Slipping the rabbit's foot into his pocket, he pulled the flimsy screen off two bottom nails that barely held it to the window, climbed down the ladder, and ran across the backyard just as Mr. and Mrs. Highland were getting out of their car. The Highlands were from Birmingham and liked to tell everybody how things were done "in town." Pete wondered why they'd ever moved to a little dot on the map like Glory if they liked the city so much.
As she crossed the yard, Mrs. Highland pulled a mirror out of her purse and fussed with her hair. She was so busy studying herself that she didn't see Isaac standing there with his fishing poles, and bumped right into him.
"Beg pardon, ma'am," Isaac said, backing away from her the way you'd back away from a dog that might bite.
"Don't you people ever look where you're going?" she snapped as she kept walking.
"But Isaac didn't—" Pete stopped himself when Isaac put a hand on his shoulder.
"C'mon, Pete," he whispered. "Ain't no good come o'stirrin' that one up."
Isaac loaded the cane poles into his green pickup, and the two of them headed for Copper Creek—Pete's favorite. Right beneath the bridge, the creek was shallow, with cold, clear water gurgling over big rocks so smooth they looked like they had been hand-sanded and spit-shined. The water deepened just beyond a bend that you could barely make out from the road.
Isaac pulled over once they cleared the bridge, taking the cane poles, a stringer, and a box of worms out of his truck. "I can carry something," Pete said, and Isaac handed him one of the poles. They made their way down the bank and into the woods to a prime spot underneath a big cottonwood tree and plopped their corks in the water.
Once they got situated, Isaac sat quietly, looking out over the creek in the direction of his cork. Pete had always appreciated the way Isaac never rushed him into a conversation. He had a way of knowing when you were ready to talk and leaving you be till you got there.
"Isaac," Pete finally said, "did you really jump in and try to save Daddy before Uncle Danny and them got there?"
Isaac gave a weary sigh as he stared at the creek. "You don't need no pictures like that cloudin' up your mind," he said.
"But did you?"
Isaac hesitated. "Yeah," he finally said, without embellishing.
"Were you scared?"
"But you did it anyways?"
Isaac's cork bobbed on the water and he gave his line a little tug. But the cork popped back up and steadied itself. "I reckon I done it 'cause I knew your daddy woulda jumped in there for me. Ain't many people I can say that about. Sho' ain't no white men I can say it about." As Pete's cork went underwater, Isaac said, "Looka yonder—you need to quit pesterin' me and look after your fish."
Pete gave the pole a tug and then stood up on the bank to pull in a small bream not big enough to fry. "I reckon I'll let 'im go," he said, freeing the fish and tossing it back in the creek. He put another worm on his hook, dropped his line in the water, and sat back down next to Isaac. They were silent for a while before Pete quietly said, "Thank you for tryin'."
"You welcome," Isaac answered. For a time, the two of them watched their corks and listened to the peaceful sound of the creek moving through the woods. But Pete had more questions.
"Isaac, how old were you when your daddy died?"
"Little older'n you—thirteen or so."
"Was it scary?"
"Whoo, yeah. But I didn't have time to be scared long 'cause they was people to feed—Mavis and Letha and Junie and Iris and Mama and me. Life throw you a hairpin turn sometimes—ain't nothin' you can do but keep drivin' and try to keep it in the road."
"Is that how come you didn't finish school?"
"Yeah, but our school wasn't much no-ways. B'lieve I taught myself more with all them books Mama brings me than I ever woulda learned at that little school."
"Where'd you get all your books—without going to school, I mean?" Now that Pete thought about it, he had never seen any colored people in the county library.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
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