Due to a combination of tardiness and determination, Catherine found herself driving through the most violent windstorm seen in decades. Gargantuan gusts of dust and debris pulverized north central Montana, extending their blows beyond Chouteau and into Fergus and Musselshell counties.
At the third curve of the first state highway, the Street’s winter wheat was stripped naked. In the hills that followed, the Bailey’s chem fallow dissipated in clouds. The pine trees of DeBorde’s shelter belt shuddered.
Geraldine was barely visible, plucked off the map by the bearpaws of the storm.
At Stanford, she received a text message from Adam, notifying her that all roads in and out of Fort Benton were now closed.
Minutes later, heading southeast, a semi truck lay sideways in the oncoming ditch, its eighteen wheels protruding like the frozen limbs of a dead beetle.
With each blow, Catherine tightened her grip on the wheel. She held her breath. Glued to the seat, she could feel the cervices of her body sweating from the kind of stillness that begs for survival. This Honda, economical, fuel efficient, modest—Montana kicked it about in a temper tantrum.
The wind mirrored the tumultuousness of the last year. With each gust, she catalogued the blows: thinning hair, perpetual hunger, surges of cortisol at four o’clock in the morning.
Infertility. That was sure to keep her lonely.
But the brain fog was the worst of it. An unchecked box in her planner or a stray peanut on an otherwise immaculate floor could propel her to tears.
Was it really the wind, or her own angst that was mocking her?
She had gotten lucky that one time, when Adam’s cocktail of Canadian Club and 7-Up threw the cloak off of his disguised temper. He clutched the wheel, screaming profanities as they passed anyone going under 80 on a highway that kills at least a dozen travelers per year. She folded herself in half in the passenger’s seat, gasping for air, recounting each dead relative in her family book of losses, begging them for one more chance. Twenty minutes later, in the kitchen, she fell to her knees and silently thanked each of them. Adam looked at her with disgust. “I think that you have anxiety issues,” he said.
“Jekyll and Hyde,” the school accountant had said once, shaking her head, speaking of her ex-husband.
Somewhere around Grass Range, resentment overtook rationality. She dismissed the entire state as a “ruthless son of a bitch.”
Catherine jumped at the “ding!” from her phone. Her heart quickened. She glanced to the screen waiting on the console.
It was Adam again. “Did you make it there yet?”
The wind slapped her passenger’s side. She held her breath and gripped the wheel tighter, guiding it to the right to avoid the oncoming Dodge.
“You can wait,” she thought.
But he must be worried.
She peeled her eyes from the road in an act of either valor or cowardice. She couldn’t tell. With one hand she gripped the phone, slid her thumb up to unlock it, and showed it her face, wondering if it could detect her weakness.
Between glances out the windshield, her shaking fingers managed to click the “N” and the “o.” She hit send and, ashamed, again asked her grandmother for forgiveness.
In Roundup, the odometer reached 100,000.
Forty-nine more miles to Billings, and it was plenty of time for Montana to finally kill her.