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Harvey Ludwig's right eye was purple and puffy. A vein of dried blood streaked down his fleshy cheek. He sat on a stump in Mr. Cinjun's front yard. There was no grass, just dusty red clay and a few spindly rose bushes. Little else would grow in the summer heat in Georgia. A fence made of sticks and thick rope surrounded the sparse yard and a tiny, paint-chipped house. Mr. Cinjun was there too. "Harvey, you got to fight back, man!" Mr. Cinjun dabbed Harvey's eye with a rag of peroxide. The morning sun glinted off of Harvey's moist face. Harvey sat still and stared ahead, only his hands moved, cupping and uncupping. "I tried," said Harvey. His voice was deep like a man's but unsure like a child's. "Well you didn't try hard enough. You're a big man, Harvey! Nobody should be able to bruise you up like this." "I tried." Harvey Ludwig was a big man. When he sat, his knees rose above his waist. His expansive belly rested in his lap. Even sitting on the stump, he looked down at Mr. Cinjun. But then again, Mr. Cinjun was a very small man. He stood no taller than five feet and had a shrew-like face crowned with a ring of hair like a monk. He had to lean over Harvey to reach the welts on his wide forehead. "You got to stick up for yourself, man. Those trash ain't any better than you," said Mr. Cinjun in a voice
that was also quite shrew-like. "But, Mr. Cinjun, I tried." Mr. Cinjun lived in the white part of town. On account of his small size and his rodent-like appearance, he didn't get the respect he deserved among the whites. Mr. Cinjun worked for the Tyresville Mining Company where they had a special smaller wheelbarrow for him. After work, he couldn't get a drink at the bar without being made a fool by the other men-- snickers as he walked in, an elbow rested on his head. He couldn't find a wife either. But Mr. Cinjun had a liking for himself so he looked for respect elsewhere. He had found some on the black side of town. Even though he had as much color as a plucked chicken, Daisey Ludwig knew that Mr. Cinjun was a respectable person. Mr. Cinjun had volunteered to watch over her son for parts of the week. Mrs. Ludwig had gotten older and couldn't move so well. She needed help looking after Harvey. "Come inside, Harvey, we got to get you washed up. You can't be going to church looking like this. It's disrespectful." "It's okay, Mr. Cinjun." "No, it ain't Harvey." On Sunday mornings, Harvey would walk down the dirt path to the river and then he would follow the river to James Street where Mr. Cinjun lived. He and Mr. Cinjun would drive to church in a red pick-up. "I reckon I'm going to have to pick you up from your mama's house from now on." "But I like to walk, Mr. Cinjun." "And you like to got walloped too?" Mr. Cinjun took Harvey inside his white house which was little more like a shack. It originally had two rooms but Mr. Cinjun had made a third by building a wall out of oil cans that were beginning to rust. The place was scattered with mouse turds and empty bean cans. In the corner that stood for the kitchen, Mr. Cinjun tried to scrub the blood stains out of Harvey's collared, Sunday shirt. He wrapped a rag around Harvey's forehead to cover where the shovel had hit. Then he rested an undersized hat on Harvey's head to cover the bandage. "I reckon, Harvey, I ain't got the size you got but I would put up a heck of a fight." "It's okay, Mr. Cinjun, I'm okay." Harvey looked like more of a man in the wide-brimmed hat.
"It ain't okay, Harvey."
