Fifty-Degree Party

Fricadillers hit town by noon, stir-crazed and shrill. Hammurabis stumble in from gravel road Quonset hut-settlements. Even the Mangel clan, and the Rutabagges. They’re rumpled and pale-looking, as though held together by kerosene space heaters and pickups stalled up on blocks. But the afternoon sun turns fifty degrees. Time to party!

People drink with both hands and eat with a third, talking out of each side of their mouths, buckteeth gnashing. We survived winter! they all yell. Ponderous mamas in sweatpants wave Cosmo’s Bedroom Secrets of the Stars, trying to flag stray mullets. Who’s preggers? they demand. Where’s she at? Let’s go see! Icicles drip. Homebrew foams. Area Man Killed By Frozen Swede, the county paper’s headline flutters. Told ya area men was cold fish! someone hoots. Swede never seemed that way, somebody else says. What way? Bachelor uncles punch off their hearing aids and jabber like chain saws. Hammurabi froze drunk? Haw-haw. Give him coffee and donut! Always need extra help at hay-time. Bloodshot eyes glaze with homebrew and brandy. Seed-company caps watch a horse’s haunch rub away the last rusty barn-door hinge. But the door she won’t fall, momma! Family value? Mangel matriarchs nod at Fricadillers. Biblical sign? Come quick, Papa, this here’s a miracle you won’t believe. Better’n “Rasslin’ for Jesus”!

Manic spring basking. Brushfires beside ragged holes in the ice. Red osier thickets sway with bumper crops of undies. The sounds of shotguns and chainsaws like random bird calls. What’s it matter whether love or murder happens here? Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke. Night begins to fall, and the real fun promises to begin. Par-tay!

—David Steingass, Madison