Sudden Spring Storm

by Jeniveve Jacobs Wahlquist

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    “Mom, hey, Mom!” Devin’s voice floated in through the open kitchen window as she finished crimping the pie crust. A little breeze followed his voice, ruffling the white curtains and carrying a sharp smell, like rain. Instinctively she glanced toward the mountains, and yes, there were gray clouds gathering.

    The screen on the back door banged shut, and she heard hesitating footsteps. “In the kitchen, dear,” she called, wiping her hands on a towel. The clump of boots sounded nearer, and she glanced up to see him framed in the doorway, temporarily blocking out most of the light.

    “My goodness,” she said, with just enough tease in her voice, “if those shoulders grow any more you’ll have to go through sideways!” and then saved him the embarrassment of having to reply to such a typically motherly statement by handing him the mixing bowl and spoon. She waited with cocked head and inquiring eyebrows while he sampled the filling.

    “ ’Sall right,” he said casually, but she knew from the glint in his eye that it was really good.

    “It’s for the Jeffersons,” she explained, “for this afternoon, after the funeral. But I made one for us, too.”

    “You’d better take ’em both over,” he said wryly. “They’ve got a regular army of relatives swarming around the house.”

    “They have?”

    “Yeah. I was over that way just now.” His voice was slightly muffled, coming from behind the refrigerator door. She heard the clink of milk bottles. “On my way back from Jess Willard’s.”

    Jess Willard’s. She was alert now but cautious. Don’t say anything, she told herself. Just wait.

    “Y’know, Mom, he’s willing to knock off another two hundred on that Chevy.”

    Here we go again, she thought. But not this morning. I’m not up to this on a busy Saturday morning.

    “That car is really a bargain now.” His words came in a rush, tumbling together in his eagerness to win her over. “Just a little time and effort and it’d be worth twice what he’s asking. I can do the transmission work myself and …”


    There was silence in the kitchen. I don’t want to sound like this, she thought, forcing back the irritation clutching at her stomach. Make it light: joke! she told herself.

    “This is the Voice of Doom speaking,” she said, imitating a telephone recording. “You can’t afford Jess Willard’s fancy motorcar. There’s no way you can put together that much money—and your folks can’t give it to you, either.”

    He rinsed the glass and slid it into the dish drainer.

    “I told him I’d take it.” His voice was so quiet—and so final.

    “What?!” There wasn’t time to control the astonishment.

    “Bill Whipple was there this morning. He said he was going to buy the car as soon as he could sell his pickup. Oh, Mom, what would Bill Whipple do with a car like that?”

    “And how would Devin Edwards pay for a car like that?” she demanded.

    “With the fund,” he replied, avoiding her eyes.

    “Your missionary fund?”

    Unreal, went her brain, unreal, unreal. He didn’t really say that—not Devin, not the boy who picked strawberries all summer when he turned 12 and put every penny, minus tithing, into the fund.

    “It would just be a loan, Mom. I’d pay it back.”

    “Wait a minute.” She fluttered her hands in front of her closed eyes, trying to think, reaching for control. “You’ll be 19 in less than a year. You couldn’t …”

    “Who says I have to leave the exact minute I turn 19?” he retorted, a hard, angry edge to his voice.

    She could say nothing. The silence stretched as she stood at the wooden chopping block, stunned and still. Gradually her hands swam into focus. She was looking down and felt faint surprise to see flour and little bits of dough clinging to her fingers. Then she became aware of the receding footsteps and the slam of the back door.

    “Bobby … Lisa! It’s time to leave!” she called. Then she stood, somewhat nervous, studying her reflection in the glass panes of the ponderous grandfather clock which had always stood in the entryway. Ten forty-five according to the filigree hands: the funeral was to begin at eleven. Bad enough that Bob is out of town, she thought, and now to appear without Devin either! But there had been no sign of him since he had slammed through the back door an hour ago.

    “Here I am, Mom.” Lisa’s face appeared suddenly in the glittering glass, and her mother turned to give her a quick hug.

    “You look lovely, dear,” she said softly. “Thanks,” replied Lisa, patting her hair into place and smoothing down the full skirt of her new blue dress. “I’ll wait out in front.”

