THE TRUE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


Friendship comes in many different ways and species.

Submitted: May 21, 2018

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Submitted: May 21, 2018

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THE TRUE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP

Charles V. Walker, Jr.

 

On a sunny, warm, humid mid-August, Friday morning, volunteers were on Main Street making final preparations for Creston, Virginia's Annual Founders' Day Celebration scheduled for the following day. The festivities were going to include a parade starting from the bypass and going up to and along Main Street. Additionally, there was going to be a fair held on the sports field at one of the local junior high schools.

The morning also found Winston Brown slowly driving his taxicab past the volunteers, and waving at a few people he knew. Winston - -“Winnie” to family and old friends - -  was a tall, caramel-colored man with pock-marked skin.  His thinning hair was cut close to the scalp and his face clean shaven; the scent of Pinaud Clubman After Shave permeated the taxicab. Winston’s grandfather, Talent Two Shoes, was a full-blooded Blackfoot Native American who had moved into an area of Creston, Virginia that was primarily populated by former slaves and American Indians called, The Birches. Two years later, he married Winston’s grandmother, Sister Anna Marshall, herself a former slave.

The taxicab had blue, metallic, rectangular signs magnetically attached to both sides of it that read, Brown’s Cab Service, and listed a telephone number. It finally came to and turned down Fifth Street, a short, narrow, side street that led towards the public laundromat.  As he entered the parking lot at the rear of the laundromat, Winston hunched over the steering wheel, and carefully scanned the ground for broken glass.

Winston drove the cab in between two bright, yellow lines and sat for a moment staring through the windshield. He could see his sister, Carrie, moving back and forth in the laundromat, a place where she had worked since it opened. In addition to other assorted tasks, she provided change to customers.

After watching her for a few minutes, he opened the door and climbed out of the taxi. Through a financial arrangement with the laundromat's owner, Clarke Bennett, Winston was allowed to use the laundromat’s pay telephone number for his taxi service. He entered the rear, glass door of the laundromat and exchanged “hellos” with a few customers.

When he reached Carrie, she looked up and said, “Gittin’ warm outdoors already, ain’t it?”

“Yep,” replied Winston. “Ah was hopin’ de rain we had las’ night mighta cooled things off a bit, but all it did was stir up dem damn mosquitas.”

“You ain’t lyin’ ‘bout dat,” replied Carrie.  When she moved, the pockets of her purple smock jingled with quarters.

"See dey uppair gettin' ready fo' de parade an' stuff tomorra," said Winston.

"It's always a big ta do," replied Carrie. "Dey 'spectin' a big crowd o' people. So we gon be closed tomorra."

"Yeah, Ah saw de sign on de door," said Winston. "Dere's always a big turnout fo' dem parades. One of de few times when white folks and black folks git tagever ta celebrate sumfin."

"Ain't dat de trufe," replied Carrie.

"Hell, de way slavery was through hair in Creston an' all ova Virginia, we prob'ly all related some kinda which-a-way in dis town. So we might as well join in de celebration, too."

Carrie shook her head and laughed, and then walked back pass the snack machine to give change to a woman standing near one of the dryers.  A short, heavyset woman, Carrie had her eyeglasses tied around her neck with a piece of string, and they shifted back and forth across her large bosom as she moved about the laundromat. At fifty-two, she was three years older than Winston. 

"Did Mamie Washington call?” asked Winston, as he began walking towards her. He removed his brown, straw fedora, and wiped sweat from inside of it with a handkerchief.

“Naw, but you did get a call from Ned Johnson. Said he wanted you ta take him ta de ABC store afta he got his check taday.” Carrie was referring to the State-owned and operated Alcoholic Beverage Control outlet on Creston's bypass highway.

“Shoot! Ah ain’t foolin’ wif Ned no mo’. Las' time Ah took him out dere, he got into a fight wif one uvda workers ova a nickel. Man threat’na ta call de Sheriff. Ned’s a crazy, ornery sum’bitch even when he ain’t drainkin’. Bad ‘nough if he’s drainkin’. He’ll prob’ly be somebody’s drunken pain inna ass all weeken'.”

