Pronghorn, Chapter 25: As Tuesday Ends

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

As Asa Pemewan drove to his parents’ house, he noticed that the western skies were heavy and gray. The wind began to push at his hatchback, and Asa gripped the steering wheel more tightly, his forearms tensing. The many pickups on the road with him had more trouble; each gust pushed them hard against the double yellow line at the middle of the road, and each correction against the wind took the trucks a little closer to the dashed or solid white lines to their right. Asa eyed them warily as he drove on, glancing among them, the road ahead, and the growing storm away to the west.

By long custom, a good rain is always welcome in the Hill Country (as is a new calf, but that’s a different thing). Year after year of hot, dry summers–seventy days or more with temperatures above 100°F (37°C for friends in SI) that soak into the limestone and granite that undergird the oak and cedar and mesquite so that even the nights bake from below, and not even the ghost of rain unless it is the kind of downpour that floods and sweeps away school buses full of children or houses that have stood for a hundred years–and the certain glory of green and bloom that follow the wet assure it. And there is much in the way of good rain that falls in the hills of which Alan E. Craven wrote; gentle soaking rain falls in the winter and the spring, some years more than others, and the fall will get drenched in half-days that keep children inside for the whole of them.

But there are also the remnants of hurricanes that come and sit and spin and drop in three days more rain than otherwise falls in a year. And there are thunderstorms of peculiar ferocity that sweep in from the northwest, perhaps funneled by the hills or responding to some long-ago machinations of those who are now gone even in memory, bringing opaque curtains of falling water and, as often as not, hail in sizes that bespeak whole produce sections. Pea-size, grape-size, pecan-size and walnut, and even up to the sizes of apples and oranges or sweet Texas onions, or the ruby red grapefruit of the fertile Rio Grande Valley–and sometimes bigger, although not often.

Such storms break upon the hills with loud fury, rolling thunder that does not die away, but rattles doors and windows in rapid cadence amid dazzling shows of electric lights from heaven. The cascades of hail that fall sheet the ground in granulated white that lingers for a time and vanishes save for the pockmarks in sheet-metal and cracks in glass and holes punched through shingles that accompany its coming. The wind rages among the rolling limestone hills and granite intrusions, voiceless but loud enough to drown out speech, and fragrant cedars and sturdy oaks split when they hear its words. And the rain gathers, hiding from view the rough and vital vistas that are the Hill Country’s fancy clothing, coming to ground and, when it cannot percolate through the porous stone, running off in rivulets that join with creeks and rivers and swell them in moments from tiny trickles to terrible torrents that rise twenty feet in the time it takes to turn away and back again, flashing forth as floods that cannot be opposed and are not always avoided.

Such a storm is what Asa saw coming as he drove home from the Chandlery, and while he knew what it would do and that he would like as not be fine–for he was in Pronghorn raised, and he had seen such storms before, many times–he still was wary. For he had seen such storms before, and he knew that each might be but a passing thing, but he knew what could be left behind in its passing. He remembered seeing the news reports of Comfort in 1987, when children died, though Comfort stands some miles from Pronghorn, and Pronghorn Creek is not the Guadalupe. He knew of others, families flooded out, homes and businesses ruined, lives lost–the last sometimes from folly, true, but sometimes from what must seem fate going as ever it must. And he knew that the other drivers on the road, locals mostly, would know what he knew, and they would be as eager to be in place as he was–but the winds were not so kind to trucks meant to cross above rugged terrain as to his low-profiled hatchback, and the trucks would not be kind, either.

So Asa hastened as he could, dodging the larger vehicles as he could and letting them pass uncontested when he could not, going so quickly as the beginning rain would allow, and cringing when the first low-pitched plinking began to sound above him. The sounds sharpened as he drove along, hailstones falling more frequently and faster and larger, cracking on his car’s roof and windshield and windows with sounds like nuts under hammers, and he waited for the glass before him and about him to shatter as he saw quarter-sized chunks of ice bounce through sheets of water and the frantically insufficient swiping of his windshield wipers.

And when he reached his parents’ home, Asa ran from car to door, hands and arms shielding his head–and fortunately enough, for he could feel the bruises begin amid sharp, cold shocks upon him. But he was safe and sound, and not even his skin was broken by the battering. Towels had been left beside the door, and Asa took one, drying himself as he looked back out to see the world had been swallowed by a darkening pale gray, muted by the hiss and crack of falling water liquid and solid. He waited for what would come.

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