You could hear the wings of moths slapping against the lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling in a string. The crickets and bullfrogs droned in the fields in the night beyond the tent. Ivan Blythe lay face down in the dirt, a barbecued chicken wing still in his hand. One of the younger children pushed through the legs of the adults to get a better view.
"He sure is short," said one of the neighbors.
"Hush," said the neighbor's wife.
Ivan Blythe barely stood four feet tall when he still stood. He walked with the aid of a metal cane, which he would also use to fend off curious children.
"Is he alive?" asked another man who held a paper plate soaked through with coleslaw--bits of it dripped off the edge. A young woman knelt down beside Ivan.
"I'm training to be an EMT," she said to the crowd, then she gently felt for a pulse at his neck.
"So?" asked the man with the coleslaw. The woman stood, wiping her hand on her jeans.
"Yeah, I think so," she said.
"Well, shouldn't we do CPR or call an ambulance or something?" asked the man with the coleslaw, just as his plate gave out and spackled his feet. He swore and shook the salad off his sandals.
"You haven't know Ivan very long, have you?" asked a rotund woman standing next to the buffet table. As she spoke her eyes wandered over a pan piled high with fried chicken.
"No," said the coleslaw man. He turned to the EMT woman. "Look, can't you do CPR?"
"Uh, I haven't had that training yet," she said. Several people in the crowd chuckled. "Shut up!" she said, smiling.
"What's wrong with you people? A man has died! We might still be able to save his life!" Coleslaw man took his cell phone from his pocket and started to dial 911.
"He didn't die of natural causes," said a voice in the back of the crowd. Coleslaw man stopped dialing.
"What did you say?" he asked, trying to crane his neck into the crowd. Everyone else in the crowd stared at coleslaw man. No one answered.
"What's going on here?" Coleslaw man held his phone close to his chest.
"Nothing at all," said the fat woman.
"Nothing," said the EMT woman.
Coleslaw man stared back at each of the faces. Many were touched with a little too much sun from earlier in the day. No one smiled, but no one looked sad either. Coleslaw man broke his stare and looked up at the moths, flickering the light, then he looked at Ivan. He bent down and rolled Ivan over.
"You won't stop me if I try?" he asked the crowd. Again, no one answered. Coleslaw man unbuttoned the top button of Ivan's shirt, then he leaned over, and pressed the heels of his hands onto Ivan's chest. He immediately felt and heard the crack of bones. "Jesus," he said, then leaned back on his legs.
"Osteoporosis," said EMT woman.
"Hah," said coleslaw man nervously. He wiped the sweat from he forehead with the back of his hand.
"It's no use now," said the fat woman.
"I'm calling 911," said coleslaw man, standing up. He started to dial again.
"Don't mister," said the little girl.
"What?" asked coleslaw man.
"Don't call. He's a bad man," said the girl.
"The authorities have to know there is a dead body here; I have to call. We have to call," said coleslaw man. The little girl looked over at Ivan then a family member quickly scooped her up, turning the girl's face away from the body.
"I wouldn't recommend that," said a man with barbecue sauce on his t-shirt and slathered over all his fingers.
"There's a conspiracy here," said the coleslaw man. "Isn't there?"
"There's no conspiracy," said the fat woman.
"That's just what a conspirator would say!"
"You're paranoid," said the EMT woman.
Coleslaw man started to back out of the tent. His way was blocked with the man with the barbecue sauce.
"Look, I don't want any trouble," said coleslaw man. "I have to live in this town."
"I'm glad you're thinking that way," said the fat woman.
"I'd like to go home now," said coleslaw man.
"But this whole party is in your honor," said the fat woman.
"Yes, but, I think I've had enough," he said. "Thank you," he added hastily.
The man with the barbecue sauce stepped aside. Coleslaw stared to leave, but then stopped and turned.
"Why was he a bad man?" he asked.
"He did things," said one of the people in the back of the tent.
"He did things," repeated the fat woman.
"Why now? Why here? Why my welcome party?" asked the coleslaw man. No one answered.
"We wanted to see how you'd--," said the little girl before her mother clapped a hand over her mouth and shushed her.
"I see," said coleslaw man, his voice breaking. He turned and walked briskly from the tent and into the night.