Kelly Magee

ORIGIN STORY

Once a girl found a stray tornado. She lured it inside with a dog biscuit. It was a juvenile, so she kept it in a box beside her bed. Sort of brindle, like her second dog. But blurrier. Twice a day, she fed it dry leaves in a stainless bowl. It preferred saltwater to fresh. She named it Tor because she was not particularly creative and liked to call things what they were.

Training left her bruised. The tornado pulled on the leash, gagged over the collar. Once it bit her, and she had to get six stitches in her palm. The Urgent Care doctor made a joke about fashioning her a new lifeline.

“A prosthetic future,” he called it.

“My life will be different now,” she told him, thinking of the tornado. “That’s for sure.”

When asked about the origin of the wound, she blamed it on a vicious, unidentifiable dog, then regretted her choice when the doctor brought up rabies. She didn’t know if tornadoes could carry rabies or not, and it wasn’t the kind of thing she could easily find out. She didn’t know anyone else to whom this had happened, and internet searches proved useless, so she went ahead and got the shots.

At home, the tornado sniffed the raw gridwork of her hand and spun placidly on the floor all night, as sorry-seeming as a tornado could be.


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In two weeks, it reached shoulder height; in a month, it outgrew her. She wasn’t sure if she should keep it, but she didn’t like goodbyes. The tornado filled the house in a way that seemed familiar, all clamor and bustle. Anything not secured blew around wildly, so she boxed up most of her things. The wind made the faucet spray her right in the face if she forgot to shut the bathroom door. The windows rattled; her hair tangled. When the tornado got excited, the ceiling fans spun in reverse. When she spoke gibberish into its funnel, the words came back in order.

Everything happens for a reason, it said.

Take all the time you need, it said.

Don’t flip out on me, Susan, it said.

She didn’t know who Susan was, but of course the house was haunted. Anyone could’ve told her that. It’d been fully furnished when she moved in. She’d brought some clothes and books, hung and stacked them next to the existing ones, and now she couldn’t remember which were legitimately hers. The handwriting in the books was so similar, and the clothes fit so well, that they might as well have been her own.

The yards in this part of town were built to prevent neighborliness, with aggressive layers of hedges and fences and underbrush, so no one need know the new pet/roommate she’d acquired. She had one neighbor who she saw exactly twice a year, when he asked permission to collect blackberries from her yard in the summer and when he reminded her to top her trees in the fall, which she never did. He lived with a wife the girl had not met or even seen. She only knew the wife existed because her neighbor referred to himself in the plural, the way married couples do. For all she knew, when he said ‘we,’ he could’ve meant himself and his tornado.

“We were wondering if you’re going to use all those blackberries,” he’d said this past spring, as he did every year.

“Help yourself,” the girl said, as she always did. “We won’t be using them.”

When he came by in the fall, she hadn’t answered the door. Her neighbor must’ve heard the breaking glass, the pounding and yelling, and assumed what he assumed. He didn’t return.


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Her second dog ran away, so she taught the tornado to fetch. It was easy to teach when it wanted to learn, which made her suspect it was older than she’d initially thought. Maybe tornadoes didn’t have ages, or maybe, for them, size wasn’t proportionate to age. It grew and shrank with its moods, if you could call them moods, though not in any predictable way. Its happiness posed as much of a danger as its anger, the way both generated mid-sized ball lightning that left scorch marks on the wood floors and burned holes in the walls. She cleaned up or repaired its messes, and coached the tornado to contain itself as best it could. Her favorite times were when, in sleep, its wall clouds relaxed and covered the room in soft, gray fog. Some nights the girl climbed inside the funnel and slept suspended two feet off the ground in a white-noise wind-hive where she could not hear her dreams.

Other nights, she dreamt that the trees she’d neglected to top as advised fell and crushed her in her sleep.

To teach it how to fetch, she had to take the tornado outside. They started in the back yard. Once she threw a stick, and the tornado brought back an apple tree. She quickly harvested the carefully-tended fruit and shoved the tree husk into a ditch where the previous occupants had discarded their Christmas trees. She’d stumbled on the Christmas tree graveyard while searching for a suitable graveyard-graveyard for her first dog, who’d died right after she’d moved in. At the time, she thought the dog must’ve gotten into something poisonous in the overgrown yard – mushrooms, perhaps, or bella donna – but after a thorough search, she’d found nothing. She buried him by the woodshed, nervous over every shovelful. The house was haunted, after all; who knew what she might dig up? She found nothing but rocks, so many big rocks that it took her all day to dig deep enough, which was okay because she wasn’t looking forward to the next step, which was dragging the dog into it. She didn’t call anyone because, in that part of town, there was no one to call. She’d gone over to her neighbor’s house, but no one was home.

