It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Storm.
It’s always been there, behind us, whispering through the shuddering ground. A background roar behind the wind. We’d been ahead for so long, moving slightly faster than its clockwork crawl. Until the mountains. Then, as we ground ourselves upward against these slopes, we heard it rumbling closer, a rising quake in the earth. But it’s been a while since I turned around and actually saw it. Sitting here on the side of the mountain, in the frigid morning, it fills my vision and stings my eyes with the monstrous unreality of it.
It rises like an unbroken wall into the sky, obscured only by the limits of my sight, fading into the clear blue, and stretching away north and south, curving away with the earth. The sunlight doesn’t seem to touch it. Nothing does. At the ground, where the churning wall of sickly blue lightning and black clouds grinds across the earth, I can see the Unmaking. The lower peaks, already shaking apart, burst and ablate away at the event horizon of the Storm. The land dips before the onslaught, as if shying away from the kiss of the boiling wall. I can feel the violence beneath my feet as millions of tons of ancient mountain falls away into its infinite maw.
It’s going to be on me in a few hours. I wonder if I’ll die when the peak caves away, crushed in a free-fall of slate and stone, or whether I’ll be alive when the Storm touches me, shredded and atomized, erased and Unmade. I wonder, again, what it might feel like.
I shut them out, make my world the rusting footbridge, the warm air, and the dark water below. An untouched bubble of space that I alone inhabit. On the worn concrete abutment beneath me, someone has scrawled in white paint the words LOOK UP, and I do so, without thinking, the command bypassing conscious thought. The sky is perfectly blue, cerulean above me and cornflower in the distance. I tumble the words through my hands, adding to them: azure, cobalt, bondi, indigo, ultramarine. The blues merge and swirl, dripping through my hands leaving long streaming trails of letters.
I shake my head and laugh loud, listening to the sound travel on the warm breeze. Happy. For the first time in many months, I am free, in control. My life is my own again.
I try to ignore the voice, but I know Alex is already walking down the bridge toward me. The brief surge of freedom is already starting to fade. I try to hold tight to the moment, leaning out and surveying the debris choked creek beneath. What I had taken for a filthy styrofoam beer cooler catches my eye, and I look closer and see a green and mossy haunch. A rotting human thigh, the remaining skin greenish white, the rest of the body vanishing into the algae choked water.
I feel sick, the last scraps of joy congealing, turning rancid. The fear is creeping back in. I turn to Alex, my island of calm in the half-year storm, and watch him walk towards me like a barefoot saint, his sandy hair tangled and wild. His wide and white grin lights up his face beneath dark eyes, and the fear does not vanish, but halts its approach.
“How you feeling, Roger?” He asks, his eyes twinkling.
My mother is crying so loud that at first I can’t make out the words. When I pick his name from the tinny sine wave of her wailing, I know my brother Lev is dead. My guts constrict, wrapping into a knot, and I the air rushes out of me. I let her go as I struggle to stand, eyes tilting skyward to stem the tears. When she’s out of breath, I hear my father’s cracked baritone mutter. After a while I start to hear his words, hear ‘shiva’, and my guts twist again, counterclockwise this time.
They want me to come home.
I land in time for the funeral, crossing the continent in a few bleary hours. At the cemetery, I still wear the sweaty reek of the plane’s cabin on my clothes. The coffin is in the ground before I fully grasp what it means: this is my brother’s body, and this is forever. I’m still spinning the thought like a smooth stone in my hand when we arrive home. I place my bags onto a familiar bed that looks smaller than I remember, and return to the ground floor.
I shake hands and nod to a swirling fog of faces from childhood, grown strange with age. I find the rhythm in answering the same questions, my work, my life, the past twenty years, and soon I no longer have to think about the responses.
The faces drift away with the daylight, and the house becomes dark and empty. Wherever I twist my eyes, something triggers a tiny explosion of memories. A dented baseboard. Dull silver on a salt shaker.
My mother and father sit side by side in plastic folding chairs across from the couch. For a moment I think about helping them to some relative comfort. The moment passes. I sit in my father’s overstuffed recliner, and try to keep my head above the flood.
The edges of my vision grow dim – there’s something odd about the light. I look to my mother, and see the shining chrome trim of her glasses, see the dark hollows of her eyes almost black. The contrast sharpens, and the uncanny light becomes too painful to look at, to even think about. I shake my head, and look back to the neutral tones of the embroidered couch.
