When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house someday
— Congo Proverb
What the fuck! you think. But what comes out of your mouth is a hushed “ahh!” as you place the tips of your fingers from your left hand to the top of your cheekbone underneath your lower eyelid.
It feels like the bee sting you got smelling a rose in your mother’s garden when you were six. You said “ahh!” then too. And went into the house, where you called for your mother.
“Mom! Mom? Where are you?”
“In the laundry room,” you hear her call from the basement below.
You walk down the stairs holding your cheek. “I got stung by a bee.”
“Let me see!” she says, throwing the sheet she was about to press back on the ironing table. “The stinger’s still there. I need to get tweezers. Go to the upstairs bathroom.” She grabs your hand and pulls you along. “How do you feel?”
“It just stings is all.”
“Well, don’t touch it. We need to get the stinger out and then put alcohol on it. And then ice, because it’ll swell. Does your throat feel tight?”
“Bumblebees die after they sting,” you say, wondering why she’s making a big deal about a little bee sting.
It’s not until the cute bartender says the “What the fuck!” that you didn’t, that you realize a shard from the wineglass she dropped on the bar top ricocheted and hit you. You gingerly dab your cheek and realize it’s still lodged as you study the blood on your fingertips.
“Honey, you’re bleeding!” the bartender exclaims as she stops corralling the bits of glass with a wet bar towel. “I am sooo sorry. That’s never happened before when a glass just exploded like that,” she says in a deep Southern accent. “Let’s have a looksee.”
You lean over the bar, offering the side of your face. She leans in, touching the top of your head with one hand and fingers of the other holding your chin as she rests her elbow on the bar. Her button-down shirt gapes as she examines you, exposing ample cleavage. You try not to look.
“The glass is still in there. I can’t tell how big it is, and it’s right next to your eye! Oh, lordy, you’re so lucky that wasn’t a quarter of an inch to the right. You’d have lost a peeper! I am just sooo sorry, baby. Do you think you need to go to the emergency room?”
The bar manager or owner walks over. “Move, Kitty,” he says, elbowing her out of the way. “Let me see.”
The gruff-looking, older man with an alcoholic’s nose studies your wound. “No need for a hospital visit, son. I got a first aid kit.” He turns and glares at Kitty with eyes that say, “You trying to get me sued?”
“Jimmy over there is in the medical field. He’ll patch you right up,” nodding to the scrawny guy in a flannel shirt with stringy, long red hair who just scratched the cue ball at the pool table. “Jimmy, get your ass down here. I need you to do a little first aid.”
Jimmy stumbles over next to you with the cue stick in his hand and leans on it. “You want me to what?” He places an empty Budweiser bottle on the bar. “Give me another, Teddy. I got a wager going on my game with Haystack over there.”
“Not until you fix this feller’s eye.”
Jimmy turns to look at you.
“Other eye!” Teddy shouts.
Jimmy walks to your other side as the cue stick he’d leaned on the bar falls to the floor. “Oh, man, you’re bleeding.”
“I’ll get the first aid kit. You get that piece of glass out and put a couple of butterfly bandages on,” Teddy says as he walks through the swinging doors behind the bar.
Jimmy yells after him, “You know I ain’t no doctor! I’m just an orderly.” But Teddy has already disappeared.
Jimmy looks at you. His eyes are red and glazed. “I’m only part time, man. I got a wager on this here game. Where’s my stick?”
An old man two stools down from you on the left announces, “I got a wager for anyone who wants.”
“Get your ass over here, Jimmy, so I can kick it!” Haystack yells with arms extended, showing a massive wingspan and stomach. “And we know all about your bar tricks, Mitchum! What the fuck!”
“Well, this fella don’t,” Mitchum says, turning to look at you before going back to his shot glass.
“Ignore them. We’ll get you patched up, baby,” the bartender says as she continues to clean the glass from the bar.
