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May 26, 2017 | Fiction

The Storm

Zeke Perkins

The Storm photo

It was the end. The colors had gone backwards in the sky.  There was a screwdriver turning the clouds.  It was everywhere. All across the state, the country, the planet.

Mom and Dad were on the porch with Grandpa. He hadn't been back home since we sent him to Shephardsville when I was ten. The home called and told us to come pick him up. The college sent me and everybody else home. Most people stopped going to work. Almost everything was closed.

Reports on the storm started two weeks before. The meteorologists said that the readers must've gone defective. They hadn't. Even though all of those millions of people went to work to protest. Even though the president went on TV and talked about human ingenuity and dignity. The storm was coming.      

The cops went home. There was a spike in murders and disappearances and orgies and all those things we expected. A lot of people had just given up. Other people had made survival plans. Schmitty and his folks were holing up in their basement with shotguns and rations. He asked if I wanted to join them as he was allowed to bring one friend.  

"This isn't like going to Hershey Park, Schmitty," I told him, "I'm staying with my family."

I wasn't going to stay with my family, though. I was going to see her. I had made a promise. She had a dream about the storm when she was seventeen. She woke up crying. We had promised each other that we'd be there together if it happened.    

We were on the porch, my family and I. Mom and Dad held hands. Grandpa broke into a nod.    

They stared out into the neighborhood.   

"I'm going," I said.  

Mom looked at me. She was scared.

"He wants to see her," Dad said.

"Emily? But you broke up two years ago."

 "It doesn't matter," Dad said.  

Above, the sky was orange and speckled yellow like melting sorbet.  The blackness was growing. Mom played with the fabric on her dress, her best dress.

"What if she doesn't want to see you?" Mom said.

"Don't you remember, Carol?" Grandpa said.   

Mom looked down. 

"It'll be here so soon. I wish you'd stay," she said.  

Her eyes were big and innocent.

"I promised," I said.

"I'm proud of you," Dad said.  

"It's not fair," Mom said.

Grandpa and Dad looked down. I reached out my hand and touched her shoulder, her face.    

"I love you," I said.  

I hugged her. She shivered. She convulsed. I held her tightly and I cried. Dad touched her arm. I let go. 

"I love you, honey," Mom said. 

I hugged Grandpa and Dad.

"Goodbye," I said.

Emily's house was a good three miles walk. There were others on the road; some wandering, some going to say their goodbyes. I saw Mrs. Martin, my old algebra teacher, running in the middle of the road with her hair waving behind her and a poodle in her arms.  

"Mrs. Martin, are you okay?" I said.

"Where is he? Where is he?" she said.

"Who?"

"God, no. Not you. Where is he?"

She kept running. 

I walked for thirty minutes. If Emily wasn't walking towards me, as well, I would have to knock on her door and face her parents. The last time I knocked on that door I was angry.  I said things I would come to regret.

 I saw her on Elm Street about halfway with Jackie, her younger sister, and Helen, her sister's friend. When we got to each other, I hugged her searchingly, awkwardly.  

"You're here," she said.

"I promised," I said.

"It's been a while," she said.

"I missed you," I said.  

"Oh, shut up," Jackie said.  

"Hi, Jackie.  Hi, Helen," I said.

They turned around and we walked towards her house.  

"I had to tell my parents I was going for a quick walk to get Helen with Jackie," Emily said.  

I nodded. "They don't want you to see me."

"You think?" Jackie said, "I can't believe we are here after what he said to Mom about you."  

I sighed, "I'm sorry." 

Jackie started, "Now you say that. I mean-"

"That's enough," Emily said.   

For a while, we were quiet; it was quiet. 

Helen said, "Ben Schimmel told Veronica he liked me." No one responded. She looked at her hands. "I don't know why I said that."

"From Biology?" Jackie asked.

"Yeah."

"He's cute," Jackie said.

"It doesn't matter," Helen said.

"Nope," Jackie said.

"I'm so stupid," Helen said.

"You're not stupid," Emily said.  

"I just – I just wished he'd said it earlier. We could've dated then. Maybe I would've really liked him. Maybe I could've fallen in love," Helen said.

Emily smiled at her.

Helen said, "I've never been in love. I'm just making it up. I'm going to die alone."  

"You're going to die with me," Jackie said.

Helen began to cry. "My parents want me home, Jackie. You know that."

"We will probably still die at the same time," Jackie said.  

