Marybeth stood barely breathing on the porch of her home, watching her husband nail planking over the windows. The wind was frantically tearing at the leaves of nearby trees. The rain would not be far behind. "Jim, let's just go," she pleaded.
He swung around to face her. "For the last time, I'm not getting on any goddamn bus to go to any goddamn shelter. They're herding people like cattle into the schoolhouse. Think I want to spend the night huddled with those people? Git in the house." He opened the door for her. "Git in now, or you can ride out the storm on the porch."
Inside, Marybeth busied herself sealing photographs and important papers into plastic bags. She carefully placed the bags into a large Tupperware container and sealed it shut.
"Will you settle yourself?" Jim said without taking his eyes from the television set. A satellite graphic showed a massive whirlpool of fury filling the Gulf of Mexico, deathlike fingers reaching and sweeping over the coastline.
They sat mesmerized by the images until the lights flickered and the power went out. Marybeth lit a few candles, then wrapped herself in a blanket on a corner of the couch and shut her eyes against the hurricane. Jim was pacing from door to window, from room to room, checking on everything that he could -- the makeshift plywood shutters, the bottled water, the phone lines and the plumbing. She knew he would not sit to comfort her and that he would not accept any comfort from her. She pressed her palms to her ears to block out the sounds of the quickly intensifying storm -- the rattling windows, the driving rain, debris hitting the house.
Marybeth had always hoped she would not be one of those people whose life passes before them when they're about to die. But as her terror grew, she began having visions of a young, pretty Marybeth falling in love with Jimmy, desperate to marry him and escape her father's house. A hasty wedding and a suddenly mature Marybeth, finding out on her honeymoon that the man she had married was worse than the one she had run from. She heard again her mother's cold reply to her plea for help, "You made your bed, you can lie in it." Soon there was a baby on the way.
Marybeth embraced the memories of James growing inside her, the joy of his birth, the intense ferocity of her love for him. Even tonight, when she thought she might join him in heaven, the pain of his loss gripped her. The familiar grief knocked the breath from her like no man's fist ever had. A guttural wail rose from her, echoing the howl of the wind that battered and beat against the trembling house.
"Will you shut up!" Jim growled over his shoulder. A small hole had opened up in the sideboards and he was peering outside. A loud cracking noise made him jump back. "Jesus!" he muttered and put his face back up against the peephole. "That old pine tree is down," he announced. "Get away from there before you get killed," said Marybeth.
No sooner had she spoken than a great gust of wind tore a section from the roof above them. Jim swore and looked around for a place to hide. "The bathroom," he shouted, grabbing Marybeth up from the couch. They started into the small room but the floor was covered with broken glass and rain water. Jim turned and gave his wife a shove. "Git back -- we can't stay in here."
Suddenly they heard an explosion from outside.
"What the hell was that?" Jim yelled, running to look.
"Jim, don't go out there!" Marybeth screamed as he opened the back door. A large branch came through the porch roof, striking Jim and knocking him to the ground. She ran and helped him to his feet.
"I think my shoulder's busted," he moaned, holding his left arm tight against his body. His face was ashen and there was a gash in his scalp. She led him into the bedroom and quickly pulled everything from the closet. Grabbing pillows and blankets from the bed, she urged her husband into the closet. She pulled the door shut and made him as comfortable as possible to wait out the storm. They could hear the shingles being ripped from the roof and wind tearing through their house, but they seemed to be okay.
Marybeth lost track of time. Jim slipped in and out of consciousness, and she began to doze as the wind died down. She awoke to the sound of men's voices. "Hello? Anyone in here?"
Crying with relief, Marybeth pushed open the closet door and yelled, "In here!"
The men carried Jim out to a pickup truck, which held a few injured people. "We're going to take him to the hospital and send someone back to get you to a shelter," one of the men said. "We have to get the worst cases out first." |
"How will Jim know where I am?" she asked.
"My best advice would be for you to come find him, ma'am. He'll be at Mercy Hospital. We've got no way of knowing where you'll end up."
Twelve hours later Marybeth found herself on a cot in a gymnasium with nothing but a plastic grocery bag full of clothes she had managed to salvage and the Tupperware. One day turned into two and life felt utterly hopeless until a young woman wearing a Red Cross T-shirt stood on a chair and addressed the small crowd.
"I know it's short notice," she said, "but we have a church up in Oregon that's willing to take in folks interested in relocating. They've got families to provide homes until you get on your feet. There'll be a bus outside in an hour or so. Any takers?"
Marybeth stood and walked toward the woman. "I'll go," she said. "I've got nothing left here."
