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Chapter no 11 – Croker Sacks Full

Where the Crawdads Sing

1956

In the winter of 1956, when Kya was ten, Pa came hobbling to the shack less and less often. Weeks passed with no whiskey

bottle on the floor, no body sprawled on the bed, no Monday money. She kept expecting to see him limping through the trees, toting his poke. One full moon, then another had passed since she’d seen him.

Sycamore and hickories stretched naked limbs against a dull sky, and the relentless wind sucked any joy the winter sun might have spread across the bleakness. A useless, drying wind in a sea-land that couldn’t dry.

Sitting on the front steps, she thought about it. A poker-game fight could have ended with him beat up and dumped in the swamp on a cold, rainy night. Or maybe he just got fall-down drunk, wandered off into the woods, and fell face-first in the backwater bog.

“I guess he’s gone for good.”

 

 

She bit her lips until her mouth turned white. It wasn’t like the pain when Ma left—in fact, she struggled to mourn him at all. But being completely alone was a feeling so vast it echoed, and the authorities were sure to find out and take her away. She’d have to pretend, even to Jumpin’, that Pa was still around.

And there would be no Monday money. She’d stretched the last few dollars for weeks, surviving on grits, boiled mussels, and the occasional remnant egg from the rangy hens. The only remaining supplies were a few matches, a nubbin of soap, and a handful of grits. A fistful of Blue Tips wouldn’t make a winter. Without them

she couldn’t boil the grits, which she fixed for herself, the gulls, and the chickens.

“I don’t know how to do life without grits.”

At least, she thought, wherever Pa had disappeared to this time, he had gone on foot. Kya had the boat.

Of course, she’d have to find another way to get food, but for right now she pushed the thought to a far corner of her mind.

After a supper of boiled mussels, which she had learned to smash into a paste and spread on soda crackers, she thumbed through Ma’s beloved books, play-reading the fairy tales. Even at ten she still couldn’t read.

Then the kerosene light flickered, faded, and died. One minute there was a soft circle of a world, and then darkness. She made an oh sound. Pa had always bought the kerosene and filled the lamp, so she hadn’t thought much about it. Until it was dark.

She sat for a few seconds, trying to squeeze light from the leftovers, but there was almost nothing. Then the rounded hump of the Frigidaire and the window frame began to take shape in the dimness, so she touched her fingers along the countertop until she found a candle stub. Lighting it would take a match and there were only five left. But darkness was a right-now thing.

Swish. She struck the match, lit the candle, and the blackness retreated to the corners. But she’d seen enough of it to know she had to have light, and kerosene cost money. She opened her mouth in a shallow pant. “Maybe I oughta walk to town and turn myself in to the authorities. At least they’d give me food and send me to school.”

But after thinking a minute she said, “No, I cain’t leave the gulls, the heron, the shack. The marsh is all the family I got.”

Sitting in the last of the candlelight, she had an idea.

 

 

Earlier than usual, she got up the next morning when the tide was low, pulled on her overalls, and slipped out with a bucket, claw knife, and empty tow bags. Squatting in mud, she collected mussels along the sloughs like Ma had taught her, and in four hours of crouching and kneeling had two croker sacks full.

The slow sun pulled from the sea as she motored through dense fog up to Jumpin’s Gas and Bait. He stood as she neared.

“Hello, Miss Kya, ya wantin’ some gas?”

She tucked her head. Hadn’t spoken a word to anyone since her last trip to the Piggly Wiggly, and her speech was slipping some. “Maybe gas. But that depends. I hear tell you buy mussels, and I got some here. Can you pay me cash money and some gas throwed in?” She pointed to the bags.

“Yessiree, you sho’ do. They fresh?” “I dug ’em ’fore dawn. Just now.”

“Well, then. I can give ya fifty cent for one bag, a full tank for the other.”

Kya smiled slightly. Real money she made herself. “Thank ya” was all she said.

As Jumpin’ filled the tank, Kya walked into his tiny store there on the wharf. She’d never paid it much mind because she shopped at the Piggly, but now she saw that besides bait and tobacco, he sold matches, lard, soap, sardines, Vienna sausages, grits, soda crackers, toilet paper, and kerosene. About everything she needed in the world was right here. Lined up on the counter were five one-gallon jars filled with penny candy—Red Hots, jawbreakers, and Sugar Daddys. It seemed like more candy than would be in the world.

With the mussel money she bought matches, a candle, and grits. Kerosene and soap would have to wait for another croker full. It took all her might not to buy a Sugar Daddy instead of the candle.

“How many bags you buy a week?” she asked.

“Well now, we striking up a bidness deal?” he asked as he laughed in his particular way—mouth closed, head thrown back. “I buy ’bout forty pounds ever’ two-three days. But mind, others bring ’em in, too. If ya bring ’em in, and I already got some, well, you’d be out. It’s first come, first serve. No other way of doing it.”

“Okay. Thank you, that’d be fine. Bye, Jumpin’.” Then she added, “Oh, by the way, my pa sends his regards to ya.”

“That so, well then. Ya do the same from me, if ya please. Bye yourself, Miss Kya.” He smiled big as she motored away. She almost smiled herself. Buying her own gas and groceries surely made her a grown-up. Later, at the shack when she unpacked the tiny pile of supplies, she saw a yellow-and-red surprise at the

 

 

bottom of the bag. Not too grown-up for a Sugar Daddy Jumpin’ had dropped inside.

To stay ahead of the other pickers, Kya slipped down to the marsh by candle or moon—her shadow wavering around on the glistening sand—and gathered mussels deep in the night. She added oysters to her catch and sometimes slept near gullies under the stars to get to Jumpin’s by first light. The mussel money turned out to be more reliable than the Monday money ever had, and she usually managed to beat out other pickers.

She stopped going to the Piggly, where Mrs. Singletary always asked why she wasn’t in school. Sooner or later they’d grab her, drag her in. She got by with her supplies from Jumpin’s and had more mussels than she could eat. They weren’t that bad tossed into the grits, mashed up beyond recognition. They didn’t have eyes to look at her like the fish did.

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