Wish You Well

  to make friends again, yet seemed unsure how to accomplish it.

  "Can you show me some of the places my dad would go around here?" Lou asked Louisa. "The things he liked to do? See, I'm a writer too."

  "I know that," she said, and Lou gave her a surprised look. Louisa put her cup of water down and studied Lou's face. "Your daddy he like to tell 'bout the land. But afore he done that he done something real smart." She paused as Lou considered this.

  "Like what?" the girl finally asked.

  "He come to unnerstand the land."

  "Understand... dirt?"

  "It got lots of secrets, and not all good ones. Things up here hurt you bad if you ain't careful. Weather so fickle, like it break your heart 'bout the time it do your back. Land don't help none who don't never bother to learn it." On this she glanced at Eugene. "Lord knows Eugene could use help. This farm ain't going one minute more without his strong back."

  Eugene swallowed a piece of fish and washed it down with a gulp of water he had poured directly into his glass from a bucket. As Lou watched him, Eugene's mouth trembled. She interpreted that as a big smile.

  "Fact is," Louisa continued, "you and Oz coming here is a blessing. Some folk might say I helping you out, but that ain't the truth. You helping me a lot more'n I can you. For that I thank you."

  "Sure," said Oz gallantiy. "Glad to do it."

  "You mentioned there were chores," Lou said.

  Louisa looked over at Eugene. "Better to show, not tell. Come morning, I commence showing."

  Diamond could contain himself no longer.

  "Johnny Booker's pa said some fellers been looking round his place."

  "What fellers?" asked Louisa sharply.

  "Ain't know. But they's asking questions 'bout the coal mines."

  "Get your ears on the ground, Diamond." Louisa looked at Lou and Oz. "And you too. God put us on this earth and he take us away when he good and ready. Meantime, family got to look out for each other."

  Oz smiled and said he'd keep his ears so low to the ground, they'd be regularly filled with dirt. Everyone except Lou laughed at that. She simply stared at Louisa and said nothing.

  The table was cleared, and while Louisa scraped dishes, Lou worked the sink hand pump hard, the way Louisa had shown her, to make only a very thin stream of water come out. No indoor plumbing, she had been told. Louisa had also explained to them the outhouse arrangement and shown them the small rolls of toilet paper stacked in the pantry. She had said a lantern would be needed after dark if the facilities were required, and she had shown Lou how to light one. There was also a chamberpot under each of their beds if the call of nature was of such urgency that they couldn't make it to the outhouse in time. However, Louisa informed them that the cleaning of the chamberpot was strictly the responsibility of the one using it. Lou wondered how timid Oz, a champion user of the bathroom in the middle of the night, would get along with this accommodation. She imagined she would be standing outside this outhouse many an evening while he did his business, and that was a weary thought.

  Right after supper Oz and Diamond had gone outside with Jeb. Lou now watched as Eugene lifted the rifle off its rack above the fireplace. He loaded the gun and went outside.

  Lou said to Louisa, "Where's he going with that gun?"

  Louisa scrubbed plates vigorously with a hardened corncob. "See to the livestock. Now we done turned out the cows and hogs, Old Mo's coming round."

  "Old Mo?"

  "Mountain lion. Old Mo, he 'bout as old as me, but that durn cat still be a bother. Not to people. Lets the mare and the mules be too, 'specially the mules, Hit and Sam. Don't never cross no mule, Lou. They's the toughest things God ever made, and them durn critters keep grudges till kingdom come. Don't never forget one smack of the whip, or slip of a shoeing nail. Some folks say mules 'bout as smart as a man. Mebbe that why they get so mean." She smiled. "But Mo does go after the sheep, hogs, and cows. So we got to protect 'em. Eugene gonna fire the gun, scare Old Mo off."

  "Diamond told me about Eugene's father leaving him."

  Louisa glanced at her sternly. "A lie! Tom Randall were a good man."

  "What happened to him then?" Lou prompted when it appeared Louisa was not inclined to go on.

  Louisa finished with a plate first and set it down to dry. "Eugene's mother die young. Tom left the baby with his sister here and went on over to Bristol, Tennessee, for work. He a coal miner here, but lot of folks started coming round to do that too, and they always let the Negroes go first. He got kilt in an accident afore he could send for Eugene. When Eugene's aunt passed on, I took him in. The other's just lies by folks who have hate in their hearts."

  "Does Eugene know?"

  "Course he does! I told him when he were old enough."

  "So why don't you tell people the truth?"

  "People don't want'a listen, ain't no good what you try tell 'em." She shot Lou a glance. "Unnerstand me?"

  Lou nodded, but in truth she wasn't convinced she did.

