he’d been over to Austin watchin’ out for the President. So it was quiet. My, I could hear myself breathin’. L’il Britches, he pointed to the tub. “We-all catchin’ catfishsee we got two of them already. Calvin, he goin’ fill the tub up to here.” L.B. stuck his little finger out and pointed to the top of the tub. Slim, he put out his finger, pointin’ to L.B.’s shirt. “Whatcha got there, boy?” “My shirt.” L’il Britches looked down to see did a scorpion drop on him . . . or what? “I mean there. Them letters.” “That’s my name. L. B. Johnson.” That sure broke them up. I heard them say somethin’ about LBJ was sure enough a dog lover and a nigger lover both, but I couldn’t rightly hear them, I was so busy gettin’ myself ready for to depart. I noticed the wagon’s done got sunk down in the mud for sure, but I wasn’t fixin’ to ask them for a push. Fact is, I had a pretty good idea which way they’d be pushin’ me, and I didn’t aim to get drowned. Anyway, I was tryin’ to be inconspicuous, tryin’ to look real calm, like I was mainly interested in gettin’ my line out of the river and my wagon out of the mudnot lettin’ on that I was scared. But Slim wasn’t goin’ let me alone neither. “Say, boy,” he said sudden-like, “how came you usin’ minnows ‘stead of worms? I thought even a nigger knew better ‘n that. Don’t you know nothin’ about fishin’? This river’s full of bream, and you can catch ’em too, but you gotta know whatcha doin’. Get you some worms, boy. Bream just love them juicy worms . .” I wasn’t fixin’ to tell him I didn’t care nothin’ about bream; that if Li’l Britches ever see me spike a worm on that hook it would make him sick. Now a minnow, Sam, it stays clean, it don’t come apart, and I can keep it live in the can till just before I drop my sinker. . . . Meanwhile I was pullin’ up my line fast. In spi Le of all my troubles I done caught me a whoppin’ big cat, which I took off the hook fast and careful and I splashed him in the tub with the rest of the catch. L’il Britches sure do love to see them plop in the tub. “Nother one! Nother one!” He was just laughin’ like a baby, jumpin’ up and down. “Plop!” he said, jumpin’ up and down like the fish. “Plop! Plop! Look at that big one swimmin’!” And that catfish sure was swimmin’ round in the tub, big as a seal, man, I tell you. 14 The Texas Observer MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada 1001 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 “That sure is a big one,” said Slim. “Say, you goin’ eat all that catfish, boy?” he said to L.B. L’il Britches was lookin’ down in the tub, he was just laughin’ like he been at the circuswhich he ain’tnever. He don’t even hear Slim at first. He was too busy laughin’ and chasin’ the big catfish with his both hands. Looked like the big fish was enjoyin’ it too, like some kind of game between L’il Britches and the fish. Slim tried his joke again: “I say, boy, you goin’ eat all that big catfish yo’self?” L’il Britches, he stopped laughin’ and he just stood there shakin’ his head and kind of grinnin’ like he knew white folks was always makin’ jokes he don’t understand. “You ain’t big enough to eat all that by yo’self. Why that fish’s bigger ‘n you are, boy. You sure must have a big gut for fried cat!” L’il Britches, he shake his headnegative. “Well, whatcha catchin’ so many of ’em for, if you don’t like ’em, if you ain’t goin’ eat ’em? Boy when it get to be about suppertime, there ain’t nothin’ I like better ‘n fried catfish. You just fix me up a platter of fresh cat fried in bacon grease with cole slaw ‘n french fries with plenty a ketchup mmh! . . .” Slim, he looked like he was salivatin’ but L’il Britches looked like he was sick. How was I goin’ to make that fool hush? “Say, nigger, you cain’t tell me no story. You ain’t never goin.’ to be able to eat all that fish. So just you hand me out that there dead one for Mac and me here. Might as well let me take him on home and put him in the fry panhe ain’t goin’ be no good to you time you get him homehe goin’ get spoilt in all that sun.” L’il Britches put his head down by the tub, like he lookin’ for somethin’; the fish Slim was talkin’ about, it was floatin’ sideways on the top, but L.B. don’t notice that he was lookin’ for somethin’ to be “dead.” “Ain’t no fish dead,” said L’il Britches. “Whatcha mean, there’s one deadhe’s deader ‘n a pistol.” “Ain’t dead. He just swimmin’.” “If that fish ain’t dead, I never seen a dead fish.” “I say he ain’t dead!” L.B. was shoutin’ then. “He ain’t dead.” “Well, he damned well is dead, and ain’t nothin’ you can do about that, nigger!” “Ain’t dead! Ain’t dead!” L.B. threw himself on the ground screamin’ he want SPLIT RAIL INN 217 South Lamar Where Union Men Meet his Mama, he want to go homeand I sure did wish I was home. Big Slim grabbed that old catfish from out the tub. He threw it on the ground right by L.B.’s face where he was lyin’ there kickin’ and screamin’. “There now, boy. You see that fish move? No, he don’t move at all. Do he flap? Do he swim? This son of a bitch is dead, that all there is to it.” And he stomped on the fish for fair, till the head scrunch off. “There now,” he said to L.B. “Is he dead or is he?” Well, L’il Britches commenced hollerin’ like the dogs was after him. He was yellin’ and kickin’ and so mad he forgot to be scared; and he picked himself up and he bucked into that big cedarchopper like he was goin’ to buck the livin’ daylights out of him. And before -I could catch my breath to pull L’il Britches back, that Snakeyfingers grabbed him from behind \(“You him up and pitched him head first in the tub of water. His head banged down to the bottom of that tub like a rock, I tell you. . . . Then they run away, scared and laughin’ both. THEY DIDN’T DO L’il Britches no harm. L’il Britches, he’s all right now, though he sure was powerful sick to his stomach that time. I mean he’s all right, exceptin’ it seems like he don’t hear so good sometimesone of these days I’m goin’ to take him on the bus to see one of those ear specialist doctors in Houston they got the best doctors in the world in Houston; they got doctors what don’t do nothin’ but look at yo’ bones or yo’ stomach or yo’ eyes and ears, why, they got doctors for almost everythin’but, Sam, you done read a whole lot of books about what happens to yo’ mind when you been scared, scared real bad? Do you think, just you tell me the truth, I’m goin’ to be a doctor ain’t I, ain’t no need to be lyin’ to me is L’il Britches goin’ to be scared from now on? Observations AA One exasperating difficulty in the liberal movement in Texas now is the lack of statewide candidates. There has been much talk about this problem. It does not manifest a lack of able liberal leaders; it is caused, rather, by the grinding engines of publicity that are available to conservatives, building them up, and then the cam paign funds available to elect them to office and perpetuate the cycles of their notoriety, contrasted to the difficulties those who uphold the people’s interests have in getting and keeping the public attention. We know of only one practicable solution: that liberal politiciansand liberal citizens not generally thought of as politicians, but willing to become sametake a bold approach to their roles in public life: literally push themselves forward, make plans to be seen and heard and to announce for high public office. Just by announcing, a competent person of liberal persuasion becomes a major candidate, because he is immediately received as a menace to the Establishment. 0
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