Edna Rhyne gently rocked the cradle beside her in front of the low fire. She was thinking about her new baby boy, and how she and her husband, Caleb, had hoped for a boy, after having had two girls. She got up from the chair and leaned over to pick up little Pasour Rhyne, but when she pulled the cover back from the infant’s face she saw how the baby’s fingernails had grown long and discolored. Then she looked at his face, and the head had become adult size, and the little boy grinned, showing big yellow teeth, gnashing and grinding as he focused yellow and rheumy eyes on his mother.
Edna jolted awake from the nightmare. It was the recurring dream she had been having for twenty-five years, and she would always awaken with a start, totally out of breath, but grateful that it was indeed only a dream. She always felt better for a while, until the reality of the present filtered into her mind. Then her face became sad and her eyes troubled, a look that had become commonplace since the beginning of the oddness twenty-five years ago.
Pasour Rhyne was getting dressed in his bedroom. His momma had laid out his ironed (he insisted on this) Osh Kosh overalls and starched gray long-sleeved cotton shirt. This was essentially his uniform, wavering from it only to wear his newest version of the same outfit on Sundays. He had splashed some water on his face and had picked around at the matter in his eyes, before combing his oily hair straight back on his head. That was his morning regimen; no more, no less.
Pasour was forty-five years old and he had not used deodorant or brushed his corroded teeth in twenty-five years; however, he was forced to take a bath in the big tub out near the well every Saturday, if it wasn’t so awful cold. These habits of hygiene, or lack of, provided Pasour with a most curious and odoriferous bouquet, which he, of course, was oblivious to. Unfortunately, no other human being was so blessed.
Having concluded his ablution he sat down on the side of his bed and pondered on the dream he had the night before. In the dream he was down on the banks of the South Fork River, over near Stanley, and it was night-time and there was a big bonfire on the sand bar and at least thirty men standing around in different colored robes. They had hats on, hats that Pasour thought looked like Catholic hats, like the one Pope John the 23rd had worn when he was chosen. He had seen a picture of him in the Gastonia Gazette, and remembered how he thought it would be a big deal indeed to have a big ol’ hat like that and have all them adoring people around him like that pope had.
In the dream the head pope lookin’ guy had called Pasour Rhyne to come forth, and stand in front of the giant bonfire. Pasour had a robe on, but he was the only one there without a pope lookin’ hat. Pasour walked over to where the apparent head knocker was standing and when he got there the man put a hand on Pasour’s shoulder, and when Pasour lifted his gaze to this man he could see that it was his daddy, who had died when Pasour was eleven years old.
The Head Man, Pasour Rhyne’s Daddy, smiled lovingly at him and said the following as he placed the pontifical hat square on Pasour’s head.
“Pasour Rhyne, I welcome you into the order of the ‘Larson Savoney,’ and remember that your acceptance of this holy hat makes you a life-time member, and that you must live up to and obey ALL of the edicts of the Order of Larson Savoney.”
At that very moment of his indoctrination into the group Pasour had awakened. He felt so wonderful, almost holy, until he realized it had been a dream, and then he remembered that he had experienced this same dream at least twice a week for twenty-five years.
Pasour Rhyne walked outside and went into the little storage shed where various gardening tools were kept. He went over to a dark corner and retrieved a paper bag he had placed there last week. He opened it and pulled out the nylon paint strainer. It was about eight inches wide and rounded at the bottom. It was made so that you could strain the paint as you poured it from once can to another.
But Pasour had a different use for it. He went over to another area of the shed and picked up the remnants of an outside television antenna that had been discarded years ago. Pasour took these two items into the back yard. There he placed the unused paint strainer on his head sideways, so that the flat part faced forward. It extended a good twelve inches above his forehead. Then he unfolded the broken antenna only part of the way, so that it still had a mostly vertical appearance. He held his antenna staff high in the air and marched around the yard, making sure that his pontiff hat was not jarred from his head.
Pasour marched for at least five minutes and then placed his sacred accouterments back in the shed. Pasour picked up his straw hat, the kind with the transparent green visor on the front brim. It was the only kind of hat he wore; he liked it because he thought it made him look like a farmer. Everybody in the community knew about Pasour’s desire to mimic the appearance of a farmer, because he brought it up in conversation frequently; but they also knew that he didn’t know a turd from a turnip, being way too lazy to do any field work.