  * * *


  WHEN LOU WENT OUTSIDE, SHE SAW DIAMOND and Oz over by the split-rail corral where the horse was grazing. When Diamond saw Lou, he pulled a sheet of paper and a tin of tobacco out of his pocket, rolled the smoke, licked it closed, struck a match against a rail, and lit up.

  Oz and Lou both gaped, and she exclaimed, "You're too young to do that."

  Diamond casually waved off her protest, a pleased smile On his face. "Aww, I all growed up. Man a man."

  "But you're not much older than me, Diamond."

  "Different up here, you see."

  "Where do you and your family live?" asked Lou.

  "On down the road a piece afore you get somewhere."

  Diamond pulled a cover-less baseball from his pocket and tossed it. Jeb raced after the ball and brought it back.

  "Man give me that ball 'cause I tell him his future."

  "What was his future?" asked Lou.

  "That he gonna give a feller named Diamond his old ball."

  "It's getting late," Lou said. "Won't your parents be getting worried?"

  Diamond stubbed out the homemade smoke on his overalls and stuck it behind his ear as he wound up to throw again. "Naw, like I say, all growed up. Ain't got to do nothing if n don't want to."

  Lou pointed to something dangling on Diamond's overalls. "What's that?"

  Diamond looked down and grinned. "Left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit. Aside fur heart'a calf, luckiest thing they is. Shoot, don't they school you nuthin' in the city?"

  "A graveyard rabbit?" Oz said.

  "Yessir. Caught and kilt in graveyard in black of night." He slipped the foot off its string and gave it to Oz. "Here, son, I always get me 'nuther, anytime I want I can."

  Oz held it reverently. "Gosh, thanks, Diamond."

  Oz watched Jeb race after the ball. "Jeb sure is a good dog. Gets that ball every time."

  When Jeb brought the ball and dropped it in front of Diamond, he picked it up and tossed it over to Oz. "Prob'ly ain't much room to throw nuthin' in the city, but give it a whirl, son."

  Oz stared at the ball as though he'd never held one. Then he glanced at Lou.

  "Go ahead, Oz. You can do it," she said.

  Oz wound up and threw the ball, his arm snapping like a whip, and that ball sprang forth from his small hand like a freed bird, soaring higher and higher. Jeb raced after it, but the dog wasn't gaining any ground. An astonished Oz just stared at what he'd done. Lou did the same.

  The cigarette fell off a startled Diamond's ear. "God dog, where'd you learn to toss like that?"

  Oz could only offer up the wonderful smile of a boy who had just realized he might be athletically gifted. Then he turned and raced after the ball. Lou and Diamond were silent for a bit and then the ball came sailing back. In the garnering darkness they couldn't even see Oz yet, but they could hear him and Jeb coming, a total of six spirited legs flying at them.

  "So what do you do for excitement in this place,
Diamond?" asked Lou.

  "Fishing mostly. Hey, you ever skinny-dip in a gravel pit?"

  "There are no gravel pits in New York City. Anything else?"

  "Well"—he paused dramatically—"course, there's the haunted well."

  "A haunted well?" exclaimed Oz, who had just run up, Jeb at his heels.

  "Where?" asked Lou.

  "Come on now."

  Captain Diamond and his company of infantry cleared the tree line and plunged across an open field of tall grass so fine and uniformly placed, it looked like combed hair. The wind was chilly, but they were much too excited to be bothered by mat slight discomfort.

  "Where is it?" asked Lou, running beside Diamond.

  "Shhh! Getting close, so's we got to be real quiet. Spooks round."

  They kept moving forward. Suddenly Diamond called out, "Hit the ground!"

  They all dropped as though attached by taut rope.

  Oz said in a trembling voice, "What is it, Diamond?"

  Diamond hid a smile. "Thought mebbe I hear something, is all. Can't never be too careful round spooks." They all rose.

  "What y'all doing here?"

  The man had stepped from behind a stand of hickory trees, the shotgun in his right hand. Under the moonlight Lou could make out the glow of an evil pair of eyes staring dead at them. The three stood frozen as the fellow approached. Lou recognized him as the crazy man on the tractor recklessly flying down the mountain. He stopped in front of them and his mouth delivered a shot of chew spit near their feet.

  "Got no bizness round here," the man said, as he lifted up the shotgun and rested the barrel on his left forearm such that the muzzle was pointed at them, his forefinger near the trigger.

  Diamond stepped forward. "Ain't doing nuthin', George Davis, 'cept running round, and ain't no law agin that."

  "You shet your mouth, Diamond Skinner, afore I put my fist to it." He peered over at quaking Oz, who drew back and clutched his sister's arm.

  "You 'em chillin Louisa take in. Got the crippled ma. Ain'tcha?" He spit again.

