Volunteers set up rows of cots for those stranded. A wide-eyed toddler whimpers, clutching a stained blanket. He begins to cry when his mother approaches, scolding him for running off. Her crazy eyes tell the tale of the day and warn of the evening ahead. Gale winds whip against the building threatening those hidden within. Thunderous rain pelts down on the roof – warning all of the higher powers above.
A transmitter radio blasts updates to those listening of where the eye of the storm is heading. Twists and turns have kept everyone on high alert and have made it tricky for planning effective evacuation. Warnings to take shelters are repeated over and over.
Catherine and Beth listen intently to the fuzzy transmission, wondering when their road trip can resume. The 24-hour drive home from Florida has been derailed and calls home made informing both sets of parents, and Beth’s boyfriend of their whereabouts. Just off the interstate, somewhere deep in the south the girls knew they were a long way from the comfort of the Canadian border and their loved ones. Maybe even safety.
Beth scratches her nose seeing a skin flake fall from the end and land on her pinkish leg. Dreaded peeling. Too much sun this week, but Beth had wanted to soak up the heat while it was available. Catherine was still annoyed they hadn’t stopped at a Days Inn closer to a major city where they’d now be enjoying a comfortable bed and privacy as they waited out the worst part of the storm, but Beth had reminded them that the slush fund was spent and there was no money for a hotel. Why not try and outrun the impending storm, seemed like an adventure. Clearly this plan was flawed. Now they didn’t know how long they’d be stuck in a dismal mattress warehouse with strangers. Catherine wondered if they would be able to resume their trip in a few hours. Likely not, she thought based on the recent broadcast. Heavy rains, hail, low visibility and potential flash flooding.
Three drenched and disheveled guys approach Catherine and Beth. They’re laughing amongst themselves at how wet they are from the short trip from the parking lot. Their accents give them away, definitely locals. The tallest wears a John Deere hat, which enhances his smoky green eyes. The other two are less appealing, at least to Catherine. Plain, loose jeans, bit scruffy but appear harmless.
“How y’all doing?” says John Deere directly meeting their eyes.
Catherine glances at Beth before answering. “Okay, I guess. This isn’t exactly the Ritz Carlton.”
“You’re not from around here are you?” he smirks.
“Is it that obvious?” Beth jests.
“Where y’all headin’?
“Toronto, Canada.” Beth offers as one of them sits down on the cot beside them.
“Drivin to Canada?”
“Well we were, but now we’re stuck here.”
“How bad is it?” Catherine inquires, her eyes looking past the two guys standing, out beyond the window to the raging storm. Catherine takes some comfort they’re situated safely in the back of the building far away from the glass window.
“A tree was blocking the county road, which rerouted us to #75. Chester’s hunk of junk wasn’t likin’ the wind. Could barely see the last mile ‘til we saw the cars here and stopped figurin’ y’all knew something we didn’t.”
“Hell at least I have a truck.” Says the short blonde to John Deere. The third, freckle faced guy laughs loudly which spurs on Chester to slap his leg letting out a throaty chuckle.
Catherine and Beth smile unsure of the unsolicited attention.
“Seen worse.” Chester says to Catherine.
“How long will it take you to get to Canada?” John Deere asks ignoring his sidekicks.
“18 hours from here. But depends if we hit more bad weather.” Beth runs her hands through her wavy blonde hair and crosses her legs.
“That’s crazy! Why you wanna do that?” Says freckle face.
“My rude friends here are Chester and Johnny.” Both nod towards the girls. “And I’m David.” John Deere removes his hat unleashing a thick head of black hair, all the while eyeing up Beth.
Catherine notices Beth lap up David’s attention appearing to blush.
A raucous ensues from a few cots down. A curvy woman with a cheap weave holds a crying baby while her three boys ranging from two to six play hide and go seek climbing under neighbouring cots. The mother appears flustered and snaps at her kids to be quiet. Only one stops to listen to his mother and raises his arms wanting to be picked up. The mother catches Catherine staring at her. Catherine smiles shyly feeling bad for the frazzled woman but there’s nothing in return.
“This storm better get on with it. The noise in here is trying my patience.” Says Chester looking at the toddlers.
“Shhh… says David.” The radio signals a weather update. The worst will be over in a few hours. The storm is heading towards the ocean instead of inland.
“Thank you Jesus.” Says the mother who tries awkwardly to cover herself with the dirty blanket preparing to breast feed her crying baby while the little one climbs up putting his head on her lap.
“Oh hell no.” Chester glares at the woman.
Catherine sensing his anger fidgets with the lace of her shoe.
“None of us will get any peace with this farm equipment acting up.”
“Farm Equipment?” Beth asks. “I thought this was a mattress factory?”
David shoots Chester a grave look. Beth studies David then Chester, wearing her confusion like a choker.
“I hear it’s different with blacks where you are.” David offers.
“Blacks?” Beth looks to her friend.
Catherine is filled with dread, heart pounding feeling like she’s drowning, fighting her way to the surface, needing desperately to catch her breath. She sees it. The disgust emanating from Chester directed at the mother feeding her baby. It’s palpable.
Catherine gripped with panic waits for Beth to catch up. Malcolm, Beth’s boyfriend is bi-racial. And really, who cares? But right now right here this would matter.
Jesus Christ. Farm equipment!
Beth stiffens and slowly stands excusing herself looking aghast and walks towards the mother. Catherine mumbles under her breath and gathers their bags, acutely aware of three sets of eyes tracking Beth, who kneels beside the mother and pulls one of the boys on to her lap.