It was almost time for Pasour to go out front of the house and wait for Mervin Ratchford to pick him up. Mervin was a very entrepreneurial fellow having grown up in the grading business. His father, Crown Ratchford, had earth-moving equipment and motor graders; Crown and his sons had built the first roads at Emerald Isle down at the coast. Mervin was very proud of this; in fact, Mervin was a very proud man and a very religious one. He was a Presbyterian and a rock-ribbed Republican and sort of figured that everybody who wasn’t the same was missing out.
But he also had a kind heart, and from time to time would use Pasour Rhyne for a few days. Of course, Pasour’s work ethic being what it was Mervin did not get a lot of work out of him, which was okay, for he did not pay him very much.
Whenever Pasour would ask about an increase in his dollar an hour wage, Mervin would look at Pasour disdainfully and say, “I am paying you more than you are worth.” And if Pasour persisted and started talking about “how hard he worked,” Mervin would hee-haw laughing and say, “Good Gosh, Pasour, you don’t know what hard work is.”
At that point Mervin would invariably launch into his favorite work story about building roads on Emerald Isle and how hot it was down there. This would shut Pasour Rhyne up ‘cause he hated to hear Mervin Ratchford brag about all the stuff he had done over the years.
Mervin’s present business venture was cleaning out septic tanks, and he was doing well with it. His standard line when asked how business was was a grinning reply of, “Shitty, just shitty.”
Pasour Rhyne sat down on the front porch clutching the paper sack of sandwiches his momma had made for him. There was a fried egg and ham and a bologna and cheese, his favorite; in addition, she had wrapped up a fried apple pie in aluminum foil.
Pasour loved these half-moon shaped pies; Edna Rhyne dried both apples and peaches every summer so that she could make the pies in the wintertime. She would roll out dough, put in the filling on one side, then turn the other side over and crease the edges with the end of a fork. Fried in a lard laden skillet, it was a treat.
Pasour sat on the porch and wondered if he would receive any mental messages from his father, the chief potentate of the order of the “Larson Savoney.” Although the dream always was the same, from time to time Pasour would receive messages from his father; Pasour called them “interbrainial transmissions,” and some days he might get two or three, and others none.
Pasour had tried to make some sense of the timing once, and at one point thought he was maybe catching on to a pattern, but about that time came a full moon and Pasour had “gone off a little.”
Going off a little was what his momma, Edna, called the episodes when Pasour Rhyne was afflicted with “nervous spells.” When these occurred Pasour was very fidgety, could not concentrate, and maintained a virtually constant rambling monologue. When in the throes of these spells he could become uncontrollable; his reward for such episodes was culminated in a two to three month trip to the Western Carolina Center for the Mentally Ill in Morganton.
Since he had first “gotten bad” twenty-five years ago he had averaged a trip around every four years. Pasour did have a sort of predictable quality about him, at least in that respect. Otherwise he could tend to be an unguided missile.
As Pasour waited on Mervin to pick him up he thought about his latest little bit of excitement. Some of the Fralick boys who lived in the community constantly messed with him, made fun of him; it was like their purpose in life was to aggravate him.
There were three of the teenage boys, Ray, Robert and Jackie, and they would say anything to embarrass Pasour, to kind of get his goat. The latest rumor they were spreading was that Pasour had “stump broke” his momma’s cow and was having a big time with it. They would catch him up at Joe Beck Cloninger’s store and start the teasing, really ganging up on him. Pasour Rhyne felt pretty defenseless, which he was, and would just take the taunts and jokes and walk away. But then Pasour thought about how the Fralick’s chicken house had mysteriously burned down last month, and that the Fralick boys had left him alone.
“Guess they are busy building a new one,” Pasour Rhyne thought, and spread his liver-colored lips in a big grin, showing his big greenish-yellow choppers. “What bad luck” he thought, as he remembered the “interbrainial transmission” he had received just before the fire. Pasour remembered that at the end of the transmission his father, the “Grand Potentate of the Order of Larson Savoney” had indicated that he should not use too much kerosene, just a little in each corner of the building.
Pasour had followed orders and then watched from a safe distance as the old pine building went up in flames very quickly, along with about fifty chickens, a lot of them laying hens.
“Guess them boys won’t be peddlin’ eggs over on the Hardin Mill Hill anytime soon,” Pasour had thought, watching the flames go higher and smelling the foul stench of the burning chickens.
