The Menacing Squint
I leaned back in the old chair with a bottle of root beer. The ancient piece of handmade furniture creaked as if it was considering suicide. “Sure is a nice day,” I remarked, taking a sip of the soda and gazing up at the blue summer sky.
“Shore is,” Jesse drawled from his own chair. He held a match to his pipe and ignited the contents. “Yer know what? We sound like a cupple o’ old men!” He slapped his leg and chortled.
I nodded. “We sure do. That’s because we are a couple of old men.”
“Nah-ah. Ah’m barely proachin’ eighty, an’ yer, what, fifty-four?”
“Twenty-eight,” I corrected.
“Ah knowed it was ‘round there somewheres. Anywho, it’s nice ‘o yer to come out ‘n’ visit me.”
I sighed. “I really miss the old days, Jesse. When you and I would go out into the wilderness, hunting and fishing and living off the land.”
“Is thet what we called them sandwichers?”
“Them ginormous sandwichers yew always brung. We called ‘em land, right?”
I grinned. “Oh yes, that’s right. Living off the ‘land’ we’d always tell people. Little did they know we were talking about sandwiches.”
“Yup. Them were the good days.”
“I can’t stand the city,” I said. “It’s so noisy and smelly all the time, you can hardly hear yourself think. Out here it’s always so peaceful. Just listen!”
We both sat in silence for a bit and listened to an airplane thunder by.
“See!” I exclaimed. “That came from the city!”
Jesse shook his head sadly. “Yeh, must be a sad life.”
“You know what?” I said, sitting up straight. “I think I’ll move back out here. Anyway, Jenny and I are getting married soon and she wouldn’t move to the city unless she had no other choice. Like, only if she was kidnapped and unable to commit suicide.”
“Ya got yerself a fine gal there. Don’t mess ‘er up by takin’ ‘er to the city.”
I nodded and sighed. “I’m wondering if I made a mistake taking a job there. I’ll have to quit to move back here. There’s no way I’m going to drive a hundred miles a day over a mountain range to go to work. Tory says he can probably get me a job at the sheriff’s office, maybe secretarial stuff, to supplement my writing income.”
“Everone makes mistakes, Matt. The trick is to make yer mistakes when nobody’s watchin’.”
I grinned. “Very true. Even so, I’m nervous about telling my boss that I’m quitting. He’s one of those old-fashioned guys, the ones who believe in sticking around for a while before moving on.”
“Then what do ya call me, Matt?” Jesse almost shouted. “Ah’m stickin’ ‘round as long as possible!”
“I didn’t mean that. See, I’ve been working for about five days now, and my boss won’t be too happy about me ‘moving on’ so soon.”
“Wahl, yer know what I suggest?”
I leaned forward. “What?”
“A leetle trick Ah learned from a trapper. See, when ya go in ta quit, do it real confadint like, an’ give yer boss this here menacin’ squint.” Jesse stuck out his chin, scrunched up his eyes, and glared at me. “Then ya say, ‘Bud, Ah’m jist plum fed up with me job here in this plum fed up city, an’ Ah’m quittin’ ‘n’ movin’ back to the country.”
“What good will that do?”
Jesse shrugged. “Ya never can tell. But this here trapper, he figgered jist near any problem can be fixed with the menacin’ squint. Ah swear, the feller lived ta be nigh on a hunnert ‘n’ eighty! Ah s’pose even God didn’t wanna confront a menacin’, squintin’ trapper ‘til He abs’lutely had to!”
“Oh, sure,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Well, I’ll try it.”
“Lemme see yer menacin’ squint, Matt.”
I scrunched up my eyes, stuck out my chin, and glared at Jesse. He burst into raucous laughter and almost dropped his pipe down his bib overalls.
“Hey, what’s so funny?” I demanded.
“Ah swear, yew looked jist like a sick goat ‘bout ta puke up a hunk o’ tobaccer!” Jesse slapped his leg, launching into a fresh bout of mirth. His pipe went flying out of his mouth, but he didn’t even notice. Then he doubled over, coughing with alarming ferocity.