 

Winston went to sit on the bench at the rear of the laundromat. Already perched there, in his usual place, was Joshua “Boots” Morgan. He was reading a Watchtower magazine he had gotten from Jehovah’s Witnesses; several of these periodicals also stuck out of his Safeway supermarket shopping bag.  Although he had no particular religious leanings, the forty-two-year old Boots found the articles in these magazines extremely interesting. He vowed that if he ever became a religious person again, it would be as a Jehovah’s Witness. 

Boots, who had an unusually small head for his body size and height, spent the majority of his time at the laundromat. He felt comfortable around Carrie and Winston, as he detected neither meanness nor hostility from them. The laundromat's owner, at Carrie's suggestion and encouragement, paid Boots twenty-five dollars per week in exchange for sweeping and mopping the floor, and taking out the garbage. Boots also occasionally performed temporary, usually three to four days, manual labor jobs around Creston.

“What say, Boots?"” Winston said as he sat down on the bench.

“Nuffin much," Boots replied, as he scratched the top of his head with his fingers. He kept his salt and pepper-colored afro brushed tightly down against his head. "You goin' to de parade an' stuff tommora?"

"Ah may go uppair fo' a bit. Ah use'lly havva nice time at de fair. You goin'?" asked Winston.

"Yeah, prob'ly," Boots replied. "Ah might brang Festus, if he feels like comin'."

Winston smiled and nodded his head. "Okay. Ah'm sure he'll wantta come. Still havin' problems wif somebody turnin' ova yo' flowerpots an' stuff?"

"Yeah. Prob'ly jes dem kids from 'round de road. Ackin' up befo' dey go backta school nex' week."

"Didju replant dat rosebush, yet?"

"Yep," replied Boots. "Pootie Marshall came ova an' helpt me."

"Good. Ah'm sho dat stuff'll stop once dem kids go back ta school."

Winston pointed towards the sidewalk in front of the laundromat where a bicycle was chained to the metal pole of a NO PARKING sign. "Nice bike. Izzat yours?"

"Yep. Penny Franklin gave it ta me," answered Boots. "Said she was gonna buy a new one."

"See ya got a new whistle ta go wif it," Winston said, reaching out to hold and look at the whistle on the string around Boots' neck.

"Almos' got run over by a pick-up truck comin' up de bypass from Culpeper a few nights ago. Gotta make sho' dem cars an' stuff cain see an' hair me, 'specially at night."

"Ya gotta be careful out dere, Boots," warned Winston.

"Izzat whistle gon be loud enough?" 

"Ah tested it an' it's pretty loud. Bought it a de dolla sto'." Boots was referring to the discount store, Dollar General, on Main Street."

"Need ta put some mo’ reflectin' stickas on de bike, too."

"Ah know," said Boots. "Ah'll git some at de dolla sto' when Ah git paid. You ain’t got a cig’rette on you, do you, Win?”

Winston reached into the pocket of his meticulously ironed, powder blue, short sleeve shirt and handed Boots his pack of cigarettes. Boots wasn't really a cigarette smoker, but only wanted to emulate something other people did. This was especially true of Winston, whom he liked and admired. In fact, Winston was certain that Boots didn't even inhale the cigarette smoke, instead holding it in his mouth to give the appearance that he was smoking.

Boots shook a cigarette out of the pack and placed it between in his lips; the lower one was as pink as cotton candy. He patted his pockets and then said, "Say, Win. You ain’t got a match on ya, do ya?”

Winston laughed, as he reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a book of matches. "Hair ya go. You cain hol' on to 'em. Speakin' o' matches, didju evva fine out who put dat firecracka in yo mailbox?"

"No. But was prob'ly wunna dem kids wif some stuff lef' ova from de Fourf uh July."

"Okay."

As he stood to leave, Boots leaned over to Winston, his breath reeking of alcohol, and said, "Ah got a few steaks onma bike rack in case ya interested. Give ya a good deal on 'em."

Winston knew about Boots’ penchant for rummaging through the dumpsters behind Safeway and other supermarkets for discarded, but still packaged, food. More than once he’d seen him waist-deep in a dumpster after a store had closed. In addition to finding food items, Boots sometimes found clothing, which Carrie often washed for him with a load of clothes a customer had brought in for the laundromat's drop-off service.