“Fried chicken, foul, fowl fried chicken,” he had said aloud to himself, delighting in his cleverness.
Mervin Ratchford pulled up in his septic tank cleaning truck, interrupting Pasour’s daydreaming. Mervin didn’t cut off the motor but just hollered at Pasour to jump in.
The truck was a big one, a huge cylinder resting on a big frame with a gasoline engine pump on the rear. There were two levers that Mervin would operate when they were “cleaning out a tank.” Mervin had tried to teach Pasour how to operate them, but when Pasour got confused and pushed them the opposite way they were supposed to go, Mervin decided to suspend the lessons; Pasour’s lever malfunction caused a three-inch hose to explode, sending a shower of turds, soggy toilet paper, and rubbers all over Mervin Ratchford.
Mervin had shut off the motor and then got a garden hose at the place they were working and doused himself for fifteen minutes. As Pasour watched him Mervin glowered at him; but after a while, after looking at how pitiful and guilty Pasour appeared, Mervin started laughing, a big, deep laugh.
“I guess I am lucky I didn’t have my mouth open, or I may have gotten a turd or a rubber down my throat,” he had said, continuing to laugh. Pasour felt better after that, but his duties were forever more limited to digging out the septic tank lids.
The rubbers blowing all over the place reminded Pasour of a story. It was a source of humor for anyone who worked on the “Honey Wagon” about how condoms would look when you opened up a septic tank. The gaseous buildup would fill the rubbers and they would be standing up at various angles all over the top of the mess; additionally, the copious number of them was a pretty good indication of a healthy sex life, or at least a fairly frequent one.
Mervin was sensitive to this situation, and every employee was told in strict terms to “never speak of the presence of rubbers in a septic tank,” and Mervin meant it – you only had to find Bobby Farriss and ask him about it.
Bobby Farriss had worked for Mervin for several years. Mervin trusted him enough to go out on cleaning jobs by himself; he would even let Bobby collect the check or cash. One summer morning Mervin was doing some backhoe work in Stanley, so Bobby was cleaning out tanks by himself.
His second stop was at Martha Sindley’s house. Martha was a nice looking red-haired woman of thirty-five with two young girls. She had been divorced for several years. When Bobby had dug out the tank lid and opened it up he could not believe his eyes.
The surface of the effluent was totally covered with gas filled rubbers, and they were all different colors. Bobby Farriss stored at this curious sight. “Looks like a colorful porky-pine he thought to himself. Then he thought about one of Mervin’s favorite expressions when speaking of a loose woman.
“If she had as many stickin’ out of her, as she had had stuck in her, she would look like a got-damn porcupine,” Mervin would say, and just laugh like hell.
After Bobby Farriss had collected himself and finished his job he stopped up at Joe Beck Cloninger’s store for gas and in his excitement told everybody there about all the rubbers he had seen in Martha Sindley’s tank, and how they were all different colors. Unfortunately, in his spasm of excitement, Bobby had completely forgotten the sacred “condom code of silence.” That was his last day working for Mervin Ratchford.
Pasour Rhyne hopped into the big truck clutching his lunch bag and grinning at Mervin, like he knew some big secret or something. Pasour liked to do this ‘cause it made him feel mysterious; oddly enough, Mervin was familiar enough to Pasour’s wild tales that he would bite, and ask him what he was grinnin’ about, knowing it would be some crazy shit.
“So what has got you so happy today, Pasour,” asked Mervin, starting the big truck down the road. Pasour made no reply, but carefully crossed his right arm across his forehead while placing his left arm across his abdomen. Then he started wiggling the fingers of his right hand vigorously.
Mervin was looking at the address of the tank they were going to clean, so he didn’t notice what Pasour was doing for a while, but when he finally looked back at him Mervin burst out laughing.
“Good gosh, Pasour, now what in the world is that supposed to be?” Pasour kept up his antics and his crazy grin and then said, “Why, it’s the Larson Savoney sign; I thought everybody knew that.”
Pasour’s dead daddy, the Grand Potentate of the Order of “Larson Savoney” had instructed Pasour on how to make the sign during one of his “interbrainial transmissions last week. Pasour had been practicing doing the sign, mostly after he had paraded around the backyard with the paint strainer on his head and holding the old television antenna. He had worked on it for several days, even doing it in front of the mirror in the hall. Pasour was satisfied he had it down pretty good.
