Can't Run (Category Five)
My first two wives both died when they were in their twenties. Lisa was a bright and energetic girl who loved motorcycles and cats. She had brown hair with brown eyes. She had a thing for antiques and every so often she hinted that she wanted anal sex. She died on Halloween, the day after her birthday, from a stroke caused by her Lupus. She wasn't a perfect wife. And a lot of it between us was physical. But it didn't seem to bother either one of us back then. We both liked each other when it counted. No one could take that away from us. It seemed like a lot when I was younger. Not so much now.
My second wife, Pamela, was different. She wasn't Lisa. Pamela was more like my daughter. More like a long, lost best friend. And the feelings I felt for her I had never felt for another woman. It was instantaneous with Pamela. As soon as we had our first conversation at Christopher Rosa's party--two voices intertwined out on the back porch under the bright stars. I thought I was going to be sick. I saw the same thing written on her face. We talked until four in the morning. It was almost unbearable.
We married six months later. She listened to Tanita Tikaram, read Pete Dexter, exercised too much. She taught me how to ski at Sugar Bush. She always believed you had to have dessert every night. I taught her about House Museums, sequoia trees, Europe, and Hot Wheels. She was my best friend. I was in love with her. Even at the time I couldn't believe that I was in love with someone like that.
We said good-bye one morning. She went to work. I didn't know it would be the last time I would ever see her alive.
I got a call about three that afternoon. There's been a shooting! A recently fired employee walked into Human Resources and shot everyone who hadn't gone out to lunch. Pamela did the same two things everyday: made her bed and made her lunch, which she spread out over the course of the morning like a long hello: bran flakes at eight, banana at nine, grapes at ten, raisons at eleven. She was shot in the head at twelve twenty-two while she was still eating her chicken sandwich on rye.
When I went to identify her at the morgue she looked asleep. I was glad about this. I was afraid her face might have been full of pain. But it wasn't. Just a tiny hole that didn't look big enough to kill someone. To this day I still wonder where the person inside her body went. It wasn't at the morgue with me that day. I wonder and I wonder.
I've been together with my third wife for over eight years now. I meet her in the Florida Keys right after a small hurricane. She was drinking in Sloppy Joe's. I saw her from across the street. We've been through other hurricanes since: Gloria. Hugo. Bob. Sometimes I hoped we would be killed in one of these hurricanes. I could be with Pamela again, but where would Maria go?
The first hurricane was in Marblehead, Massachusetts. We drove up there and got stranded in a high school shelter for three days. All we had was Tang, that a.m. radio, and an eighteen-piece bucket of Kentucky Friend Chicken. We had no napkins.
The next time we got caught was in Charleston, South Carolina. We had tried to race to Keys to try to hit the full brunt of the storm, but we didn't make it to that eye. The winds took the paint off of one whole side of the car. I had to have the Buick completely repainted.
The third time we were stupid again and mocked that hurricane at Beaver Tail Point at Jamestown, Rhode Island. We sat in the car that time, and at one point I thought the wind was going to turn the damn Buick right over. One wave came up and splash across the windshield. I almost peed my pants.
Maria had been a stripper once. Whenever she drank or she listened to Rhythm of the Saints she would tell me how her older sister had molested her when she was eight years old. Her sister made Maria do things to her and not the other way around. It bothered me that a girl would molest another girl. I didn't think those types of things happened. I was twenty years older than her, and after she told me these things all I did was want to be nice to her. She knew about Lisa. She kind of identified more with Pamela though. She never tried to change the way I felt about Pamela. Maybe that's why I cared about her so much. She didn't try to change me. Were we a husband and wife? Were we just two friends? Roommates? Strangers? We knew what were. She chased the hurricanes too.
We arrived on the outskirts of Homestead, Florida and the streets were nearly deserted. Just a dog walking around a parking lot. There was a strange and ominous orange glow splayed out across the horizon out near the water. It was the color orange that you only see that a cat has sometimes in its eyes. It was the color orange of a mango. My mother gave me my first taste of mango. Who gave you your first taste of mango? Was it in the summertime?
Maria and I got the last room at Motel 6. The windows faced the west. We parked the Buick out back so it faced east. The wind would hit the trunk. Less paint damage.
A flood of humid air and mist blew the curtains away from the sides of the window. When we looked out the front windows we could see the southern horizon off in the distance, out over the bedroom communities of both Homestead and Cutler Ridge. The sky out over the ocean had turned a sprite-green color and as it moved inland the clear part of it began to bellow a rust hue.
"We're going to get walloped!" I said as I looked out the window.
"Well, that's what we want, tiger" Maria said very calm.
She ran her hand through her long, brown hair. I could see the outline of her body in the dark. Her silhouette cut her neck and shoulders and breasts. Even in the dark she was beautiful. I only wished I could see her eyes.
"Can't we turn the lights on? The wind's gonna knock it out soon enough," she said in the dark.
"We might as well get used to it now. I can feel coming closer."
"I feel it too. My ears are tight. This is huge, Michael! Maybe this isn't such a good idea. This is suppose to be our vacation. It wouldn't have hit Orlando."
