It takes W.D. 45 minutes to an hour to get around to what is really bothering him. He brings me vegetables from his garden as a good trade for my listening ear and several cups of coffee. He wears pointy-toed boots if he’s going to town or to the bank after we visit. Otherwise, he wears beat-up old hunting boots and sits down on a porch chair to take them off before he crosses the threshold. Buck says he likes to come as early as I’ll let him so he can have me all to himself while he talks. Then when Buck strolls out from the bedroom, they can have a little visit, too.
W.D. comes in all bluster and hey miss beth, our newspaper in one hand and several plastic sacks of just-picked vegetables from his garden in the other.
He talks about his garden, about stories in the day’s paper and what’s wrong with the guv’mint and all them durn crooks we got in Washington. He talks about his beautician wife, Betty Lou, and the few old ladies left to come to the beauty shop, and who broke their hip, who’s in the hospital, and whose funeral he just went to.
He talks about taking Betty Lou fishing for brim and shellcracker that are bedding and how it did him good to see her catch a few. I refill his cup. He swivels around on the kitchen bar stool, goes to pee, comes back and sits down again, says “I got to go,” but I know he hasn’t quite had his say.
I’ve learned to just be still and listen as he winds down and gets to it. If he’s brought some purple hull or shell peas, I’ll snap or shell them into a pan while he watches my fingers.
I see what’s on his mind building in the fine tremor of his wide, stubby old fingers. Worn denim sings when he slaps the palms of his hands on his thighs. The sclerae of his brown eyes are red with spidery veins. I notice this as I see his eyes fill with water. We exchange a long look.
“It ain’t good, Miss Beth. I don’t have no energy. I ain’t worth a damn. I think the cancer’s coming back on me.”
He has a knack for timing it just right. Just when he is about to break down, Buck comes into the kitchen from the back of the house, opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of cherry Koolaid.
“Morning, W.D. You get some of Beth’s good coffee?”
W.D. makes a quick swipe of his face with his shirt sleeve, gives me a hard look, and just like that, he is all shaped up, full of shit as a swamp owl.
“Sure did, Buck. I brought her some purdy young squash, too, but you cain’t have any, ain’t that right, Miss Beth?”
I reach over and give his hand a quick squeeze. “That’s right, W. D. I’m going to eat every one all by myself. Hey, sweetie, look here what W.D. brought me.”
Buck oohs and ahhs over the vegetables. His wise eyes see it all, but he wouldn’t hurt his friend’s pride for anything.