By Niles Reddick
Local weatherman Aiden Hargett certainly wasn’t the best weatherman we’d seen through the years, but he looked professional, except he wore the same blue suit with shortened pant legs (we’d seen him in the grocery store). He also seemed to have a nervous energy that may have been an attempt to mask his lack of knowledge of meteorology. On television, he darted from one screen to another, which looked fancier from a living room recliner, but if one visited the studio (I’d gone there on a senior’s tour), one became aware of old cameras on rollers, a movable fake wall that held big screen televisions, and cheap office furniture that was out of range of the camera. If the camera had done a close-up, viewers would have noted makeup covering teenage craters, sweat beds on the brows waiting to drop like the first signs of a rainstorm, and teeth that needed the invisible braces advertised on the commercial right after his weather report.
When Aiden said storms from the West were closing in, temperatures were dropping, or the “S” word might be a possibility, people emptied shelves of dark and light kidney beans for chili, every loaf of bread, except seeded rye, and all sizes of milk jugs in the cooler. In fact, we had come to suspect the grocery store chain might be paying for ads in exchange for mentioning snow in the forecast; typical business quid pro quo was alive in towns as much as it was in Washington. Insurance companies also bought ads since wrecks increased in anticipation of bad weather. We’d noticed community members defined their lives by weather: “Mama broke her hip back in 94 during that tornado” or “We were shut in so long in that ice storm back in ’06 that might have got wife pregnant even while taking birth control”. The best one we overheard was one woman tell another by the dog food: “My first wreck was on the bypass in the snow of ’86 when I closed my eyes, let Jesus take the wheel, and skidded half a mile into a ditch.” My wife had told me later once we were in the frozen section that “Jesus probably did take the wheel and kept her alive because he didn’t want her.”
When Aiden played down the National Weather Service’s predictions of an impending ice storm on his report and talked about a little sleet mixed with snow, the grocery stores were emptied of stale stock and insurance claims rose, but when the temperature dropped rapidly below freezing, and the thunder and lightening came, we could hear the ice hitting the roof, the sidewalk, and patio furniture. We read the signs of an ice storm, so we filled the tubs with water, made sure we moved firewood into the garage, and brought out extra blankets from cedar chests. Though our neighborhood was in the suburbs and had underground utilities, we could lose power if the lines outside the neighborhood came down.
The next morning, we could see our breath in our house, cooked a pot of coffee on my Coleman propane stove, and listened to limbs encased in ice break. A blanket of white covered everything, and it was Rockwell beautiful until a golf cart slipped and slid into a mailbox and a SUV in four-wheel drive jumped a curve and hit a fence. We stayed in and made do for three days until the temperature rose above freezing, the electricity came back on, and we could call our grown children and let them know we were fine. They insisted on life alert buttons and a Tracfone, but we’d survived COVID and an ice storm, were too old to get pregnant, weren’t stupid enough to get out and drive, and were in relatively good health. Of course, we knew our luck would one day run out.
We can always tell people we had the best cup of coffee in the ice storm of 2021, but when we watched the weather again on the nightly news, Aiden Hargett was gone. We heard there had been so many complaints about his having played down the ice storm that he’d been fired. A month later, we saw him selling cars when we had the Prius serviced. He was wearing the same blue suit, his pants just above his shoes, what we used to call floods back in school, and I thought that was fitting since he’d been a weatherman.
Niles Reddick is the author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, across twenty-one countries, and in over four hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/
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