Copyright 2004 by Lois Armstrong
I met Summer in 1950 when I was a young girl in
Virginia Beach, Virginia. Now you have to understand that things
was much different then. Black and white didn’t mix. That was
before they bused black children to white schools. Mother took me
back to Michigan before that started but I heard a lot it. I was
sixteen and mother married my step-father, Howard Como and we moved
to Virginia mainly because he worked at Sears and Roebucks.
The Beach was mostly a tourist town. During the day people lived as most people did but at night the place would like up like it was Hollywood and the Sailors would come out. We were near a navel base and when they were on leave, they would come to the Beach. I have to admit we was quiet flirty at that age. We would dress up and walked down at night into town trying to get attention and they flurried with us but we was children to them. We smoke our cigarette’s trying to act older then we were... It was exciting at night, with all the lights and we would talk and laugh and carrying on. I think the Sailors enjoyed us because we was still fresh in our youth and so naive.
I was a loner. Mostly because I preferred the Movies
and Book instead of going to parties and I was not a popular girl
with the boys. I was quite skinny standing five foot-two with
reddish brown hair and blue eyes. My sense-of-humor t not every
one appreciated it because, I guess I went a little off the
I spent a lot of time alone walking around the beach watching other people swim and sun themselves. I dam near drowned in that dam Ocean twice . You could walk out three feet then find yourself up over your head. I could swim enough to get out of those holes but it was freighting anyway.”
“ Did you see any of them Sharks, Grandma?”
“No. I did not see any sharks. I was smart enough to stay near the shore. Sometimes the waves would build up and we would jump in front of it and
let the waves push’s us inwards. Now that was fun
“ You going to get to the important part Grandma?”
“. Try to rush things huh boy ? Living in the south is not easy for a Michigan born child. When I met Summer.. That’s where Howard and I disagreed. Summer was black and very pretty. We clicked the minute we spoke to each other and at that time people of color didn’t mix with white. But we were young and didn’t care what the other’s said or how they looked at us. We walked down the beach and went swinging Once I was alone and walking under the boardwalk that stretched out the whole area along the Beach. At one end they had rides and places like arcades and taverns where you could eat or drink then on the other end it was just beach. Well this one day I saw this turtle. It was bigger then a car.. There was enough soup in that turtle to feed two cities. The next day it was gone.
The only boys I knew was going with the girls I knew. Summer’s boyfriend was named Jerry. He was seventeen and always made us laugh.. We would go to the movies and see horror pictures. . I will admit that the wolf man scared the hell out of me. I had to walk home through an alley at midnight. I saw a wolf behind very bush.
School now my friend was a different matter. If I was going now days they would have put me in a slower grade because I was slow. That didn’t help me the being a loner .. I was rotten in English. A write r that can’t spell I found a lot of writers have trouble with spelling. It’s the grammar that drives me nuts..” Yeah, yeah I manage to sell a book here and there. It took a lot of talking and a lot of writing..
Sometime you couldn’t get down to the beach
because the waves would be so high that you wouldn’t have dared
to go down there. Summer and I would stand by the rail and talk about
stuff while watching the wave build up to it’s peak then roll
down upon the beach and go out again.
“ Boys her favorite subject as the movies was mine.. Once Tex Ritter, you have seen his son John in IT a Stephen King’s story made into a movie.”
“You mean the one with the clown?”
“Yep, that ‘s the one. Anyway Tex was a singer as well as a cowboy movie star and he asked us what we wanted him to sing. I spoke up and said ‘ Rye Whisky ‘ and he did,
It would get hot there. The sidewalks would burn the bottom of your feet, you find yourself hopping from one plot of grass to the other. It had its bad days as well. We would be walking down the street with jackets, shorts and bare footed .
“What’s the matter?”
“Something bit the bottom of my foot.” Summer lifted her foot up and turned it to look at it. There was a red spot on it. We found a bug walking away from us,” Oh no you don’t.” She reached down and picked it up.”
“What is it?”
”It’s a beetle.” She looked at it closely,” That’s strange. This is a water beetle. “ She looked at me,:” About ounce a year the ocean would be full of them. I mean like millions. They were always gone the next day. No one knows why, they just come and go but they don’t go on land.”
