Giving in to his demand, Cole’s step-mother lets the boy stay up late to watch the weather. His father drifts in his chair, nearly asleep, work boots tossed on the floor. Cole has watched as over the last three days four massive storm swirls superimposed on TV radar maps a picture of a world intent on blowing them away. He feels the embattled thrill of belonging to a community under siege. He thinks he might be good at this.
Following a set of commercials, the weatherman skips his ceremonial, funny remarks. Right away, let’s go to the areas hardest hit.
A house stripped naked on every side. Cole watches an overweight mother and two small girls in oversized emergency relief clothing pick through possessions littering their lawn. He has no way to figure them. Are they poor and alone, with no father, when this storm destroyed them? Are they born to wade through their own wet scatter while he sits there on the living room floor, in pajamas, watching them, or are they resilient, and could the father just be out getting help?
The camera moves toward a sheaf of damp plywood sagging from the corner of their porch and focuses in. Hair-thin silver fibers have been speared in a long weave across the damp grain of the wood. Whiskers, says the voice on TV, are all that remains of one family’s cat.
Cole’s father laughs. Kathy laughs one beat late, she thinks, and isn’t sure how her husband will react. She didn’t mean anything by barking out sardonically, and she’s grown tired of Leroy’s acting like he’s napping, his evenings spent watching the television through slitted eyes. He seems older than he is when she asks him if he’s asleep.
“Let’s have a change of channels,” she says.
“No, keep it,” Cole says to his father, steward of the clickers.
Where has your cat gone, the reporter says. The two toddler girls, twins drowning in those donated t-shirts, point to the powder blue sky above their flattened home and answer in unison, There.
Kathy stifles a giggle. Laughing is a giving in. To some things, and, in some situations, to everything. She has already given in once tonight. She hopes they’ll end the weather with a bang that will satisfy Cole and send his mind toward bed.
Next, in a neighboring county a soybean farmer displays in his nicked and knobby hands a clot of wet baseball cards and recounts how late last night, while he was out checking his fences, he found the cards blown from someone’s bedroom miles away. They cover his field like a light snowfall.
Cole says, “But, that doesn’t explain where the cat ended up.”
Hearing his father laugh again, Cole sees a way to manage the fear that has slid into their living room. He points to the TV. Kathy readies herself to force a laugh now, because she feels that Cole wants to be funny again and she needs his father to help by laughing with her. She can’t tell if Leroy has fallen back asleep. It might be just her and the boy, watching TV.
There, on the news, a dirty, white house, small and mean-looking, collapses live on tape in slow motion. The roof falls down, in and on itself. Walls disintegrate under the roof’s weight. Cole watches the replay but can’t find anything funny to say. A house is mostly empty. A house is a mostly empty space that can be flattened to nothing. He decides the girls who lost their cat are poor and have no father out looking for help.
In the morning, the kitchen floor strewn with wet newspaper, Cole’s father shoving on his work boots and there, on the paper’s front page, a large photograph of a sign that reads Keep AWAY From The RADAR uprooted and flung, ripping into a TV station’s white radar dome, his step-mother answering the phone call from the city taking Cole’s cursing father out to the field, the newspaper crushed under his father’s muddy boot as he steps out to the porch, headline shouting in letters as large as the picture, DISASTER.
Now they’re gone. Before she left to buy food, Cole’s step-mother said the supermarkets have become panicked places of shoving and grabbing, too dangerous for a ten year-old. Cole paces the kitchen, the phone held to his left ear, listening to a computerized voice give the weather report. First Missouri Credit Union, 2:29 p.m. Time and temperature, the number he called for the weather forecast after the latest storm hit hard, raged over his flinching home, then unrolled to the south, bubbling with thunder and fast as the world.
He hopes the computer’s voice will lend the afternoon more danger, but it sounds ordinary, Forty-three degrees. Cole wants to be outside, to be unlike the other neighborhood kids who abandoned their bikes in the middle of their drives at the first sound of thunder smashing miles distant.
The phone says, Winds from the north-northwest at 15 miles per hour.
The day looks long. April cloud light re-paints the gray kitchen appliances blue-green, but the cover is gradually breaking and the sun is returning in rippling pools and slices. Outside a window, the robin’s nest Cole’s father looks after, taking pictures of and blogging about, has been brushed by the storm from its branch. Clotted nest material cascades down the tree’s trunk with broken twigs, brown grass and eggshell pieces.
