Thunder above, fire below

Thunder storm

In the dark agony of the sky, lightning reigned and thunder became.  Ensconced in the cab of the Ford pickup, Tom Jamieson, the driller for Hudson Drilling, sat behind the wheel gazing at the rig, staring at the strands of rain running down the windshield.  Beside him, Ramone Estavez, his roughneck on the rig, tapped him on the shoulder, passing him the thermos bottle nearly full of milk-warm coffee.  Chauncey poured himself a cup of coffee, while Ramone lit up a cigarette, cautiously dispelling the smoke exhalation away from Tom, as well as Ron Alvarez, the other roughneck, sitting to his right.

Just a half-hour prior, they had been working the rig, carving up spicules of shale, probing the underbelly of the Wingate formation for old stream bed deposits of uranium.  Beginning as a light drizzle, the rain blossomed into a full thundershower.  At the first sign of lightning, Chauncey hoisted the kelly rod and motioned to the others to get in the pickup.  Though they had not suffered the full fury of the front, all were soaked, Ron and Chauncey in their jeans and white, cotton T-shirts, Ramone in his coveralls.  For another half-hour, they waited for the rain to culminate.  Ramone smoked another fag while they spoke little.  Too dangerous to work on the drilling rig with its steel derrick in a thunderstorm, grappling awkwardly with the doused drilling rods in the mud was a dicey operation.

“Fellas,” declared Chauncey, “I think it’s time to call it a day, unless you want to wait for Noah to float by.”

Ramone, saying nothing, just piled out of the pickup after Ron, flicking his half-finished cigarette into an opaque pool.  Together, the three of them secured the drilling rig and water truck, and turning off the diesel engine of the drilling rig.  With each step, Ron had to pull up his boots, for adhering to them was an inch or two of reddish mud.

Propped up on one of the nearly flat patches of sand of the Wingate sandstone that rippled like the sea some twenty miles south-by-southeast of Moab.  The weatherman the night before, smiling like some village idiot, had claimed it was going to be another clear hot day in eastern Utah.  Instead of sunshine, shortly after nine, grey clouds gathered on the western horizon, forming an enfilade that soon turned the dry arroyos into roiling russet flumes of water, that were impossible to cross without putting the pickup placed into four-wheel drive.

Of the three of them, Ron was the youngest, being two years out of high school in Riverton.   Dropping out just weeks before graduation, Ron married his high school sweetheart, Andrea Rapollo, a lusty redhead whose forbearers came from the southern reaches of the Dolomites, and who was just now showing.  Though Ron was the most diminutive member of the crew, he had muscled up since junior high, delving out punishment to others on the high school wrestling squad in the winter while delivering cans of milk about Riverton.  But the drilling work was more exhausting.

For their honeymoon, Ron Alvarez got a grey hard hat, this job as a roughneck, while Andrea waited tables in the Rimrock cafe, where Tom met his roughnecks no later than six in the morning for breakfast, before they drove in Tom’s scarlet pickup, stenciled on the side with “Hudson Drilling Company,” to the field.  Winsomely smiling at all of his cohorts as she poured coffee and plied them with a sturdy breakfast, Andrea made Ron a proud husband.   She even fixed a sandwich for Ron before their foray to the field.

For Ron, it took some getting used to the long hours on the rig, often going ten or twelve hours.  Nor was he used to the isolation.  Relief was Ron’s feeling every time that Tom dropped him off at the trailer park where Ron and his bride occupied a chrome-colored Slipstream.  Though cramped, Ron chose to think of life in the trailer as cozy, a feeling that Andrea didn’t share. Leaving the cafe every day, he was preoccupied with Andrea’s state, wondering how she would reach him if there was a problem with her impending confinement.  But though there were a few episodes of bleeding during both the first and second trimester, it was scant and fleeting.  Still Ron was anxious, even if Andrea wasn’t unduly concerned.  The third trimester remained apace, with no problems until Andrea was thirty-two weeks along and her water broke while she was waiting tables, not long after Hudson’s drilling crew headed an hour away to the drill site.

Upon Ron’s arrival home that evening, Andrea was not there.  Realizing that his wife and unborn babe were probably well, he was still frantic as he drove over to the Rimrock Cafe.  She wasn’t there.  Tricia, the other waitress who worked with Andrea, told him she’d driven to the hospital upon the flow of amniotic fluid.  Jumping in his scratched and dented GMC pickup, he rushed to the hospital, where he was directed to Labor and Delivery.  Running into the reception room of the medical department, he was greeted by an old and sun-baked L and D nurse, who didn’t have a chance to introduce herself, before Ron blurted, “Where’s my wife, Andrea?  How is she?  Is she okay?”

“Settle down,” chided the nurse who appeared old enough to have delivered Moses.

“Your wife is fine.  I’ll take you to her room.”

At the door to her room, Ron encountered Andrea’s obstetrician, Lawrence Whithers, a tall, but paunchy man in scrubs, around whom rumors swirled.  “Your wife is fine.”

“The baby?” Ron gasped.

“I’m afraid the baby was stillborn.”  The surgeon had the demeanor of a funeral director, sober and dyspeptic.

“Was it a boy?” inquired Ron, who so wanted a boy he could introduce into the rites of manhood.  He had already picked out a name if it was a boy: William after his father.

“Does it matter?” retorted Whithers, his eyebrows furled.

“Was it a boy or a girl?  It matters.”

Whithers, looking weary, and not a little abashed, said, “It was a boy.  The baby was a boy.

Crying softly and quietly in the hospital bed Ron found his wife, with the sheets pulled up to her chin, flowing over her shoulders like someone who’d just made a long, arduous exodus  He kissed her on the brow, saying, “There’ll be another.”

“You don’t understand.  You men don’t understand.”  Not knowing what to say, he hugged her, then put his hand on her head and let he have her cry.  He took her home the same day, after Whithers performed a D & C.

That was six months before the day of the big rain.  Seeming more distant, less affectionate, Ron took all this as simply an expected period of mourning.  Finding his wife not waitressing the Rimrock Cafe, where the crew stopped off for coffee, he headed off in the rain to the trailer park, just two blocks away.  By now, the rain was a light drizzle, but one he could hear tattooing the trailer they’d made their home.

As he walked into the main room of the trailer, he heard the bed sheets rustling back in the bedroom.  He made his way there only to find both his wife and a construction worker he’d seen lately around the cafe, hastily putting on their clothes.  The man looked familiar.

“What the fuck?!”

He rushed over, pushed the man, and throwing an errant haymaker his way, one the man easily slipped, he found himself suddenly on the floor, the inadvertent recipient of a punishing jab to the jaw.  The man, whose blood was up, said, “Want more?”  Putting on a jacket and moving towards the trailer door, he said, “See you Andrea.”

Ron’s nose was bleeding; he dabbed at it with his handkerchief.  “What the hell have you got going on?”

She sneered, and laughed.  “I don’t love you anymore, Ron.  I quit loving you long before I lost the baby.  You’re nothing but a boy.  I want a man.  A man who can be a real man, especially beneath the covers.  Now, I’m packing up and going back to Riverton and filing for a divorce.”

Ron slowly got up, his handkerchief to his nose.  “Can’t we talk about it?  I thought you loved me.  You must have loved me to marry me.”

“I had no choice with the baby on the way.”

“Andrea…”

“I’ve already said my piece.  Now get out!  I’ll be gone in an hour.”

Ron shuffled back to the cafe, his handkerchief to his nose, his eyes tearing up.  The rest of the crew was long gone.  Proceeding to bar next door, he occupied a bar stool getting properly pissed, the drizzle pouring down.

 

By Joseph Dylan

 

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