We watched him crawling on her hand. Summer knew about bugs, she studied them. She tried to step on her foot. “ Ouch!”. we watched it in her hand for a second,” Maybe it was going fur a walk?” I asked with a silly grin on my face.
“ No silly, Dam it hurts.”
She put the bug on the ground and he walked away. Like two idiots we watched him for a long time until I asked,” What are we doing?”
We both laughed and went on our way. That afternoon we went to the movies on the way out we met up with Clare and her boyfriend
. I noticed that she had a bandage on her hand.
“What happen kiddo?”
“Some dam beetle bit me today as I was putting the trash out.; I didn’t see him on top of the trash can lid until It bite me. Dam it stung for a long time then it started to get a bluster on it . Mother took me to the doctor. He said he never seen anything like it. Gave me two shots and wrapped it up..”
“Bummer.” I thought of Summer’s foot. I turned to her,” Don’t you think maybe you better see a doctor?” She smiled and shacked her head,” You worry to much.” And that was the end of it as far as Summer was concerned but me, I’m worry wart.
Three days later I went to Summer’s house with
out telling Mom ( she was at work most of the time anyway). Hattie
good natured woman as she was, had a worried look on her face,”
“What’s the matter Mrs. Hattie?”
“I don’t know. That bite on Summer’s foot that gotten infection.”
“ Yeah. I was worried about that.”
“ That’s what she told me. You girls are going to have to be more careful and wear your shoes.?”
“She said it was a water beetle.”
“The Doctor gave her a shot. Say, Joy, would you stay with her until I get back from work?”
There was no question about it. I knew her husband Josh had a club foot and a bad heart so he would be no good since Summer’s room was up stairs. She had a brother. His name was Henry but he preferred to be called Hawk.. He ran with a gang of kids around the ages of seventeen and eighteen. He carried a gun. I know I saw it ounce..
Mom went to visit her sister in Michigan, which left
Howard and I alone. I would cook meals for him, when he went to work,
then I would go out and find Summer. One day he saw us together and
she became frighten. This happen before she got bitten by that bug.
We was walking back from swimming when he drove by. She saw him and
became a fried for me. I wasn’t worried. I was ready for a
fight and we had a dandy.. He told me if they found out that his
#I wasn’t his daughter.#
That if they ( who ever they was) found out that his daughter was running with a Niger, they would have him fired.” we do not use that word now days. It is offense but back then it was tossed around I was so furious that I walked out of the house and the first placed I headed for was Summer… The nerve of that man telling me who I can and can “t see was just to much. I was not his daughter and by dam, he was not my father. It was dark by the time I got there. Hattie had told me that I was always welcome and I didn’t have to knock on the door. So I open the screen up and walked it. It was terrible still. I found the tiny tv they had going and Josh was in his chair. I walked around in front of him and held back a scream. His face was red covered with open sores; pus oozed out of them. His black eyes wide open staring into space.
I ran as fast as I could to Summer’s room. I open the door and found her wide eyed on the bed. Bugs was crawling on the floor. This time I had shoes on so I walked across to Summer and grabbed her slippers. I put them on her .then edge her off the bed and we got across the floor with her hopping on one foot.. The stairs was not that easy but they were done. I didn’t want to have her see her father. She begged me to see if her mother was in the house. I left her at the end of the steps and went into the kitchen. Hattie was a clean woman. Her kitchen shined but she was not in there. My heart tighten up there was only one other place she could be and that was in her bedroom. I would have to go in front of the gentlemen to get there. I didn’t want to look at him so I put my back toward him and walked gently into the bedroom.
Hattie loved dolls especially the dolls that her mama
made her. she told me stories of her childhood
holding her favorite doll rocking back and forth in her rocker
and tell me such wonderful tales. I open that door gently. my
hands trembled I fear had happen, water beetles that had bitten
Summer had gotten to that lovely lady , hopefully in her sleep.
I stepped into the room. The bare floor scrubbed until it shined with
the white lacey curtains and the dolls on her dresser. I forced
myself to look at the body on the bed. My heart leaped
into my throat. I walked across the floor and looking at
her. Her eyes closed and her cross ‘ love Jesus child, and
you’ll have the world at your feet ‘ a beetle was
in her salt and pepper hair. I covered her up with a clean blanket.
Then left the room.. I found Summer where I left her and got a
hold of her and we left the house. Hawk was driving up just as I was
bringing her out. He got out of the car and came right for us..