  Diamond said, "You ain't got no bizness with 'em, so leave 'em be."

  Davis moved closer to Oz. "Mountain cat round, boy," he said, his voice low and taunting. And then he cried out, "You want it git you!" At the same time he said this, Davis feigned a lunge at Oz, who threw himself down and huddled in the high grass. Davis cackled wickedly at the terrified boy.

  Lou stood between her brother and the man. "You stay away from us!"

  "Gawd damn you, girl," Davis said. "Telling a man what to do?" He looked at Diamond. "You on my land, boy."

  'Tain't your land!" said Diamond, his hands making fists, his anxious gaze fixed on that shotgun. "Don't belong nobody."

  "Calling me a liar?" snapped Davis, in a fearsome voice.

  Then the scream came. It rose higher and higher until Lou figured the trees must surely topple from the force, or the rocks would work loose and slide down the mountain and maybe, with luck, crush their antagonist. Jeb came around growling, his hackles up. Davis stared off anxiously into the trees.

  "You got you a gun," said Diamond, "then go git your old mountain cat. 'Cept mebbe you scared."

  Davis's gaze burned into the boy, but then the scream came again, and hit them all just as hard, and Davis took off at a half-trot toward the trees.

  "Come on now!" cried out Diamond, and they ran as fast as they could between trees and along more open fields. Owls hooted at them, and a bobwhite bobwhited at them. Things they couldn't see ran up and down tall oaks, or flitted in front of them, yet none of it came close to scaring them as much as they already had been by George Davis and his shotgun. Lou was a blur, faster even than Diamond. But when Oz tripped and fell, she rounded back and helped him.

  They finally stopped and squatted in the high grass, breathing heavy and listening for a crazy man or a wildcat coming after them.

  "Who is that awful man?" asked Lou.

  Diamond checked behind him before answering. "George Davis. He got a farm next Miss Louisa's. He a hard man. A bad man! Dropped on his head when he were a baby, or mebbe mule kicked him, don't know which. He got a corn liquor still up here in one of the hollows, so's he don't like people coming round. I wish somebody just shoot him."

  They soon reached another small clearing. Diamond held up his hand for them to stop and then proudly pointed up ahead, as though he had just discovered Noah's Ark on a simple mountaintop in Virginia.

  "There she is."

  The well was moss-crusted brick, crumbling in places, and yet undeniably spooky. The three glided up to it; Jeb guarded their rear flank while hunting small prey in the high grass.

  They all peered over the edge of the well's opening. It was black, seemingly without bottom; they could have been staring at the other side of the world. All sorts of things could have been peering back.

  "Why do you say it's haunted?" Oz asked breathlessly.

  Diamond sprawled in the grass next to the well and they joined him.

  " 'Bout a thousand million years ago," he began in a thick and thrilling voice that made Oz's eyes widen, fast-blink, and water all at the same time, "they was a man and woman live up chere. Now, they was in love, ain't no denying that. And so's they wanted to get hitched o'-course. But they's family hated each other, wouldn't let 'em do it. No sir. So they come up with a plan to run off. Only somethin' went bad and the feller thought the woman had done got herself kilt. He was so broke up, he came to this here well and jumped in. It's way deep, shoot, you seed that. And he drowned hisself. Now the girl found out what was what, and she come and jumped in herself too. Never found 'em 'cause it was like they was plopped on the sun. Not a durn thing left."

  Lou was completely unmoved by this sad tale. "That sounds a lot like Romeo and Juliet."

  Diamond looked puzzled. "That kin of yours?"

  "You're making this up," she said.

  All around them sounds of peculiar quality started up, like millions of tiny voices all trying to jabber at once, as though ants had suddenly acquired larynxes.

  "What's that?" Oz said, clinging to Lou.

  "Don't be doubting my words, Lou," Diamond hissed, his face the color of cream. "You riling the spirits."

  "Yeah, Lou," said Oz, who was looking everywhere for demons of hell coming for them. "Don't be riling the spirits."

  The noises finally died down, and Diamond, regaining his confidence, stared triumphantly at Lou. "Shoot, any fool can see this well's magic. You see a house anywhere round? No, and I tell you why. This well growed up right out of the earth, that's why. And it ain't just a haunted well. It what you call a wishing well."

  Oz said, "A wishing well? How?"

  "Them two people lost each other, but they's still in love. Now, people die, but love don't never die. Made the well magic. Anybody done got a wish, they come here, wish for it, and it'll happen. Ever time. Rain or shine."

  Oz clutched his arm. "Any wish? You're sure?"

  "Yep. 'Cept they's one little catch."

  Lou spoke up, "I thought so. What is it?"

  " 'Cause them folks died to make this here a wishing well, anybody want a wish, they's got to give up some-thin' too."