Anne Savoie works for a biotech company located outside of Boston and lives in Rhode Island with her family. She enjoys travel, writing and all kinds of reading.
Police sirens blared in the distance then faded away. Mike carried tools from his truck, set up sawhorses and ran an orange extension cord across the hard-pack dirt yard. A stench drifted from trash barrels left too long in the sun. He shook his head and thought to move the barrels, but he'd been after the tenants to take care of it themselves and didn't want to concede the issue. Besides, it wasn't his job; Just collect the rents, his employer, the landlord, would say whenever he raised an issue. Just let me know who doesn't pay. Do your work around the buildings and don't get involved... Property Manager! Glorified maintenance-man was more like it.
The cellar hatchway to the old three-story needed replacing, with a new hasp and lock installed against vagrants. Mike ripped out the rickety steps at the same time. He took measurements and began marking lumber. A screen door at the first floor apartment swung open and banged against the porch rail. Out leapt a young girl.
Bounding down to the yard, she stopped, facing the exposed hatchway opening. "Hi there, Mr. Mike!" she said. "Whatcha' doin'?"
"Hi there yourself, Miss Olivia. I'm putting a new door over this big hole in the ground, darlin'. Don't want you falling in."
"I won't fall in, Mr. Mike. I'm careful."
"I know you are, Olivia, you're a smart girl."
Five, maybe six years old, Olivia was small and wiry, but still the shirt she wore was too short and tight on her. Her short pants were smudged at the backside, and she had old, scuffed canvas sneakers with no socks. She bounced on the balls of her feet as she stood in front of Mike, legs together and arms out in the form of a cross for balance. The shorn ends of her dark, cropped hair followed the bouncing motion up and down. Mike smiled at her and she smiled back.
A broad shouldered man wearing a tank top shirt followed out onto the porch. The indigo green of home-applied tattoos tracked both his arms. A lit cigarette hung from one side of his mouth and smoke trailing up from it caused him to squint, though that expression seemed to suit him naturally.
"Get over here, Olivia. Don't make me come after you!" he said.
Olivia stopped bouncing. Her expression grew dark; her fine eyebrows drew downward and her jaw closed tight, creating faint dimples at the corners of her mouth. The squinting man walked past her and kept on toward a late model car parked at the curb. He didn't acknowledge Mike; rent was past due. Over his shoulder he called for Olivia to follow. She crossed her arms snug over her chest as the man passed close. The sleeves of her tight shirt stayed cinched up on her shoulders and Mike saw four oval bruises high on one arm.
"Where are you going, Olivia?" he asked, detaining her a moment and scanning other areas of her exposed skin.
"To the store, with Roland. Mommy's at work a little while."
"Okay. You'd better go then." As she turned, he added, "Will I see you at lunchtime? I brought another package of those cookies you like."
She glanced back without smiling. Don't get involved... The words came to him as a taunt. He watched the car drive out of view.
Close to noon, Olivia and the man returned and walked silently inside. Mike worked in the yard. Cicada bugs whined in the stillness and heat of the day. The first floor had no air conditioning and the windows all were open. There was the sudden screech of a small voice from inside, and the sharp sound of a hand slapping flesh. Then the squinting man yelled, "I told you to stay away from that goddamn fish tank!" Two more, loud slaps followed. "Now, get in your room until your mother gets home!"
There was silence again. Mike stood holding his hammer hanging down at his side. He felt a rush of blood rise to his face. A rustling came at the window just above and behind him. He turned to see the squinting man there, staring out, leaning into the screen with a hand at each side of the sill and filling the frame with his bulk. The two made eye contact, and then the man turned away with a jerk.
Seconds later the monotonous, thumping bass of angry music boomed from the apartment, bouncing off the adjacent tenement and reverberating in the yard. Mike looked away from the window. His gaze came to the cellar opening. The neat, rectangular hole in the ground appeared to him as a perfect grave. Methodically, he laid lengths of lumber over the top of the hole, and then stacked the rest against the foundation of the building. Walking away from the noise, he wound the orange extension cord around one arm and shoulder as he went, tying it off and tossing it into the bed of the pickup.
After a third beer and shot, Mike nodded for another round and slid from his barstool to go play the jukebox. He inserted a bill, but couldn't decide on a selection. Staring down at the machine, the light reflected his face on the glass. He shook his head, lips pressed tight together. Should have covered and moved those trash barrels before leaving the job.
Frank Sullivan began his writing career turning out ad copy, but picked up fiction because he wanted to be involved with something real. He lives and writes near Boston, Massachusetts.