“Words on the Wind” by Lu Whitley

Words on the Wind

She stands on a plastic garden chair. The white kind you get at the discount store, where they call them stackable to make them sound special. But you only have one, so what the hell do you care?

The stiff plastic bows under her slight weight, spindly white legs sinking into the wet earth at the edge of the patio. Get down, I would say if I thought it would make any difference, but the shed is already full of chair carcasses. What’s one more?

Her dark hair whips back from her face as the wind swirls around those freckled cheeks upturned to the downpour. Caramel colored eyes shine with delight, and she laughs like a child on Christmas morning. The sound hits me like a punch to the gut.

With arms outstretched, she looks like a wilted scarecrow, but I’m the only thing that’s frightened. “Come inside, Sara,” I say, my calloused knuckles tapping a rapid beat on the metal flashing around the screen door. But she doesn’t hear me over the raindrops smacking fat and wet onto the patio. Maybe she just doesn’t listen.

Her flowered cotton dress is plastered to her body with wetness, and I can’t help but notice the curve of her breast. She never lets me touch her there, but she lets the rain. She lets the moaning wind caress her like a lover.

It makes no sense to be jealous of precipitation. To rue each day the falling rain slides across her naked skin. But sense makes no difference in the world of love. Last year, I told her we should move to the desert. Start over. She said she would dry out in the sun.

For three years now, I’ve been stewing in this quiet storm. One day the rain came and washed over this broken thing that divides her from me. She looked up to the sky, and she didn’t look back. No matter how hard I pull. No matter how loud I scream. She doesn’t look back.

A lightning flash scorches the loamy earth and streaks back to the sky, carrying the sound of her whispered words. Once, I wondered what those words were. What could she say to the rain that she couldn’t say to me?

I remember the last day she whispered to me. The rain mingled with her smiling tears and tracked down her freckled skin, falling and slipping across interlocked fingers. That day I laughed, and she laughed, and we lay together until the rain stopped.

“Come on, Harry,” she said to me once, back in the days when I still smiled, “It’s only rain.” But it wasn’t then. It isn’t now. She doesn’t bother to ask anymore.

Clouds roll dark and mighty above the summer greened pastures, where the animals are skittering nervously to and fro. The chickens have gone to roost. The horses have turned their rumps to the wind, their tales swishing with unease.

“Something is coming,” I whisper into the air, but thunder robs me of the sound. The screen door shudders on its hinges.

The thick scent of ozone crawls into my sinuses. A stiff breeze blows back the curtains above the kitchen sink, and I breathe it in, hoping to catch a fragment of her traveling scent.

The windows are all open, with the sheeting rain cascading in. She never closes them. Suffocation is her biggest fear, and I don’t have the heart to shut her in.

She wakes in the night clawing for air, and I would give my own breath to stop the terror. Last week, she started sleeping in the guest bedroom. She doesn’t cry now. She says the air is freer there because I’m not stealing it away.

“Wait.” She yells. Not to me. She never talks to me when the wind is howling. She says I bring her down.

The sirens echo her call. I hear them wailing in the distance. She sways her hips to the droning lament, ignoring the warning cries.

“Come inside!” I plea, my hand cold on the screen door handle. Palm sweat mingling with the condensation and giving me chills. “We have to get to the basement!”

She makes no move in my direction, and I make no move in hers.

Motion in my periphery catches my attention. I look up to see the sky belch out a thin ribbon of white. And I gasp. Terrified. “Sara!” I scream, but the noise never leaves my lips. The roaring wind is all I can hear.

The funnel quickly darkens from gray to black as it devours the neighbor’s barn. Stalks of carefully planted corn are pulled up in rows and flung skyward, raining down a mist of decimated earth and debris.

The chair starts to shudder and shake beneath her. She ignores it, standing on her tip toes and reaching her arms to the sky like a child longing for a mother’s embrace.

I run from the kitchen, braving the fray. My feet slap across the wet patio as I bridge the distance between there and here. “Sara!” Bare soles catch on the brick edges, rivulets of crimson blood mingling with the rain.

My water slicked skin is pelted with hail, like a horde of angels throwing stones. Her eyes are closed, and a beatific smile graces her soft lips. She is so close to heaven that I’m afraid to touch her. To ruin such a thing of beauty.

The funnel curves northward, angling toward us as I reach out for her. My fingers slip over her soaked skin, and she bats them away, never taking her eyes from the storm. Black clouds swirl and churn just beyond the reach of her fingertips.

One thin chair leg snaps under the force of her pushing upward, toppling her back into my arms. I wrap them around her and begin to pull her toward the house. Toward safety. She leans forward, fighting with all her wiry strength.

