The night of the tornado, I let you sleep. I let you stay caught in restless dreams beneath the thin blankets, the taut shape of your body like the land beneath a dusting of snow. You pulled the sheet over your head. You were a ridgeline, a burial mound. I made the bed around you and sat by the window.
The night of the tornado, you were sick, as you had been for months. (Your body was troubled. In your skull, something grew where it shouldn’t.) The wind battered the thin glass of our cheap apartment. A piece of airborne plastic smacked the sliding doors, and our dogs yelped, but you didn’t wake. (We were assigned a surgeon. A team of surgeons to open you, find the piece that had forgotten itself.)
I watched out the window, watched the radar, watched you sleep. All three felt equally likely to predict the storm’s violence. I searched images of tornado damage to see what we might be in for: houses unroofed, gutted, crushed as though beneath God’s heavy footfalls. One house lay parted down the middle with medical precision, the beams pulled apart and reaching.
The photos reminded me of the doctor’s images of your head, split wide and shining, wiped clean of blood and fluids. It’s amazing what the body can withstand, what can be sewn up and set to mend. And then again amazing what we can’t withstand, what can’t be rebuilt. I think of how you gagged when you saw the images, the inside of your head, recoiling from the strange sight of your own dismantled self. Perhaps you feared what the light would show, what would happen when air met blood met brain, when wind met brick, flesh, and wood.
The tornado passed so close to us I could feel the low rumble in my chest. I sat on the floor beside the window while my phone beeped warnings to take shelter, to find a basement, to move away from glass and doors. But it had been only days since the surgery, and I couldn’t wake you and couldn’t leave you. Sleep is the body’s best time to heal, the way we move closer to health. I could not stand between you and anything that might help.
Beneath the bed, the dogs whimpered. Animals are sensible in their fear. It was a good time to be afraid. In an effort to stay alert I did small tasks on my lap: dropped your pills into their weekly dispenser like a game of mancala, purpled my finger with bits of string, made a list of questions to ask the doctor.
The morning after the tornado, I woke with my back still pressed against the wall, my face turned toward the window’s morning light. You hadn’t moved—covered by the sheets, your body’s peaks like the blunted tops of weathered headstones. In the street, people stood in front of their houses, surveying the wreckage. The dogwoods, which had been in tentative bloom, were stripped clean. Bare, knuckled branches groped at the still air, and the asphalt was broken with white.
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
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