white, hot sun beat down on the cracked, red clay. Isom Brantleys
bare scalp, once just as red as the dry, used-up soil, was now
white as a babys behind. Bald for more years than he could
count, his trademark was a beige felt cowboy hat, which he had
removed. The hat had been steamed and fashioned at a haberdashery
in Atlanta, and was always worn over a faded bandana which he
would periodically remove, roll into a one inch band and then
re-tie back around his forehead. It was meant to catch excess
sweat which otherwise might stain the string-tied rim of the hat
or cause it to stretch out of shape. Each night, he would place
it back into its original box,
to keep its shape.
Isom now held the curled felt rim in his right hand, having tipped
it for Inez Murkwalter as she exited the musty general store.
He truly believed in and gave all credit due to this dandy chapeau
which had saved him the misery of sunburn, sunstroke, sun squinting
and sun rash. It had made him feel like a real man again instead
of merely a used up old field hand, which he was. It did not,
however, stop chigger bites or brown calluses, water blisters
or chapped lips. Most disconcerting was the fact that it had once
been spat upon by Homer Dexley in a fit of temper, thus the brown
stain on the front rim which had finally begun to fade, taking
the edge off the subsequently tense meetings between the two men.
The glaring sun pushed through the old stores doorway and
across its pine board floor, creating a yellow glowing rectangle
which pointed directly at Archa Dart and Knocky Ledbetter. Both
men sat in splintery old ladderback chairs, leaning up against
a six-foot high stack of corn meal sacks lined neatly along the
back wall. Knockys rear end hung out of the bottom of his
chair where the caning had finally given way.
Mornin, nodded Archa whod taken over running
the store when his Daddy passed the year before. Hed rented
his thirty acres out to old George Jefferson Washington, the Negro
tenant who had helped him keep the place running ever since he
had first walked behind a plow. Folks said he and George were
half brothers, but he didnt see it and figured George wouldnt
be near so black if it were so anyways.
Yep, said Knocky, a farmer who lived alone out on
the Atlanta highway. Once his chores were done and it being the
heat of summer with nothing to do but wait for a harvest, hed
join Archa at the store just to sit a spell.
Isom nodded to both as he worked the rim of his hat, then tipped
it toward the two men.
They both nodded and he put it back on over the bandana.
Isom finally spoke, Hot enough fer ya?
Yep, said Knocky.
Isom looked at the counter, eyeing a jar of hard candy next to
a stickpin full of receipts.
You just missed old Homer Dexley. Archa half grinned
when he said it and stretched out in his chair.
He asked after you. Was here first thing this mornin.
Yep, added Knocky.
Inquired as to your health, continued Archa, his eyes
Yep, he did, added his seatmate.
There was a long pause while Isom appeared to be pondering this
information. Finally he spoke.
Well, sir, I spect it must be a hunnert degrees out there
right about now.
Yep, said Knocky
Archa would not be swayed.
Homer was lookin a little peaked, if you ask me, which nobody
This here hat done saved me a case a heat stroke.
Isom tapped the rim and smiled back at Archa.
Why I could be layin' out there in a field just deadern
a doornail and not nobody keerin enuf to check on a old geezer,
You sure as heck dont wanna get whats ailin
It aint been this hot all summer, Isom continued.
Homer said he was all bent over in his stomach all night.
Said it was a crampin somethin awful.
Isom shifted his weight and leaned on the counter cupping his
chin in the palms of his gnarled old hands.
It be drier out there than old widder Cleary in a full moon.
Ignoring this comment, Archa proceeded to make clear his concern
for Homer Dexleys current state of health.
I believe old Homers got him somethin perdy serious
if you was to ask my opinion.
Isom was quiet for another moment, then replied, I bet we
gonna have us a real hot, dry spell here, if I do say so.
Yep, agreed Knocky.
Isom straightened up and ran his hand along the blond wood counter,
inspecting his fingertips for dust.
I blieve Id like to get me a fresh pouch of
chew, Archa, that stuff over there, and he pointed to the
highest shelf behind the counter.
Archa reared up out of his chair, leaving it upright next to Knocky,
and eyed the shelf.
You sure you aint mistaken that chew for this here
stuff I got just this week. Been cured real good.
No. Ill take the pouch up there, Romeys Rich
there in the green wrapping.
