All Shook Down
The first time I saw a funnel cloud I was six years old, a transplant to Indianapolis from Manhattan, where they didn't seem to have these damn things, and we were all on the back porch watching the sky, looking for that vicious turning in the black night. Then green lightning flashed and we saw it, looming over us. I was running around in my underwear and all I could think about, even when I was six, was I need to get on some pants because I'm not going to be spun up into the sky with my little padoogle hanging out of my shorts because for some reason I thought it would be some kick-ass fun to run around my living room in the my Boba Fett Underoos, which I was starting to get a little old for but I didn't really care. And then we noticed how still and green everything had gotten outside, as if a film projector for the entire world had caught in the reel and was about to melt and show that way cool twisted orange and green thing right before the movie about the sexual reproduction system of turtles was forever ruined. Then the air-raid siren from the firehouse started to wail and my dad turned on the TV where they confirmed that a funnel cloud was over Quail Run apartments, and even I at the age of six in my Boba Fett Underoos knew that was where we were living and we were going to die.
My dad ran out the door to the apartment above us where two fifteen-year-old twin girls were home by themselves because their mom had to work nights and their dad was off with a stripper in some place like Seattle and hadn't been around for about five years. So they came down and it looked like they were running around in their underoos or something too, though looking back now that's probably an exaggeration on my part and it was probably just normal shorts and t-shirts but give a guy a break if he adds a little spice to his damn memories. But even then at six, in my Underoos, I sensed that there was something I should notice about these girls, something I could not take my eyes off, so I ran around the living room half-panicked by what was in the sky and half freaked out by my obsession with them and their long blonde hair and shorts and then I heard the wind pick up outside and everything started to move in a way that I can only call an end of the world shake, like a earthquake on crack.
One of the girls, Janie, who would later become my baby sitter and my first of many unrequited loves, picked me up and pressed me to her chest. Her heart was beating so hard I could feel it on my thigh and looked down to see if it had ripped through her chest and she was bleeding on my leg. Her soft pats on my back somehow calmed me and made me think of my mom, who was probably sitting in an her Bleecker street apartment, wondering what I was doing and not having any idea that I was falling in love for the first time and about to die and not sure how to feel about the whole thing.
"We have to get to a basement," she said to my dad, who had no idea about these things.
"We don't have a basement," he said weakly.
I looked over at her sister, Eileen, who was standing still watching the whole situation with tears running down her face, which made tears run down my face but I was only six and had yet to find out that Eileen cried at anything. She cried because her dad ran away with a stripper to someplace like Seattle, she cried because she knew her mother did coke and slept with any guy she met and she cried because we all looked at her and knew that her life, essentially, was not going to go well. Still, she scared me with her fear.
"Bathroom then," Janie said with the voice of a kid used to taking care of everyone.
My dad stopped for a minute and I imagined him imagining my mom in Manhattan looking out of her window at a cool June rain, her mind only occasionally reaching us and then floating over to something more concrete like the randomness of numbers or the distance of stars. He did what he could to save me. Grabbing me from Janie, giving her a dad like peck on the cheek that she may never have had and then putting his arm around Eileen, he lead us all into the bathroom.
Immediately, my dad took the down the mirror from the wall, and Janie began unscrewing the light bulb over the toilet.
"Glass," Janie said to answer my unasked question.
Once all of the glass was safely in the hallway and the door was as locked as it could ever possibly be, Janie and my dad climbed into the bathtub, pulling us behind them and I started wonder if we were all about to take a shower together which sounded really weird but also seemed like fun and then I remember we were all going to die when a horrible crashing, shaking, booming noise broke through the apartment.
We looked at each other, trying to decide if it was over. It was.
Eileen was inconsolable. She had been rocking back in forth in the bathtub and now she couldn't stop herself, tears streaming quietly down her cheek and her shoulders shaking and heaving.
Dad grabbed me and pulled me up to his chest.
When we walked out of the bathroom, we were immediately outside. Our apartment, and all of the apartments and house around us were all a pile of splinters and sirens were blaring and people were standing in the street barely dressed, holding the few things they owned that were still in one piece. I knew that people were dead underneath those piles. We stood there watching, knowing that we would be leaving soon and wondering what the hell were we doing there in the first place.
About the author:
Jeff Barnosky is a teacher and writer living in Philadelphia. He's written a young-adult novel Hold My Life that he's trying to publish, a screenplay The Sex Life of Virgins that he's trying to sell, and a bunch of other stuff. He's been published in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Exquisite Corpse, and Haypenny.