Over the many years that Mervin had known Pasour Rhyne he had heard many strange stories come out of his mouth, like when Pasour was riding by John Rhodes’ house with his daddy in a wagon, and Pasour had seen the Devil run out of John Rhodes barn and go into the outhouse. Pasour had been so upset that his daddy stopped and opened the outhouse door for Pasour.
“Now Pasour, you can see that the Devil ain’t in there, right?” he had said. Pasour peered into the outhouse meekly and went back to the wagon. Pasour knew the Devil was tricky, and had probably just slipped through a crack. But he had told Mervin this story, and another one about how the Devil had talked to him when he was on the basement stairs watching his momma use her old wringer washing machine. Both of these episodes happened just before Pasour Rhyne’s daddy had died.
Mervin looked at Pasour Rhyne, looked at him pretty hard while he kept up the mysterious sign. “And what in the world is Larson Savoney,” Mervin asked, knowing things would only become more interesting, or curious, or bizarre, or a combination of all three.
Pasour said, “Why Mervin, I thought you was sposed to be so smart, and here you don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout Larson Savoney.”
Pasour was still doing the “sign,” and he had kept it up now for over ten minutes and his fingers on his right hand were starting to cramp a little. He dropped his arms to his side and with the impatient air of an adult telling a child a very simple thing which he had been told over and over again, Pasour launched into the explanation of what Larson Savoney was all about.
“Now Mervin, Larson Savoney is a secret organization that meets down on the South Fork River near Stanley. And of course they wear official robes and hats and they always have a big bonfire ‘cause they meet at night.”
“Well what do they do, why do they exist?” asked Mervin.
Pasour Rhyne snorted. “I thought you were listening to me, but I guess you weren’t; so I will tell you again, Mervin Ratchford. Like I said before, Larson Savoney is a SECRET organization, Mervin, a SECRET organization.
Mervin’s curiosity was piqued, because this Pasour Rhyne tangent was more curious than the others he had heard, so he pressed on.
“Okay Pasour, but can you at least tell me who the leader of this bunch is, maybe I know him,” said Mervin, watching Pasour out of the corner of his eye as he drove the “Honey Wagon” down the road.
“Well, if you must know, the leader is my daddy, Caleb Rhyne,” said Pasour, looking over at Mervin imperiously. Mervin might near choked. As he gazed at Pasour incredulously he said, “Pasour, you know that your daddy has been dead for nearly forty years; now how in the world can he be the head of this Larson Savoney thing?”
Pasour just clammed up and gave Mervin his crazy grin. Then he struck his most mysterious pose and said, “Mervin Ratchford, I reckon you don’t know everything.”
Mervin looked at Pasour and shook his head, then said, “And Pasour, I would suggest that you not talk that Larson Savoney stuff up so much, an d please don’t go around making that sign; people are sure to think you are headin’ straight to Morganton.”
Mervin realized too late his faux pas in mentioning the mental health facility Pasour Rhyne had spent quite a bit of time in; he felt bad as he watched Pasour’s nutty grin go away and his chin drop onto his chest.
“I’m sorry Pasour, I didn’t mean that, but do take it easy on the Larson Savoney tales, for your own good,” Mervin said. After a while Pasour perked up a little, and since they were going to be on the road for a while all the way to Belmont for the first tank of the day, Pasour decided he was hungry.
He pulled one of the sandwiches out of the bag and started eating. Pasour had a very animated style of chewing; he would open his mouth cavernously, shove the sandwich in a piece, and exaggeratedly chomp down. Then he would open wide again each time he chewed; it was like he was opening as far as he could to get as much power in the mastication as possible. Additionally he would have a sort of half grin going, for nothing made him happier than eating his favorite ham and cheese sandwich.
Mervin watched, and listened, to Pasour’s attack on the sandwich. He had observed this many times, and had tried, in a kind way, to guide Pasour into a less aggressive manner of eating, but to no avail.
As he looked at Pasour out of the corner of his eye, he noticed, and not for the first time, that when Pasour was munching in his outrageous fashion one could always see everything in his mouth, because it was so wide open.
Mervin recalled one day at lunch when Pasour was going at it so hard that he realized there was a silver lining to the grossness of Pasour’s ingestion. Mervin had called to Pasour’s attention many times how “stout” his breath was. In this case, “stout” was definitely a euphemism, for Pasour Rhyne’s breath was nothing less than hideous putrefaction.
