What Do Ducks Do in Winter?
by Lewis B. Horne

The Scorpion Fire

I

[123] —came to mind during love, carried perhaps by the breeze that feathered his ankle. Came close to the edge of his awareness and hovered as he sank to stillness. To tenderness he registered with a wistful kiss and closed eyes as warm hands settled on his back. Out of the past came the lovely odor. The voice.

“Don’t that smell good!”

The sound came to his mind, drowsy and unfocused, of a car motor. Legs lifted from his. A jeep. The air through the open doors of the vehicle, the rear flap billowing where Anson had failed to fasten it as tightly as he should. The headlights in the darkness. As he lifted himself he smiled and kissed his wife once more, Lynette’s lips touching his cheek. He settled near the edge of the bed, breeze drying chest and belly.

“Don’t that smell good!”

“It’s Sycamore Creek, isn’t it, Von?” asked Anson of their father from the back seat.

The recollection settled to a specific trip, though one of the best parts anytime was arriving at Sycamore Creek after climbing from the Valley and crossing the low desert hills. No streams ran in the Valley, only irrigation canals and ditches. So the smell of the damp earth and the odor of the trees thick in the air signaled that the desert, scorching in summer, lay behind and they would soon [124] begin climbing into pine country. As usual they had to finish milking before leaving home, so they arrived in darkness, unsure when the air would suddenly cool and the ripe odor of the creek where the road touched it would sharpen the breeze.

Usually Anson as the older had the front seat, able to stretch out his turn by wily stratagems, until Big Von—late in the know—would finally tell him to switch.

“Your turn now, Travis.”

But on this trip—recalling in his bed which one it was—Travis got more preference. As well, Anson, fifteen years old and sophomore in high school, had new interests that dulled the competitive flame between them.

Had Shirl come he’d be crowded in back with Anson and the suitcase and their boxes alongside Big Von’s gas can. But Anson lay sprawled, his long legs stretched so his bare feet bobbed behind his father’s head with the bumps in the dirt road.

Big Von wasn’t that big physically. Anson had grown as tall now, though thinner and lither, and would grow taller. Travis, once he got his growth, would likely stretch higher than either. But their father’s name came from their view of him when they were small. They never heard the word “Dad” around him, no mother to use it to school them. Shirl tried later when she became Big Von’s girl—”What you kids mean? He’s your dad. Why don’t you call him that?”—but the habit was too strong, and their father, sensitive to upsets they might feel, the motherless kids they were, cautioned. Shirl—as good-natured and adaptable as he—shrugged. “Well, he is big, isn’t he? In his way. Big Von. I like that.”

He seemed big in those years, rising above them high and strong. And he was big in other ways that hadn’t to do with his height when their own growth brought them into direct view of his features. It spoke of the close curly hair, pale when he drove the tractor, black as a buzzard when washed. Of the too-large teeth with an overbite that drove the dimple-notched chin inward. Of the crinkled eyes, snappy and friendly, and loose skin, weathered and [125] lined like an old man’s though it never made Big Von look old. “Him old?” said tangle-haired Shirl, strutting around their kitchen in her dirty Levis and boots and man’s shirt. “Let me tell you, boys, thirty-two ain’t old.” And she grabbed Von by the ears, smacking him on the lips with her mouth.

This was after Shirl went to the mountains the first time. Anson must have been nine, so Travis was not yet six. Yet he had understood as well as Anson who wanted to follow them when the two walked away from the Adams’s log house after lunch. Anson told Travis to come along.

“Don’t make no noise.”

The Adamses napped after lunch. Big Von liked to spread a blanket over the pine needles. The sound of the cool wind high in the branches was like organ music in the days when they went to church. But this was Shirl’s first time, and she and Von walked away from the log house instead of lying on the pine needles near the small stream the Adamses dipped drinking water from.

“I know what they’re going to do,” said Anson.

So did Travis though he couldn’t have said. After that trip Shirl began spending weekends at their farm. He had been neither surprised nor upset to see the two of them naked as jaybirds on the blanket, Big Von’s white buttocks clanging between Shirl’s knees. They lay so near the creek they couldn’t have heard anything but themselves and the noisy water.

Thinking back now, he—Travis—figured that was the first time for Shirl and Big Von, that Von had been trying to tug her into bed for months, that her going to the mountains was a way she could give in to his pull without saying yes outright. Hence Big Von’s lusty shenanigans as they eased their way down the slope, the rolled blanket under his arm.

