by Janice Daugharty
Copyright 2010 Janice Daugharty
Good daylight and Hoss Rose had been driving the wagon, moving slow toward the old tram road through the woods to Fargo under a sheet of iron clouds threatening sleet. Little Merry Gay was bundled up in a sweet red wool coat that her mama had cut down and sewn from a coat that some woman had given her to wear herself, and on Merry Gay’s lap a quilt with scraps from one of her old indigo dresses. She imagined she could smell pee on the quilt because one of the Negro women had told Bernice that the way to set the dye in cloth was to dip it in ammonia and if she didn’t have any ammonia a chamber pot of pee would do the trick.
She dropped the quilt to the floor and kneeled on the bench, waving back at Bernice and Tommy watching from the yard across the tracks. Bernice looked worried. The Great Hoss Rose looked worried. But Merry Gay wasn’t because she knew the pine box in back would hold up fine, her daddy had been two days building it with his own sturdy square hands and it would hold up fine.
As soon as they hit the tram road and the woods had closed the path created by logs snaked out by oxen and mules, she crawled over into the bed of the wagon and climbed up on the yellow pine box. It was long, man-sized, and smooth but cold, the perfect stage for her to sing on if not for Redbone needing it.
“You rip that pretty coat now,” Hoss called back laughing, “and your mammy’s gonna have both our hides.” He always said that and sounded like he meant it, even though he would make two of Bernice and feared no man regardless of strength, temper or size.
Usually he drove the wagon loose, lead-lines in one hand and letting it roll, but this morning he was slumped forward driving with both hands. Rifle stood on the floor at his right side, he stared ahead through the woods as if searching for something he might shoot.