Chapter 8 of the unpublished novel “Infinite Tenderness” by local author & Rainshadow Journal founding member Mark Clemens. Dewey Bassett is just trying to get through the night. She’s at her sister’s home in Colorado after evacuating New Orleans with her immediate family in advance of Hurricane Katrina. But she had to leave so much behind, most of all her son, Landon. Links to previous chapters in Rainshadow Journal are at the end of this chapter or listed on the lower right side of Rainshadow’s home page.
When It Rains
Monday, August 29, 2005
3:07 A.M./MOUNTAIN TIME
“Weather the face of God,” Granpère said. He was speaking only to Dewey. She looked into his milky eyes as she listened, his old wrinkly face so solemn.
Dewey fluttered in the darkness on little wings of panic, no idea where she was. Then she opened her eyes and saw the stars on the ceiling above, turning in all their colors. Dewey let her eyes close again and fell back into Granpère’s warm embrace.
“Storm come lay you low, you ask what for?” he said.
“Why Granpère?” she had asked when she was little, but Père put a finger on her lips and continued his recitation.
“Might as well ask why this sunny day?” he said. “Why this gentle rain?”
“Why this gentle rain?” Dewey repeated one time, but Granpère only winked at her and smiled.
“Why this gentle rain?” he went on. “Why that sweet breeze over water?”
Dewey watched Granpère’s lips move. He’d repeated these words for her and her brothers and sisters hundreds of times over the years. She was pleased the words were for her only this time.
“Why that sweet breeze over water?” Père said to her, very serious, looking deep into her eyes. And so it came to the end. Like they had many times before, she and Granpère said the last lines together, her voice squeaking high and his large and low.
“Storm so angry,” they said, hitting each word like a drum, “Who so…why so…” And with Granpère’s last words slipping through Dewey’s grasp, her dream ended. When she had remembered all the words in the past, Granpère would pull her into his lap and kiss her giggling cheeks. “Little Frog,” he’d say.
“Little Frog,” Dewey murmured, opening her eyes.
She was in bed—Bettina’s bed—in Fountain, Colorado, the stars above rotating around the spackled ceiling in the dim light. Bettina wiggled warm next to her. Dewey looked at her, little frog, though Bettina was much older than Dewey had been when she sat at Granpère’s knee. She had held close the precious memory of her grandfather as long as she could remember, and this time had dreamed it clear. Crawford Hebert Mayes, her Granpère. How he used to hold forth for her and the other kids as they gathered around his rocking chair, afghan on his lap.
Dewey lay with her arms on top of the covers and a leg hanging out on her side of the bed. She had woken up hard but knew she wouldn’t sleep again. Besides the stars flowing over the spackles, it was dark in the bedroom. Dewey crept out of bed and tiptoed to the window. It was dark outside, too, clouded over, no traffic at this hour of night.
Dewey stepped barefoot to the door and looked back on the sweet face of Bettina before slipping out. At the bottom of the stairs, she peered around the corner into the living room, now a bears’ den what with Daddy Royal in the recliner and Melvin and Junior on the floor, all snoring in three-part harmony. The rest of the household—Dewey’s sister Paulette and her husband Ricardo and their kids, Tonia, 5, and Aldrich, 3; and their hosts, Mack and Leola, Bettina’s parents—everyone was quiet, not that anything could have been heard over the snoring. Dewey padded across the kitchen and out the back door, letting the screen door ease shut behind her. She started across the backyard, then stopped.
Dewey looked up and held her arms out, palms up to catch a fine rain that was falling, a pearling mist that cooled her face and softened her footsteps as she crossed the yard. A crescent moon peeking through the low clouds made the grass dim silver. Mack and Leola’s Fountain home was one in a long row of houses on Autumn Place that ran along the edge of a development. The houses on either side were dark, people sleeping like they should.
She had no energy left, nothing. Mack and Leola had picked them up in San Antonio early Sunday morning and driven straight through to Fountain. It had been godawful, this long day, second only to the day before, Saturday, when she had to leave her only son in New Orleans with a hurricane coming. If that’s where Landon was. And where was Landon now? Had Hershel been somehow able to find him? She was tired and wired, too much so to sleep.