As the jeep climbed from Sycamore Creek, Big Von asked Anson to pass his Levi jacket to him. The older boy’s long hair blew into his eyes as he leaned forward. Travis had curly hair like Big Von, matted close to his head. But Anson’s was long and [126] straight, and Travis envied him. Not only did his older brother have memories of their mother but he had hair like her too—her long thin face and her hair as straight and black as an Indian’s that she wore tied back. But not Travis. “The spitting image of his dad,” people said of Travis. “But quiet like his mother,” said others. He didn’t want to come out, Big Von said. She tried for thirty-six hours in the hospital before they cut into her. She never woke from the ether.

It was sometime after that, he figured, that Big Von earned the name his sons gave him and did the things that made the name so easy to give. Travis scarcely knew what a mother was until he saw that other beings had them—his friends. Though as Shirl had said of him recently, “That boy don’t have any close friends.” Big Von with a broom, Big Von at the stove, Anson noisy at the table laughing at some antic Big Von had pulled while Travis sat in a high chair. Big Von running clothes through the wringer washing machine to hang them on the clothes line strung from the milking corral to the garden. Big Von on the tractor discing the citrus trees and talking and laughing with the pickers stripping the oranges off. Big Von riding the school bus with him his first day—Anson embarrassed—so he’d know what to do and where to go. Big Von beside him at the trash pile, staring under a board at two yellow scorpions, pincers linked as they moved backward and forward across the damp ground and the bits of white sickly grass. “They’re mating,” he said. Then with a rock he killed them. “I hate the goddam things.” And why not? Didn’t Anson and he have to shake out shoes and Levis every morning in case scorpions hid in them?

No one laughed at Big Von’s name.

II

“That boy don’t have any close friends, Von. And quiet ones. You know how they say. Still water runs deep.”

But Darrell Clawson had not been a close friend. They sat [127] across the aisle from each other at school and cubbed with three or four more for chortles at recess and lunch hour. Darrell didn’t ride the school bus since he lived close enough to walk. He could be a little sly too, like the day he slipped an eraser off Miss Chester’s desk and into his pocket, an act that worried Travis.

Yet it was a prank, he came to realize. He could remember the boy’s blond hair, straight and slicked down with water when he came to school in the morning and after returning after lunch. His face tanned, cheekbones freckled, and Big Von, knowing the Clawson family, was pleased to see him a friend of Travis. But not the kind of close friend Shirl’s remark implied. He didn’t know what she meant by “close friends.” Darrell and he might sit with others and talk about girls, about the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor. Occasionally Travis went home with him, and they swam in the irrigation ditch. They might see each other at church, but by then Shirl was staying weekends. Big Von was what the Mormons call “inactive,” though the ward teachers visited, calling first so they wouldn’t stumble in when Shirl was around, and Big Von was friends with the bishop. Travis went to Primary on Tuesdays after school. There too he was in Darrell’s class, and the boy was an eager student because he was anxious to become a Boy Scout. “Don’t tell anybody about the eraser,” he said to Travis. “Okay? I was kind of crazy.” Staring into the eyes above the freckled cheekbones, Travis promised, for the frown of regret was earnest. He remembered so well how Darrell looked, he figured, because the boy was the first dead person he ever saw.

Big Von told Anson and him when they came in one Saturday morning from milking the four cows. “Know how I tell you always to shake your shoes and pants?” His overbite looked like a cliff. “Well, Darrell Clawson—he died last night from a scorpion sting. On his peter. For kids some bites are poisonous.”

Shirl was quiet that day. Travis thought of the two scorpions, shuttling backward and forward, mating, and Big Von with the rock. I hate the goddam things. He heard Big Von tell Shirl, “I’m going to [128] see the family. They was good—they give me a big hand when Mona died.” Big Von ran his fingers over Travis’s head, ruffling his hair, and he squeezed Anson’s shoulder, tilted as high as his own.

The three of them went to the funeral. Shirl stayed at her place since she wasn’t a Mormon and didn’t know the family. Travis wondered how someone looked whose soul had left him. At the same time he was afraid to look at Darrell Clawson, whose dying was no more yet than his father saying it had happened. Never to see him again? No longer on earth? Anson and he each wore a bow tie with a white shirt Big Von had ironed. As hot a day as it was, Big Von dug out his suit and wore the coat all the way to church until he saw other men climbing the steps in their shirt sleeves. He left his coat in the jeep, his shirt soppy under his arms.

