And her father, Bethany’s father—Robert Labeau—had a story too.  He had a story to tell his daughter once he found out about her running from a boy in the dry creek bed just down from his mailbox.  A story of a river, and what it means to get to the other side—the price of it.  The price of returning, wanting to return.  With the knowledge gained from it.

He told it standing at the water pump.  The well he had dug before her birth.  On ground that had grown sour.  Too many minerals in the water—calcium deposits—hard water, not good for pipes.  Soap that wouldn’t lather when they tried to take showers, and Valerie complained about her hair.

“You know I knew him—Warren Bloodwood.  I knew his uncle, that boy you’ve be seeing.  I knew him before he married your grandmother.  Your mother hastening the marriage because she didn’t want folks to talk.  There were enough stories goin’ around about your grandmother comin’ back here, stayin’ with us, for your mother to take on more rumors about her family…”

“Was he like him?  Like his doctor brother?  I know his father is nice.  You told me how he helped my sore throat when I was little.  I remember the pig you gave him.  And he’s nice—the boy’s nice.  I like the attention he gives me.  I didn’t ask him to follow me.  We just take walks, Daddy…”

“Is that all you do?  Take walks?”

“He’s just a boy, Daddy!  He’s nice to me…”

“And you’re just tryin’ to be nice to him—is that it?”

“Yes…”

Bethany can’t look her father in the eye.  She can’t.  She doesn’t know how to talk to a man about boys.  She doesn’t have the words yet.  The eyes that can look at a man, her father, and say them.

“Well he did have the mouth cancer.  That’s true.  But that ain’t how he died.  It wasn’t the chewing tobacco that kilt ‘em…”

“What happened, Daddy?”

The bucket her father’s drawing water in is almost full.  He stands up straight from the pump and wipes his hands on his overalls.  And he nods his head to the pig sty, to the trough by the fence behind his daughter.

“You carry this bucket over there and I’ll tell ya…  You’ve been visitin’ Sissy Walker’s place—haven’t ya?”

“Yes, Father.”

He walks behind her.  Her body strained to the right side as she tries to carry the bucket without the water slopping out.  And though she doesn’t realize she’s doing it, she’s counting the steps she takes to the fence.  She’s counting with her tongue between her teeth.  Her face tensed and mouth clenched with the weight of the bucket.

“Well, just like Sissy, your grandmother’s got a history with men.  A history of some bad choices…  You need to find you a hard workin’ man—a simple man.  And you won’t have the problems your grandmother’s had—what Sissy had with that man—that Wishbone Walker…  You see, your grandmother ain’t really mad at you ‘bout a Bloodwood—she’s mad ‘bout what Sissy’s man did to ‘em.  What Wishbone done to Warren Bloodwood before he disappeared…”

They’re to the pigs now.  Bethany strains as she lifts the bucket over the fence to pour it in the trough.  And you hear the loud snorts as the pigs come running over.  Robert watching, leaning his elbow on one of the fence posts as the pigs come over to drink.

“Did Sissy do somethin’ to ‘em?  Did she do somethin’ to her man like folks says?”

“No… it ain’t what she did to Wishbone—though there’s been rumors.  It’s what Wishbone did to Warren Bloodwood once he found out he’d been visitin’ Sissy while he was away.  Playin’ his guitar at juke joints across the county…  Warren was always kinda a ladies man.  And Wishbone had a reputation for it too.  Which is I guess why he didn’t like another man tip-toeing in his garden…  And it was your grandmother that told him.  She told Wishbone.  She was pregnant at the time, and you’d just been born.  I ‘spose Warren just wanted a little a variety with your grandmother bein’ pregnant and all, and  I ‘spose he got it…  No, no Bloodwood died from cancer.  Though that’s the story told now.  He died from Wishbone’s knife.  He bled to death because he’d been fixed.  Kinda like how we fix these pigs to keep’em from breedin’…  Do you understand now?”

“I think so…”  Bethany watching the pigs now, letting what her father’s telling her digest.  The pigs fighting over slop in the other trough.  The trough next to where she poured the hard well water.  Their snorting loud as they fight over the slop.

“I ain’t sayin’ that Jeremy Bloodwood’s a bad boy.  He might be simple enough.  Simple enough for a boy.  But you go mixin’ in with him and that Sissy Walker you might just stir up trouble.  A troubled past that you wish you didn’t know ‘bout.”

“What happened to Wishbone?  What happened to Sissy’s man—after?”

Robert’s eyes look over the pigs now.  Like he’s tryin’ see something far away.  Something off his land.  But then he looks down at his daughter who’s looking up at him, questioning.

“Who knows…  What does Sissy say?  I ‘spose that’s her secret.  And if you keep goin’ over there.  If you keep takin’ walks with that boy—you might just find out…  I ain’t tryin’ to tell you this to make you wise, darlin’.  God knows I ain’t tryin’ to do that.  You get wise and it just makes you a durn fool—a fool in God’s eyes…  Kinda like that river over yonder—the Sabine.  On the other side is Louisiana.   But that’s not all that’s on the other side.  Some men try to swim it.  Try to swim to the other side.  Because they think there’s wisdom there.  There’s wisdom and knowledge if you go across.  But bein’ wise to things ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Sometimes you just find out you’re a durn fool.  You leave your family, your friends—to get to the other side.  And then what you find is you’re all alone.  You know what you know—sure—just like you know now about Bloodwood.  You know a little bit more now than what you knew then.  About Sissy and Wishbone, about your grandmother and your little Uncle William.  But what does it get ya?  How do you feel now?  How do you feel ‘bout that boy, Jeremy, now?”

“I don’t know…  I thought I knew, but now I don’t.”

“That’s what I mean, darlin’.  Some wisdom, some knowledge, just leaves you feelin’ more foolish than what ya begin with.  Kinda like crossin’ that river—to get to the other side.  You just find yourself alone.  And the current’s too strong.  It’s too strong to take you back to where you started…  That’s why it’s sometimes better to wait.  You wait on them boys.  You’ll learn soon enough, and I bet you’ll wish you hadn’t.  You’ll see how bein’ wise to things just makes you a fool, a durn fool that’s responsible now for what you know.  And responsibility’s a heavy load…  Come on.  We need to fill that bucket again.  Them pigs are thirsty…”

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