“What’s wrong? Why did you take her out of bed?”
“She hadn’t come for me they would have killed me.”
“Who?” He had his gun out the boys with him pulled theirs too.
“That won’t do no good to a water Beetle.”
“ A water beetle.”
“Joy, has she lost her mind?” I shake my head no.” They got your parent’s.” I said softly.
“ Get out of here.” He ran into the house. Summer and I waited. It would be for a matter of minutes before we would hear his cry. Then it came . It was more like a screamed. Then the tears broke and the helplessness that went with it. I felt sick.
Howard looked up as his wife carrying her bag walked
in. “ Thank heavens you’re back.”
“Don’t be . I have to go back. Helen is in bad shape and I am worried about her but when I got your call I thought I better get back here before you and Joy kill each other.”
“ I am sorry if I worried you but she is out of hand. She comes and goes when she wants and the people she befriends with. Dorothy, it could cause a lot of trouble. We are not in Michigan.. This is the south and I can’t get through to her”
Putting her bag down, Dorothy looked at her husband and then sat down. She was tried,” I could use some coffee.” It was an announcement more then a requests . He went out into the kitchen and soon return with her “ Love mama” cup.. She took a sip, “ You are talking about, she is either running off to the movies all day or with Summer.” She turned her blue eyes on him. Her red hair was out of place, she hadn’t taken the time to brush it.
Howard sat down on the couch and lit up a cigarette. He didn’t say anything just set there while she edged her shoes off, and drank her coffee.
“ How can I get through to you two about this ?. Or aren’t you listening? I have to go to the job everyday. I seen men fired just because they had a conversation with a Nigger .”
.”My daughter has been brought up in a world where that word isn’t said. She gone to schools with them. Yeah I know it is different here. The kids raze her because she came from the North. Do you think it is easy to be insulted every day? Summer is a good girl and they are friends. I am not going to tell her she can’t see her because of the differences of their skin.
Why would you say that?” He raised his head .
He sensed something in his wife, . A suspicion made him feel
like things was terribly wrong’
“I met someone.” She put her cup down. “ I’m taking Joy back to Michigan when I go.”
“First you got to find her.”
“I won’t have to because she will come home like she always does.”
“I suppose you want a divorce.” His voice was bitter and he was a fried of what he was going to hear.
“ It would be the best for both of our interest.”
“You mean your interest.”
“ and yours too..”
“Who is this wonderful man your leaving me for.”
“You don’t know him.” She paused
“Holy Christ almighty God. I don’t believe this!” He was up on his feet walking over to their expensive radio combo. “ You slot!”
Dorothy crossed her legs. “ You fucken slot! You got the nerve coming back here sitting there with your legs crossed telling me you are leaving me for ….who is he?
“ His name won’t mean anything to you. He is ,,,he is a mulatto.”
” You leaving me for a nigger.”
Watch your mouth!” She warned. “ Think carefully before you speak” Her words ended with a deep warning in them. She had a temper t and when she let go oh hell. The question was did he care? She walks in and flips his world up side down. So he should care if she gets on her high horse. His eyes showed his thoughts by the curve of his mouth , she just set there with those dam legs crossed and looked at him.”
“ Live in an little old shake with a caddy sitting out side.” He mocked and “ His mother was black. Whoopee-do.” she remained silent..
“ Where’s Joy going to sleep at?”
That’s when the coffee cup hit him in the head. He didn’t see it coming, although he should have. His head slammed back against the combo. He put his hand up where it hit and drew it away. He saw there was blood on his hand,” Are you happy now?”
She was on her feet full of rage she threw everything she could get her hands on when the front door open.
They turn to see me holding. Summer her foot were swollen twice as big as it was. Mother looked at me,” What happen?” I explained what happen .” We have trouble.” I looked around the room ,” What hit here a tornado?” I was use to their fights. “ I got to put Summer in my room.” .
“*Why in the hell did you bring them in here.”
Howard turned on me.” The whole neighborhood will see it!”
