The Day It Rained Cottage Cheese
Ma always would say that to gamble on anything less than a sure thing was like being
down wind from a dead skunk. I was never sure what she meant by that but I sure wish
I’d been up wind the day it happened. Ma’d been hangin her laundry out but she’d pause
every once in awhile and glance over her shoulder. The wind would push her skirt against
her legs outlining them, making her look taller. Her hair would fly into her face making
her squint. I liked it cause it reminded me of when she used to smile at me, her eyes
would squint up and the corners of her lips would turn up just a touch; just enough to
make her look young. As I watched her now she pushed her hair out of her eyes with one
hand on the sheet folded over the line and a clothespin in her mouth like one of daddy’s
cigars. She stared into the distance again and I stared right along with her.
She tilted her head as if listening then her eyes got wide and she spat the pin onto the
sand under her shabby flip-slop.
“GodDAMmit!” She shouted making me jump. “GODDAMMIT!” While I watched,
my mouth hanging open like a catfish, she started ripping the wet sheets from the line.
The pins ricocheted past my head with a whir like the late summer grasshoppers.
“Martha, help me get these sheets in.” She was ripping the last of the sheets from the
line as she said this so I just followed along behind her, empty handed. Her flip-slops
made angry slap-slap noises as she walked.
The wind was gusting that day. There are different kinds of wind in New Mexico, the
long, howling walls of wind that sandblast the skin from your calves, the dust devils that
twirl around like a hoop and a holler, and the gusts that sneak up and take you by surprise
by pushing you in the river all of a sudden like when you think it’s a nice calm day.
Today was one of those gusty days and I wondered if that was what had mama cursing to
make a field worker blush.
“SAM!” My mom yelled as she struggled to get to the door through the gusting
surprise of wind.
My daddy looked up surprised from the tractor part he was fiddling with. I never
understood why he fiddled with tractor parts. We didn’t have any fields with crops, we
didn’t even have a tractor.
“Sam, thattankerdownthroad’sgonnago.” My mom shoved the wet sheets back into
the rusted out washer and slammed the lid shut. Sometimes when mama spoke really fast
it sounded like she was talking another language. I figured it was one she’d learned from
her grandma. Grandma was from the old country. I didn’t know what country that was
and I couldn’t imagine any country being older than the dried up, dusty, grizzled, old
parcel we lived on.
“SHIT!” Daddy said throwing his greasy rag on the dinner table. I thought mama was
like to throw a fit seeing it land there next to the lunch dishes but she didn’t say a word;
she just made her flip-slops sound angry again.
There was a sound just under her angry shoes though, a sound like grandpa getting up
out of the old wooden chair. It creaked and groaned like the old oaks on gusty days. I
stepped to the doorway and looked to the west. The wind blew my hair in my eyes and I
made the creasy, happy, squint with my eyes. Yup. There it was again. Like the tire
swing when fat cousin Farney say on it. CREEEEEK.
There was intermitted slams and slaps as mama and dad ran around the kitchen
slamming windows shut hard enough to make the glass shudder in its frame.
I tilted my head to the side, trying to hear above the wind.
“Not much time.” I heard my dad mutter.
I thought to ask him what he meant but another groan cut off my thoughts followed
by a scream. I took a step into the yard. I didn’t have flip-slops so my feet shuffled
silently though the sand. Pain stabbed through my foot when a goat head pinched in but I
absently brushed it off on the calf of my other leg and took a couple more steps forward.
“GROANNNN-CREEEEEK-SHREEEEEEEEK” There was something shiney and
silver in the distance, a glint of metal.
“Martha?! Jesus, where’s Martha?” I heard my mom’s angry flip-slops coming
toward me, getting louder…
The world was split asunder with the thunder and it began to rain. I lifted my hand to
catch the drops in my palm. I hadn’t seen rain since I was young. The fat, creamy drops
that landed on my outstretched hand were white. They were white and jiggled slightly as
I moved my hand.
Daddy’s strong arms grabbed me from behind and flung me under the shelter of the
overhang. I looked down at my clothes and skin not understanding why I was coated in
chalky white lumps. Then the smell hit.
“Gawddamn milk tankers are more of a health hazard than those biological weapons
were. Why hasn’t the government sent someone to pick them up?”
My mama had a wet towel and she was scrubbing my skin until it shined pink and
wet under her hands. Yeah, I wished I’d been downwind the day the milk tanker blew.