AftermathSeptember 28, 2017
“Where’s that woman? Damn her!”
“What woman, daddy?”
“Your mother, you fool.”
As they walked, cool wind pushed them towards the big yellow house. The farmer’s daughter tried to hold his hand – but he waved her away. He pointed down at the storm cellar door.
“Get in! Shut it, like your mom showed ya. This’ll be on us fast!”
She ran ahead. The Winnie-the-Poohs on her blue dress danced in the wind. Hugging a stuffed bunny, it’s grey head bounced around over her shoulder, ears flopping. One of its button eyes was missing.
In front of the house, a massive magnolia showered white flowers across the gravel driveway, over his wife’s sky blue Bel Air. She was home.
Rounding towards the front porch, he peered into windows for signs of her. Dimly, they only reflected the sky beyond. Black billowing clouds. A dark tide, rolling in.
Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled the ground. He stomped his feet in response and patted the dust off his overalls before stepping onto the porch. It started to rain – sideways. Tiny bits of hail stung his face and skidded past his boots.
He swung the screen door open. “Sheryl!”
The house reeked sour. She hadn’t taken out the damn garbage. He clenched his jaw and headed upstairs, imagining her drugged out, still asleep.
Heavy-handed wind slapped the house, swaying it some; crackling its wood shell.
Cresting the stairs, he turned into their bedroom. She wasn’t there. The bed wasn’t made. It wasn’t like her. He knew that she’d be scared of him today, but she’d never hide. He vaguely remembered their fight from last night. He turned back to the stairs, scanning his thick, tan hands. No marks on the knuckles.
On the landing, he detected a familiar sound from outside – still distant. Like a diesel freight train.
Wind slapped the house, harder this time. He hammer-fisted a family picture on the wall, shattering glass – then took the stairs two at a time.
At the bottom, he pivoted into the dining room and ran past the table holding last night’s empty Cokes and bottles of Jack, which rattled under his steps.
He burst into the kitchen. She wasn’t there. On a hunch, he rushed to the window above the sink. He saw her. Outside, on the patio. She was sitting on a white plastic chair, ducking wind.
“What the Sam hell?”
In the bright floodlight, he saw her bent over, hands clasped on the bottom of the chair, craning her neck to look up at the window. Her face was badly beaten. The other white chairs and table of the patio set were gone. Her hair was blown sideways, like a wind-struck black flag. The house had shielded her from the brunt of the wind. So far.
He slapped the window with his stony hand, striking a lightning bolt across the glass. “Dammit woman!”
She tilted her head, as if she could see him. Her left eye was nearly swollen shut. Her eyelid was blue and inflamed. Beat raw. There was a slit of glassy red where her eye should be. Her jaw looked wrong.
I went too far.
He stiffened, remembering something he had said. Late last night, he had shouted at her to stay there. After the beating. He had pushed her into that very chair, yelling nonsense. Screaming, spit flying, beating his own chest, he remembered pointing towards their daughter’s bedroom window. He remembered somehow threatening her, too. He didn’t know why.
“Sheryl, you know me. You know!” He slapped the window again. “Never!” he screamed past a lump in his throat.
He saw leaves and pieces of potato plants, purple and white flowers, swirl in the air far behind her. He saw what could be shingles and siding from the barn.
He knew what the look on her ravaged face meant. It meant something well beyond hurt and sad. It meant she had lost faith – in him. It meant goodbye.
The wind changed. The freight train was all around now, deafening. Her wet hair flipped up. She sat up: In defiance. Her top lip quivered. Eerily, her chair leaned back. It stayed on its hind legs for only a second before the wind took them both. She flew up and off, spinning into darkness. He was shocked by the speed. Plucked gone, hurled into swirling debris. It was like God Himself had reached down with an invisible hand and flicked her away.
He felt himself crumble away on the inside while everything around him fell apart. The left side of his body was pelted by a thousand bullet-pieces-of-house. Weightlessly, he began to float with the icy rush. Roll with the dark wave. Numbly, he did, relaxing. He slammed into something big: Metal. He felt himself funneled up the cone. Then pushed towards the brighter side. He blinked bleary eyes and saw the magnolia tree below, bent over the Bel Air, stripped of its white flowers. Both of them were being picked up, twisted amidst a cloud of dust and gravel. With a sudden jerk, he was spit out of dark cold into bright sunlight.
He fell from an incredible height. His arms hopelessly swam for stability, pinwheeling against warm air. Below, his potato fields had been ravaged by the wind – scraped raw.
God throws me into my own dirt.
Seconds before impact, he imagined his daughter in the storm cellar, talking to her bunny, thumbing at its missing eye – telling it that “Mommy can save us from the storm.” The storm that I am.by
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J. Hagen spent half his life in academia, nose in a book. He spent the other half trying to strike e-commerce gold with equal parts success and failure. After a stint in Federal prison for organized cyber-crime, he took a hard look at himself and started writing. With this, he found a safe outlet for his bookish and enterprising nature. And a serrated tool for probing the underbelly of society. His stories are often dark. Rarely uplifting. Always (a little) disturbing. Hagen lives in Vancouver, Washington, with his girlfriend of eight years. He enjoys simple pleasures - long walks, good food, and time well spent with family.