Cole places his foot on the wet newspaper lying on the kitchen floor. His shoe is half the size of his father’s print. He knows he could be good at this.
Cole helps his father with the blog about the nest, posts it on Facebook once a week, from the early building stages to the three blue eggs cuddled there. His step-mother never joins them. His father remarried three years ago in a courthouse wedding Cole cannot remember more about than the bloated face of the man who married them, and her name is Kathy, and she’s been unwilling to play board games, card games, do puzzles, give out quarters at a video game arcade. Cole wants the phone to ring so he can tell his father about the total destruction of the nest. If he can’t tell him, if his father comes home tired and wired and becomes upset about something, anything, Kathy could say, This is all about the nest, and his father wouldn’t know what she was talking about, and Cole would feel any chance of humor sigh out of him. There’s a counter slowly ticking the low number of visitors to his blog. Cole sends his biological mother links to its updates, but she rarely emails back.
First Missouri Credit Union, 2:31 pm. Cole ends the call and listens to the house. An eave outside the window makes a muffled pop, something above the kitchen ceiling cracks with close presence. Cole brings the phone to his ear and wills it to ring with his father’s voice on the other end.
The storms came at the beginning of the week and they cancelled school. They cancelled school, they cancelled work, they cancelled everything except his father’s running out to fix the power lines. Since high and low pressure systems met in the sky above someone else’s house, a warehouse, buildings Cole doesn’t know, the systems have been bringing them all to the ground.
Kathy waits in line at the Kroger’s, forty souls deep. Backed into the aisles, she can hardly hear the check-out scanners beeping and feels like she’s dreaming the morning while she watches the shopping carts before her, unmoving. The front, she remembers, its strength undetected by radar and satellites until it is upon them, hits the house just as she opens the southern windows for reasons she isn't sure she understands. One’s supposed to do something about the air pressure. The leading blast sends Cole and her into animal crouches, snaps a bug screen free of its window casing and flips it across the room. It comes to rest upright in Cole’s father’s faded armchair. Lumpy and surrounded by the thin, pinkish newspapers he mail orders from his hometown near Kingfisher, Kansas, the chair is spiritually his father’s, but Cole can sit in it and Leroy will take his dinner plate to sit on the couch instead, will watch the weather channel and won’t complain about Cole taking his place. Kathy’s chair is hers alone. It’s something about the pressure differential between the inside and the outside of the house, she decides, as the line moves one shopper forward.
The television is off. Emergency warnings do not fill the living room. The phone was wrong. Clear skies. The remaining afternoon is long. Cole knows that TV-ironies will lie within the reach of his legs and the limits of his knowledge of the names of neighboring streets. He’s through the porch door when his step-mother’s car noses into the drive.
This storm has left behind a sky more radiantly blue than he has ever seen. It’s a blowout blue, an atlas blue, the blue of the blue energy that slices through a ray-gunned villain in one of Cole’s comic books, and it’s into this blue that he runs as Kathy shouts at his back, “Did your dad call?”
The blue through the tree branches and leaves, juddering and blurring as he runs down the porch steps. He sits on the curb above the stenciled numbers of his address. Nothing can stop him from coming out to witness the weird work of the high winds. Soon the neighborhood kids might come out. Soon, jumping off the steps that lead up to their screened-in porches, all the neighborhood kids will come out to search the gutters for something to play with, and then his dad will come home and will find Cole sitting on the curb, facing nature.
He puts his feet in the gutter and lets the chilly runoff flow around his pale calves. The little rough caps made by the flowing water turn the gutter into his river, his legs the sturdy tree trunks the river goes around.
During storms, his father calls from wherever he’s fixing power lines to say he’s all right, and this calms Kathy, who up to this point is always an overwhelming presence, straightening the kitchen madly, like a sped-up movie, winding herself. Cole wants to tell his father about the bug screen in his chair, thrown there by the storm damage that called him out.
He watches the water stream below the bridge of his legs. The drowned robin, a brown chick with a blasted circle of feathers around its neck sluices and bumps its way toward him. He lifts his legs and holds his breath, and as the bird disappears below his thighs he shudders at the thought of one of his father’s birds coming alive, erupting like a white dove explodes from a magician’s fist, flying up between his knees, getting lost and panicking about Cole’s face then taking a wounded flight into the shredded treetops. What would he tell his father, that his birds are alive, that they flew away? The bird re-emerges and floats to a storm drain where it stops, its leg or beak caught in the grate, and spins circles in the water.
