Read The Weather Online

Authors: Caighlan Smith

The Weather

 

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Copyright Page

 

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The convenience store smells like Solarcaine and orange soda. Lolly's bubble pops and gum plasters over her mouth while the delivery man smooths a Band-Aid in place on his elbow. The door rattles shut behind him and the mini cathedral bell from the dollar store clinks. Lolly picks the waxlike bubble gum off her chin. She remembers she needs to get a new razor, because in a week or so she'll have to shave her legs.

A woman comes in, her skin the color of caramelized onions and her hair a dark cocoa pulsing with yellow highlights. The flesh of her face is stretched taut, as if she's pinned all the wrinkles back behind her ears, except for the crow's feet at her eyes, which are more like sparrow's feet. She's wearing a billowing coat of brown leather, lined with mustard yellow fur, that doesn't particularly match her slinky turquoise scarf.

Lolly doesn't realize the woman's brought the boy until he pops out from behind her cavernous coat. His skin is a shade lighter than his mother's, his hair a shade darker, his sunglasses framed in orange, hers, leopard print.

Lolly scrapes the gum off her upper lip so roughly it tears off a few overgrown hairs. The woman goes to the cooler in the back of the store, where they keep the alcohol. Lolly can just see the green of her scarf between the bags of tortilla chips on the chip rack. The boy shuffles over to the counter, gaze scanning the rows of colorful lotto tickets he's too young to buy. He puts a candy bar on the counter and Lolly waves it under the bar-code scanner once, twice, staring blindly at the image of milk chocolate pieces with white chocolate centers. A streak of fluorescent light catches across the metallic candy wrapper, cutting the chocolate image in half and blurring the bar's name.

Beep
. A price flashes on the cash register in bright green.

Lolly drops the bar back on the counter, and the boy hesitantly tugs it toward him by the end flap of the wrapper, which crinkles between his fingers. More crinkling as he uncovers the chocolate. More beeping as Lolly voids the item from the cash register, using the manager code. The first time the woman and the boy came in Lolly charged them and almost got fired. Ever since then, she's been tempted to charge them again.

Through the radio static that crackles around the store, an announcer starts to deliver the weather. Lolly fishes the remote out from under the cash register and changes to a station playing bluegrass. The boy winces and the woman opens the cooler so sharply it slams against the wall. Lolly knows the woman doesn't like country or hip-hop or classical. She adds bluegrass to her mental list and returns the remote to its resting place next to the dusty medical kit. It hasn't been opened since Lolly started working at the corner store. Whenever someone gets a scratch or a cut they just crack open a new box of Band-Aids, fresh off the household necessities shelf.

The woman's boots squeak aggressively as she marches to the front of the store, six packs clenched in both hands. Her engagement ring flashes in the store lights like a dewdrop dangling from the tip of a weed.

Lolly can't make out the woman's eyes through the sunglasses; she never can, but she knows when the woman pauses like this, in front of the counter, she's glaring at Lolly. Or maybe she isn't, but she's definitely staring, and it's definitely a dare.
“Gonna charge me again, bitch?”
It's what the woman said the second time she came into the store, and she hasn't said a word to Lolly since.

The woman leaves and the door clatters. Lolly breathes out a gum bubble to critical mass and lets it hover, blotting out all of the boy except for the stray hairs of his bedhead. Alone like that, the hairs almost look black. As black as his eyes look through the sunglasses.

Lolly's bubble pops and the boy is gone, the citadel bell echoing as the door beats itself back into place. There's a little origami heart covering the top prize for a stack of cheap lotto tickets: $200, in big, bold gold, as if that were enough to keep someone comfortable for more than half a year. The heart is metallic and, on its left bump, sports the cleaved image of a milk chocolate candy bar.

Lolly throws the heart in the garbage under the cash register, then changes the radio back to its usual station. The weather forecast's long over.

*   *   *

Every patch of Granny Ma's flesh is crusty scales, sketched by raw red skin so paper thin it's about to break, or already has. Sometimes, on a very hot day when Granny Ma walks to the mailbox and says “But where do I enter my password?” she leaves bloody smears on the fence gate and her butterfly-print smock.

Lolly sits behind Granny Ma in the kitchen, where she's coaxed the elderly woman to their old spinning bar chair. Lolly is on the counter, feet braced under the stool to keep Granny Ma from spinning around. The kitchen is filled with feeble squeaking and Granny Ma's wheezy mouth breathing.

Lolly rubs the ointment into Granny Ma's back. The ointment used to smell like baby powder and Vaseline but now it just smells like Granny Ma. Stray dry flakes of her stick to the cream in the bottle every time Lolly dips her hand in, so that the upper rim is crusted with bits of dead skin.

