Charlie Moss starved to death. I carried Charlie up to the Greenville Sanitarium myself. There was no money. The doctor looked at him despite it, but it was too late. Charlie died all the same. Doc said it was pneumonia, but I knew better. Good Ol’ Charlie starved and froze.
The work ran out a good while back. Most everyone we knew had hopped the cars for Nashville, or Birmingham, but when Charlie got sick I stayed there with him. That shanty was cold, what with the wind blowing in through the chinks, and Charlie was real thin. Hell, so was I. It wouldn’t be long until I was too weak to chop the wood, and then we would both freeze, if'n we didn’t starve first. I couldn’t cut wood fast enough now to heat the plywood walls of that shack, but I did my best to keep Charlie warm. With all of that though, there wasn’t much to do about feeding him. It was nothing but a damned shame for Ol’ Charlie, is what it was, that he picked the very worst time to go and get sick.
I knew Charlie Moss my whole life, going all the way back to grade school in Bristol, and then we did our service time in France together afterward. Once back home I courted Charlie’s sister until she ran off with a medicine show drummer. She never did come back home. I always wondered if she ran away from that town, or if'n it was me she ran from?
It hurt some when Charlie died. I cried a bit when I got back to the shanty alone, and I kicked that dog for watching me do it.
But for me the car was empty. Those able had already gone to where the work was, leaving the shanty-town long before cold struck the mountains. I jumped the train on the eastern slope when her speed was down, the wind shivering me in my shirtsleeves. I looked back once through the boxcar door and that dog was running alongside, but she couldn’t hang with it for long, could she? I mean, I would have brought her along, but how could I hold that dog, run with the train, and jump the car, too?
It was good that I was alone, my mood being sure enough sour. The rough plank floor of that car gravelled my ass with every clickety-clack, so that I was fairly miserable when we passed through the gap. I tipped my slouch hat down for a nap, but couldn’t sleep for thinking of Charlie Moss. They buried my friend with everything he owned, excepting that dog, of course. Charlie sure thought highly of that bitch. I expect he starved himself while slipping his slivers to it. That was the kind of friend Ol’ Charlie was. I had watched that dog lick Charlie’s face right before I toted him into Greenville. Charlie had smiled as he wrapped her head in his arms. I reckon that was the last time Charlie Moss ever smiled on this Earth.
Charlie would have been plumb disappointed to hear of it, of me leaving his dog to chase after the train. But damn it, if I didn’t find work I would like as not starve too, then what would that dog do? Hell-fire! She was better off than any of us! She’d go right on catching rabbits, I reckoned.
I left the train as it was sailing down off the Cumberland Plateau. It was a fast stretch, but distance was mounting. If I was going to ditch, it would need be soon. I hit gravel feet first, but from there it was ass-over-tea kettle, so that it hurt pretty good when I stopped rolling. It would be a long, hungry walk back to that shanty, and cold over every bit of this mountain, but I knew that dog would be there waiting, lying across Charlie’s olive-drab army blanket, never understanding why she was left there alone.
I knocked the dust and gravel from my duds the best I could, and started walking. I reckon I’m not the man to betray a friend, not even a dead one, nor his damned cur dog, neither.