"Naw, Boots," replied Winston. "Thanks. Maybe nex' time."

"Okay, den. By de way, Ah might have some packages o' chick'n parts inna few days," said Boots. "An' lemme know if you need some squash and 'taytas." It was apparent to Winston that Boots knew the supermarkets' food disposal schedules quite well.

"Will do," said Winston, as he smiled and nodded.

Winston watched as Boots walked out onto the narrow sidewalk outside the front of the laundromat. He walked over to check on his bicycle. Then, glancing back to ensure Winston was watching, he blew his whistle. The sound of the whistle was exceptionally loud and startled several laundromat customers. Much to Boots' delight, Winston laughed. Boots looked around sheepishly, smiled and then walked away from the bicycle. When he was a few feet from it, he lit the cigarette and removed an ashtray from his shirt pocket. He began smoking, while flicking cigarette ashes into the ashtray.

Winston heard the telephone ringing on the far wall. He walked over to answer it, listened for a few moments, and then hung up.

“Dat was Mamie. Ah’ll be back afta while.”

“Wha’ chu want me ta do if Ned calls back?” asked Carrie.

“Tell ‘im Ah said ta call Chester ta pick ‘im up. Hell, let Ned be his headache taday,” Winston said, laughing as he exited the laundromat.

Later in the day, when Winston returned to the laundromat for the last time to take Carrie home, he saw Boots getting on his bicycle; he had rubberbands wrapped around the bottoms of his dungaree pants legs.

"Headin' home, Boots?" he asked.

"Yeah. Gotta few thangs ta do," Boots replied, as he rolled down the sleeves of his shirt.

Winston was certain that those things also included a trip to supermarket dumpsters at some point.

"Hope ta see you an' Festus tomorra."

"Prob'ly will," replied Boots. "See ya, Win."

Boots climbed on the bicycle and began pedaling. Mr. Bennett had come by the laundromat earlier to pay him, so on the way home, he made a stop at the house of a local bootlegger, Duke Sharp, to buy a few bottles of whiskey. Sometimes if Boots were short on cash, he’d exchange a few steaks or some other dumpster delight for a bottle or two.

After bidding farewell to Duke, Boots got back on his bicycle and headed towards home. Boots was the sole tenant of his family's home in Freemon, a residential subsection of Creston.

Boots' best friend was a cat, which he'd named, Festus, after his favorite character on the television show, Gunsmoke. The cat was primarily gray, with bands of black and white stripes. His coat, which looked as if he had been dragged through chimney soot, also had patches of fur missing in various places. The multi-scarred tabby was missing a portion of his right ear and part of its tail. It had obviously seen its share of battles with other animals, including cats, dogs, and raccoons, as well as people.

Festus had shown up on Boots' doorstep one Sunday morning approximately three months ago. No one came looking for it, so Boots fed it and gave it water. After it napped on and off for a few hours, it disappeared. It returned a few days later, stayed for several days, then left again.  Boots asked Winston and a few people in the area if anyone had reported a missing cat. But, as no one had, Boots befriended and adopted it, as much as anyone could make friends with and adopt a nomadic, indifferent beast with a basically unsociable disposition.

Once in awhile, if Festus were around, and most importantly, if it felt like going, Boots took the cat on his nighttime, dumpster diving jaunts. As such, Boots had attached a modified birdcage to the bicycle's handlebars for the cat to sit in when they traveled. Festus occasionally found something he liked in the dumpsters, including a live mouse or two.

When he arrived home, Boots was pleased to see Festus curled and peacefully napping on a banister on the front porch. As Boots approached, the cat looked up at him, stood, and stretched twice, while yawning.

"Hey dere, Festus," Boots said, as he rubbed his hand along the cat's head and filthy back. "Glad ta see ya. Are ya hungry?"

The cat paced back and forth along the banister, while purring and arching its back to meet Boots' gentle touch. Boots removed one of the bottles of whiskey from his pocket and took a long swallow. The cat looked at him quizzically.

