General Fiction posted March 18, 2023

A Tips 'R Us prompt entry

Jed and Cletus

by Wayne Fowler



“’Cha doin’, thar?”

Cletus looked up from his whittling, the shavings piling at his feet where they dangled below the rotting porch that threatened to drop him onto his growing pile.

“At that rate, you’ll be after my stove wood ‘fore Christmas,” Jed said, noting the dwindling stack of cut wood and the impressive heap of shavings.

Cletus didn’t respond. Didn’t even slow his ferocious hacking at the foot-long, wrist thick wood.

“Guess you heard, huh?”

Cletus grunted.

“How long we been friends, Cletus?”

Cletus’ blade hiccupped, digging a bit too deep to keep up the set rhythm.

“Since I pulled off ma’s teat when I heard Doc Smalley smack yer little hiney.” Cletus reached for another chunk of wood.

Jed smiled, having heard the refrain at least a thousand times.

“Them boys been by here?” Jed asked, referring to the oilmen that made him the richest person in West Virginia.

“Nope. They ain’t intersted in no acre’n-a-half.”

Jed began to draw out his own knife, stopping at Cletus’ snarl.

“You c’n cut up yer own stove wood.”

Jed let his knife fall back into the scabbard.

“You know yer pa didn’t have nothin’ but some worthless quitclaim deed ta them hollers.” Cletus’ eyes darted toward Jed, returning to his whittling work. “Jenkins’ homestead didn’t even hardly touch it.”

Everyone in the county knew the story. They knew, too, that Jenkins’ land had touched the hollows by more than a hundred feet. They knew that Jed’s pa bought the Jenkins place and the quitclaim to the seven hollows for a lifetime supply of shine. Nobody cared since you couldn’t plow it, or even use it for pasture – near to useless, soggy land. And since the Clampetts never minded anyone hunting it, no one  ever paid attention to a quitclaim deed that all it did was declare Jenkins sold whatever rights he had to the land, which was none.

Jed nodded. He knew the story. He knew too that no one else had a better claim.

After a few uncomfortable moments Jed spoke out in too loud a voice, not intending to, but he didn’t know how to segue smoothly. “They said we should move to Californy.” There, he’d said it. Got it out.

“Heard. Whole county heard. An’ not jest you shoutin’. It’s all over the county. Swimmin’ pools an’ movie stars. Heard.” Cletus’ knife dug into the stick. “Was me, I’d already be gone, I reckon.” Cletus had yet to look at Jed.

Cletus had been whittling since before dawn, wondering what he really would do: pave the highway through the county, build a steel bridge in place of the one that washed out every year, bring in enough bricks for everyone to brick up their shacks. Hire the town a real doctor to take over Doc Smalley’s abandoned practice. Maybe he’d set up a food bank for everybody whose winter outlasted their preserves.

He’d probably accept the title of mayor and build a fine house right in the middle of town.

“Ah, thet’s jist talk,” Jed replied, his eyes staring to the distance, but watching his lifelong best friend in his peripheral.

Cletus harumphed a grunt. “Wishin’ you the best. Prob’ly orter git to yer packin’. Holler how I c’n help.” Cletus grunted after clearing his constricting throat. “Got work here, Jed.” With the back of his knife-wielding hand, he gestured down the trail toward Jed’s home.

Jed turned his head away from Cletus, hiding the forming tears. He swallowed hard, clearing his own constricting throat.

“Don’t seem right,” Jed said.

Cletus thought of several things he could say, but pinched his lips and blinked the tears that he would never allow Jed to see. He determined to squelch the hatefulness that he didn’t want to spew to the man he would wrestle a bear for.

Cletus finally managed a grunt too late for Jed to connect to anything.

“Got somethin’ for ya,” Jed said as he reached into his pocket.

“Don’t want nuthin’. Got all I need,” Cletus said, the two declarative sentences separated by Jed extending his closed hand.

“’Preciate your takin’ this.” Jed knew better than to wave money toward Cletus, holding the folded hundred-dollar bill within his closed hand. He knew that Cletus had never seen such a thing, never knew anyone who had. It was the first one Jed had ever seen or touched and had determined to give it to Cletus the second he had hold of it.

“I could send you letters,” Jed’s offer trailed as weakly as the sentiment.

“Send somebody ta read it to me?” Cletus snapped. “After you get somebody to write it fer you?” He was instantly as sorry for his tone as he was the mean-spirited words. But he couldn’t stop himself. “Maybe hire somebody to do yer huntin’ and skinnin’, cookin’ an’ cleanin’. And somebody ta write letters to ever’body still here in the hollers?”

Jed didn’t respond.

After a silent moment while both men studied the horizon, Jed very deliberately laid the hundred-dollar bill on the porch, patting it smooth.

As he turned to leave, he heard Cletus strike a match, knowing that the bill was already ash.

Credit and apologies to The Beverly Hillbillies.

Club entry for the "Do You Feel That Feeling?" event in "Tips 'R Us".  Locate a writing club.
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