Miz Pat Tackles The Duckling Killer

by Betty Jo Goddard

My day sure changed suddenly. I had intended to eat breakfast, then stir myself around and go look in on Miz Liberton, who Mary Duncan said was feeling poorly. Thought I might run to the grocery for her. Pick up a few things if she needed something. Maybe tidy up her kitchen. She can’t get around at all well, and although my hip’s been cranking at me lately, I still get around, thank the Lord.

I was just sitting down in my breakfast nook for some All-Bran and prunes to get things moving better, when I heard the awfullest racket out back in the chicken yard. It sounded like a fox was after something for sure. I hurried out there as best I could with my bad hip, and there was Hiram Walker (yes, that really is his name) going after my three-week old ducklings with an axe while the mother duck squawked and flapped like an over-agitated feather duster.

“Hiram! You put that axe down. What in heaven’s name has gotten into you?”

The gate to the hen yard was wide open and some of my birds were already heading for freedom. I hurried through the gate to where Hiram was standing with a blood-flecked axe almost as long as he was tall. I wondered how in the world he hefted it. At his feet were two dead ducklings and a third floundering around with its leg almost chopped off. Hiram looked up at me with doleful, blinking eyes. “They’re rats, Miz Pat. I was killing them for you.”

“Hiram Walker, those are not rats. What ever possessed you to think that? Those are my good ducklings. Now you hand me that axe and come along with me.”

I picked up the axe, which was on the heavy side for me let alone a four-year-old kid by the name of Hiram Walker, and leaned it against my shed. Then I grabbed Hiram’s grimy hand, and together we went inside where I got out my first aid kit. “Hiram,” I said, “we’ve got to do something to help that poor little duckling out there. Let’s see what we can find for a splint.”

Hiram stood, blinking his eyes and looking as scared as if I had a razor strop in my hand. “I didn’t mean to kill your ducks. They were rats. Anyways, they looked like rats.”

I halved an emery board, then had Hiram hold the injured duckling while I tried to splint its leg with the two pieces. Poor thing. It had lost most its zip and I doubted it would live, but I got some water for it and had Hiram give it some mash. Thought it would be good for the little guy to learn to help animals instead of killing them.

When we finished tying up the duckling, I had Hiram help me shoo the chickens that had escaped back in the pen. I showed him how to fasten the gate so my birds wouldn’t entertain too many wandering notions, then I hustled Hiram down the street as fast as my hip would allow.

My place is just outside the edge of town, where it’s all right to keep my birds, and the Walker place is kitty-corner from me only a block away. Scraggly pigweed grew alongside the peeling gray house, and the lawn, such as it was, had big bare patches. Except for dandelions, there wasn’t a flower in sight to brighten the yard. Didn’t look like any pride had gone into the place at all, but that was no business of mine. My business was at my side, lagging behind me as we approached the house. I firmed my grip on him and hauled him up the sagging steps.

As we neared the screen door, Hiram pulled back. “What are you gonna do Miz Pat? My mamma is maybe gonna be mad, and I’ll be in trouble – bad trouble.”

I knocked right sharp on the door, not paying Hiram any mind. I heard banging in the kitchen. “Now who could that be?” Miz Walker shrilled. Then her voice rode up to a screech. “Jessie, you get down from there this instant.”

“Uh, oh,” Hiram said. “She’s mad. I’m really gonna be in baaaad trouble.”

While I stood there on that crumbling porch, my mind was fretting, trying to figure out what to say to Maybelle Walker. I had a suspicion she was hard on Hiram. Many times I’d heard him screaming his head off like he was being tortured or chased by the scariest demons imaginable – and (witness my ducks) four-year-old boys can have wild imaginations. I didn’t want Maybelle to be too hard on Hiram. Yet, the boy needed to learn to be respectful of animals and other people’s property. My property, to a point.

Before I’d figured out what to say, Maybelle Walker, a thirty-ish woman with a pinched face, came to the door all harried and fussed. She stood there, looking hard as nails, cracking gum as fast as her jaws could work it. She was gussied up in high heels and a mini-skirt, of all things. I didn’t see how she could get a lick of housework done in that get-up.

But I shouldn’t judge her, I know. She’s had a tough go of it since her husband left her, though she did give him reason to leave, I’ll allow.

“What has he done now?” Maybelle snapped as she looked down at my grip on Hiram’s hand. Hiram, eyes wide and scared, shrank back and let me do the answering.

