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Slim Randles

Harley pulled the tractor over to the ditch and cut the engine. He climbed down stiffly, walked to the water and soaked his head and shirt. Then he looked around. No cars were coming down the county road. No one at the house could see him. So he smiled, sat on a rock and leaned back against the ditchbank.

A farmer’s recliner, he thought, wiggling slightly to avoid kidney puncture by a twig. He was smiling that dignified farmer’s smile on the outside but laughing on the inside. So nice to just rest here for a minute in the sun. Oh, he wouldn’t have done it if he’d left the engine running. Waste of gas. But the engine was off, all the seeds were in for this year, and all he was doing was plowing summer fallow now. No rush. Do it any time.

So Harley locked his hands behind his head, lay back against the ditch grass and just looked around.

Marshmallow clouds today against a dark blue sky. Crows flying in to Harley’s fields from Roger’s. He paused a moment from pure observation to lean a bit on philosophy. He considered that fences and land deeds and farming contracts meant nothing to these birds. There is more than a bit of envy there, but just for a minute. Har-ley stood, stret-ched his back and drank from the canteen on the tractor.

Crows didn’t worry about deeds, he thought, but hey, they didn’t get to watch football in the fall, either.

All in all, on a nice June day, there’s nothing wrong with being a farmer.

"It’s June, by golly!" said Doc. "Isn’t it great? I mean, all the summer to look forward to. Fishing, swimming, camping, heat stroke, dehydration, skateboard accidents and the occasional case of appendicitis."

"That’s what we like about you, Doc," Steve said, "always looking on the bright side of things."

"You know what June is, don’t you?" said Bert. Bert is usually quiet, so when he does speak up, we tend to listen. We were listening.

He started off kinda low and slow, like a revival preacher just getting warmed up on sin by starting with jaywalking.

"June is the annual man trap," he said quietly.

He looked at each of us in turn.

"How many of us wouldn’t like to relive a particular June in our lives when we were led to the slaughter, er, the altar, that is? To have that chance once again, before the organist even warmed up … to survey life in the past and prognosticate life in the future and to perhaps amend a decision? Oh yes. Many of us.

"MULTITUDES of us." He stood and waved his coffee spoon as we in the orchestra sat in awe.

"Was man created just to live in bondage? Does free will mean NOTHING? Were we designed to wear SHACKLES?"

It was Doc who finally caught Bert’s eye, flat in the middle of his best sermon ever.

It was Doc who flipped his eyes to Bert’s left and gave a quick shake of his head.

Bert glanced that way in mid speech and saw his wife, Maizie, standing with her hands on her hips.

"What man among us," Bert said, "would consider the holy sacrament of marriage to be shackles? Not a real man, I say. Not a man who is a real American. Not a man who understands the precious relationship between a man and that certain special woman. Do I get an amen on that?"

"Amen!" we all chimed in.

"Well," Bert said, sitting again, "that’s all I have to say about June."

Mrs. Doc came down to the truck stop the other day while the world dilemma think tank was in session. We recognized Mrs. Bennett with her and there were two others in the entourage that swept in. They waved and smiled at all of us and then found a table in the corner.

"Congress," said Doc.

"Congress?"

"Yep. You see, we get together and talk about how things are, how things were, and how things should be, right?"

We nodded.

"I’ll need something stronger than a nod."

"Amen."

"10-4."

"Roger that."

"That’s better," Doc said. "Well, what you’re looking at over there at that table is a discussion about how things will be from now on. That’s Congress. We, on the other hand, are merely the Supreme Court of Darn Near Everything. And while that sounds important, just stop and think a minute."

We stopped and thought a minute.

"Congress passes laws while the Supreme Court sits around in black bathrobes looking old and important."

"10-4."

"But Doc," said Herb, "the Supreme Court is the final say. They’re the ones who go thumbs up or thumbs down on the laws Congress passes."

"Yes, Herbert," Doc said, smiling. "But you’re forgetting one thing. The Supreme Court only goes into action if someone asks for their opinion."

And then a silence fell across the length and breadth of the philosophy counter as the weight of Doc’s words, and the lessons of American history, fell upon us.

Loretta gave us refills just in time.

It began as a whispered threat, this latest storm of ours. There was something in the air, a cleansing tonic, a murmur of sharpness.

The trees on the hills looked different, then, seeming to stand out in sharper focus, in cleaner profile.

It was the magical paintbrush of a gentle sun brushing the front of them, against an ominous, creeping black background.

The blackness grew higher yet, until the western sky was a massive wall of black and swirling gray.

People stood outside and looked and tried to find a weather report on the radio, and called in the children from play, and made sure the windows were rolled up in the cars and let the dogs come in.

In the fields, the cattle and horses trotted around, snorting softly as the dark sky swallowed our world.

Then it came, gently at first as a reminder to get in the house, then the wind brought buckets of rain, drenching the deep grass and slashing at our homes.

Cars in town slowed to a crawl under the onslaught. People parked and then dashed to the nearest building, wondering as they did, just what was so important that they had to be out this afternoon.

We flinched with every flash of lightning, every smashing thunder. In the cafés, patrons looked out at the parking lots now turned into waterfalls and nodded as though in wisdom.

"Think it’ll rain?"

"If it don’t it’ll miss a good chance."

We listened for something else, too, hoping it wouldn’t come. As the storm shut us down to tiny worlds inside, we kept one ear cocked for the tornado siren. Nothing. Good.

The storm lasted for two rinses down at the Curl Up ‘N Dye beauty parlor, through a light trim at Kelley’s Barber Shop, and half a chicken-fried steak at the Mule Barn truck stop.

Then it was over except for the gutters running like trout streams, the new sun contrasting with the blackness of the rest of the sky, and the dripping of our world.

We won’t have to water the lawn today.

We’d finished coffee and were committing loiter in the Mule Barn truck stop’s parking lot before going fishing when Janice Thomas came over to see Doc.

"Mornin’ boys! Hey Doc, I’m curious," said our local art teacher. "When I moved here, your wife introduced herself to me as Mrs. Doc. You know, I never did get her first name."

"Well …" Doc said, "that’s the name she goes by. Ever since we got married, she wants people to call her that."

We looked at each other. We’d never known her by any other name, either.

"She has to have a first name, Doc," Janice said.

"I think everyone does. I think Elvis had a first name, too," Doc said. "But my wife, well, she’s kinda touchy about hers. But she does have one, you know."

"What is it, Doc?" said Herb. "I never knew it, either."

"When Mrs. Doc was born," Doc said, "her folks stuck her with a name that would drive most people to maim their parents.

She messed about with a bunch of nicknames when she finally got old enough to be embarrassed, but they didn’t take. Does she look like a Cookie to you? Yeah. Me, either. So when we got married, she called herself Mrs. Doc."

"Hermione?" asked Dud. Doc shook his head. "Murga-troyd?" asked Herb. Nope.

"Phalarope?" asked Dud, again. "Phalarope?" we said.

"It’s a kind of bird," Dud said. Doc just shook his head.

"Look," said Doc, "it’s just one of those old-fashioned names that nobody would ever name a girl any more, and she can’t stand it. If I told you what it was, this town would be without a doctor by morning."

Dud scratched his chin. "Old fashioned … hmmm, hey, I got it! Pocahontas!" Nope.

So then Janice said, "Well, Doc, I know there are moments … you know, personal moments, when there are just the two of you together, and it’s romantic, if you get my drift. What do you call her then?"

Doc smiled. "I call her ‘Yes Dear.’"


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Nelson Propane

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