He lashed out. I was tired .It was
late and I had been through a lot. I knew he would not
let me explain so why try.. Hawk and his friends stood behind me. I
didn’t have time to argue with him, I would let mother finish
hers. With Hawk’s help we got Summer to my bed room. Georgie
looked the room over good. “ Clear” he said. I got Summer
on the bed and covered her up, wishing I could do the
same.. “We have to search the whole house.” I set down in
my chair, grateful that I had it.. Hawk turned to Georgie you take
Red and go through the kitchen, bathroom. Dell you and Spook get into
the bedrooms., You look under the beds, no, tare the beds apart
make double sure.”
“And then make the bed back up.” I said. Hawk said yeah and Georgie left.
I set there for a few minutes finally Summer drifted off to sleep.
“ Okay Hawk what do you say we hop in the old jalopy and run down and take a look at that beach?” He nodded. I followed him out of the front door with Howard yelling his head off because the guys was tarring up the house,. I did ask Hawk to have them put everything back. He shouted some orders and we heard them answer and out the door we went. We got in to his car and it sputtered its way down the six blocks to the boardwalk. We got out and walked up on to it and looked at the water movements by the moon light. Hawk brought a flash light and put the beam on the sand it was crawling with water beetle’s..
“What the hell.”
“They’ll be gone by morning.”
I turned around this man, who ever he was, dressed in a jacket shirt and slacks. With his hat sitting on the top of his head. “ This always happens at least once a year. They show up in the ocean then the next morning they are gone.”
“Okay.” My mouth was dry,” And they always crawl into your house’s and bite you, even kill you and go away in the morning?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Oh no. . These beetles got into my girlfriends house and they bit and killed her parents. I have her with a bandage foot from one of them things, in my bed sound asleep.” I looked at Hawk,” Hopefully. The way Howard is yelling he’ll probably woke her up again.”
“Young lady have you been drinking?”
“How would you like a couple of teeth knocked out?”
“This is getting us no where’s.” Hawk spoke,” I got to get some gasoline and set this boardwalk on fire that should drive them back into the water.”
“Yeah. Good idea only one problem. What about those on land?”
“ Now that is going to be a problem.” Hawk admitted.
. They will die from lack of it. “My good man.” It sounded like an idiot talking,” They can do a lot of damage before they die “
“ You have a point there.”
“This beach stretches clear to North fork.” I looked at Hawk,” Doesn’t?”
“ Dam if I know but this body of water stretches that far and if they are here; they are there.”
“I am afraid your friend is right.” He seemed a little drunk or sick.” Is there something wrong?” He held up his hand. It was swallow and baggage. That’s what one gets sleeping in an alley.” The man must be in his fifties . I had never seen him before. Watching the beetles moving around in the dark gave me a presents of a movie that I saw .
“Look I will take you home and get some gas. We
are going to need a lot to stop them.”
The man spoke in a serious tone,” I’ll go with you. You will need help.”
“It would help if I knew what to call you besides “ Hey-you?”
“ My name is Salvador Bennings. You can call me Ben for short. There is no since in going through the Salvador business.”
“Glad to meet you Ben, my man. Let’s get going.”
Hawk drove me to my house and I took him out in to the garage to see if we had any gasoline cans. We found two.. He collected his boys but left Georgie with us. Georgie stood in the driveway watching the old car make it’s way down the road. disappearing into the darkness. I looked at my watch.” Four hours before the tide goes out.”
“ Why you say that?” Georgie asked.
“I am trying to sound intelligent.”
“ are you?”
“ I am the gal who gets c’s and d’s in school.”
Then we walked back into the house. Howard is drinking like a fish. The place is all put back where it belonged. Georgie and his boys should have been congraduated but Howard hadn’t shut his mouth since I left. Mom was back in her chair again with another cup of coffee. “You are going back to Michigan when I leave next time.”
I just looked at her. That’s when Howard informed me that she was leaving him. I could understand why. I really didn’t like him either but I wasn’t prepaid for,” She marrying a mulatto ” I looked at mom. She could see by the look on my face that I was confused. “ What’s a mulatto?” It was George who answered. “ It’s a mix breed. Half white Half black.”
“Oh.” I didn’t really understand. You might say I was ignored on the subject. . I looked at her trying to understand what was going on. I could tell by the look on her face that she was hurting. I knew she loved Howard when she married him, then she goes back home and comes back with news that she had fallen for another man. I felt a hand on my arm. I looked at George and he pointed to Howard’s pant leg just above the cuff. A beetle was making its way up Howard’s paint leg. “ Now do as I say.” Howard looked at me with a white face. Here was a teenager telling him what to do,” Please don’t move.” He started to say something,” Georgie we got to do something.”
