Considering Moving to Mississippi, a Storm Hits
by Sean Ennis
A purple bubble of thunder blows over Memphis. No rain. The planes, delayed, rotate above the airport like slices of pie in that concourse diner’s spinning case.
It’s impossible to imagine B. up there—here, finally, but not—after a year of this game played in airports, over the phone. Just one more mile to go, honey, but straight down. I know you’re scared.
Planes get hit by lightning all the time. It doesn’t shock anyone. It’s just one of those things.
My brother described flying home at night—Detroit to Philadelphia—on top of lightning. Told me over a beer, “The clouds were like rooms. Someone was coming home, and turning on all the lamps.”
I hate these kinds of stories because I have my own: the whole cabin screaming in turbulence over Texas. B.’s soda slamming against the ceiling. Then, two more hours spent quiet, us passengers holding up the plane with our minds, waiting for the bottom to drop out again, and applause when we landed.
I was a sweaty-palmed coward then, with no trust or faith. I’m the same here, a year later, at the bottom of Memphis, waiting on her. But an orange needle of sun finally bursts the bubble, and planes appear and drop like someone was crunching the clouds into steel.
After the marathon through that terminal, towards baggage claim, me, she says, “It feels so good to be on the ground. I could take my shoes off on this carpet. It might as well be grass.”
Then a man riding a vacuum thunders past sucking up glass and luggage, so she keeps them on.
The drive to my apartment is flat as a runway, rimmed with lights. She says, “Mississippi’s so beautiful and green! Even tornados are pretty, I bet!”
I disagree. The state has been gray all winter. Most days have no weather at all, like a cabin pressurized above a storm, until there’s some violence of sun or wind, tearing the cabin apart.
B. says, “I could live here. I’ll send for my things like an actress. I’ll waitress or sell books. Never ride a subway again. I hate blues music, but I do like pickles better fried.”
She says, “My Dad called. Kate is missing. Sherri’s engaged. I can’t get anyone on the phone.”
She says, “Boy, you sure smoke a lot now, and drive awful slow. Everyone here talks funny. Your new friends are terrible.”
For a week, I wake up shocked to find her next to me. Get annoyed I have to close the door when I go to the bathroom. We watch the news after making dinner, and see a four-seater flipped over on the tarmac in Memphis. We go to opposite corners of the apartment like boxers, and she’s reading the longest book ever, so I guess I’ll take a walk.
But when the sirens start, and a giant fist of wind knocks at my window, we hide in the bathroom together. The sky is green, jealous. Rain floods in under the door, so we share a beer and a flashlight. She cries, but it’s not the storm, though some will lose their home, and some will even die tonight. She’s thinking of subways, safe from weather, her sisters mad with city-life and she, not even waitressing or selling books, but instead, cowering from clouds, with a coward who claps when the sirens stop, too scared of life to enjoy threats to it.
I like to imagine it was the weather pressing the button above its seat to call her back down the aisle, stewardess still to that big city. But B.’s leaving, says goodbye to my apartment like it’s a person, but regards me like bad furniture, obnoxious and outdated.
At the airport, I hand her back her luggage, as her plane growls on the tarmac, hungry for passengers.
At home, my brother leaves a message, “Snow in Philadelphia. Everything shut down. Tell B. to expect delays.”
I erase it.
Honey, it’s too late to tell you what terrors might be coming. But the sun is back through my window, so I’ll go through each room, and turn off all the lamps.
About the author:
Sean Ennis is a Philadelphia, PA native, and now an instructor at the University of Mississippi. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, The Mississippi Review, River City, and The Best New American Voices 2006 anthology.