Jason Shults’s work has appeared or is upcoming in Birkensnake, Bound Off, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Cutthroat, and SmokeLong Quarterly. More of his work can be seen at jasonshults.com.
During the hailstorm, a possum told me to leave.
“Just look at this,” the possum said. He’d been scuttling around on the back deck of my mother’s house, trying to get his jaws around a ham.
This was two weeks after Mom died. I’d been living there, back home, for maybe ten months. It was probably midnight. I couldn’t say for sure. I was drunk. I’d been drunk for most of the previous two weeks. It was late, though, I remember that much, and a hailstorm was doing Drum Corps International on the roof. I knew I wasn’t getting any sleep. I turned the lights off in the house, turned on the floodlights around the deck, started going between the fridge and the French doors, throwing out food from the after-funeral shindig. I sailed a couple casseroles into the back yard, slooping them out of their pans, off into the night. The pot roast flew pretty well. The ham was petulant: it landed on the deck, on the white ice-marbles covering the planks. I let it lie there. Tomorrow would be a better day for flinging hams.
“Look at this,” the possum said. I was inside now, sitting in the dark in the windowy dining room, looking out at the floodlit hail strobing down. The possum was just outside the French doors, pointing up at the sky. He winced about every two seconds, when a hailstone hit his nose or smacked him in his forehead. The wincing was kind of cute.
“I mean, fucking hailstorms,” the possum said. “Lightning. Thunder.” He sneezed. “Tornadoes slinking around out there in the dark, just waiting to sneak up behind us. And the earthquakes...well, I won’t even mention the fucking earthquakes.”
Earthquakes? I could barely hear him through the door, especially with the hailstones doing paradiddles on the roof, the marimba chorus on the deck. I nodded, so the possum could see I was nodding. But really, since when did Missouri have earthquakes?
“What you need to do,” he said. He cupped his little pink hands around his snout, and came close to the big glass panes of the French doors and shouted. “What you need to do is get the hell out of here! Move someplace safe! Go someplace where the sun shines all the time!”
Mother’s house, I realize I’ve said. Which is kind of weird, but I guess makes sense. I don’t think I thought of it as “my parent’s house” anymore, or even “my childhood home,” not since Dad had died years earlier, losing a car wreck against an eighteen wheeler. Mom had used the settlement money to have the whole house re-done in blue. Blue vinyl siding. Blue trim in the kitchen. A new bathroom with a blue jacuzzi. A new dining room with blue-and-white tile, blue-glass sconces, blue Venetian blinds. I mean, just a fuck-ton of blue. In the kitchen, though, there was a pair of heavy white-oak French doors and a shit-ton of windows, which I thought was nice. But still. All that blue.
Home and whatever. It changes.
I nodded more vehemently, in agreement with the possum. But the possum seemed perturbed.
“What you need to do—” he started to shout again.
“Fred!” came another voice, from somewhere farther off. I looked toward the tree-line of the woods behind the house and noticed a pair of red eyes shining out. It took a minute, but then the animal trotted up onto the porch, purposefully, as if the hail and the thunder and the lightning were nothing but a minor nuisance. Another possum. It pawed at the ham. Wrinkled its face.
“Fred,” the second possum said, “we gotta get this stuff back home already. The kids are throwing a fucking fit.”
The second possum noticed me through the window. Raised its eyebrows. Raised a little pink hand. Waved some fingertips at me: polite but dismissive.
Sometimes, near the end, Mom would pull her blue Ford Tempo out of the blue garage and drive twenty feet across the street to get the mail from the blue mailbox. I think she liked the joke of it, all that blue, and maybe the indulgence, getting her own way after forty years of marriage. Her version of spending a life insurance payout on a mink coat. Not that she resented it, I think. Her marriage. Or Dad. But any shit gets old after a while. There’s freedom, welcome or not, that comes with the death of someone you love.
The first possum looked at me, shrugged its furry little shoulders, pointed with its thumb toward the second possum. “Whatta ya gonna do?” he seemed to be saying.
So the possums got the ham. I was glad about that.
Next morning, I sobered up. Moved to Arizona.