For I ain’t like to do this never a’gin.
Punkett Boyle’s my given name. Same as my daddy’s, hear Mama tell.
Punk Bole to one’s I calls friends.
Punkett Boyle to you an’ all the rest.
Bein’ I’s a colored boy, my friends are few and fer between. Ain’t many colored these parts. What ones they is, we all live knit tight and near ‘nough to holler.
Listen here, I’ll let you know when I claims you. Till then, stand clear, you hear?
I live with kin, blood ‘n otherwise, in the drifter’s part o’a little ol’ town called Halesburg, Missouri. Lived, up to now, in ‘least seventeen ramshackle tumbledown shacks I can remember myse’f. My Mama, she spent her life and her health workin’ in other folks’ kitchens, never enough to give us full bellies, but enough to make us think so. Things, though, they be changin’ once a’gin.
He long gone.
I ain’t the oldest, an’ I shore ain’t the smartest, but I have the levelest head. Up to me to get us through ’til Mama be back on her feet. I been sweepin’ out barns and sheds, sloppin’ hogs, whatever folks’ll ‘low a colored boy to do, back o’ the house.
Ain’t got no schoolin’ to speak of, tried goin’ here ‘n there ‘long the way. I come by numbers natural, do sums in my head for fun and distration. But since most folks don’t like mixin’ colored with whites, reg’lar school-goin’ been a haphazard affair. Miz Jackson, Mama’s friend t’other side and down the muddy road some, she try hard to gather we chil’ren ‘roun’ for a session now and then, but like as not, it don’t stick.
I reckon I gots me one frien’, true. He proves it t’me over’n over.
Ain’t sure why, nor how we come to be, but he talk to me like a reg’lar feller, don’t give my black skin and nappy top no nevermind.
An’ I chose to do the same wid his straw sticky-up hair and freckly speckly face.
And when we foot race, I beats him fair and square, and all he do is grin an’ as’ to race a’gin.
I got me a frien’. What not ever’body can say.
Don’t see a whole lot o’him, since I quit that ol’ school out to the country lane outside town. Only got there few times this spring, long way to go but a short time to get there cause me grief. When I did make it, my frien’, true and proved, he sit wid me at lunch, sharin’ his own when I’d none. He pass me paper and pencils when I’d none, lettin’ me pertend they was mine all ‘long. Near even come to blows once ‘r twice when them big puffy white boys give me an’ him troubles.
Liam, he’d be my frien’, true and proved, he never treat me diff’rnt nor special.
Went to his house once. His mama give me pie. Let me sit to the table with all them other chil’ren o’hers.
An’ they all, all them Goodwells, they look me in the eye when they speak.
Mama says lay low, she says. White boys turn mean on a dime, she says. An’ she forbid me go back.
I’m a good son, and I listen, though I be sad.
Don’t got me no worries ’bout Liam, not none.
Bring me shoes on one occasion he did, an’ he passed on his own ol’ jacket when I come down to the school shiverin’ some. Didn’t make nothin’ of it. Jest tossed ’em my way then went on his way. I don’ recollect givin’ him a proper thank you fer none o’ that, and fer which I still cain’t wrap my tongue ’round doin’ so. Words stick in my throat sometime. Sometime come out shaggy and mean.
Learnt to keep quite mostly. Saves trouble.
Ol’ Liam, though, he’ll walk wid me, talk wid me, keep chatterin’ up the words and stories, maskin’ my quite-ness like it was no trouble nohow. He make it easier on me. I like when he come ‘roun’.
Stopped goin’ down to the school some time ago, though. Got run off, but don’t tell Liam. He might get beat hisself. The purty teacher, she pity me, which I don’t care for, and bring me baby chile books and sech, thinkin’ to he’p. I ain’t got nothin’ ‘ginst her, and my mama say she pleased I got ’em. She make me parse and spell and do numbers for her and she jest smile all over her face, but when Liam come to give me a hand, she send him packin’.
“Go on,” she say, “Go on. We don’t need nothin’ from you.”
I has to meet him out to the pond outside town these days. He hangs a writ note on the ripped up porch screen door fixin’ a day to meet up, since Mama don’t answer when he come to the door. Liam, he always show up. Listen to me read. He’p me with my numbers. I don’t let on I got him beat on that ‘count.
He give me a notebook, tell me to write my thinkin’ in, give a chance. This be my first attempt. Like to be my las’. Don’t got me a whole lot worth puttin’ down.
And he ain’t yet beat me in a foot race, but he keep grinnin’ and tryin’.
And I do the same.
True and proved.
Don’t tell Mama.
Liam, he gimme he shoes and he notebook, tells me to right everything i think. I don’t think, I count. Share he lunches with me. Went to the school 4, 5 times last year. Got run off, but don’t tell Liam. He might get beat.
theory of animals and little children get beat. Some thinks bad since they don’t know what hit them. Got me different thought, They don’t know, so they just roll with the punches. Today it rain. I get wet. Today I get beat. I hurt me some.