fifteen              

            "Fuck her."

            "You mean get her off my mind? I wish I could."

            "I mean fuck her, Zack. Shuck her down, bend her over a hay bale, and let her have it. Now don't get up on your high horse. I been listenin' to this 'fixation' of yours for goin' on a hour and all I've heard, in all that time, is Zack Squire's got a hankerin' for nooky with his nigger."

            "You are crude, Randy. I don't know why I even consider you my friend."

            "Because I tell you the truth, that's why. You've worked up such a itch for this... What's-her-name?"

            "Jewel."

            "...puttin' off the scratch will only make it worse. Remember Charleston? Your first time? Shit, Zack, if it hadn't been a cat house, and that woman waxin' keen, I swear you'd still be a virgin, green as unripe apples. For a boy growed up 'round horses, pigs, cows and all kind o' critters, you sure are dumb as dung when it comes to..."

            "Men are not animals."

            "You're absolutely right. But women are. A man no sooner plants his seed he's lookin' for other options, something better to do with his brains and brawn; men got gumption. Women, once that crop is in, start focusin' on the harvest. Everything's geared toward breedin'; that's what they're made for—and you sure as shucks can't breed without..."

            "White men do not 'breed', as you so crudely put it, with their inferiors."

            "Since when?... Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! Jesus, Zack, you're skittish as a titmouse. Listen, I know we're supposed to believe that the nigger is inferior; hell, the whole economy depends on it. But you and me been livin' with 'em nigh on twenty-five years. They're folks. They got dark skins and they smell kind o' funky— maybe they talk and act a mite peculiar compared to us Whites—but the only thing that really makes us different is that they are on the bottom whereas we're on the top."

            Zachary stares dumbfounded at his boyhood pal.

            "Do you have any idea what you just said?"

            "Yeah. A cunt is a cuntWhite cunt, Black cunt, once you get right down to it, and into it, cunts are all the same."

            "I don't believe you. Can you imagine what would happen if the niggers heard such talk? The social ramifications? The moral and..."

            "Whoa! What in Hell are you talkin' about—'social ramifications'? We got the upper hand and we got it good. Only have to let the niggers know who's boss."

            "You don't understand, do you? Blacks and Whites are not of the selfsame species One is meant to serve, the other to be served. Call that into question and our very way of life is..."

            "Christ, don't fuck her, then, if it'll make you any happier. All I said was it's best to keep the niggers in their place."

            Zachary lets go the twig he has been snapping into smaller and smaller pieces. He stands, retrieves his hat, and uses it to swat porch dust from the seat of his britches—the cloud bestirred turned orange by rays of a setting sun.

            "So where you off to, Zack? Your place? Back to the Abernathy's. How is Miss Felicia, and when 's the wedding?... Zack? You-who; Zachary? Anybody home?"

            Slaves are kin to livestock not to human beings. They're chattel—or to give them credittools. You don't abuse a tool; you take care of it; treat it with respect. But you don't mistake a tool for the hand that wields it.

            Randolph Bates spits tobacco.

            "You gonna talk to me, or just clam up like usual? Come on, Zack, let loose. You got yourself all twisted up in knots. You wanna drink? I got a jug inside. I'll get us some. Wait. Don't go until you've had a good stiff snort."

            Floorboards creak, a slat door whines on opening, whines on closing with a culminating SLAM. The sun is down, twilight fallen like a veil. It obfuscates the squalor of Bates' run-down, dirt-poor acreage. His house more resembles a shanty, with its trapdoor windows, clapboard walls, and patch-mosaic roof—a stovepipe poking through. He owns no slaves himself, though does get lent some now and again as compensation for his duties as a neighbourhood Patroller. Once a month he goes to Charleston for sex. Between times he goes fishing, tends to his vegetables, hunts small game, or operates his still. He also whittles. Whittling is the one thing Bates does well.

            A glow ignites the doorway as Bates re-emerges, armed with whiskey jug and lantern, visibly pleased his chum has deigned to tarry.

            "Wanna cup, Zack, or will nigger-lippin' do?"

            I've scarcely even spoken to her. Complimented her once—stupid thing to do. Caught me staring. Made me feel self-conscious... as if my private thoughts were less than pure...

            "Zack. Hey, Zack, boy."

            ... I did not take possession to deflower that slave myself!

            "Jesus, Zack, unwind. The brain can only work so long then gets tuckered like any other muscle. Let it lay."

            Bates tugs the cork with his teeth, the resultant POP intruding on Zachary's morbid reverie—reminding him of the  hour, the place, the companionship, and then the proffered  jug. With a shrug of resignation he sits back down and drinks.