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I got wasps, my cousin said.

Wasps? I said. Tully, what do you mean you have wasps?

I mean I got more wasps than you ever saw. Flying around. Crawling on the screens. You look anywhere in this here house and you can bet your ass you’re gonna see a wasp.

Sounds awful, I said. Call an exterminator.

An exterminator? He laughed good and hard. You call a goddamn exterminator. I got a rolled-up Sports Illustrated and it’s doing the job just fine.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. My cousin Tully was a real pain in the ass. Always had been. Even growing up, he was too much to handle, and as I got older I’d learned to keep my distance so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore.

Call an exterminator or don’t, I said. Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. Was just calling to check in and see what the hell happened with Sarah Joe.

Sarah Joe, he said, his voice like he was remembering somebody he hadn’t thought of in years. That right there is a complicated subject.

Sure, I said, trying to get off the phone, well listen, give me a ring if you need anything.

Tell you what, Tully said, swing by here tomorrow. I’ll fix us up some cocktails and you can see can an eyeful of this wasp situation.

More often than not I would’ve just said I had something to do, it’s how I’d been handling Tully for years, but both of us would’ve known that was a lie. The city had laid me and another dozen fellas off for the winter and my days were free as free could be. So I went over there the next afternoon, over to Tully’s house behind the Dollar Store.

The second I walked up on his porch I saw the problem. Up in the corner was a grayish nest the size of a desk globe that looked like somebody had fashioned it out of paper mache. Tully opened the door while I was standing there staring at it. Looks like you already found the mothership, he said.

Inside it was just like Tully had said. There was a wasp tiptoeing across the nearest window. Another on the wall.

Goddamn, Tully, I said. You got to do something about this.

He grinned and picked his rolled-up Sports Illustrated off his coffee table. This is step one, he said and swatted the wasp on the window. It hit square and the wasp fell to the floor, where there was already eight or nine others piled up. The window was covered in streaks from where he’d splattered them earlier. Step two, he said, is the strongest gin and tonic you ever had.

He got to work making it in the kitchen, stopping only to swat a pair of wasps by the stove, and I took a seat at the table. It was my grandparents’ old one that Tully got after Grandma passed. I’d sat there for hours upon hours playing Five Hundred and trying to get Grandpa to talk baseball or the war.

Here’s what I figure, Tully said, stirring my drink with his finger, we got on our hands right now the warmest snap December ever saw. Seventy, eighty degrees. These here buggers, they’re confused. They’re sluggish. They get in here and it’s almost like they’re looking to get put out of their misery.

I swear, I said, I never saw anything like this weather.

No sir, Tully said and handed me my drink. You didn’t get winters like this when we were young.

I sucked some down and a sting of alcohol shot through me in a hurry. It was more gin than tonic. It’s good, I said.

Tully sat down in the seat my grandma always sat at, the seat that used to be closest to the phone and the sugar bowl. They don’t mean harm, he said. I’ve been stung once so far and that was my fault. I sat down on the couch without looking. Other than that, they ain’t the worst roommates I ever had.

Just as soon as he’d finished saying that he got a look in his eye, like a predator catching sight of some prey. He lifted out of the chair with the magazine in hand and stalked across the kitchen and back into the living room, where there was a wasp stuck in the corner. Tully snuck up and smacked it a good one, but I guess that didn’t do it though because Tully saw fit to go after it a few more times on the floor.

That’s when I noticed the trash bags. There were three of them leaning against the wall, two of them tied shut and the third stuffed too full to close. Peeking out of the top was a light purple fabric.

That Sarah Joe’s stuff?

Tully was coming back to the table, but he stopped and looked over at the bags. He flipped them off halfheartedly and then gave me a smile. Yeah, he said. She left some shit here. Some tops, some jeans. Most of it’s stuff she doesn’t really wear anymore, but I figure she’ll be back one way or another here ’fore too long.

I waited for him to sit down and have a drink. So, I said, what the hell happened there?

Oh hell, he said. I don’t know. Who the fuck knows with a woman?

It seemed that Sarah Joe had reunited with her old flame after he’d finally gotten out of jail. He’d been in three years for meth and they’d been carrying on via letters the whole time.

At least that’s what Aunt Sissy told me. I’d run into her at the store and she’d talked my ear off for the better part of a half hour. She wouldn’t stop going on about how worthless Sarah Joe was and how worthless she’d always been. I told him, she’d said there in the bread aisle, all the people trying to get around us. God help me, I told him. I said, Tully, baby, you go looking for love under a rock and you’re bound to find a slug.

