by Will Brooks
Russel sat watching the green, yellow, and red swirl on the TV screen, reminding him of the tie-dye T-shirts his brother had worn while going through his hippie stage. The weather man kept calling the storm Katie. He hated that name about as much as he hated rain. Katie had been his third girlfriend’s name and had broken his heart when, at the seventh grade dance, she’d dropped him like a hot rock when asked to dance by Clyde Silvey. He stood there with the other wallflowers as Katie and Clyde danced. Clyde knocked Katie up senior year, and after two more kids, they divorced. Russel still hated them both and their names.
Katie the storm had dumped shit-tons of rain all along her path up from the Gulf Coast, flooding basements, low-water crossing, bridges, and city parking lots. The constant news footage showed Katie’s beginnings as a meek cloud off the coast of West Africa; her skirt across Jamaica before rising to a class three hurricane, slamming the U.S coast just north of Houston, Texas; then taking her sweet time, once inland, until arriving at her present location, right above Russel’s house.
He hated rain. He hated water in general—drinking it, working in it, washing in it. The soggy feeling of wet feet in boots and shriveled fingertips it caused. The constant talk it brought at the coffee shop: a need-for or too-much-of rain. Yet here it was, starting to pitter-patter on his roof.
Sherry, his wife, came in from their bedroom, a worried look on her face. That wasn’t that unusual. She thought everything was always working against her and saw to it that she got worked up about every detail in their lives. The fact the child had been born perfectly healthy had shocked her. More than once she’d asked the doctor, nurse, or whoever would listen if the baby was really truly fine. Now she was convinced they’d all lied.
“The nurse said we should give him a toddler suppository, and if that doesn’t work we’d need to bring him in.”
She was talking about the baby. He hadn’t dumped in his drawers for seven days and counting. At first Russel found it a relief not having to change a crap-filled diaper as soon as he got home from work. The kid always seemed to wait for his arrival, filling his diaper as some odd form of affection, gratefully gazing up while Russel changed him.
“Do we have any of those?” Russel asked.
“No, but she said the pharmacy should. If you get there before they close.”
If you, Russel thought. She never seemed to consider that he might be busy or didn’t want to go. If she had just changed her wording, the sentence wouldn’t have sent a rush of blood up his spin and into his hair follicles. If she’d gone with, Would you mind going before they close, I’ll give you a blowie when you get back, the blood probably would have rushed elsewhere.
“Sure,” is all he’d said.
He slipped on his boots and cowboy hat as Sherry called the pharmacist to make sure they had the medicine the baby needed. They did.
Katie was settling in, pouring the moisture she’d annexed from the ocean onto the Ozark Plateau. His hands tucked in his jean jacket, he ran for the Jeep, then realized he’d forgotten the keys. Sherry watched him come running back and thought it touching he’d run back in the rain just to kiss her good-bye, like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks movie. Russel only opened the door and asked for the keys and was off again. No kiss. No “I love you.” Typical Russel, she thought.
Once in the Jeep the rain pounded on the canvas cover, reminding Russel of being in a tent. He was eleven and was on a Boy Scout trip led by his mom. They were supposed to hike and learn survival skills. All they had learned that weekend was that nylon tents straight from the Walmart shelf didn’t repel water. It had been another notch on Russel’s belt on reasons-to-hate-rain. It had also been after his parents’ divorce, and his mother spent most of her time flirting with Max Winters, an insurance salesman with a big waist and deep pockets. He wasn’t sure his mother had slept with Max that weekend, but she had painfully made it obvious that any advances would have been welcomed.
Russel fired up the Jeep, flicking on the wipers that shrieked from lack of use. Russel usually drove his truck everywhere. It had the special bed for feeding hay bales and the welder on it. The Jeep was more for going to check on things and trips to town. He loved the Jeep, though. It rode easily over bumps and could go about anywhere he wanted. Still, it sat most of the time in the drive. His wife hated the Jeep. She’d told him to sell it but he wouldn’t. Besides, she had a good vehicle. Why couldn’t he have two run-of-the-mill vehicles? He’d had the Jeep since high school, and that’s probably why she hated it. She hated anything that reminded her that Russel had a past too.