We tangle together and tumble to the ground. I turn myself so I will be underneath her when we fall. Rough brick abrades my ribs through my t-shirt as I smack to the patio with a grunt. She kicks and wails like a banshee, telling me to let her go. But I don’t. “I can’t,” I say, trying to dodge her flailing fists.

The raging wind whips our clothes into a frenzy. Spiraling fabric spins together like lovers dancing. She is in my arms for the first time in so long the memory of the feeling has been washed away like a stream racing downhill. The warmth of her sears me to my bones. I pull her closer and breathe her into me, the scent of wild jasmine filling my lungs.

But still she reaches upward and away. Always upward and away.

The storm is so close now that I know we can’t risk standing. The southern corner of our white clapboard house is buffeting us from the worst of the wind, but it won’t last for long. The roaring cyclone becomes so loud in my head that everything else falls silent. Still.

I throw myself over her to get between her writhing body and the coming torrent, boxing her in with my arms and legs until she has nowhere to go. “Let me go.” Her perfect petal lips form the words, but I pretend I don’t see.

I look down into her wild eyes, watching the reflection of the clouds move across her smooth whiskey irises.  The rain showers from me onto her twisted features as she lets out a silent scream. I want her smile to come back. “Smile for me,” I whisper into the wind. Please smile.

I drop my lips and press them to her fevered brow, and I wonder if this will be the last time I ever kiss her. If it is, let the storm take me now, so I can die content.

Her lips move to the rhythm of the tempestuous wind. I pretend that she’s whispering to me. There are so many words I’ve wanted to hear. In my pretend world, she tells me she loves me. She tells me she’s sorry we’ve drifted so far apart. I lay my forehead against hers and wrap my arms tighter, sealing us together, body to body. I tell her, “I’m sorry too.”

She spreads her lips in a silent scream, her arms reaching past me. The swirling storm is upon us. I can feel it trying to push its way between our bodies, and I pull her closer still. My lungs protest the tightness, but what use is breathing if I let go now?

Baring my teeth with effort, I use every ounce of my strength to hold us to the ground. The whirling suction grasps at my feet and legs, making a last-ditch attempt to tear me from her. My arms start to quiver, my grip fading. The storm is too strong. The wind gains a few stunted inches, and I lose one of my fingernails in a crack between two bricks.

The corner of the house sacrifices a century’s worth of clapboard siding, but still the demon isn’t satisfied. It comes for me, stronger now that it’s gorged itself on my hard work. My sweat. My love.

Five years ago, I built up our dream. Taking the antique little farm-house and making it our home. A quiet place in the country where she could be happy. I told her then that it could weather any storm. That it was strong enough. I thought we were strong enough.

But the last of my strength fades on a whisper. “I love you,” I speak into her ear, hoping that she’ll hear it above the din. God, don’t let me have wasted my last words, I pray as I’ve never prayed before.

The storm gutters briefly, no longer ripping me from her at full strength. It’s all I can do not to crush her underneath me as my body weight is suddenly pressed down on my shaking hands. I turn my head to the side, my breath coming in shallow pants and my heart pattering around in my chest. And I watch, in a kind of slow motion, as the funnel retreats from the ground.

She stills beneath me, her eyes fixed on the sky. Her hands stop their reaching, and her delicate arms fall to the side limply, slapping to the wet ground. She heaves a stuttered inhale and softens in my quivering embrace.

The black clouds part slightly to let a few scant rays of sunlight through. The remaining rain glitters around us like diamonds falling from heaven. I raise my aching head and look into her eyes with a new-found hope. She is in my arms. The storm didn’t take her from me. “Sara?”

A haunted look plays across the screen of her gaze as she shimmies out from under me. Her mouth begins to move. Speak. The abrupt return to sound is almost deafening.

“It didn’t take me!” She cries, as I watch her curl in on herself. “Why didn’t you let it take me?” In her eyes, there is a pain so deep. An aching void. I want to take that pain, carry it into forever with me, so I will have some piece of her to keep.

“Sara?” I plea, reaching my palms out slowly so she won’t be frightened. But she slaps my seeking hands away.

I run my fingers back through my crisp auburn hair and blow out all my breath. I feel as if my heart has caved in my chest, leaving my lungs squat and bereft of air. “Come inside,” I whisper. It’s the only thing I can think of to say.

She turns away, her sodden dress trailing behind her like a shroud as she scoots on her hands and knees across the patio. With closed eyes, she raises her face to the remnants of the rain. And she is quiet.

