01 Feb The Hate
Harry had just emptied our second pitcher of lemonade when we started our last conversation. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the guy like a brother, but my mother had always raised me to be a gentleman, even when not in public. I held doors for men and women alike, always had a napkin in my lap when eating, and called people ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ even if I saw them every day of my life. Harry…well, Harry had been raised a little differently. So when I say that he emptied our second pitcher of lemonade, I don’t mean that he emptied it into a glass.
He put the pitcher back on the small table between us and leaned back in his chair, sighing and smacking his lips contentedly. I couldn’t help but chuckle. “While I don’t disagree that Edna makes the finest lemonade I’ve ever had, you do remember that she’s your wife, right? It’s not like that lemonade is going anywhere.”
He laughed as we gazed off his front porch at the field in front of us, lit up in gold as the sun meandered towards its cradle to our left. I could hear Edna bustling around in the kitchen in the house behind us, apparently preparing for the party by banging every pot she had together. “Live in the moment, right Luke? You never know when your last glass of lemonade is going to be.”
“Or pitcher, as the case might be.”
He sighed as he stood up. “I’ll take momentary exercise over protracted whining. You want anything else from Edna? She’s cooking up a storm for tomorrow, but I doubt she’d begrudge you a bite or two.”
I shook my head contentedly. “Man may not be able to live by bread alone, but I can sustain myself just fine with your wife’s lemonade.”
He rolled his eyes as he picked up the pitcher. “I can’t tell if you need to go to church more often or less.”
“Most folks call that the sweet spot,” I replied, grinning to myself as he walked through his front door.
Harry and I had worked together at the power plant for forty-five years, and were only just starting to settle into retirement. He was wearing the watch they’d given him, but I’d left mine at home—no need to measure time when you were just trying to pass it.
A minute or so later (who was counting?) Harry walked back out without the pitcher. “I regret to inform you,” he said, “that Edna is currently in the middle of baking three pies, two casseroles and an entire ham for tomorrow. The lemonade will be ready, and I quote, ‘In its own sweet time’.”
I pouted my lip and looked longingly at the table between us that had only two empty glasses on it. “I hate every moment I spend without it.”
“Loathe,” Harry said as he sat back down.
“You loathe every moment you spend without it,” he said.
“They’re two different things.”
I cocked my head to the side—I was usually the pedantic one. “Care to enlighten me as to the difference?”
Harry waved his hand around expressively for a moment before saying “Loathe is like…you can’t stand to be in the same room as something. You loathe spiders, for instance.”
I nodded. “That I do.”
“But hate is different. If you hate something, you don’t like it, but…you still want it around.” He thought for a moment. “Remember Billy Hanrahan?”
I gave a low whistle. “How could I forget?”
“We hated Billy Hanrahan, but we’d still talk to him sometimes, just to get our bile going. It feels good to hate something, dark as it is to admit. If you loathe something, you’re repulsed by it, but hate is almost an attractive force.”
I nodded, knowing what he meant. “They say hate and love are opposed, but that’s not really true. They both make you feel better for feeling them.”
“Exactly,” he said.
We sat for a while with that hanging in the air as the sun continued to slide down the sky and the crickets started their serenade. The nights were starting to get colder this time of the year, but we had an hour or two before I’d go home.
Harry broke the silence by speculating, seemingly to no one in particular, “Where do you think hate comes from?”
“We’re getting a little deep for six PM, aren’t we?” I asked, only half-joking.
Harry sat forward in his chair and stared out at the darkening field as if it held the answers to his questions. “You remember what they taught us in high school, right? All that Newton stuff about energy—how it can’t just be created, how it always has to come from somewhere?”
“That seems like a simplification, but sure,” I said.
He seemed to be on his own train of thought, hardly reacting to my words. “Well…there’s energy in hate, right? You ever get so steamed up about something that you can’t sleep?”
I nodded down at the table between us. “This lemonade situation’s better than coffee so far.”
“So where the hell does that energy come from? Why does hate feel good?”
His posture was tight and he had gone from staring out at the field to trying to burn a hole in the porch between his feet. I didn’t know how to respond, but slowly, over the course of what felt like fifteen minutes, he eased up and finally fell back into his usual slouched sitting position, a lazy smile across his face. Whatever storm had been brewing behind his eyes, the Harry I was used to was back.
“You know what I bet it is?” he asked, looking at me for the first time since the conversation had gone sideways. “I bet there’s little bugs.”
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. “I certainly hope there aren’t.”
He grinned at my discomfort , but there was something about the smile that seemed to tell me that I wasn’t the only uncomfortable one. “Yeah…Hate Bugs. Little microscopic bugs that live on all of us. There’s probably some kind of chemical or something that we make, maybe in our sweat, that only gets made when we’re really holding a grudge about something. The bugs eat it, need it to live, so they’ve developed a system. Whenever we start hating something, they make something for us too—some kind of drug or something, like nicotine maybe—gets the heart going, makes us feel good and sure and steady.”
I crooked an eyebrow at him. Harry and I would often bullshit for hours at an end, but this topic was new to me. “You’re saying these hate bugs are conditioning us? Like that Pavlov guy and his dogs?”
Harry snapped and pointed his finger at me. “That’s his name, I was trying to think of it! Yeah, just like him. If you think about it, hate’s addictive, just like a drug—if you can’t stop drinking, that’s alcoholism, and if you can’t stop hating, that’s called a grudge. They’re basically the same, when you get right down to it.”
“And once you start hating someone or something, it’s hard to stop,” I said, stroking my chin as I slowly got aboard his train of thought. “So once the bugs get you hooked, they’ve got a long-term food source.”
“The more we talk about it, the more I convince myself,” Harry said. “The horrible stuff people do…it’s all because of these bugs, huh?”
“I bet they’re multiplying lately,” I said, shaking my head ruefully. “The way the world’s going, seems like everyone’s favorite activity is to find someone to hate and light their life on fire.”
Harry nodded, leaning forward slightly as his hands gripped each other, tight enough to turn the knuckles white. “All the bad thoughts, all the unforgiveable things we do…all because of the bugs.”
I looked over at him. I still don’t know if it was something in his words or the way he said them. After a moment’s thought, I said “After all, what’s the alternative, right?”
He nodded as he leaned forwards a bit more.
“If there’s no bugs…and it’s all just coming from us. If there’s just something about being human that makes you enjoy the thought of some other people suffering…”
Harry scratched his neck absentmindedly. “Yeah…if it’s all coming from inside you…how do you explain what that hate makes you do? Are you really the one who hurt that person, who…who killed that person? How can you still be the same person after hate makes you do something?” His voice was flat, but there was a rattle in it like something had recently broken.
“If all you have to do is squash a few bugs…” I trailed off, unable to think straight as my mind raced.
Harry nodded, looking back up at the field in front of us as the sun’s edge touched the horizon. The crickets had gone silent. All was quiet around us for a moment—not a sound from the field, the wind, the patio…or the kitchen inside.
“Everything can go back to normal,” he finished for me. “It wasn’t you, it was some dark impulse from outside. The bugs made you do it, and now they’re gone.”
I nodded slowly. “Now…they’re gone.”
We sat like that in silence for a time as the sun dipped noiselessly below the horizon. The night cooled slowly, but I felt like ice sitting in that chair. I don’t know why I got up when I did, but eventually I did.
“Good to see you, Harry.”
“Tell Edna I said goodbye.”
He blinked for a second too long. “Yeah. I will.”
As I walked to the car, my heart skipping beats and my feet unsteady, I reflected that Harry had certainly been right about one thing. You really did have to live your life in the moment.
After all, you never knew when your last pitcher of lemonade would be.