“You got any paper towels?” Georgie asked
me softly not to rile Howard up. One wrong move…..”
“In the kitchen you’ll find them.” I answered using the tone of voice that he did. He left.
“ Now please stand still. Mom…..”
“That’s when she saw it. “ Oh my God Howard, don’t move.”
Georgie returned and stood and looked at it making it’s way up the pant leg. then using the paper towel and rushed over and plucked the beetle and crushed the towel up and went into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet. It took a few minutes before Howard could speak,” What was that?”
“ That was a water beetle and their bite is poisonous.” George and I went on explaining what was happening down at the beach. At first I thought he wasn’t going to believe us. I was a procuress child and George with red hat turned to the side of his head look like a punk kid. He looked at us then set down. “ Georgie save your life.” I told him. He looked up at me and nodded his head. “They probably are spreading out all over but Ben said that the when the sun comes up the beetles in the Ocean will go away but the ones on land would just die.”
“But it is a long time before the sun comes up and the tide goes out. “ Hawk and the boys are going to set fire to the boardwalk hoping it will drive them back in the water.”
“ Now who’s Ben?” Howard searched for another cigarette. Georgie gave him one. I was surprised that Howard excepted it.
“ Ben, is an unfortunate man who was asleep in an a alley and got bitten on his hand. It is swollen up probably full of poison. He is with Hawk. We met him on the boardwalk when we was watching the beetles walking on the beach.”
“ They are on the beach?” He took a
strong puff off his cigarette. I remembered when he and mom went and
sold food from a grocery market when he didn’t have a job. I
wondered if mother remembered it as well. He looked tried sitting
trying to understand what was happening.
Benny Wiloski was heavy in book work when the clock
strike twelve.. He has his daily receipts in front of them carefully
entering them in his books’. Sally was cleaning out the
cashier thinking about going for a swim after she got done. Counted
her tray money out carefully and shut the draw and looked it up. The
safe was below on the floor. She knelt down and opened it then put
the money in and closed it back up. It had been a long day and she
was glad it was over..
Charlie had been working in the stock room getting shelves ready for the next day. Striping down box’s and tying them up and then put them in stacks. His back hurt from all the bending and pulling and stacking.; if he was lucky he would talk ole Sal into going swimming.
The phone rang and Benny picked it up, it was the
wife,” Have you heard that the water beetles are out today?”
She asked. He could hear one of his seven kids in the back
ground. He heard his wife yell at his oldest .” Benny you
“Yes Althea.” She went on,” Thelma called me up and said the kids went walking down the beach but they had to get off from it, The dam things came out of the ocean. Who ever heard of that!”
He sighed. “Althea I am in the middle of my book work now what do you want?”
“ I mean it was awful. They said
those beetles walked right up on the sand. Can you picture such a
thing.” Benny tried to control his impatience’s. “
Yes althea. What is it that you want?”
“Don’t forget the pork chops and five pounds of hamburger.”
“Okay altheas. Anything else?”
“Thelma was never really intelligent probably drinking again.”
“Good by altheas.” And he hung up the phone with his glasses sitting on his nose he went back to work . He picked up his coffee cup and drank from it. He didn’t noticed that something was crawling under one of his open books. He picked up a receipt and looked at it. His eyes was getting tired he rubbed them then adjusted his glasses on his nose and went back to the receipt. He looked at the long list of numbers and the name scribbled on the bottom of the receipt . Mrs. Hidden. The signature read.. It was four time this month she hadn’t paid her bill. He made a mental note to bring that up the next time she came in. She liked cucumbers with her salads and he kept plenty of ranch dressing in for her., as well as onions and apples. She always brought a bag of onions, A bag of apples and her four cucumbers while she talked about her daughter spending the summer with her. How she liked to go swimming with her nice young man. “ Oh how that woman could talk. He sighed and put it in the books.
