The Hunting Club membership was gathered in the large round corner booth in Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café. We’d been driving the backroads, looking for likely places to hunt dove. By noon, it was so hot and humid you’d think you were in the Amazon. Not a breath of wind moved, and we finally surrendered to the air-conditioned café.
Wrong Willie swallowed a mouthful of ice water and drew the sweating glass across his forehead.
“Look at that weather guy on TV. They’re so excited about the heat they can’t stand it.”
Jerry Wayne dipped a paper napkin in the nearest glass of water and used it to cool his face. Bits of paper came off, looking as if he’d lost the battle with his shaving razor. If you followed that logic, and I did in my mind, he’d have shaved his forehead and cheeks as well, using bits of paper to stop the bleeding.
It was a pleasant fiction in the heat of the day.
“Hey!” Doc looked back from the flat panel TV screen mounted on the wall over his right shoulder. “That was my water.”
“Here.” Jerry Wayne pushed it closer. “I didn’t drink out of it.”
“Yeah, but you used it like a fingerbowl. I’m not drinking that now.”
“Doc, I saw you drink water out of your hand after we cleaned dove last year.”
“I rinsed my hands off first.”
“With nothing but water.” I glanced out the window at the heat waves shimmering above the hot asphalt parking lot. His mention of a fingerbowl reminded me of another hot day about fifty years earlier. “I remember the first time I saw a fingerbowl. It was a freshman or sophomore in high school and was invited to some dress-up event to eat. I’d never seen one of the danged things before, and there was a slice of lemon floating in it. I thought it was some kind of lemonade for desert and drank it down. Needless to say, the young lady I was with never agreed to go out with me again.”
The boys laughed, but I frowned.
“You know, another Disaster Dinner was in August, too, about that same time. I was invited to a coat and tie event and they threw me a curve by serving fried chicken. I’d learned some manners, but didn’t know what to do after the fingerbowl fiasco. We were all kids, and I thought we were expected to use a knife and fork to eat the chicken leg that came on my plate.
“I tried to stab it and cut off a slice, but the leg skidded off my plate through the mashed potatoes. It shot sideways and into my date’s lap, and she was wearing an expensive dress. I was mortified. I was still trying not to use my hands at first at the table, and tried to use the knife and fork to take it off her lap, but that was awkward, and it shot sideways again, so I grabbed at it with my fingers and she whacked me in the chin with her elbow because instead of the chicken leg, I grabbed her’s and…”
I paused. The boys were wide-eyed with expectation.
“Anyway, my hands were greasy and smeared with mashed potatoes and I used my napkin to wipe them off and then it was so bad I had to use hers and I looked around for a stinkin’ fingerbowl, and saw one, only it wasn’t water, it was full of thin oil for our salads and then I had that all over my hands and the only thing I could do was reach down and wipe them on my pant legs down by my ankles, hoping nobody would see, but she thought I was being even more fresh and screamed and…never mind. I wish I hadn’t brought it up.”
The boys were staring at me as if I’d just grown another head.
“Anyway, I hate this time of the year. It’s traumatic to me.”
Doc shook his head.
“That’s the dangdest story I believe I’ve ever heard.”
“You want to hear the worst part?”
They were shocked.
“The worst part?” Wrong Willie leaned forward. “There’s more to that horror story?”
“Yep.” I sighed. “I was sick at my stomach from not eating, and the heat, it must’ve been over a hundred degrees that night when I took her home in her wrecked dress and I walked her to the door and we both smelled like fried chicken and I knew she’d never go out with me again, but I thought I’d salvage the whole thing and leaned in to kiss her goodnight and she held up her hand and said ‘wait.’”
“Of course she wasn’t gonna kiss you goodnight.”
“Oh, that wasn’t the problem. She was perfectly willing for some reason, but only after she used one finger to dig a little dip out of her bottom lip. She flicked it off in the bushes and then she leaned in and the smell of Copenhagen wafted up and after that…well…I ‘magine she had to throw that dress away.”
The guys blinked at me for a moment, until Doc shook himself back into the real world.
“I don’t know what to say to all that.”
“Neither did I.” I sipped at my ice water and thought about ordering the chicken fried chicken, but the memory was still too fresh. “Anyway, I hate this time of the year.”
Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County.