A scorpion sting wasn’t supposed to kill—except for some kids. At school classmates said big scorpions didn’t kill you, it was the little ones. So maybe a little one crawled into Darrell’s shorts and hurled its stinger over its back and into his peter. They put ice on it, said Big Von, and floorboarded him to the hospital in town, lying in the backseat clutching and crying. Travis had never seen him cry. He had never seen him asleep as he appeared to be—in a peculiar way—in the coffin. He had never seen anyone so pink among all the bright flowers from the florist shops and the organ playing softly when the church members filed by.

But what caused Shirl to exclaim about his few friends and what sent him with Anson and Big Von to the Adams’s place in the mountains happened the next weekend, three or four days after the funeral. Coming back from town, he asked Big Von to show him where the body was buried because he thought of the boy as “body” after seeing the spiky knees and elbows and the skin as polished as some ofthe flower petals. The name on the grey marker was more real than what lay under the fresh sod. DARRELL LEON CLAWSON. “Let’s see Mama’s grave.” MONA MARIE KIPPER. They had to cut her open to get him out. “You didn’t want to come out,” Big Von had said. How did they know? Maybe the want was there, [129] as real as a root under the ground, but something kept it from pushing through. Struck his mother, Mona Marie Kipper. Struck Darrell Leon Clawson in his shorts.

Later that sunny afternoon he stood beside the woodpile where he’d seen the scorpions in their mating dance. He thought Big Von and Shirl relaxed in the cool of the house’s adobe walls. Anson could be anywhere. The leaves on the citrus trees stood as stiff as the boards at his feet.

He stared under the first, lifting it away. Horrified, he raised another. One more. Under each scrambled hosts of little ones, pale scorpions crawling over each other. Large ones lay dead, half decomposed. He saw one or two ticking in the white grass, skittering with hundreds ofsmall ones, backs laden with babies, miniature beetles in shape. I hate the goddam things. He stamped his bare feet. His ankles prickled, his legs. Hundreds, thousands. His peter shrank. He looked for a rock. Too many of them. Like the stars overturned, mean and nasty, onto the earth.

He ran to the kitchen, stamping his feet on the cool linoleum to stop the feel of their legs crawling. He grabbed the box of matches from the cupboard, two or three newspapers from the shelf on the back porch.

I hate the goddam things.

They kept him from coming out, he thought. So his mother had to be cut open. When he got back the scorpions had oozed off a rotting 2-by-12, through the scraps, over a discarded redwood fencepost. He wadded the paper, lighted it, and threw it on the scurry of them. The flame heated the air he breathed. He threw more, piece by piece. Splinters caught. Boards. The whole box of matches.

“I hate the goddam things.”

The words came from his own mouth. The whole pile of wood flamed, and its fierce heat backed him toward the corral.

“I hate the goddam things.” Again, again. Until finally it came out, “I hate God.”

[130] Once and once only.

Big Von hung from the back door, squinting with puzzled face, one hand gripping the door frame. And Shirl stepped from the corral just behind him. Why she was there he didn’t know. Only that she stood two or three feet from him, saying, “Travis, Travis.” And Big Von was loping barefoot toward them past the blaze.

III

As the road twisted upward in the dark, he knew that great chasms fell away outside the headlights, sometimes on Big Von’s side of the road, sometimes on his own.

“Getting cold?” Big Von asked.

He shook his head because he knew Anson would jump to take his place unless, sprawled back there, he’d fallen asleep. When they drove down Payson’s one street, the small town lay dark and quiet, a light burning over the locked door of the service station with two gas pumps. A few windows were lighted in the houses. Von used farm gas because of the rationing and carried a can in the jeep. “Highway patrol catch us,” he said, “and we’re goners, men.”

Anson leaned forward as they left the town, his long hair flapping. “Twenty-one more miles. Sure as hell wish you was staying, Von.” He’d taken to using cuss words in front of his father recently. Since he didn’t get scolded for it, he shoved them in like fenceposts, using more than Big Von.

“Can’t leave Shirl to do a whole week’s work. Wouldn’t be right. And by the way,” he said, “you watch your language with the Adams. They’re civilized people.”

“I won’t shame you, Big Von.”

After they’d gone twenty miles, they found the sign with two others nailed to a pine tree. ADAMS—hand-lettered and faded. Big Von put the jeep into 4-wheel drive as they eased over eruptions of roots and rocks, trees so close Travis could have reached out and touched them.

