“Don’t know why?” she asked.
Ms. Potterson pointed anxiously at the clouds that had been cast over
our little town of seven hundred thirty-seven for over a month now, sometimes
raining down the dogs and cats and sometimes just menacing over like they were
going to pick a fight but didn’t have the gall to go for the first shove.
“There’s no sun up in the sky!” It was getting tiresome, to be sure, but what
God did with his sky was not for us to judge, and even then some people started
to feeling stressed over the whole thing.
All I was asking was why she looked so down, but I should’ve known
“Stormy weather,” I muttered.
She turned away and gathered one of those children of hers,
the rest bundled up in that car outside like they lived out of the old jalopy.
She caught me looking at that sad old sight and then turned her back to me,
clearly agitated, and walked out. She paused just before stepping out of the
shop and into that rain.
“Since my man and I ain’t together... keeps rainin’ all the
time,” then she left.
It was getting on and even though the grayness of those days
made it tough to separate morning from day and day from dusk, it was clear dark
was coming on. I had to start closing up soon but everyone was always waiting ‘til
church was up to get out and rush into the shops before they closed. Being
close to the only grocery in town made it wrong to lock up too early, and I
wasn’t the depriving type.
Barry Johnson, a plumber who lived on Willow (near the old
mill before it got tore down back in seventy-eight), he was watching that whole
scene with Ms. Potterson and sort of shrugged, because he knew what I did,
which was folks were allowed to be bothered these days. It was getting tough to get by here in town
and only us old people and the kids too young to leave on their own were
left. Seeing that kind of gap in a
community, whole generations missing like that, well, it made me sad to think
about. It was like when there were wars
and we lost so many of the young folks, only this wasn’t no war against an
enemy, just the times that we were in.
Barry walked up and dropped a loaf of bread and milk on the
“Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere. Stormy weather…” and he trailed off when he
heard the cash register ding open. He
tried to smile, sort of, and then nodded.
He reached around in his front pockets, to pull out his cash I gathered,
but wasn’t coming up with anything. He
looked sort of concentrated like he was trying to will the money into his hand,
but nothing. I was worried he wasn’t
going to have any cash and I’d have to have another tab on my hands (which ain’t
easy to keep track of with so many as I had, try it sometime), but then his
eyes lit up and he reached his right hand down into one those big side pockets
that his Levi’s had on them. It was the
type those carpenters need for tools and nails and all, and in old Barry’s case
it seems it’s where he kept his change.
He chuckled and said, “Just can’t get my poor self
together.” I smiled back as he counted
the change in his hand and reached out to hand it to me, twisting his face a
bit as he did. He’d been having some
wrist trouble and I should’ve known to reach over my own self so he wouldn’t
“I’m weary all the time,” said Barry, then he furrowed his
brows like he was trying to remember something as I pulled out his change. Maybe he’d finally remembered that he had my
lawn mower (the Craftsman, mind you, not my old Honda that I’d had to use since
he borrowed my good one).
“The time?” he asked, and I was tempted to ask about my lawn
mower right then, but those kinds of things are better discussed during the
week (and I made a note to myself to ask him that following Monday, believe you
me). I pointed to the clock on the far
wall and he looked over and nodded, then took his change, the loaf of bread,
and milk, and put them all in that sack of his.
He saluted to me (a queer sort of greeting and goodbye he’d taken to,
which I thought was right respectful if anything), and headed out into the
rain. As he walked out I noticed the
queue to pay was longer than the number of people still picking out items, and
I quickly pointed Andy over to the door to flip the sign to CLOSED. He had been stacking empty boxes over by the
door and was used to waiting for me to tell him when to close as dusk came on.
I then heard a sniffle, and “… so weary all the time.” It was Mrs. O’Haley, mulling over those words
of Barry’s. She knew what they meant,
given the time she’s had with those medical bills after her daughter, Lorrie,
got the back surgery. Poor kid had
fallen off a horse. Didn’t help any that
her dad was in prison (who is not Mrs. O’Haley’s husband, another gentleman she
was with before moving into town), riding out a sentence he got for selling
those damn drugs near Johnny’s by the train tracks. He was no good for her, or anyone, but she’d
gone on with him probably just like she’d gone on with that old husband of
hers, except this time she got saddled with a kid, good kid mind you, and all
the tribulations bound to come up. We
got to talking about it once, as I helped her move her groceries into her car.
“Since he went away, the blues walked in and met me.” I guess it was more she got to talking and I
just moved the bags into the back of her stationwagon, me not being the talking
type and all.
“Since he stays away, old rocking chair will get me. All I
do is pray the Lord above will let me walk in the sun once more.” Suppose it was sort of poetic, what she was
saying then, though not being one for all that flowery nonsense I never did
bother with it. It’s just that with the
weather we’d been having lately it seemed more appropriate than any thought I’d
“Can’t go on, everything I had is gone, since my man and I
ain’t together...” and she kept it up until I was done with her bags and
clanged the bottom door of the stationwagon shut. She smiled politely and stepped toward her
door, sort of stopped to look back at me, maybe to apologize or explain her
rambling, I don’t know, then just waved and left. Mrs. O’Haley, young as she was, would find
herself a good man, I knew it. Even if
he wasn’t here in town, and if it took her a lifetime, she’d do it.
