Half as Smart

Dixon Hearne

“I ain’t never seen hair that color,” he said, and gave it a good yank, leaving me with my mouth agape. He was crazy as his brother and sisters all said he was, with his overalls on backward and talking gibberish all the time. But I liked Uncle Les, even if he thought me sissy-like and too smart. He always said men ought to be only half as smart as they think they are, and that women only half as smart as a broom. He never married and couldn’t tell you why. “Some men just ain’t made for double-harness,” he’d say and spit a wad across the room. But most folks think it’s because the girl he was once sweet on was found at the bottom of a dry well when he was twenty-one and his peculiar ways already setting in. She’d been gone for two weeks when they found her—Becky Jenkins—at the bottom of that well and didn’t nobody hear her call for help. That was a puzzlement to folks, since she was noted for loud talk and hissy fits.

A pretty girl, I remember, but I was just seven when she come out of the well that day. She was curled up like a baby and stinking to high heaven. It was the stink that finally told the sheriff where she was. That and buzzards drawing a tighter circle in the sky. They shouldn’t of let children see that body. Some had bad dreams ever since—you can’t control what you dream about. And what scared me more was that they never knew how she really ended up at the bottom of the well.

Most people think Becky was pushed in, and for a long time, they suspected Uncle Les, since he was so sweet on her. But after a while, they decided that he didn’t have it in him to do real harm to anybody—unless you count aggravation. Citizens have tried to get him referred to the state nuthouse in Cedarviille so many times he thinks it’s a game. He’s been looked at and studied by mental doctors for years, and they all agree he ain’t a danger to nobody and only a little stranger than normal.

Several women here in town thought they could tame Uncle Les and make him normal like the rest of us, but he ain’t having none of it. He’s happy just walking around town whittling a toy and playing dominoes in front of the barbershop. “Happy is as happy does,” is what the preacher always says, and Les never was one to piss and moan or stay on the pity pot.

Lately, he’s been taking walks in the woods out near the well where that body was found back in 1940. They covered it up years ago with heavy oak and cement. My wife said its what people do late in life—take walks and think about things they remember and the people they love. I guess he was thinking about how his life might have been if he’d of married Becky Jenkins. All he told me was it was time to take the cover off that well. He never did make any sense.


About the Author

Dixon Hearne writes in the American South. His story collections have been nominated for the PEN/Hemingway and PEN/Faulkner awards, and his novella received Second-Place in the Faulkner Novella competition. His work appears in Oxford American, New Orleans Review, Cream City Review, Potomac Review, New Plains Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, and elsewhere. He is at work on a new short story and poetry collections, as well as a novella. www.dixonhearne.com.