[131] Big Von met the Adamses as a young man when he went back to finish high school. Lloyd taught music in the schools, and he was in the National Guard that Big Von joined half a dozen years before the war because money and jobs were scarce in the Depression. Leona was a nurse for the public schools. Some of Travis’s early vaccinations had come from her needle.

But he—Travis—remembered them as he lay in his own dark bedroom beside Lynette as the couple were in middle age. Lloyd was a tall man with heavy limbs and a square face under greying hair, refined features loosened by a startled expression, mouth tipped with an open smile as though he’d just been questioned, answering, Yes? Yes? His chin lifted as though he’d heard something in the distance, standing on stiff legs made undependable by an early and mysterious stroke. Leona was a small marching woman with tiny hands. She pulled her iron grey hair back into a bun during the day, eyes behind the wire frame glasses observant, quick, and slightly oriental. He thought of them always as a pair, never singly. Perhaps because he associated their log house with their dual life. Because he remembered the walks and naps they took together every afternoon. Because together they lived frugally on Lloyd’s disability pension, waiting for the day she would receive Social Security. Because they depended on each other as Big Von and Shirl seemed to have become, Big Von cussing politicians and muttering about their betrayal. As dependent as Von and Shirl were now in their own retirement, well-being knocked sideways by a stroke Shirl received—worse than Lloyd’s in its impact—while Big Von looked smaller, the skin of his dark face rubbery with wrinkles that finally showed his age. Yet both still raucous, living at Shirl’s place, while Anson managed both Shirl’s acres by the river and the Kipper farm they’d grown up on. In the old days, if he wanted to rile her, goose her into chasing him with a broom or pitchfork, cussing his laughter around the yard and into the trees, Big Von had only to call her Shirley. “How you doing, Shir-ley? How you doing, old girl?” Rubbing his hands, [132] adopting a mock bandy-legged walk. Now he would do the same, but he dodged about the kitchen table while she cussed him with slurred tongue, trying to guide the broom she’d clumsily snatched.

The Adamses had quieter games. Their house, when the jeep broke into the clearing that night, was dark.

“Shit, they’re in bed,” said Anson.

Big Von shushed him as they stretched their legs. The brook by the house, no wider than a foot or two, rushed noisily. The pines made tall shadows against the stars.

In the dark, Big Von dipped himself a drink with the tin cup hanging by the brook. As he finished, Leona stepped out on the porch in her nightgown, brushing their faces with the flashlight she carried.

“Come in, come in. We’ve been expecting you.”

By the time she had the kerosene lantern on the kitchen table lit, Lloyd had shuffled in from the back room, dressed in day clothes. He gripped the door frame, his grey hair rumpled, his chin lifted. Yes? Yes? Leona’s hair hung loose, let down for the night. Big Von apologized for waking them.

They slept in the attic with a sloping roof with the log beams showing in the lamplight, Big Von in one bed, Anson and Travis in the other.

“We ought to sleep good tonight, men,” Big Von said. “Don’t it smell good.”

IV

At the time he didn’t remember much about the visit that distinguished it from others. Von drove back the next day, leaving them for the week, and returned after dark the following Friday. Before he left, the three of them hiked up the creek to where rocks dammed enough water for an icy swim. On the way, they passed the spot where Von and Shirl had made love. If Von remembered he didn’t show it, though once when Shirl was along, the two of [133] them got into a scuffle, each trying to shoulder the other into the stream.

Travis knew he was supposed to feel better by the time he went home. Just why he felt bad, he couldn’t say. He thought about the scorpion fire. He could explain that. But like when Darrell Clawson took the eraser, he didn’t know why. He was being crazy, that was all. He didn’t hate God either. He knew that. He worried because if he knew why he felt bad he could do more about feeling good. He remembered how Big Von had been so worried at the sight of the noisy fire that he’d loped across the yard right through the sticker beds, followed by Shirl. Von’s hand rested on Travis’s shoulder for comfort and concern as much for balance as he scraped his feet against his Levis. “What’s the matter here?”—glancing across at Shirl, hands on her hips.

Smoke rose in ripples; you could see the corral and orchard through it, cut by skinny black ribbons.

Shirl pulled them back from the fire, Big Von teetering as he picked off a last sticker.

“Ain’t no scorpion going to survive in that fire,” said Shirl.

“Scorpion?” said Von. “What do you mean—? Hey, Travis, old buddy—”

Anson came out the back door.

