Pronghorn, Chapter 32: Time Passing

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

The next few days in Pronghorn saw much of the same as had Wednesday and Thursday. The people of the town gathered together to clean up the damage that had been left by the Tuesday Storm–and people were beginning to call it that, capital letters and all. Roads were cleared relatively quickly, with all that needed to be done being dragging wood from the streets and, for the larger pieces, cutting it with chainsaws that were kept in some numbers in local homes. Many houses and yards were similarly quickly restored, and roofing and window companies began to filter in to handle the damage that had been inflicted from on high. Many homes suddenly began to carry metal roofs where they had had shingles in need of repair, and many homes began to have well-fitted double-pane windows where they had had old single-pane panels to keep out the air and let in the light. Garbage service resumed, and while several families had to get rid of more than they would have liked to have done, they were able to do so, and other food, offered freely from neighbor to neighbor, took its place.

This is not to say, of course, that there were not people excluded from the general amity. Every town has people in it who do not fit in, and some of those do not do so because they do not want to do so. Pronghorn remembered such people after the Tuesday Storm, and they found themselves working alone to clear out their yards and driveways, or their freezers that had been opened while the power was out. Rufus Hochstedler was one of them; Asa Pemewan was far from the only one who had had him wave his gun about, and many had been more brusquely treated than he. “Deux” Lee LeBeaux–really Lee LeBeaux, Jr.–also found himself on the outs; his business largely catered to tourists, but his custom was stingy with the people in the town, and his treatment of workers, usually the youth of Pronghorn, was far from ideal. He should not have been surprised when the teenagers all quit after the storm, although he seemed to be.

It is also not to say that the only help that came to Pronghorn came from Pronghorn. The Red Cross sent trucks in with food–mostly military surplus rations, but easy and abundant–and cleaning supplies. The few big-box stores the town had–mostly on the outskirts, on Highway 411 towards San Antonio–sent in relief, as well, in building materials and furniture. (At least one of the managers marked some lumber as “destroyed by water” or “destroyed by hail” that was not; his only request was that he not be thanked aloud, but he did not buy his own drinks for a while afterwards.) Franchise restaurants–again, clustered on 411 towards San Antonio, with a few on 701 as it headed north out of town–ran deep discounts, supplemented by corporate offerings. And state and federal aid was available to be had, despite people’s complaints about the taxes that make them possible and conspiracy theorists’ rants about FEMA death camps.

Local government had a harder time of it than the populace, though. More damage had been done to city offices than had initially been thought–although a tree falling through the building is not insignificant, to be sure. Water had infiltrated quite a bit of the building, including records storage that had been retained on site rather than deposited at the college library. Some of the electronic records had also been affected by the loss of power and the intrusion of water; not all of them had been backed up to remote storage, so some contracts that had been under negotiation were lost. (It is certain that some city officials were not displeased at the results, whether because they had opposed the contracts or because they had been doing as those in office often do. And it is rumored that one person managed to win free of blackmail, although whether that was an accident or not is questionable.)

Anna Kerr had a spot of work of her own. Alone in town, one of her congregants had died in the Tuesday Storm, and so she alone of all the clergy had the solemn duty of preaching a funeral. Bartholomew Smitherson had been a figure of no mean influence and power in the town, and the church was filled to bursting by the throng of mourners. By all accounts, the ceremony was a calm and dignified affair, much in line with the public persona presented by the decedent. His wife had predeceased him (breast cancer), as had two children (one in combat, another as a drunk driver); three other children–the Chandlery manager, the honey plant manager, and an executive for Frost Bank in San Antonio–were in attendance, as were the children of the latter two, and the young granddaughter of the last. So were various collateral relatives, as well as the ostensible heads of the Zapata and Hochstedler families, Guillermo and Wilhelm, respectively. And tears were shed, of course, some sincerely and others clearly for show–for small towns make much of what is “supposed” to happen–both during the ceremony at the church and at the internment afterwards that followed the mile-long funeral procession.

At the graveside, the Chandlery manager received a folded flag; Bartholomew, as had many men of his generation, had been in the armed forces in his youth, though he spoke of it little. And the man himself was lowered into the ground beside his late wife and children, rejoining in the grave what had been parted in the world above. So the deed was done, and the people of Pronghorn worked each to return to some normalcy in the days that followed.

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