead.

“DeWayne! What on earth are you doing?”

His mother stood above him, a nimbus of sunlight glaring behind her. He hadn’t heard her and Mrs. Hanks. Why should he with the thought pounding as it was: R. T. dead?

[160] “Didn’t your father tell you—”

DeWayne saw her hand slash across the glare. She turned to Mrs. Hanks, back to DeWayne, whose eyes ached. Then she was on her knees, her face directly in front of him.

“DeWayne, what are you boys doing around this bridge all the time? What have you been doing?”

The Model-A drove up and DeWayne’s dad climbed out, saying R. T. was not at the schoolyard but that Ted Bingham who was walking down from town had come to help look…

Mrs. Hanks began to cry.

Seeing DeWayne, realizing, his father started to slip off his shoes and come down into the ditch, but the brown fingers wriggled in frustration from the end of the cast. Ted Bingham stood with his long thin hands loosely on his hips. His hair, long and black and straight, dropped over his dark forehead. His shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest. Any other time, DeWayne would have watched for sparks of sin, sniffed for the odor of damnation.

His father with his broken arm was helpless. “DeWayne, you’ll have to crawl through there. Can you do that, son?”

“Under the bridge?” Delaying.

“You go under there and look. Do as I say.”

Beneath the shaven sky, DeWayne’s mom put her arm around Mrs. Hanks. Then a car turned down from the churchhouse. The water sucked under the bridge as Aaron Luke’s pickup stopped.

“What’s the matter?”

DeWayne’s dad managed to kick off his shoes and come down to squeeze his arm. DeWayne felt the water pull at his ankles. It sucked his thighs as he knelt.

Sunlight at the other end of the opening turned the water to silver.

“I don’t see nothing. Not from here.”

“Hells bells!” cried Ted Bingham. “That’s no chore for a boy. Get out of there.”

He was barefoot instantly, sinking his long pale feet into the [161] mud, dropping in shirt and all before the culvert as DeWayne stepped back.

The long legs disappeared. Mrs. Hanks’s sobbing stopped. Reprieved, DeWayne climbed out of the ditch with his father. As though it were far away, the sound of Ted Bingham’s wading came to him, and DeWayne tried to imagine himself doing it, holding his body sensitive to any brush or bruise he thought Ted Bingham might feel, sensing the weight of the darkness and the on-pushing movement of the water.

He stared at Mrs. Hanks with her eyes looking scabbed from the fists she had dug into them, at his mother with her arm folded around her shoulders. Then he turned to the house where he had retreated after his quarrel with R. T. Then as he continued to look, as he sought the landscape of the day’s history, he became conscious of another looking out of it—not from the day’s past but from its present. For the smallest measurement of time, he didn’t say anything, connecting eyes to body and identifying them. But once he did his spirit took wing.

“There he is!” he cried.

Mrs. Hanks wept again. Aaron Luke sputtered.

“That crazy R. T. There he is! Look at him sitting in that lemon tree. Crazy—!”

He was pointing his arm just as Ted Bingham came out from under the bridge at the other end.

“What the hell you shouting about?” he roared. “Goddam it!”

DeWayne, scarcely knowing what he did, crossed the bridge, grabbed a branch of the lemon tree, and began shaking it as hard as he could.

“Get out of there, crazy—! Get out of there!” For a moment, he laughed. Or cried. “Get out of there!”

The day was redeemed.
Later that evening R. T. stood on the bridge. DeWayne approached slowly.

[162] “You’re a crazy fool,” he said.

“So are you,” said R. T.

“Nobody’s ever gone under that bridge in the water.”

Then R. T. told him they were going to leave. His mother insisted, though they would wait until the car was fixed. Ted Bingham had promised to pay the bill.

Toge