The Big Empty
They say you went off to Dallas for good,” Irene said.
“I’m back. Working for Dowd. He took me under his wing,” Cotton said. “I haven’t seen you in some years.”
“You remember Irene, don’t you Cotton? From the school house,” Buck said.
“Sure, how old are your kids now?” Cotton said.
“The boy is twelve, the girl’s nine. All I hear is Pokémon. Wanta be a good Mom. We got her the video game. We catch her watchin’ Beavis and Butthead all the time. You and Michele have any kids?” Irene asked.
“Nope,” Cotton said.
“Where is she these days?” Irene asked.
“Now, Irene, Cotton don’t want to be bothered by that…. Our boy wants his own web site,” Buck said.
“No kid needs a web site,” Buck said. “The government wants everbody on computers. The law has long ears.”
“They say Horace already put you in jail again since you come back,” Irene said.
“That was Mutt’s doings. We run out of gas on the back side of the lake. He walked up to the highway and a trucker carried him home. Horace come up or I would have froze to death. If the wind would of been blowing, we would be there still. Felt like a record cold. Blue norther overdue,” Cotton said.
“They can’t stop you without reasonable doubt,” Buck said. “How did you get out of jail?”
“Dowd wanted me on a combine and I called him,” Cotton said.
“Ever time I see Dowd, he gets shorter. Used to be taller than me. They say he puts a drop of honey on everthing he eats, and he gets Chinese herbs from a chiropractor. Dowd has farms all over Crosby County,” Buck said.
“They say he is on his third divorce and they are fussin’ over farms and houses and all that,” Irene said.
“I’ve got a map,” Cotton said.
“Did Maureen die?” Irene asked.
“Naw, she’s livin’ in a little house in town,” Cotton said.
“What did she get out of all that?” Irene asked.
“They say she didn’t get much more than what the little boy shot at,” Cotton said.
“What happened to your arm?” Irene asked.
“He set his own self on fire lighting a bar-b-que grill,” Buck laughed.
“You better get that looked at. It’s beginning to fester,” Irene said. “Looks awful.”
“You must have been arrested with the first hard freeze. Did you get any snow?” Buck asked.
“None that stuck to the ground. I was combining guar for Dowd before my arm got hurt,” Cotton said.
“They say Maureen didn’t even get no lawyer,” Irene said.
“Farming guar is like raising gravel. Little hard balls. You combine it. They use it to make cosmetics and candy,” Cotton said.
“They say Dowd got the insurance on all his hailed-out cotton and will make more off of guar than cotton anyways,” Irene said.
“That’s right. I got a map printed of all his farms. His lawyer don’t seem to know that when and how he got each farm counts,” Cotton said.
“They say Beauregard’s name is on those farms he stole off families on four sides of Crosby County,” Irene said.
“I’m glad we are out of farming. You glad, Cotton, to be out?” Buck asked.
“You won’t be so glad when the United Nations takes all your guns,” Cotton said.
“Oh, Cotton. They say you come on some weird political beliefs when you was off in Dallas,” Irene said.
“Just wait. Hide and watch. There are a lot of people that can see what is happening. There was four cars followed me plumb across the big empty all the way to downtown Jones,” Cotton said. “How come there aren’t any people our age left in Crosby County?” Cotton asked.
“They say that guar will grow in ever which kind of weather. They use it for electrical insulation,” Buck said.
“They say Dowd comes out to the farms in any kind of weather,” Irene said.
“Yeah, he is there to count ever boll of cotton. Dowd is tighter than Dick’s hat band. It would take the jaws of life to open his billfold. He is a great old man but he ain’t really got no right to the farms that other people’s great granddaddy broke out.
It is the damndest thing since Roy stuffed Trigger,” Cotton said.
“Him and Beauregard know when a boll weevil belches in Crosby County. You better mind your beeswax,” Irene said. “You know Michele and I rode the school bus together for years. We’d pray and sing gospel.”
“There is gonna be a brand new government. Hide and watch,” Cotton said.
“Hope you ain’t one of them racists,” Irene said.
“Naw, David was the first fellow I looked up when I got home. He don’t smoke or drink and he married this woman from his church,” Cotton said.
“They say he drank in Las Vegas. That’s where they went on the honeymoon. He is one of the only people our age that has hung on in Crosby County. He is at the gin office of a morning telling stories,” Irene said.
“Crosby County will be one of the last places the United Nations will try to take over. A different government between now and then would more than likely return our farms. Your farm and mine,” Cotton said.
“My double lucky prodical-looking brother has a good farm where it rains all the time and he is buying another,” Irene said.
“They say he is a bootlegger and a gambler and everthing else now,” Cotton said.
“Well, you know what they say about what they say,” Irene said. “We could use our farm back.”
“Don’t file these liens yet but keep them and study on them. I take St. John’s Wort now. Things have to change fast. Ain’t no accident we had the hottest winter anyone remembers,” Cotton said.
“Pecan trees got a bright gold like them tourist trees in New Mexico,” Buck said. “It was great weather.”
“You better not let anyone catch you with these South Plains Fair legal papers,” Irene said.
“I knew I could trust both y’all not to tattle on what we was talking about,” Cotton said.
“Absolutely,” Irene said. “They said you would never hire on as a hand for Dowd what with what happened with Michele and all.”
“Irene I swear. You are noisy as a hog eating charcoal,” Buck said. “You play the lottery, Cotton? Me and Irene always plays the date she first come into the bar.”
“They say Dowd keeps a big old chicken house and gives red pepper to all those hens,” Irene said. “If you ain’t got no prior engagement, we would like to invite you to our house to watch the big game.”
“Yeah, we would love to have you. Irene is a great cook just like her Mama.” Buck said.
“I already promised Dowd I’d watch the big game with him. He wouldn’t have nobody to watch it with if it wasn’t for me,” Cotton said.
“Is Michele coming?” Irene asked.
“Nope,” Cotton said.
Johnny Hughes overhears conversations in and around Lubbock, where he teaches management at Texas Tech University. His novel, Santa Fe Decision, is available free at his website: www.johnnyhughes.com.