When the rain comes

Hail poured from the sky like peas cascading from an upended bushel basket. The crowd in front of Clem Powder's place on Lincoln Trail ran for shelter under the oak trees. He watched from his bed in the living room and laughed. Serve them right, he thought, if one or two of them got whacked right in their foolish heads. That would truly be a sign from God.

The storm had come suddenly, like they did often during the rainy season in Florida. Soon the road was empty, and Clem watched the hail pound into the earth. The dry brown dirt yielded to the ice, embraced it and then turned it to water.

Out the rear window, citrus groves crowded the back of his trailer. The trees shook and twisted, flogged by the hale. The wind picked up, and Clem could see their thin branches, stripped naked and trembling in the gale. As the storm faded to a moist haze, Clem wondered how the trees had maintained their hold on the sodden earth.

The rain made his knees ache. But it was already ten o'clock, and Clem knew it was time to get out of bed. As he did so, he heard the murmur of young voices outside. The thugs had returned to their post in the middle of the road. His daughter would be one of the dozen or so teenagers lingering in the street, wearing their adolescence like armor. He cringed at the thought of approaching them, but it had to be done. Sundays were for church, whether Donna wanted to go or not. That's the way it was before Clem's wife, Sophie, left him. As she sat in the kitchen drinking a final cup of Ovaltine, she'd made Clem promise to take care of Donna. And taking care meant taking her to church.

He summoned the words to Reverend Green's last sermon, tried to count the days since he'd been able to drag Donna to church with him. Lank-haired and rail-thin, she was Clem's only child, and a difficult one.

Between her and the arthritis, Clem often found it difficult to rise in the mornings. Getting out of bed was something he did exactly the same every day; he feared that swerving away from the routine might cause him to simply give up.

Clem whispered to himself one line from the Book of John and then made his first move: Bending from the waist to reach toward his right ankle. Years ago, he would have been able to grip his shin between his hands and lift it out of bed. But now his hands wouldn't close on their own.

Another line: "I am the shepherd. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers. But the sheep did not hear them."

Another move. He laid his right hand beside his ankle and pushed, steeling himself for the pain. Rainy days were always the worst.

The foot slid from the sheets and landed on the floor.

"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy."

Clem closed his eyes and worked on the left leg.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

He stood tentatively on both feet and shuffled toward the bathroom of his trailer.

Outside, the crowd had reassembled in the road. Lincoln Trail was just a narrow loop of dirt off the state highway, but it was well traveled twenty four hours a day. They came from all over the county to buy crack. White high school kids. Black dudes from Canal Point. Carpenters in their work trucks, ranchers pulling horse trailers. There were nights when Clem half-expected to see families from Michigan passing through on their way to Disneyland.

Clem often took down their license plate numbers. He did this when he was up late at night, knees and elbows aching so bad that he sometimes thought about hitting them with a hammer just to feel a different kind of pain.

He called the Sheriff's Office. The deputies came and cleared the street. Forty minutes later the boys returned, along with heavy traffic and booming stereos.

He'd paid the price for those calls; everyone on the block knew it was Clem that had summoned the cops. The day after Clem could count on scuffling through a pile of freshly broken glass around his car. They never broke the same window, either. One week the windshield, the next time the passenger side. And they never stole anything. They just wanted him to know that they knew.

But Clem had to make the calls. It was, like prayer, a way of handing his problems over to someone else. He couldn't help his daughter or keep the drugs off of her street. Maybe, though, someone more powerful than he would have a chance.

He removed his cane from the rack by the door. Outside, Clem counted to three and lowered his foot onto the first step outside the door.

Donna and her friends watched from across the dirt. Clem focused on the step immediately below him. One. Foot in the air. Two. Foot moving over the cusp. Three: Foot on the way down. Four: Contact, his body resting at a precarious angle on the locked knee. Something in the air told him that his daughter was laughing at him. He couldn't hear it, and he was concentrating too hard to see it, but he knew it was happening.

A whistle cleaved the silence. "C'mon, Gramps, you can make it." The group started chanting and clapping, counting off the steps each time his foot touched the splintered pine.

He reached bottom. The clapping stopped and Clem pointed his boot across the street. He walked, watching his daughter and not the dirt. She stared back, the trace of a grin on her face.

"Get in the car, girl."

"Who you callin' girl? I ain't black."

"It's Sunday. We got us a date with the Reverend."

"I ain't goin'."