“This boy of yours was over at my place this morning whacking away at my ducks with an axe. He killed two of them and nearly chopped the leg off a third. Don’t know how he managed it without cutting his own foot off. That axe is heavy.

“What I’m wondering, Miz Walker, is how we can teach him to be respectful of animals. Now, I don’t want you to be too hard on him. He said he thought those ducklings of mine were rats and he was killing them for me, so maybe he thought he was helping me, but I thought you ought to know what he was getting into.”

“Hiram, I can’t turn my back on you for one minute. What do you mean going over to Mrs. Patterson’s and killing her damn ducks? Now you get in the house right now. You know better than to go off like that.”

Hiram cringed and scooted inside, making himself as small as possible when he passed his mamma. Maybelle looked at me, her jaws working, her face closed. “Don’t you worry, Mrs. Patterson. I’ll take care of him good and proper. He won’t be killing anybody’s ducks after I get done with him. That boy is not getting out of this yard if I can help it.”

She turned and clicked off toward the rear of the house, leaving me standing on the porch, my mouth at half-mast, without a chance to get another word in for Hiram. As I headed back home, I heard Hiram’s screams before I even got to the street. I tell you, hearing that kid scream like that gave my old heart a twist. I didn’t have any intention of getting him in bad with his mamma. I was aiming to help him. His yells just tore at me.

When I got home, I checked on the duckling with the splinted leg. It was drooping in the shade of the henhouse right where we’d left him. I could see he couldn’t move around at all and was in a bad way. I picked him up and stroked him, then went off shaking my head. Probably would be best if he did die, but I didn’t have it in me to kill him, and certainly not with the axe Hiram had used. Why hadn’t I put that axe away after I chopped out those sprouts around that willow stump? I took the axe, stuck it in Dean’s cobwebby tool shed, and went inside to finish my interrupted breakfast.

I had started the day feeling so good and full of well-meaning intentions and now I felt all roily inside. I took a few ragged breaths. My shoulders slumped as I spooned up my All-Bran. Well, I might as well go look in on Miz Liberton as I’d planned. Maybe I can do some good there. I finished eating, gave her a call, but got no answer. Where could she be? She didn’t get out by herself.

I’m glad I went on over. Miz Liberton was in a bad way. I knocked, then let myself in through her aluminum screen door. She sat, sagging sideways in her chair in front of the TV, just staring off into space. Her mouth was agape, showing her toothless gums. Her breath was rattly and drool ran down her chin. The room was dark, the TV off–a dreary scene if I ever saw one.

The place needed some brightness. I bustled over to the windows and opened drapes to let light in, then went up to Miz Liberton. Even my old nose took in the smell of urine. I don’t know what God was thinking of, letting a body’s holding tank break down like that as a person gets older, just when they need it to work for them. Miz Liberton had always been such a dignified lady. The very notion of losing control of her bodily functions must embarrass her into hiding. But right now she looked beyond embarrassment.

I touched the worn-out old soul on the shoulder. “Miz Liberton, here, let me get a pillow for you. That position doesn’t look very comfortable.” I got a pillow from her bedroom, propped her up with it, and wiped her chin with a washcloth.

“Mary Duncan said you weren’t feeling well. I thought maybe I could do something for you – get you something to eat, take you to the doctor. What can I do for you?”

“Well. . . .” Miz Liberton’s voice was slow and her mind seemed to be groping through a fog. I waited, giving her time. “I don’t know,” she drug out.

She paused, gathering her strength, and looked out the window at workers filling potholes in the pavement. Finally, in a thin, wavery voice, she said, “Maybe if you got me some tea, it would settle my stomach. It’s feeling queasy.” Her eyes drifted away from me. “My, uh. . . .” Again she paused, searching to resurrect the right words. “My daughter’s coming tomorrow to take me to the doctor. Just a cup of tea will do for now.”

I got Miz Liberton some nice Orange Pekoe and a couple of soda crackers to nibble on. Thought the crackers might help her stomach. Then I turned on the television for her and slipped out the door, feeling relieved that the daughter was coming to take care of her. Maybe, I told myself, I oughta’ call the daughter, but she must know. I don’t want to be a busybody.