Every Sunday, they would go to the Holy Mother Church, the Negro church, because Harvey wasn't allowed at St. Mary's with its white steeple and stained glass. Holy Mother was made of logs and had a flat roof. Flies buzzed around the sacraments and the parishioners fanned themselves with their missals. When Mr. Cinjun walked in with Harvey he got some looks on account of his white skin but most of the parishioners knew he was a respectable man for looking after Harvey. During mass the chairs creaked and the babies cried. Harvey stared out at the preacher and the big wooden cross behind the altar. He listened to the readings because he liked stories and he tried to understand the sermon. Mr. Cinjun didn't bother to listen. He didn't need to pray because he knew God was already happy with him for bringing Harvey. Instead, Mr. Cinjun thought about women and cold drinks and counted the knots in the wood of the ceiling. Eventually he dozed off to the rhythm of the preacher's deep voice. When it was time to stand and kneel Harvey didn't bother to wake him. The songs woke up Mr. Cinjun instead and he sang, his nasal voice standing out among the black chorus. Harvey sung sounds instead of words. When he took communion, the pastor stood on tiptoe to slip the Eucharist into Harvey's mouth. Mr. Cinjun received his wafer in cupped hands.
"Oh, Harvey! Did them white devils get you again?" To Daisey Ludwig, Mr. Cinjun was the exception. All her life, white folk had given her nothing but trouble. They had found Harvey's father face down in the river eighteen years ago and she was sure the whites had something to do with it. And now they were beating on her son. Mr. Cinjun took off his hat and Harvey ducked as they entered Mrs. Ludwig's house. It wasn't much bigger or neater than Mr. Cinjun's. In the main room there was a basin, a small, black stove, and a table. Mrs. Ludwig sat in a deep, sagging armchair. She wore a loose green smock and rolls of fat peeked out the arm holes. "I'm okay, Mama." Harvey kissed his mother on the cheek. "Mornin', Mrs. Ludwig," said Mr. Cinjun, "I reckon it ain't safe for Harvey down on James Street. I'm
terribly sorry for what those crackers did to your boy." Mrs. Ludwig first met Mr. Cinjun one time when Harvey had wandered off. Some of the boys at the mine had told Mr. Cinjun that the women were shorter down the rail twenty miles at Cooper's Station. He tried not to believe them but that Saturday he found himself down there walking the streets in his finest overalls. Harvey, who had gone off after a rabbit and found himself in a freight car, was also wandering around Cooper's Station. Mr. Cinjun didn't find any miniature females but he recognized Harvey ( everyone from Tyresville could recognize Harvey ) and drove him back home. Mr. Cinjun spent the drive lecturing Harvey on the dangers of trains and when they arrived at Mrs. Ludwig's he found himself offering to watch over her boy sometimes. Mrs. Ludwig was suspicious but Mr. Cinjun was so small that Mrs. Ludwig figured even if he tried to pull something off, Harvey could get away. But Mr. Cinjun had turned out to be a good man, a white devil that was only half devil on account of his size. "'Taint your fault, Mr. Cinjun. Poor Harvey don't know how to stand up for himself. Let me look at your face, boy," said Mrs. Ludwig. The bruises on Harvey's face had become a whole range of colors. She struggled like a flipped turtle to get out of her chair. "Don't trouble yourself, Mrs. Ludwig. I cleaned him up. He'll be all right." She dropped back into her chair with a grunt. Mrs. Ludwig's mind and body had been sharp once. She raised Harvey and his four brothers all by herself. But over time her body got mushy and her mind had trouble focusing. She did a mighty fine job bringing up Harvey except that she had been bringing him up for thirty-one years now. She still treated him like a boy and for some reason he still acted like one. "I reckon I could pick Harvey up from now on," said Mr. Cinjun. "I like to walk, Mama." "Harvey, keep quiet. Me and Mr. Cinjun is talking. Why don't you fix Mr. Cinjun and your mama some lemonade?" "Mr. Cinjun likes whiskey." "Lemonade will be just fine," said Mr. Cinjun, his face reddening slightly. "As I was saying, Mrs. Ludwig, I could drive here from now on." "Don't bother yourself. Harvey's a big boy. He has to learn to stay clear of those light-skinned devils."
