A Fire In The Cane
The sun flashed red as it rose to the top of the peaks, the sky went
blue, and on flat ground, where plains of cane ran green to the dirt
road, men cut at the growth. Stalks of ripe cane lined the field in
rows. In these fields, gangs of farm hands tried to get their work done
in time for lunch. Most of them put their faith in a man who had the
will of a serf and threw as much strength into his blade than a mad
bull in a charge. He made quick a job that put to shame the work done
by three men. A bad air hung in his wake and he knew it, yet he did not
warn his friends to the fear he felt. The clip of his blade through
stems and the shift of feet on leaves were the sole din to fit his
ears. Far off from this noise, a bird cried as if to rouse the
When Abe heard it, he dropped his blade to look. A gull swooped on the
heads of cane, a white blast of tuft on its wings and breast, and a
fire etched in its beak. Abe knew the life of these birds and found it
odd to see one dive in hunt, not for fish, but for stares from men too
full in their work to care.
"Did you hear the bird? It's warning us," Abe said, with a wild gaze at
Ted's fat ears twitched. "What you hear there pal?"
"Look." He forced his friend to look at the sky. "You see it? That bird
flying there. Can you hear it?"
"You've slipped your goose, haven't you, ya Jap? I don't see a damn
Abe grabbed Ted's arm.
"Oww! Knock it off! That hurts!," cried Ted.
"Look. Over near the mountains, you see?"
He raised Ted's hand to point at the gull as it made a climb for the
"Yeah, I see it. But let go, you're hurtin' me."
Abe let go. Ted, stunned, fell back with a wry look on his face. He
thought of the pain he would have to bear for the next two weeks thanks
to his friend's harsh grip. Ted never liked the Japs, and less so now
since he'd heard on the news of the wrongs they had done to girls and
youth in the west. If bombs could not end the job, they went through
streets to rape and kill. It made him sick to think of such things, but
he knew Abe was not of their kind. No, Abe stood at the head of a new
breed, born from the mix of loam and wash, built tough as the land, but
whose thoughts were pure and left with the need to make good. The farm
hands could not help but like the child in this grown man with a black
beard. His tan skin, dark from months in the sun, bulged with rocks of
flesh formed out of the throw he put into the stroke of his great
"Ya know what?" Ted said. "I bet you wouldn't mean to hurt a dog even
if it was misbehavin'."
"You joke too much." Abe made a thrust with his blade at the sky. "I
tell you that bird is calling us."
"Calling who? Not us guys. He's probably jus' circling some dead
carcass out there."
"That is what you think."
"Don't worry about the damn bird," Ted took up his white hat from the
ground and put it on his head. "It's jus' a bird."
Abe went back to work. He knew his friend was right and that chance had
sent the gull from its beach to these plains. When he was done with a
row, he brought out a rag from his belt and wet it in a tin can
strapped to his pant leg. He gazed at Ted, a white shirt far in the
mist, who took his line of cane at a slow pace. Ted's knees were hard
pressed. With the end of each cut, he took a step, and with less punch
than the last, swung at a stalk. All this strife was hard on his frame,
a rack of weak limbs, arms slim as wire, and he had to halt at times to
cough. Ted could not be one of the strong men. He smoked too much. When
he was fired from his job as a clerk in Pearl, his lungs went out the
door as well. A thought came to Abe that he should help his friend with
the work, but once more, a cry from the bird made him look up.
"Something is wrong," Abe said.
"What is it?" Ted laid his blade on the dirt and ran up to his
"It has come again to warn us."
"Of what?" Ted asked in a sweat and put a hand on his brow to shade his
eyes from the sun.
"I don't know."
"Of course you don't."
"I'll go over to it and see what it wants," said Abe.
"And leave all of the work? You're nuts. Only crazies chase
"But this bird is not crazy. It carries a message."
"If it's the dove from Jesus Christ, I say go right ahead and fetch it,
but don't ask me to finish your work."
"I never asked."
"Well then, go right ahead."
"Will you come too?" Abe asked.
"Then I will stay."
"Well then, whaddya throw a hoot and holler over it in the first
place?" Ted put his hand on his friend's mouth to quiet his say. "Don't
say a word, I already know." Then he sat on the ground and laid his hat
in front of him. "I reckon if it's so important to ya' I can't
complain. But, jus' the same, I'd like to get the hell out of here.
We've been here since four in the mornin'."
"You want a break?"
"Yeah. Let's go into town and get a couple of smokes or somethin'.
Anything to leave this country of flies and rotten humidity."
Abe laughed, his teeth white in the sun's glare.
"Hey, whaddya think about that, Abe?"
"No, to sleep, whaddya think I'm talkin' about?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Of course, of course." Ted drew out a pack of smokes from his shirt,
took one out, and lit it. "So where do ya' wanna go eat, Pearl or
"Pearl," Abe said.
"Pearl it is."
A drone was heard in the north. Ted knew these sounds as planes in
flight from the west coast. They would come in on church days to jump
folks out of their beds and send them on their way to mass. These
blares had passed through his ears with no end and he paid as much heed
to them as he would a fly that had clung to his shirt. The same could
not be said of Abe, who grew faint when he heard these planes. He
glanced at the peaks, now in a dawn mist, and felt his heart
"Do you see them yet?" he asked.
"You mean those bombers," Ted said as he let out a puff of smoke.
"Yeah, they're probably some of those Fortresses they got flying in
from California. Don't worry about them."
"These sound different."
"Now you're talking silly again. Are you comin' with me to town or
what? Or are ya' jus' gonna stay out here and work your--"
"Quiet, listen," Abe cut in.
Ted knew it would be in vain to look at the sky, but he did so to
please his friend. His red face glanced up for a bit, then down at his
boots, where a bug had just crawled in to sting his foot. He could live
with flies, but the pests that ran out of the rocks to bite pissed him
"These damn beetles, they're everywhere." He stomped on the ground.
"Goddamn things, they sting at anything they can get their claws on,
and this one's gotta damn pincer in my toe. I can't do anything with
crap running in my shoes, Abe. How's a man to get rid of them?"
"There are hundreds," Abe said with his eyes on the peaks. What was
meant by his words did not have to do with bugs.
Ted kept quiet. This was the first time he had seen Abe in a gloom. The
drone rose to such a high roar that it shook the earth and forced Ted
to close his ears.
"Geez, they are flyin' low today! They don't ever do this!" he yelled
but he saw Abe did not hear him for he was too much in a trance.
Up in the air, crowds of dots seemed to pop out of clouds. Some of them
were fast and kept at the front of the pack as they spilled down the
peaks to the low ground. It was a new sight for Abe. He had seen the
wrecks left in lean-tos on a base in Pearl, full of rents in their
steel and not able of flight, and knew they could not match the grace
of these planes.
"Damn those things are fast!" said Ted. "Look at them go. They leap in
the air like rabbits!"
***NOVEL DOES NOT END HERE, THERE IS MORE, SO DON'T THINK THIS IS THE