Cole hears a set of tires skid on the slick street. A red Jeep dashes into the flooded intersection two doors down, blowing a standing wave from its hood. Cole feels time stop in his belly. The Jeep continues in its original direction and as it hydroplanes through the intersection and disappears beyond the curve to the next block, Cole silently counts and when he gets to five he hears the crash.
“Leroy hasn’t called back,” Kathy says.
Inside, Kathy speaks quickly into the telephone to her friend, Melissa. Mel, whose electricity is out, has called to hear a friendly voice while everything in her refrigerator spoils.
“It’s getting like the Third World out here,” Mel says.
“I’m waiting for his call,” Kathy says.
“I hope he gets here and fixes me up.”
“He was cut off and he hasn’t called back,” Kathy says.
A weather report interrupts a game show. There’s a radar map showing wind direction and speed. Kathy finds her location inked the relative safety of red. Fibroid streaks of blue countervailing winds jab southward. The weatherman’s hand drawn white lines appear at the leading edge of the winds, accompanied by his quick tumble of meteorological jargon.
“What are they showing?” Melissa asks.
“Wait,” Kathy says.
She watches the wavy lines drawn by the weatherman. She hears a new rawness and edge in his voice today and wonders whether he has slept much since last night’s news. She wonders if weathermen are geeks, decides they are, but that calls into question whether any of them can be as heroic as this one seems, in times like this. Here is a man whose presence is easily taken for granted, the butt of jokes, his own, the counterbalance to fires and foreign disasters and death. Here is a man who one week ago apologized for a three-degree decrease in the weekend weather preview, and now he’s indicating the guesstimated direction of this, what is it now, fifth freak storm, using nervous strokes of his light pen, and what scares her more than the memory of the shearing wind and lightning of two hours ago is the thought of the weatherman sitting in a bunker somewhere, his jacket off and sleeves rolled past the elbow, unable to hold his hand steady.
“They’re getting hit again 20 miles north,” she says to Mel. “He got cut off and he hasn’t called back, it came on so quickly, it’s apparently getting worse.”
She turns from the TV and searches the window over the backyard to get a location on Cole. He’s somewhere in the neighborhood playing with lightning poles or exploring a drainage ditch or what-else.
Kathy says, “Leroy could be on a crew up there.”
“Those guys are safe,” Mel says. “They know where to go.”
“He hasn’t called back.”
Kathy looks out the window but immediately returns to the TV and away from her view of the backyard, where she saw, in the moment of her turning, the shredded remains of Leroy’s bird’s nest, tipped at an angle, its soggy, empty pocket. As she hears the weatherman say, Taking a look at the roadways, she turns from the thought of Leroy’s baby birds lying dead at the bottom of the tree, or eggs cracked open and running, and how often she’d hear about it now, the new, sorry blog posts Leroy would write, with photos of his dead. She concentrates on the graphic on the TV.
It’s a black map with the state borders marked by thin orange lines, and over it all, washing across the entire state and speckled in the south, are hundreds of green flecks, or animated X’s. They cascade down the map, flipping on and off as they advance, buzzing like the pains stomped from a sleeping foot.
Lightning strike activity, says the weatherman. These are ground strikes occurring over the last fifteen minutes.
The multiplicity increases as it goes southwest, or as it descends on Mel and then flies from Mel to Kathy. Air pressure, kids and pets inside, pile mattresses on yourself, Kathy knows the weatherman will soon say. Lightning strikes the same spots more than once in the moment before the map cuts to a video feed. Quivering beads of water seem to cling to the face of the TV. The drops rotate and then disappear as the camera, up in a helicopter, focuses on an eighteen-wheeler with a broken neck lying across a stretch of highway, smashed cars pressing into its side like nursing kittens.
It’s not close, the accident, and this calms Kathy. She didn’t drive on that highway today, and she didn’t get stuck in that hellish traffic immediately following the supermarket line, tiny bottle of Advil opened before she paid for it, Kathy choking to death in a puddle of her own boredom.
Mel says, “What are they showing now?”
A businessman is walking toward Cole. He carries a dripping briefcase in his right hand and a folded brown suit jacket in his left. He’s two houses away from Cole and his pants are wet and his white shirt clings to him, though his hair is dry and stands from his head on one side. Cole wants to say something funny, when he sees that the businessman’s face, or half of it, is running with blood. Cole doesn’t want the man to come any closer now, but the man is walking toward him, eyes roaming, and the inquisitive tilt of his head and the half-smile on the bloody side of his face seem to say that he’s embarrassed to ask for directions.