Anyway, Lorrie’s surgery had been done in the city since the
only doc in town was not near learned enough to do that kind of thing. Lorrie was sort of mobile now, using crutches
and all, and Mrs. O’Haley had told me that the city doctors had told her she’d
be having a tough enough time walking let alone riding horses. Poor kid.
Mrs. O’Haley was buying some carrots, peas, noodles, a few chicken
breasts, and some bouillon cubes, and as she stacked the items her wet coat was
dripping water all over the counter. She
looked at me exasperated and said, “stormy weather.” I just shook my hand and brought out the old
rag I kept under the counter to wipe the moisture off .
“Keeps rainin’ all the time,” I told her. “Keeps rainin’ all the time.”
She smiled again, a pretty sort of smile, in a more mature
way, and paid what she owed. I was
getting her change out and she brought her hand to my arm, patted it gently,
and shook her head. We played this every
time, me getting her change, and her refusing, telling me to keep it because I’ve
been as kind as I have to her, helping her out when I can. At first I was refusing every way I could, of
course, but we’d been here for some time now, and I just played my part so she
could play hers.
By and by we got through the remaining customers: Mabel
Bernstrom (Doc Bernstrom’s wife); Lefty; little Rita Huxley (girlfriend of the
captain of our high school’s football team, the Badgers, and in fact same team
Andy was on); George Winston; Ms. Durand (one of the few young teachers still
in town); and, surprisingly, Lola Baxter.
She lived up the block and never, ever came in herself, always asking
for Andy to come by and drop off her groceries.
She was in her nineties somewhere so we were glad to do it, but now here
she was, our last customer and looking as spry as any old body I’d seen in
there today, especially with that weather outside.
I grinned as she brought up what she was buying: Happy Soup
for the Heart and Soul. It was something
we were ordering out of Cincinnati and I liked the name of it more than
anything, but I’d tried it myself more than once and it was right good, so we
kept stocking it. They’d recently
started putting some kind of songs or something right on the labels, which I
got a kick out of even if I wasn’t into that flowery stuff, and sometimes I’d
just sit on the box and read the labels when the new shipments came in every
month (not many folks bought the stuff, you see).
Lola Baxter came up with two cans, one of which she held
onto so she could read: “I walk around, heavy-hearted and sad. Night comes around and I’m still feelin’
bad.” She chuckled and handed it to me
so I could put it in the bag for her.
She wasn’t even wearing glasses when she did that.
I picked up the other can and read: “Rain pourin’ down,
blindin’ every hope I had,” then just sort of scratched my ear and placed it in
the bag with the other. It’s amusing
that they put this stuff on soup labels, but they ought to at least make it a
bit more cheersome. Those particular
cans weren’t doing much for my soul, not much at all. She shrugged, Lola Baxter did, and whistled
as she handed me her coins and I gave her the change. She seemed even more cheerful than I’d ever
remembered, and walked back out into the rain toward her house up the block,
her bag held under the big shawl she’d come in with.
Well by the time I’d finished with the customers, Andy’d
finished with the rest of the shop. We’d
gotten our routine down so good that I never had to tell him anything, that
kid. I surely would miss him when he
left to college in a couple years, and probably for good. He was another clean-faced bright kid, who
had more to offer than shop boy in a town like this.
Andy would normally ride his bike off after work, probably
to visit Jean, his girlfriend of some odd years, but today he asked me if I’d
give him a ride home. Sure, I told him,
and we got into my old Mercury Marauder (still sharp and powerful as the day
I’d bought her, better believe). Andy
lived over on Woods Drive, on the other side of town, so I rightly guessed, I’m
sure, that he wouldn’t want to ride a bike around in this rain. I wondered about it as we wrestled his bike into
the trunk of my car, which thankfully fit since I’d just cleaned out all the
miscellaneous nonsense that I’d gathered up in there.
We got going and I don’t like guessing about folks so I
asked him about it, him needing a ride.
“This pitterin’ and patterin’ and beatin’ and scatterin’…”
he said, and I nodded. Some believe rain
is a calmative but too much of it has just the opposite effect to my mind. Drives one wacky in the obscene amounts.
“Drives me mad,” said Andy, almost like he was reading my thoughts. He seemed down, more than the usual kind of
down most folks were, so I figured I’d change the subject. I asked him how he and his girlfriend were
doing, and if she was going to make it out to see Andy and the rest of the
Badgers play against the Wildcats the following weekend (not here of course,
but over in Fitchburg, where it wasn’t raining every day). Andy just looked on out the window and didn’t
answer right away, and I was going to ask if he’d heard me, but didn’t get a
“Love, love, love...” he said, real sarcastic. I asked what the problem was and he got into
how Jean had broken up with him. I
figured they’d had some row over something, but turns out Jean just wanted a
boyfriend who had a car.
