This week’s Tuesday Tale:
The wind surged against the house causing the screen door to bang into the frame. Julie considered getting up from the couch to latch it shut, but she had sunk so far down into the worn cushions that she just could not convince herself that it was worth it. The television gave out about half an hour ago. The only sound left was the static on the radio. Every now and then the announcer’s words could be heard over the noise, but Julie didn’t need to hear his report. She could look out of her bay window and see the hurricane’s approach. She didn’t care that she was the only one left on the island. She had heard the evacuation mandate, but paid no heed when they knocked on her door. No one would even know she was there.
She was supposed to visit her sister this weekend. All her neighbors would be assured she was safe on the mainland. There wasn’t even a car in her drive to give her away, since it had broken down two days ago and was at a garage. Her sister had arranged for a rental, but Julie cancelled at the last minute. Nothing could get her out of this house and the coming storm made her decision more resolute.
The screen door slammed against the house, then swung back into its frame with a bang.
Julie managed to drag herself from the fold of the couch cushions to latch the $0.25 hook before the wind could rip it off the house. She paused at the door. The wind and rain poured in through the screen. She could not see far, but she could feel the storm’s approach. It tingled her senses to know its power. Julie went to the kitchen, disregarding the puddle of water on the floor; the place would be far worse off in a few hours. All the electricity was out and she really wished for a mug of steaming hot tea. The plates rattled in the cabinets as the house shuttered from the gusts of wind. Julie braced herself against the counter. It was about time.
She gathered her favorite blanket in both arms and took it to her husband’s study. She stopped a minute to look at the house to frame it in her mind. This was the end of this place, its final death. She remembered the hurricanes it had withstood. For forty-seven years it had been through an array of storms, and after each Rick had carved the hurricane’s moniker into the pillars of the house. Its foundation was strong, but not strong enough for this storm. Julie knew that. It wasn’t a feeling like old sailors’ wives got when their men were off at sea, and a storm came up, and they knew it was the end. She had spent her life in that superstitious, yet suspiciously accurate culture. Her own mother had predicted her father’s fatal storm. That storm was a rough one, no doubt. Julie had studied it in her sophomore year at the university. That storm claimed the lives of many sailors in one harrowing hour as it ripped across their little section of coast, and a captain never abandons his ship. Her mother had accepted his death well, and Julie learned from her.
When she was seventeen, Julie had rebelled from the life of a sailor’s wife. She broke Rick’s heart in the latter half of their senior year of high school. Upon graduation, he was bound for the high seas and shipyards like their fathers before them and their fathers’ fathers. He was destined to marry Lady Sea and if Julie married him, she was destined to be his widow. But young Julie wanted nothing to do with destiny, and told him so between social studies and science class. After graduation Julie went to the mainland to study psychology, but she became distracted by a boy from Detroit. She switched her major so they could take classes together. He wanted to be a meteorologist, but he switched his major when they broke up three semesters later because he found a prettier girl in the English department. Through him Julie had discovered her love for high and low systems and barometric pressure. It made sense to her. The ebbs and flows played out before her like the ocean tides. She could feel it, and it was logical.
Julie smiled faintly as she closed the trap door and secured the wrought iron bolt. She remembered her first storm at the university. She was a junior and the top student in her class. The news station meteorologist invited her to join the tracking team for the first hurricane of the season. They had seen her enthusiasm, and her teacher nominated her for the extra credit. She was giddy as she packed her overnight bags back in her dormitory to stake out a storm at the news station. She had stayed up the whole night without one eyelid drooping. The hurricane skirted up the coast, but not without claiming several lives. Julie didn’t panic. However, she did steal a moment to call her mother. None of their friends were victims. Julie hung up the phone and mouthed “thank God.”
She finished her degree and started work at a small news station in Cleveland. It paid well for an entry-level position, but after the first hurricane season, Julie missed the action and wrote to her hometown news channel. They welcomed her with a position as assistant to the head meteorologist. When the old weatherman retired, he said he would only step down if she agreed to call him in for the big ones. He loved his job. Julie kept their agreement until his death.
