Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The End of the Trip - Chapter XV - Fiction

The four second satellite image of the storm continued on in an endless loop; the voice a repetition of the same three or four things. He passed her the joint and listened to her throat as she exhaled. They woke up, cold and nude, uncomfortable in the single bed, the image continuing, the voice announcing a Hurricane Watch for Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties: the possibility of being under hurricane conditions within forty eight hours. Helen was her name, and she was crossing the Caribbean with 100 MPH winds.

That afternoon there was a nervous energy on campus; a collective awareness of something being out there, something dangerous, almost alive. The more organized the storm, the more visible the eye, an angry stare. Ana asked questions and Parker relished the danger, secretly hoping the storm would strike.

Late that night, Ana already asleep, he sat in a chair beside the television listening to the special news reports, they repeated what they had been saying all day, but he was attracted to the hysteria. He would wake up to news of a Hurricane Warning, general excitement and fear, or the letdown that they were out of danger. Parker knew he shouldn’t want the hurricane to come, the death and destruction, all to satisfy his need for a thrill, but the only world that really meant anything to him was the one he had in his head, the collective repulsed him. There was a wall up that kept him beyond the clan, except for Christina, she connected and made him part of the whole. The storm plugged him into the world in a way he usually wasn’t connected; it could raise the curtain and allow him to see again beyond it.

He woke up to the alarm at nine, Ana began to stir. The tone of the image left little doubt, a few seconds later the anchorman confirmed the Warning: Helen had grown in strength and her present course would bring her somewhere between Broward or Dade Counties in the early hours of the next day. Parker sat transfixed, invigorated, and for the first time, scared, Ana attentive to every word from the television.

“Don’t worry, my house is safe, but we need to go now. My mother stocked it with water and canned foods and batteries and all that stuff, so we don’t have to shop, thank god. The stores are a mess. I’m going to pack a gym bag, we'll drive to your room, get your stuff and get going.”

“What about class?” she asked, startled.

“Class is canceled for at least a few days.” They left without showering after getting Ana’s things, taking US1, which eventually leads to I-95. The traffic was tremendous and Parker needed gas. The line for the pump was seven cars long, people were nervous, verging on the hysterical, the man in the van immediately in front of Parker peered into his car, motor running, and no way to open the door. He nervously pulled his large, bouncy body to the gas station store looking for a slim jim, Parker drove around his van as the car in front of it moved forward, pumping the gas while the man asked people in cars up if they had a slim jim and knew how to use it. They mostly ingnored him.

Once on I-95 the traffic eased and Parker drove fast. The supermarkets were packed and cars with ply wood on their roofs filled the streets, many business’s were already boarded up. It was eleven in the morning, he calculated five hours to put the shutters up and remove anything that could fly. They stopped at a Seven-Eleven for a twelve pack of beer and cigarettes before getting home.

He stared at a the faded yellow paper with numbers that corresponded the shutters to their respective windows; it had been a long time since he had put them up and his momentary confusion frightened him. Ladder, shutters and screwdrivers, she would hold the shutter in place while Parker screwed in the bolts that held it up.
Helen’s enormous center of low pressure sucked up all the bad whether around them, allowing the sun to pelt them, they sweat profusely. Her firm thigh muscle sending drops of sweat into the air as she worked, her breasts and her tan body shining. Full of adrenaline, they achieved a good rhythm and worked well for two hours. “Lets take a jump in the pool to cool off.”

A neighbor approached. “Hi Parker, looks like your almost there, where’s Lola, I haven’t seen her in a while?”

“She’s in Spain for the summer, so I came back from school to get the place ready.” He felt himself losing rhythm, annoyed at the interruption.
“She getting stronger, some storm. Are you going to ride it out here.” Long arms ended in deep pockets.

“I think so, how about you?”

“Don’t know, these damn news people have got my wife in a stir, will see.” His lips came together into an unintentional smile.
“I think we’ll be all right.”

“OK, good luck” He smiled at Ana.

“He seemed a little nervous, didn’t he?”

“A little.” Parker was feeling the exhilaration of work in the face of danger, unlimited energy and a clear mind. By four-thirty they had all the shutters up except for one panel in the patio to let them in back of the house. They began to move all the potted plants inside, the patio furniture fell slowly to the bottom of the pool.

“Ana, why don’t you take a shower and in the meantime I’ll make sure we’ve got enough of everything.” Parker took two garbage cans, put clean bags in them and filled them with water, leaving one in each bathroom. After showering and shaving he filled the tubs with water.

“Have a beer.” They watched the news, the tension and storm were growing. Sustained winds of 135 MPH were expected where it would make landfall, the anchorman read off evacuation areas. He debated whether to tell Ana or not say anything and maybe she wouldn’t figure it out. The storm was large, but it wasn’t big enough for them to have to leave.

