Later Billy Goes to Town

By Ira Kennedy

            Later Billy didn’t mind driving to town but the time wasn’t right. The reasons for going didn’t quite stack up to what was happening right then, which wasn’t much, if anything. Besides, Later Billy was no fool. It was about ready to flood, and there was at least a mile of muddy road before the dry creek bed crossing up near the paved road. Flash Flood Creek, that’s what Later Billy called the big dip in the road with the flood marker.
            Later Billy didn’t see how anybody could argue against that, but Lacey did. Lacey could argue for or against anything. And at that moment she wanted “some Taco flavored Dorritos and a six pack of diet soda. And some hot dogs for supper. And buns.”
            “ I ain’t goin,” Billy said, “so forget it.”
            “ Give me some money and I’ll go.”
            “ I gave it to you, Lace, I gave it all to you.”
            “ What about the ten you won on A&M?”
            “ I spent it getting liquored up before comin home yesterday.”
            “ No you didn’t,” Lacey said,” I found it in your pockets this mornin.”
            “ Aw, Lace. You goin through my pockets again?”
            “ Just gonna wash em. I don’t want you gallivantin around in dirty clothes. What will people think of me?”
            “ Lace, how could I gallivant on ten dollars?”
            “ I remember when you could gallivant on less.”
            “ That was a while back, and you were gallivantin right with me. Ahead most of the time.”
            “ I don’t gallivant,” Lacey asserted,” I socialize.”
            “ Sometimes I just wanna gallivant,” Later Billy said almost whispering.
            “ Sometimes? Ever day, Billy, even now. That ain’t normal.”
            “ It ain’t as easy as it once was.”
            “ If it weren’t for me you’d be hangin out at the Bar None Bar and Bar-B-Q,” Lacey retorted in her most adult-to-child tone—like she was doing Later Billy a favor explaining just how much his life had improved under her guidance. Lacey even had Later Billy eating with his fork instead of that filthy old pocket knife.
            “ Well,” Later Billy said, thinking less about a no-win argument than who might be at Bar None. “Any woman that would send her man out in the middle of a flood, and risk his getting drowned for a bag of Dorritos and a six-pack of soda just ain’t…”
            “ The hot dogs,” Lacey interrupted, ”and the buns. Oh, yes, and a can of beans. Ranch style.”
            “ That’s supper?”
            “ You got any better ideas?” Lacey asked.
            “ Tuna fish. What about that can of tuna you bought?”
            “ I bought that for you. I don’t like it.”
            “ That’s it,” Bill said relenting. “ Where’s them pickup keys?”
            “ You’ve got em,” Lacey said,” I put em in the pocket with that ten. I decided not to wash.”
            “ Well,” Later Billy said surrendering all argument. “ Where are my pants?”
            “ Where you left em.”
            “ I left em on, you took em off, remember?”
            “ Which ones are those you got on now?” Lacey demanded.
            “These are the jeans you started to wash last week. Couldn’t find no clean jeans.”
            “ How can I wash?” Lacey asked, like Later Billy was soft on the brain. “ It’s nearly floodin out.”
            “ OK. Lacey. OK. OK. I’m headin to town this minute,” Later Billy said shaking his head “No” underneath his old black Stetson with the rattlesnake hatband.
            “ You ain’t wearin that hat.” Lacey said. “Ever time you wear it you don’t come home till the next day. Wear that one over there.”
            “ Lacey. That’s made a straw. It’ll ruin.”
            “ OK. But you come straight home.”
            “ Now why wouldn’t I?” Later Billy said as sweet as he could. Almost as sweet as that second piece of pecan pie Lacey was cutting into. “I’m as hungry as you.” Later Billy sighed as he made for the door knowing all along that wasn’t the last word.
            “ Now what did I tell you to get?” Lacey asked remembering how forgetful her man was. She was always so busy remembering for him that he hardly ever bothered.
            Later Billy recited the list on his way out the door. As quick as it closed he heard Lacey shout, “Get the big bag.”
            Later Billy raced to the pickup, started her up and headed out. Raindrops pelted the pickup like a swarm of beetles. Back towards town, which was where the rain was coming from, it was black as the insides of a cow—except for the constant bolts of lightning.
            Later Billy held to the middle of the muddy road as best he could. It was bad. If he went too slow, he’d get stuck. Too fast and he’d end up worse.
            As Later Billy pulled up to Flash Flood Creek it was at one-foot on the marker. When he eased across and up the slippery slope of the road on the side he heard the roar of the flash flood. He had seen it happen here before. A wall of water with all manner of debris churning around and poking out every now and again. It was kind of magical and scary all at once. As quick as thought, Later Billy was out on the main road headed for town and the Bar None Bar and Bar-B-Q. Once there, he called home for the first time in creation.
            “ Honey?” He paused a moment trying to think of the right words, not that there ever were any with Lacey.
            “ You wreck our truck?” she said more as a statement of fact than a question.
            “ Well, no…”
            “ Then why you callin? I’m hungry.”
            “ Well, that’s it. Right after I crossed the dip it flooded good. I can’t get back till tomorrow—not even then if the rain don’t let up.”
            “ You did this on purpose.” He could hear Lacey stomp her foot rattling the dishes in the cabinet clear across the room. “ You knew all along you’d get stuck in town.”
            “ I tried to tell you. Remember?”
            “ You coulda explained it better. What am I supposed to do for supper?”
            “ Lacey, Honey,” Later Billy said soft and gentle like, while the bartender slid a longneck right into his open palm. “ There’s always that tuna fish.”