The largest rock she used as a headstone. The rest she piled into a decorative fire pit. She didn’t intend to ever build a fire.

She tried again. She threw the ball, and the tornado brought back a tire.

She threw the ball, and the tornado brought back a cracked windshield.

She threw the ball, and the tornado brought back the rest of the wrecked car, which she pushed into the street in front of her neighbor’s house.

She didn’t like where this was headed, so she tried throwing a stuffed toy instead. The tornado brought back her second dog.

She buried him by the woodshed with the first. The tornado spun the hole in five minutes flat. It seemed a little too happy to help. This was how the girl came to understand that the tornado needed to go. She suspected that living with a tornado would mean having to regularly bury things, and she wanted to be done with burying things now.

She put its bowl outside and shut the door. What was she supposed to do? There wasn’t a shelter she could call, and she certainly wasn’t turning it over to a meteorologist or a storm chaser. It was a stout and ferocious tornado, but also, in its way, a little naïve about the outside world. A little sheltered. Stuck outside, it pawed at the door with mid-level winds, whirled in a slumped way. The girl tried to feel good about being able to brush her hair for the first time in months, to read a book. But even with her bedroom door closed, she could hear its sad scraping out front. Her bed felt muggy and stagnant, her body feverish. She’d become accustomed to the noise of the wind, and now understood what people meant when they called silence deafening.

The tornado stayed on the stoop the whole first night. In the morning, she filled its bowl and sat in the yard, throwing balls that it brought back exactly as they were, as if obedience was the solution.

After a while, she went back inside. She left the tornado out, and again, it stayed on the stoop all night.

The third night, it left. She listened to it go, holding her breath. It was back by morning, sleeping heavily, its wall clouds wispy and discolored.

The fourth night, it didn’t come back.

The girl tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. She walked around her neighborhood, telling herself she wasn’t listening for the tornado, looking into the dark windows of the houses around her. The wrecked car was where she’d left it. The trees tossed ominously overhead.

She considered leaving town but didn’t like to drive. Anyway, there was nowhere else to go. She could always change her mind, she thought, leave another night, or come back, or do something altogether different. It was important to remember, during hard times, that you could always do something altogether different.

When she got home, she turned on the TV, something she hadn’t done in all the time she’d lived here. The first station was network news, so she watched that. She watched it night after night while waiting to see if the tornado would return. People went missing during this time because people were always going missing one way or another, so the girl didn’t think anything of the reports she saw. Except for one. The one was her own. The reporters seemed to have confused her with someone else. It was her face on the screen, but they called her a wife and mother. They showed a picture of her street with the wrecked car in front of her neighbor’s house. The car must’ve belonged to the missing woman, she thought, which sort of explained the confusion. And sort of did not. Then a cop with streaming blue eyes said her name into the camera. His pronunciation was off, but it was definitely her name. He looked like a fountain, like not really crying. It would be unusual for a cop to cry like that. The tears disappeared under his chin.

The girl went to the police department with a case of mistaken identity.

“That poor woman deserves to be found, whoever she is,” she told the front desk. “She has a husband and children.”

She was given a can of soda and told to wait right there.

She waited for a long time, long enough for the soda to give her a stomachache and then for the stomachache to subside. Long enough to wonder if she should leave, to give it five more minutes, and to think at the end of the five minutes, What if I leave and they come right now? Long enough to wonder what if she did have a husband and children that she’d somehow managed to forget, and was that even possible, and if it was, how, and did it even matter if it was possible or not if it happened to you, and hasn’t the whole idea of impossibility gone stale in this world of medical miracles and technological marvels, and isn’t the real impossibility life itself, like how does anyone survive infancy let alone childhood with so many dangers stacked against them, a list of dangers so long you could start now and never reach the end? Long enough to wonder how much of one’s future could be sewn into the skin by a qualified doctor.

Eventually, a uniformed officer emerged from behind a partition and lumbered toward her. His body puffed out, like it wanted to burst from its clothes. At first she thought he must be a superhero. A breeze blew back her bangs as he approached. Her ears popped. He moved his jaw like it was a new appendage, then said her name with the same incorrect pronunciation, but also like a question.

“Do I know you?” she said.

“You must,” he said.

She rose, cupped her hands around her mouth, and blew speech sounds into his ear.

“Time heals all wounds,” he said.

She understood, and was both afraid and intrigued. She was a mixed-up mess of many things, which was why people always trusted her.

