Daddy’s gone off again to hunt gators. He says the police might come lookin’ for him ’cause of some problem with his ole truck. He says I can hide or not.
I’m not gonna hide this time. If they come they’ll ax me questions. But I won’t know where Daddy is any more than they do. I’ll say back in the swamp somewhere, which is close as I can come. They’ll go lookin’ but they won’t find him, not unless he wants to be found. Or unless he gits drunk, which is always possible with Daddy, and he comes roarin’ into town raisin’ hell. He might run right into the police station and bust up a couple of ’em till they throw him in jail.
It sometimes happens that way. That’s Daddy for you.
We live way down on the lonesome end of Catahoula Bayou. Our house is ugly and fallin’ apart here and there. Daddy won’t fix it. He says he’s give up on houses and when this one falls down he won’t have another. He’ll go live in the woods.
He don’t say what I’m s’posed to do.
When Momma was alive, she kept it up pretty well. She mopped and swept and got after Daddy to carpenter and paint and mow. He listened most times, as I remember.
But since Momma’s gone, Daddy don’t listen to nobody. He runs off into the swamps huntin’ alligators and just stays. Otherwise, he’s pretty much in town, drinkin’ in a saloon.
I myself have never tried to tell Daddy anything, though I might one day.
My name is Emile LaBauve, Emile comin’ from my great-grandpa Toups on Momma’s side. I never liked my name and people that know me, ’cept the teachers and Father Giroir, the bayou priest, call me Meely. I’m fifteen, small for my age everybody says. I tend to stay away from school and such. Every so often, the police come lookin’ for me instead of Daddy. And I run off, too, and hide in the woods. It’s amazin’ how poor the police are at findin’ people.
I hope I never git lost and need the police to find me for real.
The police come ’cause I live pretty well by myself and I don’t go to school unless I want to. Daddy, him, he won’t make me. He says I’m pretty near growed and got his hound dog ways and Momma’s brains. He says a hound dog is good at scroungin’ and will never starve and somebody with brains can always figger out what to do.
He says I don’t need much else, and anyway school never did him much good.
I don’t mind school sometimes, just like sometimes I don’t mind breakfast.
I wouldn’t mind it, actually, if Daddy bought groceries now and then.
But I’m doin’ okay. I’ve planted my own garden and there’s fish and frogs and crawfish in the bayou and swamps, and I take my twenty-two out and shoot me some birds and rabbits and such.
Blackbirds is good, though people don’t think so.
Heck, I roasted a mockin’ bird in the oven once.
It cooked up itty-bitty but was all right. Sweet it was.
Junior Guidry says only a moron would shoot a mockin’ bird ’cause the law is against such things and they could put you in the jailhouse. I don’t say nothin’ to Junior Guidry, usually, as I know he’s plannin’ to bust me up good one day. He’s tried a few times already. Sometimes I look at him the way Daddy says I should, with the Evil Eye.
Junior’s a big ole s.o.b. and mean as a gut-shot gator. He’s been in eighth grade a long time. I keep hopin’ he’ll just quit school but he won’t ’cause his momma makes him go.
Junior don’t like the Evil Eye.
I don’t know what the Evil Eye is all about. It comes from Daddy’s side of the family. His ole Tante Eve knew all about it and put the gris-gris on lots of people and they took it serious. Daddy taught me how to look just like Tante Eve looked but it don’t mean nothin’ to me. But I guess I look like one scary booger when I do it.
That’s what Daddy says.
Don’t matter what it means, Meely, just what it looks like.
Junior thinks I’m crazy, which is prob’ly a good thing for Junior to think.
I got one real friend far as I know, Joey Hebert. He lives up the bayou in a big ole house kept nice. It’s white and once, Joey says, slaves tended it. The yard’s bigger than the grounds at school and the oak trees are so big and old that the slaves tended them, too. Mr. Hebert mows the grass hisself with a big tractor, though the Heberts, Joey says, got all the money in the world. His daddy could hire twenty people to cut the grass but he don’t want to, Joey says. He just likes sittin’ up on that tractor mowin’ away. He don’t work much anymore, otherwise.
The Heberts got all that cane land and people tend it and give Mr. Hebert the money. They got two Cadillacs, one black for Mr. Hebert and one white for Miz Hebert, and a pretty new red 1961 Ford pickup truck and a colored maid who dresses like a nurse, and a colored cook who does too.
Mr. Hebert mows the grass and drives his truck up and down the bayou lookin’ at his cane land. He drives the Cadillac to church on Sundays.
He don’t like me much, though Joey does.
Joey says I’m smart, which I think I am, and he says I’m lucky ’cause I git to do just what I want when I want to do it. He says he would love to skip school ’cept he cain’t. He says I’m lucky I don’t have a momma ’cause he has a momma and she gits on him every day about this or that. He says Daddy is a character and he wishes his daddy was. He says Daddy’s right when he says a boy with hound dog ways and brains is about as good as a boy gits.
I agree with most of that and, anyway, Joey’s the only person I know who’s ever agreed with anything Daddy’s said.
Me and Joey do things sometimes when he can slip away. We go swimmin’ down at Poule D’eau Curve and I take him out in the woods and show him things I know about that Daddy’s showed me. We catch garter snakes and frogs and we tease cottonmouths with willow switches, which ain’t dangerous provided you use a pretty long switch. We track deer. We’ve never got close enough to shoot one, though we’ve seen the backsides of a few.
Once we shot a rabbit with my twenty-two. I skinned it and dabbed it with Tabasco sauce, which I carry in my huntin’ vest, and we roasted it on a spit out in the woods over a fire I made. It was tender and good. We shot it out of huntin’ season and Joey was afraid we’d git caught. But I laughed.
I told him I knew all about the police and game wardens, too. If they come to chase us, I knew just where to run.
Anyway, what do the police care if I eat me a rabbit?
Daddy says the woods and what’s in ’em are free to a hungry man.
Joey says he agrees with this, too.
Joey is popular down at the school with the teachers and girls and such. He says he’s gotta go to a college called Tulane—he cain’t git out of it. His momma would have a fit ’cause her own daddy went there. He says he’s gotta be a lawyer or else his Daddy will leave him out of his will. He says there’s lots of money in that will, Meely, so you wouldn’t wanna be left out of it.
After we ate that rabbit in the woods, he said he was gonna invite me to supper. But he ain’t yet.
I’m interested in that big ole house. I think about slaves and ghosts and such.
And supper, sometimes.
Excerpted from Meely LaBauve by Ken Wells. Copyright © 2001 by Ken Wells. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.