Windstorm in Cottekill

Rita and David were driving down to the place of a man named Owen, from whom Rita had bought a stove for her restaurant. A Viking Professional Series of twenty thousand British Thermal Units. All the way down through Kripplebush, Rita steered around remnants of bark and broken limbs on the roadway.

“Carnage,” David remarked, pointing to the bright circles of fresh wood, stumps of oaks and pines, along the roadside, encircled by puddles of wood dust.

There were uprooted elms in the woods, though many of these were not necessarily last night’s handiwork. Then in Cottekill they came upon a nest of hazardous orange signage and they were waved around a parked utility truck, its balance arms out—two I-beams like spiders’ legs braced hard against the cold asphalt. High above, a man worked in the crane bucket sawing branches off the electrical lines, which sagged in long ropes like black licorice.

David, during the night, had been awakened by the scratching of limbs against the house and the clatter of branches tumbling down the roof. Such sounds during the night deliver a message of persistent menace, and he began to feel anxious about being unable to toast bread or read the internet news in the morning.

Scratch.

Clatter.

The whistle of wind between panes.

Eventually, he slipped from the covers and went downstairs, made a fire and sat on the divan in his robe, poking around a chord progression on his Gibson acoustic, singing a little from time to time.

“Never going back…” and mournfully, “…is what I waaaaaant…”

David thought that someday his lyrics and vocal lines, his themes of loss and redemption, might put him in the company of his idol Kris Kristofferson.

Now the delay in their travels to Owen’s was an opportunity to consider the landscape of the eastern Catskills bathing in ever-stronger morning light. It was mid-March in New York. David asked himself with clarity that aspired to match the weather’s, as they passed a mallard-strewn pond, whether he was destined to be a canonized songwriter. Would he, David Rathbaum, be one of those revered troubadours whose lives are recollected on shows such as American Roots, whose classic hits are spun endlessly across this country, from sea to boiling sea?

 

* * *

Traffic flowed again, and Rita steered them into the parking lot of the little farm store on the corner of Route 209 where she and David stopped anytime they went together in the morning.

When they came out of the place clutching coffees and Danishes, they were approached by a woman whom Rita would call later “that skinny white bitch,” a woman in a skirt and blazer carrying a legal pad. She stepped into their faces asking if they would be willing to speak on the news about the windstorm. She did not seem to expect the offer to be declined.

A little bemused, Rita and David each signed a waiver and stood side by side near the marigold and begonia rack, as directed. They were introduced to the newsman, Amman Kalahari, a Middle Eastern-American in a Ralph Lauren windbreaker. His head was dotted with bristle-like stubble, black, that carried associations, somehow, of journalistic integrity.

“Do you live in the area?” Kalahari asked. The camera was rolling now. The station’s white van sat across the lot, the satellite tower raised. Call letter logo emblazoned, etc.

“Yes, we live in the area,” Rita said.

“Were you affected by the windstorm?”

“Yes,” David answered.

Rita stared down the newscaster: this Arab Bryant Gumball, who though handsome and ethnic, seemed to have been spray-painted in red, white and blue—or force-fed cheeseburgers for a minimum of three years.

“Do you think the power company should have had power restored sooner?” Kalahari asked. Rita now observed the man’s glasses. They were the kind often worn by thoughtful, erudite people, but with this line he revealed himself as a dunce. Or a pawn of some kind.

Rita sipped her coffee to signal that she no longer cottoned the formality of occasion. To make plain that her respect for this operation had been lost. She looked with boredom to the hair-band dropout in cargo pants standing behind the tripod, steering the lens with a rotor stick. The skinny bitch stood off to the side now, clutching her clipboard, grimacing hard to create a smile, like there were high-tension cables riveted into her cheeks.

“We didn’t lose power where we are,” David was explaining. “We just drove down the mountain.”

“Oh, I see.” Kalahari could not conceal his disappointment. But with revived enthusiasm, he asked, “Has this been an inconvenience for you?” He indicated the environment at large and perhaps the repair work in particular.

“Okay, you know what,” Rita said. “I don’t think these questions are germane, sir. Good day. Come on, David, let’s go.”

Kalahari protested, but the cameraman seemed unsurprised as Rita and David walked away. The young woman was poking at her phone now, texting a producer to say it had happened again.

I told you, Dave, this shit won’t fly in Ulster County. This ain’t Staten Island.

[It’s been a while since I posted any portions of stories in the works to my blog. This is from a story that I don’t expect to be finished any time soon. Not even a complete first draft yet.]