I was heading up 95 to meet Debbie for lunch when I heard Rush talking about the storm. I’m from Florida all my life, so I can tell you a thing or two about storms. Andrew was a motherfucker, but I guess it’s just like Rush says.
We were meeting up at the new Cracker Barrel that opened up off exit 68. I like that it’s a family place, and I can’t get enough of their fried okra and that chicken fried steak is pretty good. Debbie likes the gift shop, but I could do without that mess. Somebody’s always trying to sell you something you don’t need, I guess.
Down here they’re always trying to sell you somebody you don’t need, too. Ever since Mr. Global Warming got his ass handed to him by G.W. down here, you’d think D.C. relocated to Florida or something. I guess it’s good to be important, but come election time it’s nothing but ads for a bunch of liars. If I wanted to vote for a socialist I’d move to Russia.
I guess it’s just like Rush says. They’ll take any chance to lie to you just to sell you something, don’t matter if it’s a socialist for president or global warming or a Cracker Barrel birdhouse. Somebody’s always trying to get you. That’s why I ordered LifeLock. Ain’t nobody stealing who I am.
Anyway, I get to the Cracker Barrel and I see her car in the parking lot, that red piece of Korean junk I told her not to buy. She says it’s made in America, but I told her if it’s American then why’s there a ching-chang name stuck on the grill. Mostly I’m just messing with her, though. What do I care what kind of car she drives as long as it’s not a Fix Or Repair Daily. It’s not like we’re married.
So I send her a text, “wut u doin,” and she writes back “workin call me l8r” and that’s when I realize that even though I know she took a job at Cracker Barrel I never knew which one. I just figured she was at the one off exit 47 because that’s real close to her place.
Right as I’m thinking about this I go blind and somebody says “Guess who” and then she pops a kiss on the back of my neck and takes her hands away. “Why are your hands cold and wet?” I ask.
“I guess from my drink cup,” Debbie says, and then she says sorry when she sees I’m wiping my eyes.
“You want to go somewhere else? It looks pretty busy in there,” I say.
“You got to be back to the site at a certain time?” Debbie asks.
“No, I sent them all home. They’re all made of sugar so they’ll melt in the rain,” I say.
“Well then come on,” she says. “We can just look around until our table is ready.”
“I reckon I’ll just wait out here in the truck and listen to the radio,” I say.
“Suit yourself. You worried about the storm?” Debbie asks.
“Nah, all that talk is just a way for people to sell you something,” I say.
“Everything. Water, plywood, duct tape, you name it. The drive by media turns a regular old storm into this big deal so that we’ll listen to them. They can sell that global warming bullshit, too. I bet old Al Gore is sitting up there in his giant mansion watching all this on a big screen TV with a solar powered hard-on.”
“Don’t be gross,” Debbie says, but she laughs and then she walks away. She might have a couple more years on her, but I still like to watch her walk away.
We finally get a table. It’s by the fireplace, which Debbie loves even though it’s not going because it’s 97 outside. I want the booth in the corner, but some fat ass with a notebook is sitting there drinking tea. If I was the manager I’d kick his ass out. It’s a restaurant, not a library. He keeps looking over at me, too. He’s lucky I don’t beat his ass.
“They’re on the back of your head,” Debbie says.
“What do you mean?” I say.
“You keep looking around like you lost your sunglasses,” she says. “They’re on the back of your head.”
“No, I’m just looking for the waitress. I need something to drink,” I say.
About that time she walks up and says, “Can I get some drinks started for y’all?” We tell her two iced teas and then she says, “I’ll give y’all a couple minutes to look at the menu. My name is Lindsey if you need anything,” and then she walks off.
“What was that?” Debbie says.
“That was weird. That waitress wouldn’t even look at us when she was talking.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she’s new,” I say.
“She won’t last long like that,” Debbie says. “God, why are there so many old people in here? It’s like a retirement home.”
“All the snowbirds heading back up north before the storm hits, I reckon.”
“Is it really going to be that bad?” she says.
“If you believe the drive by media it is, but I’m from Florida. I know a thing or two about storms,” I say.
“I’m from Florida, too,” Debbie says.
“I know that,” I say. “But what the hell does some New York weatherman know? He just reads what they tell him to. The real news says this whole thing is getting all blown up by the liberals.”
“Still, you should probably get some plywood for the windows just in case,” she says. She looks around at all the people crowding into the Cracker Barrel and she goes, “Okay?” so I nod. Once she’s made up her mind there’s no arguing about it. About that time Lindsey comes back and takes our order. While we’re waiting for our food to come I tell Debbie that I think we should sign up for NRA Carry Guard because although you hope you never have to use your concealed carry someday you might. “Like that time Jeff Beaton almost shot you for breaking out of his house?” she says.
