THE HUNTING CLUB membership seated in the round corner table of Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café was unusually quiet. For once no one was complaining about the wind, the humidity, or Doreen’s coffee.
My stomach rumbled, and I dug out a bottle of antacid. Doc watched me shake one into my hand. “I didn’t think you took medicine like the rest of us.”
“I have to take a blood pressure pill every day, but lately I’ve had to pop these to keep my stomach acid down.”
Doreen hollered from behind the counter. “Your blood pressure’s high from hanging around with those guys all the time.”
Wrong Willie sipped at his coffee. “I have stomach acid, too. I think it’s from drinking too much coffee.”
“Probably the coffee in here,” Woodrow mumbled.
“What was that!!!???”
He recovered quickly. “Uh, I said we probably need more coffee over here.”
She came around with the pot in one hand and an aggravated look in her eye. “That’s not what I heard.”
“Well, too much fried food gives me acid.” Doc burped.
I looked at his greasy plate that twenty minutes earlier was stacked with fried catfish, French fries, and fried okra. “You should have ordered fried coleslaw, too.”
He held out a hand. “Too late now. The good thing is these days you can enjoy what you want, and then pop a little modern chemistry and you’re good to go.”
I shared a pill as Doreen glared across the round table at Jerry Wayne. “What gives you stomach acid?”
“You being mad at me.”
I was about to comment, when Delbert P. Axelrod came through the door with a half-grown lab puppy on a long leash. Smiles bloomed around our table, and a few female customers squealed with delight at his big floppy feet, long wet tongue, and adorable antics. I’m talking about the puppy, not Delbert.
Doreen wheeled around. “Get that dog outta here.”
“Aw, he’s just a puppy. He’ll behave himself.” Delbert gave the dog some line when the pup saw ninety-year-old Miss Pennington and her daughter having lunch at a nearby table.
Miss P’s reactions are a bit slow, and she’s hard of hearing, but her mind is still as sharp as it ever was. She paused in dissecting her chicken fried steak and pushed back from the table. She extended her long, bony hand to the lab, who ran over on his clown feet to get some attention.
She rubbed on the pup for a few seconds, then scratched his ears, murmuring baby talk. He settled down in a half-sit, half-flop position on one hip and closed his eyes. The second she quit scratching his ear, and with his eyes still closed, the pup’s nose flexed and he scented Miss P’s gravy-covered steak only a foot away.
His eyes snapped open. We could see it coming from our booth, and Miss P’s daughter recognized the danger as well. “Mama, you better scoot up to the table.”
“Howdy boys,” Delbert said with his back to Miss P’s table.
The air turned thick as molasses. In slow motion Doc extended one hand, “Noooo…”
Miss P’s daughter’s eyes widened and she also held out a hand. “Mom…”
Wrong Willie hid his eyes.
Woodrow hollered and it came out slow and distorted…“Stoooooppp!!!”
Mouth in a silent O, Miss P pulled back her head at the same time the twenty-pound lab pup launched himself with the dexterity of a scud missile, all out of control and flailing around. He landed in her lap, his rear in her face, her nose right in…anyway, the dog’s tail slapped Miss P’s glasses completely off her head. They flew away in slow motion.
That’s when the pup became as perfectly coordinated as a rattlesnake strike and time resumed normal speed. Mouth open, white teeth exposed, and back toenails dug securely in Miss P’s skinny lap, he slapped both front feet on the table, snatched the steak off the plate, and bolted for the nearest safe location to consume his manna from heaven.
It was right under our feet.
Struggles in our booth to evacuate lest the guys incur Doreen’s wrath.
Trapped in the center, I froze in place.
Slapping feet as the Hunting Club membership launched themselves out the front door.
Doreen lunged for the dog as Delbert dropped the leash and crawled under the table on his hands and knees, whether to grab the dog or hide from Doreen, no one knew.
I raised my feet out of the way. Doreen kicked him in the rear and Delbert flattened on the floor.
The dog evacuated his safe haven, slinging gravy across the tile and walls, and charged around behind the counter to finish his chicken fried. Delbert finally gathered himself and grabbed the leash. He reeled the pup in like a struggling bass. “Sorry Doreen. We’re leaving.”
“You bet you are.”
The dog swallowed the last bite of steak and looked around. Then nature took its course. Obviously some training was in place, because as soon as the pup licked his lips one last time, he had to do what comes natural.
“Uh oh,” I said.
“What?” Doreen spun to see the future duck dog hunker beside Miss P’s table and leave a warm deposit.
I heard Doc through the open door. “That pup’s gonna make a great retriever, if he lives.”
Doreen’s legs gave out and she dropped into the booth beside me. She stuck out her hand. “I tell you what gives me acid. You guys.”
Standing outside and looking in, the boys pointed at their stomachs, then at the pill bottle in my hand. Instead of defending myself, I dropped an antacid into her palm and slid my water glass over. “I completely understand, and that’s why I take ‘em, too.”
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]