They sat facing one another with their plates in their laps, the dog lying at
Trenton’s feet. Chicken and tomatoes was a meal they rarely ate. Hamilton set his
hat on the floor and closed his eyes. “Lord, let us have thanks for food and its fix-
ing. You come to save, and we live to serve. Let the pines be our tithe and the river
our penance. Amen.” The boys’ mother peeled back the taut, yellow skin of the bird
in front of her but could not pull the meat from the bones. Instead, she quartered
the two tomatoes and finished them in eight pained bites. She left her sons eating
alone and threw the whole chicken breast out the back door and onto the dirt for
the dog to slop over. Neither Trenton nor Hamilton looked up but only listened to
the rhythmic raking of a brush over the steel plate.
The brothers arrived early at the county well, leaving the house as soon as
their mother had turned in for bed. They walked out of the house through the back
door in the kitchen, ducking underneath clothes left out to dry on the hanging lines
and hopping over the fence in the back. They descended a steep bank, carrying
their boots in their hands and rolling their pants so they could keep their feet in the
cool creek water. Even at this point in the night, the July heat would stick to your
chest. They did not speak as they moved slowly southward. Cypress trees scattered
the creek bed and water, their roots fully exposed. The boys had once used these
old bends for catfishing. They would gather worms throughout the day and wait
for their pa to come in from logging timber. He took them to this creek and taught
them how to tie a line and where to find fish that would bite. The water was much
higher then, and they would bring home basketfuls for supper. But they stepped
through Jones Creek that night thinking of nothing but the great river of black this
water would eventually feed. They had eaten with their mouths closed, and af-
terwards, they cleaned and sharpened the hunting knives left by their father, both
wrapped in work shirts in his dresser drawer.
Mr. Carter and his hound stood at the well and nodded to them as they
approached. June Bug was next to arrive. He wore long pants with a sleeveless shirt
stained with engine grease; he was a renaissance man in the town, able to fix any-
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