I started forward, but Jesse held up a hand and took a deep wheezing breath.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
He nodded and shrugged. “Purty good, seein’ as Ah’m sufferin’ from a rare disease.”
Anxiety gripped me by the throat. “What sort of disease?”
“Oh, Ah don’t truly know. Ah’d be willin’ ta bet though that Ah got it from acc’dently doin’ some hard work when Ah’s young. Ah’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
“Have you seen a doctor yet?”
“Eh…oh, shore, shore. Yeh, Doc gave me some pills fer me breathin’ device.”
“Yup. Take mah advice, Matt. Never git real old.”
“I’ll try,” I said. “While we’re at it, do you have any more advice for me?”
He stared at me so hard I thought his eyes would pop out of their sockets and roll across the deck. “Wahl chop me up an’ call me fish bait!” he exclaimed. “Young Matt’s askin’ fer advice!”
“Yeah, whatever. Don’t rub it in.”
“Yew know what? Thar’s this one bit o’ superb advice that Ah’ve been dyin’ ta give yew.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Thar’ll be times when everthin’ seems ta be goin’ good,” Jesse said. “Watch out extra careful then, ‘cause that means somethin’ ‘specially awful’s jist ‘round the corner.” He nodded sagely. “Ain’t that jist brilliant!”
I shrugged. “It’s kind of pessimistic, actually.”
“But it’s true.”
“Maybe. Well, I’m certainly not going to ask your advice about marriage.”
He gave me a pitiful little pout. “An’ why not?”
“All the advice you’ve given me about girls is worthless, and you know it. Remember that time you said girls like birds and flowers?”
“Ha! Don’t brung that up. Yew were the one that gave ‘er a chicken ‘n’ skonk cabbage flahers!”
“That’s just the thing! Your advice is too vague because you have absolutely no experience on the subject, and I come along with my idiot ideas and make a massive fool out of myself!”
“Now Matt,” Jesse said, holding up a hand, “don’t start sayin’ that. Ah’m not as abs’lutely non-experienced as yew say. Ah did have a girlfriend once.”
“For how long?”
He waved his hand about. “Eh, that don’t matter.”
“How long?” I demanded.
“Um, nigh on two weeks.”
“But like Ah said,” he blurted, “it don’t matter! Ah have experience.”
“Yes, well, if I need some advice, I’ll let you know. As it is, I think my father has that department covered.”
I started to stand up and the chair collapsed beneath me. My half-full bottle of root beer flew out of my hand and broke on a rock nearby. I scrambled to my feet, adjusting my cowboy hat.
“Yer a graceful man,” Jesse said with a grin.
“Thanks. I need to get going. Jenny and I are meeting for lunch. It was nice seeing you again.”
“Ah’m lookin’ forward ta fishin’ with yew agin!”
“Definitely. How about we plan for a week from Sunday?”
“Oh, Ah don’t make plans. They’re jist unaccurate perdictions. But Ah’ll be here. Show up anytime.”
I laughed. “I will. See you later!”
I walked down the hill toward my car, watching over my shoulder and waving until Jesse was out of sight.
That was the last time I saw him alive. He passed away a couple days later, about the same time I quit my job in the city. He left a letter for me on his table, in which he bequeathed his meager possessions and his property to ‘Matt and his purty new wife.’ I was pretty much his only friend in the world.
When I heard the news, I was heartbroken. But I turned my face to heaven and whispered, “Ah’m shore God’ll like yer menacin’ squint an’ yer sense o’ humor. ‘Ave a good time, old friend. Ah’ll see ya later.”
I built a log house on the property, at the bottom of the hill, and Jesse’s little cabin still stands there at the top. Some days, if you’re lucky, you can see an old guy, about twenty-eight, sitting in a rickety chair on Jesse’s porch, drinking root beer and laughing with a pretty redhead named Jenny.