    “Bobby … please come now!” she called, putting a little more insistence into her voice. It was going to be all right. She had felt it so strongly at the conclusion of her prayer half an hour earlier. Somehow Devin would see—would get his values straight again. The funeral. She had decided the funeral would do it. Devin would be sitting hunched forward on the bench, and one of the speakers would look him right in the eye and say just the perfect thing. And now Devin might not be there to hear it.

    Bobby appeared at the top of the stairs, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, Mom,” he puffed as he came down toward her, taking the steps two at a time, “couldn’t find my tie. Where’s Devin?”

    “I don’t know,” she said simply, trying to keep it even, trying not to let the distress show through. But Bobby sensed it anyway.

    “Maybe he’s already gone over to the church,” he suggested.

    “In his boots and levis?”

    “I guess not. Wanna wait for him?”

    “No,” she sighed. “I left him a note.” She plucked two umbrellas from the stand near the clock. “Here, you’d better take this,” she said, offering him one. “It looks like a storm.”

    The downpour had eased to a steady drench by the time Devin vaulted over the hedge and made a dash for the back door. When he strode into the kitchen, his wet T-shirt was plastered against his back. He walked over to the fridge and removed the note from the two flat magnets holding it against the door. It read: “10:40 A.M. Dear Devin: We are leaving for the Jepperson funeral, which starts at 11:00. Please change quickly and meet us at the church. We’ll sit at the back and save you a seat. Love, Mom.”

    He glanced at the clock in the middle of the stove: 12:30. He crumpled the note and tossed it into the wastebasket. A few quick strides to his room, and he was back in the kitchen again in a dry T-shirt, rifling the fridge. He arrived at the table with an armload of milk, bread, mayonnaise, ham and cheese, and became aware of the two pies sitting in plastic-wrapped silence in the center of the table, waiting to be delivered. His gaze kept returning to them as he ate a quick lunch. When he had finished and cleared away the clutter, he fished the keys to his dad’s truck out of his pocket, picked up a pie in each hand, and headed through the kitchen door into what was now a mere drizzle.

    He drove in silence, letting the slip-slap of the windshield wipers keep time with his thoughts, which were so deep he almost missed the Jepperson turnoff. He parked the truck in the side yard and, carefully balancing the pies, made his way up the wooden stairs to the old screen porch, where he expertly flipped open the screen door with the toe of his boot. It was just a few steps to the back kitchen door, which was slightly ajar. Devin nudged it open with his shoulder, stepped into the dimly lit room, and deftly deposited the pies on the counter near the sink. Then, with his hand on the doorknob, he was just in the act of stepping back out when a low, growling voice came from the interior of the darkened house: “Who’s there?!”

    Startled, he swallowed hard and called, “Devin Edwards. Just leaving some pies for after the funeral.”

    “Devin Edwards, is it?” came the voice. “Come on in here a minute, Devin Edwards.”

    He made his way through the gray rooms with the ease of someone who’d been through them a hundred times or more, and as he came through the archway into the front room, a light flickered on. Carl Jepperson was sitting in his shirt-sleeves and suspenders in the big leather chair by the window.

    “Why aren’t you at the funeral?” blurted Devin, the surprise evident in his voice.

    “Don’t believe in ’em, son,” said Mr. Jepperson slowly, his deep voice rumbling through the room. “I can mourn my father better sitting here, in his chair, in his house, than I can over at the church with all those fancy flowers and crowds of people.”

    “Uh … I was planning to go to the funeral,” explained Devin quickly, “but I was over at the Willard’s, and by the time …”

    “Oh yes,” Carl Jepperson interrupted, with an impatient wave of his hand, “I hear you’re going to buy Jesse’s red Chevy. My boy’d sure like to have it.” He turned to look through the window as lightning flashed briefly across the sky and then continued, almost to himself. “There’s a mighty high price on that car. ’Course, if some people’d pay their bills …” He shifted his weight in the chair suddenly and looked straight at Devin.

    “Your dad doesn’t have the money for that last load of lumber he took from me on credit. But he’s got plenty for hot rods, eh?”

    Devin slid damp palms across his jeans and cleared his throat. “You know my dad’s short on cash right now. I’ve … uh … sort of decided to borrow the money from my missionary fund.”

    “Borrow?” repeated Mr. Jepperson, and then barked a short, ironic laugh. “That’s the whole fund, boy, the whole thing. Spend is the word you’re looking for.” And then, before Devin could reply, a crafty look came into his eyes and he inquired, “What did your father say about all this?”