It wasn’t like the Jeep had been some pussymobile; he’d only gotten laid in it once. But his wife knew that and knew the story. She hadn’t been the participant in the act. So, deep down, that was probably what made her hate the Jeep. That was okay; there was a lot of things he hated about her.
Ever since the kid was born, there had been some invisible ball of tension building up in the house. Russel knew the kid probably wasn’t his but he hadn’t said anything. He kept waiting for her to tell him.
He’d come home from working on a Friday last June to find her gone. He didn’t bother calling her. He figured he’d just forgotten some plans she had with friends. Russel went and fiddled in the shop, waiting for her to return. She hadn’t. Around ten he called her cell. No answer. He’d sat on the couch, trying to remember some commitment she might have to keep her out so late. He couldn’t. Around 11:30 he’d taken the Jeep and gone driving around to look for her. He didn’t find her. Russel called her cell several times, leaving a voicemail every time. Finally, around 1 a.m., her headlights shone in the drive.
She was drunk and sweaty-looking when he met her at the door. She paused a second before rushing to him. She kissed him so hard he nearly lost his balance. They were naked in bed and both asleep in thirty minutes. Russel had awoken to her fondling him and they’d made love again.
Their love life had fallen flat after five years of marriage. This kind of behavior was commonplace when they’d first gotten married. So Russel was happy to profit from whatever event had caused her flame for him to ignite again.
Preoccupied with sex, his brain never thought of asking her where she’d been. He assumed she would tell him in her own time. She never had. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when she proclaimed that she was pregnant, his mind started to really question her doings that Friday night.
He didn’t really know how to prove or disprove anything. He tried thinking of who she would be screwing: one of his friends, an ex, her boss. His friend list was short. She only had a few old boyfriends that he knew about. Most of her co-workers were women. She was a dental assistant. She could be screwing the dentist, but she talked bad about him all the time. What if it was a patient? Some stud who’d had his teeth worked on? Whoever it was, he had no proof of any infidelity.
He remembered his grandmother telling him that if someone has sinned, the weight of the sin would cause them to confess. She had claimed sin begot sin, causing all bad behavior; that drinking, gambling, fornication, masturbation, and all other shoddy behavior were products of some other sin people were trying to cover up. Evil had no longevity. Eventually the person folds and confesses to everything. To Russel, his wife was covering up her sins by having sex with him. She would eventually tell him what happened.
There was the normal thump associated with the Jeep tires meeting the bridge that was just before Ira Smith’s place. Russel glanced over at the creek; there was only its normal pool of water under the bridge. At times he’d seen the creek turn into a raging tributary but never get over the bridge.
Two more miles and Russel was in town. The town always seemed deserted on Saturday afternoons, but the rain had driven everyone inside, adding to the desolation.
Russel circled around the square and parked in front of the pharmacy. He tucked his head into his jacket as he exited the Jeep. Once under the store canopy, he removed his hat and shook the water off best he could.
The pharmacy door chimed as Russel entered. The store was warm and the floor looked freshly waxed. He was wondering if he had cow shit on his boots when he heard a man’s voice say hello. He said hello back and spotted the man on the risen platform that allowed him to look over the whole store. Russel was expecting Jerry, the pharmacist who owned the drugstore. He’d never seen this man.
“Are you Sherry’s husband?” the man asked as Russel made his way toward the counter.
“Good. I have what you need by the register,” the man said, stepping down from the platform to the register.
“Poor little guy’s having trouble going, huh?” the man added, picking up a box with a penguin on the outside and scanning the bar code.
“Yeah, he is.”
“I hate to hear that. Your wife is such a nice lady. I don’t like to see her worried.”
Blood rushed up Russel’s spin, just like when Sherry said something the wrong way. Only it bounced off something about midway, splashing around his gut, giving him the sensation he needed to belch. It dawned on Russel he’d never met a druggist so interested in someone’s health and well-being. Jerry just asked for the payment.