"You're having second thoughts?"
She let out a loud, heavy breath.
"No." I suddenly sensed her smile. "I want the damn eye to come right over us. Bury us. I want to laugh through it."
Maria leaned over and put her arms around me.
"Don't I threaten you?" she said. She purposely bit down on my ear.
"Having to live without you would threaten me. I would have to pray to God all the time if that happened."
"What if you couldn't pray to God?"
"Then I would be an atheist."
"Then who would you pray to?"
"Hmmm, I would pray to the TV."
"But it wouldn't answer you back, tiger."
"Sure it would. It would tell me there was life before the Cambrian Age. That Homer and Sophocles were out making love in my neighbor's birdbath. It would woo me to sleep at night, shoot breezes through the backyard, kaleidoscope of tubes and symmetrical spheres. It would say: God is dead. You are dead."
"Are we crazy for walking into a hurricane on our vacation?" she asked me. "It feels like winning, doesn't it? It feels like the finish line. Don't you feel it? This makes me feel!"
I didn't say anything. I could feel this big blue inside of me. I could feel Pepsi running through my veins. I could feel the left on one side of me. I could feel the right on the other side of me. I could feel my liver and kidneys and intestines turning black. I could feel my monkey-ape heart.
"I feel drunk," I said.
I looked outside. The sky was afire in a knavish curve of green lightening.
A flash sparkled into the air outside the window. There was a loud bang and the stoplight across the street came crashing to the ground.
Maria went to try and turn on the light. Nothing happened. Her red silhouette turned and looked over at me.
"The power's dead," Maria said. Her voice was nervous.
"I feel like we're in Dresden....waiting to be bombed."
"No," I said. My heart began to beat wildly. "It's like the blitzkrieg."
I saw Marie look at me inside of that Motel 6.
"Do you think God put us together, Michael?"
I turned and walked over to the window, feeling my way in the darkness, across over to the bathroom sink, and then the window. I thought about it. What does God do? Does he put two people together? Does he put two people apart? Does he do nothing for now?
I looked outside down the alley, out at the surf crashing against the shore down on the beach. The black and green waves swirled and counter-swirled. They looked the way Fitzgerald would have wrote then and not the way Hemingway would have had them.
My ears began to pop.
"Try to yawn," I told my wife.
I could sense her smiling as I walked over to her. I took her in my arms and held her face on my shoulder like it was a violin.
"I don't think God put us together," I said to her.
"Maybe the devil did?" she laughed.
I turned and looked through the door so I was looking out the bathroom window again. I could see the gray funneling wall of Hurricane Andrew just off shore.
"We're gonna get walloped!" I whispered.
"Shhhh!" Maria said.
The gray, dirty wind came galloping toward the Motel 6. I could feel Maria hold onto me tighter. I could feel her breath against my neck and her fingernails digging into my back.
Large pieces of ruin came flying off of buildings, slamming into the sides of the hotel. A large palm frond came crashing through the window. "Dammit!" I said. A piece of glass hit me in the forehead. Maria screamed, clutched her forehead, and fell to the floor. "Michael!" she screamed.
I looked down at my wife and the shards of glass had opened a cut just above her left eyebrow.
"This is different," she said to me, scared, her voice shouting, loud, over the wind.
I dragged Maria across the floor, over to the bathroom. Debris flew in through the window, slamming against the wall beside the bed, leaving large indentations in the plaster like invisible punches hitting the walls.
I struggled to shut the bathroom door. I locked it when it was shut.
I looked at Maria and pointed at the tub.
"Get in it," I said, and we quickly laid down inside.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"No," I whispered.
We lie there and listen to what sounded like an unending bomb hitting the world outside. The bathroom window was suddenly sucked outward and the rain came splashing in sideways. I thought of my job back home and who would take care of the dogs. I looked up out of the tub and I saw the bathroom wall disappear and blow up into the air.
Within a second we were outside and the walls around us were expanded away and there was only the bathtub and the toilet.
I saw several small twisters and then we were in one. I felt lifted up off the ground, lost in a gray and line-less swirl of wind and metal, wood and littered tiles.
I saw Maria fly up above me and disappear.
I awoke alone in a field, nowhere near anything I recognized. I tried to sit up but I felt stuck to the ground.
It was dark and raining out and there was still a storm around. I closed my eyes and could hear voices. I looked up and I saw a woman standing there just off in the distance in front of a sylvan of reeds. And then there was darkness. "Pam!" I called out. "Pam! Is that you?" I heard something move near me and I opened my eyes.
There was a light, and I didn't know whether I was dead or alive. I looked up. It was Pamela who was standing there. "What took you so long?" she said. "You make it sound easy," I said in the most joyous voice there ever was.
About the author:
Jéanpaul Ferro lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. His work has appeared in Cortland Review, Identity Theory, Portland Monthly, Hawaii Review, Newport Review, The Plaza, Outsider's Ink, Pedestal Magazine, and Mid-South Review. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he has had his poetry featured on WBAR radio in NYC. His book of short fiction, All the Good Promises, was published in 1994 by Plowman Press.