Cole wants his father to come home right now, as he does without a schedule during emergencies. He could be home, clear skies for the remainder of the day, at any time. Three paces from Cole the man comes to an unsteady halt and lifts his briefcase to his head, splays three fingers away from the handle and attempts to wipe his face. He gives up, lowers the briefcase and reaches with his other hand in a cross-body, backhand move. With the cuff of his suit jacket he wipes the blood into a bold pink upstroke across his cheek.
“I have to get back to my office.”
“Yeah,” Cole says.
Cole is about to go back inside to try calling his father again when the man says, “Look what I found.”
He produces from the folds of his jacket an orange foam football. Cole brings himself into a crouch, ready to leap for his toss. In the Jennings’ yard three blocks away there’s an orange football so long wedged in an un-climbable tree that the neighborhood kids have given up trying to knock it loose. Occasionally, Cole goes to the tree with three rocks. His father calls it the neighborhood religion. Cole prays to be the one to knock down the ball that has been hanging up there for months, remote as a satellite.
“Where’d you get that?” Cole says.
The man looks at the ball for a puzzled second. “In the gutter.”
“Can I see it?” Cole gets to his feet and makes a move toward the businessman. The man looks startled and takes a wobbling step into the street. His eyebrows press into a frown, releasing a dollop of blood from a gash in hairline.
“When you grow up and crash your jeep,” he says, “God will give you a football.”
He tucks the ball under his arm and staggers by.
“I have to get back to my office.”
A beep announces the arrival of another call.
“I’m going to try not to lose you, Mel,” Kathy says. She switches to the other line.
She hears only ignorant silence. She carefully taps the button again. This time there’s a distant sound, like a brain buzz after a whack to the head, but no Melanie.
She dials Leroy’s field phone.
“Yes.” A man’s voice.
She waits, hears only the sound of heavy wind in the earpiece of the phone. This isn’t her husband, but it doesn’t matter. There’s the world out there bursting at its seams, raining hail beyond reason, and she allows herself to ask what it was that she signed up for, knowing that this is uncontrollable, the winds.
“What have you been doing,” she says. “Why didn’t you call or pick up?”
“Who is this?”
“Kathy Gaines? Originally Kathy Mathis.”
“Oh, Leroy’s been trying to get you on the phone. He’s been up a cherry picker thirty minutes now, and they can’t have electronics on them. It’s the lightning. There’s a high chance of getting, there’s a high chance of this storm passing us by.”
“Where are you?” Kathy says.
The sound of the wind in the phone increases. Kathy thinks it must be like a hurricane where this man is standing, holding Leroy’s phone.
“I can’t hear you.”
Kathy says nothing as she is drawn into a furniture store commercial, her mother’s voice coming unbidden: Daytime TV: bad for you. Mid-way into the announcement of the price of a sleeper sofa, there he is, looking tired and mussed, yet Kathy knows he’s wired with the thrill of cutting into a commercial. Right away let’s go to the satellite.
The state appears in a computerized green overlaid with photographic swirls of the storm that passed over this afternoon, but now his opaque chalk lines are jabbing northwest, and the weatherman is saying, In the past few minutes, developing by the minute, a very rare pattern, as another blotch of dense white cloud cover advances toward the center of the map.
In the next shot, the weatherman accepts a piece of paper shakily handed to him with a look of raw fear, the TV leaving his face, then the report abruptly cuts to a wide satellite image, which seems to be saying that another storm has gathered behind the new one. Kathy watches, waiting for the man to re-appear from beneath the maps and graphics and victims’ interviews. He’s the show.
She has the phone in her left hand, the TV remote tight in her right fist. Another satellite image of storms lined up like 747s on a holiday runway. Another necklace of storm cells. Cut to the weatherman: People in central Missouri need to be in their basements. A woman in an open-necked white blouse, face cropped above her frown by the video frame, runs between the weatherman and the camera, blocking him out for a moment. Kathy finds her attractive, the torso of the female that went by, the blur and cropping and focus all off but still, she must be pretty, and Kathy wonders whether there’s tension at the station caused by her and her torso walking around. The TV flips to a shot of the new storm lying like a black curtain across a highway.
Cole lets the businessman reach the next corner and turn right, lucky that the Jennings’ house is left. He starts at a fast jog. The blue, the deeply wet-earth smells, it seems so natural spinning there in the storm drain two blocks down that Cole has only to side step a little off the sidewalk to bend and scoop up the football in one motion.
