In the still of a summer night, the sweat drained off Ida’s body soaking her dress and barely cooling her skin. She reached for her glass of lemonade which felt slippery with condensation as she took another drink from it. It tasted sweet and sour on her tongue. The mix perfectly sated her thirst but her body still melted in the heat. The mosquitoes seemed to hate the heat, too, otherwise they'd be chasin' her off the porch. And where was her husband? Lawrence had gone off to help a man with a dead horse but that had been hours ago and he should have been back by now. Exceptin’ of course, if the farmer offered him a drink to cool his thirst, too. Then Lawrence would have felt obligated to sit and jaw a spell on the front porch where it was always cooler even on a midsummer day.
Farmer Clements had called at their house the day before with Sheriff Thomas, and told a story of a missing horse. The missing horse had turned up dead on another man’s land and so Mr. Clements wanted Lawrence to take the case. Mr. Clements wanted compensation, and knowing her husband the way she did, Ida was pretty sure Mr. Clements would get his compensation.
It was going on eight. Supper was already cold. Only a fool would eat a hot meal on a summer’s day as blistering as this one had been. Even now, with the sun dropping behind the clouds and trees, the heat sweltered, stuck in her throat every time she took a breath. Where was that man? Didn’t he realize they had work in the mornin’ and being late to bed would make it that much more difficult to get up?
She heard the purring, popping sound of the motor car and sat up. Sure enough, around the bend in the drive came their little car with Lawrence at the wheel. He’d had to have one of the new contraptions and she had to admit it did make these kinds of business visits not take so long, more or less anyway. She stood and greeted him as he climbed the steps to the porch. “Took your time,” she said by way of greeting.
“It was mine to take.”
“Dinner’s on the table.”
“Good, cause I’m hungry. You?” Lawrence looked at her and smiled his slow southern smile.
“As good as. I could eat.”
“Got somethin’ else in mind?”
“Not till after Robert’s cleaned up and gone home.”
“Let’s get to it.” He held the screen door open for her. The main door was already open with the idea of giving any wayward breeze a chance to wander the house and perhaps cool it a bit. They sat at the table and ate in relative silence, knives clinking against plates as they cut their cold ham.
“So,” Lawrence started, “Mr. Clements seems to like my idea of compensation.”
“And what is your idea of compensation this time?” she asked, tilting her head to smile at him, knowing he loved to talk about a satisfied customer.
“That Mr. Jones pays him the worth of his horse, or buy him a new one, or even two, maybe.”
“And how did you come about that decision?”
“Well, Mr. Clements told me he was mighty concerned about the loss of his animals because he happens to be in the dead heat of farmin’ and needs the critters. The circumstances of his horses gettin’ loose were, it seems, that they got out a gate left open by mistake and they must have wandered onto Mr. Jones property because they’re fence neighbors. Now he told Mr. Jones that his horses had gone missin’ and to keep an eye out for them and he’d come get them if Mr. Jones saw them. Mr. Jones didn’t tell him, he just shot the one and left the other. Sheriff Thomas took it upon himself, after talking to Mr. Clements, to have one of his men take a look on Mr. Jones land. The deputy found the dead horse. I told Mr. Clements, while we drank a glass on his porch, that you can’t go and electrocute a man for shootin’ a horse, but you sure can make him pay.”
Ida laughed. Lawrence’s humor was so dry sometimes and she loved it when he shared it with her.
“So, tomorrow I go over to visit Mr. Jones and get this settled. I think I’ll get two horses out of him by the time we’re done. What he did had little to do with advancing neighborly relations.”
“He’s not a very friendly man at the best of times.”
Lawrence nodded. “You finished?” He glanced at her empty plate.
“Yes sir, I am. But I need some air before we head to the bedroom. I swear today has been the hottest so far this summer.” She waved her hand in front of her face and stood. “Comin’ with me?”
Lawrence nodded and followed her out to the porch. They sat together in the rockers and gently moved back and forth in rhythm with each other. The night was still. Even the animals were quiet, too hot to hunt or chase anything down. “Only the snakes will be happy tonight,” Lawrence said.
“See you in the mornin’ Robert,” Ida said.
“Good lord willin’,” Robert replied. He took the steps down and into the night and the darkness swallowed him up.
Ida and Lawrence rocked until their eyes started to droop. Lawrence stood, pulled Ida to her feet and kissed her lightly. “Time for bed. Can’t let the snakes have all the fun.”
“Guess that’s about right,” she said. He opened the screen door for her again and they went inside. The lights went off, the bedroom’s last, and the darkness of the still summer night became complete.
Inspired by a story told to be by Mr. Will Clements, who knew my grandfather (I didn't). My grandfather was "Lawrence."