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Cover Of The Moon
About the Author: Robert Mitchell is a retired film and television producer and director. He has also appeared on screen and stage as an actor and directed many theatrical productions. He has three published novels, and as a playwright has had a play produced internationally. He has also written many short stories.

Funny how it is. Some folks run away from problems. Me, I figured I would just go where they weren’t. Sometimes it worked. I stirred what was left of the campfire. Little sparks sprang into the air, wavered for a moment, then disappeared. Those with me now had drifted off into the shadows to sleep. We, ourselves were shadows, seldom seen. Tramps, hobos, drifters, they called us, although we never used the words ourselves.

We traveled the country riding the rails, working odd jobs sharpening knives and scissors, mowing lawns, and weeding flower beds and gardens in exchange for table scraps and a glass of cool water. And I was grateful for it.

I hadn’t been home in nearly six years, and our country still wasn’t fully out of the Depression, but now, I was going back to the place I used to call home. My sister got word to me that Pa had died. So the next day, I hopped the first freight train headed anywhere in the general direction of Hogg Bend, Kentucky.

It was three days before I finally dropped down from a box car on a crossing outside of Hogg Bend. The home place was a half mile outside town, which suited me just fine. There were people in town I would just as soon not run into, and this included Clayton Skoog. Clayton was two years ahead of me in high school and was generally regarded as the resident school bully. His pa was a prominent businessman, and Clayton seemed to get by with behavior that would put the rest of us in the principal’s office for stealing a pencil. His pa bought him a little Shetland pony that he rode to deliver the daily newspaper which came over by Greyhound bus from Bowling Green. One time, the horse lifted his tail and deposited a healthy supply of digestion in the flower bed of the banker’s wife. She made him come back and clean it up much to the delight of us neighborhood kids. I made the mistake of laughing, for which I received a black eye and sore ribs. Clayton was now the town deputy sheriff. Go reckon …

I knew I would find my sister in a windowless room up a flight of well-worn stairs above the bank. It was the telephone exchange. I always wondered if she ever got tired of saying “Number please?” She was at the switchboard and I snuck up behind her and put my hands gently on her shoulders. I could feel her tense, she turned and a smile creased her face.

“Bennett! Oh, I’m so glad you came!”

We hugged and I gave her a peck on the cheek. “Good to see you, Charlene. You’re the only thing I really miss about this town.”

“We sure do have a lot to talk ’bout. I’ll be off for lunch in ten minutes. Why don’t you amble over to Gloria’s Café and save us a table. It gets busy at lunchtime. She suddenly turned away—”Number please?”

I nodded, then headed back down the stairs.

Gloria’s was a popular place. Cheap food, ample portions, obscure décor with an assortment of tables and chairs none of which looked much like the other. I found a vacant table and pulled out a chair. Charlene soon joined me, and we ordered the Plat du jour, meatloaf, the special of every day.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for Pa,” I said. “ I really am. What did he die from?”

I could tell she was struggling with something she had to tell me. She looked up at the embossed tin ceiling, and tears clouded her hazel eyes. “I don’t know all the particulars, but I don’t believe it was a natural death.”

“Charlene! What do you mean it wasn’t natural?”

“Well, it weren’t like Pa at all. He seldom went into town. But old Hiram Mackey was havin’ a birthday, and Pa went over to the Mackey place and they walked to town to have a beer at the Frontier.” She paused, twisting her fingers nervously. “Clayton Skoog came in and started given’m a hard time. Said somethin’ like, ‘Well, if you old timers ain’t makin’ a sorry spectacle of yerselves.’ Then he said to Pa, ‘Ellsworth, I seem to recall you got busted a while back for cookin’ up some mash in that old still of yours back’a your house. If you weren’t near dumb as a stump you would done put it out in the woods somewhere’s like ev’budy else. Maybe I’ll be fixin’ to come out your way and see what you’re up to.’

“Pa said, ‘Clayton ya come on my place ’n there’ll be a hole in yer hat big enough to spit through.’ Some men at the bar laughed, which made Clayton mad as a hornet. Pa, encouraged by ’em laughing, and maybe a few beers, said, ‘I think folks ’round here are pert tired of you bullyin’ them, Clayton. Why don’t jus’ take yourself outside and sit a spell, and some sense might come into yer head.’ They say Clayton looked around the room, hesitated, shook his finger at Pa, and left.”

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