It’s impossible not to want to see where it came from, to make finding the football more real. Cole jogs another three blocks to find the front end of the businessman’s Jeep wrapped around the trunk of the tree in front of the Jennings’ house. The porch door opens and Hilda, middle-aged, appears carrying a garment bag. Their dog, a ratty, eternally barking mix, shoots out of the house, skids to a stop at Cole’s feet and fires a burst of surprised yaps.
The wedge-spot that held the football is as empty as the blue that shines through it, cold and silent. It’s raining softly from the clear skies.
“I’m glad that thing finally came down,” Hilda says on her wobbling way to the van parked in the driveway.
Bob comes out of the house with a styrofoam cooler in his arms, rushes to the van, calling out for Hilda to get the back doors open. He drops the cooler and says to Cole, “It’s a miracle you didn’t break our windows.”
“I saw that guy,” Cole says, and points at the smashed Jeep. Cole has now spoken to this man exactly twice, and he has lived his entire life here.
“Where’s your dad?” Hilda says.
“He’s out on repairs,” Cole says.
“You need to get home, I bet he’s waiting there for you.”
“What are we forgetting?” Bob says.
Hilda says, “Forget about what we’re forgetting. Let’s get going.”
Bob looks down at Cole.
“You need to be home,” he says, his breath sour.
Home to his step-mother flailing and opening windows, robins’ nests destroyed. The afternoon is long. There are things these storms must give up. It could be Bob, who taught Cole and three of the other neighborhood boys to build a homemade radio. It had been the only time Bob invited anyone into his garage, packed tight with tiny modular shelving and electronic parts, and it seems to Cole that it was orchestrated by his father. Go visit the house of the childless couple, the vast sewing room, the dense workshop. That afternoon under the pinprick smell of burning solder Bob gave off a fierce desire that looked like the one-last-try with other people’s kids. Wires shook in his hands.
Cole isn’t sure what his father had been planning with his meeting Bob, but it seemed a good guess his father wanted him to see how not to be. Cole remembers the man being unable to speak and move the soldering gun at the same time. It was like watching Bob wire himself, not the radio, together. Look at it wrong and it’ll fall apart, and take him along with it. Nobody touched anything as Bob built the radio, then turned it on and coaxed out of it a foreign man’s voice fast and loud, angry, in a panic. Cole hasn’t returned.
Bob lifts the pale slab of his face to the sky. Cole doesn’t know when he first made a man not his father do something. This could be the first. Long tendrils of high harmless clouds reach across the blue.
Cole says, “There won’t be any more storms today.”
Fine dots of sweat glitter Bob’s nose. He turns to Cole.
“You can have it,” he says. “We’re getting high and dry. Tell your step-mother to get her car, and you and her go somewhere else.”
“We have to get going now,” Hilda says.
She points down the street, toward Cole’s house. In the distance above the overpass, the northwest horizon is a black wall capped with a white cloud shaped like a mountain range. The mass’s inner swirls are lit by the silent punctuation of lightning flashes. The sky above is turning an underwater green, and the air comes in gentle warm drafts.
Bob says, “Yeah, you can have it,” just as the trees at the end of the block bend, and their branches lose leaves. When the front hits them, picking up Hilda’s gray curls, Bob gets into the driver’s side of the van. Hilda turns her back to Cole and climbs in. Bob fires up the engine, and Cole has just enough time to step aside as the van backs a reckless arc into the street, rocks on its suspension, finds Drive and motors away.
Now the thunderclaps are coming on like afterthoughts, troubled and vague. There is no one on the street, and the wind has changed to a solid chilly flow flecked with fat drops. He’d rather know if his father called, and the football is his. Cole begins to jog home. Electric and telephone lines run alongside him, sagging at the center point between the poles. No line is disconnected from all the others, Cole knows through his father. They go into a house and come out again, all hooked up to each other, so when you’re looking at one line here, you’re looking at what I’m fixing out there, too.
Rain splatters the windows, tossed by the gusts. Kathy turns the TV down to a low panic, Get as low as possible, go to the center of your house, pile mattresses on yourself. Of course Cole’s not back yet, of course he’s staring up at the tree in the Jennings’ front yard. As she changes channels, the lights stutter and blink, the map disappears from the TV and the house falls dark. Then with an electronic crack the ceiling fan turns again and the phone chirps in her hand. An alarm clock squawks somewhere in the house, and there’s no one on the other end of the line, only the empty dial tone. Again the house goes dark, and this time remains silent and dim.