    “Dad’s up at the construction site in Twin Lakes. He won’t be back until Tuesday.”

    “So your Dad’s gonna have quite a little surprise,” mused Carl Jepperson, a bitter smile curling his lips. “I sure would like to see his face.”

    Wheels crunched on the gravel driveway in front of the house, and headlights suddenly illuminated the rain-streaked windows. Devin’s feet took him to the front door almost of their own accord.

    “Looks like somebody’s back from the funeral,” he commented, opening the door and peering through the rain. “I’ve got to be going now, anyway.”

    He stepped out quickly, not looking back, but the growly voice followed him onto the porch: “Tell your dad I’ll be over to see him next Tuesday.”

    He took the three steps leading down from the porch in a single jump, wincing slightly as the cold rain hit his shoulders, and then dodged quickly around to the side of the house where the old truck stood with rainwater streaming across its battered hood.

    Wrenching the door open, he climbed up into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and backed down the driveway at a faster speed than was really safe. Soon he heard the steady hum of pavement under the tires as the road smoothed out, and then his fingers absently kept time with the steady pulse of the wipers as his thoughts went deeper and deeper.

    “Lisa,” she called, “it’s your turn to set the table.” There was no response. The house was quiet for a change, and even the soft drippings from the rainspouts had gradually faded as the storm had passed. “Lisa!” she called again, and heard a faint rustling from the front room. A moment later Lisa appeared, book in hand, rubbing her eyes and stumbling slightly.

    “Were you asleep, dear?” she asked.

    “I was reading by the fire,” explained Lisa, “and it was so warm and comfortable …” She yawned and stretched languidly, her arms reaching high, and then abruptly dropped the book on the table with a loud slap that seemed to shatter the air. “Do you want the lace cloth or the gold one?” Lisa inquired over her shoulder, already heading into the dining room.

    “The gold one, please,” she called as the door swung shut. Saturday dinner was the big meal of the week in the Edwards household. A tradition, she thought, handed down from my own childhood. I’m glad Mother refused to cook on Sundays, her mind continued. There were always such wonderful leftovers from the Saturday night dinners.

    “Flowers,” she said softly under her breath, “for a special centerpiece.” And then an idea blossomed suddenly in her mind. Suppose I get the gold jeweler’s scale from the front room and put one of Bobby’s matchbox cars in one side and a picture of Jesus in the other. She paused to visualize the effect: fantastic for her Relief Society lesson; disastrous for Devin. The feeling of sad futility began to settle slowly into her soul again, but she shook it off and headed resolutely out into the backyard to see what flowers could still be gleaned for the dinner table.

    The air was wonderful outside. The rain had stopped, but its fresh fragrance lingered. Leaves and branches were jeweled in liquid crystal. How beautiful! she marveled, lifting her head and drawing the quiet twilight scene into her soul.

    She moved gracefully among the trees and hedges, choosing daisies and lilac branches. Her hands were nearly full when the pickup’s noisy rattle cut through the air. She turned to watch, screened by the shrubbery, as the old truck pulled up in the driveway and Devin swung out almost immediately. By the time she had walked over to the truck, he had lowered the tailgate and was struggling to lift an old but unfamiliar dirt bike to the ground.

    “Whose is that?” she asked in surprise.

    “Mine,” he grinned, enjoying her amazement. “But it used to be Bill Whipple’s. ’Course, he won’t be needing it, now that he’s gonna be driving Jess Willard’s ‘fancy motorcar.’”

    “But …”

    “So he sold it to me for 250 dollars.”

    “But Devin, you don’t have …

    “Two hundred and fifty dollars worth of work on his new car, that is,” he added. His head was down as he moved around the bike, wiping off drops of water which had beaded up on the tarnished chrome. “The transmission’s got to be completely redone, and it needs new points, and Bill wants me to …”

    “Oh, Devin,” she said, relief washing over her in a tremendous wave.

    He looked up at her and, for a brief moment, comprehended her emotion. She felt the old, familiar closeness there, stronger than ever. Then he ducked his head again, taking hold of the handlebars and pushing the bike slowly toward the garage.

    “Hey, Mom,” he said casually, “did you notice that the storm’s over?”

    Photos by Grant Heaton