A family drama centered around a storm.
|Shelly sat in front of the window of her sitter's house, watching the dark clouds roll across the sky as she waited for her momma. The wind had just begun whipping the treetops into a frenzy when she saw the battered station wagon pull into the driveway. |
"Momma's here, Eddie! Time to go! Hurry up, we gotta get home before Daddy!" Shelly's little brother dropped his toys and tore out to the car. She gathered up his things and shoved them in the toy box, then ran after him out the door. The sitter, Mrs. Callahan, followed her outside, squinting up at the sky.
"Sorry I was late, Mrs. Callahan. I had to stop at the store." The tired young mother apologized, straightening her rumpled white nursing uniform as she stepped out of the car to hustle the kids into the back seat.
"Not a problem." Mrs. Callahan waved from her doorway. Thunder rumbled in the distance. "You'd best hurry home, Maggie. This looks like a bad one blowing in. Worst storm in twenty years, the newsman is saying."
Maggie waved goodbye and climbed back into the car. The radio was on and the announcer issued solemn warnings about dangerous lightning strikes before switching over to her and Shelly's favorite new song. They sang along. "If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain..."
She smiled back at the two kids in the rearview mirror. "So were you two good today?"
"I'm always good, Momma," nine-year-old Shelly said seriously, "and so's Eddie."
"That's good," Maggie answered absently as the rain began falling in huge drops. She squinted though the smeared windshield, struggling to see the road.
"I'm not good! I'm hungry!" six-year-old Eddie whined. "She never gives us nothing good to eat!"
"I'll fix dinner as soon as we get home, sweetie."
"I want something now!"
Shelly sighed and began poking through the bag of groceries until she found the box of Twinkies. Momma always bought those. They were Eddie's favorite. She opened the box and pulled one out. Eddie snatched it up and stuffed it in his mouth.
"Shelly can you find your brother a... Oh, good girl, thank you." Her mother said cheerfully as she pulled into their the driveway behind their house. Their father's new VW Bug was parked there already.
Shelly saw her mother's smile fade at the sight of the Bug. "Joe's home early..." she whispered.
With a sudden boom of thunder, the storm began in earnest. Eddie wailed in terror at each flash of lightning. Their mother hugged them close as they raced from the car to the house through the drenching rain.
She stopped just inside the door. Shelly ducked out from under her protecting arms and saw her daddy sprawled at the kitchen table, tapping his pipe against the palm of his hand. A half empty beer bottle sat beside him and several empty ones lay on their side nearby.
"Woman, did ya forget somethin'?" Tap, tap, tap went the pipe.
"Sorry, Joe. Guess I must've forgotten you'd be home early today. I should've brought something hot home for dinner. I'll fix you something right away."
Rain rattled the windowpanes, while her dad watched with narrow eyes as her mother carefully put her purse and the groceries on the table. He snatched up the bag and rooted through it, tossing things onto the table until he reached the bottom of the bag. Then he looked up at his family. Shelly froze as his face twisted into an angry sneer. His eyes went black as pitch, the dark pupils swelling to fill the whole of his tiny eyes. When his eyes got that black, she wanted to hide. She quickly gave Eddie another Twinkie to hush his crying before her father noticed it.
"Jesus H. Christ, woman! Where is my tobacco? I ask you for one god damned thing, just one, and you can't manage to remember?" He swept the groceries off the table with a crash. He reached out and picked up a fallen box, crushing it in his fist. "And what is this crap? Hamburger Helper? You think I want to come home from a hard day of driving and eat this crap?" He threw the box at Momma.
Shelly picked it up and put in on the counter, hands trembling. He was going to make momma cry again. She hated it when momma cried. Tears only made her daddy even angrier. Tears made him hurt people.
Another long, low grumble of thunder shook the house, and Eddie hugged Momma tight and began sobbing again. Shelly ran forward and tugged on her father's arm. "Daddy, let's go watch the storm! Mrs. Callahan says it's gonna be a bad one!" She smiled up at him, trying to keep the fear from her eyes. She hoped she had read him right this time. He loved her, but sometimes nothing she did would make the blackness leave his eyes. Sometimes he would hurt her, too.
He looked down at his daughter and his sneer faded a bit. "Maggie," he pointed at Momma. "Go get my tobacco, and bring me home something worth eating."