Dewey felt her way into a line of aspens at the edge of the backyard. It was pitch-black in the shadows, the darkness thick and viscous, enveloping everything, and then she pushed through. She heard a clanging out over the fields to the south, like some blacksmith hammering in the wee hours. Then she snorted under her breath—what did she know about putting shoes on a horse?
Just past the row of aspens, a gravel lane bordered the backside of the houses. She slowly crunched across it to a low concrete block wall that ran along the other side. Beyond the wall and down a slope she could see the pale thread of a creek winding through a dark ravine.
Then she heard the gravel crunch. “Hard time sleeping?”
Too tired to jump or even turn around, Dewey said, “Off to work early, Mack?”
Mack Hopkins laughed and came to stand beside her on the fringe of grass along the base of the wall. “Don’t know what Leola told you, but my schedule isn’t that crazy.”
“Thank you, Mack, you and Leola, for getting us out of New Orleans,” Dewey said.
“Pfft—Good thing we didn’t have to go to N’arlins to get you. Just halfway.”
“We would have been stuck without you. You’re our heroes.”
“Ce n’est rien,” he said.
Dewey reached out to rest a hand on his arm. Mack was towering tall, but gentle, good for Leola. Dewey didn’t know him well. He put his hand on hers.
“Leola heard you get up,” he said. “She thought you lit out for N’arlins.”
“Ho,” Dewey said. “I just couldn’t sleep.”
“How about you come on in now,” Mack said.
They turned to go, but Dewey stopped.
“When the sun come up ’round here? she said. Her clock was still off.
“In a couple of hours or so,” Mack said. “Now?”
They started walking and made it across the lane.
“Did I see the Sunday paper somewhere in your house?” Dewey asked.
“Want to catch up on the news?” Mack laughed. “You’ve been living it.”
“Want to see the want ads.”
“Whatever for, sister?”
“Monday’s a good day to find work,” she said.
“Dewey,” Mack said. “Leola said you’re a hard worker, but after this weekend, the past week, can’t you take a break for a few days?”
“I got to get a job quick, check account runnin’ low. Dental tech jobs are easy to come by.”
“Don’t you worry. Me and Leola can help, no problem.”
“Thank you, really, but not until I have to. Daddy Royal already helped me some. I’ll need money to get back home soon as I can. Got to look for Landon. Maybe Hershel got him by now.”
“Wouldn’t that be something,” Mack said.
“Praise God,” Dewey said.
They were silent for a moment in the mist.
“Till I can get back to NOLA, I got to stay busy or I’ll lose my mind.”
“Okay,” Mack nodded. “I think I saw the paper in the living room. Might be under Royal in my recliner.”
Dewey chuckled. “I know how to get him up. Probably needs to go anyway.”
“Let’s go. You’re getting wet.”
“The rain feels good. More like drizzle, like runnin’ through a sprinkler.”
“That’s fine, but sometimes this ain’t the best place to go walkabout.”
“In little ol’ Fountain?” Dewey said, but she was distracted now. Walkabout.
“Fountain’s pretty tame,” Mack said. “But stuff happens.”
Shit happens, Dewey thought. Landon went walkabout when he was a kid.
“Walkabout, that word,” she said, remembering the bad time they’d been through, her and Hershel and Landon. “Makes me think about him.”
“I didn’t mean—oh,” Mack said. He dropped his hand off her shoulder. “I’m stupid, Dewey. We did not know what you were going through with Landon. You know that.”
“I told Leola some of it, but it’s all right,” Dewey said. “When Landon was a kid in Chalmette, he used to go walkabout all the time. He always came home, never late for supper. But when the darkness took him, Landon started running away for real. Everything happened so fast, it was all I—we, me and Hershel—all we could do to hold on. Then Landon ran away that first time—”
“First time?” Mack said. “How many times were there?”
“What’s the difference between walkabout and running away?” she said. “It was a while before we figured it out, me livin’ in Chalmette and Hershel over in Mississippi. Only time we saw each other was takin’ Landon back and forth. Didn’t talk much ‘cept to say hi-goodbye. Finally, I said I thought something was wrong and Hershel told me the truth, said when Landon was stayin’ with him a couple of times he had wandered off. It got so Hershel or me had to be with Landon all day and all night or he’d go walkabout and we didn’t know if he’d come back.
