“Vortex” by Marilyn Sears Bourbon
She checked all 57 windows, the 114 locks. She twirled her way through the house, over and through things. She’d taken over this ritual of her father’s without thinking much about it, as a way to get to school on time.
As she pulled on the top half of the final window to be checked, she saw the black funnel, two, three neighborhoods away. It twisted the world, said to her it didn’t matter what windows got checked, which ones didn’t. She saw herself through that eye, a tiny thing caught in the windowpane, a bug beneath glass.
She stood still, the growl of it rattling the windows and locks. It felt strange to be unmoving, like a memory of a past life when she sat in the car while her father flew from window to window, lock to lock.
Somewhere he cried out, like one of those people under the white tents in the park on Sundays. She imagined the twister picking them up and taking them away. That’s what they wanted, her father had told her. That’s what they dreamed about.
But this she hadn’t dreamed of. Not at all. It wasn’t just to save time, her taking over the windows; it was really to make it hers instead of his, until one day he might forget. The twister said otherwise.
Things flew into its cone. Parts of houses and lawns. Porch swings and picnic tables. It moved as coins did, spinning on their sides.
She found herself, a tiny bit of herself, wanting it. She hadn’t thought of an ending until that storm blew outside. She hadn’t thought of day after day of checking and how he now needed the car windows checked, and she saw him looking at neighbor’s houses, eying their windows, wondering, that need to know flickering over his face.
It came and she closed her eyes. She was snatched up, pushed her against her father’s chest. She shook uncontrollably. In the windows behind him, she saw the funnel swerve toward trees, the roof of a shed bent in half, then broken into two.
He shifted her to his right arm. All the windows bounced in their frames, unnerved. How could he have let her become this—she didn’t know the missing word. Twisted. Sick. Crazy.
“Oh honey,” he said. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
The okays kept coming, one after another, each one wanting to be the answer, until they all swirled together and she watched them spin out of his mouth, dance in front of her, like a top.
She reached out for it. Stopped herself. She could do that. Stop herself.
“I’m scared,” she told him. “Super scared.” She stretched her arms as he had when he’d read that book, about the bunnies, telling each other how much they loved each other. “This much,” she said. “I’m scared this much.”
He didn’t seem to have heard. He set her down. He looked past her, to where the twister had disappeared. The windows finally settled. And he moved to check them.
She grabbed his pant leg.
He smiled at her. “Hey,” he said. “I thought we were on the same team.”
She shook her head.
He kneeled down. “It’s not that easy. You know that.”
“Don’t.” She held firm.
Later, in bed, she heard him downstairs, rattling things. She thought of how tight she held, with all her might, and how easily he kicked her loose. She thought of how nothing she wished for mattered. She thought of that twister, its endless rotations. She was finished with checking windows and locks, finished playing this silly game of pretend. She’d find a ride to school and back. She’d let her father have it, whatever it was.
She was done. She whispered it to herself. Done. Done. Done. She repeated it until everything else disappeared, until she could say it in her sleep, until she was certain.
Randall Brown teaches at Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (Flume Press, 2008), his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction (W.W. Norton, 2010). He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.net and has been published widely, both online and in print, including American Short Fiction, Tin House, Mississippi Review, Cream City Review, Lake Effect, and Harpur Palate.
Check out Randall’s feature here.
Good For Her!!
Powerful story Randall, well written.
Nice layering — The father’s twisted need to share an obsession,– the real-time threat of the twister revealing the depth of his disfunction. . . and the daughter, learning from the same event her need to be free from his illness. Having her use repetitiveness to create her new reality wraps it up so perfectly ! I particularly like that.
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