When I returned home, I glanced over at the Walker place. There was Hiram, humped up against their ragged maple tree. I couldn’t tell from the distance whether he was crying or not, but he didn’t look happy, moping there instead of running around like a shot out of Hades the way he usually did. My heart sank down to my toes, thinking I might’ve contributed to his woebegone state. I wanted to make it up to the kid. I doubted he’d learned a living thing, except maybe the difference between rats and ducklings

I went in and plopped down on the cane-bottom chair by my secretary. I keep the desk folded down with my phone resting on it, so it was real handy to pull out the phone book and look up the Walker’s number. The number was still listed under J. J. Walker, though J. J. hadn’t been around for nearly a year. I dialed up Maybelle. After six rings, she saw fit to answer with an impatient “Hullo.” I heard her snapping her gum with a crack and a pop as sharp as her voice.

“Maybelle, Nellie Patterson here,” I said, with my resolve all braced to stand up to any tirade Maybelle might aim toward Hiram. “Listen, I’d like Hiram to come over and help me with my birds and some weed-pulling in my garden. By working for me a couple of weeks, he could repay me for those ducks he killed.”

While I was talking, I could still hear Maybelle all the way over the phone, snapping her gum like a cap pistol taking pot shots at the enemy. I wondered if she did that when she was nervous. It didn’t slow her down, though. Before I could even get a breath in, she fired out a response. “I don’t know why you’d want that mess over there after what he did to your ducks. He’s just like J. J. Always acting before he thinks.”

“Well, now Miz Walker, I just want to see if I can work out a business arrangement with Hiram. He seems like a smart little shaver. He oughta’ be able to help me some. What would be good times for him to come over and make up for that axe job he did?”

“If you think you can handle him, I don’t care when his comes. I have my hands full just keeping up with Jessie.”

“How about sending him over at 10:30 tomorrow morning? We’ll see how he works out, and if he does, maybe he could come over every day at 10:30 and help me until lunchtime. Should be good for him and give you a little relief too. If he works out, a couple of weeks oughta’ pay off those ducks, if you can spare him for that long.”

“Oh, lordy. Spare him? That’s a laugh. All right. It’s your funeral. I’ll be glad to get him out from under foot. If he gives you any trouble, just let me know and I’ll tan his hide within an inch of his life. Now I have to go. I’m expecting someone any minute.”

I shook my head as I hung up. I wondered about Maybelle’ company. I’d seen all kinds of cars come there and then leave after a short time, though some nights one or another stayed on and was still there in the morning. But that’s none of my business. Maybelle has a tough row to hoe and maybe that company brightens up her life a little.

I don’t know what Maybelle told Hiram, but when he showed up around 10:30 the next morning, he looked scared. “Miz Pat, you ain’t gonna’ whip me are you, ’cause I killed your ducks?”

“Come on in, Hiram. No, I’m not going to whip you, but I want to make a deal with you. You did kill my ducklings, and I’m wondering if you’re man enough to want to make up for it by working for me an hour or so a day. What do you say? Do you think you’re a big enough man to do that?”

Hiram was standing by the door, hanging his head and looking ready to dart out if I so much as raised my hand to get the fly swatter, but he lost some of his hangdog look at my proposition. He rubbed his ear with his shoulder and a little half-grin crept over his face. “Yeah, I’m big. I can help you. See. Look.”

He put his arm up and showed me his bicep, which wasn’t any bigger than a walnut, but my old heart went out to that kid. He wanted to be big. He wanted to be worth something. I wanted to put my arms around him and give him a hug, but I didn’t want to taint his manhood with anything he might consider baby stuff.

I went up to him and shook his hand, real businesslike. “Okay, Hiram. We have a deal. If you do good work, I’d like you to come over every day except Sunday at 10:30 and work for me an hour or so if you can handle it–maybe an hour and a half a day for the next couple of weeks. Pay off those ducklings. Do you know how to tell time?”

Hiram didn’t know how to tell time, so I got down my cat-faced wall clock and showed him the big hand and the little hand and the numbers. He didn’t know his numbers either, so I sang a little song to teach him. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” I sang, pointing to each number as I sang them. My old pipes were pretty rusty sounding from lack of use. Since my youthful sap quit running, I hardly ever feel the prompting to burst forth in song. But Hiram was no music critic. Before long, he began singing along with me in his shrill voice, “Eight, nine, ten, and then eleven.”

I had him point to the numbers as we sang. That little tyke learned real fast. I felt justified in my judgment of him, and kinda’ proud of him, too. Before I took him outside, he could show me where the big hand and little hand would be when it was 10:30 and rattle off his numbers to twelve without a hitch.

