Pronghorn, Chapter 1: Coming Back

Drawing in a deep breath, holding it, and releasing it slowly, Asa Pemewan (PhD, not that that does a lot of good) knocked at an an old wooden door long familiar to him. Pier and beam flooring creaked in time with shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the other side, and a clattering of door-chains scraping and locks opening rattled at Asa’s ears before the door swung open, inward.

A weatherbeaten face not at root unlike Asa’s own–years of sun and wind and weather, and the years themselves, make changes–looked out at Asa, glancing up and down from atop thinning shoulders clad in a checkered shirt tucked into faded jeans behind a well-worn leather belt. A voice every bit as weatherbeaten grunted out “Trip okay, son?” as a large, gnarled hand stuck out.

Asa took it, his hand swallowed by his father’s ironwood grip for a moment before the older man pulled him in for a rib-crushing hug. Trying not to gasp, Asa answered “Fair t’middlin’, Pop,” falling back into the cadences of his youth (and how they would laugh to hear them, the bastards). Stepping back, he added “Long drive, but good weather for it. Coulda used some decent coffee, though.”

The old man snorted out a laugh. “Ain’t got that fancy milk crap they sell too damn many places anymore, but a reg’lar cup–we got that.”

From well in behind the door–and to the right–came another voice, that of Asa’s mother. “Of course we do, Asa, and your dad well knows it! Come on in and help yourself; you know where the cups and such are.”

“Yes’m” came the reply, and Asa’s father stood aside to let his son in, following him to the kitchen and pouring his own cup full after Asa had filled his.

Asa sat in one of the wooden chairs that had been around the kitchen table longer than he’d been breathing (and the table’s been around longer than that) and sighed in satisfaction after the first small swallow of steaming black brew. “How’re things here?”

Asa’s mother shut the oven door, dusted off her hands, and said “That’s what you ask me? ‘How’re things?’ and not ‘How’re y’all?'” But she smiled as she said it, and she hugged her son, kissing the top of his head.

“Well, then, how’re y’all?”

“I’m fine, honey. Still doin’ what I do. Your dad’s still doing his, too.” A nod from the older man confirmed the words to Asa, and another swallow of coffee allowed him not to have to say more. “Your sister’s still playing places in San Antonio, if you’re here long enough to get down there.”

Asa set down his cup. It was still half-full. “I think I will be, as it happens.”

Asa’s mother stepped back, eyes wide in surprise. Asa’s father’s coffee cup joined his son’s on the table–although it was empty. The older man asked “Really? Seems strange, coming from you.”

Asa nodded. “I know. And I know I ain’t been around much.” (I’ve got to stop this.) He drew a deep breath and released it. “But I don’t really have much choice at this point. The last teaching job didn’t work out, and nothing else there would take me on. Those that bothered to reply to me–and there weren’t many of them, maybe twenty out of two hundred fifty to three hundred–wouldn’t tell me why–and I asked. Oh, I asked. But I’d only get some line about ‘It was nothing you did; we had many excellent candidates,’ which is a lie but is the kind of lie that keeps things civil and keeps them from getting taken to court.” (Like I could ever afford a lawyer.) Asa realized his voice was rising as he went on; he picked up his cup and took another swallow of coffee.

When he went on, his voice was calmer. “Really, the only thing keeping me where I was was the job, and when it went away, I didn’t have any reason to stick around. So, after a while, I’m back here.”

Asa’s father leaned in a bit and asked “You got a job lined up here yet?”

“No, sir. Not yet, I’ve not. I’ve got a bit of money in savings, though, and some off-and-on work to do for a bit. It should hold me long enough to find something.”

Asa’s mother chimed in. “You will, honey. Something will come up. It has to come up, doesn’t it?”

Asa began to reply, but his father cut him off. “Got a place to stay lined up?”

Asa shrugged. “I was thinking the one motel for a day or two, until I could find something more permanent.”

“No” came from his mother. “That place is dirty, and we’ve got a spare room, yet.”

Asa began to feel himself flush. “Mom, you don’t need to–”

You don’t need to tell me what I don’t need to do. You’re my son; of course you can stay here, and as long as you need to. Right, dear?”

Knowing the last was directed towards him, Asa’s father nodded. “I’ve got the paper in by my chair, if you wanna look at the want-ads. Can’t hurt.”

Asa nodded, tears welling up in his eyes. “Don’t get weepy, son. Ain’t time for that. It’s time for you t’get your act together, see what all’s there for you t’do. Your mom’s right; something’s gonna come up. It’s gotta.”

“Yes, sir.” (I still can’t help that part, can I?) Asa stood, then. “I suppose I ought to unload the car, then.”

Asa’s father stood, as well. “Need a hand?”

Asa shrugged. “I could use one, sure.”

Asa’s mother asked “What about your things? Surely you’ve got more than will fit in the car?”

Asa shrugged again. “I do, but I’ve got it in storage between here and the last place. I found a storage unit with decent rates and reviews. And it’s just stuff, anyway. All the heirlooms are still here.” He paused. “They are still here, right?”

“Oh, yes” from Asa’s mother. From his father, “You know we don’t really throw things away if they’ve still got some use in ’em. Or y’ought to. Been away too long, son.”

Asa nodded again. “I suppose you’re right.” (You do always seem to be.)

Asa’s father nodded in reply. “Well, let’s get your stuff in” and he proceeded to where Asa’s car was parked on the side of the dusty street. Asa followed.

I suppose it’s good to be home.

Did I bring you as much pleasure as a cup of coffee does? Half a cup? Could you kick in as much for me as you’d pay for that so that I can keep doing it? Click here, then, and thanks!

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