“Yeah, she’s a worrier.”
“I’ve told her she needs to stop fretting over everything, but bless her heart, she just can’t. That will be ten seventy-three.”
Russel removed his wallet and handed the man some cash.
“Where’s Jerry?” he asked while the man typed on the register.
“At home, I suspect. He doesn’t work on Saturdays anymore, unless I’m gone.”
“And what’s your name?” Russel said gruffly.
Russel meant for it to sound rude, and the man glanced up at Russel as if accepting an apology to follow. Russel wasn’t giving one.
“Alan. I don’t believe we’ve met before. But your wife talks about you at the dentist office.”
Alan the adulterous, Russel thought as Alan handed him his change.
“No, we haven’t met. When did you start working here?”
“Be a year in May.”
“And you know my wife.”
“That’s right. She was very sweet to me when I had a cavity filled. Only Dr. Twigg had some trouble with the bite, and I had to go back several times for him to get it right. Sherry always sat and talked with me. She said you looked like a young Baxter Black. I didn’t know who that was until I Googled it later. She was right.”
Russel had pictured a muscled-up hunk screwing his wife. Alan resembled a starved mouse who couldn’t find clothes small enough to fit right.
“Well, I guess,” Russel said, turning to leave.
“Tell Sherry I said hi.”
Russel just nodded and headed for the door. He walked across the shiny, waxed floor, wishing he’d been covered in cow shit up to his neck, that the shit would have come off in big flakes for Alan to clean up.
Katie was pouring all she had left into the streets of the small town as Russel entered his Jeep. Soaked, he took off his cowboy hat, throwing it in the passenger seat, followed by the laxative, which bounced into the floor.
“Damn whore,” he muttered.
He pictured Alan naked with his wife, their bodies rooting around like two starved pigs wrestling for an acorn. He fired the Jeep to life, reversed as fast as he dared into the empty street, stomped on the brake, and slammed it into gear, speeding off in the rain.
“Damn whore. Damn rain. Damn town. Damn everything!” he shouted. He knew she’d screwed someone. Alan. God, how could he have been so stupid? The blood that had splashed around in his gut was now filling up around his neck, working toward his eyeballs.
The Jeep flew down the streets of town, its tires smacking through the built-up pools as the tire treads filled with water. Russel could feel the Jeep losing traction, hydroplaning, threatening to lose control. He didn’t care. He had to get home.
Sherry worried Russel would take his sweet time getting back. He always poked around when it came to things besides fence building. She wished he’d hurry and that he wouldn’t have trouble. A thousand things could happen to him. He could blow a tire or the starter could go out. Someone could rob him. A cow could be in the middle of the road; Russel might swerve to miss it. Only he’d swerve into a tree, and the rusty old Jeep would burst into flames. She hated that Jeep. Not because he’d screwed Betty Rust in the cramped backseat. She hated it because it was ugly. She hated it because she wanted Russel to sell it and his truck and buy a new truck for himself. He never listened to her. He never asked her anything and never did anything besides build fences or count cows.
Silent: that was a word that described Russel. He had always been quiet. She took it as being shy when they were younger. After they married she thought maybe he was fearful of showing his ignorance, but Russel had brains. Lately she’d concluded he was just quiet.
He sat and watched TV silently. Russel ate his supper silently. Worked and made love in silence. If she initiated something, Russel would go along silently. Even the night that she came home after kissing Alice, he’d said nothing after she took the initiative.
Confronted with a problem, Russel’s best solution was to silently ignore the problem. She’d known driving home that night if she stunned him, she’d never have to confess where she’d been. Russel hadn’t asked. She had actually really wanted him that night; kissing Alice had rekindled something in her. Sherry didn’t think she was a lesbian, but the thought she might be had worried her so much that finding sex with Russel enjoyable again was a relief.
The fact that Alice’s face always popped into her head while Russel was on top of her did bother her. So far she’d simply open her eyes, see Russel’s pleasure, and be back with him. Sherry figured if she was a lesbian, sex with a man would turn her off. Russel’s thin, hard body was more attractive than Alice’s soft lumps.