"Yes you are." He raised his metal cane and jabbed it, wishing that his hand could hold onto it tightly. Clem feared that he'd let go of the thing, waving it around like that.

"You goin' to make me?"

He hesitated. "Talked to your mother last night. She said she's not going to send you a birthday present unless you come."

Donna grimaced, whispered in the ear of the boy standing next to her -- Clem knew his name was Marvin, but didn't like to acknowledge this -- and then shuffled past him toward the car. Clem sat himself in the driver's seat and, praying that the engine would start, put the key in the ignition.

"The sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out."

"Amen."

"And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them. But they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them."

Clem, sitting in church, nodded. He knew what that felt like. He'd always thought he'd be the shepherd, that his family would follow. They hadn't.

Reverend Green spun the parable into a sermon about knowing the sound of God's voice, listening for it in unlikely places. Clem looked over at Donna. Her body stuck straight up from the pew, but Clem could see from the tilt of her head that she was asleep.

He jabbed her in the gut with his elbow. She scowled. He put the hymnbook in her hands, paged to the right spot and then tapped it with his finger.

Clem whispered: "I'm gonna whup you if you don't pay attention."

Donna snapped the book shut with a poof and flounced out.

Clem moved to follow, but the pain blossomed in his knee.

Let her walk home, he thought. Five miles on the road will be good for her. He sat through the sermon, remembering the days when Donna was little, when coming to church on Sunday was a treat. She'd gazed in awe at the kaleidoscope of sunlight beaming through the stained glass, at the pastor's bright satin robes, and signed herself up for Sunday school and the girl's choir.

The closing chords of the last hymn brought him back to church. Reverend Green ended with an admonition. "In the beginning was the Word," he said. "It is still here today, if you listen for it. It comes from Jesus Christ. He is the good shepherd: The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."

II

On the good days, he gardened. In the side yard, Clem's tomato plants spread skyward among the broken glass and crack vials. Reese, who lived in the next trailer over, was amazed that the plants grew and that Clem would actually eat them.

"That dirt is nasty," he said. "I wouldn't put one of them in my mouth any more than I'd eat a chicken that'd been raised on shit to eat and piss to drink." But Powder liked eating the tomatoes. Years ago he’d made a delivery to Key West and had to stay overnight. Walking around on the promenade to stretch out after the long drive, he’d passed a stand where a man was making jewelry out of tiny pieces of jagged, snarling metal. “They’re old bullets. I collect them at the range.”

Clem liked that idea.

He'd started planting because he figured you could never have enough to eat. Clem believed this was his one glaring fault: There could never be enough food in his house. He didn't recall going hungry as a child. In fact, his mother had been a wonderful cook, his father a bountiful provider.

The need came from nowhere and it could never be satisfied. He forced himself to select a tiny basket at the grocery store. Whatever vessel he piloted through the aisles would sure enough be filled by the end of his trip.

The sun came Monday morning and steamed the water out of the dirt. By noon, Lincoln court was dry and clean and Clem knelt in the garden, weeding. With his wrist he flicked the trowel into the dirt, jabbed and pulled. The errant plants formed a tidy pile next to his right knee.

He figured Donna saw the entire world the way he looked at food. She wanted more, not sure of what or why. She just knew that she wanted, needed, demanded to possess. Radios, bracelets, sneakers, friends, men, sex, dreams. All of them, in abundance. Like a shade tree dwarfing a flower, he stood in the way of her reaching out to get what she wanted.

Clem hadn't seen Donna since church, which had ended twenty-five hours ago. He gave the last dandelion a savage dig and flicked it into the pile.

Should he worry about her? Donna had never been on her own. But she had a mouth on her like a trucker's and Clem had seen her in a catfight just after she dropped out of the tenth grade. Donna could take care of herself. It was everyone else you had to worry about.

Clem didn't like to drive. But fifteen miles from his house was DeGroot's Landscaping, where he bought fertilizer and seed. He made those trips only on the best of days, when he could wrap his fingers firmly around the vinyl steering wheel of his sky-blue Eldorado. He figured today was about as good as it was going to get; he might as well point himself toward DeGroot's.

On the way out of town, Clem passed a man hitchhiking, and picked him up on principle. He'd never been allowed to do this when he was driving a truck for a living, even when the hitchhikers looked presentable and stranded. Now he did it when they looked a bit seedy, just to even the score. Before long, they were engaged in a conversation about Donna. Clem didn't know how it came up. The man had a sister who'd run away. Maybe that was it.

