The store was mostly empty, a few sad bags of dry beans and grains. The refrigerators were pale blue inside. All he had in his cart was a quart of milk, three cans of artichokes, a can of prunes, a gallon of water, and a stack of flimsy aluminum baking pans. He paid for these and went outside.
Textbook pre-storm weather. Trees flapping, dirt and crap flying in the air. Except a bit less. More like a damp wind. The sea was nearby. He wore a short yellow slicker over a blue sweater. He hunched his shoulders a little as he walked out to the car, jogging off the sidewalk. When he reached it, he didn’t look around, just got in and drove away.
As he crossed town, he took the coastal route, the ocean foaming nervously at his left. Patches in the road were marked by a peculiar sunlight. It felt like the highway was sinking and rays of sunlight from the surface were tunneling through.
He saw a man in green overalls standing hesitantly in the lot behind a store, hefting his hand towards the sky, gauging the atmosphere.
He drove past roadside weedpatches, mailboxes askew, long dirt roads marked by breaks in fencing. He considered turning on the radio. Loose splices of firewood thumped around in the bed of the truck. He leaned his arm out the window and smoked as he drove.
Eventually he turned off the paved road, and immediately began jouncing down a smaller road. After a few hundred yards, and through a stand of stiff evergreens, he pulled up at Thatcher House, brown and oblong, announced by a swinging sign at the foot of the stairs. He locked the car and went inside.
–Wull, got what e had. Not muchen. Dyou fill the tub?
–Yeh. But I’m probly not drinkin it. out of there. Dont want foot fungus on my tongue.
–Youll drink it if you get thirsty. Anyway its just ordnary precautions.
He put his bag on the kitchen counter.
–Everybody comin home?
–Yeah, the shops is close up to protect the windows.
–Damn don’t much want to be stuck around here.
The other man cracked a beer.
Donnler went past the kitchen to his own room, framed at the end of the hallway. The rug inside was red, still fairly bright, and coarse with bootgrit. He sat at his desk and looked out the window into the backyard. Some of the boys had tried to plant root vegetables that past spring. He doubted they remembered, but it wasn’t an important project. Everybody would be home soon. They’d all go to their rooms and read or sit or do puzzles or write letters until the storm passed, then probably go out on long drives by themselves into the empty country.
Every once in a while he did something like park in a turnabout and sit under a tree, or drive down and up the gully beside the road, park, and walk into the near distance. There wasn’t much of anywhere to go, that was safe, anyway. The only social spots were in Henderson and LaButte, mostly bars and convenience stores. Frank Paley, who ran the auto shop, was usually around, drinking beer while his teenage sons polished radiators and cylinder valves. He didn’t get much drunk, was generally safe to be around because of it. Some of the boys who cared for cars hung around, offering to pitch in, but usually ended up seated on a short stack of tires, head in hands, or eating a bag of doreetos.