"Ah already tole you dat you cain't have nunna dis stuff'" said Boots. "It ain't good fo' cats."

The cat rubbed his head and body against Boots' midsection, as if to say, "That's right. I almost forgot. Thanks for reminding me."

"Stay hair. Ah'll be right back."

Boots went into the house, reemerging a few minutes later carrying a bowl of catfood and a dish of water. He set them on the porch.

"Dere ya go, Festus."

The cat, which had been licking itself, leapt from the banister and began eating.

Boots watched Festus eat. "Feel like goin' out on an adventcha dis evenin', Festus?" he asked. The cat aimed its only whole, triangular-shaped ear in the direction of Boots' voice, but continued to eat.

"Yeah, okay. Ah thought chu might," said Boots. "But, we'll wait til it gets a little darker. Okay?"

The cat ate a few more bites, licked its mouth, then as silently and slowly as cigarette smoke, walked over to the porch swing jumped up on it, laid down in a curled position, and closed its eyes.

Taking another swallow from the bottle of whiskey, Boots said, "Dat's it, Festus. Git yo' nap, so's ya cain be ready to go out wif me layta."

Out the corner of his eye, Boots saw that his back fence had been splashed with white paint. "What in de hell happened ta my fence?" Boots said to Festus. "You ain't see nobody out hair didju?"

The cat opened one eye for a second, and then resumed napping.

Boots walked over to the fence. As he got closer, he heard glass crunching under his feet. He saw that some of the shards of glass had white paint on them.

"Wonda who'd do dis kinda stuff," he thought. "Fill bottles wif paint an' throw 'em up against de fence. Not sure if kids did dis."

Boots looked around the yard and at other houses in the neighborhood. He thought he saw someone looking at him through a window at Paul Yates' house.

"Well, betta dis glass up fo' it gits too dark. Ah don't wantchu cuttin' up yo' paws."

Boots went into the house and returned with a small broom, went to his shed to get a shovel, then began clearing the glass. 

He ate dinner and then went to the upstairs hall closet to put on what he called his, "Findin' Clothes". This outfit consisted of a pair of old fishing boots, a pair of rubber rain paints, a cheap nylon jacket and a Washington Redskins cap. He tied an oversized handkerchief around his neck. The handkerchief would eventually go around his mouth and nose to block out the odors from the dumpsters. Boots also liked the way he looked when he wore it, as it reminded him of the bank and train robbers he'd seen in western movies. He grabbed his oversized backpack, checked inside to make sure he had his flashlight and rubber gloves, and then slung it over his shoulders. He'd found the backpack on one of the roads near an army base, while out riding his bicycle one day.

Boots slowly opened the back porch door and hesitantly walked out. Nothing was amiss, and he was greeted only by darkness and Festus, who sauntered over and began rubbing his body across Boots' legs.

Bending to pet the purring feline, Boots said, "Ready ta roll, ain'tcha?" Festus continued rubbing his arched torso and his tail against Boots.

"It's gon be alright," he said to Festus, but the statement was meant as more of a reassurance to himself.

After taking a drink of whiskey from the bottle in his jacket pocket, he walked over to his bicycle. First, he checked to ensure that Festus's cage was firmly attached to it. Then checked the stability of the small, wooden picnic basket he had affixed to its rear.

"C'mere, Festus. C'mon, boy," he cajoled, as he slightly bent and patted the tops of his thighs. But, the cat ignored him and walked over to his water dish. He drank a few sips, rubbed his body against a porch column several times, then jumped up on the banister, and began licking itself.

“C'mon now, Festus," Boots said, as he walked over to Festus. "You cain take a baf later." He picked up the cat and carried it to the bicycle, where he put him inside the modified bird cage. Festus purred and stared unblinkingly at Boots.

“Time ta hit de road," said Boots. "Don't worry, Festus. We ain't gonna stay out too late tanight."

He got on the bicycle and began pedaling towards the Creston bypass.

It was just after midnight, when Boots and Festus were making their way home along a small, dark back road. The sounds of crickets and bullfrogs serenaded them, as they made their journey.

