Tom Johnson’s son Mike and his friend Andy dropped by. They were out of college for the summer, looking for a summer job. The rancher they worked for last year had already hired for this year. I didn’t have anything available for them but asked what kind of work they did last year and motioned for them to take a chair on the porch. The two young men in unison, and Mike spoke out. I’ll do my best to paraphrase his story.
“Me and Andy mended fence for the Rocking J ranch. A lonely job. We worked mile after mile of fence line. It was good pay even though we slept outside on a bedroll. We heard critters scurrying around all night. With a full moon, you can see them from a corner of your eye. They’re not a bother, but sometimes they’ll make you wish you’d spent the night in a proper bed. You’d never guess what happened to Andy last year.”
I didn’t say a word, just shook my head.
“It was late June, and me and Andy and been out for nearly three days. We carried enough provisions for eight days in our old war surplus Jeep. Anyway, one night a full moon lit up a deep purple sky and it was a while before dawn. Andy’s first scream brought me upright on my bedroll. My eyes were sleep blurred, buy I could see Andy slapping’ his hands all over the ground around where he’d rested his head.”
I called out, S’matter with you Andy?” You lose something?”
He held his jaw with both hands. “I’ve been stuck with something’. It got me on my lower lip. Something’ either bit me or stung me, I dunno what.”
He sat down hard on the ground clutching’ his jaw.
“Could have been a snake or maybe a scorpion, but wow, my lip is on FIRE.”
“Or a stinging’ ant too,” I said. “More likely a scorpion though. Probably hiding’ in your bedroll. Shake it out good so you don’t get stung again tonight.”
“Yup. I’m getting’ up anyway. I’ll make coffee.”
With sunrise came the coffee. And Andy’s campfire coffee was strong enough to take the bend out of horse shoes. Delicious, out in the middle of nowhere.
Andy drank from his tin cup, and the dark liquid dribbled from his mouth, over his fat lip and dripped down his shirt front. His bottom lip looked like a baby eel. White in some spots with small patches of blue. It squirmed a little when I looked at it.
After a hardscrabble breakfast, we went to work. “Looks like we’ll finish this section of fence today. And if we do, we can cut across to the east side, and work our way back to the ranch.”
Andy nodded, made a slurping noise with his mouth, and moved on down the fence line. After a few minutes, he went to the Jeep and dug through our tool box. He picked up a barbed wire fencing tool and walked to a grand pappy of fence posts. “This one is probably older than you and me together.” He said. “Lemme see how sound it is.”
Andy whacked a side of the post. The post was hollow and home to a nest of wasps. Nothing grabs a body’s attention faster than a bevy of wasp’s hell bent on payback. And they got him. Smack dab on his bottom lip. More than a dozen times.
Poor Andy kept slapping his mouth with both hands. “OW, OW, oh dear LAWD!”
After a few minutes of flailing the air with both arms, and practically knocking himself silly, he fell to the ground and rolled around a bit. His eye balls floated in puddles of water, a string of snot clung to his chin whiskers, and his hurt lip was five times puffier than its neighbor.
He rose to a crouch and then to his feet and yanked a wadded up blue bandana from his back pocket. He staggered to the Jeep and soaked the square of cloth with water from our jug.
Andy made a slushy sound with his lips, and saliva streamed to the ground from both corners of his mouth.
“By bips elled ut.” He said.
I took a good look at him, and I swear I never in the world would have imagined how insect stings could turn a decent looking guy into a sausage-lipped Frankenstein with a possible case of hoof and mouth disease.
“We need to get you some help.” I said. “Your lips look like a pair of bratwursts.”
“Boo bay book bat baaa?”
“Bad? Hell, I never saw two purple parsnips on anybody’s face before. You need help. We’ll quit work and go east. We’re closer to Bailiwick township than anywhere else. And old doc Wiggins can look at you.”
“Bat’s a boo ibea. Bay hut liy hehh.”
I pointed at the jeep, “C’mon, jump in. I’ll drive.”
The trip into town took more than a few hours, and by the time we pulled into a parking space in the lumber yard’s lot behind doc Wiggin’s place, Andy’s lip looked like an over inflated bicycle inner tube, and his upper lip was beginning to look awful. It had grown so big it snugged up under his nostrils. And when he breathed out through his mouth, it sounded like someone making a rude noise with armpit and hand. And now, the bottom lip had thin lines of yellowish white running across it.
“Me and Andy went into the doc’s office, and a receptionist took Andy’s name. She told us to wait in a little room across the hall. I was relieved to see an empty waiting room. “The doc’s still on a call,” The receptionist called. “But he should be back soon. You two boys make yourself comfortable.”
An old clock ticked loud on a sideboard. I heard the front door to the doc’s office open and a man’s voice by the receptionist’s desk. After a minute or two, I looked up from my year-old magazine and saw an old fella, all stooped over. He hobbled into the waiting room, used his cane as a pointer and sat on his targeted chair, opposite Andy.
“G’d afternoon, gentlemen,” He said.
”G’d afternoon,” I replied, and Andy bobbed his head up and down.
“Lawdy. I wish we had some whiskey,” The old man said.
“Well, me and my friend here don’t drink much.”
“Nor do I,” Said the old man. “But after seeing your friend’s lips, a double whiskey might improve the vision.”