My brother is there.
Dressed in funereal black, his hair is long and wild. He is staring at me, and beneath his uneven beard, his mouth moves. No sound escapes, not even the sibilant pops and clicks of lips and teeth. No breath.
Engines whir in my head, and I close my eyes. I’m tired. Under extreme stress. Still not quite well. I should have expected this. I press fingertips to my eyes, and focus on the purple and blue geometric explosions of false light. Count the angles and lines. Breathe.
Lev leans forward, reaching his arms across the table at our parents, and his lips continue to dance without sound. My parents look down, leathery faces impassive. My father is asleep.
Lev turns to me, and his bright eyes flash. He smiles. That wild, wide Lev smile. Mischief and revelation and something else. He speaks, and with a sudden snap, like the bursting of a soap bubble, I hear.
“The light, Ronen. Can you see?”
Breath escapes me like a pierced balloon, one long sigh until I am empty, and at last I begin to cry. Lev’s eyes are locked on mine, and I clutch at the moment, until the creak of my father standing breaks the silence.
“I’m glad you’re home,” he mumbles as he takes my mother and leads her towards the stairs. “Thank you.”
Irrational, childish anger wells up in me, and I turn to scream at him, but the strange light has faded. I am crying in an old chair in a familiar room on a warm, wet evening.
Lev is gone.
When Conner arrived at the gas station, he exited the car with a speed that surprised even him. He took a few quick steps, almost at a run, before turning back towards the car. Under the garish sodium lights of the service station, the little blue sedan looked a sickly greenish gray. It looked squat and malign in its stillness. The little throbbing headache at the base of his skull seemed to diminish with every step and he began to catch his breath.
He took the phone from his pocket and raised it high into the night sky, waving it from side to side like a signal flag. Nothing. The signal meter defied him by remaining empty. Not even a flashing roaming message. Conner scowled at the little phone and thrust it back into his pocket.
He glanced around at the station, two solitary pumps and a closed convenience market. An isolated island of pale yellow light in the dark of the North Carolina forest, the silhouettes of the trees bit sharply into the starry night sky, surrounding him like a ring of teeth. The grating hum of electricity mingled with the crackling of insects from the woods beyond, drifting in the warm summer night air.
Jutting from the side of the shuttered market was a scraped and listing pay phone, its metal stalk visibly bent from some long ago impact. Conner approached it, digging a quarter from his pocket, and gripping the scarred plastic handset. For a moment, nothing happened, and the sense of isolation deepened, like the ground being pulled out from under him, and the panic returned. A series of quick clicks bit into his ear and the dial tone chimed. His fingers felt numb as he dialed.
Even at a few hours past midnight, Reynolds answered on the first ring.
The night before I lost her, my wife and I fought about something I cannot remember. I remember the yelling, the sweat on her brow as she spat sharp words, I remember the welling frustration inside as I tried to remain calm, until I snapped, and began to fight back, only resisting for the sake of resisting. I remember the uneasy stubborn silence as we prepared for bed, opening all the upstairs windows, pulling all but the last sheet from the bed. I remember the heat of the night, cruelly unfaltering even into the small hours. I remember wanting so badly to touch her in the dark, to begin that small reconciliation, and I remember Linda pushing me away, gently. The argument was forgotten, I have to believe, and it was only the heat that kept us apart, that pushed me away.
She was gone when I awoke, the sun already hanging, bloated in the white and opalescent sky. She had taken the car, gone to work, leaving me a small pot of oatmeal simmering on the electric stove. Next to it, on the marble countertop was a glass of orange juice and a little yellow post-it, cheery and bright, with a quick pencil sketched heart, and a single word: ‘Sorry.’ Like that, the unrest was gone, and I remembered how in love we were.
I spent the day avoiding my contracts and my studio entirely, and instead began to clean and dust the house, running a series of damp cloths over every flat surface. My allergies were already flaring as the early summer heat coaxed a thousand weeds and flowers to disgorge a miasma of pollen into the air, drifting in through every loose fitting window pane. No matter how hard the anemic air conditioner chugged, the heat never dissipated, and my sinuses flared in the thick dusty air.