Hurled or Smashed, Torn Down or Otherwise Displaced
Spencer Dew

Certain members of the holy family were treed by the twister, plus their entourage, including the black-faced wise man in red robe, one solid blob of plastic, still illuminated, cord still, somehow, trailing back to the now-roofless house, in front of which sat an SUV with someone's window air-conditioning unit wedged through the windshield.

I discuss the razor-thin divisions of force, the randomness, over the hum of the Sani-Ray machine at Ivan's, the barbershop, where only the smaller sign is gone, though it is gone good, absolutely missing, no trace for blocks and blocks around.

Ivan's house was similarly spared, he tells anyone who'll listen as he mismatches the lengths of my sideburns. The house next door, their front windows were slammed in by someone's discarded Christmas tree, plucked up, swung around, the whole wall of windows shattered, though — and here's the miracle of it — the wreath on their front door, not three feet away from the windows, unmoved, still hanging primly by one nail and one wire. Ivan whistles in wonderment. Some of his spittle flecks across my cheek.

We'd never had anything that strong in our lifetimes, and it was exciting for everyone still living, especially those of us not rendered homeless. Military helicopters circled around, making noise. Utility vehicles blocked traffic. Men boarded up the windows of the Winn-Dixie, but any of the food in the parking lot was free for the taking, so I got some beans and some tuna, some crackers, a loaf of bread and a rubber dog toy designed to look like a pork chop which made a squeaking sound when squeezed.

I gave the toy to Kristal's kid, who was playing with some cutlery. Kristal was ripped, dazed. Her place, too, had been spared, though it looked, to use the cliché, like a tornado had hit, plus her face was really showing, going bad and blistered, methed-up. "You didn't bring no peanut butter" was all she had to say to me. I put half of the food in her cabinets, emptied her ashtrays into the trash, turned the water on at the sink in the hopes maybe she'd get to washing dishes before it overflowed.

Kristal's porch — the place was setup like a motel, doors opening to a railed walkway, which was porch enough — opened onto a matching building and a daycare center beyond that, only after the storm there was no matching building, just a half-smashed daycare center and a yellow short bus tipped over on its side.

The kid – Kristal's — tells me he could hear them screaming, all the babies inside that bus, caught mid-evacuation, first by the floodwater, then by the wind. He calls them babies because he's young and mildly retarded, but they couldn't have been too old to be at that daycare. The kid tells me his rubber pork chop is named Molly, and that it's his new friend. I say whatever, kid, and muss his hair up a little, or start to, till I realize his hair is crisp with something, sticky.

"I want peanut butter," says Kristal, "Or jelly. I got a taste for something sweet."

"Why don't you wash some dishes?" I said. "I'll be back."

But I was heading over to old lady Iva's, who'd spread plastic wrap across the middle of her living room floor and arranged batteries all over it, batteries of all sizes. Her power was out, and she wanted the radio, by which she meant this giant, cheap ghetto blaster, its battery compartment full of rust and, anyway, requiring more D cells than she had. I showed her the groceries I'd brought her and she told me that if she didn't have an outbreak on her lips right now, she'd kiss me. "All I got's here is peanut butter and jelly," she said, "You're a real lifesaver with your tuna fish."

After that I went home. My electricity was dead, too, so it was too dark in my bathroom to try and fix the haircut Ivan had given me. I ate on various leftovers that were in the fridge, and some ice cream from the freezer, and I listened to the religious frequencies on the AM dial, which oscillated between themes of miracles and themes of retribution, deep into the night. At some point, late, I fell asleep, and when I woke up there was a voicemail on my cell phone, Kristal, a tirade to the tune of how could I give her son something intended for animals, for pets? "He's my fucking precious goddamn son, you son of a bitch," etc., and, "He ain't no fucking animal. You're the fucking animal. You're a lying faggot, is what you are, diseased little ass-sucking… You're just a jerk." I listened to all of it, minutes of it, as she kept forgetting her words or losing her place, eventually petering out into incomprehensible sounds and sobbing, then saying things like, "Oh, Billy, Billy, I don't know what I'm saying, I don't know what's come over me. I just don't know what I'd do without you, Billy. I just don't know."

Spencer Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency.

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Photo detail on main page courtesy of Incognita Nom de Plume.

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