Name of a Storm

There was a hurricane in the yard and a woman in her bed — twisted in the sheets, one sock lost in the duvet. The socks were soft brown, like deli meat, with white grippers pockmarking the bottoms. They were the kind given in hospitals. Was it a simple gallbladder removal, or more sinister, like a suicide attempt?

Constance didn’t know. She hadn’t even learned her name before bringing her home. 

They met at the bar just before the town’s curfew. The news anchor warned, “Be where you need to be by 10 P.M.” But at nine, Constance was drunk and talking to this woman outside the Biergarten, paying no mind to the “stay at home order.” The owner kept pushing them out the door, but they stayed at the picnic table, beside a giant JENGA game whose wooden rods were going soft in the pre-storm rain.

Constance now stood on her back porch. It was raining, still; the work of a hurricane.  Quite uncommon for late November yet here it was, ransacking the town. Trees shook their mottled hips, branches moving left and right with the wind directing them to swing this way and that. Lightning; pipe cleaner zips glued to the navy sky, left thin wisps of smoke, maybe fire.

She didn’t know.

Constance didn’t know anything, it seemed. She hardly prepared for the storm, instead choosing to forget. She was good at avoidance. She avoided the grocery stores packed with people and lines of gasoline. There wasn’t enough food for a day, let alone seven. All that forgone for a drink and a girl—someone she still didn’t know, and with whom she now sheltered in place.

The girl couldn’t have been older than twenty-nine, thirty. Her eyes were ironed flat without crows feet, lashes staring down cherub cheeks. And her lips were naturally fuschia and bright, like bubble gum. She hadn’t been wearing lipstick. This surprised Constance. No one’s lips are that naturally pink, or so she thought, until she met the girl. Her hair was the color of electrical tape—natural too, so she claimed such lucky genes. Constance’s own hair was dull; brown and graying. Her eyes were grey as a funnel cloud, but nowhere near as piercing, or unpredictable. Even her name, Constance, was steadfast and drab as she. She never knew anything. She never did anything, or asked questions, or tried things aside from women.

The girl in her bed, she bet, was different, clearly accustomed to one night stands. She was innocent but rebellious, and likely had a name to match. The name of a girl bred in a small town, in a house full of mounted deer who eats venison and raw eggs for breakfast. Plastic, dollar store horses on her dresser and a baby doll strung out on her bed. This doll is missing an arm and her hair is a blond tumbleweed. Bright, paisley dresses hang in her closet, boots and white sneakers, both covered in dirt. Big shirts from her high school clubs cuffed at the sleeve, and denim shorts with flowers embroidered on the pockets. It was a pretty name, no doubt. Something modern yet rustic, like Bradleigh or Calah, or Brooks.

Still, just a name tossed onto her nightstand like a quarter or a used tissue.

Small shrubs lost their leaves to the wind. This made Constance worry about the storm. She should have paid attention to the news. She could have—easily—but chose nescience. Distance gives her safety from her own discontent.

Water bloated the tops of her house shoes. Now damp, the nylon and rubber looked dank and black. She used that shoe the night before to smack color into the girl’s backside. She’d moaned in ecstasy, arched her backside higher up for Constance to see. Constance mounted her like a duck in heat, sunk her mouth into the girl’s slender neck. The lack of decorum was very unlike her, but the chaos of the storm and the buzz of the beers gave her an often lost credence. Their sex had been strong and frantic, the outer bands of their hands twisting in torrid juices and cotton sheets. Constance kept a distance while holding her in her arms.

Storms end, and women leave.

They always do.

From the porch, she still heard the news anchor on the television. She hadn’t lost power, but she would, invariably. She also worried about the oak tree bent over the neighbor’s fence.

She took a deep breath, a sip of coffee. Thunder boomed, and the lights flickered. The weatherman’s voice turned to static. Constance sighed; she never learned the storm’s name. She watched a drop of water grow fat as it trailed down the wall.

And then the world was white; sterile, hospital white, the fence washed clean by rain, buffed and polished, visible in the moment of pause. Even trees blanched and boiled, leaves glimmering with bits of starlight contained in raindrops. The sun came through the clouds — jaundiced, slimy red — a spotted pupil piercing the clouds, bringing calm.

Constance turned her face to the sky. It was quiet, for now. On the other side of the eyewall was another raging storm. She wouldn’t wait for Constance to be prepared. With the dolesome turn of the heel, Constance went to salvage the girl from her cloudburst sheets.


FFO: What is the story behind your story?

AJ: Last year, I lived through Hurricane Ian and Subtropical Storm Nicole. Being a native Floridian, I am no stranger to inclement weather; in fact, I love it. I am neurodivergent and meteorology is one of my special interests. I find myself coming back to hurricanes in my work quite often. After Ian, specifically, I remember standing on my screened in back porch. (*After* the storm had passed — unlike my story’s protagonist, I don’t go out in storms themselves). Something that surprised me was the sky: it was white. So white it bleached everything; the trees, the grass, my neighbor’s fence. In the wreckage was all that white light, and it stuck with me. What started as a natural observation culminated into a deep dive on the parallels between my own emotional immaturity and how ill-prepared even the most seasoned Floridian can have when it comes to acts of nature. We get too comfortable and think nothing will come of the storm. Sometimes it takes an (almost) category 5 storm to make you realize some hard truths.

To read the entire interview...

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