First we went to the chicken house because Hiram wanted to see how the crippled duckling was doing. The duckling was lying on its side with its splinted leg sticking out. Its eyes were closed and it wasn’t moving at all. Uh, oh, I thought as Hiram went over to stroke it.

He turned and looked at me with wide, worried eyes. “Is it dead, Miz Pat? Did it die?”

I’d thrown the other two ducklings that met their end with Hiram’s axing in my burn barrel, but this duckling called for more reverence. We took it out under the lilac bush. I loosened up the earth a little with a spade fork, then Hiram dove in, scooping out a grave for the duckling with my digging trowel, working at it like dog tearing after a mole. The dirt was just flying. After we nestled the duckling in the hole on a bed of grass, he patted dirt over it and we made a little cross by lashing two sticks together. I say “we,” but I had to do the lashing. Hiram found the sticks for the cross and planted it in the ground. Then, when I said new graves often had flowers, he got some dandelions and put them over the little dead duckling, giving it his blessing in his own innocent way.

One of the things I wanted to do was to teach Hiram to take heed of living things and care for them. So once the duckling was properly laid to rest, I took him back to the henhouse where the three remaining ducks trailed after their mother. I thought Hughie, Dewey, and Louie would be good names for the ducks, but Hiram didn’t know about Disney. “What do you think we ought to name them then?” I asked.

Hiram thought for a while, then pointed to each duckling as he named them. “This one’s Jimmy and this one’s Jake and this one’s Hiram.” So my ducks were duly christened after Hiram and his father.

“Now, Hiram, one of your jobs will be to feed and water these ducks and feed the chickens. You need to do this every day. We don’t want any more of them to die, do we?”

I showed Hiram where to get the chicken and duck feed, how much to put in the feeders, where to turn the water on, and where to put the water. “See this big basin I have here? You keep it full of water so those ducks can get in and dabble around. They like that. They are water birds.”

After Hiram fed and watered my birds, I took the little fellow over to the garden patch and showed him what chickweed looked like. “Now, Hiram, let’s see how much of this stuff you can pull up by noon. You put it in this bucket here; otherwise, it’ll just grow back. Only the chickweed, now. Pretend the chickweed is the enemy fighting my pea patch here. You’re the mighty chickweed conqueror and you’re gonna’ protect the peas by getting rid of the enemy.”

I went back to my kitchen, hoping Hiram wouldn’t lay waste to my peas as well as the chickweed. I peeked out the window and saw him crawling around the garden snatching up chickweed as energetically as he’d hacked away at those ducks. I wondered what he was doing to the knees of his trousers, but figured he’d be wearing them out no matter what he was doing. I chuckled at that rooster-tail of his sticking up and his sandy forelock flopping down in his eyes every time he bobbed down to attack another weed. This kid might be scared of a whipping, but he sure was death on the enemy.

As lunchtime neared, I glanced out the window to see if Hiram’s interest was flagging. He was still at it, tearing out that chickweed and tossing it in the bucket. I shook my head with pleasure. I tell you, that’s a mighty long attention-span for a kid that age. I went out to pass judgment on his work.

“Hiram,” I said, “My goodness. You sure made progress with that chickweed. My old hip would’ve had me hobbled up for good if I’d done that much that fast. Good job. Now you’ve done your work for today and I ‘spect your mother wants you home for lunch. You go on in and wash up before you go home. Dust your knees off first.”

A pleased grin lit up Hiram’s thin face. “I could keep working more if you want. My mamma, she doesn’t care when I get home.”

I looked up the street at the derelict bungalow that was the Walker place. A battered blue truck of some sort–maybe a Ford–was parked in the driveway. “Looks like your mother has company, Hiram. You’d better scoot on over there. You don’t want them waiting lunch on you.”

“Mamma’s company, they don’t eat lunch. They come to do business with Mamma and then leave. You want me to come back this afternoon?”

“Well, now, Hiram, you’ve done your work for me today. I’m going to stop in and see Miz Liberton this afternoon. You eat your lunch, then if it’s all right with your mother, you could help me pick Miz Liberton some flowers and we could take them over to her. She’s sick and the flowers might cheer her up. But you be sure to ask your mother.”

I hardly had time to fry me a pork chop when Hiram was back at the door, wide-eyed and eager. “My goodness, Hiram. How did you eat so quick? I’m not finished here. You come on in and sit a bit while I finish my tea. Maybe I have some Oreos left. Would you like a couple for dessert?”