"I reckon I could teach him. Teach him to fight back." Mrs. Ludwig's wandering eyes collected themselves from the folds in her face and stared at Mr. Cinjun. She imagined Harvey knocking down white fools with his meaty arms and fingers and she liked it. She wasn't sure that this tiny man could teach him but it wouldn't hurt to let him try. "Now that ain't a bad idea. Ever since Harvey's daddy died he ain't got no man around to toughen him up," she responded.
And so next Sunday, after church, Mr. Cinjun taught Harvey how to fight. Now Mr. Cinjun was not the brightest man, but he knew enough not to fight Harvey himself. Harvey needed an opponent worthy of his size to practice on. Old Man Kramer had died the week before leaving a silky black doberman in a pen outside the police station. Mr. Cinjun bought it for three dollars and a rooster. It was a large animal that reached Mr. Cinjun's shoulders and it had eggwhite teeth and gleaming pink and brown gums that it never showed. The dog didn't bark or move much. It had spent most of its life resting at Old Man Kramer's feet, eating steaks and sleeping. It also wasn't nearly as big as Harvey but Mr. Cinjun figured if he toughened it up the dog could put up a fight.
The next Sunday Mr. Cinjun picked up Harvey in his red pickup. Spike, as Mr. Cinjun named the dog whose name used to be Charley, rested in the back of the truck. "You got a dog, Mr. Cinjun." "That's right, Harvey. That dog's your new best friend." Spike slept in the pickup while Harvey and Mr. Cinjun went to church. Harvey learned the story of the Good Samaritan. All through mass Mr. Cinjun planned the proceeding activities. He had not fed Spike that morning. Harvey, he decided, was to wear a chicken breast strung around his neck. After church, Mr. Cinjun drove them out to the pine forest north of the railroad. He didn't want anybody watching in case things got messy and further ruin his reputation in town. Harvey kept turning around to look at the dog through the back window of the truck's cabin. It looked friendly and Harvey hoped they could become friends.
Harvey stood shirtless and covered in blood among the skinny, red-barked pines. Mr. Cinjun had changed his plans. There were turkeys in the woods so he shot one with his rifle and smeared the warm blood all over Harvey's face and body. "What'cha doing, Mr. Cinjun?" had asked Harvey. "Eh...turkey blood is good for your skin. It makes you smarter," responded Mr. Cinjun. "I'm already plenty smart. Is we gonna eat that turkey for dinner? I betcha that doggie would like some." "I betcha he would, Harvey." But it wasn't working. A few yards away from Harvey stood Spike, his tail still, occasionally lifting a paw. Shafts of sunlight snuck through gaps in the canopy. The two dark figures of Harvey and the dog blended with the shadows. Mr. Cinjun stood between them in his wide-brimmed hat and overalls. He rubbed his red whiskers. "Harvey, this here is a fighting dog. He wants to fight with you. Why don't you go up to him and hit him around a bit." Mr. Cinjun would get Spike riled up himself but he knew Spike would make short work out of him. If only he were bigger. "I don't want to fight the dog, Mr. Cinjun." The blood on Harvey's skin was beginning to harden and stink. "You fight with Spike here and we'll all have turkey for dinner." Harvey didn't answer but continued to stare interestingly at the dog. Spike casually sniffed the ground. All was silent until Mr. Cinjun mumbled something, picked up one of the many small pine cones about, and threw it at Spike. When in hit, the dog flinched and made a breathy noise. Mr. Cinjun ran behind Harvey hoping Spike would follow. But he didn't. All of a sudden, Harvey was struck from behind. Mr. Cinjun had had enough. He rammed the large man with all his might and the unsuspecting Harvey fell to the ground. Mr. Cinjun straddled Harvey's back and began to punch him in the back of the neck. Harvey reached around and grabbed a wrist in mid-blow. "Mr. Cinjun! Mr. Cinjun! Why are you angry at me?!"
