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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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REMEMBER THE HURRICANE



 

by Gisella Faggi


 

Part One: Hurricane

 

You don’t remember the hurricane.

 

“You don’t remember?” your mother asks again, as though hoping to catch you in a lie. “You were five, or six, old enough to remember.”

 

“Tell me about it,” you say as you place her hand in yours.

 

Her breath is staggered as she begins. “The ocean lapped at our front door like an abandoned puppy and the wind slung stones through our windows.”

 

She squints into the fluorescent lights, searching for the memory.

 

“The stray cats came out from their hiding places and ran from the falling telephone poles. They ran from the swirling leaves and the black shadows. They ran until the water swept them away.”

 

 

 

Part Two: The Three of Us

 

The next time, your mother tells you through the mask, “The earth churned like butter.”

 

In this room, still alien to the both of you, she seems small, your mother. Delicate, her skin ashen, the same color of the sheets on which she lies. Her hands are all bone, her knuckles protruding like knotted roots that lay at the base of an old oak tree. The nails are long and brittle, their pale yellow a striking contrast to the swollen purple veins tangled beneath her transparent skin. These hands, you don’t recognize. They are as foreign as the stories she’s been telling you.

 “We hid in the bathroom,” she continues, “the three of us in the bathtub, in the dark, listening to the coyote howls of the wind and the shrieking of the dogs. The floors trembled and the closets whistled.”

 

She pauses and glances at you from the corner of her eye, just to make sure that you are still listening. You are, politely so.

 

“We didn’t sleep that night. After the power went out, your father went outside and stood on the patio. People do stupid things when they are curious. And your father was always curious,” she says, her voice the texture of yellowed rust. “He couldn’t see his own nose, it was so dark. He was a strong man, your father, but not strong enough for her. She pushed him down, spat in his face. When he came back inside, he was bruised. A violet ring around his eye.”

 

“What happened after that?” you ask, trying your best to sound earnest.

 

“I cried for three days straight and all you could do was hold me.”

 

Part Three: Beginning

 

You don’t remember the hurricane. This much is true.

 

It’s only been since she was admitted in the hospital that she’s begun talking about this notorious disaster. Your father never once mentioned it when he was alive, this catastrophe that apparently caused so much damage, both physical and emotional, but, then again, you never did speak much to him­—to either of them.

 

You only rekindled your relationship with her after she called to tell you that she had fallen, that there had been surgery and bad news, and that she was staying in the hospital now, while more bad news came every day. You’ve been visiting her after work and on weekends, out of a sense of duty, knowing that without you, she would be alone and scared, out of a sense of guilt that perhaps she has been alone and scared all along.

 

In any case, you are grateful for an excuse to get out of the house, the hospital now some sort of strange sanctuary, a distraction from the crumbling relationship at home, the husband who at one time was your best friend but is now a stranger.

 

You sit there and listen to your mother for hours, happy to be distracted. You don’t have much to say, or maybe you have too much to say. Either way you let her do the talking.

 

Not a day passes in which she doesn’t mention the hurricane.

 

If it were true, this story, you think that you would have some memory of it, that you’d be able to conjure up some vague fragment of it, of this event that doesn’t quite belong with all of your other memories, of this incident that doesn’t quite belong in your history.

 

But, whether real or not, it is a part of your mother’s history and so, perhaps, it is part of yours as well.

 

Part Four: Damage

 

“She tore our roof in half,” she sighs, “like a sheet of tissue paper.”

 

You look up at the muted television. It’s been weeks since you’ve last picked up a newspaper or listened to the news.

 

“We never boarded the windows and we ignored all of the reports, said that it was all nonsense, that no rain could ever wash away the foundation of our house,” your mother continues, oblivious to the television. “Of course, I was very silly to have believed that.”

 

On the small TV screen, a series of strange images. A group of armed soldiers run as the dirt road behind them explodes. Angry young men protesting in the street of a nameless country. A somber audience in a courtroom as a young woman dressed in orange weeps in front of a judge.

  

You realize that you have no idea what is going on in the world.

 

“When it was all said and done, I came across a shoe, a blue ballet flat, standing upright in the vegetable garden. I recognized it, immediately knew whose it was. By then she was gone, though she had left behind enough that her memory tormented us for years after. Her sweet scent lingering on his collar, the imprints of her delicate heels embedded in the carpet, the warmth of her body radiating from the bed.”

 

You close your eyes, your mother’s monologue swirling softly in your ears.

 

“You used to play with her daughter. Annie her name was. Or maybe Anna. Or Hannah.”

 

Her name was Anna, this you remember. She was a year older than you, with stringy chestnut brown hair that fell in her face, obscuring her eyes. Once, at her house, you played hide-and-seek and, as she counted earnestly from the living room, her father lifted you on top of the refrigerator, the perfect hiding spot, as her mother laughed softly at the kitchen table. Her mother, who walked the two of you to the park, who made you lasagna, who painted your nails bright pink.

 

“It was never the same after that, the house. We tried to rebuild it, your father and I, but we never managed to get it quite right. There were still cracks in the walls, loose tiles on the roof.” 

 

You shift in your chair, uncomfortably, and your mother stretches her frail hand searching for yours.

 

“Don’t go just yet.” You promise her that you won’t, hoping that she falls asleep soon.

 

You sit in almost-silence for a few minutes. The constant hum of the machines next to her bed, the mosquito-buzzing of the air conditioning, the footsteps and muffled voices from the corridor, they all bleed into one another.

 

The doctor, the handsome one with the mouth that turns up at the sides, a permanent mock smile, stands in the doorway. He catches your eye and motions to you with a tender flick of the wrist, beckoning you to follow him to the nurse’s station.

 

You look at your mother, limp in her bed, drowsy eyelids slipping, deep breaths pained.

 

“Mama,” you begin, “do you want some water?”

 

As you let go of her hand, she squints up at you.

 

“I’m just going to get us some water, okay?”

 

Her eyes are narrow, the once-vibrant blue iris has faded to a dull gray, the whites of her eyes now the yellow of aged paper. They are fixed on you, trying to bring your familiar face into focus. She reaches out, her fingers catching yours. You feel the skeletal hand in yours, you stroke it.

 

“You don’t remember the hurricane?” she asks.

 

You study her face, wide-eyed and trembling, as though begging you for forgiveness. You think about returning back home to your own husband, what you can do or say to salvage the relationship, doubting that there is in fact anything left to salvage.

 

“Yeah, mom,” you say. “I do.”

 

Part Five: Remember

 

The basement flooded and all of our books drowned. Trees fell. Telephone poles too. Whole lives were lost. And, when it all was over, the neighborhood was filled with light, a light that crept through the storm windows, a light that transformed the houses from graves to memories, wispy and ethereal like clouds that hang low on a summer afternoon.

 

And there, in the orange haze of morning, we stand, my mother and I, clutching each other’s hands, content that the cool, crisp air is still once again.