Hiram would, and I found three Oreos left in the package. He ate the two I gave him before I even took a sip of my tea and was eyeing the remaining one. “You go ahead and take that last one, Hiram. You earned it with all that good work you did this morning.”

Hiram grinned and snatched up the last cookie. I figured three cookies wouldn’t hurt him, scrawny little kid that he was. I sat back and sipped my tea while Hiram roamed the kitchen looking at all my utensils, patting the counter, trying the foot pedal on my garbage container. That pedal fascinated him and he stomped on it several times, grinning at the way the lid popped up and clanged down.

“Hiram,” I said, “That garbage lid can only take so much stomping. It would be better just to open it when you have something to put in the bin. See that Oreo wrapper. Put that in the bin for me. And then you can put this pork chop bone in. After I tidy up my table, we’ll go see if we can find some pretty flowers for Miz Liberton.”

Out in the flower garden, I handed Hiram my clippers and showed him where to cut zinnias and gladiolus. I saw right away Hiram had a preference for reds and pinks, so I showed him how yellows and blues with spears of green gave variety. We made a nice bouquet, and I rummaged around under the sink for a vase.

“How about it, Hiram,” I said as I cocked my head to one side and studied the bouquet. “Do you think we need another zinnia over on the left? That bouquet looks a little lop-sided.”

“Um, maybe. It looks pretty, but I could go get another zin-a if you want.”

“I expect you’d better. Since Miz Liberton’s sick, we want to make this as nice for her as we can.”

Hiram tore out the door and came back with a big grin on his face and two zinnias, roots and all, in his hand. “Well, now, Hiram, those are zinnias, all right, but look. We’re going to have to cut off these roots anyway, so it would be best to cut the zinnias the right length out in the garden and leave the roots in the ground so they can grow more flowers. Remember how we cut them?”

Hiram’s grin faded. He blinked as he nodded his head. I took my scissors and snipped off the roots. “You put these roots in the garbage can, Hiram. Then I’m going to let you put the zinnias in the bouquet where you think they look best.”

Hiram looked serious as he stepped on the garbage can pedal and deposited the zinnia roots. When he took up the zinnias to place them in the bouquet, he held his head to one side the way I had and squinted, then stuck one zinnia where I had wanted it and the other around in back. That done, I took up the vase, and Hiram and I set out on foot for the Liberton place.

Ordinarily, I would’ve driven over to Miz Liberton’s, as my hip tends to get cranky when I demand too much of it, but I wanted to see how Hiram managed himself on the walk. The Liberton place was only two and a half blocks and the exercise was probably good for me.

Hiram ran on ahead of me then came looping back. “Hey, Miz Pat,” he said, “Come look.”

He hurried me along the sidewalk until we got to the Wilson’s place, where he scampered up the driveway to their flowerbed and pointed to some petunias. “See, Miz Pat. These-uns would be pretty in the ‘kay. It doesn’t have none that color.” He reached down, ready to pick petunia additions for our bouquet. I stopped him just in the nick of time, he was so fast.

“No, Hiram. Huh-uh. You mustn’t pick those. Those are for the Wilsons to enjoy.”

Once again, Hiram lost his smile. He screwed up his face, looking puzzled and aggrieved. “But wouldn’t the Wilsons want Miz Liberton to have a pretty ‘kay?” he said. “Wouldn’t they?”

“Probably they would, but this bouquet is pretty, don’t you think? And it’s not right to pick other people’s flowers without asking them.”

Hiram didn’t do any more flower prospecting after that. When we arrived at Lydia Liberton’s, I let Hiram ring the doorbell, though the door was open and we could see right in through the screen. I handed the vase to Hiram, cautioning him not to tip it or drop it. He clutched it with both hands, his eyes serious and awed.

Lydia’s daughter, Mary, came to the door. When Mary invited us in, Hiram held up the vase and said, “We brought this ‘kay for Miz Liberton ’cause she’s been sick.”

“Well, aren’t you nice. Mrs. Liberton is in the bedroom resting, but she isn’t asleep. Why don’t you take the flowers in there and give them to her.”

Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, Hiram followed Mary to the bedroom while I trailed after them. Miz Liberton was propped up in bed with a bed jacket on and looked a little perkier than she had the day before. Hiram went up to her and, shyly for him, held the vase out to her and said, “We brung these for you, Miz Pat and me.”