“—Darrell Clawson, poor kid, but buddy—”

And his mother, he wanted to say, when he didn’t want to come out. In the cemetery.

“Trying to burn out the scorpions?” said Anson beside the crackle of the fire. “Man, that’s crazy.”

The four of them.

In the darkness Travis wondered if he should pull the sheet over Lynette who lay closer to the screened window and the breeze than he did. But her smooth back rose and fell so evenly he hated to disturb her. Instead he went to the bathroom. Though he didn’t turn on the light, he could make out his shape in the dark mirror—[134]taller than Big Von, shaggy-headed, bearded, shaggy-chested, wrinkles settling into his features as they had Big Von. He was glad he’d made the trip back from his home in New York last year, though he’d had to leave his wife and two sons behind. Anson, grown and married, was kept busy with the farm and with Shirl’s old place. His wife was a town girl who liked the country but was not the help Shirl had been. Anson’s five girls were not farmer’s daughters.

He knew that Shirl’s husband had walked out on her before Travis and Anson ever knew her: he had walked out or she had booted him out, the story was never clear. She heard nothing of him until the War Department told her he’d been killed during a kamikaze attack in the Pacific. Her place was tucked away to the northeast, next to the canal and the riverbed. Big Von scarcely knew where it was, though they’d seen Shirl drive by on her way to town, until Shirl wheeled in one day to ask Big Von if she could pay him to disc her trees. “Damn tractor’s broke down, there’s no parts to be had, and the weeds is about to swallow me up.” Big Von agreed, and he and Shirl hit it off beside the creek at the Adamses. These days it was Anson, husband and father, who kept Shirl’s place clean. Von had moved over, vacating the big home for Anson and family. He cleaned up Shirl’s yard and planted a lawn. “What do you think of it, Shir-ley? What do you think, old girl?” She’d been satisfied all those years with bare dirt for a yard and worn-out machinery rusting in back.

During his return Travis asked about the Adamses. How were they?

“Damned if I know,” said Von. “But I should.”

So the three of them—Travis, Anson, and Big Von—drove to Payson on the new paved highway that took three hours off the drive. They found an old-timer drinking a McDonalds milkshake. “Lloyd—he died four or five years ago. His health was never good, not very good. Don’t know what he’d have done without Leona. Course soon as he kicked off, Leona slipped. Couldn’t do without each other. She’s in the rest home outside town.”

[135] They recognized her, though she had shrunk, her march brought to a hobble. Hollow-cheeked, white-haired, she smiled, pleased to have visitors.

“If I’d thought, Leona,” said Big Von, “I’d have brought you some flowers.”

“Oh.” She gestured with a lift of her hands, smaller than ever, heavily veined. “And you were—which one? Travis?”

“No. I’m Von.”

“I thought Von was the little one. The one who seemed so perplexed and lonely. But maybe I’ve got you all confused with someone else. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m sure you’re who you say you are. My memory is at fault. Not you. I’m glad you stopped by.”

What changed Travis’s feelings after the fire was something he didn’t realize at the time. He could understand it better now. He returned to bed, sliding his leg until his knee touched Lynette’s foot as she lay curled.

A couple of evenings Lloyd pulled out his cello and tuned it. He played without music. “Home on the Range,” “Abide With Me,” and such. Then he asked Leona for some music from the piano bench and propped it on the rocking chair. The music sounded more difficult—suites, sonatas, concertos. His vibrato was uneven, and his long flat fingers tangled in the rapid passages, dark shadows hovering across the pine walls from the lamplight. Yet Travis and Anson were impressed, and Leona said, “Why, darling, that isn’t bad. It isn’t bad at all.”

She sat with her back straight, her hands folded in her lap. The dark Oriental eyes glowed. “Play some more.”

The corners of the room were dark. Half of it was kitchen with cupboard shelves on the walls, the woodburning stove, the table with a yellow oilcloth cover; the other half living room with the two rockers, the braided rug between them, and an old upright piano, brightly polished. Beside it, a wooden bookcase, the Encyclopedia Britannica and Book of the Month Club selections. White sheer [136] gathered over the windows. Bedroom in the back.

What Travis remembered more than the music was what happened the next day when Lloyd went to the back room for his afternoon nap while Leona wiped out the dishpan, lunch dishes finished, preparing to join him. A step led down to the room they used for sleeping and storage, and somehow Lloyd stumbled, falling full length to the floor.