The silver lining was that the food masked his foul breath, at least for a while. “Small favors,” Mervin had thought, and cast his eyes heavenward.
When they arrived at the Belmont tank Mervin located it quickly and it didn’t take long for him and Pasour to dig up the lid. You always dug up the first lid, because there was a baffle in the tank that kept the “solids” from going out into the dispersion line field. If solids got out there and clogged things up, it would mean a new drain field. Of course when that did happen it was not bad news for ol’ Merv; for he could bring his backhoe over and fix ‘em up. But the key was pumping them out before the heavy stuff made its way out there.
On this tank they pumped it out quickly, for these were regular customers. Mervin recommended doing it every five years, and if people followed his advice it typically saved them money.
Mervin and Pasour lowered the lid carefully, and then put the dirt back over it. The careful lid lowering was very important, for both of them had witnessed a very funny scene a few years ago.
That summer Mervin had hired a friend of his son Joe’s. Joe, and the boy, Dave Hoffman, were fast friends from Costner School, and now they were going to be sophomores at Dallas High. Dave was a sturdy, and very naïve, fellow, who pretty much thought of nothing but playing football. In fact, when he had approached Mervin about a summer job, he had told Mervin, “I just want to get in shape for football; you don’t have to pay me.” Mervin hired him, assured him he would be paid, and thought about what a curious kid this was, in that order.
On Dave’s first day on the job the three of them had cleaned out a tank over around Ranlo, and as Mervin was lowering the lid with his special tool that kind of looked like a giant can opener, the tool slipped and the lid dropped in place quickly instead of the typical slow, safe descent. Since some of the noxious effluent was splashed up into the air, of course, it hit Dave Hoffman square on the forehead.
Both Pasour and Mervin saw it hit him, and, of course, Dave felt it; there was about a two second embarrassed pause, and then all three laughed loudly. Then Mervin said, “Well Dave, there is your baptism.” Dave laughed, and then wiped the shit off his forehead with a handkerchief.
Mervin and Pasour got in the truck after Mervin collected a check for forty-five dollars from the homeowner. They headed back toward Dallas to clean a tank for Ralph “Bogus” Cloninger.
Pasour loved to aggravate Mervin; no, he LIVED to mess with him. Pasour had been thinking of a new little poem that he had heard some of the Costner School boys reciting. He had immediately thought of the highest and best use for this jingle. Pasour recited it to himself and then waited until there had been no conversation between the two for a while and then launched into it.
“The sun was bright, the sky was blue,
Around the corner the shit wagon flew,
From around the corner, a cry was heard,
Mervin was killed by a flying turd.”
Mervin’s eyes got big and he said, “I swear, Pasour, why do you have to be so vulgar; it is just so unnecessary.”
Once Pasour saw that the little jingle got under Mervin’s skin he gave him both barrels, reciting it over and over, and interposing a flashing of the Larson Savoney sign after every second or third recitation. When Pasour did the sign he would flash his goofy grin exposing his greenish plaque laden choppers that hadn’t been brushed in twenty-five years, and breathe his foul “stout” noxious breath toward Mervin.
After about ten minutes of this craziness Mervin had all he could take and exploded. “Pasour Rhyne,” he shouted, “You have got to quit actin’ so awful dern crazy; it’s no wonder they have put you away four times already, and I am here to tell you that this is your Last Chance with me. And if I don’t work you, who in the world else will give you a job. You had better straighten your ass up, or you’ll be back up there in Morganton and they’ll be shavin’ the sides of your head again.”
Pasour was visibly shaken by Mervin’s outburst; he was sooo crestfallen. Pasour sulked like a little boy who had been rebuked by his father, and scooted as far toward the passenger door as he could. Mervin felt like he always did when he lost his temper with Pasour Rhyne, like he had hit a defenseless child, or done some other such unspeakably heinous act. So, of course, he had instant regret for his outburst; and, of course, he gave his obligatory apology.
“Pasour, I am sorry for what I said, but you need to think a little before you do some of these things,” Mervin said. Pasour gave him a pitiful sidelong glance from his position tight up against the honey wagon door. “Okay Mervin,” he said in a quiet little boy voice, “I won’t do it no more.”
Mervin loved to tell stories, and he thought a good one might settle Pasour down a little, the same way one would tell a bed-time story to a small child; he thought back on a couple of Bogus stories before he told Pasour the really famous one.
