Friday afternoon became interesting following a hard knock at the backdoor. I rose up from the kitchen table, abandoning my hot coffee and slice of cold sweet potato pie, and shouted: "Who is it?"
"I said, ‘Who is it?’"
I peered through the closed blinds and saw standing there a clean shaven and wiry built white guy. A Mr. Julius J. Shonuff, a man I called Sho', in a T-shirt which read: “I Pity The Fool,” denim jeans held up by his father's championship rodeo belt buckle, some grimy western boots, and a bent-up cowboy hat that hid a carrot-colored crew cut. I opened the backdoor and greeted him.
“Sho'? Say man, is your mouth broken? People have gotten shot for less, you know." I said, looking at his red-face. "So what's up with you and where's your truck?"
He sauntered away without saying a word and I followed him. He simply pointed, and there I saw it, down the road a ways. His propane truck, apparently stuck.
"Say? This isn't my gas order before the flood, is it?"
"I notified your company earlier that I didn't need any gas. Not yet anyway. Not until these backroads and the elbow of my driveway have dried out. They didn't tell you?"
"I thought I could make it."
"Come on Sho'," I said. "You know damn well how difficult it is to deliver gas out here after a serious downpour, let alone a flood."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Sho' replied.
"The soil gets all soft and shit," I said. "That's why my driveway turn looks the way it does. All torn up from your truck's backing end and leaving out. Just look at it. I can't keep paying contractors to fix it."
"The County won't do it?"
Both of us looked out onto the saturated landscape courtesy of nature's wrath. More than a month ago, God wrung the sky dry and released as much rainfall as possible over three days and forced whatever the Mississippi River couldn’t hold to drain into other waterways, tributaries, and natural reservoirs until they failed. Soon thereafter, farm land and lowlying residences scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta found themselves underwater.
In my case, the sudden deluge affected the nearby recess ponds. Thankfully, my house sat on higher ground and remained relatively safe; at one point, I prepared my flat boat for evacuation once the backroads took on water and became impassable, shrinking my dozen acres to four. But once the water's progress halted and remained still, my anxiety lessened, and a newfound enthusiasm rose.
I treated everyday as best as I could. I watched with alacrity from my front window the comedy of farmhands driving their Chevy or Ford pick-up trucks into high water to only falter. Many abandoned them and then waded to dry ground, usually my place where they sat, dried out, and talked noise until the tow came for them.
From then on, they used farm tractors and off road vehicles as their best means of transit to get to and from the grain bins and silos since those farming structures required constant vigilance for fear of them being compromised. For a month, nobody, and I do mean nobody tried to drive trucks of any kind onto these defunct roads. Nobody. Even my mail came by drone, and still does, until further notice.
Sho' reached into his back pocket to take out his snuff can and began flicking it. Dip soon fit in his mouth. He started sucking hard, absorbing the nicotine. Something he often did when stressed out. A quirk I picked up on after many years of friendly chit-chats during his deliveries. Talks happened when I would help him unspool the black hose from the truck, where he normally parked it at the garage's entrance, then thread it through the garage, out its rear door, and straight for the propane tank. Not today, though.
"Fuck!" Sho' said. "This is his fault."
"Quincy. That's who. Like, how hard is it to maintain these backroads? Look at them. Rutted. Puddle rich. Sand over sand. No rocks. No limestone. No gravel. It's like that all over. Shit! I nearly got stuck over yonder the other day," pointing off into some altogether different direction. "Somehow his family and friends all have nice roads and driveways layered in crushed white rocks. Whereas country folks, like yourself, pay taxes but have poorly maintained roads. It's unfair. That's why my brother is a candidate in the upcoming election. I'll bring you a yard sign."
"Do that," I said. "And I wish him luck."
"Thanks. For the past two decades, Quincy's been in office just long enough to reward himself and do the bare minimum. People describe him as one shady politician," said Sho', and then spat in the grass. "Now, I'm not saying it just to vent. Okay. But he keeps getting re-elected and what have you all gotten in return? Not much. And this from a man with only one job to do. Just one. One, goddamnit."