Kathy backs away from the blank TV, puts her hand holding the phone to her chest.
“Hello?” The man on the other end.
She hears the overpoweringly loud, digitized wind in the phone and feels relief. They still have a line.
“Where’s Cole?” It’s Leroy, out of breath.
“What,” Kathy says. It’s all she can say. She needs a moment to think.
“Cole. Let me speak to him.”
Kathy says, “He’s upstairs,” and regrets it immediately. They’re supposed to be in a shelter or a bathroom, in the bathtub, with mattresses smothering them.
“Are you watching TV right now?” Leroy says.
“Yes. I mean no, the power’s out.”
“Were you watching TV?”
“I told you, the power’s out.”
“When did it go out?”
“A couple of hours ago.”
“So you’ve been away from TV for a couple of hours?”
“Yes, the power’s out,” Kathy says. “I told you.”
“Your power went out a couple of minutes ago,” Leroy says. “I work for the power company. Let me talk to Cole.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m on the way home. We’re not riding out this storm.”
“How far away are you?” Kathy asks, calculating how long it would take to walk to the Jennings’, retrieve Cole and get back.
“Got a pen? Twenty-two miles,” Leroy says. “If you’re counting.”
“See you soon,” she says, and ends the call.
Kathy goes out to the porch. The second line of fronts hits and rips the screen door from her hand. She sees Cole. His body emerges from the gray curtain of rain as a rain-shaped running boy. He exists only so much as his arms and legs slap water away, swinging.
There is nothing to see for the length of a blink of blue. A sharp pain jumps between the teeth at the back of Kathy’s jaw. She is ready to see Cole lying with smoke coming from his head, but when the after-image of the lightning strike fades she finds him still running a few houses away, his feet dashing water from the street in flowering splashes.
A few steps before the lightning strikes, Cole sees his step-mother standing on the porch yelling with one hand clasped around her neck like she’s trying to strangle herself. He slows to a trot. If she wants to look at him like he’s dying, he’ll give her more time to feel it.
When it hits, the noise and the force of the air makes him think that a car has skidded off the road and jumped the curb to dig into his back. He sees the neighborhood lit up by a blue sunrise, the shadow of his step-mother thrown onto the side of the house, a pure black, photographic copy of her flinching body. He sprints until he is jumping the four porch steps with the orange football tucked under his arm, slipping across the wet, scalloped floor boards, throwing out an arm to catch himself on the doorjamb.
His step-mother stares at him, phone held to her ear, talking to Melissa or someone else, anyone but him. Knowing he should feel a little guilty for the terrified look on his step-mother’s face but somehow free of that worry, broken out of it by the lightning, a miracle cure, Cole is about to say look what I found and hold out the football, when the collapsing porch cuts him off and bats both to the deck.
Kathy thinks the crumple in her left knee is Cole sliding across the porch and colliding with her. She tells herself she’s fallen and blacked out, which is why she cannot see and can feel only the pain in her left leg. Leroy will most likely explode over the porch falling down. She laughs. Twenty-two miles, bullshit. Probably more, or else there will be a post-work beer run, so she’s stuck. Though her arm’s nearly pinned to her side, she can, with effort, bring the phone before her face and turn on the cracked screen, spider webs of seams in the glass. She has 18 emails and more text messages waiting, which stop her. She’d wanted to use its screen as a light to find a way out. She dials Leroy, but she’s lost the signal.
Cole feels a broad flat weight pressing him down, angling into a dig at the knob at the bottom of his spine. His step-mother’s leg runs a hard band across his stomach. He hears her breathing heavily, with voice in her breaths, grunts and strains, whimpers. He wants to know right now, rather then when it happens, what his father will think we he comes home, finds them under all this wood and roofing. Cole doesn’t want to see him worried and doesn’t want to be the first pulled out of the rubble. He wants his step-mother to go before he does, his father not in a panic about him, because he feels fine. It’s just this thing in his back, pressing so hard it’s becoming hard to breathe.
A wrench and sigh come from the roof struts. Sounds pile atop him so quickly they recede, muffled by the debris that has fallen around them. Kathy’s eyes are open but feel numb in the sudden darkness. Cole knows that the afternoon’s long and there’s still some room between his skin and the house as it flattens over them and comes to a rest.