Whop Down and Punch Face
Fiction by David Portz
I work for Mr. Eagle during and after the war. He got a ferry on the road at Double Bayou. Mr. Eagle paid rent money every year to Mr. Jackson to run it, hunerd dollars. Mr. Eagle got a little cabin next to the bayou just down from Wolff’s store. I live on t’other side of the bayou, in a shed. Theys a landing on each side of the bayou and a pole with a bell. You rings the bell if you come up and don’t see nobody. Usually I’m sittin’ there, or fishing.
Mr. Eagle says we got three businesses. I catches fish and we keep them on stringers hung from the ferry platform and Mr. Eagle sells ‘em - wraps ‘em in paper. Then we run the ferry platform back and forth pulling ropes, and Mr. Eagle makes money that way. Fifty cents for wagons, twenty-five cents for a man and horse down to 2½ cents each for hogs and goats.
Mr. Eagle says them hogs is moneymakers.
Mr. Eagle says our third business is staying out of people’s business.
This ain’t hard for me because mostly I’m on one edge of the deck or the other, pullin’. People don’t talk to me but I hears pretty good.
Mr. Eagle knows more’n I do because he talks to folks, and to Mr. Wolff up at the store, Mrs. Wolff and the two Wolff boys.
Sometimes when he thinks I’m pullin’ slow or lazy, Mr. Eagle says to the passengers, “I’’m thinkin’ I’m going to get me a engine.”
When we have a good day in our businesses Mr. Eagle gives me a quarter. Mr. Eagle says Mr. Wolff says that spindletop oil is making us all money. Mr. Wolff says business is good too because of the war against the Huns. They need all our cotton.
You was asking me about Mr. Whop Down and Mr. Punch Face. I guess you know they was both farmers off toward Oak Island. That isn’t neither their names but is what people called them, without the misters, behind their back. Because they was pretty good-sized men and didn’t take no guff from no-one.
I see ‘em the same but Mr. Eagle see ‘em different because Mr. Whop Down’s family all tow heads and Mr. Punch Face’s sons all black-haired. They weren’t lease-farmers but owned their places. They were some of the first people around here to stop riding horses in favor of cars, except Mr. Jackson, who owns most everything. “Don’t have to grow hay for no car” Mr. Eagle said. You couldn’t help but notice that as soon as the one man had got the Chevy the other got the Ford.
If Mr. Whop Down be waitin’ at the ferry, he be polishing his red Chevy car with a rag. Mr. Punch Face didn’t take so good care of his blue Ford. Mr. Punch Face’s wife, Mrs. Punch Face, had left him for what Mr. Eagle said was obvious reasons. We seen her leavin’ - she had to make the crossing - she was crying and her neck was purple at the throat, and Mr. Eagle didn’t charge her the ten cents. When Mr. Punch Face came around, Mr. Eagle said we hadn’t seen her.
Mr. Eagle said Mr. Whop Down’s wife wouldn’t leave him, for what was obvious reasons too.
None of the reasons obvious to Mr. Eagle was obvious to me, except why Mrs. Punch Face was leavin’. In fact everything was tangled worse than a ball of copperheads. Mr. Eagle said Mr. Whop Down had married Mr. Punch Face’s old sweetheart. And Mr. Punch Face’s wife was Mr. Whop Down’s old sweetheart too. And Mr. Punch Face’s oldest son, strong boy and good dancer, was hanging around Mr. Whop Down’s Amelia behind their white Baptist Church. Two different Sundays.
Well maybe you see it comin’. We get out in the middle of the bayou with those two cars on there, and Mr. Punch Face starts kicking the chocks out from under Mr. Whop Down’s hind wheels. There’s two chocks, he kicks them both out and then he picks up a hatchet and heads for the only thing left that’s keeping the red Chevy from rolling, a rope through its two front wheels. Mr. Eagle sees this happening and he shouts out Hey! but he isn’t exactly running full steam toward Mr. Punch Face’s hatchet. He yells at me to replace the chocks but I’m way on the other side of the deck, the other side of Mr. Punch Face and his Ford, still pullin’ the rope. Mr. Whop Down doesn’t see what’s happening. He’s leaning on his left front fender. Fop! That hatchet cuts the rope.
I stop pullin’ but stand there with my mouth open. Mr. Eagle is yelling “Stop, stop!”. Mr. Punch Face has braced his legs on the Ford’s bumper and with his back and his shoulder tries to start the Chevy rollin’ off the deck, which wouldn’t been hard except Mr. Whop Down is now pushin’ the other direction at the driver-side door with all his might. I get going and kick the chocks out from in front of the Ford’s front wheels.
Mr. Punch Face is surprised when his legs start straightnin’ out because the Ford is moving behind him. He stretches out almost full length and then drops. Mr. Eagle’s and Mr. Whop Down’s pushing now starts moving the Chevy’s right front wheel between Mr. Punch Face’s arms and toward his head. They’s in no position to stop it. The Ford’s front wheels drop off the edge of the platform but then its fenders and the rope through its back wheels stops it - it’s hanging off. Against the Ford’s bumper, the Chevy stops rolling, against Mr. Punch Face’s head and on top of his hair. Mr. Eagle dashes forwards and chucks the hatchet into the cane on the approaching shore. Mr. Eagle isn’t the kind to be just droppin’ tools overboard.
Mr. Adcock in his wagon on the west landing is looking at all of us and reining in his horse. Mr. Eagle replaces the chocks a couple feet behind the Chevy and then goes and makes Mr. Punch Face promise to cool down before they roll the tire off his hair. Mr. Punch Face then gets up and brushes off his pants, doesn’t say nothing. Then we all of us shove hard to get the Ford back on the deck and chocked. Mr. Eagle and me get the plank ramp in place, both men in their cars, then they start up and roll off, and continue down the road into the distance. It’s business as usual, says Mr. Eagle. Mr. Adcock rolls on with his wagon, asks what was that about. Mr. Eagle just shrugs, and I go to pullin’.
After the war’s over theys crop they can’t sell and Mr. Eagle and Mr. Wolff say they stopped making money. I cut down to a nickel a day. But we come out of that, and Mr. Eagle makes money until the bridge, when Mr. Wolff closes the store. Mr. Whop Down also gets through and gets made a County Commissioner. Mr. Punch Face is Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department. There was something about whether there was money in the county budget for fire equipment but it turned out there was. Chambers County – that is, Mr. Whop Down - gave money to Mr. Punch Face. Mr. Punch Face got re-married, but Mr. Whop Down got divorced. After the post office closed it was only the dance hall until that went out of business. Then there was nothing around here ‘cept Mr. Jackson’s sons and grandsons, them that didn’t leave for elsewhere.
|The author, David Portz