They walked to a private room, him leaning heavily on her arm, nearly pulling her down. His skin vibrated, vented from every pore. She figured he couldn’t be too dangerous in a public place, which was the logic for strangers but not storms. He was both and neither. As so often happened to her, she had no idea how to protect herself. She was charmed by the lengths he’d gone to for her, and she wanted to believe that a man was somehow safer than a tornado.

This is called magical thinking.

“What should I call you?” she asked him.

“Whatever you want to,” he said.

She called him Tor. He gave her bold coffee which made her rattle on about her life, all the things he didn’t know, which was mostly a catalog of news stories. She thought of the tornado as he now because of the human form. He kept forgetting to blink, then scrubbing with fists at his eyes when they blurred over. She realized that a body must be a lot to keep track of.

Finally he shoved back his chair, stood, and said abruptly, “Maybe I could visit you sometime.”

She put down her cup. “Yes. Yes, I think so.”

“Maybe that time is right now.”

“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”

Sometimes the girl did things without questioning why she was doing them, even though she knew the thing she was doing was exactly the kind of thing she should question. This was one of those times.

As she led him down the hall, down the elevator, and out into the day, she thought instead about how many of the people they passed might be inhabited by storms. It would explain a lot, she thought. It might even provide some comfort, letting humanity off the hook as it did.

On the train home, she thought it again. Suddenly people seemed so much more understandable to her.

The cop was not just any storm; she hadn’t forgotten that he’d killed her dog. But it was kind of like when your cat brought home a dead bunny. You could keep the cat inside or get rid of the cat, but you didn’t get mad at it for being a cat.

So she took the tornado into her home again, this time as a cop in a uniform he wouldn’t take off. He sat unevenly on a stool at her counter, working at good posture and polite behavior, and attempted to drink a glass of water by pouring it in his mouth and jerking his head back. When she told him to make himself at home, he collapsed on the floor. She lay beside him for a while, unsure what was possible or appropriate.

“I missed you,” she said.

He took her hand, but while she waited for what would come next, he began to snore. The snoring sounded like a waterfall and smelled like cut grass. When it was clear he was not going to wake anytime soon, she turned on the TV news, but someone else had gone missing, a man, so she quickly changed the station. She landed on a show called How Are We All Not Dead? that investigated the lethal potential embedded in everyday objects as evidenced in actual police and autopsy reports, narrated intermittently by a cartoon pirate. Number 42: stapler. Number 43: vacuum. The show was too aware of its attempts to be funny to be funny. It couldn’t figure out its genre. The girl had too much time to think about it while the cop’s snores spun in eddies around the room.

At some point she slept, trying not to sleep. She didn’t want him to wake without her. She dreamt she was a wife and mother, but her husband was a tornado and her children were dogs.

She woke feeling grateful, and, almost without thinking, laid her body on top of the cop’s. He stirred, the tornado already pacing inside, the human skin like a gate from which it longed to burst. “Are you able to come out?” she whispered in his ear.

“If you want me to,” he whispered back.

She didn’t. She blew gibberish into the cop’s ear and he said, “We need to talk” and “It’s nobody’s fault” and “Don’t leave like this, Susan.”

“Who is Susan?” she said, and he said, “I thought you knew.”

The tornado pressed on her through the cop’s body, and she pressed back in a familiar way. She still didn’t know what was appropriate, but now she knew what was possible. They both unzipped but stayed mostly clothed. The tornado didn’t know what it was doing, but the girl did. During, she thought they might be in love. After, she thought not.

“You can’t stay in there forever,” she told him, but she was also fishing for information.

“No,” he said. “But if I could?”

She felt terrible. Her heart kept jumping out of windows before she could talk it down.

“I can’t stay here either,” she told him. “This house is extremely haunted.”

“I never noticed,” he said.

She left barefoot. The trees were swaying as they always were. Someone, maybe her neighbor, had pushed the wrecked car further down the street. The houses were all unlit, though she could see those peripheral movements that disappeared when you looked at them directly.

Once again, something was happening to her that she could not explain or even tell anyone about. But everyone walked around with impossible things lodged in them like splinters. They had survived what they could not have survived. They had lost what they could not bear to lose.


Kelly Magee is the author of Body Language (UNT Press 2006), winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Short Fiction, With Animal (Black Lawrence Press 2015), co-written with Carol Guess, and The Neighborhood, forthcoming in 2017 from Gold Wake Press, as well as several chapbooks and collaborative works. She teaches at Western Washington University and can be found at Kelly Elizabeth Magee.

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