"We didn't do too bad tanight, huh, Festus?" said Boots, as he pedaled home. "Got a few packs uh hotdogs, some steaks, fo' packs uh chick'n parts and a few loafs uh bread." Boots continued pedaling and talking. As he was pedaling, a pick-up truck came up on the road approximately one hundred yards behind him, flickered its headlights, honked its horn, and then turned its headlights off.

Boots guided the bicycle closer to the side of the road. The pick-up truck began to gain speed.

"Some foolish people in dis world," said Boots, as he pedaled faster. Festus meowed loudly.

As the truck grew closer, Boots placed the whistle in his mouth and blew it. This only made the truck go faster. Letting the whistle fall from his lips, he said, "Dat looks jus' like de pick-up dat gave me problems when Ah was comin' back from Culpeper de uvva night. Memba?”

The truck was moving faster and heading straight for the bicycle.

"Damn! Ah hope dis fool ain't trynta run us ova, Festus."

Boots was sweating profusely, as he pedaled faster and faster. He had lifted himself from the seat for better leverage and more mobility. Festus was meowing even louder. The bicycle was becoming more unsteady. Finally, the truck pulled up directly behind him, touched the bicycle's rear wheel with its bumper, causing it to run into a two-foot ditch. The out of control bicycle zigzagged for a few feet before hitting a large rock and flipping into the air. Boots was thrown sideways, as he and the bicycle crash landed into weeds and bushes. The driver honked the truck's horn twice and drove away.

After gathering himself, Boots, on shaky, cramped legs, righted the bicycle. "Festus!" he shouted.

The bird cage's lid had been mangled open and the cage was empty. Boots panicked. "Festus! Wair ya at?!"

He heard a soft meowing coming from under a group of bushes. He ran over and found Festus laying on his side; he was a bit disoriented, but physically unharmed.

"You alright, boy?" Boots asked, as picked up the cat and held it in his outstretched arms. "Good. Good," he said, as he examined Festus. Ah'll git ju home, so's we cain git ourselves tagever."

Carrying the cat under his arm, Boots walked over to look at his bicycle. The handlebars were twisted into a barely recognizable shape and both tires were flat. He felt blood trickle down his forehead; he wiped it away with his handkerchief.

“Ah guess we walkin' from hair, Festus. It's only a few miles ta de house. Ah'll haveta push de bike home."

After reloading his cargo onto his damaged bicycle and placing Festus into the now bent and broken cage, Boots took out a bottle of whiskey from the knapsack, took a quick drink, then returned the bottle to the knapsack.  As he walked, Boots continually looked over his shoulder. Each time he saw headlights approaching he ran and hid in the bushes until the vehicle had passed.

"Dey needta put some lights on dis road," said Boots. “It’s black as ten midnights out hair.”

Boots heard what he thought was the truck coming again. Ducking behind some bushes, he saw headlights. As the vehicle got closer, he reached into the knapsack and grabbed the biggest and heaviest item he could find - - a loaf of bread. As the truck approached, Boots laid down in the small embankment on the side of the road. The truck continued to draw nearer to where he lay. Blood from the gash in his forehead, mixed with his sweat, trickled down his face. When the truck was close enough, Boots stood up and threw the loaf of bread at it. The bread made a boof sound, as it burst against the truck's grill. He ran into the bushes and ducked. The truck drove by without stopping. After he was certain it was gone, Boots stood up, checked Festus, picked up his belongings and resumed walking.

This final encounter with the truck resulted in Boots engaging in even more one-sided, nervous chatter. "Dat was crazy. Who was zat? Looked like boaf of dem was wearin’ some kinda Halloween masks or sumfin." His legs, arms and hands were shaking with nervousness. He wished he had a cigarette to smoke, because that's what he heard people did to calm themselves when stressed.

"Ah needed a big chunkadat big, ole broke up, roosta statue we saw innat one dumpsta," said Boots. "Prob'ly coulda busted out his windshield."

The cat meowed.

When they finally reached home, Boots released the cat; it jumped down and ran under a neighbor's fence adjacent to Boots' yard. Boots went into the house and emerged a few minutes later with a medium-sized cooler, which he had filled with ice.