“They’re going to say that this is an evacuation zone, but only because the storm is barely a category three, a few miles an hour less of wind and we don’t have to evacuate.” He paused, she seemed calm. “The house is well built and I think we are safer here than in a public school sleeping on the floor.”

“I’d hate to have to sleep in a room full of strangers, if you say it will be all right I’d rather stay here.” The TV reported that all the draw bridges would be permanently put up after eleven PM.

“Wanna run down to the beach and see the surfers, we can go over to the ‘Village Tavern’ and have a beer, see what people are saying.”

“Lets go.” He liked her spunk. All of the businesses on the other side of the draw bridge where boarded up and there was little traffic. The bright sun of the morning was replaced with low flying, fast, dark clouds. They walked toward a fishing pier; the bleached blonde hair, the colorful boards, but the arrogance was gone, they were at nature’s mercy, quick and graceless interludes between surfer and wave.

“Those boys are crazy.”

In the ‘Village Tavern’ the bartender was quick to correct any commentaries by his inebriated customers as to the unimportance of Helen. “You can’t take any of these storms for granted, this is a big hurricane, they’re dangerous.” Parker was wondering why he was serving drinks if it was so dangerous. He ordered an Absolute on the rocks and Christina had a whisky and Coke. Parker doubted whether these people, mostly tourists, really knew what they were up against. The news by this time was a constant satellite picture of the now very large and well defined storm, 130 MPH winds and moving in what seemed like a path directly toward them, the edge of the storm already over them on the radar picture. Parker felt very alive but guilty for having wanted the storm to come; Helen had heeded his call.
“When we get home you should call your folks and tell them you are OK, once the phone lines go down it could be a couple of days before they are back up, no electricity, no water and no phone, I need to call my mother too.”

“What should I tell them?”

“Tell them your with some friends in their house that is out of danger.”

“They’ll want the phone number?”

“Give it to them, the phones will be out anyway.”

“It’s just that my parents are a little strict, you know, about staying with you and everything.” They drank and talked and enjoyed the fear and the tension. Parker now felt the curtain completely pulled back. The first squall came in, the wind and rain sobered the atmosphere; tabs were paid and the bartenders started to close. As soon as the first squall past Parker and Ana headed home, they parked the car in the garage and put the last panel up in the patio.

“We can have hot dogs and beans for dinner.” It felt like the first few moments in a newly mounted tent.

“OK”

“I’ll be out in a second.” Parker loaded both barrels of his father’s 20 gauge over under and left it in the closet. Don’t mention the looters to Ana. As he made the hot dogs and beans he watched her staring into the television; the intensity made her more beautiful. “Ana, call your mom, then I’ll call mine.”

“It’s two o’clock in the morning there.”

“Yeah, we should have called before, but better they get the call now, then they see the images on TV and can’t talk to you.”

While Parker spoke on the phone with his mother he heard the loudspeaker from the street, its message audible three times before fading into the wind: “This is an evacuation area, you must leave immediately. You are in danger.” Ana’s face blank.
The frequency and intensity of the squalls increased, there was only a few hours more of electricity. He put the lanterns in the living room and the bedroom, a flashlight in the bathroom, one in the kitchen and two in living the room, he left the radio by the TV. The news reports had the eye passing right over them which meant they would get the worst of it. The rain was constant and the howl of the wind ever louder. “Ana, now that we know were going to get hit, want to watch a movie on one of the cable networks until the electricity goes off, the news will only get us more nervous.”

“I hope there is something good on.”

They found “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” on one of the cable networks and settled in. The wind wailed, but they were lost in the movie and their beers. At the moment when Jimmy Stewart, beaten and exhausted, starts going through the letters on the floor of the Senate, the electricity went out. Darkness, the roar of the wind and the beating of the rain. Parker fumbled for the lantern, turning on the radio to hear the latest news. “What do we do now?”

“Grab a few beers and go to bed.”

They held each other and listened to the growling, it sounded alive, its fury beastly. Parker began to think about the possibility of tornadoes, one of them hitting the house was the worst scenario. When they woke up it was still raining and windy but less than the night before, the house was dark with the shutters up and smelled stale, the radio said the worst was over.

They spent a few hours, naked, in the hot room holding each other tightly and passionately, unlike the night before. The rain slowly faded into a drizzle, by sunset the skies were clear, the next night hot and uncomfortable. They woke up early in morning, ready to break out, the damage was light and they spent the next few days cleaning up and taking down the shutters. They were outside, in the pool, drinking wine with no electricity, no phone and no running water; dreamlike.
Suddenly, the electricity came on and with it the old world quickly returned. The remnants of what was behind the curtain lingered in the damaged trees and the destroyed boats and homes, but it slowly faded into the old cycle of work and money. The curtain, that Helen pulled back for an instant, returned and left Parker nostalgic.

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