Well, Isom, I aint sold none a that Romeys in
quite a spell. Thats burley from Kentucky. You aint
never chewed burley.
Thats what I want.
Now Archa was perturbed, knowing for a fact that Isom had never
in his entire life touched a brown burley leaf, never mind from
Do you think you might be a bit tetched in the head from
all that sun?
Archa laughed at his own joke.
Isom smiled real big and chuckled.
Now Archa, dont you go spreadin' no rumor, you hear?
Isom continued to laugh.
Yep, and Knocky brushed off his pants leg.
Into the store walked Jimjim, Knockys three-legged hunting
dog. Jimjim walked in a circle at Knockys feet, then settled
down in a ball, resting his head on his paws, eyes wide open.
Aw, Knocky, Jimjims got fleas mighty bad.
Give him some a that burley you're so ashamed of!
Come on, Jimjim, git, now. Go on.
Knocky gave the dog a nudge and he trotted back outside to the
front stoop, did another circle and settled back down. A brown
and white mix, he was mostly hound with big floppy ears and even
bigger floppy paws on a squat little body. Jimjim got his left
hind leg caught in a rabbit trap when he was just a pup. He had
gnawed himself free and limped home only to have his mama push
him away. Knocky had spoon fed milk to the puppy until the other
pups were weaned. He had turned out to be the best tracker in
Jimjims a good hound, aint he Knocky,
Archa had walked around Knockys chair, giving him a little
sideswipe with his boot, and was now leaning on the near end of
So what can I do you for Isom?
Why dont you cut me a piece of that there logny?
and he gestured toward the glass case on the far end of the worn
Well sure, Isom, though I cant think what youd
be wantin bologna for since its just past dinner time?
Dont you worry bout it, and Isom smiled.
Archa pushed the sliding glass cover to his right and reached
in past the pig knuckles for an unopened package. He pushed the
door shut and picked up a long knife which was poking, handle
side up, from a box nailed to the back of the counter. It was
the largest of several knives and the wood handle was almost black
from years of being held by Archa and having soaked up traces
of meat grease from most every piece of meat Archa, or in his
absence, Myrtle Dart, had ever sliced in the twenty odd years
theyd been running the place. Myrtles father had first
built the store around 1902 and only recently had Archa been forced
to shore up the front porch. He had gone ahead and added on a
storeroom to the back while he was at it.
Archa sliced a thick piece and began to wrap it. Isom waved his
Nah. Hand it here Archa. I think Jimjim needs some meat.
How bout it Knocky?
Sure. Go ahead.
Just not in here, Isom. I dont need no fleas.
Isom walked over to the door and the once docile yard dog was
now standing at attention, tail wagging and tongue hanging out
with drool dripping onto the doorframe. Isom didnt make
him lay down or roll over or shake. He tore off a corner of the
meat and tossed it at Jimjim who caught it in one loud snap.
Jimjim needs him a bone, Archa. Aint you got no bones
Isom threw another corner of the meat and patted Jimjim. He threw
the last big piece at him and then walked back over to the counter.
He pulled an off white handkerchief out of his back pocket and
wiped his hands on it, then put it back into his pocket.
Stay, said Knocky.
All right now, wheres my burley?
Archa sighed and pulled a ladder over to fetch the pouch.
Here it is, Isom, but I think youve lost your marbles.
Naw, I aint lost nothin. I just seen Homer Dexley
over to the undertakers. He doubled up and croaked just a bit
Well, lordie, Isom, whynt you say so? Lordy, Homer
Dexley. Um, um.
Yep, hes dead all right. Burst his appendix wide open.
Wouldnt go see Doc Herbert till it burst. So, anyways, gimme
Homers dead and you still want this stuff?
He handed the green pouch to Isom who paid him and walked toward
the door. He paused, turned and smiled as he tore open the pouch
and put a chunk in his jaw.
Yep this was Homers favorite brand and I aim to go
over to the undertakers right now.
What are you talking about, Isom?
I figure by the time I walk over there, this wadll
be all juiced up and I aim to spit on him when I get there.
Knocky wiped at his pant leg again,
Mm mmm. Just
aint no accountin for folks these days.
a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in hand, Suzanne
Brunson has toiled through the years as a newspaper editor,
a reporter, an occasional columnist, a Vanderbilt fundraiser,
a freelance writer, and is the author of one novel. She is a member
of the Council for the Written Word and the Tennessee Writers