Everybody laughed a little. Emily took my hand. When I went away to college I put my face to that hand, to her arms, to her legs, to her stomach, her neck. We broke up and then I wanted her back. She didn't want me. Then she did. Then she really didn't.       

"Love is mostly made up, anyways," Jackie says. "That's what Emily told me after you broke up."  

"That's not true, is it? I think that would almost be worse. It wouldn't even matter then. It's not true is it, Emily?" Helen asked.

I let go of Emily’s hand and she looked at Helen. "Of course not," she said.

 A man sat in the middle of the road crying. He was holding a baseball bat. His house was on fire. He had put the baseball bat through his car windshield.

We kept walking.  

"I have to be back before it starts," Helen said. 

"When's it starting?" Jackie asked.

We all laughed. Emily's family was inside when we get there. Helen and Jackie went in first.

"Is that it, then?" Emily said.

"I promised and I'm here," I said.

"That's it?"

"No. I hope not. I came here to be with you."

She analyzed me with her eyes. "I thought I was awful. I thought I didn't care about you."

"No. I don't know anything. I never knew anything," I said.

Her eyes went down in the dry grass. "Wait," she said.

I sat by the road in the grey pastel light. I didn't know the time. Our phones stopped working a week ago. I never had a watch. It was quiet and empty. She touched my back.     

"They weren't happy," she said.  

I stood up. Fifty feet away, Helen walked to her parent's SUV. She looked very small.

We started towards the country store, our old place, the darkness behind us.

"I couldn't leave things the way they were with us. This was the only thing I could do," she said.

"You don't have to explain to me."

"Who else would I explain it to?" she said.

I smiled. We made it to the country store. A kid in jeans and a t-shirt strutted by, smiling wildly. I remembered him from high school. He didn't have much family. "Nobody is in there but they are giving out steaks at Adam's Restaurant down the road. Y'all should come.  It's gonna be one hell of a party," he said.

We nodded but didn't say anything. The sidewalk was cool without the sun. We sat down. 

"Is it like your dream?" I asked. 

"It's exactly like my dream,” she said.

"Even for me it feels like déjà vu," I said.  

"You remember Tiffany from high school?"

I nodded.

"She had the dream, too. I talked to her about it," Emily said.

"I heard lot of kids had it. I think it's only the old people who are really surprised." I stood up. "Let's go down," I said.  

We went behind the store and down to the stream. For months, the other animals had been migrating unceasingly. We could hear the frogs jumping from rock to rock.

"I've been wondering if we did it right," I said, "I mean, the way we lived. If we had known would we have done things differently."

"I think I did know but I didn't want to believe it would happen," she said.

"I think we should have never left for college. I would've stayed if I could do it over. I would have tried," I declared.

"I don't know, Tom."

I felt stupid. We sat down. I fell back and she fell onto me. She kissed me. 

"You're crying," she said.  

"You too," I said. 

I felt something hit my face. 

"The rain."

We sat up. The droplets fell hard like paint, one at a time, shattering against our bodies, the leaves on the trees and the leaves on the ground. 

"Do you need to see your parents?" she asked.

"No. Do you?" I asked.

"No."

"Are you hungry?" I asked.

The walk to Adam's Restaurant was a half-mile. We held hands. Children played in the rain with the tar sky above. Parents stood, vacantly or crying, some smiling absurdly. They stood in suits and gowns soaked through. They said nothing.  An old woman sat in her car at a stop sign with her windshield wipers going.  We were wet but not cold.  

The rain was steady and louder than the music inside the restaurant; louder even then the people talking at the long communal tables. The chefs wore tuxedos. The doors to the kitchen were wide open. The floor was wet from the rain.  

"There's no more beer but we have soda if you can't stand the idea of more water," someone said as we sit down.  

It was crowded but we could move. Somewhere, a leak had started and we could hear the heavy drip. Somebody put a steak in front of us: bloody and pink. The water pooled on the floor. We ate one steak after another. We reached out to move the platter and feel each other's arms; to know there were still plenty of us. She was next to me.

"I have to pee," she whispered.  

"Do it on the ground," I said, "Don't leave."   

I looked down at the yellowy water and realized that we weren't the only ones to have thought it. Crowds gathered around the tables. I felt them pushing in, falling over one another to be held in the mass of bodies. Back home, I imagined Mom and Dad and Grandpa curled up as one on the couch. I thought of everyone I'd ever known curling inwards, trying to make a womb of the world in their final moments. I put my arm around Emily.    

"Tom," she said.   

"Yes?"

"Say my name."

"Emily," I said.  

image: Bryan Bowie


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