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Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

Page 21

“Yeah.... sometimes. But.... not always.”

Crooks leaned forward over the edge of the bunk. “I ain’t a southern Negro,” he said. “I was born right here in California. My old man had a chicken ranch, ‘bout ten acres. The white kids come to play at our place, an’ sometimes I went to play with them, and some of them was pretty nice. My ol’ man didn’t like that. I never knew till long later why he didn’t like that. But I know now.” He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was softer. “There wasn’t another colored family for miles around. And now there ain’t a colored man on this ranch an’ there’s jus’ one family in Soledad.” He laughed. “If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’ it.”

Lennie asked, “How long you think it’ll be before them pups will be old enough to pet?”

Crooks laughed again. “A guy can talk to you an’ be sure you won’t go blabbin’. Couple of weeks an’ them pups’ll be all right. George knows what he’s about. Jus’ talks, an’ you don’t understand nothing.” He leaned forward excitedly. “This is just a nigger talkin’, an’ a busted-back nigger. So it don’t mean nothing, see? You couldn’t remember it anyways. I seen it over an’ over — a guy talkin' to another guy and it don’t make no difference if he don’t hear or understand. The thing is, they’re talkin’, or they’re settin’ still not talkin’. It don’t make no difference, no difference.” His excitement had increased until he pounded his knee with this hand. “George can tell you screwy things, and it don’t matter. It’s just the talking. It’s just bein’ with another guy. That’s all.” He paused.

His voice grew soft and persuasive. “S’pose George don’t come back no more. S’pose he took a powder and just ain’t coming back. What’ll you do then?”

Lennie’s attention came gradually to what had been said. “What?” he demanded.

“I said s’pose George went into town tonight and you never heard of him no more.” Crooks pressed forward some kind of private victory. “Just s’pose that,” he repeated.

“He won’t do it,” Lennie cried. “George wouldn’t do nothing like that. I been with George a long a time. He’ll come back tonight—” But the doubt was too much for him. “Don’t you think he will?”

Crooks’ face lighted with pleasure in his torture. “Nobody can’t tell what a guy’ll do,” he observed calmly. “Le’s say he wants to come back and can’t. S’pose he gets killed or hurt so he can’t come back.”

Lennie struggled to understand. “George won’t do nothing like that,” he repeated. “George is careful. He won’t get hurt. He ain’t never been hurt, ‘cause he’s careful.”

“Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then?”

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