The day started out dark with the clouds twisting viciously in the sky. Rain fell and stopped. Fell and stopped. It was a black day, an appropriate day for the donkey to die. It didn’t have to happen, of course, but it did. The donkey was old, but he was in good shape and he enjoyed walking around the pasture. His name was Junior and he waited for his master to come out with treats. Instead, two drunk teenagers drove down the road and saw the donkey. They decided to put a bullet through his left eye and two in his heart. The donkey would no longer meet his friends at the gate.
Mid-autumn in east Texas and the weather is always unpredictable. My neighbors and I stood on the banks of Cyrrus Creek and watched the bank climb higher.
“Last flood was ten years ago,” Luther Adams said. “We have been lucky for a long time.”
“I’m going to go ahead and start sandbagging my lot,” Sarah Holmes said. “I don’t trust this creek anymore. It winds along with one snake eye, just watching us, picking out our weak places.”
“Did you hear about Junior, the donkey?”
“Yes, wasn’t it a shame? That donkey had been in the family for fifteen years.”
“It’s a pity all right.”
I looked for Russell, my black Lab. He had taken off down the trail. “Russell, COME NOW!” He stared back at me with his forehead wrinkled, like I was someone he used to know and kinda liked. “I do mean now!” Reluctantly he stopped perusing for rodent creatures and turned around. He sauntered toward me, disappointed that we couldn’t go for a hike.
“Well, I’m going in the house for awhile, but I’m not going in to work to draw those darn cartoons today. They’ll just have to use a filler for my space. If anything changes, let me know.” I waved goodbye to my neighbors standing forlornly on the bank of the creek.
Russell and I hit the back porch and the phone was ringing. My Aunt Martha was on the line.
“How does the river look?”
“Not too good, “I’m afraid.”
“I heard about that poor little donkey,” said Aunt Martha.
“Yes, I know, the family is quiet upset.”
“It’s a tragedy, the animal was old and they weren’t going to have him much longer anyway. I don’t understand people, what gives them the right?”
“Nobody knows. Kids are angry these days, I think the whole world is angry sometimes.”
“Well, I know things look dark now, but cheer up. The rain is gonna stop someday and it will settle down. Meanwhile, keep an eye on that river, you know if you want, my door is open,” she said.
“Thanks, don’t worry Aunt Martha,” I said.
I could read between the lines and catch a glimpse of her loneliness and pain. She had worked in an accounting firm for twenty years and they had purchased a new computer system. It wouldn’t be long before Aunt Martha was no longer needed and she knew it. The signs were all there.
“No, you don’t have to stay late and learn the new system, you just go on home and get some rest.” They would tell her. Even with Aunt Martha seeing things as they were, it wasn’t easier to handle emotionally. She had come a long way since the days she had started her life working for a catering company. Aunt Martha learned to lay the tables out and carve the meat and fold everything so nicely. Back then they delivered food to the rich folks along Bayou Bend where the live oaks, moss and magnolias draped the lawns of the Wannabe-Leftovers of old southern charm.
Aunt Martha had decided early on not to spend her life chopping onions and laying out salmon, so she went to night school to become a keeper of books. She liked debiting and crediting and outlining numbers in the green ledger books. Then one day, the computers arrived and those machines could debit, credit and sort much faster than a clerk.
Though I didn’t want to work, I sat at my desk and thought about Lucy Thornbottom, my latest cartoon creation. I could make her sit at a desk with a giant computer looming over her, or even have two little stocking feet sticking out from underneath a giant printer. Automation Attack: where have all the good people gone?
Mid morning approached and the river remained constant. The clouds twisted and churned overhead.
“Come on Russell, let’s go to Aunt Martha’s for awhile,” I said.
She lived further down the river away from the immediate threat of the flood zone, and I was glad because she had plenty of things to worry about. Russell jumped into my jeep. He liked to hang his head out the windows of the car and let the wind blow his ears back. He made a nice contrast to the color. So there we were, Russell with his wild, wind-blown ears, driving down the winding roads to Aunt Martha’s.
Her house stood slightly uphill and had a large front porch. I stood outside on the steps for a few minutes looking around. Clouds swirled in swift, dark concentric circles. I thought about when my cousin Tommy and I were little. Aunt Martha made us chocolate pies and read The Three Little Kittens. Once we made a go cart from some old boards, but something happened with our homemade wheels and the cart wouldn’t roll. I remember hours of trying to get the thing to go down that red, mud hill, but the wheels kept falling off. His brother, Shelton would laugh and make fun of us.
“That’s about the stupidest thing I ever saw!” he laughed.
I tried to conjure up another cartoon image. Maybe something political with two kids in a go-cart and a shiek holding the motor with some sort of caption relating to foreign oil dependence.
Aunt Martha’s house. It really wasn’t a bad place, may be she could just accept retirement and be happy, why not? She was getting too old to be out there fighting the world everyday, but again it wasn’t my decision.
“Ellen, that you? Come on in, I see some bad clouds off in the north there. They have me worried.”
“I can see them, we had better catch the weather,” I said.
Russell whined and lay down on the porch.
“So, you’re not going in tow work today?” I asked.
“No, I called in, I think a lot of people are staying home today.”
“Can’t blame them. Just don’t know what could happen on a day like today, it’s so depressing,” I said. “Well, any news from anybody?”