“Goddam, son-of-a-bitch, get the hell away from me. Buzzin in my ears like a damn mosquito, trying to drop ticks and vermin down my collar or in my boots. Damn you, to hell.”
The earplugs are workin, but I need earmuffs too. I feel like a damn astronaut, duct tape around my pant legs and boots and gloves and coat sleeves, dust mask over my mouth and nose, muffler around my neck, goggles strapped to my face and this heavy jacket, two pairs of pants and my wool watch cap. I can barely walk.
And this is just a nasty little breeze. What the hell will I do when it really starts to blow? I got to stop this shit before it blows me away – literally.
I stumble along to Blake’s General Store. “Goddamn it! You little piss ant. Blowing sand and grit and bugs in my face ain’t going to get it. You got to do a lot better than that.”
I’m gettin too old for this shit. Hell, it’s hard to open the damn door with these mittens.
I’m in. I didn’t think I would make it here. Good! Prudence got a towel at the foot of the door to keep that son-of-a-bitch out.
I kick the towel back in place as I struggle out of my cloth armor.
Prudence is sittin on her stool behind the counter, lookin every bit her seventy-five years and then some. Damn she starin at me like she ain’t never seen me before. “Prudence, you as stingy with your words as you’re with your affections.”
That got her, brought a little color to them dried up powder-caked cheeks.
“Abednego P. Jones, have you lost your cotton pickin mind? You mind your manners or get gone. I don’t need your sass.”
“The East Wind’s here. You know that? You ain’t lost all your senses along with your soul have you?”
Boy, she livid. She jump off that stool. I ain’t seen the old witch move that quick in fifty years.
“Abe, Abe you get, get the hell out! I got, I got Papa’s twelve-gage here. Let’s see if it still works.”
“Put that thing back before it blow up in your face.”
“I never did like you Abe. Get out before I prove how much I despise your black ass.”
“East Wind! That ain’t you Prudence. It’s the East Wind. It drives a body crazy. You know that. This ain’t us. We barely nod at each other. That’s our history. It’s the East Wind making us act the fool.”
Prudence blinks and looks down at the shotgun in her hands like she’s surprised to see it there.
“Look at your newspaper, scattered all across the counter and on the floor. Think, woman. You as neat as a pin. That’s one reason Leroy left your nitpicking ass. Think, goddamn it!”
Prudence shakes her head and looks at her newspaper littered counter. She slowly places the old shotgun back under the counter. She start collectin and arrangin the newspaper. “East Wind. Oh, my, no. Oh, my!” She stops messin with the newspaper to glare at me. “The East Wind blew your crotchety old ass in here to keep up a mess. What the hell you want, Abe?”
“I need to see Constance. Is she—“
“She where she always is. Where you expect her to be?”
“Yell at her for me. Tell her I’m comin up to see her, alright?”
“Not alright! You got a voice. You yell.”
“She might not recognize my voice, it’s been twenty-seven years—“
“Twenty-eight and some change. But, you don’t forget the voice that stole your life, that ruined you and—“
“Prudence, I didn’t jilt your sister. She sent me packin. I—“
“Liar, cheat, fraud—“
“OK, OK,” I walk to the foot of the stairs at the back of the store. “Constance… Connie, this is Abe, Abednego… I need to talk to you. It’s important. Constance?”
Prudence and I are starin up the stairs waiting for a response. There’s none. I turn to look at Prudence. “You sure your sister up there?”
“She up there.” Prudence raises her voice loud enough for her sister and the next door neighbors to hear. “I hope she got that, got that old thirty-eight cocked and aimed at the head of the stairs. “I bet she just waiting for you. Waiting for revenge.”
The East Wind rattles the store windows and claws at the door eager to get in, to stop me. I take the stairs one careful step at a time. I call Constance’s name at each step.
She standin there at the head of the stairs, arms folded across her chest, stern faced, her gray hair up in a bun like some old fashion school teacher. I stop and stare at her face, the face I cared so much about, loved to look at, hold, kiss, now tight and drawn like a sour, dried-up piece of fruit. Only her green eyes hold a hint of that emerald spark.
“Abednego Patience Jones, you look as old as dirt and twice as ugly.”
The words is harsh, but the feelin behind them ain’t. I stand there. I start laughin and the tears start flowin. I have to sit down on the step for a minute to catch my breath.
We in her sittin room, sittin, pretend to drink tea, trying to sneak looks at each other. Finally, we just stop and stare, open and unashamed.
“Patience, you never came back. Never looked back, I guess.”
I want to reach out and touch her face so bad it hurts. “You sent me away. You sent me away twice.”
I look down. “I can take a hint. I’m dumb, but not downright stupid.” I look up at her. She’s wiping at her eyes with one of them fancy little handkerchiefs.
“Connie, I understood the first time. I understood you were trying to protect me. You was wrong, but I understood.” Now I’m wiping at my eyes.
“Patience you were a fool. You would’ve held me on your arm outside of Pineville and them cracker’s would of lynched you in two minutes flat. You know that. How they gona a know I’m black, as black as you except for color?”
“We could of gone up North. We—“
“Shhh, we done had that argument too many times. I’d rather know you alive than live without you in this world. That was my choice to make and I made it.”
The wind screams around the house and rattles the windowpanes. We both turn to look at the quaking glass.
“Connie, that’s a nice housecoat you got on. It covers you from chin to floor. Did you put that on special for me?”
She graces me with a smile and a little light in her eyes. “The East Wind is getting impatient. We need to tame it, Patience.”
“Connie, the second time. Why send me away the second time?”
The East Wind sends shingles flying off the roof and slamming into the side of the house.
I take her hand in mine. I feel like a teenager trying to get up the nerve to move in for that first kiss. I can’t stop the tears. I don’t even try.
“Connie, it don’t matter. I don’t care why. We got whatever time’s left. I care about that. That’s all I care about.”
She wipes away the tears. The glow’s back in her eyes. “We need to find the witch that send the East Wind after you. We need to do that quick.”
“Cancer. She had Cancer. That’s why she sent you away the second time.” Prudence’s standing on the landing with a cast iron frying pan in her hand.
“What?” I grab both of Connie’s hands. “What?”
Prudence responds. “She was supposed to die a long time ago. She fooled em. Like you fooled me, Abe. Just like you fooled me.”
“Prudence we was friends that’s all. I never—“
Connie turns to her sister. “You called up the East Wind! Didn’t you? Why?”
“Cause I knew he would come running to you sister. I could kill two birds, maybe three, with one hurricane. How about that?”
I’m practically screaming at Prudence, “Why now? Why wait to now to sic the evil zephyr on us?”
“Now, I did it now, because I was afraid you two would up and die without you knowin how I felt about you. You two ruined everything for me. Everything.”
“You had a life sister, a husband and—“
“Second best and you know it. You had Abe and didn’t want him and wouldn’t let me have em.”
“Connie turns back to me. “Cancer and lookin white and bein called a witch. I couldn’t put all that on you and our kids and…”
Prudence laughs and taunts us. “Sister, he knew about us. I told him what we are. It didn’t matter to him at all.”
I don’t have any answer, but to lean across the table and take Connie’s face in my hands and kiss her to the sounds of the frying pan crashing through the window and the devouring wind rushing in.
Banner Image- Courtesy of Pixabay.com