"Just give me a second to dry off and change, Joe, I'm soaked clear to the skin..." Maggie protested.
"NOW!" the red crept back into his face.
Shelly hissed at her mother, grabbed her purse and thrust it at her. She took it and pulled Eddie's hand to bring him along.
"And leave the boy here! I see him bawling over there like a little girl. He needs to get over his sissy fear of every damn thing. Come here, boy! And you, woman, get movin'." His hand curled into a fist.
Maggie let go of her son's hand. "Take care of your baby brother," she whispered to Shelly as she backed out the door into the downpour.
Eddie whimpered softly as his father dragged him out to the covered front porch. "Grab me a couple of beers, girl, and let's teach your sissy brother how to have a backbone." He was grinning now. He loved to teach people lessons.
She opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle from the many stacked on the bottom shelf. She hesitated, knowing what would happen if she only took him one bottle. But at least it would get him away from Eddie. She decided, and took only one outside, handing it to him. She hunched her shoulders, bracing for his response.
"You ain't too bright girl. Don'tcha know what a couple means? A couple means two--all those good marks from school and you can't count to two? One... Two..." he drawled. "Come on girl, try it!"
"Yes, daddy, one, two, three..."
"I didn't say three, stupid. Try again. One... two..."
Yes, daddy, one... two..." She imitated his drawl.
"Are you mocking me, smart girl?"
The dark black grew in his eyes again. His fist came up. She abandoned her brother and ran back inside, grabbing another bottle of beer and snatching up a Twinkie for Eddie.
When she got back to the porch, he'd settled onto the porch swing, with Eddie huddled beside him. The storm was just picking up into full power; huge peals of thunder rang overhead. Eddie flinched at every one, tears running down his face. Lightning split the sky, striking all about. The wind tore through the yard, rattling the windows until she thought they would shatter.
Her father grinned like a fiend, and yelled "Ain't the lightning something to see, boy! Quit being a sissy and look at it! And listen, that's the angels bowling up there and someone gotta strike!"
Shelly handed him the new bottle, relaxing at the sight of his smile. She sat on the swing and snuggled in between her little brother and her dad. Storms made her daddy happy, so they made her happy too. She hugged Eddie close and slipped him the Twinkie.
The wind whipped the trees, sending branches and debris into a whirlwind around the porch. With a loud groan, the old dead oak in the center of the yard tilted. It crashed down upon the road, tearing though the power lines. Sparks flew from a nearby transformer as the electric lines were ripped free. The house behind them went dark. Eddie screeched and ran inside.
"Chickenshit momma's boy! When I catch you, I'm gonna beat your behind but good!" Her dad jumped up out of the swing to chase after his son.
"Please, Daddy, stop!" Shelly jumped up and ran out into the storm. "Look at me, Daddy! Look!" She spun in circles, leaning back to look up into the roiling clouds. A gust nearly knocked her off her feet and set tree branches to groaning as they were twisted and wrenched above her head. Each dancing twirl took her closer to the crackling cables on the ground.
He shouted and stumbled down the stairs, and grabbed her, pulling her away from the dangerous flickering wires. "You damn fool girl. You coulda been killed." He hugged her close. "Don't you scare me like that again!"
"I just wanted to see if I could see the angels bowling, Daddy!" She smiled up at him, coaxing out a smile in return.
"Well come back up here on the swing with me and watch for 'em. The lightnin's tha light bouncin' off their halos. Can ya see 'em? Can ya see the angels?" He opened the new bottle of beer and slurped it down, Eddie forgotten, for now.
"You're a good girl, Shelly, a real good girl... Ya know I love ya, li'l girl..." His words slurred together, and his eyes drooped.
"Yes, Daddy, I know."
They settled back on the swing together. As the storm raged on, Daddy's head nodded onto his chest and he began to snore softly. Shelly leaned against him, watching the leaves swirling in the wind and the forked patterns of lightning, and listening to the rumbling thunder.
Eddie crept out of the house and huddled next to his sister. She hugged him close and tried to soothe him, as more branches rained down in the yard.
During a brief lull in the storm, the old station wagon pulled up and stopped, its path blocked by the fallen tree. Her mother got out, tobacco in one hand, and a bucket of chicken in the other, then picked her way through the fallen branches in the yard, avoiding the twitching, sparking wires.