"Ah cain put dese steaks and hotdogs in de frigidaire, but dem chick'n parts was mo’ den a few days ole. Least dat's what de label say," he said to himself. "But somebody tole me, thank it mighta been Knotty Horton, dat if ya take ole chick'n outta de package an' stick it in ice, you can still use it."

He removed the chicken parts from their packages and placed them in the cooler. Then took the steaks, hotdogs and three remaining loaves of bread into the house. When came back onto the porch, Boots had removed his "Findin' Clothes", and put on some sweatpants, the green tee-shirt he'd been wearing earlier and a pair of sneakers. He walked around to the front of his house, and peered up the road. He then took an extra long drink of whiskey from the bottle. Festus came back under the fence, and started rubbing his head and body against the cooler, while simultaneously purring loudly. "Didju finish takin’ care of yo' business?" asked Boots. The cat meowed. "Dat's a good boy. Feelin' betta? Ah know dat was wild out dere tanight."

The cat rubbed its body against the cooler a few more times, then walked over to where Boots was standing. He began rubbing his body against Boots' legs. Suddenly it stopped and quickly loped across the road to Jerome Yates' house.

"Festus," Boots whispered. "C'mon back hair! C'mon. Hair boy. Hair kitty, kitty."

After several minutes, when the cat failed to return, Boots crossed the road to retrieve him. Crouched low to the ground and walking quietly on his haunches, Boots went around to the back of the house. When he turned the corner, he could see Festus pulling at something stuck in the grill of a truck that was parked inside a small garage.

"C'mon! Git 'way from dere. Stop dat, ya crazy cat!"

Using the moonlight, Boots slowly and awkwardly eased forward until he was just outside the garage. Festus was scratching at something lodged in the truck's front grill. He looked around, but didn't see anyone, so he moved to where the cat was digging.

"Whatchu pullin' at, Festus? Whatchu got dere?"

He bent down to retrieve the cat and saw pieces of white, blue and red plastic. "What in de hell?" he said reaching for the plastic. Boots' hand also felt something soft; he pulled at it and it came free. When he brought it close to his eyes, he could see that it was a piece of bread. Attached to the bread was a piece of plastic reading, "WOND".

"Dis is from dat loaf o’ bread Ah threw."

Boots heard the backdoor of the Yates house open and crouched down behind the truck. Festus began to walk around the truck, but Boots grabbed him. Peering through the truck's windows, Boots saw Jerome step out onto the back porch and look around; he crouched even further. When he heard the door close, he waited a few moments, then holding the cat firmly under his arm he left the garage and crouch walked across the road to his house.

After reaching his house, Boots looked over his shoulder towards the Yates' house. He walked around to his back porch and entered the house. He dropped Festus to the floor and sat in a chair.

"Didju see dat bread stuck in de truck, Festus?" Boots asked, as he took a sip of whiskey.

The cat meowed and went to its bowl to drink water. After he finished, he walked to where Boots was sitting and began rubbing his body against Boots' legs.

"Dat was de truck dat was out dere tanight."

Festus finished pacing and rubbing, and laid on the floor, where he watched Boots; his tail continued moving.

"Man, he was always kinda off in de haid when we was in school. Got kicked out quite a few times. Plus he was mean jus' fo' de sake o' bein' mean." Boots took a sip of whiskey. "Should Ah tell Winston 'bout dis? No, maybe not. He'll jus' git all upset an' wanna go ova dere. But, Ah gotta do sumfin before you or me gits hurt or kilt." He took another sip of whiskey. "Darn it! Ah never bahvered Jerome or his bruvva. Ah always thought we was frens."

Festus rose and walked over to where Boots was sitting and jumped up on his lap. Boots took a few more sips of whiskey, as he rubbed the cat's head and body. "We gon be alright.”

Festus meowed.

"Ah ain't nevva bahvered dem. Treated ‘em like frens and neighbors."

Festus meowed loudly.

"Nope, nevva bahvered dem at all." He took another swallow of whiskey, placed the bottle in his lap, wiped away sweat and blood from his forehead and fell asleep.

Festus meowed again.

