by Stephen March

It’s so dry the ground is cracking open. If it don’t rain soon, I’m going to lose everything. Lilah says God will provide but it is my job to feed her and the boys. What good is a man if he can’t take care of his family?

Nothing to do but drive down to Yancy’s Bar & Grill for a cold beer.

When I get there I drink one down fast and order two more for luck. I squeeze my last quarter, trying to decide between a song on the juke box and a pickled pigs foot from the jar on the counter.

I’m finishing up a pigs foot when Daryl Jenks walks in. He is a sharecropper, too.

“Daryl, where’s that ten bucks you owe me?”

“Ain’t got it, Nash,” he says. “But Amos Horton owes me fifteen bucks. You drive me out to his house, I’ll get the money from him.”

“What makes you think he’ll have it?”

“Last month he got on at that factory makes them electric toothbrushes.”

We ride out to Amos’ house in my truck. He lives on Highway 11, near Wildcat Swamp. The squash-colored moon is just a fingernail above the pines.

“They can put a man on the moon,” I say, “but they can’t wipe out the damned tobacco worm.”

Daryl says they will keep working on it, the scientists in their laboratories, until they get rid of pests like the tobacco worm.

“Looks to me like the worm is here to stay,” I tell him. “To plague man and cause misery. The scientists can’t get rid of all the diseases, just like they can’t kill all the worms.” They keep coming and eating the leaves.

“If all the scientists could work on it the way they worked on that rocket to the moon, they could get rid of the tobacco worm,” Daryl says.

“How could they all work on it, Daryl? They’re too busy studying other things. Cancer and satellites and outer space.”

“They might not get around to the tobacco worms until later. But when they do, they’ll be able to get rid of them.”

“That’s bullshit. They been able to get rid of the fly?”

“No, but that’s only because they been working on more important things, like you said. If they all got together ain’t nothing they couldn’t do. Including getting shed of the tobacco warm.”

“No, there’d always be some things they couldn’t do.”

We are still arguing when I turn into Amos’ driveway. Them beans and peanuts in the fields would look pitiful in daylight. I am glad for the darkness to cover them.

The porch light comes on, and Amos comes to the door to see who it is. Before he got the job in the factory that makes electric toothbrushes, he was a sharecropper, like me.

“Nash, Daryl, how you boys doing?”

“Not worth a damn,” I say.

“Must not of been paying the preacher.”

“Preacher give up on us,” Daryl says.

Amos sits in a rocker and listens to Daryl and me argue awhile before he speaks up. “Before the scientists would get rid of tobacco worms I wish they’d get rid of rats. Ain’t nothing I hate more than a old long-tailed rat.”

“Too bad they can’t make it rain.” I look over at Daryl. “And there’s another thing they can’t do.”

Amos says if it was up to him it would be a toss-up between getting shed of rats and making it rain. He figures it will rain sooner or later, but rats will be around forever.

When Daryl asks Amos for the fifteen dollars, Amos says he don’t have it just now but he might have it next week. We are all quiet for a while. Then Amos says he has a bottle of whiskey in the house if anyone would care for a drink.

“Believe I’ll have one,” Daryl says.

“Me, too.”

When Amos comes back outside, he hands the bottle of whiskey to Daryl, who takes a swallow and passes the bottle over to me. I take a drink, ask Amos what kind of work he does in the toothbrush plant.

“Sweep the floor now,” he says. “But I’m hoping they’ll put me on one of the bristle machines before long.”

Amos pulls an electric toothbrush out of his back pocket and turns it on so we can hear it buzz. “It’s got three speeds. Works on batteries or electricity.”

“Let’s see that thing,” Daryl says. Amos hands him the toothbrush and Daryl flicks it on and off. “How much one of these cost?”

“Nine ninety-five in the store. You want that one I’ll let you have it for half of what I owe you.”

Daryl puts the electric toothbrush in his pocket. “You can give Nash the rest of what I owe you.”

“I can give you one of these instead, Nash,” Amos says. “Then everbody will be even.”

“I got a toothbrush, Amos.”

“But not a electric toothbrush.”

“He don’t believe in science.” Daryl gets up and goes out to the yard to piss.

A screech owl hollers somewhere way back in the woods.

Daryl’s legs fly out from under him and he goes down on his back. He lays on the ground like he is studying the stars.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, Daryl?” I call out.

“Gravity is what’s wrong.”

“Where would you be without gravity? You wouldn’t be nowhere ’cept off with the space men.”

“Gravity has got me by the ass and it won’t let go.”

I am right good and tired of listening to him run his mouth. He don’t know shit with his talk about scientists being able to get rid of worms and flies.

Them worms keep coming, I think. Burrowing into things. And if a man ain’t careful they will dig their way into his body and eat all of his insides away until ain’t nothing left but skin.

STEPHEN MARCH’s stories have been published in New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, and The Texas Review, among others. He is the author of three novels, Armadillo, Catbird, and Strangers in the Land of Egypt, as well as a collection of short stories: Love to the Spirits. “Luck” will appear in a second collection of stories due out in 2013 from River City Publishing. March’s crime novel, Hatteras Moon, will also be published in 2013 by Koehler Books.