“Love…” he said, again.
“This misery’s just too much for me.”
I patted him on the shoulder as we crossed the bridge onto Woods Drive
and up to the curb. He thanked me and
apologized for being so dreary but I told him to think nothing of it, and not
to worry over Jean. He’d find himself a
nice, pretty girl in no time at all, football star and good guy as he was. He smiled lopsidedly and then got out,
telling me to stay in and keep dry. He
got his bike out of the trunk then waved at me through the sideview before
disappearing around the side of his house.
For the ride home I figured I’d take the scenic route, since
I was out on this side of town and all, and I drove up from Woods Drive to
Middlefield, which cut through the old cotton fields and then looped around
along the ridge that overlooked the town.
From there I could see it all, from the one end of town to the other,
all the lights just starting to come on as the last brightness of the day faded
down to dark, made even darker by the clouds blocking out any chance of
moonshine getting down to us. I hadn’t
driven by this way in a while, and I remembered how Marie and I used to stop
along here for picnics, back in the old days, when we were young and
inseparable. It reminded me of why I
stayed, the purpose of it. Some people
had diamonds and photographs and such, and I did, too, but I had more than that
to help me remember. I had every house
and every tree, the whole town, reminding me of those days when we were
happiest and the most trouble was getting ice cream off our hands after
spending too long making out on a summer day.
Eventually the road came back down and houses appeared
again, until I was in the thick of the old part of town. Houses here were more rundown, though still
respectable by any right. I was about to
turn onto Randall to head back toward Main when I heard a loud explosion, least
it seemed as such, and I was sure the engine had started acting up again,
except immediately after I started to feel the road grinding up under my rear
end and realized that I had blown a tire.
I stopped to look out and sure enough, the rear driver’s side whitewall
was out for the count, flat as a pancake.
I got out then and went to the trunk to fetch the spare. Of course my rain-addled brain had forgot
that the old spare tire was one of the things I’d taken out yesterday, looking
to replace it in case a thing such as this happened.
I ran back into the car and sat down then thought for a bit
about what I’d do, figuring I’d have to knock on someone’s house here to get to
a phone, when she appeared. Mrs.
O’Haley, in the same dress she’d been wearing earlier and an umbrella, was at
my window, knocking lightly. I rolled
down my window to listen to her explain that she’d heard a loud noise and came
out to check, and that the big lavender house on the corner was hers.
“Can’t go on,” I said.
“Everything I had is gone.” I
pointed out to the empty trunk and she nodded and pulled at my sleeve for me to
get on out of the rain. I locked up and followed
her onto the porch where we shook off what we could, then she invited me into
the hall so that I could use her phone.
“Stormy weather!” I growled, because I’d had just about
enough of all this. I didn’t mean to
scare her or nothing but I was just plain angry now, angry that Andy’d been
broken up with and soup labels had melancholy sayings and Barry was hurting for
a proper set of jobs (which you’d think the rain would help with and not make
more difficult), that Ms. Potterson and Mrs. O’Haley were alone, and that my
Marauder, beautiful car I tell you, was out there getting worn down by all that
damn rain. She opened the screen door to
the living room and let me in, with me apologizing all the way for being so
damn ornery and stepping all over her nice rug that way I was. She told me to forget it, and showed me where
the phone was.
As I dialed the number she asked if I’d had dinner, and I
told her no, though it wouldn’t take me long to cook up some of yesterday’s
fried chicken (which I’d bought from Johnny’s, because although it was a place
for scoundrel types his barbecue and fried chicken were top of the best). I think she was going to say something else
when Mack at the gas station picked up.
I told him I needed a tow from Randall to my place because of that flat,
and he said sure, though he’d just sat down to dinner with his two kids. I wasn’t going to go rushing him out here so
I told him not to worry, and to come and look for me in front of Mrs. O’Haley’s
when he was ready.
I’d just put the phone down when Mrs. O’Haley asked me to
stay for dinner. I was feeling right
improper just then, imposing on a single lady and all, not to mention making a
mess of her nice rug, but Mrs. O’Haley, she wouldn’t have it, and took my hand
in hers when she insisted I stop being ridiculous. It was soft, her hand, but sort of foreign,
like a warm blanket after it’d been warmed up by someone else. I told her I didn’t feel right, this kind of
impropriety, but again she told me not to be ridiculous.
“Since my man and I ain’t together,” she said. I sort of pursed my lips and took her hand,
which she used to lead and set me at the table in her kitchen. Lorrie came in and smiled, saying she was
glad to see me, and apologizing to her mom for not being able to help set the
table. Mrs. O’Haley just shushed her and
went on about finishing dinner as we sat quietly. Mrs. O’Haley was a spitfire, no doubt.
Lorrie and me sat and listened, least I did, to the pot in
the kitchen bubble up, and Mrs. O’Haley click her shoes on the tiles as she
walked from chopping vegetables and back to the pot. The sound of the rain outside was getting
louder, loudest I’d heard it I think.
“Keeps rainin’ all the time...” said Lorrie, and I nodded.
“Keeps rainin’ all