A Storm for Little Geneva—Elaine Bonow
A Storm for Little Geneva
“What a great idea this is after such a long winter. I’m glad you called me Miss Carol,” Rose said as she squirted lighter fluid over the briquettes arranged artfully in the Webber grill.
“I am so happy we finally have some warmth and sunshine. It feels good to get these old bones out in the sun.”
It was a beautiful North Texas afternoon. The daffodils lining the driveway were just past their prime, lilac bushes were forcing their velvety scent into the seventy-five degree air and the pale green budding willow trees around the yard were swaying in the gentle breeze. The flame attacking the pile of charcoal licked and pranced happy to be set free for another glorious summer of cookouts and family gatherings.
“What time is cousin Gail coming over? I haven’t seen her in a dog’s age? Is she still planning on moving to Dallas? This old town is drying up. All the younger generation have moved on it seems.”That’s Gail now. She said she would be here after school was out. Hey Gail, Miss Carol was just asking if you were coming and here you are.”
“Sorry I’m late but the school had a tornado drill today and that set me back a bit.”
“Must be a great job over there in the big city. We used to have drills here at the school in Little Geneva. So much has changed over the years. The sirens would wail and everyone would take cover.”
“Well, when I was a girl we didn’t have any sirens here. When Mamma felt the wind rise and the rain pouring down, she would get all of us kids together and we’d just stand and wait in the doorway, praying we wouldn’t be blown into the storm.” Miss Rose reminisced, shaking her grey curls with the memory.
“Well, we haven’t had a storm here for a long time, not a bad one anyway.” Rose got up from the porch swing and headed inside. “I’ll get the steaks. The fire should be ready real soon now. “
“Cousin Gail, have you sold the old house yet?”
“No, not yet Miss Carol. It is hard to get anyone to come all the way out here to even look at the old house and it is so old and worn out. I don’t know if anyone would want it. Maybe for the land, but times have changed and farming is not very lucrative these days.”
“Seems like this old town is done for. There are only a few of us old folk left. There’s old Mr. Stevens and his wife and they’re both in their eighties. His daughter is going to have them live with her next month.”
Rose came out of the house carrying a tray of glasses filled with ice, a pitcher of sweet tea and a bottle of Jack Daniels white label. “Here we go girls, to another fine spring afternoon here in Little Geneva. Let’s toast to our ancestors who built this fine old ghost town.”
Rose poured the sweet tea into the tall glasses and topped it up with a generous splash of bourbon. They touched glasses and drank deeply. The brilliant blue sky was filling rapidly with huge cumulous clouds and the breeze stiffened, whipping the barely budding trees and fanning the charcoal covering the once black briquettes with a fine white ash.
Miss Carol sniffed the air like a trained beagle, “Humm, smells like rain, maybe a storm brewing.”
“I’d better get these steaks on the grill. We might have to eat inside if this keeps up,” Rose said as she placed three T-bone steaks on the red-hot grill.
Gail walked down to the edge of the bluff, which overlooked the river below. In the distance to the Southeast a row of black clouds were rolling northward. She rushed back to the farmhouse porch. “Yeah, I can see a storm brewing. Girls we’d better take this party inside. Rose I’ll tend the steaks. You better help Miss Carol inside.”
“Here Miss Carol, let me help you.”
“Thank you Rosie, let me get my feet put down.” She stood up and as she did the funnel made its appearance in the near distance. “Oh my Lord, it’s a tornado coming. Look, look at that.” She said pointing over Rose’s right shoulder.
“What are we going to do? Maybe it will miss us.” Gail said her face momentarily obscured by the smoke from the sizzling steaks. The wind gusted strong enough to send Miss Carol’s chair tumbling off the porch, over the lawn and down the hill. “Oh my god, what are we going to do with the grill it’s going to take off and burn the house down.”
Rose pushed Miss Carol into the house. Gail threw the rare steaks on the platter. Rain splattered the meat. Gail fought her way towards the doorway. The southern sky was black and blue. Hail fell first in small stinging pellets and then hail the size of ice cubes hit the porch so hard the fire in the scudding grill was completely extinguished before being turned over and twisted away in the howling wind.
“Girls, we have got to take cover right now. I have lived here all my life and I’ve never felt anything like this in all my fifty years on this earth. This tornado is headed straight for us.”
“Rose, is that old storm tank still in the yard. You didn’t fill it in like you said you would have you?”
“No, it is still there. We’ll have to go out the front door.” The wind howled and the air descended in a supernatural fog. The lights in the house blew out. The sky still crystal blue to the north gave them enough light to see the outline of the storm cellar door.
‘Oh no, this is terr…” Gail’s voice was swept away by the wind. She and Rose held on to Miss Carol’s arms dragging her along battered by the wind.
I have to open the door. I haven’t opened this thing in years, Rose thought. She tried to talk but the wind blew her voice away. The rain was fierce and the women were drenched their clothes whipping around them.
“Hold her, hold on to her,” Rose screamed, “I have to get this door open.” When she let go of Miss Carol’s arm Gail and Miss Carol were knocked to the ground. A bolt of lightening illuminated the tableau. One woman working frantically to pull open the trap door, the wind and rain tearing at her clothes and hair. The two battered women, one frail and powerless, the other holding on to her with all her might, clutching the earth praying not to blown into the storm surge.
The trap door swung open. “Here, here, over here.” Rose grabbed Gail and the three women tumbled head over heels into the underground vault. The trap door slammed shut and Rose shot the bolt closed.
The women didn’t move. Above their heads they could hear the sound, the sound everyone describes when talking tornados. The sound didn’t disappoint it was like a freight train going two hundred miles an hour inches away from your body. Even though the few inches of earth separated them from the storm they could feel the power of the vortex as it raced overhead.
“Oh my god, it’s taking the house.” Rose said as she heard the sickening sound of splintered wood. This house her family home for generations was being twisted from its foundations, walls, ceilings, floors and stored memories twisted into uselessness.
“Miss Carol, Gail, are you alright?”
“I’m ok I guess.” Gail whispered barely audible above the screams of the tornado.
“I’ll find the candles. I know there were some here somewhere when I checked a few years ago.”
“Miss Carol, Miss Carol?” Gail groped around and found a hand and then felt her face. Rose, Rose, Miss Carol, there’s something wrong with Miss Carol. She’s not moving.” Her voice swallowed by the tornado raging above their heads.
Rose found the candles and waterproof matches in the tin can under the stairs. It took her two tries to light the candle. “I think it’s leaving us now,” she said as the dim candle light brightened the small dank space.
“Bring the candle closer. I think Miss Carol is dead. Oh no, no, no this can’t be happening. She can’t be dead. We were all just having a little dinner and now this.”
The silence was sudden. Rose stood up and carefully unbolted the trapdoor. Light flooded the hole and sweet fresh air revived the two women. Rose pushed her head up and into the late afternoon sunset. The view was primordial. There was no house. The graceful trees that were just budding were stripped of life and twisted into unnatural shapes. The town of Little Geneva like Miss Carol was no more. All had been wept away by the storm