Jerome’s a curious little bugger. When other kids in his gang laugh at something, Jerome scowls. When they’re serious, like studying a dead frog, he finds a way to break their concentration. He does his clown act and goes all crazy and drool comes out’n his mouth. He’s a scrawny whelp, his too-large pants held up around his snake hips by a clear plastic belt set with colored plastic jewels. Don’t hardly see those kind of belts nowadays — not since the forties when we sent the Krauts packing. Those were the days. “Jerome, come over here,” I shouted when I seen him amble by the Rexall drugstore where a bunch of us sit when the sun gets too warm. “C’mere!” “What d’you want, Old Man?” “I want to know what you got in that sack.” He had a paper sack like Martha, my wife, used for carrying her lunch over to the grain elevator where she worked. Martha’d save them from the store. I throw ’em away now. “It’s my sack.” “Didn’t say it wasn’t, but it might be somethin’ you shouldn’t have. Little kids gotta be watched.” Kids today ain’t nothing like we was back when Roosevelt ran the country and we had respect for elders. Leastwise, I did. “What’s in it?” I was tryin’ not to seem hostile. Martha calls me hostile because I challenge stupidity and maybe ask people, What do you mean by that? Martha’s a real Christian. She’d give her last piece of bread to someone. Jerome glared. “Bird nest!” he said, but it came out like a shout. “Well, ain’t that cute. Where’d you find it?” A couple of the old goats outside the Rexall looked up to make sure they weren’t missing something, though often I believe it’s just to check and see if their heart’s still pumping. “A bird up in a hickory made it outta sticks. It’s mine ’cause it was in our yard and I shinnied up for it.” Carl mumbled something like “Ain’t nature wonderful” and I told him to shut up. Nature ain’t wonderful when it gives you the passion of a young man trapped in an old man’s body, and then all the girls shimmy by in their skimpy clothes and showing their belly buttons. Jerome looked into the paper sack. “Stupid bird,” he said. “Aw, kid, you don’t know,” I told him. “Maybe that bird laid some eggs and had a bunch of little babies.” Martha saved a robin once. Kind of silly, raising a dumb critter that’s just going to die anyway, but it showed she had character. “Yeah. No.” “Whattya mean? It laid some eggs, didn’t it?” He nodded. “And the little fellers hatched, didn’t they?” He shook his head. “Whattya mean, Jerome?” Carl asked. “How come the little fellers didn’t hatch out’n the eggs?” “Cause I ate one, then my dog ate the rest.” That Jerome, he’s sure a strange child. Carl said somethin’ like “The birds are dead?” and I told him to just shut up. No more nature stories today. I didn’t want Carl to think I was getting hostile, so I said, “I have to tell Martha about Jerome. He’s funny as a one-legged ladder.” “You old fool,” Carl snapped, “don’t you remember? Martha died last year.”
Nature Story was previously published in a revised form in 2011 in T.J. McIntyre’s Southern Fried Weirdo, a Smashwords tribute to Alabama tornado victims.
Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure. His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries. He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to die there.