Eddie ran forward and clung to her, sobbing. Her face got hard as she looked over his head at Joe, passed out on the swing. Shelly had never seen a look like that before on her momma's face. Momma looked mad.
"Come here, Shel." Momma whispered.
Shelly got up, careful not to wake her dad, and walked over. "Yes, Momma?"
"Honey, we are gonna go to gramma's house for a little. I want you to go upstairs and pack a few things to take along. I'll be along to help you as soon as I get Eddie's things packed." She went back to the car and fished in the glove compartment, pulling out a small flashlight. She flicked it on and gave it to Shelly.
"Ok, Momma." Shelly smiled. Staying at Gramma's house was fun. She always made cookies with chocolate drops in them. By the flickering beam of the flashlight, Shelly ran upstairs to her room. She pulled out her little suitcase and stuffed her favorite clothes into it. Momma came in and added a few more things.
"Take some of your toys, too, but hurry, sweetheart." Shelly crammed Barbie and her clothes, her stuffed frog, and three of her favorite books into the bag.
Momma helped carry the bags down the narrow stairs. As she loaded them into the car, the sky opened up and the rain poured down again. Eddie was already sitting in the back seat, hugging his teddy, when Shelly squeezed in beside him. Momma got in the car and started the engine. The wind howled around the car as the storm renewed its fury.
"Wait momma! You forgot Daddy!"
"Your daddy's not coming, honey. Just us for this trip."
"But momma, who will take care of him while we are gone? We can't leave him here alone."
"He's a big boy, Shel. He can take care of himself. He is gonna have to take care of himself."
Shelly pressed herself against the car window, looking back as they drove away. A flash of lightning let her catch a last glimpse of her daddy slumped alone on the swing in front of the darkened house.
A new Ford Taurus pulled into the pitted driveway and parked next to the old, rusted hulk of a VW bug. Rain poured down, thick and steady. The young woman inside popped out her new Evanescence CD, then listened to the radio newscaster's storm warnings before shutting off the car.
She sat for a moment staring at the old house with it's peeling paint and broken windows. It seemed so much smaller than she remembered. She picked up a small grocery bag from the passenger seat before finally climbing out of the car. She opened her umbrella, only to have it seized by a sudden gust and wrenched out of her hands. She ran for the house, fumbling for the key in the downpour.
"That you, girl?" a quavering voice called from the front of the house. "Come on up to the porch and sit with me and watch the storm."
She went around to the front of the house, climbed the sagging steps, and sat on the creaky old swing. Thunder growled and rolled, and the old house groaned in the wind. She tried to wring some of the water from her clothes as she looked at the shriveled old man next to her, his face yellow with illness.
"Hello, Daddy. Momma told me the doctors sent you home from the hospital."
"Them doctors ain't nothin' but a pack of useless idiots. Don't suppose your brought your old man any tobacco, did you, girl, and maybe a beer? Those damn doctors won't let me have my pipe or a decent drink."
"You know it's bad for you, Dad." She shook her head. "But I never could say no to you, and I suppose it can't hurt now." She pulled a packet of tobacco from the grocery bag. The familiar cherry smell brought back old memories as she tamped it into his pipe for him. Then she took out a single can of Coors and popped the top.
"Just one can?" he grumbled as he took it.
"Just one, Dad."
He smoked his pipe and sipped his beer as they watched the lightning play across the sky. He sat the empty can down. "Wish you'd brung another. How's your momma, and Eddie?"
"They are good, Daddy. Ed says to say hello."
"I wish they... Well, I am glad you came, at least. The doctors say I've done ruined my liver and lungs both. They said I am a stubborn old bastard to last this long..."
The thunder was already rumbling off into the distance and the rain had slowed to a light patter. "Not as bad as that last storm, is it, girl? I remember you dancing in the rain and laughing... looking for them angels... There's so much I need to say... Well, you know I love you, girl..." His voice dropped to a whisper, barely louder than the rain.
"Yes, Daddy, I know." She gently took the pipe from his hand as his head sagged down on his chest. His eyes were open and staring, as a final flare of lightning lit the sky. "Look, Daddy, do you see the angels?"