“Get up. Get up. We got to get started,” Don said in a harsh whisper, as he shook Rich to wake him.
At first, it angered Rich. He moaned and struggled to open his pasty eyes. A terrible morass of sleep held him prisoner.
Don continued to shake Rich until he responded. “Okay, okay, I get it. I’m getting up,” he muttered. When aware of his surroundings and why he was being rousted awake the anger quickly subsided.
“I knew ya couldn’t do it,” Don said.
“Crap,” Rich said. Rubbing his eyes, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Don sat two bowls, a jug of milk, two spoons, and a box of Sugar Smacks on the kitchen table. “Here, have some breakfast and let’s get started.”
They ate two bowls of cereal quickly and shuffled from the house. Armed with gloves stuffed in their back pockets and holding hoes like lances, they rode their bikes blindly down the road to the Gardner farm. Slowly. they coasted in the driveway and hopped over the fence and started madly pulling and hoeing away at the weeds.
By the time the sun lifted fully above the horizon, they were fatigued. The pace of work slowed. Doubt began to dull their minds by mid-morning. The thick dew lifted, but the humidity remained. They worked next to each other, separated only by the row of bean plants being weeding. They didn’t talk much. Perhaps, it was because of the dedication to accomplishing the job or resentment for one another for agreeing to such an arduous task. Each time they finished a row close to the Gardner home, they stopped for water. They drank from a rust-laden tin cup hanging from the pump by bailing wire. While one stuck his head under the pump, the other pumped. Refreshment was but a moment, as the sun quickly evaporated the cool water.
At noon Miss Gardner called in a nasally shrill voice, “Come and get it! Come and get it!”
Miss Gardner was a thin woman. Her face was drawn down into a permanent frown. She never said anything joyfully.
As they neared the house she said, “If ya don’t get ‘er now, ya just ain’t gonna get ‘er.”
She tossed a bar of soap and told them to wash up outside and not to wear their shoes inside. They walked into the kitchen, at the table were two bologna sandwiches, two small bowls of chips, and two glasses of ice water.
“Do you have any mustard?” Rich said.
“I’ll have some catchup,” Don added.
“All I got is a little bit left and we don’t go to the store until the first of the month,” Miss Gardner said. “It’s got to last us.”
“How about some mayonnaise?” Rich asked.
“I don’t want to open a new jar,” Miss Gardner said and retired to the living room where she watched a soap opera on TV
Rich and Don gobbled down the sandwiches
“Can you eat another?” Don asked Rich.
“Yeah,” Rich said.
Don got up from the table and stuck his head in the living room. “Can we have another sandwich?”
“What do ya think this is a restaurant?” Miss Gardner retorted. “That’s all the bologna I got.”
Don returned to the kitchen. They quickly ate the chips.
Rich whispered to Don, “Listen,” and put a potato chip in your mouth and chew. “What do you hear?”
Don looked perplexed and said, “Nothing.”
“Exactly,” Rich said. “That’s the sound of a stale potato chip.”
“Chips,” Don said, “I thought they were milk bottle lids.”
“I could sure use some more to eat,” Rich said. “You want to see if she has anything else.”
Don said, “I’d rather be horsewhipped.”
“Horsewhipped!” Rich said. “I just don’t even want her to come back in the room. I’ll take a horse whipping any day. Hey, do you know why they don’t have much food?”
“Why?” Don said.
“She’s so ugly it all ran away and the only thing that stayed was the food too far gone to run,” Rich snickered.
“That’s not funny,” Don said and added. “If we face her to the field, do you think the weeds would all drop dead?” Don paused and snapped his finger. “Wait a minute, it might kill the beans too.”
“I heard she actually killed her husband by tying him in the chair and staring at him until he dropped dead,” Rich said.
“Yeah, I heard that too,” Don said.
“Took all of ten seconds,” Rich said. “Here she comes.”
And they quieted. The sounds of her heeled shoes sounded like a German officer in jackboots.
“You boys get done,” she said. “I got to go into town and I want to lock up.”
“While you’re at it, pick up some bologna, mustard, and catsup,” Don said snidely.
She didn’t respond, but stood like a sentinel at the door. They finished eating and walked back to the field and started the weeding again.
“I’ll never work for the Gardner’s again,” Don said categorically as he violently pulled a weed and flung it far across the field.
They started slowly weeding the field and gradually worked up to a fast pace. Soon the sun’s rays began to thrash the unrelenting heat of despair. Eyes became dull and bodies worn like old discarded leather shoes. Feet drug along the dusty rows between the bean plants, kicking up small clouds of dust. Mouths were coated with pasty warm saliva. Lips parched and stuck together, grudgingly separated when speaking. Cheeks turned red and swelled like ripe plums. Sweat poured from them.
“Miss Gardner is so ugly, she has to sneak up on a glass of water to take a drink,” Rich said.
“She is so ugly, you look up ugly in the dictionary and there is a picture of her,” Don said.
“She is so ugly, forget the pork chop around the neck, nothing’s gonna play with her no matter what,” Rich said.
“She’s so ugly, she’s Medusa’s ugly step-sister,” Don said.
“She’s so ugly, that it would take plastic surgery just to get her up to ugly,” Rich said.
“She’s so ugly, she could scare a buzzard off a gut wagon,” Don said.
“She is the gut in the gut wagon,” Rich said.
“She’s the one who made the ugly stick ugly,” Don said.
Don and Rich joked until the heat reduced words to incoherent mumbling. The birds that were joyous in the morning, had now surrendered to the heat and kept silent. White salty sweat rings appeared on their shirts. The flies they earlier flicked away, now clung to them, because of the scant energy available to scare them away. The weeds seemed to resist their pull and they became less tolerant. They cursed the weeds, the sun, and Miss Gardner.