I can’t even begin to tell you how she managed the secrecy, Tully eventually conceded between drinks. I found out she was renting a P.O. box. But where’d she find the time to write those letters? You tell me ’cause I don’t know. And get this, this here’s the icing on the cake. I talked to her momma the other day and she said Sarah Joe had been running up to Baldwin every now and then to visit the fucker. I asked her why she didn’t tell me and she said everyone thought I knew already. Now, what’d you think of that?

I shook my head.

Exactly, Tully said. Exactly.

He was about to go on, but a wasp dive-bombed us and then sped off to a light on the ceiling. We watched it for a second and then it just did the same thing again.

That’s what I can’t stand, Tully said, gripping his magazine. I’d be fine with these sons of bitches if they didn’t get wild every now and then. We’d be just peachy-fucking-keen if I didn’t have these rogues getting a wild hair every now and then and buzzing my face.

Tully got up and tracked the wasp. It dived at him again and he took a couple of wild swings at it. Then it flew off into the living room and all the fight seemed to drain out of Tully.

I was going to ask him more about Sarah Joe when he sat back down, but I didn’t have the heart. He looked about as beat down as a man could look right then. Besides, Aunt Sissy had already told me everything there was to tell. How Sarah Joe had emptied their checking account the day her ex got released and how nobody, not even her momma, had seen or heard from her since.

Tully was looking past me, staring at those bags in the other room as he turned his gin and tonic around and wiped the sweat off the glass. It seemed like he was just a second or two from losing it when a smile broke on his face and he looked at me and said, You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?

What’s that? I said.

You remember when we used to play out by Grandpa’s woodpile?

Sure, I said. I remembered it clear as day. Out there by grandpa’s shed he’d kept a pile, maybe ten feet long and five feet high, with a bright blue tarp fastened on. We used to play Knights, I said.

That’s right, Tully said. He had a drink and grinned. I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking we called it Castle or something like that. But you’re right. Knights. We’d both get us a stick or something, he said, holding up his magazine like it was a sword.

And we’d both take turns, I said. One of us would be the lookout and the other one the defender.

Right, he said. And we’d pretend monsters and the like were attacking the pile. Or bugs or spiders. And I’d shout, Make ready your weapons! Like we were in a movie or something.

I laughed just thinking about it. Back then Tully was just this runt of a kid, the boy everyone picked on, but when we’d play and he’d give the command his voice would get real strong and impressive.

Shit fire, I said, we’d be out there just wailing on that woodpile with these sticks and ball bats and old golf clubs and Grandpa would lean out the door and give us hell.

Boys, Tully said, doing his best impression of the man, if you don’t settle down I’m gonna whip your asses red.

The impression was so good I couldn’t help but laugh. But that didn’t last long. I don’t know if Tully got to thinking about Grandpa right then, but I sure did.

I remember, not long before he passed, Grandpa had called me in to sit next to him, away from the family.

Your cousin’s not as smart as you, he said, his voice close to breaking. And he’s soft to boot. His heart’s big enough that anybody’s bound to take advantage. I want you to watch out for him. You hear me?

I hear you, I told him.

Then he patted me on the head and gave me a tired smile.

And I thought about how he’d just wasted away, there on a foldout couch in their living room, not ten feet from the very table we were sitting around.

Jesus, I said, trying to keep it together, I ought to get out of here, Tully.

You sure? he said. I got a half bottle of Seagram’s in the freezer with your name on it.

Yeah, I said. It’s getting late. You know how it goes.

Tully nodded. Reckon I do, he said.

On my way out I saw a few more wasps hanging around. One was on a side-table, acting like he was thinking about climbing up the side of a lamp. Another, this one sluggish like Tully was talking about, crawling in circles near the front door.

Well shit, Tully said, looking down at it with a face full of pity.

Take care of yourself, I said. Give me a ring if you need anything. I mean it, I said.

Tully nodded, still looking down.

What I wanted was to make a joke, to lighten the mood maybe, so I turned back halfway down the porch steps and yelled out, in that same dramatic voice Tully always used to use. Make ready your weapons, I called.

But if Tully heard me he didn’t act like it. He didn’t even look up from that wasp struggling at his feet.


Jared Yates Sexton is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in The South as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University. He’s the author of three collections (most recently, THE HOOK AND THE HAYMAKER, from Split Lip Press), a crime-novel, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine BULL.

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LF #081 © 2015 Jared Yates Sexton. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, May 2015.



by jared yates sexton