The June Bug Dance
By Jo Ann Garvin
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Sarah flopped down on the downy, feather- tick mattress and watched as dust
motes twisted and spun in the narrow beam of sunlight knifing across her
bed. Thoroughly bored, she had explored every inch of her aunt and uncle's
southern Tennessee farm and was now nursing a powerful case of homesickness
laced with an unnamed sorrow she didn't know how to express.
The day was sticky-hot and humid. The air felt semi-liquid, almost heavy.
Off in the distance, she heard the sound of thunder grumbling like a
crotchety old man, echoing with the promise of a late afternoon storm.
Closing her eyes, she could hear the incessant buzzing of the June bugs as
they swarmed the grassy areas near the house. She hated them with a
passion. Every time she went outside, one of the loathsome things managed
to snag itself in her hair and she'd run to her uncle to have him remove
the thing. Sarah could feel the vibrations deep inside her head and chest,
and wondered if that buzzing would ever go away.
Deciding there was no solace to be found in her own company, she plopped
her tennis shoe shod feet on the floor and sauntered toward the stairs. She
loved this old house with all its assorted nooks and crannies. It held a
romantic fascination for her. Her aunt Ruby had taken her to see Gone With
the Wind in the theater last month and Sarah had been captivated. Some
days, she would get lost in pretending she was a fine Southern belle,
spending her days entertaining her friends at elegant socials and courting
a handsome, Confederate captain. Rhett Butler, in her opinion, was a real
skunk. She glided down the stairs with all the grace of Scarlet O'Hara
dressed in the remains of the parlor drapes, holding out one hand to
daintily raise the hem of her imaginary dress.
Downstairs she peaked into the living room where Aunt Julie's hospital bed
and other assorted sick room supplies filled the large, sunny space. Though
the grown-ups didn't say so within her hearing, she knew her aunt was dying
from some kind of disease. Her bones had grown so soft, so brittle, that
she could no longer get out of bed. Sarah disliked the room's antiseptic
smell. She'd come to associate it with death, but did not let that stop her
from seeking the woman's company. Sometimes, Sarah wanted to throw herself
in her Aunt Julie's arms, longing to feel a motherly touch, but had been
cautioned not to touch her for fear of breaking one of her fragile bones.
She was disappointed to find her asleep, snoring softly in the early
afternoon heat. On tiptoes she left to find her Uncle Alfred.
He wasn't in the house, so she started searching from him out back. She
knew he had not gone far because her never left Aunt Julie alone. She
smelled the faint odor of the cherry tobacco he smoked and knew he was in
his favorite spot on the house's rambling front porch. Rounding the corner
of the house, she found him contentedly smoking his pipe, seated in the
weathered porch swing.
"Where ya been, Sally Pickelpepper?" he called and Sarah giggled at the
ridiculous name. He was a tall, thin man with large hands and feet. From
Sarah's perspective, he was a giant. He always wore the same faded, denim
coveralls with a white shirt, yellowed by age and frequent washings.
"My name's not Sally Picklepepper. It's Sarah Jane. You know that!"
"Yep, I know that, but then, I like my name for you better."
He took a long draw on his pipe, exhaling the smoke in a series of small
puffs through his mouth. One of them formed a perfect ring and Sarah poked
at it with her finger, laughing as it collapsed and scattered in an errant
"When's these stupid bugs gonna stop all this racket?"
She joined him on the swing, disrupting its rhythmic squeak. Idly, she
swung her feet back and forth, elbows resting just above her knobby knees.
She picked at a week old scab on her shin, peeling the top layer, leaving
behind the purpled new skin underneath.
"Oh, probably not for a few more weeks, I'd say. You know, I could show you
a way to have fun with these bugs." He laid his pipe in large, metal
ashtray beside his feet.
She gave him a disbelieving look.
"What are we gonna do? Stomp on them? No way would I ever touch one. Yuck!
He laughed, a rich vibrant sound that always made Sarah feel warm and safe
"Blood thirsty little thing ain't ya? We won't kill'em. We're gonna make
"How? These bugs aren't smart enough to do anything but be pesky."
Sarah inserted her index finger into the corner of her mouth and nervously
started to tug at the already ragged cuticle with her teeth. Uncle Alfred
pulled it from her mouth and she made no comment. Everyone was always
fussing at her stop biting her nails. She looped her hands loosely around
her knees and placed temptation out reach.
"You just stay right here. I'm gonna get some thread from Julie's sewing
He returned in just a few minutes carrying a spool of white thread.
Settling back on the swing, he measured out several yards then cut them
with his pocketknife.
"Now we gotta catch us one. Come on. We'll find a mess of them out there by
that old cedar tree." She got up and followed him off the porch.
"I ain't touching them!" she declared as they crossed the bare expanse of
the front yard. Beneath her feet dried grass crackled, eager for the
moisture the rumbling sky promised.
