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TERMITES/Ned Stuckey-French THE SUMMER BEFORE ninth grade, the summer of 1964, we collected insects. During most of the summer we assumed termites would be easy to find so we didn't look very hard for them. Lepidoptera—butterflies and moths—were not only bigger, flashier and more interesting, they were more fun to catch. Chasing a swallowtaU across a meadow or touring street lights late at night for big moths was more romantic than kicking apart rotten stumps or dismantling woodpUes, which was what you had to do to find termites. But August arrived and found us without termites. I was the one who proposed the short cut. One of the exterminators around town must have some. My friend BUl Harrison, Ui particular, was not sure this was on the up and up, but we aU needed termites and I prevaUed. I checked the Yellow Pages and started caUing exterminators. The first five thought I was crazy to imagine they kept any termites, but finally, on the sixth caU, I had some luck. The man said almost apologeticaUy that he only moonlighted as an exterminator, but that he did have some termites. He put them Ui an old terrarium and watched themjust Uke he'd watched his ant farm when he was a kid. "My queen is something when she's pregnant," he said. "She puffs up to about the size of your little finger. I can give you all you want." He Uved about five mUes south of town. "Just beyond the EU LUIy plant, where they make the pharmaceuticals," he said. The ride would be long and hot but that was okay. In a way, we would be working for the termites after all. The next afternoon Mike Dobbs, Leonard Johnson, BUl Harrison and I set off on our bikes to get the termites. Dobbs had a ten-speed with thin, hard tires and as we worked our way up the Ninth Street hiU I heard the cUck-click-click as he downshifted to his lowest gear. He puUed next to me, stood on his pedals, churned them hard and blew on by. Almost as if he was riding on level ground he swept past Bill and finally Leonard. Once in the lead he slalomed back and forth, flashed a grin and threw a taunt back over his shoulder at Leonard. "Come on, lard butt. It's only a hiU." Leonard was working his old Schwinn as hard as he could, but it had big, baUoon tires, and even from where I was I could hear them sticking to the squishy asphalt. They made a muffled tearing sound, as if an endless strip of Velcro was being undone. While Dobbs scooted The Missouri Review · 67 about Uke a water strider, Leonard huffed and puffed and cussed to himself. Dobbs and Leonard were next-door neighbors and best friends, but totaUy unlike. Leonard was the biggest, slowest kid in class. He had freckles everywhere, and his hair was aU cowUck. The next spring, he would drive to school, the first kid in our class to get his license. Dobbs, on the other hand, was short and quick, a halfback who used the holes Leonard opened for him at right tackle. Dobbs's father was the head ofArmy ROTC at Purdue University, where my father taught agricultural economics. Dobbs had jet-black hair, laughed at everything and chattered constantly. ForLeonard wordswere the enemy. He could talk about a few topics—his family, cars, his girlfriend Vicki, sports—but even then it was a struggle. When his sentences started to tangle his eyeUds would flutter and drop shut. Then he'd raise his chin and trembling Ups, and stutter out what he could. I rarely knew what he was going to say and I found it hard to watch him try. Once, when a few of us were playing poker, Leonard drew two cards to a full house. He raised a quarter to open the next round, the limit in our penny-ante games, and then, uncharacteristically, tried to hurry the betting. "Do ... do ... do you ... ah ... do you ... ?" "No," answered Dobbs to the question that hadn't been...


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