"That's it!! Fight back, you dumb Negro!" Mr. Cinjun kept pounding with his other fist. Spike's deep barks punctured the surrounding silence. Harvey was soon on his back and had both of Mr. Cinjun's wrists in his grip. His belly was covered in dead pine needles. Mr. Cinjun eventually stopped struggling to escape. Harvey's sad, confused eyes met Mr. Cinjun's fiery ones. "Mr. Cinjun, I'm sorry. I don't want to fight the dog," blubbered Harvey. But Mr. Cinjun wasn't done. He kneed Harvey in the groin. Harvey grimaced in pain and anger replaced his confusion. He released his grip, matched fierce eyes with Mr. Cinjun, and clobbered him in the side of the head with an open palm. The blow sent Mr. Cinjun rolling over and over until he lay face up and still in the needles. Harvey sat there on the ground for a while. Spike sat too and began to whimper. "Mr. Cinjun?," Harvey mumbled. Harvey brought himself to his feet. Coated in blood, dirt, and pine needles, he looked like a beast with pants on. He walked over to the still figure. Its right ear was beginning to puff up. Blood trickled from its temple. "Mr. Cinjun?" It coughed. "Mr. Cinjun, I don't want to fight the dog," Harvey weakly pleaded. It coughed and rolled over and kept coughing. And then it laughed. Mr. Cinjun reached up to feel the blood on his neck. "Forget the dog," he said, coughing and shaking his head. "Harvey, help me up." Mr. Cinjun climbed up Harvey until he stood next to him. He held onto Harvey's arm and swayed. "Whew, what a wallop! Good hit, Harvey. Now that's what you got to do to those crackers who pick on you." Mr. Cinjun's world spun but he was not badly hurt. He looked at the blood on his fingertips with a smile. He leaned on Harvey and they made their way back to the pickup.
"Oh, Mr. Cinjun! Did those devils get you too?" Daisey Ludwig was in the same chair. The creaking of the screen door had woke her up from a nap.
"No, ma'am. Your boy did that. Your boy is a fighter now," said Mr. Cinjun proudly displaying his wound. "Mr. Cinjun wanted me to fight a dog but I didn't wanna fight no dog and then..." "Oh, hush up, Harvey. Let Mr. Cinjun talk." Harvey and Mr. Cinjun had already been down to the river to wash up. Harvey wore his fresh Sunday shirt. "Nothing much to talk about, Mrs. Ludwig. Your boy done walloped me good. Now he's ready to wallop them no good trash." "Harvey, you 'pologize for whackin' Mr. Cinjun. You only hit other white folk from now on, you hear?" said Mrs. Ludwig in a faraway voice. The midday sun was in full effect and she soon dozed off again.
That afternoon Mr. Cinjun drove up again. This time, instead of a dog, there was a white mound in the back of his pickup. He had filled a pillow case with clay from the river and tied a thick rope around the open end. He hung it from a tree in Harvey's front yard and with some mud he drew a face on it with crosses for eyes. "Now Harvey, I want you to punch this here bag every day for an hour. Really wallop it good. Pretend its one of them crackers who wallop on you," he said. Harvey obeyed. Everyday in the late afternoon he would amble over to the tree and punch until Mrs. Ludwig hollered out the window that an hour was up. Harvey thought the face was funny and he aimed for the crosses. By Friday of that week, Harvey's neighbors stopped pointing and laughing at the giant and his swinging bag. Mrs. Ludwig encouraged her son. It got him out of the house and gave him some exercise. She was also happy that the face on the bag was white. "Finally I got a man to protect me," she would say as Harvey came inside breathing hard with a V of sweat at his collar. But Harvey didn't think much of it. They told him to do it so he did it. Once he tried to punch the tree to vary his routine but it hurt too much and his knuckles got all bloody. On Wednesday, Harvey got the idea that if he did a good job punching the bag, Mr. Cinjun might let him play with that dog and he began to punch harder. Sometimes the bag would swing back and hit him in the face and when it did Harvey would get a small taste of that same feeling he got when Mr. Cinjun had hurt him in the groin. He would hit the bag even harder. The next Sunday, Mr. Cinjun did not pick Harvey up. Harvey walked up James Street to Mr. Cinjun's