Without another word, I rise from the patio. My shredded soles are scraped raw as I turn, going back the way I’d come, trying to shake the spreading numbness from my limbs with each heartbreaking step.

I busy my empty hands gathering buckets and plastic sheeting. Working on the things that can be repaired. Each nail I pound is like a death knell. Sealing me alive inside this coffin I’ve built for myself.

When the last droplet falls, she finally comes inside. Not because I’ve asked, but because she has no reason to stay. The wind has faltered. The storm is gone.

In the bathroom, she lets me take off her dress. I fumble with the buttons. My bandaged fingers or the incessant shaking of my hands makes the task nearly impossible.  When I smooth my palms over her shoulders, she shrugs away from my touch and lets the floral fabric puddle to the floor.

Her bare breasts taunt me. Dare me to look down. But with a well-practiced detachment, I keep my gaze at the level of her eyes and dry her off using the soft towels we got on our wedding day. My hand instinctively reaches for the one that says ‘His.’ But letting it touch her skin would be a lie, and I’ve always tried to be an honest man.

She trudges like a zombie through the quiet house. Wrapped in the crocheted afghan I’ve draped across her shoulders to shield her from the chill. Was she always this cold?

I put the kettle on a burner. Pour a can of soup into a bowl, popping it into the microwave and setting the timer, just as I’ve done a thousand times before. The routine is engrained in my muscle memory like holding her used to be.

We sit at opposite ends of the sofa. The cushions have sagged. Conformed to years of us. The seam peaks in the middle, keeping us separated. Apart. My eyes settle on her, studying the vacant glaze of her expression across the faded brocade, but she doesn’t notice. To her, I’ve evaporated and become one with the humid air.

Our wedding album sits on the coffee table, the spine stained long ago by strokes of loving fingertips. The last days of our love recorded for all to see. She grabs the TV remote next to it instead and tunes to the weather station.

The meteorologist says, “We’re done with the storms. Tomorrow the forecast is sunny and mild.” She huffs out a breath like she’s been punched in the chest, and with a quick depression of the power button, she shuts the thing off. She’s heard enough.

The kettle shrieks, breaking the silent tension that fills the airless space between these four walls. She curls over the arm of the sofa and begins to weep.

I get up and go toward the kitchen, retreating like the coward I have slowly become. I can’t bear to see the storm brewing in her eyes. It does not rage for me.

 

 

 


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The name’s Lu Whitley, aka ‘me’ for the remainder of this exercise because writing about yourself in the third person is creepy. So, yeah, me. I live in Springfield, IL with my husband and our two cat babies. I’m a professional aunt, a part-time fashion merchandiser, and a full-time slave to the voices in my head. I write a serial novel on my blog: BloodMarked.Wordpress.Com (Insert shameless plug here), and I dabble in the magical art of terrible poetry. I enjoy snail mail and anything covered in chocolate. And incomplete sentences. Shiny things make me happy. Books are my life. I write lame bios.

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7 Comments

  1. this entry was stunning. you turned a storm into a character (a rich and likeable one, no less) and contrasted it with two very flawed and very transformed people. stunning. thank you for writing.

  2. Holy meatballs I loved this story. This gave me my favorite feeling ever when interacting with a work of art, which is pure and simple joy. My brain ceases explaining or thinking or anything really and just sits, happily, in a pool of joy.

    Excellent writing, amazing use of a storm as a force in the story, a great examination of a broken relationship…this has my vote.

  3. Some of the writing in this story absolutely blew me away. I loved the concept, the characters, the description. It was full of emotion and really captured my imagination.

    However, the ending disappointed me and whilst some of the writing was stunning, other parts felt a bit cliched and spoiled it a little bit. Without some of these lines I think this story would be breathtaking.

  4. One the one hand, I’m having one of those “why do I ever bother to put hand to keyboard when there are people around who can write like this?” moments. On the other, I have the frustration that so much remains unsaid that I want to know.

    It turns out I’m an unrepentant prodnose, because the story works as a story without laying everything out like some sort of aircraft reconstruction. This isn’t about the functioning whole, it’s about the wreckage.

    I thought the description and characterisation was strong and polished, it gave every impression of being effortless and that has to mean a lot of talent or a lot of hard work (or both).

    I’m impressed and delighted.

  5. Aaaaaauugh. The FEELS. This was gorgeous. So gorgeous and heartbreaking.

  6. Woah. This might be one of the most beautiful entries to ever hit the arena. Just wonderful work, Miss Whitley.

  7. Pingback: TWA #23 - JUDGEMENT! - The Writer's Arena

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