The next one, he looked at the numbers.. They was becoming a little blurry now. He was tired he looked at his watch. He didn’t see the bug climb up his coffee cup and fall in side. The time was almost one o’clock. It was late. He wondered if Sal and Charlie took off for their nightly swim. What did altheas say? The he thought of the pork chops and five pounds of hamburger. He begin to gather his books being careful to put the receipts so he could find them tomorrow. He would have to do his work along with his sandwich during dinner. He picked up his cup and drank from it. Something hit against his lip.’ Oh my “something sting him. He looked inside of the cup and saw it. It was wiggling then laid still. Benny grabbed his mouth. ‘ dam it burned ‘ He put the cup down and went into the small bathroom and looked into the mirror. There was a red whelp n his top lip. He washed his face then looked back into the mirror. The stinging hurt. Maybe he should see Doc Morgan. He may still be awake. He walked into his office again to pick up the phone when he saw a bug crawling on his desk. He look closer at it. “ “It’s a beetle.” He took a piece of paper and pushed it around a little. It’s wing went up but it’s body was to heavy to fly so it tried to move fast. “ Can’t cha run?” He asked with a light laugh coming from his throat. “ What’s the matter Mister Beetle, can’t you move any faster?” of course not. If Altheas was right, this was not a land beetle it was a water beetle.. He shoved it with the paper in another direction it almost got lost behind his wife’s picture . He picked the frame up and pushed the bug back toward him with the paper.. “ Would you like a glass of water?” he went to the bathroom sink and hurried back with a cup of water and poured it on the bug. “ Do you like that?” He asked almost losing his glasses. He pushed them up on his nose. He was enjoying this. Then a sharp sting was on his leg. He reached down to slap at the intruder and felt another bug he stepped back from the desk and saw five or six more crawling on the floor, with two on his shoe. He scrapped the two off with the paper he had been pushing the other bug with and stepped on the others. He heard a crunch under his shoes then gleefully went back to the one on his desk. It was gone. He picked up the books and looked under them finally spotted it on the floor. He ran over and stepped on it. He pulled up his pant leg and saw a red spot on his leg. It stung like the one on his lip that’s when he heard Sal scream..
Benny rushed into the store part and saw Sally, with
her dress up and he could see a beetle crawling up her leg,”
Get it off!” She screamed.
He grabbed a small broom from the wall and brushed it off,” Did it bite you?”
“ You dam right it did!”” She showed him a spot on her arm that was red and pus running from it. She looked at his face,” Oh my God!”
“They bit you too? Your lip it’s…” He put his hands up when he looked at his hand something red and yellish was on it. “ What’s is happening. Charlie!” Sal called out but Charles wouldn’t be answering. The bugs got him to.
“We got to get out of here then she saw them coming from under the door. Benny was a short and powerful man. Once he had been a boxer and made good money at it until he broke his hand then invested in the grocery store. He picked Sal up in his arms and headed for the back freezer. He stopped long enough to grab two jackets and bottle water. He held on to Sal as he moved the dial down so it would be cold enough but not to cold and shoved her in it. He closed the door behind them. He gave one of the jackets and a bottle of water to Sal then he put one on. “ Are we going to die?” How could he answer her, he didn’t know himself. Sooner or later someone would come and look for them. He hoped sooner. Sal stood in the corner soon she would give up and set down on the cold floor. He tried to remember the prayers his mother taught him. He began to say it with hope in his heart that the prayers would be enough
The rides and the arcades closed down at midnight
the people walked to their cars. Clare and her boyfriend Michael
decided to walk the beach back. It was only a mile with a full moon
and they had so much fun. They held hands and walked a bit without
talking. Clare love to look at the stars and tonight they was bright.
She was in love,. She wanted it to be special. To have the kind of
beauty that she would remember and enjoy the rest of her life. He was
just a little taller then she was. She thought him handsome as well
as beautiful. The kind of smile that made her feel like the world was
They stayed away from the water. Even though they saw the water beetles they was not afraid they begun in the morning . The cars could be heard leaving the park and soon they were alone.. She looked up at him and he turned to look down upon her. He was smiling she could see the whiteness of his teeth by the moon light.. They kissed. His mouth tasted sweet and she like the feel of his arms. The water moved quietly in the night it sounded soothing. They stopped walked and begin to seriously kiss. He laid her down on the sand .
They could hear shouting from the top of the boardwalk. Michael lifted up his head and saw someone up above them. He didn’t understand what they were saying. He did catch one word,” Out”. Out? He looked around in the darkness then look back up above him. The shouting was louder now.
