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Salt of the Earth

The thick August air gusted through the old farmhouse like a fire blast from Hell.

There was no need for air conditioning, the old folks would tell you. Just open the windows and a door or two, get a good cross breeze going.

That’s all you’d ever need.

“Corn’s looking real good this year,” Roscoe Kolp said. He was sixty-five but worked like he was half that. His face and hands were so sun-baked and worn, his body so gnarled, he could have been a hundred and sixty-five.

Ruby moaned from the couch, and Roscoe flashed bloodshot eyes through thick hoods of skin to his wife of almost fifty years. “Can I get you kids something to eat or drink?” he asked. “We have brisket in the fridge, and iced tea.”

The Kolps always had a brisket or flank or hamburger just waiting for guests to drop by. But the Lamberts had come to see Ruby, and to check on Roscoe.

“No, we’re fine, Roscoe,” Charlie Lambert said. “We just wanted to visit a spell, see how … things … are going.” He tried not to look at Ruby, who shuffled her legs.

She would die there on that sofa, and everyone knew it. Just a matter of when.

A transistor popped and hissed from the corner of the room, and strains of the Cubs game whispered above Ruby’s labored breathing. The Cubs were her favorite.

A fly landed on Roscoe’s forehead. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Well, corn’s looking pretty good,” he repeated.

Dana Lambert leaned forward and placed a tender hand on her neighbor’s knee. “We can come back when Ruby’s awake. Maybe you can get some sleep, Roscoe.”

The old man looked to his wife again.

“I reckon I’ll sleep soon enough,” he said.

Published inFlash Fiction

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