It was the bit of paper that did it.
Out through the door the land rolled away down the valley like some Friday-night drunk. It was a two-hour walk from that door to where the fields were interrupted by a small outcrop of plain wooden buildings. That’s where the Carsons live. Or used to. If you looked out from here then you’d have known about a visit for near half a morning as they made their way up that hill, past where Jim and Joshua’s bones lay in that good, rich soil.
It wasn’t none of them Carson’s today though. And they didn’t come up the hill. But we heard the car from a ways off anyhow. That sound carries on the wind like locust.
We knew what it was.
When the car pulled up he got out and saw us stood outside to greet him, the whole bunch of us that were left. No one said anything except he looked like he might like to start the talking after he’d lifted his hat, nice and nervous, and nodded once to my mother, who was holding my youngest kin close to her hip, like she needed something to steady herself.
He looked like the sort of man who was worn down by making excuses for what he had to do. But he went and did it anyway because what else could he do? He asked for my Daddy by his full name and reached into a bag pulling out that damn piece of paper.
Daddy stepped out of the house into the light holding the shotgun he’d been teaching me to shoot rabbits with.
“Mister, that piece of paper don’t say nothin’ ‘bout my boys that lay out under that dirt. Reckon that means somethin’. Gotta mean somethin’, don’t it?”
“I gotta give you this piece of paper, Mister Holt. Now, you know I gotta so it’s best we do this nice and polite and I can get back in my car.”
“That paper don’t say nothin’ ‘bout my kin at all, does it? ‘Bout how our blood is mixed in with this dirt like water in oatmeal. You take another step with that goddam paper it’ll be your last”.
He walked backwards to the car, maybe four inches shorter than when he got out. Mama cried a little but not so much as you’d care to notice.
You can only buy little bits of time from men with paper. They’ll get you in the end.