by Zach Kincaid
Bufford Jones went outside on the steps and sat down. He couldn’t sleep. It was four in the morning. The lights didn’t work. “Storm’s on its way,” he said to himself seeing the dark clouds piled up atop the night sky. “No doubt about it.”
Sarah Prather’s trailer next door didn’t have its usual porch light on. Perhaps the whole park lost power. He didn’t know. He went back inside and lit a candle he had rummaged up from under the sink. It was stuck behind the bucket that caught a drip from the leaky kitchen pipes. He wondered if all the guts underneath his mobile home could actually move. He guessed the whole thing would if it wanted, move clear over to Birmingham or all the way up to Chicago. That’s what his son said. Here Bufford was, shacked up in a cardboard-nothing on wheels that wore a bastardly disguise of faux stucco. “Faux stucco, Joseph,” Bufford shouted last he saw his son two Easters ago,
“Whose ever heard of faux stucco?”
Joseph was a banker. That’s about all Bufford knew. “He’s making something of himself,” he said to Sarah one day when she asked why he lived alone. “Joe likes the big city and I told him I wouldn’t get near it - that I was staying put. And put I am and I don’t have to put up with him, you know? All that bank talk. He’s making something.”
Sarah just listened. She always did, and Bufford liked that about her. They both sat on his front patch of grass, rocking slowly in their chairs, back and forth like pendulums making time. The park kept tiny dirt lanes down each side of the trailers and small flaps of grass at the front, just enough for a couple of old kathys like themselves, chatting from can’t see to can’t see.
The closeness of neighbors only mattered when Deacon Fry came out. Deacon was a big black oak of a man who layered himself with new fat each season. Now, with a railcar-sized berth, he blustered out of his trailer like an untamed elephant booming his voice with some gospel hymn; tapping his right foot:
O my good Lord's done been here
Blessed my soul and gone away
My good Lord's done been here
Blessed my soul and gone
Over and over again. Sarah and Bufford had only enough warning to hobble inside and adolescently hold their breath. If Deacon didn’t knock on Bufford’s door, they knew it took him four times through the spiritual to clear the way from front door to vehicle, a used up Honda that sank low when Deacon wedged his body inside. And if Deacon knocked on Bufford’s door it was because of some pronouncement or dream he, “received from the Lord” the night before. “Ever since Mama Fry died,” he explained to Bufford one day, “ever since, the Lord’s been using my mind as his canvas, paintin’ the richest stories of how he’ll do it... he’s gonna do it.”
“Do what?” Bufford asked, full well of what Deacon might say.
“Do what? Mister Jones. Are you kiddin’ me. The do was already done and the what is just being carried along like sweet Moses in his basket of reeds.”
“I swear,” Sarah said, “Deacon Fry’s going to announce one day that he sat on God. Suffocated him right then and there.”
“Either that, or the fact that he ate him one night,” Bufford said laughing behind his cupped hands, in fear Deacon might be at the door. “And now we must wait three days. Yes, God has been eaten by the whale!” He chuckled again. Sarah did too.
When they thought the coast was clear, Bufford stumbled around to find the weather radio and they went back outside. Nothing was clear about today. The report said the storm would pass through Hickory Creek within two hours and the wind would sail through in a ravishing speed. And Deacon didn’t leave the way he always did.
“Bufford, Bufford, Bufford - you there?” they heard Deacon Fry coming around the corner. It was too late to do anything.
“The sky - do you see the sky?” said Deacon, with enough huffs and puffs to blow down Bufford’s trailer.
“Deacon, what are you anxious about?” said Bufford. “It’s just dark clouds.”
“Yeah, but them, they amassin an army up there, fur sure, and they’re ready to attack.”
“Maybe the day’s here,” said Sarah, looking at Bufford and smiling.
“You funny, you too, real funny, but I tell you something, it’s your soul the maker’s hungry for. He’s already got mine.”
“OK, Deacon,” said Bufford diverting a sermon, “What do you want to do about the sky?”
“You need to get out of here, straight up,” said Deacon.
“Me? I’m staying put.”
“Me too,” said Sarah. “I’m not going nowhere.”
