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Southern Fiction
Who Has The Edge?

by Claude Jones

Phillip Charles pulled the shiny, black 1950 Ford sedan into the cluttered yard of the run down farmhouse. He delayed his getting out to let settle the dust that had been following the Ford down the dirt road, but now with his stopping, had caught and enveloped car, yard and house. He reached across the seat to pick up his wide brimmed, gray felt hat and leather brief case. He looked at the house expecting to see curious eyes straining to see who and what he was. No one showed.

He had imagined on the eighteen-mile drive down the crooked, pothole filled gravel and dirt roads the impression he would make in his official U. S. Government car, gray double breasted suit and new $6.00 fedora. No one bothered to see. Phillip hoped the fact this was his first case to handle by himself would not be evident.

He had graduated from Ole Miss thanks to the GI Bill and his wife Rachel’s paying the bills from her meager teacher’s salary. He was ready to begin to earn his keep.

He took his Internal Revenue Service Special Agent badge from his inside coat pocket. He looked at its gleaming metal and reread the words embossed thereon as if to assure himself he was official. Getting from the car, he looked at the surroundings. The dull gray dirt of Skuna Bottom blended with the unpainted, weathered board of the house, leaning barn and small smoke house. He seemed out of place, in another time, but the truth was, he himself was a product of similar circumstances. Raised in a house no better, only better kept.

The whole place was colorless, no flowers or adornments, even the clothes hanging on the rusty clothes line were drab, dull and frayed. The only color to be seen was the comb of the Road Island Red Rooster chasing the white leghorn hen from underneath the porch where she had been dusting.

Phillip suddenly remembered something and said aloud to himself, “Farm boy, you better watch where you are putting your feet.” The black and white chicken droppings littered the yard; nature’s best fertilizer, he thought, and nothing grew.

A rap on the porch post drew no response. He walked around the house toward the barn and saw a sun-bleached bonnet bobbing among the tasseled corn.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I’m looking for Henry Towers.”

She raised one arm, not bothering to look.

“They’s cuttin’ sprouts outn’ the pasture.”

She returned to gathering corn into her held up apron.

The wagon ruts to the pasture were deep and hard. Phillip’s shoes no longer shined, each step raised dust and left a perfect shoe print. The cotton rows in the adjoining field were surprisingly straight and clean. The cotton bloomed, pale yellow, laid by until picking time.

The pasture was dry, grass short and sparse except near the edge of a barely flowing creek. Three young men, clad in overalls only, no shirt, no shoes, were cutting young bushes with curved “joe” blades. An older man, unshaven and dirty stood propped on a fence post filing a blade using a file with a corn cob for a handle. As Agent Phillip Charles approached, a nearby Jersey cow raised her head and looked at him, no one else bothered.

Phillip walked to where the older man stood.

“I’m Phillip Charles, Internal Revenue Service.” He held out his badge for the man to see. The old man looked up not speaking. “I need to speak to Richard Towers.”

The old man raised the sharpened “joe” blade, inspecting the bright area along the edge. Phillip looked at it also.

“That’s my boy. What you want with him?”

“Our records show he worked at King’s Sawmill last winter, and he failed to file a tax return. I need to speak to him about that.”

“I talk for him. They didn’t pay him all he shoulda got, so we just went over there and got us some bridge timbers and floorin’. He don’t owe nothing.” He wiped the blade on his overall leg and again inspected the razor edge.

Phillip’s eyes followed Mr. Towers’s up and down the bevel of the shined edge.

Phillip cleared his throat.

“Mr. Towers, is this Pontotoc County or Calhoun County?”

“The driveway is in Pontotoc County, the house and land are in Calhoun.”

Phillip said, “I thought so; this should have been handled out of our Oxford Office. Good day, Mr. Towers.”

Phillip drove away dusty, but not a cut on him.


Claude Jones writes:
"Writing is my escape . . . I was born, raised and lived all my life in Pontotoc, Mississippi. I was raised on a farm where we milked cows, raised cotton, corn, and had a peach orchard. I have worked for Pontototc Electric Power for 31 years. My wife Ann and I have two sons, both are pharmacists, and we have two grandchildren.

"My point in writing 'Edge' was to remind us (myself), we are never as impressive nor as important as we see ourselves; this is not to say we should shrivel or disregard our worth, nor pander to others, but rather to stay in the reality so easily set aside by our ego. I also wished to convey the difference in the perspective of people observing the same things. I did not intend for Mr. Towers to be a threat. The keen observation he made of the 'edge' of the freshly sharpened joe blade was to ensure the ease in cutting the sprouts (bushes), that if not removed would shade the grass of the pasture and moot his ability to feed his cattle.

"Phillip Charles saw the edge as a weapon. Weapon or tool? All in the eye of the beholder. I, as a barefoot boy, watched my Granddaddy Jones sharpen tools on his foot propelled grind stone. His foot would continue the perfect cadence to drive the smooth stone as he held the tool he was sharpening toward the sky to observe the edge, the importance of the brightness and keenness of the edge migrated and penetrated my freckled face to become a part of who I am."


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