By Karen Brode
Winnie was due back from Tennessee either today or tomorrow. She loved to go to Tennessee to visit “all the folks” in the summers when she wasn’t teaching school. John Hawk’s own Daddy had moved here from Greene County, Tennessee and settled into farming.
John Hawk had decided not to go this time. There was so much to do in the summertime to keep the place up, and even being gone a few days could make a big difference if it rained a lot.
John liked to sleep on the screened in back porch when the weather was warm. There was an iron bedstead out there that John had slept on as a boy. It was almost like sleeping outdoors. In the summertime, he could hear and see as well as smell the night with only a screen between him and the stars. Nights in the country were so lovely.
John had walked through his house aimlessly and he realized that he was looking for some of his folks. He shook off the sudden feeling of loneliness and got busy making a sandwich. He sliced a banana into a bowl and then put two dollops of peanut butter into the bowl. With a fork, he mashed the concoction together until it was creamy and rich looking. He spread this on a piece of white bread and stood at the window in the kitchen eating his sandwich. Looking out, he could see Fat Whitlock sitting on the Whitlock front porch. There was a field between his house and Fat’s house, but he could tell that Fat was whittling on a piece of wood. Fat was so thin that his overalls hung loosely on him. Fat had seven children, but one of his boys had died when he was only fifteen. The boy had had leukemia, and Fat had looked in shock ever since it happened. John had not ever lost a child, and he was thankful. He wasn’t sure he could stand that particular bitter cup.
John wiped the crumbs from his hands and wiped his mouth. He washed and dried the bowl and fork he had used. He didn’t want Winnie to come home to dirty dishes. He poured a tall glass of milk to wash down the sandwich, and he drank the entire glass of milk in one swig. He could drink a king size coca cola without taking a breath. He pumped water to fill the glass and set it in the sink. He would wash it when he got through outside.
He promised Winnie that he would hoe the weeds in the garden every day. Today was by far the hottest day they’d had so far, and it was only a little after eleven. John wondered if Winnie would be back today or tomorrow. There was no way to know since he didn’t have a telephone. When anyone needed to get in touch with him, they had instructions to call the Whitlocks and one of the children would run down the road to get Winnie, and she would hurry over to the Whitlock’s to take the call. John was used to not having a telephone, and wasn’t sure he would ever want one. It seemed like an unnecessary distraction. People were always jumping up to get the phone, and John liked to talk to people who were standing in front of him.
He wore a long-sleeved chambray shirt under his faded overalls. On the way out the door, he put on his light wide brimmed straw hat. He walked through the dust covered back yard to the shed and reached in to get his hoe. His work gloves were hanging on a nail nearby. He pulled the gloves on quickly, and then felt a very sharp sting on the third finger of his right hand. He jerked the glove off, and shook it and a black widow spider fell from the glove. His heart quickened when he saw her. He wasn’t sure what to do….did he need a tourniquet? or should be not try to tie off the bite? He couldn’t remember. His finger was already throbbing. He went to sit in the shade on the back steps and think. His flesh was beginning to swell over the Masonic ring on his finger. His entire hand looked puffy now.
He decided to wait it out. He was a tough old man, and he could handle this. He felt the poison traveling up his arm and his arm began to go numb. Any other time if his arm went numb, he would’ve thought….heart attack – the bane of his parents. But he knew it was only that dreadful spider. Then, his chest began to feel as if it was in a vise and each time he inhaled, it became harder to exhale. He didn’t like this. He stood up to see if Fat Whitlock was still out on his porch. No, he must’ve gone in. He turned around and stared in all directions and there was no one. On one side of him was the smoke-house, and on the other side was the cellar. Behind him was the house. It suddenly occurred to him that no one could see him. And his heart began to beat faster.
He needed to go to the outhouse very badly. So he turned toward the outhouse which was now a bit blurry and began to stumble along the dirt pathway. His legs would not do what he wanted them to do. They felt as if there were no muscles in them. They wobbled and then he fell in the dirt. He was on his stomach reaching toward the outhouse which was still a ways off. The pain coursing through his entire body was just indescribable. He could not think of anything but the pain and the wretched heat. At least, he had fallen in a shady patch, but it wouldn’t stay shady in the afternoon. He used all his strength and turned over on his back. The summer day was so normal, so ordinary, The cicadas were singing and life was going on as if this wasn’t happening to him.
He couldn’t move. His breath was uneven and the pain was still escalating. He realized that he should have run to Fat Whitlock’s house when this first happened. But what could he do now? And then, a pain racked through his body that he simply couldn’t bear. Over the afternoon, he had been thinking this might happen. He knew at that moment that he was going to die here in the backyard with no one beside him.
He raised his right arm and his hand was so swollen that he could barely see his Masonic ring, and his entire right arm was swollen almost double. He knew and had known…maybe from the start that this was it. This was the day he was going to die. He wouldn’t see Winnie come home from her trip. He wouldn’t be here at Christmas time. He wouldn’t even get the weeds hoed. It was a lot to think about lying there in the dirt.
He tried to take shallow breaths, but even with that, his breathing became harder and more labored. Then, in the distance he saw his Mother and his Father and Effie. He had missed them all so much and he got up and ran to them.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.