The bells strung along the door to Lee Hook's jangled merrily as someone entered. Cokey glanced above the aisles and saw a fat man in his late thirties, red-faced and panting, dabbing at the torrent of sweat on his brow with a handkerchief. He looked like he was on the bad side of a stroke and ready to collapse. Lee Hook and Cokey's grandmother just gawped at him with surprise. White people other than Old Clem the hobo tended to avoid Lee Hook's and the entire neighborhood, so to see a big fat man in a sweaty dress shirt come gasping in was quite unusual.
"ATM?!" The man almost pleaded.
Lee Hook just continued to stare, debating to himself whether or not he should call an ambulance. Miss Jayne tilted her glasses on her face to get a better look at the man.
"Well, ain't you the weatherman?" She asked with more than a little self-satisfaction.
"I uh…" The man sagged against a pyramid of Pepsi cases. "Yeah, weatherman…Dale McElroy. Do you have an ATM machine?"
"Fort Wayne Action New Seven!" Laughed Miss Jayne. "How is Chet DeMark? He is quite a handsome man."
"My car ran out of gas and I had to push it here. Do you have an ATM machine I can use?"
"Are you doing a story on the weather? I can tell you what the weather is!"
Oh shit, here it comes, thought Dale.
"It's hot as hell and feels like I'm breathing through a straw. Cain't you do nothing about that?"
Yes, I control the weather, I am Daleus the Roman God of weather.
"I'm just funning you Dale McElroy," Miss Jayne said and patted him on the shoulder. "I know you ain't God, just a weatherman."
"No ATM!" Lee Hook interjected, feeling like he needed to say something. "Buy cold drink or you may die."
It was good advice, but coming from Lee Hook it sounded like a death threat. Dale just shrugged and headed back to the coolers. His day had been so horrible that he didn't even care too much what happened any more. After mocking up a weather map for the evening report Samantha Coolidge had called him "an incompetent fuck" and advised him to "pray that Dell can fix that thing because you're less than worthless".
Less than worthless?! I am the senior weatherman! Fuck her!
Dale opened a cooler and almost smacked it into the face of a tall black girl with shockingly erect nipples. He stared at them for a few seconds through the steamed glass of the cooler door and then muttered an apology. Dale slid a bottle of Coca-Cola out of the cooler rack and turned to walk back to the register. He figured he would spend his last dollar on a cold bottle of Coke and then get killed waiting for the city bus to take him home. The elderly woman from the front of the store was blocking his path.
"I see you met my granddaughter," she said, pointing with a boney finger at the girl. "You got yourself a Coke huh? That's her name too. Coca-Cola. Her mama named her that after her favorite pop. I think it's a damn fool name but she wasn't listening to me."
"Thanks," Dale said, not sure what else to reply with.
"No need to thank me. I tell you Mr. Weatherman, she is a good girl, real bright. She would be good on the news."
"Grandma!" Cokey cried.
"I'm sure she would," said Dale, trying to politely brush past her.
Just as he was about to succeed Miss Jayne grabbed his wrist tightly.
"She'll drive you home so you can get your car all sorted Mr. Weatherman, but you gotta do something for me."
"Uh…," Dale was beginning to get nervous, and he could feel the elderly woman's death grip on his wrist cutting off the flow of blood to his hand.
"Promise me you'll give her a chance. She knows all that weather and computers and the like, she can write real good, but ain't no jobs round here for a girl like that. Give her a chance, see what she can do. We'll take you home safe and sound Mr. Weatherman."
Miss Jayne Washington hadn't told anyone but she knew she was dying the same way a farmer could tell when rain was coming or a dog could sense its owner returning home from work. There was cancer eating her up, and she didn't want her granddaughter living out the rest of her days a crazy old woman in a house with more cats than windows. It was a silly thing to think that assaulting the weatherman would solve this problem, but it was a hope, and there wasn't much of that to go around in Fort Wayne.
She let go of Dale's wrist and he nodded to her, glancing back at Cokey who just looked angry, and then resuming his course to the counter. He paid Lee Hook with his last crumpled dollar bill and then stepped out into the sticky night air. Miss Jayne and her granddaughter were right behind him.
He looked at them and opened the Coke. Miss Jayne just stared back with a faint smile. He held the Coke out to each of them, Miss Jayne declining with a polite "no thank you" and Cokey just shaking her head sullenly. Dale shrugged and upended the bottle into his throat, feeling the cold burn into his teeth and the carbonation searing his parched throat. It was a good pain, that refreshing ice cold pain that only chugging a soda too fast can give you.
Dale finished and took a deep breath, belching silently into his mouth. He did it twice more and tossed the empty bottle into a rusted steel drum serving as a trashcan.
"Alright." Dale announced, consigning himself to whatever horrible fate Miss Jayne had in store for him. "Let's go then."
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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