Granny Ma is muttering something either vulgar or about a poodle. The fuzzy, neon-pink bath towel Lolly wrapped around the elderly woman fell to the floor immediately after it was situated. Sometimes Granny Ma tries to reach for it with her toes, even though it's around a meter away. The light coming through the kitchen blinds goes straight through the tips of Granny Ma's overgrown, chipped, and yellow toenails.

Granny Ma starts trying to climb off the chair. “I've gotta see if Froggie messaged me back. I can't make the post until Froggie lets me know.”

Lolly stretches out her legs so far her feet hit the kitchen island, boxing in Granny Ma. “You can't, Granny. The wifi's down.”

Lolly doesn't understand what she herself is saying, just repeats what her mother's told her to say in these situations.

Granny Ma freezes. She starts shaking and before she can crumple to the floor, Lolly adds, “Uncle AJ's rebooting the modem.”

“Oh, that's all right then.”

Granny Ma climbs back on the stool. Lolly begins on her flaky shoulders as the elderly woman starts talking about changing her “URL” and “annoying anons.” It's normal, nonsensical Granny Ma talk and Lolly pays it no mind. When she's done with the skin ointment, she hooks Granny Ma's smock over her head and releases her. Too late Lolly realizes she put the smock on backward—not the first time she's made this mistake—but Granny Ma's already shuffled to her spot in the living room. She pulls out her thin metal book with the half-eaten fruit on the back and opens it sideways, immediately bashing away at the array of buttons on the last page. Granny Ma calls it her “notebook” and Lolly really doesn't know—or care—much about it beyond that.

After soaping her hands to near extinction, Lolly opens a tin of chickpeas and grabs a plastic fork from the kitchen drawer. On the back deck she can still hear Granny Ma's insistent clicking through the screen door. Moths are flitting around the bug zapper, its red light showing through their wings in a way that make the wings look invisible, like the moths are just bodies. Little maggot bodies, levitating worms, ticks, gnats crawling through the air.

A fly buzzes and Lolly smacks her neck even though the sound is closer to her brow.

Sitting in the broken green lawn chair, next to the bug zapper, Lolly digs into her chickpeas and ignores the hum of a dying engine out front. A minute later and her mother comes around the back, face and neck and arms bright pink. When she flaps the neck of her palm tree graphic T-shirt, Lolly sees that her shoulders are a blinding white next to the burned flesh.

“Ma done up?” her mother asks, and Lolly nods, and her mother rubs her neck and watches the bug zapper. She says, “Tucker's truck broke down halfway from the farm, load of cows in the trailer. Didn't make a sound. Like they weren't there at all. Asked Tucker, after it was done, fixed the engine, changed his tire to boot, ran it over a nail he said. Where'd he find a nail strong enough to break that kinda muscle? Asked Tucker, what's back in the trailer? Tucker said: cows. Not one moo. Not a single moo. Coulda been an empty trailer, or they coulda all been dead. Said, Tucker, you outta check they ain't all dead back there.”

“Where was he taking 'em?”

“Macy's Burgers. He wanted one fifty for 'em, each, but he said Macy sweet-talked him down to one oh five. That Macy.”

“Yeah. That Macy.”

Lolly's mother sits on the back steps and leans her head against the porch, still watching the zapper. “Did you catch the forecast?”

Lolly shakes her head.

“S'posed to be a storm. This Saturday.”

Lolly's starting to find it really hard not to look down at the base of the bug zapper, where the ground that's dry and cracked as Granny Ma's skin is covered in blackened bug husks.

*   *   *

Friday afternoon Lolly ties up her hair off her neck with an elastic band that's lost most of its elasticity. Her messy bun flops down off her head the moment she lets it go, unraveling just like the elastic band, but Lolly's used to it. The sweaty stickiness of her half-undone bun against her neck has gotten to be something of a comfort.

On her way out back, Lolly finds Granny Ma leaning against the windowsill, glaring outside.

“I hate the desert background,” Granny Ma says. “Why won't it change to the waterfall? I've changed it three times already but it never saves. And my screensaver, that's broken for sure. It just falls asleep eventually instead. No shooting stars. I need to go to Future Shop.”

Lolly leaves Granny Ma to fuss over their view of the barren landscape. Thunderous hammering fills the house, making the faded family photographs swing sideways on the wall. Lolly doesn't fix any of them, or even pick up the one that falls. It's Granny Ma's wedding picture, featuring a beaming fat-faced girl with a hot pink veil slung back over her brown and purple curls. She's holding up a shinier version of her battered notebook, and the blank page opposite the keyboard shows the pixelated face of Lolly's late grandpa. The quality of his image is so bad Lolly can't make out the color of his eyes, but somehow she can still make out the abundance of pimples on his forehead.

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