The front door slammed. Roger’s boots clomped along the floor towards me in the bedroom. The sound stopped near the bed.
“Marcy, you’re in the same position as when I left this morning.” He sighed.
He leaned over to give me a kiss, but I pulled my legs closer to my chest and my head towards my knees, icy air piercing through a tear in the back of my sweatpants. His lips stopped short of touching my cheek. His warm breath reeked of garlic and coffee.
I could feel Roger’s disapproving gaze as he stood. “Did you take a shower today?” Maybe because I’d worn the same gray sweatshirt and pants for the past three days or maybe because I’d stopped caring about coloring the gray streaking my chocolate brown hair.
“You eating dinner with me tonight? I can order a pizza. Even one of those Hawaiian ones with pineapple if you want.”
I didn’t respond. I wanted to but I didn’t.
Roger sighed again walked out of the room. I heard the fridge open. A bottle cap popped, and I knew he’d opened a beer, just like every day. The blare of a Channel 5 Breaking News alert filled the living room. “Oklahoma City is under a tornado warning,” the reporter announced.
I stared out the window at the foreboding storm clouds swirling above the magnolia tree. The bell on Tammy’s overturned pink tricycle dinged furiously. I shut my eyes and let the fog of Haldol, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, and Ambien wash over me. Dr. Stein said the meds would help stabilize me. It had been two years, and I was still waiting.
I pictured the magnolia blossoming snowy white in the spring.
The wind’s howling grew stronger, and thunder rumbled closer and closer. I still didn’t open my eyes.
The floorboards creaked. Roger must have come back into the room. The bed sagged behind me from his weight. He put his hand on my shoulder and gently squeezed.
“Sweetie, I think we need to go to the basement. It’s looking really scary out there, and I’ve got a terrible feeling.”
I didn’t respond, but I wanted to.
“Did you hear me, Marcy?”
He rubbed my arm up and down. I imagined Tammy dancing around the tree on a sunny day.
“I wish things were different,” he said.
Tammy tucked a magnolia behind her left ear into her auburn hair and sang a made up song about a whale dancing in the sky. Her missing front teeth made her lisp.
“Are you thinking about her?” Roger paused. “I am too. I think about her all the time.”
Was he sniffling? Crying?
“I wish I could hug her every day and see her smile.”
He lay down beside me, close, but not touching. Those inches separating us felt like the Grand Canyon.
My tears streamed onto the pillow. I wanted him to hug me, but he didn’t. I wanted to hug him, but I couldn’t.
“Honey, do you see the storm out there? It’s really bad. We’ve got to go down into the basement now.”
I didn’t move. I drifted aloft the whirling winds in my mind to memories of Tammy riding her tricycle along the sidewalk, Tammy telling me she hated ballet class after the first day, Tammy playing in the rain wearing her Dora the Explorer raincoat and matching rain boots.
“Marcy?” The bed shook. Or was that Roger shaking me? “Marcy! Wake up!”
Roger was on the phone. “I think she took the whole bottle. What do you mean you can’t send someone? She needs help now, not after the storm blows over.”
Roger’s fingers felt cold on my neck. “She’s got a pulse, but it’s really slow,” he said into the phone.
Tammy ran around the tree collecting the flowers that had dropped. She offered up the bundle. “For you, Mommy.”
Winds raged outside the window. The tornado siren wailed. Roger raced down the hall and then back into the bedroom.
“You’re going to be ok, Marcy. Don’t worry.”
Tammy tossed the flowers in the air, showering herself with white petals. She giggled in glee.
Roger jumped onto the bed. He tried to get his arms underneath me, but I didn’t budge. I was no longer the waif he had met at OSU. A tree branch cracked outside the window.
“You’re gonna have to help me out, Marcy. If you can hear me, and I hope you can, you gotta help me get you to the basement. I’m not leaving you up here with a tornado coming.”
Tammy scrambled up the magnolia tree in her green overalls. She sat on a branch and made chipmunk faces at me. I yelled at her to get down from there. I don’t remember the branch snapping or Tammy falling. I don’t remember running to her and screaming. What I remember is Roger finding me under the tree cradling Tammy’s broken body, and Roger wrenching Tammy away from me. “She’s gone,” he had said. “She’s gone.”
Roger heaved me onto the floor and rolled me onto a blanket. He dragged me down the hall. “I’m sorry about this, sweetie,” he said. My body bumped along each step as Roger pulled me down the stairs into the basement.
The thunderous winds sounded like a freight train passing overhead. Roger pressed me to his chest, and I could hear his frantic heartbeat. “Shh. Stay with me, Marcy. Help will be here soon.” I felt Roger’s strong embrace and the warmth from his body filled my heart. “Please don’t leave me.”
Now Tammy was wearing her favorite yellow dress, the last dress she ever wore. She stretched out her hand holding a magnolia, beaming with sunshine. I reached for the flower, tucked it behind my ear and took her hand.
Jonathan Ochoco grew up in Houston, Texas, but has called San Francisco home for nearly 20 years. A lawyer by training and compliance officer for a global investment management firm, he enjoys his dogs and is an avid curler. After not writing for many years, he’s started again, hoping to finish and publish a novel. This is Ochoco’s first publishing credit. You can find him on Twitter @mrochoco
Whirlwind is a 2016 Fiction War Fall Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @anniespratt