“ Michael.” He looked down at Clare,” Something bit me on the leg.” She was in tears.” It stings awful.” The shouting now was screaming. Michael got up and pulled Clare to her feet. He looked around he could see something moving in the sand. “ Give me her hand” A voice came from above . Michael looked around to the highest point of the beach and dragged Clare up so he could lift her. The man was hanging over the rail with two other’s holding him. He got Clare’s fingers. Michael pushed her up on to his shoulders and finally the man had her by the hand. It took some pulling but those boys got her up on the boardwalk. Michael climbed as high as he could. Again the man almost climbed over the rail with his friends holding him. Michael stretched as far as he could finally they touched hands and he was up over the rail.
“We are not out of the woods yet!” Hawk yelled as they headed for his car. “ I’ll take you over to Joy’s. We got to get more gasoline.”
“My dad owns a pump I can get you all the gas you need.” Michael didn’t realized that Hawk was black until he turned to face him,” You mean that my man?”
“You dam right.”
“ Where is this place?”
“It the Spartans gas station on Ocean Drive.”
Hawk turned around in his seat.” Better take the girl over to Joy’s.” Red nodded. It took twenty minutes to get to Joy’s house. Hawk took the girl in and told Joy she had been bitten. “ How’s Summer?”
“Not good.” Joy was tired with no sleep and she couldn’t remember the last time she ate..” The dam thing turned black we aare going to have to do something or she’ll lose her foot.”
“ Listen I got to get back.” Hawk was worried about his sister but he didn’t like the paleness of Joy either. “ Yeah you do what you have to do.” . She watched as he walked out the door and heard the car speed out of the drive way. She looked at Clare,” Where was you bitten?” She asked. “ Mom, can you bring in some hot towels!” She looked at Clare .” We got another problem here.”
Michael took Hawk to his father’s gas station and they stopped the car. I’ll unlock the pumps and you can fill the cans up.” The night was cold for Virginia . He unlocked the pumps and let Hawk fill his cans up. Michael and Red went into the garage to look for some more when he heard his father’s voice. “ Oh oh trouble.”
“What the hell do you bad boys think you are doing stealing a man’s living.” He heard his dad shout. Michael didn’t doubt for a minute that he had his rifle with him too.
“Wasn’t stealing.” Hawk was trying to reason with the man,” Michael brought us here. He’s in the garage.” Hawk was desperate,” Look mister the water beetles have gotten on dry land. They are killing people. The beach is covered with them. We are going to start a fire and drive them back in the water.”
“What the hell are you talking about boy. They’ll be gone in the morning. They always do that.”
“I’m telling you mister that they killed my mother and father and my sister may lose her leg. They are everywhere.”
“ Bull shit boy. It’s all bull shit. You are stealing a white men’s living and I am calling the sheriff.”
Michael and red had four two more gas cans and they came out to see his father holding a gun on Hawk and his friends. “ They are telling the truth dad.” He didn’t waste anytime. He set the cans down by the pump,” Clare and I was almost killed tonight by them. One bit Clare. She is at a friends house now. We need the gas.”
“You have lost your head boy. Since when you run with them?”
“Since he personal risk his life for ours. I’m sorry dad but we need the gas.”
“That would not be to smart.. This town could be dead by morning. I am taking the gas.” He looked at his dad. . “ Have I ever lied to you?” Michael asked. The father lowered his gun. Hawk started the hose up again.
In a half hour they was heading for the beach again.
“ You’re dad scared the begeebers out of me, I don’t
mind saying.” Hawk stuck a thin cigar in his mouth and lit it.
“ I thought for sure that gun was going to go off.”
“ Dad has a temper but he is a good man. You have to admit we told him a pretty ridicules story.”
They got as close to the boardwalk as they could and each man grabbing a can started walking. “Will it work Salvador?” Hawk asked the older men..
“We’ll see.” They got up and Hawk pointed the beam of his flash light down on the sand. “ They are all over the place.
”Start pouring it on the boardwalk.” Hawk
shouted. They broke open the cans and poured it up and down until the
cans was empty.” Get off unto the dirt.. This will flair up so
the whole city will see it.” Hawk tossed a matched and a blaze
of fire shot up in the air. The boys stood back and watched. “
The sheriff and the fire department will be here. How will we stop
them from putting it out?” Spook watched the fire.