Alice had moved here from the Lake of the Ozarks to work at the dentist office. She was short with short hair. A few tattoos poked out from the right arm sleeve of her scrubs. Alice shocked the whole office when asked out by a customer—Alan, the new pharmacist in town—informing him she preferred the company of women. After that the news had spread around town. Men customers who hadn’t had their teeth cleaned in eons started making appointments for a hopeful glance at this erotica named Alice.
“How did you know you were a lesbian?” Sherry asked Alice one day during their lunch break.
“I don’t know. I guess when I woke up in my roommate’s bed. We’d drunk a bunch of wine the night before and had been discussing how she didn’t like her boyfriend’s kissing. She couldn’t describe how she liked being kissed, so I asked her to show me. I haven’t slept with a man since.”
Sherry never thought there was more than one way to kiss. It stuck in her brain like a splitting wedge; any contact with Alice smacked the wedge deeper. Then Alice invited her over to look at her new couch. She hadn’t bothered to tell Russel, figuring to be home shortly. After two glasses of wine, she seemed glued to the microfiber sofa, just talking and watching Alice. Sherry hadn’t noticed Alice getting closer to her every time she refilled her wine glass. After two bottles were gone, Alice kissed her. Sherry found herself not resisting. Lip-locked with Alice, she felt a rush of heat. Not sure if it was passion, the wine, or guilt, she wondered what Russel was doing and got up to leave, finding with dread the missed calls on her phone she’d left in the car.
She had worried some that word would spread of their kiss. But Alice had told no one. Sherry worried that it might ruin their friendship, but Alice had never even brought it up again. She’d wondered if that was some kind of lesbian code-of-ethics. Alice’s sexuality seemed much less troubled by the problems of emotions. In Sherry’s experience casual sex was complicated.
Sherry worried she’d been seduced. She knew the Bible said a man shall not lay with a man like he is a women, but she wasn’t sure what the book said about kissing. Drunkenness was preached as a deadly sin in the Primitive Baptist Church her parents had attended when she was a kid. But those feet-washers seemed to think life was a sin. Still, allowing oneself to lose control in a drunken state might be. But kissing another woman wasn’t really adultery.
Missing her period had been a surprise. She and Russel had never really discussed having kids. Russel had just taken the news silently. He’d seemed a little excited at the birth, stating it was nothing like the birthing barn at the Ozark Empire Fair.
The pamphlets received at the doctor’s office had convinced Sherry the child would be born with some distortion. And when he’d quit pooping in his diaper, she’d known her intuition had been right.
Russel’s Jeep skidded to a stop at the water’s edge. The usually relaxed creek had turned into a turbulent swath of brown, rolling water.
“Terrific. Just terrific,” he said, putting the Jeep in park.
Katie was releasing her last traces of moisture onto the earth as he stepped out. Garbage, trees, leaves, corner posts, and anything else the rain of Katie could carry moved along with the flood. He thought of tossing himself in with the mess, floating away with everything from everything. He thought of the baby boy on the other side and wondered what Sherry would do. She would have probably sulked-up in that proud woman way of hers and waded across. As he was thinking this, a whole tree, released from its grip on the earth, slowly floated by, and any hope of crossing faded.
Rivers weren’t the usual deflators of his rage. He felt his jean jacket soaking up water, helping release the last bulk of his rage. Even as a little kid, he could remember being this way: pouting in his room, talking to himself as if he were the instigator of his frenzy, only to cry, argue, and shout at himself until the rage was silenced. Then he wouldn’t or couldn’t explode on the object of his frustration. He’d silently sulk. Sherry, you whore, he thought.
Russel watched the flood, wondering how much of the water would make it back to the gulf before turning to the Jeep. Back in the Jeep, he steered toward Ira Smith’s drive. The old man’s place set atop the same ridge as Russel’s house. He couldn’t drive to his house, but he could walk along the old settlers’ road without ever crossing a creek.
Will Brooks is a freelance writer from a rural town on the Ozark Plateau. His stories revolve around small town life, human interaction and humor caused by it.