In His Own Country

Old Doc Proffitt plunged into the wind outside the quonset’s off-plumb lintel,
a blast that slapped at him like wet burlap. It was two a.m.: another child
yanked howling into these stone hills, and now he pushed
into the lashing rain and toward his Chevy wagon hulking

as if tethered to the shuddering catalpa. He’d have to hurry now
or the low beam bridge that yawned between him and the quilted bier
of his own bed might be out: Ah, Spring in the Ozarks:
that strobed, heart-battering fist of a season.

He fought the wheel, the heavy lure of sleep, the wiper blades sluicing ropes
of water off the glass, and by the time he made the turn where the road
dropped down to the level of the creek, the radials were spewing
mud, and then the bridge appeared, its guardrail swimming

into the headlights where a figure clad in oilskin slumped. He didn’t know how
he knew; he just did—not a whiff of brimstone, the horns hidden
by the drooping fedora off which the raindrops poured in veils:
Sumbitch settin’ there, Doc said, like he owned that country.

Long story short, he did, but Old Doc helped the Devil out that night,
the way he told it, extracting an abscessed molar with the puller from his bag—
a deal, once struck, that bought the people of that place a pause
before the fires of damnation, a chance.

Don’t you see? Doc would tell them. There’s still time to set things right.
He kept that tooth, an evil looking spike, in a drawer of his rolltop desk
and, if asked, would produce it for the deeply skeptical parade
of hillfolk through his office.

Goddamn rock, looked to me like, one was heard saying as he limped
from the waiting room on crutches and turned back toward the hills,
that rough and tumbled country damned, no doubt, by God.




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