“Dam good question.”
I was looking at Summer’s foot when mom walked
in. She had taken a shower and fixed her hair and put slacks and a
shirt on. She carried a bowl of hot water. Summer was in a bad way. “
She has a bad temperature. I don’t know what to do about
Mom knew me like a book. She always knew what I was thinking at times before I said it. She knew what was on my mind.
”Maybe we should get a doctor?”
“I called the hospitals. They said they have an mergence and if it is not life or death don’t come and the one in North fork isn’t taking any more patience’s in and either is Oceania.”
“So what do you want?”
“ A sharp knife, alcohol and lots of lots of towels and bandages. “
“You need to cauterize it.”
I nodded. She left only to return a while later. She handed me the knife.” Be careful it is quiet hot.”
I braced her leg up on a pillow so I could see the bottom of the foot. It was black and pusy . I could do her more harm then good. Hell I was only sixteen and did not have any idea what was going to happen. Howard walked in.” Need any help?”
“Yes.” I answered gently,” You can hold her leg down so she won’t kick when I cut this thing,’ Howard grabbed a hold of her leg and held it firmly while the other hand was on her shoulder. I got down as close as I could and gently as I could stuck the end of the knife into where I saw the pus coming from. She screamed and tried to kick with her leg but Howard held her. I made a small cut and the stuff came running out. Mother put towels under it and the goo ran unto to them. Blood was mixed with the poision and we was creating a mess. Summer’s face was full of sweat. The water just ran down her face. I put the knife in a little deeper and a longer cut. Pus and blood seeped out. Mom kept changing the towels. Finally I stood up and we watched and waited..
I kept cleaning out the sore trying to get enough control of the bleeding and finally it slowed down. I got the alcohol. Knowing that this would be painful. gently poured some over the wound. She screamed.and past out. I wrapped the foot up then let her sleep. If that didn’t do it. I would get her to someplace for help. It was stupid the hospitals wouldn’t allow blacks in and we didn’t have the time to fool around. Clare had started to brake out in a few. I looked at her leg, she saw the look on my face,” Do it.”
“I looked at her.
“You heard me do it.”
I told mom to get me another knife that’s when I heard the sirens. The boys must have set the boardwalk on fire. I hoped that they got out in time. The police wouldn’t listen to them. How could they understand unless by ironing
They had came across the beetles themselves. Knowing them southern boys, they wouldn’t stop to listen. Hawk walked in the door. I drew a hard breath.” What are you doing woman?” Michael was across the room taking clare’s hand. He saw that the bite had turned black and full of poison.
“ Do you know what you are doing?” He asked me.
“ Hell no.” I inserted the knife into the sore. Clare jumped but didn’t scream. Mother held the towel close to Clare’s leg and we watched the poison run out. When the bleeding slowed down I poured alcohol over it. She jumped and held to Michael but didn’t make a sound. I bandage her leg up and laid her down on the couch. I looked at the window daylight was coming up the tide would have been out by now.
Howard came to tell me that Summer’s fever had broken. That was good news. As it turned out the police did know of the water beetles, as soon as it got day light they swooped the town. Benny and Sal was cold and hungry but alive and taken to the hospital.
It was like they disappeared into no where. The Ocean waves played with it’s swimmers. Not a beetle in sight. The Beach had been cleaned off so the tourist could sun themselves and play in the water. A lot of people sslept throught the whole thing. As for the boardwalk, it was re-built and they had no idea who set fire to it, that is excepted Michael’s father and he kept mum about it.
A month later mom was taking me back to Michigan. I
went over to Hawks house to talk to Summer. She was in a wheel chair
and would be for some time. Their Aunt and Uncle helped take care of
her. Hawk had gotten a job and was going to school at nights. He was
killed in a drive by shooting. A few years later Summer
married, she went on to have two baby girls. She sent me pictures of
them until her death in 58. The South took a turn and
there was a lot of controversy when they started busing the kids into
the white schools. I heard about it on the radio. It sadden me
because when the water beetles broke out of their place we proved
that we all could work together.”
“That’s a sad story Grandma.”
“ But a good story. It proved as I said, men could work together. It’s God’s way.” The old woman eyes had a far away look in them as she remembered her friend and the fun they had together.
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Lois Armstrong's Storylist And Biography