He stood about three feet tall and weighed no more than 30 pounds. An infection of freckles splatters his face and a gapped haircut rode his semi-red locks. He held a dead wiggler in one hand and a bag of juice in the other. Chocolate smears camouflaged his mouth. At least I hoped it was chocolate. A boy holding a dead worm is suspect in my book, even if he is loitering around the tadpole tanks of a bait shop. But it was his eyes that told the tale. He was an arguer.
“What’s wrong with your truck?” he said. “It stinks.”
I learned a long time ago that once a six year-old starts asking questions, you may as well turn off the engine and put your life in park because you’re going to be there a while.
“I ran over a skunk in Arkansas,” I said.
He curled his lip and held the dead worm over his mouth and mumbled, “That’s awful. Where’s Arkansas? Is that near my grandma’s house?”
“Does your grandma live in Arkansas?” I asked. I knew it was foolish, engaging a rambler like this in a conversation that I might not be able to keep up with.
“No,” he said curtly. “I don’t know what saw she lives in. I think it’s Tennesseesaw.”
I eyed a few cane poles from Boutwell Bamboo Farm down near Opp, Alabama, their shellacked surfaces smelling sweet and reflecting the clabbering late spring sky.
“Well I’ve never been to Tennesseesaw,” I said. “Is your grandma a good cook?”
“Why?” he said. “You hungry?”
“No. Just wanted to know.”
“She cooks good as Golden Corral. A big old pile of food. Whew.”
“What do you like the best?” I asked.
“MoonPies,” he said.
“She doesn’t cook MoonPies,” I assured him. “We make those up in Chattanooga, Tennesseesaw.”
“That’s where she lives,” he said. “And she does too cook MoonPies.”
“I know the people who cook MoonPies,” I said. “And I don’t know your grandma.”
I was stirring up trouble now.
“You callin’ me a liar?” he snapped, twisted his chin up in the air and clinching his fists in front of his chest, the dead worm falling to the ground, the juice bag crushed.
“No, not at all,” I said. “You’re just mistaken. It’s no big deal. People make mistakes all the time.”
“Like when you hit that skunk in Arkansas and dragged his stink all the way here?”
He kind of had me on that one.