"Your girl. What's she look like?" said Clem's passenger.

Clem described her, being as charitable as he could. "Think I seen her," said the hitchhiker. "I was out by the interstate the other day and saw her thumbing north. She wearing jeans and a pink halter?" That was her, all right. Donna always had a thing for Atlanta, and Clem guessed that's where she was headed.

"Atlanta's got the most of everything," she'd told him on countless Friday nights. "Nothin' like this dump."

The most of everything: Crime, sex, baseball stars, money, peach trees, shopping malls, traffic. That's where she'd be.

At DeGroot's he worked smoothly. He lifted potted plants, ferried topsoil from the showroom to the trunk and wedged a fifty-pound bag of fertilizer into the passenger seat that the hitchhiker had just vacated.

Clem felt free, and mused for a second about why the heavy topsoil in his arms didn't seem quite as burdensome as it usually did. Since he'd decided not to worry about Donna, everything felt lighter. He missed her, but the longing came with a giddy sensation in the center of his diaphragm. He drove home with his fingers easy on the wheel. Maybe she would find what she was looking for.

Clem hefted the bags onto the stoop outside his trailer, and then headed back down the walk to the mailbox, fumbling with his keys. He thought it was ridiculous to have a lock on a mailbox, but it had come to that. Even someone's mail was valuable to people in Bean City. He didn't mind when the thugs stole his sale catalogues from Sears. But about six months ago he'd been waiting for a packet of pills from a vitamin store in California. "Live pain free again," the ad said.

He went to the Circle K and got a money order for the exact amount, seventy two dollars and fifty six cents, with tax, and sent it off. Four weeks later he started watching for them, aching for them. He gave it another two weeks, and then he felt the rain coming. He asked the postman.

"I dropped those for you about ten days ago," the man said. Clem went to bed and cried, massaging his throbbing knees. He sent Donna out to buy the lock.

Tuesday started out with a low ceiling of clouds thick enough to make Clem think of staying in bed. But the sound of firecrackers reminded him that it was Independence Day, and that he had a lot to do before sundown.

He dressed, slipped the grocery list into the pocket of his dungarees and headed for the Winn-Dixie. This time, he selected a cart. Nearly everyone he'd asked for dinner was a big eater. There would be Reese, the neighbor. Thad, the foreman at his old job. Bench, his riding partner on the long haul runs. Maybe Reverend Green, who always seemed to show up when the food was hot.

"The Lord is thy shepherd, thou shall not want," the scripture went. And as far as dinner and Reverend Green were concerned, the Bible was right on the money.

He stocked the cart with ground beef and buns. The vegetables would come from his garden. At the beer cooler he paused, deliberating. Usually he didn't keep beer around the house because Donna would invite her friends over to drink it. But it was the Fourth of July, and Clem was free of his daughter. He set a twelve-pack of Miller Lite next to the hamburger meat. While he was at it, he figured, he might as well shell out the six bucks for a bottle of wine. Elizabeth had said she might come, and Clem harbored fond memories of the last time he'd shared a glass with her. That had been earlier in the summer, when Donna had gone to stay with Sophie for a weekend.

Elizabeth invited herself over for dinner and a movie, and Clem found himself guiltily rejoicing in his daughter's absence. There was no rain in the sky, no daughter sulking in the bedroom, and there he was on the couch with a single woman. Or a widowed one, anyhow. He kissed her.

Maybe that would happen again this weekend. He put the wine in the cart and steered for the checkout line.

III

Elizabeth arrived at ten after six, bearing a vase full of gardenias and a bottle of white wine. "Boy," Clem said, "We've got enough liquor here to supply all of Bean City."

She laughed, set the bottle on the counter and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Just so you relax and get your share. I couldn't care less about anyone else in Bean City."

Elizabeth helped him cut up the vegetables and wash lettuce for the salad. With a soft poof, Clem set the grill ablaze and left the coals to warm. The tips of the orange trees in the western groves brushed the sun, and the day's heat faded. Clem had one beer, and then another. It'd been ages since he felt tipsy. Why not, he thought, clinking his bottle against Elizabeth's wine glass and taking another swig.

Reese wandered in bearing an armload of casserole dishes. And Reverend Green showed up, too, with a store-bought cake for dessert.

"Looks though miracles do happen," Clem said. "The pastor arrives bearing something besides the word of God."

