Michael C. Keith
Dark-heaving—boundless, endless, and sublime. — Lord Byron
Eddy wondered if the wallpaper was sweating, too. It sure seemed like it was as he sat in his great aunt’s overcrowded parlor. Stains on the upper part of one wall reminded him of those on the underside of his shirt. He wiped his dripping forehead with his hand and rubbed it against the itchy upholstery of the armchair.
“Don’t wipe your drip on the furniture, honey. If you’re that hot, take your T-shirt off. You ain’t got nothin’ to hide at your age,” said Aunt Hilda, handing him a glass of lemonade.
Eddy’s grandfather, Rufus, walked behind her and gave him a wink.
“Why don’t you open the window, Hilda? Get some air in here. It’s like a tomb.”
“No, the dust from the street will get on everything.”
“Take your drink outside and sit on the porch, Eddy,” said his grandfather. “There’s a breeze out there. Lunch will be ready soon. We’ll call you when.”
“Good idea. Sit in Uncle Randy’s rocker. Stir up more air that way. He won’t mind. He don’t sit out much any more anyway. My, my, it is powerful hot . . . I’ll sure admit that,” said Aunt Hilda.
On the way to his great aunt’s house, Eddy had been told that her husband was gravely ill and not long from the grave. The idea of seeing someone about to die upset him.
“I think I should go back, Gramps. “
“What do you mean, son? We’re almost there?”
Eddy was too embarrassed to tell his grandfather he was afraid to see his dying relative, and he wasn’t quite sure why he felt that way either. Nonetheless, the idea of being in the presence of someone near death gave him the creeps.
“I really should go home, Gramps. I remember that I have some important things to do.”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s too late for that now. You should have thought of that earlier. Aunt Hilda knows we’re coming, and she’s making lunch for us. We won’t stay long.”
The die was cast, or so he thought, and then he was relieved to hear that his great uncle hardly ever left his bedroom.
“You probably won’t even see him, unless you want to.”
“I don’t think I’ll want to. I mean, maybe not,” reply Eddy, letting out a breath.
As Eddy sipped his lemonade on the porch, he noticed a small cat on the sidewalk in front of the house. It was chasing a flying bug and doing funny loop-dee-loops that made him laugh. Suddenly, it made a turn toward the street as a car was approaching. Before Eddy could do anything, the car struck the animal. The car didn’t stop, but rather continued on its way, the driver likely unaware of what had happened. Meanwhile, the animal flipped and twisted on the street in a hideous spasm. Eddy felt both helpless and revolted at what he witnessed. Eventually, the cat grew quiet and lay still, blood oozing from its mouth.
Eddy went inside and reported the incident to his grandfather and great aunt, who followed him back onto the porch.
“Oh, dear. I bet that’s the Parker’s kitty. Poor thing. People just drive so fast on this street. I’ll phone and let them know what happened,” said Hilda.
“C’mon inside, son,” said Eddy’s grandfather. “No sense staring at that dead critter.”
“Yes, let’s have our lunch,” added Hilda.
Eddy sat at the kitchen table as his great aunt put platters of food on it. He felt little hunger but great thirst. A dish of sliced cucumbers caught his eye. He recalled his mother telling him they were related to the melon family. Green watermelons, he thought, and placed one into his mouth. It instantly eased his deep thirst, and he quickly ate several more.
“Whoa, Eddy. Leave some of them for us,” said his grandfather.
“I was thirsty, and they taste so good.”
“Well, drink your milk then.”
The milk didn’t appeal to him as much as the mini-melons did, so when his relatives looked away from him, he continued to gobble the succulent wedges. He had no appetite for the egg salad sandwich on his plate. Nor did the lump of potato salad next to it hold much appeal for him.
After lunch, Eddy returned to the porch. By then the dead cat’s body had been removed from the street and only a small puddle of blood remained. The sight of even that made his stomach take a turn. He wondered if its owners were mourning their loss. Poor little thing, It was so cute, he thought, belching loudly.
Later on the return ride home, Eddy felt grateful that his terminally ill great uncle had never made an appearance. However, ever since the car began to move, images of the dying cat flooded his thoughts and kept him feeling queasy. Just a few miles into the trip, Eddy was on the verge of heaving.
“Gramps, can you stop the car? I got to throw up.
“Told you to go light on the cukes, Eddy . . . cripes!”
“I’m sorry, Gramps.”
Eddy bent over the edge of the road as his stomach’s contents poured forth. Vivid thoughts of the cat’s horrible death-dance induced still more vomiting.
“I hate cucumbers!” he cried. “I’ll never eat them again!”
About the Author
Michael C. Keith is the author of more than 20 books on electronic media, among them Talking Radio, Voices in the Purple Haze, Radio Cultures, Signals in the Air, and the classic textbook The Radio Station (now Keith’s Radio Station). The recipient of numerous awards in the academic field, he is also the author of dozens of articles and short stories and has served in a variety of editorial positions. In addition, he is the author of an acclaimed memoir, The Next Better Place; a young adult novel, Life is Falling Sideways; and nine story collections (Of Night and Light, Everything is Epic, Sad Boy, And Through the Trembling Air, Hoag’s Object, The Collector of Tears, If Things Were Made To Last Forever, Caricatures, and The Near Enough.) He has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O.Henry Award and was a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award for short fiction anthology and a finalist for the 2013 International Book Award in the “Fiction Visionary” category. www.michaelckeith.com