Sho' let loose a frustration spit.
"The residents of this fine county deserve better." Sho' said. "Not getting stuck in the mud, driving across poor bridges, and having their cars torn up by potholes?"
Sho' spit again.
"He fails at it miserably."
“It seems so.” I said. "It seems so."
"Now I don't know if you know this, but the City Council recently forced him to fire his own son, Stacy. Somebody caught him improperly using county equipment for personal reasons. I wish I knew who told it, so I could say thanks.”
"Hold up. His son?" I said.
"Yep. His son."
"I think I know about that."
"Yeah, yeah. A friend of mine talked about this incident the other day. It had something to do with the mail lady, Mrs. Angelos. She came beating on his door as mad as a motherfucker, face sunburnt, clothes sticking to her skin, and her silvery-blond hair matted dark from sweat. Despite her anger, she remained professional and handed him his rubberband of mail before asking if she could use his phone since hers died. Now whoever she called, she let them know the situation. About how she blew a tire, lost control, and then skidded off into an open field."
"Good, she didn't get hurt?"
"Not really," I said. "Just mudbound and behind schedule."
"Go on," Sho' replied, listening intently.
"I heard she walked down the county road in her mud-caked shoes and rolled up pants to the nearest house to obtain help when this Caterpillar road grader rode up. She screamed and flagged down the vehicle," I said. "Now after pleading for relief and pointing toward her whereabouts, the driver agreed to tow her, but only after he completed another job. Mrs. Angelos asked him his name, thanked Stacy, and then made the winding trek back to her truck. She sat there and waited, and waited for almost an hour, under a blazing sun, based on the assumption he was doing county business. But when he finally arrived, she saw differently. Stacy had a half-eaten slice of deep dish sweet potato pie in his hand when he jumped down and got busy. She knew instantly he'd been at Jocelyn's house. This bright-skin woman, known for baking and selling cakes and pies, but also had one beat up drive-up. Jocelyn didn't live not far from where Mrs. Angelos lay stranded."
"No shit," I said. "He left Mrs. Angelos, went there, and fixed Jocelyn’s driveway."
Sho' remained silent, standing akimbo, and then burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he nearly choked on his chew and used his hand to brace himself against the house to stay upright. "Now that's funny. A piece of pie got him fired."
“I know, right.” I said. “He should’ve taken care of Mrs. Angelos first and then sent her on her way, but that's too much like right."
"It is when you have sweet stuff on your mind."
"Shut. Up," I said, now laughing. “Maybe, he thought he'd teach the old lady a lesson. You know, her being another white woman. She won't mind."
"Now there you go, getting into the weeds and whatnot," Sho' said, still laughing. "But that's what happens when you don't do what's right?"
"Stupidity will get you there and fast, too."
"I don't know how you know, but it sure will. Say? How much gas do you have anyhow?"
"More than enough. Another month, easy."
"Let's go check anyway." The both of us walked toward where the propane tank rested, Sho' still giggling, and cracking jokes. He then read the meter. "You're right. A month, easy."
Afterwards, I asked him if he wanted to come indoors and sit down, drink something cold – a beer, ice-tea, water, a shot of whiskey, maybe a bite to eat, or simply to get out of the heat. He declined. Instead, I learned from him prior to knocking on my backdoor and disturbing my breakfast, he notified his boss, and his boss notified the county. The calvary should arrive. Sho' then looked down at his watch and it made him say: "The quarry isn't that far from here. So what's taking them so long?"
"So what do you want to do?" I said.
"Wait at the truck."
"Hold up," I said. "I need to grab something."
As we retraced our steps, I fisted the garden hoe from the garage's tool room and threw it across my shoulder.
"What's that going to do?"
"What?" I told him. "This? This is for snakes. You know whenever it floods, but not as bad as this, or when farmers grow rice, they slither out of their holes. I look out for them and don't walk the property without it. Shit, I killed one sunbathing water moccasin a few days ago. Now let's go, already."