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Green replied. "There was a bakery sale at Publix today."

Clem's friends drifted out back, where he'd set up the lawn chairs and put the beer on ice. He stayed in the kitchen, shaping thick hamburger patties between his palms. He was just considering whether to bring his portable radio outdoors when the phone rang.

Still shaping a hamburger between his two palms, Clem shuffled over to the telephone. He cupped the meat in one hand and picked up the receiver with the other. The sounds of traffic and crying came through the earpiece, and then his daughter's voice.

"Daddy."

"Donna. Where are you?"

"I need you . . . I need you to come and get me."

Over the rumble of trucks downshifting and police sirens, Clem pried the details out of her. She'd been with a man. He'd treated her badly. She'd been staying with his sister, but they had a fight. She was now at a Perkin's near the I-75 overpass with a busted lip and nobody else to call.

The steel thermos that Sophie bought him for their fifth wedding anniversary was stuffed in the furthest reaches of the backyard shed. Clem had filled it religiously with black coffee before each of his long-haul runs. He'd stowed it when his arthritis worsened to the point that he couldn't work, but now he looked for it frantically. Atlanta and his daughter were six hours away, and it was already dark.

He slid past the boxes piled from wall to center of the room, carefully navigating past the lawnmower to the back. There, he was certain, the thermos was stashed on an upper shelf. He tugged at boxes indiscriminately, dislodging clouds of dust. One of them proved lighter than Clem had thought, and it toppled onto his head unexpectedly. A packing staple gashed him across his scalp and he felt blood run down the side of his face. Clem wiped it away, cursed softly and looked inside the box. There was the Thermos, along with a carton of Donna's baby pictures and a scarf that she'd given him for Christmas one year.

Inside the house, Clem daubed peroxide across the cut, dried it and poured the coffee.

Clem got his coat and his car keys. Reese and Elizabeth told him he was being silly. "Dinner's only gonna be twenty minutes," Reese said. "Have a beer, eat some food. You've been waiting to hear from her for days. Let her wait for a while."

But Clem couldn't do that.

"I got to go," Clem said. "You all stay and make yourselves comfortable."

"We will," Reese said with a wink. "I'll look after Elizabeth while you're away."

He set out toward the interstate, driving by rote. No telling how many times he'd taken this route. Hundreds, certainly, if not thousands. Each time he'd done it then, in the truck, it had seemed as though the road was taking him away from his family. This time, he believed it would bring him closer.

Outside of Gainesville he stopped to drain off some of the coffee and top the gas tank. Clem looked at his watch; just past ten o'clock. He'd been leadfooting, he realized with a sheepish grin, and was making good time. He walked toward a pay phone with the idea of calling Donna to tell her that he'd be there soon, but stopped when he realized that he didn't have her number, or anything more than a rough idea of where she might be.

Clem shambled back to the car, anxiously eyeing the clouds. They seemed to be closing in on him, although he noted with hope that there was a clear spot that lay directly to the north, right over his route. He headed for it, leadfooting again.

Thirty minutes later, he was in the thick of the storm. His wipers couldn't keep up with the rain. The drops came so hard that Clem thought he could see them bouncing off the pavement.

This time the pain came with no warning; reaching for the knob to turn his high beams on, Clem found that he couldn't close his left hand around it. Soon his right one, curled around the wheel, began to rebel.

Clem considered pulling over. If he'd been driving the truck, he would have. There was nothing wrong with huddling up by the side of the road and waiting out a storm when you were getting paid by the hour. This time Donna was waiting for him. He worried that she'd be gone by the time he reached Atlanta.

When he passed into Georgia, it was just after midnight and Clem had his knees wedged up against the steering wheel to keep it on track. His hands, nearly useless, pushed flat against the knurled vinyl. He turned the radio up loud, hoping the noise would beat back the pain in his head.

The signs for Atlanta were at first discouraging; one hundred fifty miles, one hundred twenty-three miles. But the rain had eased up a little, and when Clem flew by the sign saying his daughter was just fifty-nine miles ahead, he was able to curl his hands around the steering wheel again. His gas-guzzler was on empty, but Clem refused to stop. He believed he would get there.

The counter woman at the first Perkins hadn't seen Donna. She seemed more worried about Clem than his daughter.

"Hon, you look like you been rode hard and put away wet. Why don't you sit down and have some soup?" He declined. She offered coffee, but he had already turned and walked out the door.