“Not this shit again,” I say.
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” Debbie says.
The food comes. We eat in silence. It’s good. I look over Debbie’s shoulder and I see that the line to get in now takes up the whole patio. Over their heads in the distance I can see that the northbound ramp onto 95 is at a standstill. Everything is stopped, going nowhere, and all because of a bunch of dirty lies.
Lindsey comes by and fills up our tea glasses. “How’s everything tasting?” she asks. “Can I get y’all anything else?”
“It’s so good,” Debbie says. “I couldn’t eat another bite.”
“You want anything else, Scott?” Lindsey asks.
“I’m good,” I say.
“I’ll be right back with y’all’s check,” Lindsey says, and she walks away. I make sure I’m looking at Debbie instead of watching Lindsey walk away. Her eyes are as big around as the two biscuits we never got around to eating.
“What?” I say.
“She called you Scott,” Debbie says.
“How’d she know your name?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she heard you say it. Maybe she saw it on the side of my truck. Maybe she knows somebody on my crew,” I say.
“Oh God,” Debbie says. “Oh God oh God oh God.” She starts crying and she runs off, or at least she tries to. There’s so many people packed into the restaurant that she can’t get through without pushing past people.
When Lindsey comes back with the check she says, “Where’d your wife go?”
“Thanks a lot, you stupid whore,” I say.
“What did I do?” Lindsey says.
I stop by the Home Depot on the way home and I buy up what’s left of the plywood. All they have is quarter-inch, but that don’t matter. It’s just for show anyway. The wind picks up a little and the rain starts, but southbound 95 is pretty light on traffic. I get home okay.
My front yard looks like a storm’s already hit. Hurricane Debbie has thrown all my clothes and my Bucs memorabilia all over the yard. As soon as I pull up she stomps out the front door dragging a suitcase behind her and throws it into the backseat of the Suburban.
“Where you going?” I ask.
“Somewhere else,” Debbie says.
“Get in the house,” I say. “You can’t get nowhere on 95 north.”
“Then I’ll take 95 south,” she says.
“There’s a storm coming. Get in the house,” I say.
“You don’t know storms,” Debbie says. “I know storms. I married a goddamned storm.”
“Debbie, get in the house,” I say. She knows that once I make up my mind there’s no arguing about it, so she stomps back into the house and slams the door. The rain is really coming down now, but once you’re wet it’s not like you’re going to get any wetter. One by one I cover up the windows with the quarter-inch.
When I’m done I come inside. The storm is really whipping around now, but I’ve seen worse. Between the wind whistling through the plywood and the knocks and creaks when it rattles against the windows it’s all a hell of a racket. It’s so loud inside I can barely hear the silence coming from the master bedroom.
The door is locked. I knock but she won’t answer. I knock again. “Come on, Debbie, open the door,” I shout, but still no answer. People crack me up. An interior door lock is nothing but a symbol, like a “do not disturb” sign or something. It’s like a handshake agreement that offers no real protection other than trust that both sides will honor it.
I don’t even need tools to unlock the knob, my fingernail gets it done. Debbie is sitting on the edge of the bed, calm as can be. Every couple of seconds the wind lifts the plywood away a crack and a little bit of light streaks across her blank face. “House is boarded up tight, we’ll be okay,” I say. She doesn’t even blink.
Right then the wind pulls my board off the window. A corner of the plywood smashes the glass before it flies away, and Debbie still just sits there. I’ve weathered a lot of storms, but I’ve never seen one like this. Everything is blowing around our bedroom: the sheets, the laundry, our pictures. Even the furniture is shaking. The wind grabs the chair in front of Debbie’s makeup table like it was a paper kite and smashes it into the Kinkade I bought her for our tenth anniversary. It hits right between the two horses’ faces and punches a big hole in the paper.
I grab her and pull her down onto the floor. She doesn’t help me at all. It’s like pulling a dead body under the bed. I wrap myself around her best I can and say, “Hold on, baby, it will be over soon.”
“No it won’t,” she says. The roof gives way. The storm picks up our bed and carries it away.
We make it through the night. The storm is gone, and so is pretty much everything we had. The amazing thing is that while the Suburban is flipped over my truck doesn’t even have a scratch on it. We get in and start driving, not really going anywhere, just driving. We roll past exit 47 and I don’t even take my eyes off the road. Rush is on. He knew this was going to be a big one, but damned if the drive by media would pay him any mind. Now they’re all trying to politicize it, just like they always do. I’ve been through a bunch of these. It’s always the same old story.
We drive and drive, not saying nothing, just taking in the damage. We may as well be driving through some kind of Mexican slum. Debbie reaches over and puts her hand on my thigh. We’ll rebuild. We always do.