Tornado Season

They only went down to the basement when the sirens forced them to. Even then Billy complained.

“I don’t care if this house blows away,” he said.

Renee, his sister, shook her head.

“I don’t care either,” she said. “But my bed is right by a window and I don’t want to get cut up if it breaks.”

Then she set about gathering the things they would take downstairs to pass the time. Billy liked this part because Renee never took the same stuff. Sometimes she grabbed a radio; other times it was board games. Once she brought a portable T.V. her boyfriend stole for her and they watched all the late shows. Tonight, though, all she took for fun was a tablet of paper and scissors. Billy knew this was for a game they played where she’d write a story, cut it up, then have him put it back together however he wanted. He liked how the words had different meanings depending on their order.

Once they had everything, the two walked past their uncle who was passed out on the couch. The rain and thunder and sirens covered up his snoring. Like always, they both had the same thought as they looked at him. I hope a tornado carries him away. Well, this was what Billy thought but he was pretty sure Renee used different words in her head, words that conveyed how their uncle treated her different than Billy.

As they walked down the stairs, Billy felt the air take on more weight. He followed his sister to the corner which held a card table and two chairs. The air smelled of dust and rot and all the old things leftover in the basement from when their parents were alive. And underneath this there was the stink of puke from the time Renee brought down one of their uncle’s bottles (just to see what it’s like, Renee had said) instead of games. They never talked about that night, and Billy could never decide whether the smell was really there or just in his head. Either way, the urge to throw up was there, the taste of it like a catch in his throat.

Renee set two candles on the table, struck a match, and lit them both. For a moment they both looked around, glancing at piles of their parent’s clothes as if they had just woken from a dream. Renee stared at the box which held their mom’s wedding dress and sighed. Then she started writing in the tablet.

“I’ve been thinking about this story for a while,” she said. “I hope you like it.”

Billy nodded. He tried to breathe through his mouth but thought it sounded like their uncle’s snoring and gave it up. Instead he focused on the steady noise of the sirens. Lately it seemed like there were more storms, each one bigger than the last; all of them forces outside of his control. Still, without all the tornado warnings he probably wouldn’t ever see Renee. She was always with her boyfriend, leaving him with nothing to do but watch T.V. while their uncle slept.

“You think a tornado will ever really hit us?” he said.

She wrote a couple lines on the tablet before looking up.

“No, I don’t think we’re that lucky.”

She smiled, tore off the page she’d been working on, and handed it across the table. The candles flickered as she disturbed the air.

“You cut it this time,” she said.

He concentrated at cutting the paper so he didn’t lose any of the words. When he finished there was a pile of scraps on the table. She leaned forward as he arranged the words into sentences. They were all about brides, spring, or flowers, and all of it seemed out of place with their surroundings and the blare of the sirens. Without looking at Renee, he scrambled up the paper and started over. The result was the same no matter how many times he mixed them up; all of the sentences spoke of love or moving on or both.

“I don’t like this story,” he said. “Write a new one.”

She smiled and reached for his hand. He drew it back, nearly knocking over a candle in the process.

“Billy, I’m not happy here.”

He stood up, swallowing back whatever was rising in his throat. He had to breathe through his mouth again or he knew he’d puke.

“This will be better for all of us,” she said. “Once Jack and I get settled you can come live with us.”

He shook his head.

“That won’t happen. You know it won’t.”

Before she could say anything else he grabbed some of the scraps and held them over the flame. He repeated this till the page was all burned up. Renee alternated between screaming his name and telling him to stop. He snatched both candles and ran to the clothes. Renee followed him, and he tried to light up the wedding dress box but she tackled him first. He felt the wind go out of him at the same moment the candles slipped from his hands.

When he recovered he expected to see and hear and smell burning, but it was dark and quiet. Then Renee said his name, softly at first, then louder and more insistent. He rose to his feet and moved toward the stairs, finding his way by the faint glow of the television that was still on upstairs. He could hear her calling his name until he got out the back door. For a moment he waited, expecting her to come after him, tell him to get inside before a flying branch knocked him out.

But she didn’t come. And when he listened at the door he couldn’t hear her footsteps inside. Then he realized the sirens were off and the wind had quieted down. Another storm had passed. As he walked off into the night he hoped she realized this too.

John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor. His stories and poems have appeared in literary journals such as The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, upstreet, Chiron Review, Underground Voices, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction and many others. He is also the author of a novel, a story collection, and a poetry collection. Abbott lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Photo Source: Quinsigamond Community College

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