“I’m for sure staying too. I done run enough. I’m not running from no clouds even if they be brought down to slurp me up like the mighty prophet Elijah. But you too need to get ready.”
“What are you talking about?” said Bufford. “There’s not much to do in a few hours.”
“You hear that?” Deacon asked as thunder rolled around in the sky. “That’s the devil. He’s beating his wife with a frying pan and the fight’s comin’ to Hickory Creek. You’re not ready? I don’t think you all are ready to fly from your nest. And you don’t have two hours.”
The sky began to drip down. Morning light barely had the chance to wake up before the thick clouds punched it back down. Deacon’s screen door blew open. By now several neighbors had come out in their bathrobes to measure the temper of the storm by staring up at it. They quickly went back inside.
Sarah also bolted back to her place, but Bufford and Deacon stood there looking up from the grassy nook in front of Bufford’s trailer. Neither spoke a word for several minutes. They both wanted to see what came to them.
“Cats and dogs,” said Deacon. “It’s about to unload them. We need to get inside.”
With that, Deacon–the trailer of a man he was–tumbled off to help weigh down his home. If Bufford still had hair, it would be clear to the side of his head. He knew it was time to go inside, but he stood there unable to move as the rain pounded down.
“Joseph! You hear me?” he said, yelling at the wind. “I’m stuck here in the middle of a raging fury and... all I have is faux stucco! That’s it! And Deacon Fry!” He reached out to smack the rain and laughed like a lunatic. “I got nothing else. No barriers. Nothing.”
The wind picked up and Bufford, soaking wet, slowly walked inside the dark room of his trailer. A firestorm of lightning erupted outside. He stripped off his wet clothes and found his way to the bathroom and sat down in the tub. He’d wait it out there as if a character in the Miller’s Tale, waiting for what may never come.
Deacon Fry was in his kitchen. He held onto the pipes under the sink. “Don’t you know that the trailer can move but those there pipes under your sink are sunk way deep into God’s soil below,” he told Bufford once. “If ever you need to hold on, hold on there and pray. Don’t forget to pray.”
Bufford wasn’t praying. He didn’t believe in it. “Why would you send out a message into the same sky that was about to drop on your head anyway,” he thought to himself. His home started shaking but he didn’t budge. “Joe’s probably watching the radar,” he said out loud. “‘I told you Dad. I told you it wasn’t safe.’ That’s what he’s saying. But who wants to be safe? I’d rather brave it out. Deacon’s right. If the end is coming, why hide yourself away? Step out in the gunfire.”
Bufford went on with his monologue as his trailer heaved back and forth in the wind and rain that swept through Hickory Creek that morning. He felt quite a bit older as he struggled to get out of the tub and unstick his body. He went outside to assess the damage, completely forgetting his nakedness.
The tornado had ripped through the park, touching down and throwing about trailers on either side of Bufford’s and Sarah’s row. He walked further on toward Deacon’s way. There wasn’t a trailer to speak of nor Deacon’s car. All he could see was Deacon.
“Deacon!” he called out, “Are you OK?”
“Is that you, Mr. Jones?” he asked, still gripping the piping from his kitchen. He was unwilling to let go and turn Bufford’s direction.
“I think the storm’s over,” Bufford said.
“Sure is. Oh Jesus, it sure is,” he said as Bufford helped him up out of the mud. “But you a storm in your own self. You need to get some clothes on straight way, Bufford. You are stark naked.”
Bufford stood there looking at the wreckage and Deacon, who seemed unfazed by the debris all around him.
“Let me tell you, Bufford Jones, God had his hand on my ass,” Deacon said, slapping himself, “right there on my ass! 200 mile winds whispered by like Jesus in the garden - like the Lord God sleeping in the belly of the boat with the seas tizzyin’ outside. I told you he’d do it - take me out of this Shittim and on through the Jordan. I knew he’d take me home.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t take you anywhere,” Bufford said. “You’re right here, in the same place. And he didn’t even touch me. Not a bit. I was as bare as born and the storm just skipped right over me.”
“That’s cause God had his hand on me,” Deacon said. “And God’s been lookin’ for you, Bufford. All it is, is that he missed. That’s it. He’s looking for you. He’ll try again. I’ll be praying he tries again.”