Sample From Mississippi Cotton

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“Yes, ma’am. I have a bunch of cousins up there. None of my parents or grand people or regular family though. They’re mostly all in Jackson. Except for a’ uncle in Meridian.”

I hated talking to grownups. I never knew the right thing to say to them. She was kind of beat-up looking, and her hair was scraggly, and she had on about a hundred pounds of rouge, like she’d been smacked with a ripe pomegranate on each cheek. It made her yellow teeth look more yellow. It was hard enough to talk to regular grownups like teachers or baseball coaches, or even Sunday School teachers, but old ones that were, as my daddy would say, ‘haggard -looking,’ were even harder to talk to for some reason.

“Oh, why cousins are regular family, too,” she said. “Jus’ a bit more distant.”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s right. They live way up in Cotton City.” “No, no,” she said. “I meant distant, like they don’t have as strong a blood tie as yo’ momma and daddy and such.”

“Yes, ma’am, I guess.”

She pulled out some little papers and some kind of little pouch from her bag. I didn’t know what she was doing until she started sprinkling tobacco onto some little papers. What they called ‘the makings’ was what she had. I had seen it in a Red Ryder picture show. This bad guy was always asking somebody for the makings so he could have a cigarette.

She drew the length of the paper across her lips, rolled it into a cigarette, then poked it into her mouth. “Well, my young fellow traveler, I don’t suppose you have a match do you?” She smiled, as if she didn’t really expect me to have one.

“No, ma’am.” It did sound kind of funny asking me, and I laughed a little. That brought on another yellow smile.

She rooted around some more in her bag, pushing and twisting whatever was in there, so she could find some matches. She finally found a pack, pulled one out and struck it. She leaned against the headrest and sucked on the wrinkled-looking cigarette, then exhaled a cloud of smoke through her mouth and nostrils, her eyes closed. I waved my hand at the cloud of smoke.

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