You turn to look around, and your focus settles on a framed picture hanging askew on the wall. Seven dogs sitting around a poker table. The bulldog in the foreground is smoking a cigar and passing an ace under the table to the dog next to him with his hind paw. The Great Dane is smoking a pipe. The collie has his legs crossed.
You had dreaded this trip to Estill Mills, in southern Tennessee, in the middle of nowhere. A three-hour ride in a Kia rental from the Knoxville airport to meet a state senator for forty minutes to talk about burley tobacco and the latest Agricultural Resource Management Survey. And you have to spend the night in a Red Roof Inn.
Teddy reappears with the first aid kit and looks around for Jimmy. Before he can say anything, Kitty snatches the kit from his hands. “I’ll do it,” she states matter-of-factly. She opens the kit and inspects the contents. Her dark brown hair falls over her face as she looks down. Her eyes are emerald green and accentuated by her olive skin. Her nose is well defined and dainty and in correct proportion to her full lips. She may be a few years older than you, perhaps early thirties you guess. “Where’re the tweezers?” she asks without looking up. Teddy throws them on the counter in front of her.
“Okay, baby. This might hurt for just a minute, but we’ll get you straight,” she says as she walks around the bar. It is then that you see below her waist for the first time. The spread of her hips and thighs is expansive and incongruous with her upper body. Her lower half could be interchangeable with Haystack’s. You quickly reassess your earlier thoughts.
She wets a cotton ball from a shot glass of vodka to disinfect your cheek. You think back to when you were ten and had just come home from a vacation in Mexico with your parents where you’d stubbed your pinky toe on a piece of coral. By then it was infected, and your mother told your father to take you across the street to Dr. Moneymaker. Dr. Moneymaker looked to be one hundred and still practiced out of the basement in his home. His exam room had subway tile halfway up the wall. The walls above were painted a drab mint green.
You lay on the metal exam table as he covered your foot with a thin white sheet, exposing only the infected toe. Having already determined a piece of coral was still stuck, he took a scalpel and started to cut…and cut, deeper and wider. I’m not going to flinch, I’m not going to flinch, you repeated to yourself, clenching your teeth. Mercifully, Dr. Moneymaker put the scalpel down and drew a syringe of Novocain, which he shot into your open wound. That’s when you saw stars.
“How much you want to bet me I can balance a quarter on the edge of a dollar bill stretched out?” Mitchum asks you.
Kitty steps back. “Not now, Mitchum. Can’t you see we’re operating here?”
“No, it’s okay.” You need a breather from Kitty’s prodding and poking.
You dig in your wallet and pull out a five-dollar bill. “It’s worth five to me to see an amazing feat like that.”
Mitchum picks up the five and inspects it. “Nice and crisp. We’ll use your bill to balance on.” He pulls a quarter from his pocket and studies it between his finger and thumb. “‘In God We Trust.’ Yessiree.”
He lays the bill down and folds it in half, making a sharp crease before taking another shot. Teddy refills it. Mitchum picks the folded bill up and places it on the bar top so that it stands on edge at ninety degrees. He places the quarter flat on the crease and drinks the shot for dramatic effect. With deft fingers, he pulls the two ends of the bill until it’s stretched full length with the quarter balanced.
“How’s that, young fella? My two favorite presidents. Probably the only honest presidents we’ve ever had. Honest George, and Abe, who couldn’t lie about cutting the apple tree.”
“Certainly worth five dollars.” You don’t correct him about mixing up his presidents.
Goddamn it, I’ve got to send an email to my boss tonight flashes through your head.
“Okay, baby, I’m getting it this time. You’re doing great. Just hold still like you been doin’.”
You look again at the dogs playing poker. You notice the title printed below, A Friend in Need. And your mind goes blank as you feel nothing.
“All done, baby,” Kitty says as you realize she’s putting a second butterfly Band-Aid over your cut.
Teddy comes by with a shot of bourbon. “On the house, hoss. How’s it feel? Kitty make a better nurse than bartender?”
“Yes sir. Hurts only as bad as a bee sting.”
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