It Went Down This Way
When Tommy Reagan awoke he hit the ground running. He was eight years old and not about to miss anything a new day had to offer. Sliding from the bed onto his bib-overalls on the tile floor, he pulled them up his bean-pole slender body, pushing a freckled arm through each shoulder strap. Easing past his sleeping mother into the kitchen, he went out the side door into the twilight of a south Texas morning.
The dew damp St. Augustine grass felt good swishing against his bare feet as he trotted across the small front yard. Pausing, he wiped his swollen left big toe across the refreshing coolness. The sun blushing the eastern horizon would evaporate the moisture before breakfast.
At the dirt street, he looked both ways. No one was stirring. No surprise there. In the sand along the shoulder of the street doodle-bugs lived in little conical wells. Squatting and scooping sand into his left hand he looked to see if he had made a catch. Sure enough, a doodle bug squirmed in his palm. Carefully dropping it into the well of an untouched nest he laughed. A furious cascade of sand erupted from the nest as the occupant and the intruder tried to evict each other.
Noticing the sand sticking to the dampness on his feet, he wiped them across a pant leg. His toe still hurt and he was careful not to press too hard as he brushed the sand away.
Then, exploring the street he looked for tracks in the sand. Dogs, cats and rabbits were easy to cipher. Birds were interesting but he was never sure about the kind of bird that made them. Last week he had found a sure ‘nuff snake track.
He remembered what happened afterward. He had found a short piece of half-inch galvanized pipe in a trash pile. About six inches long and heavy, it had potential. There wasn’t much you couldn’t do with a piece of pipe like that. Holding it in his right hand, he smacked it rhythmically against the palm of his left hand, thinking of possibilities. He wondered, if he dropped it down the top of his overalls, would it come out his pants leg? Thinking it would, he dropped it. It did.
“Ow!” Tommy hopped around before sinking to the ground to rub his left big toe. “Ow!” Rocking back and forth, moaning, he hollered, “That hurts! I won’t do that again.” He threw the stupid piece of pipe away.
Later in the morning his toe was hurting more, and was swollen. By afternoon it was throbbing like the red light atop the city water tower and felt as big. The toenail, now a reddish-purple, pulsed painfully with each thump of his heart.
“Mama, can’t you do something?” Tommy cried. “This ice bag isn’t helping.”
“Blood’s under the nail” his father said. “That’s causing pressure. You need to punch a hole in it to let the blood out.” He reached for his trusty Buck pocket knife.
“No, Dad! Let me do it.” Taking the knife Tommy touched the toenail with the sharp point of the blade and screamed. The pain was too great to drill a hole in the nail. Each throb of his beating heart brought tears.
Mr. Clarendon came over from next door. “Tommy, I can help you if you’ll let me. I’m going to hold a needle in a pair of pliers and heat it red hot. When it touches your nail you won’t feel it. Nails are tightly compressed hair. The needle will melt through it like butter. The blood coming out cools the needle. I’ve done this before and it works. Trust me, and don’t jump. Okay?”
Tommy sobbed, “I guess so. Are you sure I won’t feel it?”
“I guarantee it. Close your eyes if you don’t want to watch.”
Mr. Clarendon heated the needle with a match until it glowed cherry-red. Cringing into the sofa, trying not to sob, Tommy watched the needle touch the toenail. Dark blood spurted out. The relief was instant.
“Ow!” Tommy hollered.
Mr. Clarendon looked puzzled. “Why did you yell, Tommy? Did you feel that?”
Dragging a forearm across his face, Tommy swabbed the tears glistening on his freckled cheeks.
“No, Sir! Thank you for helping me. I was just practicing, I guess.”
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