Across the driveway we walked and then down the red gravel road without any deadly encounters. As soon as we reached his propane truck, Sho' circled and counter-circled it. He must’ve discovered his error of why he couldn’t get out, and quickly got behind the steering wheel. And after cranking the truck and flooring the accelerator fitfully, and turning the front tires hard right, the rear tires simply spun, whirring ceaselessly, and sinking even deeper.
Soon the engine shutoff. He climbed down and out of frustration kicked the truck for its insubordination. Sho' took up a seat on the front bumper and then folded his arms. As for myself, I used my garden tool as a crutch. Just then, I saw coming off the highway a caravan of mint-colored pickups. Behind them, two red dump trucks. One carried an orange road grader on its long trailer. Sho' left where I stood and met the first approaching truck, then the next, and finally the main one, looking quite new. It shined cleaner than the others, from tire to hood.
Mr. Jackson Quincy, The Boss Man, The Head Negro in Charge, and The County's Road and Bridge Manager, drove the last truck. The door opened and out he stepped, looking impeccable. His white shirt and blue jeans bordered on immaculate, being starched and pressed. Even his shoes gleamed, as if freshly shined. His bald fade haircut, nice and tight, and pushed back far enough to increase his forehead size. I also noticed his neatly manicured fingernails, so I seriously doubt they ever did a day of hard labor.
His appearance, albeit frank, couldn't disguise those jaundiced eyes. They betrayed him, but soon hid behind a pair of dark shades. Meanwhile, Sho' laid into Quincy and spat near his shined shoes. Saying how the voters will finally get rid of him and his graft this time around for a better candidate: Arthur Shonuff, his baby brother. Someone he personally considered a far superior man and one who would do the job and its duties as intended.
Quincy looked down, stared at him with incredulity, and then told him in a not so subtle manner: "You better control that mouth of yours and watch where you spit." He then turned and walked away from him, advanced toward the problem, and ordered the white men in navy work shirts to get to work, which they did. They hustled around the propane truck, looking underneath it to find a secure place to put the tow hooks. Soon one of the red dump trucks maneuvered itself upfront so it could pull the propane truck free and put it back on the highway so he could complete his other scheduled deliveries.
Throughout all of this, none of the beige work shirts – all black men – offered a helping hand. Instead, they simply looked on and nothing else. No words. No action, just looks. I found this quite peculiar, almost disturbing. Feeling somewhat awkward and not wishing to get involved in whatever kind of punditry they had going on, I turned around and took my butt and garden tool back to the house.
Halfway up the driveway, I heard a shout from the bossman. Quincy ran up and handed his fancy business card, along with sympathy. He just learned how the Sunflower Gas Company's propane truck often ruined the elbow of my driveway when backing in to make its delivery, and a nice load of rock and gravel would go a long way into rectifying that problem.
I agreed; however, he couldn't do it for another week or two. All the flood damaged backroads required his attention first. But I should call him afterwards and set a date when ready. A sunny day preferably and think about him when election day rolls around.
"I will," I said, thanked him, and then shook his hand. Three weeks later, I called. And then I tried again. Then every Monday and Thursday. My calls and messages went unanswered, including the one about how the gasman nearly got stuck making his last delivery. Eventually, I forgot him altogether. Forgot about him until election day came when I looked at the two names on the ballot and voted.
Months later, on another Friday, I sat at the kitchen table, enjoying a slice of sweet potato pie and hot coffee, paying bills. Then I heard a loud beeping noise – a backup signal. I stood up and looked out the window. I saw a red county dump truck backing up. Confused, I went and looked into it. I found a black guy in a beige work shirt giving backup directions to the driver. He beckoned and yelled whoa. Soon limestone and river rock poured out. The truck slowly rolled forward, gradually spreading it. I approached him and learned the newly elected County Road and Bridge Manager, Mr. Arthur R. Shonuff, sent him. Since Quincy lost the election, the office he once managed has kept the road crew busy regrading all the County's backroads, patching paved roads, repairing bridges, and fixing specific driveways.
"Now that's what's up," I said. "Maybe, I'll put my yard sign back out," and then left, smiling, as I headed back indoors.