Ralph “Bogus” Cloninger was known for several distinctions; one, he was one of the most agreeable fellow in the area; two, he was diverse in his many talents, ranging from sawmilling to farming; and three, he was more than a little absent minded, which made him susceptible to carelessness.
Two stories you heard about Bogus were both associated with trucks. In the first tale Bogus had one of his old trucks jacked up while he worked on the exhaust system. He needed something to rest his head on so his wife Hazel gave him a new porcelain basin to use, pointing out that she expected it to be returned to her in the same pristine shape in which it was given.
Bogus had crawled back under the truck and placed the basin under his head. This all worked just fine till the jack gave way and the truck fell, dropping the engine block on Bogus’ head.
Bogus was stunned a little but was unhurt, but when he crawled out from under the truck dragging the basin with him Hazel was coming around the corner of the house and let out a holler.
“Bogus Cloninger, what in the devil have you done to my new wash basin.”
Bogus was still a little stunned from the lick on his head, and he hadn’t really paid any attention to the basin, being more concerned with making sure his gray matter wasn’t oozing out. So when he did look he saw that the basin was smashed virtually flat. He had grinned at Hazel and said, “Well I guess I got a purty hard noggin.”
This attempt at de-fusing the situation failed miserably as Hazel cast him a withering glare. Moments later he was on the way to Summey Hardware in Dallas for a new wash basin.
The other Bogus story involving a truck was one time when Bogus had a load of undressed lumber on his truck and he came hurrying out of the house to take it over to High Shoals to the planning mill Will Carpenter had set up over there. As he pulled away and started heading out toward Clyde Huffstetler’s he noticed one of his boys, John Carroll waving at him from the driveway.
“Just love that friendly lil’ feller,” Bogus thought to himself, not realizing that John Carrroll had been working on the brakes, that he was waving to try to get him to stop and that the old truck was bereft of brake fluid.
Everything went well until he got past Clyde’s house and started down the hill and the several turns in the dirt road leading up to the right angle turn at the ford of the creek. So when Bogus went to apply the brakes they hit the floor; then Bogus tried to gear the old truck down, but this only exacerbated the problem because once he got it out of gear he couldn’t get it back in.
He wound up hitting the creek bank, at full speed; the force of the collision pitched Bogus’ head forward. At the same time an undressed 2 x 6 came crashing through the rear windshield and continued through the front windshield. In the process the piece of lumber carried the FCX ball cap Bogus was wearing with it and stuck it up in the creek bank, only skimming the back of Bogus’ head.
Bogus had crawled out and walked the half mile to his house, collected his orange Allis-Chalmers tractor and his son Buck to steer the truck and went back to the scene of the accident and hauled the truck home for repairs.
“Now Pasour,” said Mervin, “Ya know we are going over to Bogus Cloninger’s to clean out a tank, so I want to tell you a story about him. And I want you to know that this is a story that is real funny but not particularly flattering for Bogus; in fact, it is downright embarrassing. So don’t you say a word about it when we get there, okay?
Pasour’s eyes had gotten wide while Mervin was talking and he readily agreed to the terms.
Before Mervin began the Bogus story he looked at Pasour again, this time kind of hard, and said, “Now Pasour, you not saying anything about this story in front of Bogus is about the same as the rule about not talking about rubbers in people’s septic tanks. You understand?”
Pasour bobbed his head up and down in agreement and even gave a modified Larson Savoney/Boy Scout salute. Satisfied that Pasour would keep his mouth shut Mervin began the tale.
“Now years ago, Pasour, there were very few tank cleaning trucks around, and because of that and to save money some people would clean them out using a rope and a five gallon bucket,” explained Mervin. “So they would dig it out just like we do and chop up the solids with a hoe or a bush axe to get them manageable and then start ladling it out bucket by bucket, just spreading it out on the pasture. Then to keep the smell down they would throw lime on it afterwards.
Well one day about ten years ago Bogus and his boys set out to do this very thing. They had dug out the tank and pried open two lids, chopped it up some, and equipped with several five gallon buckets and lengths of rope they were cleaning the tank. It had rained the night before so the ground was pretty wet.
Things went along well for a while, the men rotating filling up and spreading the nectar out. The tank was about a fourth empty when Bogus came to get his next load, but as he leaned over to pull up the brimming bucket his left foot slipped on the mud and he fell in the tank.