She remembered the night she had just finished a live report on a tropical depression that would develop into a hurricane. The station phone rang in a personal call for her. Julie took it in her office, a tiny and open desk as was customary of news stations.
“Hi, Julie, saw you on the tv just a bit ago.”
Rick’s voice. Julie hadn’t seen him since high school. “Rick?”
“Yep, it’s me. Glad you remembered. Hey, can I pick you up for a bite of grub?”
Julie smiled. Sailors. They had to make plans without notice, because they never knew when they were going to be coming or going. She had to work tonight or else she would have been inclined to accept. She liked Rick. It would have been nice to catch up.
“Got to cover this storm, I’m sorry.” She hoped the apology would not deter him from asking again later.
“It’s not a hurricane yet. You can’t step out for bit?” he pushed. She was glad he pushed and she looked at the clock on her wall. Her next report wasn’t for another hour.
“It would only be for 15 minutes,” she looked at her computer. The storm was developing faster than expected. She really shouldn’t leave. “Not a minute longer.” Besides what could she do here, but watch a monitor?
“Still like chinese? I can bring take-out and we can eat in the truck. I’ll be there in ten.”
“Ten? Okay. Hey, meet me in the back.”
“Got it,” Rick said and hung up the phone.
Julie sat down on the plush fabric chair as she remembered the details of that second, first date. Rick had picked her up and they ate chinese in his truck in the back parking lot of the news station. It had been just like high school — like they hadn’t skipped a beat. She didn’t even remember what happened with the tropical depression, all she could remember of that year’s hurricane season was the way he had looked at her when she climbed up in his cab.
They had fallen in love just as easily as they did in high school, and before the spring was over, they wed. Julie was Rick’s perfect mate. For fifty-three years they had weathered every season, him on the sea and her in the newsroom. He built her a house on the shoreline for their sixth anniversary after he accepted a commission as captain for a new outfit. They didn’t choose not to have children, but none came. Neither Rick nor Julie were disappointed.
The generator cranked up, and Julie set a pot of water on it to heat. Rick had made this house especially for them. It was a captain’s house. Julie’s smile softened. A captain never leaves his ship. The saferoom was designed for hurricanes. Rick knew Julie would never leave a storm just as he would never leave his ship. If they were home together when a big one came, they would never leave their house. There was pride and honor in that promise, and they both understood the depth of its meaning. Julie understood it better now.
Julie picked up her book. She read the same one on every occasion. The spine was exhausted and she wondered if it would give out during this storm. The teapot whistled and she set the book down again. On her way to the generator, Julie cranked an old phonograph. Rick had thought of every form of entertainment that did not require electricity. The soft symphony played gently throughout the room. Rick had a secret admiration for Bach. Secret because sea boat captains should not enjoy such refinements. So Julie had claimed the taste as her own to help him avoid the embarrassment. She had learned to admire Bach over the years, and now a hurricane without his music did not feel right.
Julie sat back down with her tea and book. This storm would be a long one. She would have enough time to read the book cover to cover at her leisure.
Before the lines went out, she had called the weather room where her old friend Harry still worked. He replaced her when she left. Julie doubted whether Harry would ever retire. Harry said the hurricane would level every house on the island. He hadn’t dared to tell her that she shouldn’t stay. He knew she would.
This place was sealed tight. Ship shape. Rick ensured that. Julie tried to curl up on the loveseat, but arthritis in her knees discouraged her old habit. She found a comfortable position and began at chapter one, but she did not get through the fifth chapter before she dozed off.
She dreamed vividly of the storm that claimed Rick. It was a violent storm, but not yet a hurricane. Rick and all his crew died in that tragedy. She awoke with a start at the imagined sound of her husband’s screams. She slowed her breathing and was surprised to discover her skin covered in a film of sticky sweat. She blushed with embarrassment. It had been eight years. She shouldn’t still be having these nightmares. She sobbed. Who was there to lie to here? She missed Rick more than she could bare. The comfort of this house, the house he built for her, was all she had, and after tomorrow there would be nothing left.
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