When Boots and Festus didn't show up at the parade or the fair the next day, Winston drove out to his house in the late afternoon. As he pulled into the dirt and gravel driveway, Boots came around from the back of the house. Winston got out of his car and walked towards him carrying a shopping bag. In addition to his speech being slurred, Winston could see and smell that Boots had been drinking whiskey.

"Changed yo' mind 'bout goin' up town taday fo' de parade an' stuff? Had a nice time taday. Dey had clowns, marchin' bands an' jugglas. But it sho was hot out dere."

"Yeah. Ma stomick wasn't feelin' too good," replied Boots. "So me an' Festus jus' decided ta hang out hair." 

"Well, Carrie sent you some leftovas," said Winston, as he handed the shopping bag to Boots. "She fried up some chick'n and made some tayta salad."

"Thanks, Win. Tell Carrie Ah 'ppreciate it."

The two men began walking towards the front porch. Winston saw the cat curled and asleep on a porch bannister. They climbed the three steps.

"Lemme run dis bag in de house," Boots said to Winston. "Havva seat. Ah'll be right back." He entered the house, as Winston sat in a rusting metal chair.

A few minutes later, Boots reemerged and handed Winston a can of soda, then sat across from him in the porch swing.

"Thanks. Dat's a helluva gash ya got on yo' fo'head, Boots," Winston said. "Wair'dju git dat?"

Boots touched the cut. "Ah hit ma haid on de porch bannister when Ah was bendin' down ta feed Festus earlier," Boots lied.

"You betta git it looked at."

"Ah will. Firs’ thang on Monday. It already stopped bleedin'."

Winston stared at him, as he sipped the soda. "Evrathang alright out hair, Boots?"

"Yep. Right as rain."

"You know you cain talk ta me if sumfin's wrong," Winston said, as he took a sip from the soda can.

"Yeah, Win. Ah know dat. Thank you."

They chatted for a bit longer. Finally, Winston drank the rest of his soda and stood up.

"Well, Ah'ma git on back down de road, Boots. If ya need me, you know wair ta fine me."

"Okay, Win. Thanks."

As they were walking towards the driveway, Winston glanced over at the back fence.

"What happened ta yo' fence?" he asked.

"Ah was thinkin' 'bout paint'nit, so Ah was tryin' out some colors," Boots answered quickly. Too quickly to Winston’s way of thinking.

“Alright. If ya need ma help paintin', let me know."

"Sure will."

Just as he opened his car door, Winston saw Boots' bicycle leaning against the side of the shed.

"How'd yo' bike git all mashed up like ‘at?"

Boots hesitated before responding. "Ah lef' it too close ta de side of road when Ah got home from ridin' las' night.  Ah think a car hit it."

"Dat Jackson boy is pretty good at fixin' things. Lemme know if you want me ta take it out dere ta 'im. We cain put it in ma trunk."

"Ah 'preciate dat. Maybe we cain do it nex' week," said Boots. "Ah got ma old one und'neaf de house. Ah'll use it in de meantime."

Winston sensed something was wrong, but didn't want press the issue.

"Okay, Boots," Winston said, as he got into his car. "Like Ah said, if you need me, come git me. Ah'm jus goin' home ta watch some t.v."

"Sure, Win. Thanks. See ya on Monday."

Winston started his car and began driving away. He looked back to where Boots was still standing. Boots waved and then began walking back towards the house. As Winston's car disappeared around a curve, Jerome Yates came out of his door and stood staring at Boots for a few minutes.  He then turned and walked back into the house.

After watching the Yates’ house to see if Jerome re-emerged, Boots nervously strolled toward his back porch just in time to see Festus climbing under the fence; he was returning from a trip to Boots’ neighbor's property. "You'd betta stay outta Kellogg's yard," warned Boots. "He's gonna sic 'em dogs onya."

Festus ignored this remark and ran up the porch steps, where he began pacing and meowing.

"Alright. You mus' be hungry, huh? Ah got some dry food in dere fo' you."

Boots entered the house and returned with a bowl of dry cat food and a bowl of water. He set the bowls down in front of Festus.

"There ya go."

