Pronghorn, Chapter 46: After the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

At length, Asa’s workday ended, and he headed back to his parents’ home. As he got into his car, he noticed that he smelled of grease from meat and melted cheese, of flour and yeast, and of the sweat that standing close to ovens that belch their febrile breath into the open air without ceasing will pull from flesh. I guess it’ll be something I get used to, he thought as he started the vehicle and headed out.

The night was dark. Recovery from the Tuesday Storm was still ongoing, and some parts of town still did not have power. Overhanging clouds suggested humidity, but no rain was called for–and none in town complained about it. Pronghorn Creek still flowed faster than its wont, and the ponds that served as small reservoirs against the town’s most dire needs–and as fishing spots in and out of season–yet churned turgidly. For now, at least, there was water enough and more.

The drive home was quiet. A few people were out on the roads, heading home from bars or, like Asa, from service jobs only now ending for the day. Perhaps one or two were out getting a last-minute bite to eat, whether prepared at a fast-food place still open or to be prepared at home once gotten from the grocery store. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies patrolled, of course, but Asa knew that they would be doing so, and he kept his teal hatchback well below the posted speed limits as he wove through the series of turns that took him back to the house where his parents lived.

When he arrived there, he found the porch-light on, and he saw the glow of a lamp left lit in the living room. No shadows moved against the glow, but as Asa left his car and shut the door, approaching the house, he heard motion within it. The shift of floorboards told him somebody else was awake, so he did not make the effort to step quietly he otherwise would have.

He keyed the door, opened it, and found his father settling back into his chair with a beer in hand. He looked up at Asa and asked “How’d it go?”

Asa closed the door behind him and settled on the living room couch. “Pretty well. Brought home a little bit of cash in addition to what I earned on payroll. I also ran into a few interesting people–although that wasn’t always so good. One smelled like a distillery; another kept losing his pants. That kind of thing.”

“If nothing else, y’ get around a bit. And a paycheck’s good.” Asa’s father pulled at his beer. “So, y’ get any fancy discounts or anything?”

“I get one meal on shift, personal pizza or the equivalent. Theoretically, I get half off if I actually order, but I don’t think I’m going to want to do that much.”

“Yeah, but y’r mom and I might. Can we use y’r discount?”

Asa shrugged. “I’m not sure on that point. I want to think so, but I can’t swear to it. And it’s probably not the kind of thing I can ask yet. I go back in tomorrow, and I should be on the regular schedule next week, but I’m worried about staying on it. I haven’t got as much built up as I’d like to have, and I’ve not got a lot of other prospects for work, so I don’t want to take a chance on screwing this up.”

Asa’s father nodded. “I can understand that.” He took another pull from his beer. “But y’ve always worried more about screwing up than y’ve thought about how to do well, y’know. It’s like y’r so afraid of being wrong that y’ don’t try to be more right.”

Asa’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Asa’s father set down his beer. “It’s like this, Asa. Most kids’ll go out, run around, jump off stuff, fall flat on their faces, cry a bit, and then jump again–and maybe make it the second time. Y’d take a run, then pull up short, gauge the distance, and decide that y’d rather not take the chance of falling than take the chance of making the jump. It’s part of why y’ did so well in school, y’know. Y’ got really good at doing what y’ were told. But there’s more that needs done than that, and that’s where y’ falter. Y’ think about what y’ve got to lose, and that’s a good thing–if y’ also look at what y’ can get if y’ make it.

“Now, y’r right that a pizza’s not a thing to take a risk over, and y’r right that y’ can’t afford to take on a lot of risk right now. But even when y’ could, y’ didn’t. Like with that one school y’ could’ve gone to. But y’ didn’t, said that moving’d be too hard. And now? Now y’r delivering pizza–which is good work, but to do it after how many years of going to school? It’s gotta hurt y’, son. And I hate seeing y’ hurt, y’know. Always have.”

Asa hung his head. “You’re right. I have always been more worried about the consequences of screwing up than about the benefits of doing well. And, at this point, I don’t know how to get out of it. Honestly, I feel like my time to take risks has passed, like if I tried it now, I’d look more a fool than I can stand. I mean, if a younger person takes a risk and fails, we chalk it up to youth. Someone my age does, he’s an idiot and deserves to suffer.”

He lapsed into silence. His father said nothing. They sat together quietly for quite some time.

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