OTE - A Tobe & Dexy Story
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|Fri, 11-01-2002 - 10:33pm|
OTE - A Tobe & Dexy Story
This is loosely based on something that happened to my sister & me.
******************“You’re making another one of them shithouse dolls, ain’t you?” Tobe Walker asked, coming around the side of the house carrying a plastic ice cream bucket full of corn chops. Tobe’s chickens set up a hysterical ruckus at the sight of the bucket. The fractious nature of the birds didn’t allow much fraternizing, so they were separated on tie cords and in wire circle coops. A handful of corn was the highlight of the day, unless they were allowed to attack each other.
“I am.” Dexy spat a stream of snuff, hitting a spot roughly three inches from Tobe’s left boot. “You just tend your chickens and don’t worry about my hobby.”
“That ain’t no hobby. It’s a affliction.” Tobe raised his voice to be heard over the chickens. “Every shitter in this part of the country has a dang Barbie doll wearing a dang crocheted skirt stretched over the dad-damned toilet paper.”
“It’s decoration. The closest you get to decorating your bathroom is pissing on the wall when you’re drunk.”
“You can’t even give the things away. Bertie Morris gave her sister Genevieve one for her birthday and they ain’t spoke since.”
“Genevieve has always been uppity. She wore flour sacks just like the rest of us when she was coming up.”
“I allow she’s uppity. But you ain’t got to be uppity not to want to dig through a bunch of yarn to wipe your ass.”
“You want to watch your nasty mouth? I’ll take my yarn and go to the house, then you can eat potted meat and crackers for supper.”
Tobe shut his mouth. Dexy was something of a genius with casseroles. She could combine a cheap cut of meat, some Campbell’s cream of something soup, a big block of Velveeta, a handful of rice and come up with something tasty. Not only tasty but also tender – and tender was an important consideration for Tobe. He’d spat out his last molar some years ago.
“You got a problem, Dexy. You a damn serial crocheter.” Tobe muttered as he walked away, slinging handfuls of chopped corn to his roosters. It was Tobe’s opinion that women had their uses, but they had an unfortunate affection for objects that had no discernable use. He couldn’t so much as make water at Dexy’s house without a haughty plastic woman in a crocheted hoopskirt looking contemptuously at his plumbing. It was enough to stifle his flow.
Tobe felt his irritation ease a bit as he walked around back of the house. The weather had turned off cool for October. The chill in the air put Tobe in mind of butchering fat hogs on frosty mornings. He remembered early morning hunts, and the taste of squirrel gravy with biscuits. The change in the weather had put a spring in his step and had come very close to putting some lead in his pencil.
He’d spent the last week putting fresh hay in his nest boxes. His best roosters and hens were housed in coops of weathered wood. Tobe had even gone so far as to rake the shed feathers and fallen leaves into a pile and burn them. The gray dust under the white oaks was marked with runes from the rake, and cold piles of black ash.
He didn’t see the snake at first, mostly because he wasn’t expecting it. It was too chilly for snakes. Tobe figured they were all holed up, waiting for a warm, sunny day. Tobe stood peering at a nest box for a good five seconds before he realized that the mysterious coil of black hose was actually a chicken snake. The snake was contentedly digesting an egg on a cool day. He wasn’t expecting Tobe, either.
It was Tobe’s lifelong experience that whenever he was faced with any manner of varmint, the necessary weapon to dispatch it was always somewhere else. There was a perfectly sharp hoe just inside the shed. Given the temperature of air, the snake should have been sluggish enough to give Tobe ample time to fetch it. It could have been the rich calories of the free-range egg, or the warmth of the nest box, or just the snake’s abnormally warm nature. Whatever it was, the snake jerked out of the box and darted into a big black hole under the shed as nimbly as it would have moved in July. Tobe was just quick enough to catch it by the tail.
A body would think, Tobe thought, pulling valiantly, that a body could pull a snake out of a hole without much trouble. But here he was, hindered by the roost pole and the chicken-wire enclosure, struggling to pull a six-foot snake out of a big black hole. Maybe there was a root, and the snake had wrapped around it. Perhaps there was a stone; maybe the damn snake had reversed its scales. Tobe didn’t know. He did know that a chicken snake is not venomous. He also knew that chicken snakes stink. His hands were already reeking. Neither he nor the snake seemed inclined to concede in the struggle. Tobe needed help.
Dexy looked up from her needle and yarn. There was a flat calm to Tobe’s voice that alerted her. Tobe was a veteran. He wouldn’t squawk and squeal in the face of trouble. The men of Dexy’s generation had fought Nazi’s in the snows of Europe. That stillness came back to them whenever they were faced with situations that unnerved them, or that would even frighten others. Dexy was a woman of her generation. She didn’t answer. She just followed the sound of his voice.
There was a good chance that Dexy would have been less alarmed by Hitler himself. According to Dexy, a snake was a snake. They were all dripping with poison and aggression. She made no distinctions. If it was a reptile without legs, it was Dexy’s mortal enemy. Dexy took a long, hitching breath when she saw Tobe with his hands full of chicken snake. There was a dragon to be slain.
Dexy knew where the hoe was. She’d been breaking up ground around Tobe’s collards just a week before. She grasped the handle with cold fingers. Her blood drained from her face. Her lips felt numb. Dexy knew what she must do. She entered the small wire shed like a queen on her way to the guillotine. She raised the blade above her head, and sliced the snake a glancing blow on his thick, black body.
Two things happened when the snake sustained this damage. The first being the snake released what purchase he had under the shed. Second, Dexy was suddenly housed in extremely close quarters with Tobe and a writhing, furious, six-foot snake.
Tobe was later to think that the noise Dexy made was something of a cross between a dying rabbit and a charging regiment of doomed infantrymen. To her credit, she did not immediately retreat. Instead she flailed courageously with the hoe at the snake, which was still firmly gripped by Tobe. Tobe came very close in the next fifteen seconds to having several appendages amputated, and once he was almost castrated. In an effort to save himself, he released the snake.
Brer Snake had had enough. He twisted in mid-air, slithering across Dexy’s rubber boots, and finally gained the refuge of the hole. Tobe backed against the chicken wire, his eyes fixed on the hoe blade, his hands up to prevent what damage he could.
Dexy dropped the hoe, diving out of the chicken shed with Olympic grace. She landed face-first in a pile of ashes. Tobe still cowered against the wire, trying to inventory what personal damage he had sustained. When he realized he wasn’t bleeding from a major artery, he thought to check on Dexy.
Dexy was blinking at him in blackface. It was on the edge of Tobe’s tongue to tell Dexy she looked like the ass-end of a collier. He wanted to laugh. She was so funny, lying there on her belly, dead white under the ashes of the leaves.
There was something in her eyes that stopped him. She had the look of a young private who had just escaped a mine. Tobe had seen that look before. It was the expression of a warrior who had faced his greatest fear, and lived to tell it.
Tobe composed his mouth, and fished Dexy out of the ashes.
“Come on, ol’ gal. You was a piss-cutter just then, you know.” Tobe dusted her clothes with his hands. “I think I might give you a little shot of Kentucky Dale.”
Dexy did not answer.
“You a gusty ol bird, Dexy Johnson.” Tobe put his arm around her shoulders. “I might need to keep you around.”
Tobe led Dexy into the house, past the roosters who ruffled their feathers and crowed and pinned the little hens down in the dust, past the fighting roosters who had not one half the grit of the woman with the hoe.