The cat began eating voraciously.

Boots walked over to where he had placed the cooler against the tree the night before.

"Might as well git dis stuff in de house," he thought to himself, as he lifted the cooler.

Later that evening, Boots was sitting on his front porch with Festus.

"Ah wonda if dere's anythang Ah cain do ta make 'em Yateses stop bahverin' me? Let dem know Ah wantta be frens wif 'em."

Festus, laying on his side, stopped licking his paws and looked at Boots. "Got any ideas, Festus?" Festus meowed. "We'll think o' sumfin."

The next day, Boots, carrying a large shopping bag, walked over to the Yates' house and knocked on the door. Jerome answered.

"Whatchu want, Boots?"

"Hi, Jerome," Boots said nervously. "Winston came by yesterday an' bought me some food. Ah figured you an' Paul might want some."

"Yeah, Ah saw Winston when he was ova at yo’ place. Gave ya a big ass bag, too." Jerome laughed.

"Well, hair it is," Boots said, as he handed the bag to Jerome. “Some good chick'n an' tayta salad innair. Enjoy."

Jerome smiled, snatched the bag and said, "Okay, fool. See ya around." He slammed the door closed.

Boots turned, walked off of the porch and headed towards his house, where Festus greeted him on the front porch.

"Ah hope 'em boys like ‘at chick'n an' tayta salad, Festus."

Later that evening, as Boots and Festus were sitting on the front porch steps of his house, they saw George Lewis and Frankie Watkins come out of the Yates house laughing. They waved to Boots and walked to where he was sitting.

"Hey, y'all," said Boots.

The two men were still laughing, but finally managed to say, "Hey, dere, Boots."

"What's goin' on wif Paul and Jerome?"

"Man, Ah 'ont know," said Frankie. "But dem two bastards musta ate sumfin dat fucked up dere stomicks bad!"

"Damn straight," said George. "Dey got de runs so bad, dey shittin' ev'ry five minutes. Dere farts smell like sumfin crawlt up dere asses an' died."

Both men laughed.

"Glad we ate fo' we went ova dere," said George.

"You got dat right," said Frankie. "C'mon, George, les git on down de road. Maybe stop by Knotty's ta see what he's up to. Ah still feel like havin' a beer. See ya later, Boots."

The men began walking away.

"Tell Knotty Ah said, 'hey'," said Boots.

Boots watched George and Frankie walk through his yard and then climb through an opening in a fence.

"Ah hope dem Yates boys gon be alright," Boots said, as he stroked Festus's fur.

Boots reached into a flowerpot and took out a bottle of whiskey. "Didn't have enough ta go 'round wif de boys jus' now." He took a long swig of whiskey. "Knotty'll prob'ly have sumfin fo' dem. Speakin' uh Knotty. Ah cain't rememba if he tole me dat trick about puttin' ole chick'n on ice. Come ta think uvvit, he mighta said ta throw it out."

Boots drank another sip of whiskey. "Ah coulda gave 'em Yates boys de batch o' chick'n Carrie sent me, but dat wouldna been right. She made it fo' me, right? So Ah fried dat chick'n Ah fount three weeks ago. De pack Ah accidentally lef’ out in de heat. Memba?"

He sipped more whiskey.

"Same thang wif de tayta salad. Ah made it from scratch wif some of dose taytas an' dat may'naisse we fount in wunna dem dumpstas las' monf. ‘Memba?"

Boots looked over at the Yates house. All of the lights were on in every room. "Ah hope dem boys feel betta. Ah know how it is ta have de runs like ‘at. Cain't sleep fo' shittin'."

He sipped more whiskey.

"Maybe Ah'll make 'em some chicken soup wif de parts Ah had lef' ova an' take it to 'em tomorra," said Boots, nodding his head. "Might make 'em feel betta. Whatchu think, Festus?"

Festus meowed, sauntered over to Kellogg’s fence, walked through two posts and disappeared into the weeds; Boots could see the weeds moving as Festus walked further and further away.

“Okay, see ya when ya come back nex’ time, Festus,” shouted Boots.

He lifted the whistle he had around his neck to his lips and softly blew into it.

 

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