IV

When he found her, she wore a damp white nightshirt and a single shoe. His emotions flowed like water; he couldn't scoop them up and freeze them into words. They walked to the car together and Clem asked Donna if she could drive. "My arms done quit," he said.

"I don't know . . . I'm kind of tired," she replied. He slipped behind the wheel and retraced his route, back through the same rainstorm, its anger undiminished. He drove through the dawn and into the morning.

The dishes at Clem's house were neatly stacked in the sink, with a note from Elizabeth. "Couldn't find your dish soap," she'd written. "Call when you get in."

Clem scrubbed them while Donna slipped into her old room and shut the door. After he'd lined up all the plates in the drying rack, Clem, too, went to bed.

He woke up to loud music outside his window. It was not one single song; rather, Clem heard three or four separate tunes, as if a forest full of birds had started chattering all at once.

Outside he could see the drug traffic curled around the block, the new cars with college stickers on the rear windows closed tightly until they reached the corner. They stopped for just as long as it took a hand to extend, offer money and take a small package.

Then they pulled off in a slow, orderly fashion, as though they were leaving a tollbooth.

She was out there with Marvin, he saw. Clem shook his head. That girl couldn't stay away from trouble any sooner than she could stop breathing. The weather this afternoon was good. Maybe it was time to go out there and raise a ruckus. But Clem still felt fatigue in his bones from the drive. And he didn't want to start up with his daughter so soon after she'd run away. He propped himself up in bed and turned on "The Price is Right." Quickly he was immersed in the economics of buying vowels and answering riddles.

Three days later, he found himself in the same spot. The music thumped, the kids hollered, and Marvin lounged on the corner, doing more business than the Seven-Eleven on Tamiami Trail. Donna came home late, or not at all; Clem suspected she was with Marvin, and saw her dashing out the back door of his trailer the next Sunday as he went to collect her for church.

Hashing all of this over in his mind after he returned from the service, Clem decided he couldn't stay silent. He started for the throng outside. But once he reached the stoop he thought the better of it. There were fifteen or twenty kids out there, clustered around Marvin. Better to yell from the doorway.

"Donna! Donna! Bring your ass in here, girl."

The group "ooh'ed" in unison. "You better look out, gal," said Marvin. "He gonna spank you."

"I ain't kiddin," Clem hollered. "Right now."

He waited for he on the bed in the living room. Finally Clem heard the humidity-swollen door swing open, and then shut. "When you gonna get yourself a job?" he said. "Need somethin for your hands to do, instead of jabbering all afternoon."

"Ain't had time to look for one."

"Ain't seen you tryin."

"I don't need you for money. Marvin says he'll do me right."

She turned away, plugged in the iron. "Goin' to a party tonight," she said. "Won't be home much earlier than midnight." Donna began.

"Marvin don't take care of nobody but himself, and he ain't even doing that well," Clem said. "He's down on the corner, playing like he's Commander Cocaine."

"Marvin doin' me right. He bought me this," she said. A heavy gold bracelet circled her wrist.

"Marvin gonna have some bracelets himself pretty soon. He's gonna be wearin' some handcuffs and going to jail," Clem said, wincing. The arthritis was working its way up his body. First the knees, then the elbows, now his jaw.

"You ain't gonna lock Marvin up."

"Don't count on it. When I called nine-one-one on Wednesday, they said they was sending a detective over. They said they was 'very interested' in what I could tell them," he said. He steeled himself and reached over to his bedside table. He picked up a blue spiral notebook and waved it at her so the pages flapped.

"I know things. Don't think I don't know what's going on down there. I keep track."

She grabbed at the notebook, but he was a split-second ahead of her. He wedged it underneath his bony withers, between his dungarees and the mattress.

She flailed at his arm. "You sit up here and watch and you get all mean 'cause Marvin's a man and you can't be. You couldn't be a man if you wanted. You can't even get out of bed. You got so much hate in you it makes you want to hurt everything I have."

Clem noticed how much she looked like her mother when she got mad. Sophie's face always flickered with energy, as though there were a live wire pulsing under her cheeks. But with Donna, the only time her face became animated was when she angered. She yanked the iron cord out of the socket, threw her shirt on the floor and left.

"I'm gonna find Marvin," she said.

The fight took everything he had. He drifted off to sleep. When he woke up it was dark. He could hear the rain outside and he knew someone was in the room, but he couldn't see who it was.

"Donna?"

