Authors: Pete Dexter
Tags: #National Book Award winning novel 1988
Rosie turned and started down the stairs, but Henry
Ray's grip on her wrist tightened and hurt her. "I didn't
intended to cause you no disturbance," he said, "but I got
to talk to you about fixin' my car."
Mr. Trout said, "You got to talk to me about
paying for it, is all."
Her knees began to shake like they had after the fox
bit her, and she swooned in the sun.
I brung the car back on account of a lumber
truck run into it and tore it all up."
That ain't my obligation, to teach you to
I can drive," Henry Ray said, but so soft
Mr. Trout couldn't hear.
Did you say something?"
Rosie could feel it building to something bad.
"I can drive," he said, louder. Still
looking at the ground.
Then how come you busted up your Chevrolet? You
gone three hours and come back here with your property all busted
"I never tore it up," Henry Ray said. "A
lumber truck run into it."
Then the lumber company got to fix it."
Rosie pulled herself as far away from the screen as
she could get.
No sir," Henry Ray said again. "I
bought insurest from you, cost me two hundred some dollars, so you
got to fix it right."
Behind the screen Mr. Trout seemed to grow taller.
"You ain't paid a cent," he said. "All you done was
sign a note and drove off with my car."
Then it's your car still," Henry Ray said.
His words were so soft now it took Rosie a moment to understand what
he had said. Mr. Trout never moved, but when he spoke again, he was
half out of breath.
"Listen to me," he said. "You signed
the note, and that makes it yours. It don't matter to me if lightning
tore it up, you still got to pay. I told you before, I get my money."
But Henry Ray had something in his head now, and the
more Mr. Trout said one thing, the harder he believed the other. "I
got insurest," he said.
Not for that," Mr. Trout said. "It
ain't that kind of insurance."
Henry Ray turned away from the screen, meaning to
leave. "It ain't so bad anyway," Mr. Trout said, looking
past him at the car. "It don't hurt nothing to drive around in a
car that ain't perfect. Help a person to remember to be more careful
Henry Ray walked down the steps and then up the
alley, away from the car. Rosie was at his side, sometimes a step in
front. She heard the screen door open and Mr. Trout coming down the
"Hey, there," he said.
Henry Ray did not stop or turn around. "You
forgot your car, mister. You don't want to leave it in the alley,
something else come along and bust it up worst."
Henry turned around, still walking away. "It
ain't none of my affair," he said.
It's your own car," Mr. Trout said. He was
yelling now. "You and me done business. Now come get this and
take it with you." Mr. Trout pointed down the alley at them with
his finger, but Henry Ray had turned back around and was walking
away. Rosie saw him point, though, and a few seconds later, at the
end of the alley, she looked again and he was still at it.
"I think he's gone get a police after us,"
Don't make no nevermind to me," he said.
They walked to the comer — Henry Ray had let go of
her wrist now — and suddenly Mr. Trout was there again; she saw
that he must have gone out the front of the store to head them off He
was breathing hard and had screaming eyeballs, and he stepped right
in front of Henry Ray. "Seventeen dollars and fifty cent a
week," he said. "You leave the car or drive it into the
river, it's still the same payment."
Henry Ray stepped around Mr. Trout and crossed the
street. Rosie followed him, and when they'd got to the sidewalk, Mr.
Trout began to yell. Called them niggers. "You and me got
bi'nis," he yelled. "It ain't over till that car's paid
for, one hundred percent."
Henry Ray turned and shouted back, "You and me
ain't got no bi'nis." Rosie saw some of the white people on the
street begin to laugh.
You just ask your people about that," Mr.
Trout yelled. "You ask what happens if you don't pay Mr. Trout."
Henry Ray held his ground a long time and then
turned without another word and began the long walk back to Indian
Heights. The girl followed him. The cement was hot on her feet, and
where there was grass she walked in it. "I wished we'd took the
car horn," she said, somewhere near the highway.
Henry Ray Boxer don't drive no tore-up car,"
Mr. Trout gone want his money," she said,
a few hundred yards later.
It don't matter to me what a white man want."
"What if he come to get it himself?" she
"What if he do?"
They had just turned and
were coming back into the Heights again. She didn't think he would of
said that anywhere else.
* * *
THE CAR STAYED IN the alley behind Mr. Trout's store.
Rosie saw it there a month later, on the day Miss Mary walked her to
town to get her a dress for church. Rosie had picked the first one
she touched, it was white with little blue sashes all over, from a
shop in Bloodtown. On the way back Miss Mary bought her a Coca-Cola.
She would not let the girl thank her.
Hush, now," she said, "you make Miss
Mary feel ashamed."
They walked back through town, drinking Cokes and
looking in the windows of the stores, and suddenly they were in the
alley behind Mr. Trout's store. Rosie recognized the car and realized
where she was.
It was sitting right where Henry Ray had left it,
still tore up from the lumber truck. It looked just like it had,
except it was dirty. She stopped in her tracks, afraid Mr. Trout
would come out and find her. Miss Mary walked ahead, through the
alley. The girl caught up. She didn't think Miss Mary had
noticed her stop.
At the end of the alley, though, without ever looking
back, Miss Mary said, "That's Henry Ray's car, ain't it?"
Yes, ma'am," she said. Henry Ray had
warned her not to tell, but she never thought of lying to Miss Mary.
