It was so hot that Rich slept the entire night in a lounge chair, beneath the maple tree in the side yard. He listened to frogs and bugs sing the night away and an occasional hoot from an owl. Overhead the occasional sound of a military jet split the night sounds. In the southern sky were dull yellow bursts of what is called ‘heat lightning,’ but really a distant storm. There was absolutely no breeze to flutter the leaves.
A drop of sweat rolled languidly from Rich’s temple and eased over his cheekbone. Like a lazy deliberate river, it changed course, crept toward his ear, and eventually pooled into a reservoir. It changed course again, trickled to his earlobe, and then followed the curve of his jaw bone to his neck, where it lost volume and strength. Rich wiped it away and the process began again.
The night was so oppressive that Rich found it a chore to close his eyes, let alone open them again. He had long ago kicked his pants off and tossed his shirt aside. The only thing that covered him was a sheet clinging to his wet sticky skin.
Rich listened to slow sultry blues from his transistor radio – songs of unfulfilled desire, forlorn desperation, and unremitting sorrow. Songs that neither ease one into a slumber, nor selfishly rob one of sleep, they hypnotically seduce the weary of wit and will, into a trance somewhere between slumber and tedium.
The first bird of the new day whistled its song before sun-up. Before long a choir of winged troubadours joined in. Rich peeked beyond his sleepy eyelids and caught the first glimpses of the day slip above the horizon. A soft breeze passed over him. He drifted in and out of sleep until the sun stood above the distant trees.
Rich lumbered inside to the kitchen sink, to cleanse the night paste from his mouth. Uncle Bob sat like a manikin at the kitchen table, hunched over a bowl of torn bread sprinkled with sugar and drenched with milk.
“How’d you sleep last night?” Rich asked and ran the water until it was cold.
“Hot,” Uncle Bob said.
“I slept outside,” Rich said and gulped some water from a tin cup.
“That’s not too smart,” Uncle Bob mumbled.
Rich’s back was to him. He clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to be sarcastic.
“What makes you say that?” Rich asked.
“What if it would rain,” Uncle Bob said.
“I know with some, the thought of just coming in out of the rain doesn’t even enter their thinking. If it were to rain I’d come inside,” Rich said, confident that he didn‘t think he was referencing him. “It’s that simple.” (Rich gave in – just a little.)
He gulped more water.
“Are you doing anything for the next few days?” Uncle Bob asked.
Uncertain how to reply Rich said. “What ya got in mind?”
“Gardner’s have got about twenty-five acres of beans that need to be weeded,” Uncle Bob mumbled.
The Gardner’s was an adjoining farm. It was owned by ole man Gardner and his unmarried daughter who lived with and cared for the old man. The old man was seldom seen. He spent most of the day sitting in a chair in his bedroom. Miss Gardner ran the farm and hired Uncle Bob to work it. Uncle Bob had been known to date Miss Gardner. She vowed never to marry, until ole man Gardner passed. She was well into her fifties.
Rich said, “What?”
Uncle Bob repeated himself. “Gardner’s have got about twenty-five acres of beans that need to be weeded.”
“Are you going to weed too?” Rich asked hoping he said no.
“No,” Uncle Bob said. “It will probably take four days.”
“Can I get some help?” Rich asked.
“Get all the help ya want,” Uncle Bob said. “But you take care of paying them out of what you get.”
“I was thinking of asking Don,” Rich said.
“Don’t make me any difference who ya get,” Uncle Bob said.
“Sure,” Rich said. “I’ll do it. I’m going to mow the lawn before there’s too much sun.”
“That’s stupid,” Uncle Bob said.
“What?” Rich said.
“Too much sun,” Uncle Bob said. “The sun is always the same.”
If this were said by anyone else, Rich might have taken it to be funny, but it was Uncle Bob’s way of showing how much more clever he was than Rich.
“You ain’t as smart as you think,” Uncle Bob said. “Anybody who would sleep under a tree.”
Rich pressed his lips. “It’s an expression. I know the sun is always the same. How ’bout this; I want to mow as much as I can before the ambient air becomes too warm and uncomfortable, thus I might get too much of the sun’s heat. How would you say it?”
“I’d say, I want to get as much mowed before the sun beats down on me,” Uncle Bob said.
“Really,” Rich said, “what does the sun beat you with, a whip, a switch, a board?”
Rich walked outside before Uncle Bob could answer.