by Gene Greene Goodson
It was the beginning of Dog Days and north Florida was as dry as a creek bed in a drought. Hot wind beat at Watertown raising huge sprays of dust blanketing the living, the dead and dying. Like other sawmill towns of the 1940's it was sandwiched between pastures of poor grass and yellow fiddling grasshoppers. On restless days, and this was a restless day, the temperature rose above 100 in the shade.
Two 13 year-old inseparable cousins and their buddies lay sprawled in the grass next to an old two-handle post hole digger, the smell of cow dung strong in their nostrils. Already a "chick magnet," Buck's fingers tapped in rhythm to fiddle music only he could hear. In two places, on his neck and just above his chin, he had nicked himself with a rusty razor blade he rescued from a trash can.
"Jesus, Buck. You ain't got no beard," exclaimed Mallory with a smirk.
"Oh, yes, I do. I have one every morning, Malry, just ask Geneva the next time you see her," Buck said in a hesitant tone.
Geneva, Buck's 8 year-old sister whose secret source of humor was still a secret, would have lied to Satan himself if Buck said do it. His 4 year-old brother, Broward, was destined to stop a train in Watertown with a slingshot at an early age. Lying was his area of expertise, too.
Living in a period of possibility where Justice never slept, the cousins spun fantasy into reality on days like today. Buck boasted of fame and fortune in Nashville and Mallory dreamed of piloting planes for the Air Force. Suspicious of big cities which neither had ever seen, they thought everybody's daddy was like theirs: an unemployed traveling fiddler and a jailbird with the same parents.
"Gonna' be damn hot today. Too hot to dig. We can always pick up cow shit and sell it for firewood, Malry."
"No way am I picking up cow shit, Buck. The treasure awta' be easy to dig up. I heard it's there for the taking," Mallory said with a sly wink at their buddies.
"They're your post hole diggers. I can show you where the treasure’s buried if you want to dig for it, Buck."
"I’ll be damned! I knew you were gonna’ say that! I knew it. You're my cousin so you wouldn't lie about the treasure, would you, Malry? You know if anybody tried to hit you I'd bust hell out of 'em, Malry."
"Swear to God you would, Buck," Mallory said, in a presidential tone.
"You know mama'd beat hell outta' me if I swore to God," Buck said, throwing his hands in the air. “The two things we can’t do is swear and call our brother a fool.”
Buck suspected Mallory might be lying, but there was a palpable quality in the sweltering heat that day, a kind of joy which he felt as strongly as everyone in that field. For a moment or two he could have been a photograph there in the haze.
Finally succumbing to a preponderance of Mallory's influence, Buck blinked, jumped to his feet, hitched up his pants and said, "Show me, dammit."
The group followed Mallory's lead across the pasture to a row of leaning fence posts.
"This is it, Buck, this is where it's buried."
"Shit, how do you know this is the right place, Malry?"
"I remember that fence post there and, besides, I have a photographic memory.”
With fierce determination he began digging: the deeper the hole, the more hopeful he became. There was something different about the dry and trackless interior of the hole.
Watching daylight fade and darkness settling in, Buck slowly realized with awful clarity he’d been tricked in the worst way. The only sound was a platoon of crickets pounding out their songs when he climbed up to the surface. Sunburned and covered with dirty sweat, he sat down on a mound of damp-dry dirt.
"You dirty dawg, Malry. That was a nasty thing to do. There ain't no damn buried treasure."
"Aw shoot, Buck, that's hardly a fair name to call your cousin. How did I know you were really going to dig?"
There was nothing humorous though in futility. Over the years and on other hot summer days, Buck would exact his revenge in the sweetest way. Together they would bounce drunks from a cousin’s tavern, and it was always Mallory’s job to clean the floors.
Mallory achieved his ambition by joining the Air Force where he trained in special forces and cryptography. He earned his degree at FSU with help from the GI-Bill and parttime jobs as a grocery bag boy and taxi driver. He secretly married Dottie and climbed to the top of the business ladder. He realized his boyhood dream: he piloted his own plane.
This morning I woke early and looked out at the wilted flowers and budding trees. There had been a slow drizzle and strong winds during the night and now the branches glimmered in the sun. As I write this final paragraph I picture you reading it and understanding my family's genetic compulsion to love one another. I wanted a record of the brother I knew before the treasure digging events, as told to me by our cousin Mallory, grew more distant in my mind and I began to alter the truth.
As I pat my foot listening to Raul's "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down," I cry for the old Buck, who passed away in 2001, and Mallory who waits patiently for this story.
G. G. Goodson writes online using the penname “RiverDancer.” She says she has no credentials other than she is a retired Corporate Director of Human Resources. She works occasionally as a Surface Mine Safety consultant. RiverDancer and her husband have lived in the panhandle of Florida all their lives. Write Gene Goodson at GOODSON E-mail .
Saturday Night Sweating
The Fishing Trip
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