Grasslands

They’d never find her here, because here there was nothing to find.

She was taking her break on the back porch of the diner, leaning against one of the white-painted wooden posts holding up the little roof. It was just past midday. The sun was somewhere above, and the roof cast a shadow across the top of her. Her legs were so warm she had begun to idly wish she hadn’t put stockings on that morning, but what little breeze there was chilled the back of her neck and made the little hairs stand up. The air would stagnate in front of her, filling with smoke from her cigarette, and the breeze would come and push it all away. Make room for more. She wished the cigarettes would kill her.

The front of the diner faced TR-15. A three lane highway bleached white in the sun, it stretched from one bit of nowhere to another. It was a connector, bridging two other highways that would actually bring you somewhere. It must have been busy back in the days before the trains, although she’d wager ‘busy’ was still generous. Nowadays the only people on the road were traveling salesmen, delivery drivers, and visitors to the few ranches still out this way. They all stopped at the diner because the diner was the only place to stop.

The back of the diner faced the wild nothing. From her perch on the porch, she could see miles and miles of Texas. Maybe right on into Oklahoma. Tall grasses, brown in the late summer, waved stiffly in hot breezes. She could watch the wind by watching these grasses, whose name she did not know. Cigarette smoke would pool around her in perfectly still air, and half a mile away she would see the grasses bob and bounce. Sometimes it would come right for her. Sometimes it would pass her by. Didn’t bother her either way.

There were barbed wire fences among the grass. One surrounded the diner, and if he was restless Mr. Larabee would walk it to check for breaks. Others marked territory in the distance, the sun glinting off them at the right time of day. She didn’t know who owned the fences. All her time standing on this porch, staring off into this distance, she had never seen a single person out there. She wondered what point the fences proved, and to who.

Above the barely-changing grasslands was the ever-changing sky. Even as she stood there it moved, painfully white clouds changing their shape against the sharp blue. The clouds had been fattening and multiplying all day, casting fast moving shadows on the grass and fences. It would storm later, she knew it for fact, and she didn’t need to hear it from that pipsqueak weatherman on the news with the cowlick and the acne. A coming storm felt the same everywhere, and it had only taken her three, maybe four centuries, to be able to feel it with confidence. The only question was where.

The storm might roll over them, the innocent white replaced with deep blue confidence and piled high with rage. The air, after spending hours growing restless and heavy, would halt its pacing and freeze. Goosebumps would rise on arms. The light would fade away so insidiously that if you were busy you might not notice how dark it had become until you were wondering how afternoon turned to dusk so quickly. Then the fat rain, slow at first but not for long, getting colder and colder until the inevitable. She’d wondered what the little pock marks were when she’d bought her silver trailer. Of course she had seen hail before, but never like this. Never so big, and never so furious. Her smoke break was still on the back porch during these times, but she stood well back from the edge against the wall. Still the rain and hail would find her, soaking her stockings and striking her shoes. Like everything else, she bore it patiently, knowing she would outlast it.

Sometimes the storm she felt coming would miss them, and she would watch it cross the horizon. Something that seemed so huge and world-changing when it passed overhead looked so small and pleasant from half a mile away. Just a single blue-black cloud being pushed over the plains, a long trail of rain under and behind it. From a distance it was almost peaceful. There was a life lesson there, but life had taught her every lesson it had already, and she was over it.

There were the times the cloudy sky would turn green, and even then she would stay on the porch. Green sky didn’t always mean twister, and when it did…well, the diner was about a thousand square feet and sitting in the middle of a hundred square miles. Usually there was a good distance between a twister and them. If the twister was behind the diner, the others inside might come out and join her, watch with nervous chatter as it wound its way across the grass. If the twister was in front of the diner, across the road, they’d go out to watch it from the parking lot. But she didn’t care for that side of the diner, so she’d stay inside, marrying ketchups as she listed to the alarm blare out of the radio.

This time last year a twister cruising along the back had made a sudden hard turn and started coming right for them. The others had stood with her and watched for a couple of minutes, the volume of their chatter growing, until they decided the twister wasn’t going to turn again. Then they were all running, taking their chatter with them, the patrons allowing themselves to be hustled down into the cellar by the cook. She’d stayed, of course, watching that wind demon come right for her, still smoking her cigarette. Never would have moved if Mr. Larabee hadn’t picked her up around the waist and hauled her inside. Mr. Larabee wasn’t a big man. His arms had ached for weeks after. The twister had, indeed, turned again, missing the diner by half a mile.

“Ain’t you got any sense, girl?” Mr. Larabee had asked as the sun had broken through the other side of the storm. He had been rubbing his arms, his face still milk-white.

Of course she had sense. She had the good sense not to tell him the truth. To tell him she was more like the grasses and the fences than she was like the sky. That even if that twister had hit her head on and tossed her a mile the worst that would happen is her hair would get mussed. Mr. Larabee would never believe it, of course. But he’d never look at her the same either.

“I froze,” was all she had said. And life had gone on.

Life, for her, would always go on.

From inside the diner she heard the bell over the front door. She dropped her cigarette butt in the bucket of sand Mr. Larabee had put out just for her and gave the wild nothing one last glance. It didn’t need to be long. It, and she, would be here tomorrow.


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