Now the tank was only about five feet deep, which was a good thing; however, the bad thing was that Bogus pitched forward and entered head first.” Mervin was chuckling as he said this, and Pasour burst out giggling.
“Bogus clambered to his feet, and got to standing up; the shit came up to his elbows, and, of course, he was hollering and cussing and waving his arms. His boys tossed him a rope and pulled him out, and then guided him, without touching him, up next to the house where they turned the garden hose on him.
After a while they say Bogus got over the embarrassment of the thing, helped along by some good natured teasing from his sons.”
At this point both Mervin and Pasour were laughing pretty hard, but began to compose themselves as they neared the white framed house there on Cloninger Road. The road was named for the dairy up on Highway 321 that was run by Bogus’ cousin, Bert Cloninger.
The dairy was a pretty imposing sight, what with three tall silos beside the big barn. Across the road from this was a very attractive two-story frame house with porches on each level; there was also a nicely crafted stone wall where the front yard came down to the highway. Bert Cloninger was prosperous.
Bogus was waiting for them as the honey wagon pulled up into the driveway; Bogus motioned them to drive around the back of the house where the septic tank was. Bogus had told Mervin he would have it dug out, exposing the lid; but apparently he was a lil’ gun shy about prying the lid up – very understandable considering Bogus and his history around septic tanks.
Mervin stopped the truck and pulled the “giant can opener” rod out of its place and slid it under the edge of the lid, then he lifted it enough to where he could get the “can opener” part under the bottom, and Pasour’s help he leaned the lid back against the dirt, exposing the aggregate of waste from the Bogus Cloninger homestead for quite a few years.
Then Mervin pulled the crank on the pump mounted on the back of the truck, stuck the six-foot long 3-inch pipe into the mess, and started pumping. After he got it down a ways he changed the levers so that he was pumping back into the tank; this broke up the solids. On an average tank he would have to do this twice in order to get things broken up sufficiently.
Bogus and Pasour were standing nearby watching the process. After a while, Pasour started looking at Bogus’ hands and realized that he had three fingers on one and only two on the other. Then Pasour remembered that Bogus had a reputation of being careless, which can be a problem if you work around sawmills and wood planers.
This struck Pasour so funny that he thought it would be fun to sort of dance around behind Bogus and hold his hands in the air, having some fingers on each hand clenched to his palms so as to mimic Bogus’ digital situation. Pasour performed his dance where Mervin could see him, and Bogus couldn’t; his reward was a menacing glare from Mervin, but he was way too busy with the shit pumping to fool with Pasour’s nuttiness, so he just ignored him.
Pasour immediately became annoyed at Mervin’s lack of attention, so like a misbehaving child ramped up his antics a level. He started hopping around the septic tank, getting very close to the opening, and hollering at Bogus, “Oh, look, I’m gonna fall in, oh no, I’m gonna fall in. I sure hope I don’t go in over my head and swallow a turd.”
Pasour kept this up for a while, repeating his taunts over and over right in front of Bogus, and grinning his green-teethed grin at Bogus and getting close enough to expel his foul breath on him. Bogus could hear him over the sound of the pump, but he just grinned and ignored him; Bogus had been around plenty of fools in his time.
But Mervin, having been intent on his work and ignoring Pasour Rhyne, had not noticed the escalation until he shut down the pump when the tank was empty. At that point, Pasour was so manic that he did not even notice that the noise had stopped, so intent was he in his antics.
Mervin watched and listened for a few minutes and then in a loud voice said, “Pasour, get in the truck and be quiet.” Pasour stood stock still at these words from Mervin. He slunk timidly to the truck and got inside, looking neither at Mervin nor Bogus.
“I’m sorry ‘bout that Bogus, I really am,” said Mervin. Bogus pulled a cut of tobacco out of his pocket and whittled a little piece off, sticking it in his jaw. Then he grinned his big ole toothy grin and said, “Good gosh, Merv, that didn’t bother me a lick. It ain’t no secret that Pasour ain’t right; I figgered I’d let him have a lil’ fun. As my late mother always said, ‘He is to be pitied.”
Mervin smiled at Bogus Cloninger; he was not surprised by his reaction, but he still felt bad about how “his” employee had carried on. After Mervin slowly lowered the lid and Bogus told him he would cover it up himself, Mervin put his “can opener” up and got in the truck.
