Oatmeal Does a Body Good
(c) 2012, C. D. Bonner
Dave stopped in to check on Coosa one afternoon. He finally found him at the home of Coosa’s brother Arthur. The place reeked of a two-week drunk. They had a set of bunk beds and a big couch on the perimeter of the front room. The kitchen lay just beyond.
Dave didn’t even get his coat off before Arthur raised up enough to rasp, “Dave, check on Torey. He said he wasn’t feeling good.” Neither of the moonshiners was in any condition to get up.
The table hadn’t been cleared in a long time. Dirty dishes occupied every seat. There was a large plate of oatmeal on one side of the table that had flies hovering around it. They hovered, because Torey had already landed in it. Several days ago. And he smelled a bit ripe.
Dave held back a bit and asked them, “How long since you talked to him?” “Oh, he hasn’t moved in a couple of days.” “He don’t talk much anyways.”
Coosa got one eye open and slurred, “We tried feeding him some oatmeal on Thursday, but he don’t want to eat anything.” It was now Saturday afternoon.
Dave laid the back of his hand on Torey’s neck. Cold. He slid up Torey’s sleeve. No pulse. “Arthur, he’s dead–been dead a while.”
“Oh, my word. He was such a good man, a good friend.” No one had yet risen, least of all Torey.
“Should we call the doctor?” Coosa inquired, finally raising upright. “No,” Dave advised, “We have to call the law. You have to when there’s a death. No doctor’s gonna help him now.”
Coosa and Arthur were alert now. “No, no, don’t call the law. We’ll take care of him. We got a family cemetery just up the road.”
Dave’s eyes widened, and he told the older men in his most confident tone, “Hey, I ain’t goin’ to jail for not reporting it. We have to call the sheriff.” Despite their pleas, Dave dialed the sheriff’s office. While Dave spoke to the sheriff’s office Arthur went through the pockets of Torey’s overalls. He pocketed the wad of bills from his billfold and the singles from his shirt pocket before he returned his wallet.
“Law’s on the way. They said it’s not a big deal but they still have to come out so he can get a death certificate,” Dave told them. Coosa straightened up the house, putting away the mason jars of liquor. No need for additional excitement today.
A half-hour later, the coroner’s wagon rolled quietly up the dirt driveway. Before they could reach the door, an agitated Arthur slid a ten-dollar bill into Torey’s shirt pocket then retreated to the far side of the living room.
Dave explained the situation as he knew it. The coroner asked Coosa and Arthur the same questions, trying to pin down the time of death. While they were interviewing Coosa, an anxious Arthur blurted out, “He was stone-cold dead when I checked him…and he only had ten dollars in his pocket.”
They told them the death seemed to be from natural causes, but that they would have to give them an official cause of death in a couple of days. They wheeled Torey away on a gurney. As Torey crossed the threshold for the last time, Arthur shifted from foot to foot, lamenting, “Sure is awful he died like that. At least he died with friends. He only had ten dollars.”
The drunks had sobered up. Dave reassured them that the law had no other interest in them, which calmed them down. Still, they were shaken up and chattered about how good a man Torey had been. As they got dressed to go visit Torey’s family, Dave seized the opportunity to extract himself.
A few weeks later a policeman stopped by Coosa’s place with news from the coroner. Torey had died quietly of a heart attack and had not suffered. The oatmeal had been too little, too late.