"No need to," the old man assured her, "I'll do what needs to be done."
Spying one of the creatures beneath the tree he scooped it up, gently
cradling it in his weathered hands. Sarah could barely suppress a shudder.
"Come on, we'll sit on the steps while I show you how to rig'em up."
He gently attached a length of thread to the insect's hind leg, taking
great care to fasten the knot. For a man with such large hands his touch
was amazingly gentle and sure.
"He looks like a real corker. We might get a good dance out of him."
Taking the bug in one hand and holding the thread in the other, he gently
tossed the bug in the air. Sarah was amazed when it took off flying, still
tethered by the thread. He got up and started following the bug until he
stood in the middle of the yard.
Sarah watched, as he started turning round and round, raising and lowering
his arm. And sure enough, the June bug began to dance on the end of the
string. She laughed and clapped her hands with delight.
"Want to try it?"
She gingerly took the string and made the June bug dance, going round and
round and up and down until she became dizzy from the spinning. Yet, even
then, she refused to stop. After a time, the bug's flight became sluggish.
It landed in the grass, refusing to fly any more.
"He won't fly anymore! What's wrong with him?" she cried in disappointment.
"Nothing, child. He's just plumb tuckered out."
He got up and gathered the emerald and black insect in his hands. Holding
it between two fingers, he reached into the pocket of his overalls and
retrieved his knife. Using extreme care, he severed its tether, leaving
just a tiny length of thread on the creature's hind leg. Bending down, he
placed it in the grass where it scuttled away.
"Where to June bugs go when they leave here? Do they die?"
"Don't rightly know, child. Maybe."
"Do they go to heaven?"
"I suspect they must go to a special place just for June bugs."
"Like my baby brother went to Heaven?" She paused, and then added with a
hint of hesitation, "Like where Aunt Julie might be going soon?"
If he was bothered by this question, he didn't show it. She was so relieved
because most adults wouldn't discuss the subject with her, telling her she
was much too young to be worried about such things.
"Yep, there's a special place we all go when the Lord calls us home. How do
you feel about your baby brother going to Heaven?"
"I'm sad about it, but I believe what Daddy says about him being in a
better place." Sarah's huge, blue eyes burned with unshed tears. She asked
the one question that had been foremost in her mind since her dad brought
her here to stay.
"Why did my mama have to go to that special hospital? I know she's sad
about my brother, but ain't I enough? She's still got me."
Tears began to fall in earnest and her uncle gathered her spindly body in a
hug as she poured out her feeling of misery and abandonment.
"Of course you're enough, sweetheart. Your mom and dad still love you just
as much as they ever did. It's just that your mama is grieving so hard she
needs a doctor's help getting through it."
"But why couldn't I stay there and help Mama? Now she doesn't have any of
her kid's around," she cried out in bewilderment and hurt.
"Cause your daddy had too much to take care of, at the time and he wanted
you someplace where you'd be took care of until he comes to get you. Now
come on and dry your eyes and wipe your nose. You done made that pretty
face all red and splotchy."
He pulled out a snowy white handkerchief from his duckhead overalls and set
about repairing her face. Planting a soft kiss on the top of her silky
blonde head, he again pulled her close in a fierce hug, before releasing
Sarah sniffed, swiping at her nose with the back of one hand.
"What about you?"
He looked at her closely. "What about me, sweetheart?"
"Are you gonna be as sad as my mama when Aunt Julie dies?"
He appeared to be pondering the question before answering.
"I don't know, child, to be honest. It's gonna hurt me bad when she goes. I
don't think any of us quite knows how we'll handle losing our loved ones
'til it happens. Different folks handle it different ways. As for me, I
know the Lord will see me through it. He promises not to give us more than
we can bear. Does that answer your question?"
"I 'spose so," she replied, snuggling closer to his comforting presence.
"Good! So, how 'bout you and me heading for the kitchen. It's about time
for supper. Tell you what! How about we use them blackberries you picked
and make a cobbler for dessert. That's one of Julie's favorites. Maybe we
can tempt her to eat just a little."
"Mine too, Uncle Alfred. Can I help with the dough?" she grinned at the
though of mixing the dough with her hands just like he did.
"I reckon you can, but we both gotta wash our hands first. Let's get
moving. I can taste them berries already."
"Can we make the June bugs dance tomorrow?"
"Sure we can. In fact, we can do it everyday until it comes time for them
to leave or you go home, whichever comes first. Okay?"
"Okay. Uncle Alfred?"
"I love you. Is that okay?"
He stopped, turning around to smile at her. She thought she saw his eyes
shine with something like tears. His answer was to swing her up in a
trembling embrace and whisper the words she so desperately needed to hear.
"I love you Sarah girl and don't you forget that!"
Copyright 2003 by Jo Ann Garvin