Jamie noticed that Ned lagged behind a little on their way to the lake. “You all right? Not that tired, are you?” He stopped right
“Nah. I’m just still not too sure about that ‘Ghost’ character, what if he’s there?”
Jamie nodded at him. “I really don’t think he’s anything to worry about. He doesn’t strike me as a dangerous sort. Not like that Indian. What do you think he’s like?”
Ned shook his head. “I don’t know. He don’t say too much. Not unfriendly, just not very talkative. I get the feeling he’s a hard person to know.”
“I still think he looks dangerous.”
“He’s strong enough. He’s not big, but man is he wiry. I kinda hope I don’t have to work around him but it’s a different kind of feeling than the Ghost. You know what I mean?”
“Uh-huh.” Jamie shook his head. “What do you mean?”
“It’s like I just hurt inside when I see him. I don’t know what he’s been through but it’s written all over him upside down and sideways. Whatever it was hurt that man through and through. I don’t like to be around him. I just … don’t like it.”
Jamie looked at Ned a little more closely now. “You can tell what people are feeling? How ‘bout what they’re thinking?”
He watched Ned look at the ground. “Not so much.” Ned drew a circle in the dirt with his toe. “Sometimes. Pop don’t like it much.”
“So you spook your daddy? That why you’re here?”
Ned nodded. “That’s about the size of it.” He kept his head pointed toward the ground.
“Well spoon up the grits and call me country. Don’t that beat all.”
“Ain’t no cause to make fun of me.”
“Ain’t makin’ fun. The man’s shooting himself in the foot.”
Jamie saw Ned lift his head.
“If your daddy had half a lick of sense, he’d be asking you what folks wanted ‘fore they walk in the door. Ain’t that the whole point of a store? To sell all the stuff you can?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Well, then I’m sorry to speak ill of your daddy, but he just don’t seem too smart.”
Jamie watched Ned’s face relax. “That … that’s all right.”
“Anyway, we got somethin’ more important to talk about.” Jamie jerked his head toward the lake to get Ned to go ahead of him to he could talk. “I just can’t figure out how to get that trigger on the rabbit box to work. I know we made it the same was as that old one in the trash pile, but it just doesn’t seem to work that way.”
Ned headed on down the path and spoke over his shoulder. “Maybe we could just use the old one and make it work.” He laughed. “Or just maybe we could just ask?”
Jamie shook his head. “Nah. It’s half rotten and I’m not sure I want everyone knowing we’re trying to catch anything. Then everyone might know who did it.”
The boys crunched their way along the path in silence, cane poles in hand, the empty bait can dangling from Jamie’s hand. “Hope we can find some good worms, it’s been awful dry lately …”
Jamie almost ran into Ned’s back as Ned stopped dead in the middle of the path. “Shh.”
“Shh? I didn’t say nothin’ bad.”
Ned held up his hand. “Shh. Listen.”
“I don’t hear anything. What is it?”
“Somebody’s in our spot.”
“Oh, that’s no big deal. We’ll just ease off around the side to another one. I was tired of that spot anyway.”
Ned shook his head. “It ain’t that, it’s who it is.”
“What? How would you know … ?”
Ned started down the path again. Jamie followed close behind.
They padded as quietly as they could down the path toward the pier.
“Oh hell. I knew it.” Ned stopped and Jamie almost ran into his back again.
“Will you stop doing that?”
“It’s him again.”
“Him who? You mean … ?” Jamie tried to peer over Ned’s shoulder, but Ned held him off.
“The Ghost, that’s him-who.”
“So? Let’s go talk to him.”
“I can’t fish with shivers runnin’ up and down my back.”
“Aw, come on.”
“No. I just can’t do it.” Ned turned, pushed around Jamie and stalked back up the trail.
Jamie trotted up close behind Ned. “What’s the matter? Daddy said he ain’t never done harm to nobody.”
Ned didn’t answer, just kept on walking, not looking left nor right.
“You’re making ten mountains out of a molehill. Me, I wonder where he got those scars. It was in the war, at least that’s what Daddy said.”
Ned stopped and turned around, looked at Jamie then glanced in the direction of the lake. “So you said.” His eyes looked everywhere but down the path. “Yeah well. Still.”
Jamie watched Ned shift from one foot to the other. “Y’know, I bet if we got him to talkin’ he’d tell us about it.”
Ned shook his head at the ground. “Not likely. Pop says there’s two kinds of veterans, those who never shut up about it and those who never let out a peep.” He lifted his head toward the lake. “And he don’t talk about nothin’. Hell, he don’t even talk. What makes you think he’ll tell us about the war?”
Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know that we can, but what if we could? God, wouldn’t that be great?”
Ned just turned away back towards the house and kept walking. Jamie followed, but knew he had planted the seeds. Ned might still have his misgivings, but he had turned Ned’s mind to think about it. That was enough for now.
“Daddy, where’s the Ghost from?”
Jamie’s mother responded as his father waved Jamie off chewing meatloaf. “Silerville, honey. His father was a doctor over there. Why do you ask?”
“I think we saw him down at the Little Lake fishing today.”
Hannah Garrath set down her fork and exchanged looks with Grant.
Grant spoke very low and very slow, both indications of how serious he considered this. “We who?”
“Me and Ned.”
“Ned and I.”
“Now don’t you go bothering Mr. Wood. He’s been through enough in his life without having to put up with a couple of boys nipping at his heels. You hear me?”
“Yes sir, but there’s not much chance of that. Ned’s scared of him.”
“Really?” Jamie’s father turned to Ned. “That true, Ned? Why?”
“I don’t know. He’s just strange, that’s all.”
Jamie’ mother spoke. “Ned, he’s one of the kindest men I know. But he’s been through a lot, that’s why he’s so quiet. So don’t you bother him.” Jamie felt his mother’s eyes as she turned to him. “And that means you too.”
Jamie looked at his mother. “What’s he been through?”
Jamie’s mother picked up her knife to cut at her beans. “To tell the truth, I don’t know a whole lot about it and what I do know is not suitable for young ears. Honey, it’s not that you’re not capable of understanding, it’s that you don’t need to be burdened with things like that right now.”
Jamie sat silently and looked from his mom to his dad and back again, but saw no chinks in the armor, no crack in the unified wall.
Gloria, who had been oddly silent during this, saw the interesting moment was at an end and went about reasserting her self-assumed royal status. “I’m finished, Momma. I want dessert!”
Jamie’s mother, more than ready to move on past the conversation, turned to Gloria. “All right, darling. Let’s go see what we have in the icebox.”
As the two of them got up from the table and went into the kitchen, Jamie turned to his father. “Daddy …”
Grant leaned back in his chair, drew his pack of cigarettes and lighter from his pocket and drew one out of the pack. “Listen to your momma, son.” He flipped open the lid of his lighter, thumbed the wheel, held the flame to the tip until it glowed coal red then snapped it shut and exhaled a stream of smoke at the ceiling. “She knows what she’s talking about. I know you’re probably frustrated at not being told more, but this is one of those times when you’ll just have to trust us. You’re just not quite ready to know.”
“You mean you don’t think I’m smart enough yet?”
Grant shook his head and tapped ashes onto his plate. “Oh no, you’re plenty smart. I know you boys are not gonna want to hear this; I didn’t want to hear it when I was your age, but there are some things … Jamie, I don’t know how to say this exactly, but what it comes down to is this. There are things that we just need to be a little older for in order to understand. One of those things is war and what happens in it. It’s not a matter of smart. It’s a matter of age, of being ready for it.”
“ ‘Aw Daddy’ nothin’, James. You don’t throw seeds on the ground ‘til spring when the ground is soft enough to plow and damp enough to take fertilizer. It’s not a matter of you not being good ground. It’s just not time yet. Trust me on this one, son. When I think you’re ready we’ll talk about it, ok?”
Jamie nodded, but it wasn’t ok. He was quiet all through dessert. Rice pudding was one of his favorites, but his mind just wasn’t on it. When supper was over Ned asked to be excused and went to take his bath and go to bed. Jamie followed his father into the living room to listen to the radio. When his father lamented again that Will Rogers wasn’t around any more with ‘What did he want to go off on that damn fool flying trip with that damn fool Wiley Post for anyway’, Jamie went to bed.
When he came into the bedroom Jamie saw Ned looking out through the window. He slid out of his clothes and lay down. “It’s awful still out tonight. I was hoping for a little breeze to cool it off some, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
”Does this screen come out?”
He lifted his head to look at Ned. “Yeah, you just undo the catches at the bottom then the whole frame swings out. It hinges up at the top. But don’t swing it out too far or the whole frame will fall out. I did that once and almost cracked Toby in two when he tried to jump out. That wood frame is heavy.”
Ned nodded. “Hmm.”
Jamie leaned back in the bed with his hands behind his head on the pillow, closed his eyes and chewed over what it could be that his father said he was not ready for. “Hey Ned, what do you figure that … ?” But the rhythm of deep steady breathing told Jamie that Ned was already asleep.
He stared awake up at the ceiling, images of pounding guns and brave men defying death filling his head. He imagined war could be pretty bad, but what could be so bad that they couldn’t even talk about it?