Pasour Rhyne was huddled up tight against the passenger door, looking pitiful and awaiting the verbal assault he knew was coming.
Mervin climbed into the honey wagon, cranked it up, and headed down the road. He was taking Pasour Rhyne home – for the last time. It was only a few miles till they arrived at Pasour Rhyne’s momma’s two story clapboard house; the type with a tin roof and the siding that had never been painted, left to weather to a gray black tone.
During this time Mervin did not speak a word, nor did he cast a glance toward Pasour. Mervin was too upset; “That man has embarrassed me for the last time,” he thought as he neared Pasour’s house. But Mervin held his tongue, for now, because he knew to try to calm down a little before he said anything when he was fired up like this. Mervin had learned over the years that when he could pull it off, he was way more effective in dealing with a stressful situation if he could let it rest a few minutes.
He did not bat a thousand percent, but in this particular scenario he was able to pull it off. So as he came into the Rhyne driveway and stopped the truck, he shut off the engine and for the first time since he had left Bogus Cloninger’s house turned to face Pasour Rhyne.
When Mervin looked at Pasour he could not believe his eyes. Pasour was turned toward Mervin, grinning his nasty ass green teeth grin at him, and doing the Larson Savoney sign, the fingers of his right hand wiggling frantically. After all of his self control he had exhibited over the last fifteen minutes since they had left Bogus Cloninger’s, and after all the times he had repeated to himself to “be calm, be calm,” Mervin Robert Ratchford lost it.
“Pasour Rhyne, you will never work for me again, and after the way you acted toward my friend, Bogus Cloninger, the nicest guy in the world, I don’t care if I ever see you again; in fact, I would prefer that to be the case.”
Mervin then pulled out his wallet, extracted a twenty-dollar bill, shoved it in Pasour Rhyne’s hand and shouted, “Get out, and if I never see you again it will be too soon.”
Pasour continued to grin at Mervin Ratchford while Merv was conducting his tirade. Pasour felt impervious to Mervin’s assault, for while they were traveling so very silently down the road all in the world was not silent, for Pasour Rhyne was receiving an “interbrainial transmission” from his dead daddy, the Grand Potentate of the Order of Larson Savoney. And once the transmission had been received Pasour had become empowered, so when Mervin turned his fury upon him it was like the magic cloak of the secret order of Larson Savoney surrounded Pasour with an impenetrable shield. So he just continued to grin at Mervin and got out of the truck.
Mervin shook his head in a combination of frustration, disbelief and disappointment and headed the honey wagon home. “I’ve done all I can do for that poor soul,” he thought to himself as he went down the road; “He is to be pitied.”
As Mervin pulled away Pasour Rhyne stood looking at the rear of the honey wagon, furiously doing the Larson Savoney sign until the truck was out of sight. Then he giggled to himself, thinking of how stupid people, like Mervin, who didn’t understand the whole concept of the Order of Larson Savoney, how incredibly foolish they could act.
Then he went into the shed and dug out his paint strainer potentate hat and his broken television antenna. After he got his hat on straight and the antenna unfolded Pasour went out into the back yard and marched around for a good while until he just physically got tired of it.
But there was no flagging of the mental fervor, for the “Interbriainial transmission” was fresh on his mind. So Pasour went into the house and quietly crept into the bathroom, where he opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out his straight razor that he shaved with. Then he ran some hot water in the sink with the stopper in and squeezed out a little shaving cream from the metal tube. He applied it to his temples, and then took the straight razor and shaved a three-inch circle above and to the front of each ear.
Pasour had heard the “interbrainial transmission,” had heard it loud and clear, and he had understood it also. But Pasour had also realized that the messages from his dead daddy were starting to take their toll on him. So when he felt so empowered right after he received them, there was inevitably a morose or down period afterwards. His communications with his dead daddy had just become too much; just too much. That was why he had shaved his temples.
“I’ll just make it easy for them up at Morganton; I’ll come in all prepped up,” he giggled as he picked up the gas can and headed out of the back yard. Pasour knew how to stop the transmissions, and it always worked, at least for six months or so. Pasour really needed a break.
Pasour Rhyne trudged through the woods toward the barn where Mervin Ratchford stored his hay, and also where he parked his honey wagon. And Pasour recited in his mind his last “interbrainial transmission,” the last he would get for a while.
“Remember, son,” his dead daddy had said, “just a little bit of gas in each corner.”