“Oh, darling, are you hurt?” She was beside him, immediately, the dishtowel left damp in the pan. That was one thing that impressed him, her quick and spontaneous movement. The other was the way she said “darling,” what Travis had heard in love scenes in movies and on the radio but never from any person, not with the concern that colored Leona’s question. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. Don’t worry.” He laughed his nervous laugh. “Just clumsy.”

Travis heard the bedsprings as Lloyd settled himself.

“You sure take good care of me.”

“Have your nap. I’ll be with you soon as I’m done.”

“—take good care of me.”

V

Lynette stirred as though cold, murmured in her mock pouty way, and reached behind her. He rolled over, slipping one arm under her head, the other around to cosy her breasts, skin warming to hers.

Big Von and Shirl always napped these days. Shirl became a Mormon and they got married, but Big Von was still “inactive.” So was Anson, though his wife and girls went to church. With Lynette and the two boys, Travis had become very busy in the church. He hadn’t wanted to come out and his mother, MONA MARIE KIPPER, had given her life trying. He’d lit no bonfires since, but the flames still burned vividly—he’d felt the searing heat only a few days ago.

He received from Anson the newspaper clipping about Leona [137] Adams’s death and burial. Von feels bad about missing the funeral, Anson’s note said. I’d have gone if I’d known. Some people just get forgotten. Hell of a thing. But Von did get it into the newspaper. You wouldn’t be reading about it now if it wasn’t for Big Von. I’m glad I don’t know they were driving to town the way his eyesight is, big as the town has got. Big Von had steadied Shirl across the lawn to the pickup and steered out the driveway along the dry river, Shirl steadying herself with her good right hand on the window frame, head of tangled hair rocking.

“Got to find us a reporter, Shirl,” he said, squinting at the road.

Squinting harder as they got into town, not at the traffic but at the signs on the buildings. “What’d they do, move the blasted place? It used to be on Third. Did they change the name of this street, too?” Shirl said something. “What’s that?” he asked. She spoke louder. “That’s right, old girl,” he said, “I knew they moved it.”

Parking. Fumbling and swearing for change for the meter. Somehow Shirl was climbing out of the pickup and he was calling, “Dammit, Shirl, just stay put till I get there.” Then he recognized a reporter, an elderly man, as he came out of the Sun Valley Tribune office.

“Leona Adams? Who was she?”

“Who was she?” cried Big Von. “She give my boys their first vaccinations. She drove my oldest home from school once way the hell to the country and stayed with him because there wasn’t nobody home, stayed there till I got home because my wife was dead and I had me two little ones to care for.”

The article was surprisingly long, amazingly prominent, with a picture of the woman drawn from a 1930 high school yearbook. It told Travis things he’d not known. In the newspaper was the face of the young marcher, the trim smile weighted with seriousness, the head tilted slightly, eyes rimmed by wire frames. Straight hair slanted back over the ears. She was buried in the local cemetery beside Lloyd.

The headline read: FEW MOURN AT GRAVESIDE AS PIONEER [138] SCHOOL NURSE’S DEATH GOES UNNOTICED. She became a nurse in the late 1920s because of “a severe smallpox epidemic,” the article said. Finding that hardly any schoolchildren had been vaccinated, she started “a vaccination program for children.” She had no car allowance to visit the schools in the area, but she was able to buy gasoline from the school garage for ten cents a gallon. In those days, the article went on, “vision tests were done with an unlighted Snellen chart and hearing tests were done using a whisper or watch ticking.” Because dental health was such a problem, she showed children how to brush their teeth. “Some of the smaller children had badly decayed teeth. The school was able to buy inexpensive toothbrushes which we sold to some and gave to others who weren’t able to buy even a six cent toothbrush.”

Gave him, Travis thought, a toothbrush.

In the bedroom next to theirs, he heard Mike, his young son, speak out. “Don’t forget that …”—and his voice slurred back into sleep. Travis Von, Junior, the older boy, waked for nothing. Leona lay under the sod with Lloyd. MONA MARIE KIPPER. He had not wanted to come out. Darrell Clawson. Trying to burn out the scorpions? Man, that’s crazy.

But what held most strongly in his mind for this drowsy moment was the clatter and heavy roll of Lloyd Adams’s stumble. Oh, darling, are you hurt? That question—out of that past—is what came with the breeze through the screened window. Come and lie down.

“How you doing, Shir-ley? How you doing, old girl?”

You sure take good care of me.

The best we can do.

The least.