house alone, covered in blood. "Harvey! Holy Jesus! What happened?!" said Mr. Cinjun as he slid out from under his red pickup. Mr. Cinjun had been trying to get his truck to start all morning. "I punched them." "You fought back? But all this blood?" "It's ain't my blood," said Harvey in a quiet voice like a child. "It's the blood of them trash? You beat them, Harvey? Good for you! They won't bother you no more! I done taught you right!" But Harvey didn't seem happy like Mr. Cinjun. Instead of his usual blank stare, Harvey looked worried. His hands shook. Mr. Cinjun didn't notice anything was wrong. "Let's get you cleaned up and then off to church. We're walking today. Darn truck won't start." They followed the dirt roads through the dusty town. Mr. Cinjun made some comments about the weather and about his truck but Harvey kept quiet. There was a cool wind in the air and the sun was hidden by a blanket of clouds. Two vultures circled low. At Holy Mother Church, Harvey stared at the floor instead of the altar. Mr. Cinjun tipped his hat to the old ladies. The preacher's voice echoed against the wooden walls as fat raindrops dotted the dust outside. The sermon was about casting stones and turning cheeks. Harvey listened and tried to make sense of what had happened that morning. He had thrown punches, not stones. He had turned their cheeks, not his own. As they walked back to Harvey's house, he kept turning to Mr. Cinjun as if to say something. Finally words came out. "I made a mistake," said Harvey as they walked down a muddy lane. "How do you reckon?" said Mr. Cinjun. "I hit one o' them men too hard and then he wasn't movin'," said Harvey, his eyes still on the ground. "They was hittin' you, right Harvey?" "They tried." "Then I reckon they got what was coming to them. You done good, Harvey." It was raining steadily. Mr. Cinjun quickened his pace but Harvey lagged behind. They walked along the river through the black part of town. Harvey stopped underneath one of the willows on the riverbank. He circled the tree as if looking for
something. The grass underneath was matted and disturbed. "What in blazes are you doing, Harvey? Come on, lets get you home and out of this rain," said Mr. Cinjun. Harvey circled once more and walked out from under the drooping branches. "I made a mistake," he said.
They were waiting at Harvey's house. Two of them had shovels. The third used his fists. Outside, the white pillowcase had been slit and the clay from the river lay in a heap on the ground. Inside, the big armchair was empty. Now Mr. Cinjun was a proud man all his life. As soon as he saw them he clenched his fingers and raised his fists. He was being attacked after all. He used all the strength and size God had given him. They called him a nigger lover. They laughed at his size. They could have called him anything and he would have fought like he did. He stood no chance, of course. If there was only one, or maybe even two, Mr. Cinjun could have held his own. But the blows kept coming and the shovels drew blood. Before he fell to the ground, Mr. Cinjun did get a few shots in. As he lay there broken on the cabin floor, he was proud of those few punches and the amount of pain, small and insignificant as it was, that they caused. Mr. Cinjun hoped that when the white folks found him the next day, they would see the cuts on his knuckles and finally realize that he had been a respectable man. Harvey recognized them. They were all there, even that one that hadn't gotten up and had been left lying under the willow tree. Harvey watched them hit Mr. Cinjun. He heard his friend cry for help. He saw the anger in their eyes. He saw the same anger in Mr. Cinjun's eyes as his little fists swung wildly. Harvey wanted to help his friend but he wanted no part in that anger. He would do as the preacher said. He would be like Jesus. Harvey stood there as they brought Mr. Cinjun to the ground. Then they started on Harvey. When they realized Harvey wasn't going to fight back, they dropped their shovels and worked only with their hands. Harvey accepted each blow. He didn't understand the anger or the pain but he knew that striking back only brought more of it. They brought Harvey down too. He lay there, his arms at his side and a warmth in his belly.