An August sun, nearing his zenith, produced undulating mirages of love, overtures which caressed a parched, cracked earth and tried to seduce from her any precious moisture she still retained. Earth, unmoved and resolute, held her breath.
Unaware of nature’s drama, an alabaster boy curled his lithe forty-eight inches into a bald B. F. Goodrich tire suspended by a frayed rope looped over a porch rafter. He stopped abruptly and watched as pearls of sweat began an initially slow, downward flow, joining other artesian springs until they became strands of beads racing down his bare chest to be collected in the reservoir of his belly button or dammed by the elastic waistband on his shorts.
Through the screened door he could hear the current argument. Subjects, depending on the whim of the moment, ranged from the amount of time he spent away from home to how much she spent on make up. How much he spent on booze to how much time her divorced sister spent at the house. Sometimes the episodes were mild; sometimes confrontational and just short of physical. They would later privately press their claims with him. Surely he could see the rightness of his or her cause, couldn’t he? It made him uncomfortable having to be arbiter of their respective positions. Diplomat that he was, he listened, never taking sides. In a few hours they would be canoodling as if nothing had ever happened.
He looked for a distraction to the loud voices inside. Shielding his eyes, he squinted at a dust devil that danced and frolicked, waving its arms in joyful communion with the powdery ground and showering a dark apparition at the end of the drive with a halo of mica. Dull, the color of ash, the anomaly rose on four feet, spinning clockwise three full turns, stopping suddenly, and reversing its course. Sinking and rising to repeat the dervish and snapping with abandon at an imaginary foe.
The boy, like a nail to a magnet, was drawn by the curiosity. The animal’s eyes were dilated, the color of blood-red marbles. Its muzzle had grown a misshapen beard of bubble bath foam. With growing anxiety and hyper alertness, it followed the boy’s approaching footsteps.
He looked with compassion. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?” The Good Samaritan was greeted with hostility and bared teeth. Its body sank and trembled with ripples of seizures, starting with the shoulders and moving toward the tail. With difficulty, it stood again and swayed left, and finding its footing, sat back on its haunches, gathering strength to spring toward its hated tormentor.
The boy started backing, extending his arms and palms in an ill-received blessing. His yell of alarm coincided with the animal’s cry of pain. A rifle’s voice from the front porch has spoken judgment and mercy and finality. He felt himself lifted effortlessly into the air and deposited gently on the porch.
“What is it that your old man always says, Son?”
“The next best thing to a good woman is a good rifle.”
“I think we made ourselves a smart one here. What do you think?” He winked at her ashen face peering through the door screen.
Curling up and swinging to and fro, a shiny boy, a prefigurement of his sire, studied the yard. Chickens dozed in earthen bowls, spreading their wings outward to keep any coolness from escaping. A hungry hawk sat on a utility pole and watched for movement that would never come. Only bees, chanting before sunflowers that swayed leeward in the porch’s drip line, broke the silence.