“Leola or me could’ve come down,” Mack muttered.
“Stop that,” Dewey said, waving a hand at him. “How many times, you ask. Too many to count, but the main times, the really worst times, have been this summer. Landon’s run away four times since the end of May and four times we found him.”
“My god, Dewey.”
“Maybe we kept things too much to ourselves. The first time he ran away was early June. He snuck off me and I didn’t have any idea where he’d gone. After a day and a night went by, we reported him as a missing person and that worked, for once. A Louisiana State Policeman saw him hitchhiking up by Ponchatoula and drove him home to me. The police officer said Landon told him he was going to Memphis, wanted to hang out on Basin Street.
“Second time was two days later. Landon was with me again. I was dead tired and fell into a dead sleep that afternoon and Landon wandered off through Chalmette into the French Quarter and across the river to Algiers. We caught up with him two days later wandering around Behrman Park and Hershel decided he had to climb up on his soapbox—’You got to watch him like a hawk!’—he yells at me. ‘Cain’t turn your back or he’s gone like a blue racer!’ But then it was Mr. Know-It-All’s turn.
“The third time, I took Landon over to Ansley and left him with Hershel at his fishing shack for a daddy-son weekend. Before dawn the next morning, Landon took off. That was in July. Hershel didn’t have much to say. Landon was gone for two days that time, too. He disappeared in the swamps and bayous around Ansley.”
“You must have been terrified,” Mack said.
“Oh, Mack honey.” She looked at him and laughed. “I been terrified way more than six months. We never knew how Landon survived that third time, but the Hancock County deputy sheriff who brought him home all scratched up and bitten said a fisherman had hooked him floating down the Jourdan River on his back. Or trying to drown. Never sure which.
“Fourth time Landon ran, I was the one who thought where to look. We were crazy by that time, Hershel ‘n’ me, but Landon was crazier. He had said some things while he was home with me that made me think he might be around Pearlington, he had friends there. So that’s where we found him, dancing around a fire in the woods outside of town. Other people were there, maybe his supposed friends, but they ran off quick. That was first week of August, Mack. It was horrible, us looking for Landon a full week, couldn’t sleep, lookin’ everywhere day and night.”
“Leola never told me.”
Dewey shook her head. “Well, that was four times, but I forgot.”
“What?” Mack said.
“The fifth time. Last week Hershel and Landon went divin’. Hershel said they were having a fine time, then last Wednesday Landon ran away with a hurricane coming on. We been looking for him since.”
Mack fell silent and they were both quiet for a while, listening to the drizzle whisper through the aspens and over them. Dewey’s feet were cold in the grass.
“It’s coming down harder,” Mack said.
“I thought it didn’t rain in Fountain.”
“It’s that hurricane’s weather system,” Mack said. “I heard on the radio that the eye is about 100 miles from New Orleans. Let’s go in, Dewey.”
Dewey didn’t move.
“Make you some warm milk, maybe add a little whiskey?”
“Maybe might do,” Dewey said. “Now I know why Leola calls you her prince.”
“Pfft,” he said and started in.
Dewey followed, so good to have someone lead the way. The aspen leaves hung straight down, still gleaming in the misty light off the low-bellied clouds. It was raining harder, drops now, and they walked faster. She listened to the rain. The drops pattered out of the sky and plinked from leaf to leaf and trickled down in soundless drops to fall on the muffling ground.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,” she said.
“There you go,” Mack said. “Keep thinking that. We’ll get you back to sleep.”
If only, Dewey thought. Then sleep, the idea of it, the very notion of lying down beside Bettina with stars twirling overhead, brought the dream back and with it the last line on Granpère’s lips: Storm so angry, why so peaceful in the middle of its eye?
WHAT GRANPÈRE SAID
Weather the face of God.
Storm come lay you low, you ask what for?
Might as well ask why this sunny day?
Why this gentle rain?
Why that sweet breeze over water?
Storm so angry, why so peaceful in the middle of its eye?”
—To be continued—