Cal knew the hazards of working outdoors. He stayed aware of power lines, kept a hat on his head to avoid sunstroke, and wore steel-toed boots in case he dropped something heavy on his feet. “A man can’t work if his toes is broke,” he always told his wife.
He refused to wear bug spray, though. Couldn’t stand the smell. So all kinds of parasites had their way with him. A severe allergic reaction drew the unwanted attention of his foreman.
He realized he must truly be a sight when the boss gasped in reaction to Cal’s swollen face. “Damn, man! Your cheeks done puffed up like an ol’ Bing cherry. Biggest one I ever seen, in fact,” Hawkins claimed. “I don’t think I can keep you on my crew lookin’ like that.”
Cal brushed off the comment and swore to his perfect faculties. No little bug bites would keep him from a day’s wage. He had bills to pay.
Hawkins disagreed. As Cal’s face continued to swell, his eyes came ominously near closing. He could barely see through the protuberant lids. “Really, boss, I’m fine,” he insisted. “Let … ge … baaa to wook,” Cal struggled to utter from behind distended lips.
“You don’t get to decide that,” Hawkins told him. “I let you swing a hammer in that condition, and it’s my ass. I doubt you can pick one up with those sausage fingers.” Cal lifted his hands to peer painfully at his ballooning phalanges.
The emergency room nurse advised Cal how dangerously close he’d come to anaphylactic shock. He lay in the bed tethered to an IV pole, a powerful antihistamine pumping into his veins. She checked the flow of medication from the bag and asked, “Those little buggers are nasty, huh?”
Cal didn’t answer, his throat almost completely closed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I forgot you can’t talk right now.” He noticed the thumb on his right hand bent just a little and thought, “I wonder if Hawkins will let me clock back in this afternoon.”