“Oh, my. Aren’t they pretty, now. Mary, would you set these up on my highboy where I can see them.” Then she looked at Hiram and said, “You’re the Walker boy, aren’t you? Aren’t you Maybelle and J. J.’s son?”

Hiram nodded yes. “Maybelle’s my mamma, but daddy went away and doesn’t live with us any more. Mamma yelled at him and said she never wanted to see his face again, and she threw a pan at him and it hit him across the nose and made it bleed and then he left and never came back, so I don’t know if he’s my daddy anymore.”

Lydia Liberton was too genteel to say much to that. She just said “Well. So that’s how it is, is it? Well I thank you for the flowers, Hiram–it’s Hiram, isn’t it? Mary, why don’t you get this boy a soda and give Mrs. Patterson some tea?”

I chatted a while and found out that the doctor was trying some new medicine for Miz Liberton’s congested heart. Hiram wandered around the room running his hands over afghans and Miz Liberton’s highboy. When I saw him grip the highboy’s drawer handle to open it, I said, “Hiram, it’s time for us to go. We don’t want to wear Miz Liberton out.” We wished Lydia and Mary goodbye and made our way back to my place.

Hiram came every morning around 10:30. He even came on Sunday. (I doubt if he had any notion when Sunday was.) He fed and watered my birds, petted Jimmy, Jake, and Hiram, but he didn’t dally as you might expect a kid that age to do. In a businesslike and manly way, he took up trowel and bucket and attacked my weeds.

After he had chickweed conquering mastered, I showed Hiram new weeds to pull. He did a mighty good job for a four-year-old. He seemed to like coming over, and although I’m not the baking sort, I did stir myself and bake some oatmeal cookies for Hiram to eat when he finished his work. He finished the weeding before his two weeks were up, and I had to scratch my head to find something else he could do.

I finally hit on Dean’s shed, which I hadn’t done much with since Dean died. His tools were in the corner where I’d left them, rusting away. To tell the truth, I felt a little twinge at my neglect. It seemed that by slighting Dean’s tools the way I had, I was slighting my memory of him too. I got steel wool, rags, and WD-40 and set Hiram to work on them.

“See how shiny you can get these before you rub on the oil. The oil will keep them from rusting again.” I demonstrated on a tine of Dean’s spade fork.

Those tools and my birds kept Hiram busy until his two weeks were up. At the end of the last day, I gave Hiram a couple of cookies after he’d washed up, then shook his hand. “Congratulations, Hiram. You’ve paid off your debt for those ducklings you took an axe to. You did a real good job for me, and you kept at it like a man. I’m proud of you.”

A pleased grin brightened Hiram’s thin little face when I told him he worked like a man, but he didn’t understand what I meant when I said he’d paid off his debt, so I explained. “That means, Hiram, that you’ve done enough good work for me now to pay me for those ducklings you killed, so you don’t need to come over to work anymore.”

“Oh,” Hiram said. He hung his head and clenched his fists. “You mean you don’t want me to come over any more.” He didn’t look at all happy to learn his debt was paid up.

“Oh, yes,” I said as quickly as I could. “You can come over to visit me if you want to, as long as you clear it with your mamma first.”

This seemed to satisfy Hiram. He waved goodbye. “Thanks for the cookies,” he said. I felt my heart go out to him. It made my insides smile to see I’d taught the little shaver some manners along with telling time. As I watched him tear across the road toward his house, a little cloud of sadness came over me. I would miss having that kid around mornings, though, goodness knows, I liked my own peace and quiet and the freedom to do my own things.

Hiram did come over often to visit. “You want me to feed the ducks?” he asked. I let him do these chores for me and showed him how to gather eggs. He liked doing this. “Look. Look, Miss Pat,” he said in his high-pitched shrill. “See how many eggs I found.”

You may wonder why a kid like that would keep coming over to visit an arthritic old lady like me. I have a suspicion Hiram liked hanging around because having responsibility made him feel like he was worth something. And to tell the truth, his visits perked up my days.

Then one day, Hiram came storming over, his eyes wide and frantic. “Miz Pat, Miz Pat. Miz Liberton is down on the floor and she isn’t moving.”

I didn’t even take time to ask Hiram how he knew that. We hurried out to my car and I drove over to Liberton’s like I was in the Indy 500. As we neared her steps, I saw splotches of red, orange, and yellow scattered on her steps. The splotches were gladiolus and zinnias, and I knew right away where they came from. But I soon had more urgent things to think about.