That boy remindful of his father," she
Rosie didn't reply, but when she sipped at the
Coke-Cola again, it had lost its taste. They walked past the officer
academy and beyond. Rosie wondered if Miss Mary knew Henry Ray had
rode her out of town in the car. If she knew what they had done. She
began to feel ashamed herself.
"What I heard," Miss Mary said, "was
Henry Ray had Paris Trout yellin' in the street, shaming himself in
front of white people."
Miss Mary closed her eyes as she walked. "He
told you not to tell," she said.
Miss Mary stopped under a shade tree and sat down.
The girl sat clown with her. For a long time Miss Mary seemed to
forget Rosie was there. "The problem with Henry Ray is partly in
his blood," she said finally, "and partly that he believe
he got to be more than he is."
The girl did not understand and was not even sure the
woman was speaking to her at all.
They's some people walk around all the time
taller than they is," Miss Mary said. "They fool you and
me, and sometime they fooled themself; and then one day a thing can
happen and they try and catch up all at once to what they pretend to
be. They go off blind to the world .... " She closed her eyes
and grabbed at things that wasn't there.
"Henry Ray don't know how to look at nobody else
and understand them," she said, "because he don't know what
he look like himself."
Rosie did not interrupt — it seemed to her that
Miss Mary was thinking something out — but if Henry Ray didn't know
what he looked like, she didn't know who did. He spent more time in
front of mirrors than anybody alive.
Miss Mary took it a different direction. "Paris
Trout is a weak man," she said.
Inside," she said, and tapped herself on
the chest. "Inside, he's as weak as Henry Ray."
"He scart me," the girl said.
Miss Mary nodded and looked over at her in a slow,
tired way. "That's your common sense talkin'," she said.
"That man scare anybody got common sense."
Miss Mary closed her eyes and rested against the
trunk of the tree. She did not seem afraid of Mr. Trout or anything
"You stronger than Mr. Trout," the girl
said after a while.
The woman smiled without opening her eyes. "Yes
I am," she said.
You ain't scart of him."
Oh, yes," she said, "I am that too."
Time passed, and the woman opened her eyes. She put
her hands underneath her bottom and began to push herself up off the
ground. The girl did not want to leave yet.
I'll tell you what I'm scart of if you want,"
Miss Mary settled back into the tree, but she was
awake now, and in some way she was pleased. "I brung you into my
house," she said, "and now you allow me into yours."
Rosie said, "I'm scart my momma will come get me
"You don't have them dreams with me, do you?"
The woman bit the corner of her lip. "I tell you
what," she said, "whenever you get scart, you come to me."
You keep me away from my momma?"
I don't know,"
she said, "but I will be there with you when she come."
* * *
TWO WEEKS LATER ROSIE Sayers was sitting on the porch
in her new dress when she saw the car coming up Spine Road. She'd
worn the dress every day since Miss Mary bought it for her. It had
rained that morning, and the car threw a steady curtain of water and
mud into the air as it came.
Some of the mud landed on the car itself and
blistered there in the sun. The windows were open — it had turned
steamy that afternoon — and she could see Mr. Trout behind the
wheel. He had pulled his hat down over most of his face, but she
recognized him. From the store and from somewhere else.
Thomas was sitting on the porch too, in the chair,
with his feet crossed on the railing. Thomas was sweeter than Henry
Ray, but he was lazy.
The children, Jane Ray and Linda, were playing
inside. Rosie Sayers stood still and watched the car come.
"Who would that be now?" Thomas said.
Mr. Trout," she said. "Send the
children after Miss Mary." They minded Thomas and wouldn't
listen to her. She wouldn't hit them. Thomas sat up straight without
taking his feet off the rail. "Who he comin' to see?" he
Us," she said.
He called into the house for Linda. "Go fetch
your momma," he said, but she never answered. There was another
man in the car with Mr. Trout, and they looked at each other and
spoke before they got out.
Look out, Jesus," Thomas said.
"Who is that with him?"
Mr. Buster Devonne," he said. "Used
to be a police, but he treated folks too mean, had to let him go."
The men got out of the car. Mr. Trout was wearing
rimless glasses and had pulled his hat down almost to cover them. The
other one, Buster Devonne, was bigger than anyone the girl knew
except Miss Mary. She saw he was bothered.
The men walked up the steps to the porch without a
word. Rosie stood still, and they passed her by like she wasn't at
home. Thomas did not get up or move. Mr. Trout found a place directly
in back of him and waited. Buster Devonne stood to one side.
Thomas began to talk. He said, "The little money
I owe you, sir, I pay it on the tenth. just to the agreement we
made." His voice was quicker than she remembered it.
I ain't here about no twenty dollars," Mr.
Trout said. "Your family bought a car off me, ain't paid me a
cent. I come out here to find out what you mean to do about it."
Thomas shook his head. "I don't mean to do
nothing, sir," he said.
"It ain't my business, it's my brother's."
Where is he?"
He over to work at the state. Ain't that right,
She stood frozen. The man named Buster Devonne
watched her close.
"Buster Devonne's got a blank here for you to
sign," Mr. Trout said to Thomas.
Buster Devonne pulled a piece of folded white paper
out of his back pocket and handed it to Mr. Trout, who reached over
Thomas's shoulder and dropped it into his lap.
I ain't gone to sign no blank," Thomas
He opened the paper and began to read it. Mr. Trout
grabbed him then, by the collar, and lifted him out of his seat.
Rosie heard a little cry come out of herself, and she saw Buster
Devonne's hand go into his jacket pocket.