Chapter 44

Copyright© 2015 by Bill Offutt

Bud woke up wondering why it was so quiet. Usually he could hear some cars or trucks going by on the highway that was only fifty feet from his front window and perhaps some birds or dogs and at least the wind in the trees. But it was like he had gone deaf, and he sat up and blinked and put his hands over his ears. He could hear his heart and lungs at work so he knew he wasn't deaf or dead.

The boy put his feet down on the cold floor and walked to the window and raised the shade. "Holy shit!" he yelped. Bud had never said anything close to that inside his home. The world had turned white, covered with snow. It looked to be at least a foot deep on the store's roof.

It was late March 1942. The war was only four months old and people were still getting used to the idea of rationing and air raid drills. Somebody, some local celebrity, had said "Nothing was ever going to be the same," and it was starting to look like he was right. But when Bud had been out playing catch with his friend Charlie that Saturday the air was soft and warm, the daffodils were blooming and the fruit trees were budding. Spring was in the air; that's what nearly every customer said that Saturday and some of the old folks were discussing concocting foul-tasting tonics for their children.

Now the narcissus and the jonquils and the tulips and the crocuses and the violets and everything else were buried under a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow. The cherry tree in Bud's backyard had split right down the middle. Half was standing, swaddled in snow, and the other half was sticking up out of the weight that broke it. No traffic moved on Rockville Pike. The telephone and power lines appeared to be drooping between the poles. And it was still snowing.

My papers, Bud suddenly thought. How am I going to do my paper route?

He squinted toward the front of the store. His twenty-some papers might have been dropped off along with the stack for the store to sell before they were snowed in. He couldn't tell, but the truck was often very early on Sunday. After padding back and forth to the bathroom, Bud dressed warmly and went downstairs. He looked at the clock. It was barely six-thirty. He scratched his head and wondered why he was awake.

Bud was standing in the kitchen and looking out the back door when his mother entered wearing her quilted bathrobe and his father's old slippers. She stood beside her son, put her hand on his shoulder and looked out at the snow. He was nearly her height now. She sighed and took a deep breath. Bud looked up at her and saw tears on her cheeks.

"What's wrong," he asked very quietly.

She patted his back. "Nothing." She sniffed. "It makes me think of my folks, that's all, and I haven't thought about them for a long time."

"The snow?" Bud said.

His mother nodded. "I wasn't much older than you, and your sister hadn't even been born yet."

"You never told me," Bud said. "Least I don't think you did."

"They went to the movies, downtown, and the roof fell in on them. Too much snow. It killed a hundred people, maybe more."

Bud looked out at the whiteness and shook his head. "Maybe I'd better go shovel some."

"I put your boots away," his mother said and then she laughed. "Isn't that funny. You'll have to get your sled out to do your paper route."

By afternoon the snow had wound down to a few flurries, and the County snowplows had made a couple of swipes at the Pike, burying the store's driveway. Bud put on his heavy boots again and went out and shoveled the entrance clear. The electricity had gone out around ten that morning, and his father had stoked up the old iron stove that stood on the store's south wall. It had not been used for some time, and it took some jiggling to clear the flue of birds' nests and other debris.

The Star route man swung into the gasoline pump area in front of the store in mid-afternoon and dumped his two bundles of papers. Bud tried to wave him to stop, but the man ignored the boy's gestures and cries and hurried back toward the city, tossing up a curtain of wet slush along the roadside. It took Bud nearly three hours to deliver his papers, and the sun was setting by the time he was done, dog tired and wet to the waist after making his way to his customer's houses where there was no can into which to stuff the Sunday paper.

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