“I was taking her some flowers, Miz Pat, and look.” He pointed through the screen where Miz Liberton lay, the little metal TV table toppled with her tea spilled out on the floor.

“Oh, my goodness, Hiram. Let me call 911. You run next door and see if you can find someone to help me.”

The 911 folks were fast. They sped Miz Liberton to the Macon County Hospital, where they performed heroics, trying to save her life. Because of Hiram, she has a chance of pulling through, though it’s slim.

I praised Hiram for his fast action. Seeing Miz Liberton on the floor like that had scared him good and proper, but he perked up at my praise. “Did I help save her,” he said. “She’s not going to die like that duck with the chopped leg, is she?”

I didn’t want to mislead Hiram, so I said, “Well, she might die. Her heart is about worn out. But if she lives, it will be partly because you acted so fast.”

Hiram took that in. “If she dies,” he said, “we could dig her a grave out where we buried the duck. I’d get some more flowers for her then.”

I didn’t know it then, as I stood chuckling to myself, that Hiram would soon have another emergency to deal with.

Not long after that, on a hot August evening, when I went to close my windows because a thunderstorm was brewing in the west, Hiram came streaking over and bolted right through my backdoor without even knocking. “Miz Pat, Miz Pat, Mamma is down on the floor just like Miz Liberton was, and Jessie is bawling and I can’t wake Mamma up. Come help.”

I didn’t even take time to gather my umbrella, though the thunder was moving closer, my walnut tree was bending with the wind, walnuts were thunking to the ground, and big splats of rain were speckling the road. Hiram was racing ahead of me like a hare running for cover, his old rooster-tail flapping in the breeze. He stopped to look back and said, “Hurry Miz Pat. Hurry, or Mamma will die like the duck did.”

I hurried, but I was no match for Hiram’s speed. When I stepped up on the stoop, Hiram had the door open for me and I could hear Jessie bawling in the background. “She’s in the bedroom,” Hiram said. “This way.”

Maybelle was down, all right, and she wasn’t stirring. I managed to get down on my knees–not an easy job for me anymore. I shook her shoulder, but Maybelle didn’t respond. Her face was dusky looking and her mouth had a yellow tinge. I tried to find her pulse, but couldn’t feel a thing. I struggled to my feet and asked Hiram where the phone was. “Hiram, see if you can quiet Jessie while I call 911.”

The EMT’s came, with all their life-saving paraphernalia, but after they examined Maybelle, they just looked up and shook their heads. I took Jessie and Hiram home with me. Scared and bewildered, Hiram ran to the window to watch the proceedings. I hauled Jessie over to the window so we could see too. Two police cars zipped up to Maybelle’s house in the driving rain. Lightning lit the sky and rain beat down on Maybelle’s blanket-covered body as EMT’s carried her to their wagon while Hiram gripped my windowsill and stared.

Miz Pat Reflects

I’ve lived a long old life–a lot longer than Maybelle lived. I’ve been lucky, I guess, to get in a lot of good years, but I never messed with cocaine like they said Maybelle had. I still have some good years left, and I want to use them well, doing what is kind and helpful and trying to see the truth of things as much as I can. I see I missed helping Maybelle. I don’t think anyone tried to help her. The people in the neighborhood didn’t approve of her life-style at all and made no secret of their opinions. Not, I suppose, that Maybelle would have taken the help if it was offered. She was a willful thing and woulda’ looked on any offer of help as condescension.

But I think I have helped Hiram. He’s with J. J. now, but he still comes by and offers to do things for me–feed my birds, water them, gather my eggs. My goodness, if it were left to him, my feed bills would skyrocket. But it would be worth the money just to let him taste the grand feeling of helping.

Every time Hiram comes, I want to gather the little fellow in my arms and give him a hug, but I consider Hiram’s feelings and check myself. Instead, I put my hand on his shoulder, sneaking in a little pat while it’s there, and point to things he can do for me. Then, if he does a good job, I praise him, which makes him want to do a better job the next time. He grins and says, “Anytime you need help with something, I’ll do it for you, ’cause I’m strong and big.”

So, if I’ve done nothing else for that benighted family, I feel like I’ve encouraged the good to grow in Hiram. And that’s worth something, now, isn’t it?

One Response to “Miz Pat Tackles The Duckling Killer”

  1. Kay Reed says:

    I think this lady writes from her heart. What a marvelous story and good morals as well. No greater work can a person do than to help a child learn to do good.

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