He jogged out of the park into his older neighborhood trading the scent of leaves and grass for wet asphalt streets, car exhaust, and chimney smoke. It was good to have some rain for a change. He breathed in the oak and pine that still hung in the morning’s heavy air from neighborhood fireplaces. The smell reminded him of the blaze his grandfather always made in their huge stone fireplace on Christmas Eve; all the grandkids gathered around to hear him read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. The kids were always confused about how Santa could get passed the fire. The memory warmed him momentarily.
The dull gray of the morning suddenly glowed with a figure in the distance running toward him. “Excuse me,” beckoned the hard-bodied young woman in lime green spandex stopping before him. “Aren’t you Mr. Jacks, our city manager?”
He stopped his forward progress and jogged in place. She seemed friendly enough. “Yes. Brad. And you are?”
“Leslie Hitch,” she said, extending her hand.
He wiped his right hand on his sweatshirt and met her firm shake. “Glad to meet you, Leslie. Is there something I can do for you?” He hoped it wouldn’t be much.
“Yes, you can get rid of all this smoke in the air. I know in other cities they’ve banned wood burning stoves and fireplaces entirely. This air is not healthy for running.”
So much for the sweet memories of the smoke of Christmas past. People had different perspectives and values. He seldom found it productive to challenge them unless it required only a clarification of facts. He commiserated with her while continuing to bounce and told her how to write a letter to the City Council. She seemed satisfied with his response and they quickly parted company; she pranced, he trudged.
Not far away, a car started up and backed down the driveway. He waved at his neighbor who had seen him and braked to let him go by. He saw the vapor coming out of the tailpipe in the cold morning air and grumbled to himself. Enjoy it while you can, pal, they’ll probably be outlawing gas engines soon, too. We were all getting regulated to death in this country.
Brad ran from the window to the bed and half-dragged Marie from her sleep to the front door. They had to get out. The wall of mud and roiling water slammed against their siding. Through the side living room window, he saw Lee and Lilly’s house breaking apart from the impact of the wave. Their house was shaking violently, too. He grabbed Marie around the wrist and started to open the front door, but hesitated. Should they ride it out inside the house and not let the water in? The living room window exploded as black muddy water spewed through. Marie screamed. The entire house was now being ripped from the foundation, jostling him from side to side.
Kay Nance. There she stood in her customary loose fitting, floral moo-moo dress that, thankfully, concealed most of her considerable body. Her name evoked a stream of associations from everyone, whether they had ever met her or not. She looked, acted, and probably was a 1960s Hippie throwback. Her unrestrained, sagging breasts swayed as she flowed into the outer office. He marveled at the braid of gray hair stretching to the small of her back. While you couldn’t say Kay was pretty, she had a pleasant, open, and unwrinkled face that radiated quiet confidence and made her seem younger than her sixty-two years.
Kay was Brad’s polar opposite. He dressed conservatively, chose a house and car that wouldn’t raise eyebrows, was careful about who he was seen with, and tried to be everyone’s friend or to at least reduce his list of enemies. By contrast, Kay’s personal mantra could have been “Here I am. Deal with it!”
She was just entering the outer office lobby when Brad caught the first whiff of her musk oil scent. The scent reminded him of his college years. It had been sexier on a twenty-year-old. He kept a bottle of air freshener in his desk and used it discretely after a long meeting with Kay. Otherwise, the olfactory memories of her would linger through the day. While often frustrated with Councilwoman Nance’s politics, and feeling dull in her presence, Brad liked Kay personally and enjoyed their banter.