There was no answer. He heard footsteps over by the ironing board. They came closer. He saw light flash off something metal over his head. The iron. The tip of it slammed into his forehead, furrowing skin like a plow pushing earth.

He felt the blood drip down his face. With it came a new kind of pain, a pain that made him realize the aches of his rheumatism were simply the complaints of an aging body. This kind of pain could kill you. He heard a burst of air as the person with the iron drew in a breath and raised the metal wedge again.

It swished through the space above his head, flat side down, and he rolled to his left. It caught him just above the temple. He smelled the blood now, and sweat. His mind focused on a small black spot that pulsed behind his right eye, growing larger and fuzzier. He knew the iron would come again.

He stretched his creaking arms above him and thrashed back and forth. It slammed into his nose and the cartilage crumbled with a pop. It caught his wrist and careened into his jaw. The blood cascaded across his face, into his mouth.

The iron had a rhythm now. Five, six, seven, eight. His head filled with the ferrous taste of his own red blood and the blossoming dark spot that took over his vision. He gave in to it at the count of fourteen.

The last thing he saw was the flash of a gold bracelet.

V

Clem knew the nurse was a colored girl by the way she talked. He imagined she was ebony-black and bosomy. Maybe she was a nun. He figured he was at Our Lady, since it was the closest hospital to his trailer.

For a moment Clem wished it was Donna that was taking care of him. But he knew that wouldn't happen. Most days it seemed as though she hated him. And even when she acted like she loved him, it was a dutiful kind of thing.

Clem knew all about love tinged with misgivings. He felt it towards his own body sometimes. Occasionally he wished that he could cut off his knees, just get rid of them because they caused him so much pain. He'd told Reese about that.

"Jus' gonna cut 'em off. The damn things don't work no more anyway. Be like pruning the dead limbs off a tree."

Reese laughed. "Yeah, but then you'd be a man with no legs, instead of a man with legs that hurt. We'll just call you 'Stumpy' from now on." Reese was right, he decided.

The nurse spoke.

"The police were here," she said. "I told them they'd have to come back when you could talk. Right now you've got a wire in your jaw."

Clem grunted. This was fine. He needed some time to sort out what had happened.

His daughter had beaten him, no doubt about it. Marvin probably put her up to it. If Clem talked to the police, he would lose her. But Marvin would probably go to jail, too.

Clem smiled at that for just a moment, until the throbbing in his jaw left him breathless.

The pain moved. Someone with an iron fist had a grip on his orbital bones and was crushing them to dust. He wanted to scream, but couldn't open his mouth.

He settled for a whimper. Sometimes Clem's knees ached, but never like this. He knew it would be impossible to take his mind off this kind of agony, but he tried anyway.

Clem began working his way through the Book of John.

"In the beginning there was the word."

Another verse, another wince. He arrived at his favorite part, and found himself trying to move his lips with the words. But it hurt too much, so he settled for hearing them play in his head, like someone was giving a sermon in a room far away.

"I lay down my life for the sheep. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself."

It was after hearing this line reverberate between his ears that Clem allowed himself a sigh of relief. The aching hadn't eased, but at least he knew what he'd say when the deputies came back.

Clem woke sometime later; it seemed like several hours. One of the deputies was leaning over the bed, shaking his shoulder.

Once the cop saw that Clem was awake, he sat down. There were two of them, and they pulled chairs right up close to his bed. They offered to get him a glass of water. Both were fat and bald. Drawn close together, their hairless scalps looked like a pair of testicles.

The fatter one started.

"Mr. Powder, do you remember what time it was when you were assaulted?"

He said dark, probably after six.

"Who has keys to your home?"

Only Clem had the keys. But a lot of time he left the door open on rainy days, so people could come see him when he couldn't get out of bed. Otherwise he had to lower himself to the floor and shuffle to the front door.

"The perpetrator didn't take any valuables. Is there anything hidden in your place that would have monetary value? Anything we should know about that would make you the target of a robbery?"

Besides the T.V. and his bank passbook, there was little.

"Do you know anyone who would want to do something like this to you?"

Want was an interesting word. He let that float around in his mind for a minute. She didn't want to do it, any more than sheep wanted to wander from their herder. It was just something Donna had done, part of being her; a part that Clem had sown and raised in the same way he tended the thorns along with the blossoms on his rose bushes. He could no more abandon her than a shepherd could leave his charges. And so Clem laid himself down.

"No," he said. "I can't say I know anybody like that."

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