The Great High Wind
She was soaked, hugging herself in the light rain. Her entire body drooped. She stared, her eyes registering the scene, her brain blanking.
“You okay, Bren?” someone called.
A man, who sounded familiar; Brenda tightened her self-embrace to stop herself from shaking. The rain was a drizzle now; sun was trying to punch holes in the grey above.
“Brenda! It’s going to be okay, it’s over now,” he said as he reached her.
She felt his hands on her shoulders. She tried to remember if she had a husband because a whisper in her head was saying, That’s Ryan, you idiot, you’ve been married to him for fifteen years. She heard him kick some debris, then he was in front of her, blocking her view, forcing her to look at him, not at the pile of rubble that once was her, their, house.
He took her face between his palms. “Bren, I came home as fast as I could. How did you…?
She inhaled deeply, let out the air with a heavy sigh. There were sirens; flashes of orange, red, and blue reflected off of the piles, the shreds of wreckage. Cries, voices rose and fell as more and more surviving residents gathered. She focused, pointed at the immense structure that stood, undamaged, beside their garage. “I was in there,” she said through stiff lips. “I heard him. He told me to run, to go in there.”
He followed her finger with his eyes, grunted. “How in the world is that thing still standing?” He turned slightly to get a better view. “Damn that thing is ugly. Your father was one mean SOB … ‘I’m paying the bills, I can do what I want in the yard’….”
Brenda shook both her hands as if to restore circulation. “Ryan … what the hell happened.? Was it a twister?”
He quickly returned his attention to his wife, hugged her. “Yeah, they’re saying an F-5. I was watching the Weather Channel at work, and they were tracking the storm block by block, and I saw on the radar that it was coming for our street….” It seemed to hit him then. His face crinkled, his mouth stretched as he tried to stop tears. “There’s nothing left. It’s like, everything was torn into pieces.”
“Except for that.” Brenda shivered as she gazed at her father’s monstrosity. His folly. The Tower, he’d called it. A tiered, windowless, three-story spiraling structure made of steel and poured concrete with a cut-stone facade that looked like some kind of lunatic step-temple, the base no more than twenty feet in diameter.
Some of their neighbors stopped beside them. The Howells from next door who had lost their home, the Fieldstadts from down the street, who suffered very little damage. “How is that disgusting thing still standing when everything else was flattened?” Elsie Fieldstadt nearly shouted.
“It’s my dad,” Brenda said. Something fluttered like a trapped butterfly deep in her chest. Her father had been domineering, arrogant, used to getting his way. He’d constructed normal, four-square buildings for other people his whole life. He built this unearthly, impossible tower for himself. He never told anyone why. “He said we’d find out what it was for, one day….”
“Your father was a public menace,” Todd Howell said. “How in God’s name is our place completely gone and yours too, and that pile of shit is still there?”
“Todd, shut up,” Ryan interrupted. “You sued us twice to take it down and lost, so shut the hell up. I don’t like it either, I’ve told you, but Brenda’s father built the thing–put the last stone in place the day before he died–and Brenda has complicated issues with….” He trailed off as something came crashing down in one of the ruins around them. The tower caught his attention again. “That damn thing doesn’t have a mark on it,” he muttered.
Paramedics were approaching, and a couple of sheriff’s deputies. Brenda made her way through a few feet of mess, as if the tower drew her. She heard a strident woman’s voice yell, “Mrs. Shaughnessy, please stay where you are. It isn’t safe.” She felt her husband’s grip as he gently restrained her by her upper arms. “But it saved me,” she said to her husband. “He told me to get inside, and I ran, and when I bolted the door, it was wonderful! Peaceful, not even the roar of the wind!”
“Come with us, Mrs. Shaughnessy,” one of the EMT’s said, taking her by a hand.
She resisted. “But I’m fine. Not a scratch on me. My daddy saved me!”
Ryan exchanged a worried look with the EMT worker, then pulled his wife close and hugged her again. “Sweetie,” he said, “why don’t you go along to the ambulance anyway, just to make sure, okay?”