AT DUSK, THE TIME of the greatest quiet, the wind rose, the sky darkened, and the rain heavily poured. The mighty wind roared and smashed windows. Shingle by shingle, board by board, the roof disappeared. The house violently swayed in a to and fro motion, then the walls cracked and blew apart. Carm's young husband hurried her into the basement for shelter. Panicked, her adrenaline kicked in. At the bottom of the stairs, huddled inside the door frame, her heart pounding, her nerves close to exploding, the basement door tore from its hinges and slammed into Jordan. He stumbled, holding out his hand for her, when his eyes rolled back and he crumpled, his head thudding hard against the cement floor.
In the dead of night she awoke, battered and bruised, feeling as if she had been beaten with a two-by-four. Thunder boomed. Lightning illuminated the sky. A severe headache blurred her vision scrambling over the debris toward her husband. Dizzy, as if things still whirled, she reached down yanking him by the shirt. Shaking him water seeped through her fingers. His gaze transfixed, he said nothing. With two trembling fingertips on his neck she checked and could not find a pulse. She crooked her head to listen for breathing. She heard none.
Taking action, a cold chill rushed through her body. Tearful, she breathed into his mouth, and then listened for noise in his airways. There was no exchange of air.
The heavy rain poured. Lightning flashed. She drew her husband hard against her breast not believing he had passed. "Please, baby," she sobbed. "Wake up. Don't leave me alone here like this. I need you!"
Carm placed her quivering hand on his cheek. The flesh felt wet and cold to the touch. She shivered, bending to kiss his forehead drenched in rainwater.
Thunder and lightning struck. Under heavy rain, sweeping strands of his dark hair from his brow, blood flowed from his scalp. In the flashes of lightning, she searched his whole body for any sign of life. His boyish grin and deep blue eyes that sparkled were no more. The one person who meant everything to her lay motionless.
She rocked her young husband back and forth, crying, afraid to admit to herself that death had stolen him from her. With him she'd had love and a home.
She held him in her arms trying to reassure herself all would be fine. "It's going to be okay," she cried softly. "It's going to be okay."
Blocked by broken beams and planking of the destroyed structure, trembling from the inside out, Carm had no choice but to wait for help to arrive. Woozy and disoriented, she lay close to Jordan, gently resting her head on his shoulder. "Don't die. I need you now," she implored, sobbing. "I need you more than ever."
Intimidated by the fear of being separated and exhausted, her forearm on his torso, she placed a hand on his chest. She couldn't feel the pulsation of his heart. Not wanting to let go, she curled herself around his limp body.
Hours had passed, and the sun was now bright and sky clear. Cold, soaked and dripping with rainwater, Carm slumped forward. Her eyes stared at the nothingness that was once her life. The horrific storm ripped through the structure of the house where she had put a lot of love and effort into making a home.
Looking through the splintered floor boards, in the second storey nothing remained of the bedroom and bath. In the kitchen the buffet was smashed, and the dining table turned into twigs. The four side chairs were nowhere in sight. A large branch that had flown clear through the front picture window now rested inside the television screen. The sofa and matching wingback chairs were missing. Her lamps and porcelain figurines lay destroyed on the floor.
Carm sat amid the rubble and broken glass. Her husband pressed against her, crushing grief devoured her. Her head spun. Wheezing and coughing, she tried to breathe and absorb what happened. Above her a crowd of onlookers had gathered. Each person, young and old, moved about in slow motion. Disbelief and sorrow consumed them. Numbed by sadness, she watched the activity above. For a split second she made eye contact with a fireman. His appearance, husky, clean-shaven, wearing a beige coloured protection uniform, with highly visible reflective striping, size thirteen rubber boots, and a red helmet. He appeared concerned, calling out to her. She could not hear a sound. Without hesitation he planted his right foot on a long aluminum ladder and cautiously descended. Moments later he stood beside her sorting out the dilemma.
When she finally spoke her voice trembled. "Is my husband okay?" She knew he was not, but she held on to a sliver of hope.
Carm's head cleared enough to focus on the shards of glass embedded in his limbs. His eyes semi-opened, the pupils were fixed and dilated. The jaw muscle relaxed, his mouth fell open. The changes were most easily noticed on his lips, hands and face. They had turned pale and bluish.
He dropped to one knee surveying Jordan's wounds, checking the pulses in his arteries. He turned and looked at her. His dreary expression said he could not find one complete pulsation of his heart.
The fireman knelt close beside responding kindly, "I'm sorry, this is happening, I need to evacuate you from the area."
Carm had difficulty focusing her attention. Her eyes watered, drifted, focused. Moaning in pain, she wrapped herself firmly around her husband. Breathing hard, she clutched tighter, shaking as he attempted to pry her young husband from her claw-like grip.
The fireman shook his head in the negative. His two hands pinned her arms to her side. He tightened his hold sweeping her off her feet. In his grasp, pounding at him with her feet and fists, twisting left-right-left, she winced from the stabbing pain in her right thigh and head. He tightened his strong hold navigating the length of a long aluminum ladder en route to the ambulance.
Carried away against her will from her personal hell, Carm's high-pitched shrieks filled the air. Trembling, she screamed out in horror. "Stop! You can't separate us. What right do you have…take me back…please, don't take me away from him, he's mine…please, stop!" She choked on her tears. "How can you to this? We need to stay together!"
Though crying for attention, the spectators ignored her pleas.
The fireman carried her to a waiting ambulance, laying her onto a gurney. The paramedic checked her for injuries and vital signs.
Hemmed in, her panic, confusion and uncertainty grew by the second. She couldn't cope with all the activity and loud muffled voices. She hyperventilated viewing the disaster area. Electrical power lines were down. The torrential rains and violent winds toppled trees and caused maximum damage to the homes in the neighbourhood. None seemed as devastating as her circumstances. A large black car drew to a halt in front of the fire and emergency trucks. Displayed on the door, painted in white, was the word Coroner. An older man, a bit on the hefty side, opened the door and stepped out observing the devastation. With a small black medical bag in his grasp, he cautiously descended down the aluminum ladder toward her husband.
The paramedics chatted among themselves while preparing her for the ride to the hospital. They talked about where they were when the tornado hit.
Dirty, her hair plastered to her forehead and dripping wet in a half-sitting position, she was strapped to a gurney. She winced from her wounds. Her ribs hurt to breathe. Weak, depleted and shivering, she looked over the crowd, feeling everyone watching her. She sat as far as she could reach. Craning her neck she watched the firefighters, police and emergency workers everywhere, vehicle lights flashing. Jordan's mortality weighed heavy upon her. Her eyes fixed, she waited to catch the first glimpse of him, hopefully alive. She half expected to see him pop up from the gigantic hole in the floor boards, but what she saw caused her intense terror.
When the coroner returned from the basement with his assessment, he expressed to the firefighter that attempts to revive her husband would be hopeless.
More than a few yards away, Carm had to strain to see her husband's dead body hauled from the basement inside a black body bag. Grief stricken, hands twisting, encircling the restraints, she struggled to free herself. Strapped in snug, ready for transportation, she wrestled from her confinement. Hopelessly stretching and straining, she strived to pull herself up. The paramedic pushed her back down. Distraught and trembling, her fingers clutching at the restraints, she attempted to pry the straps loose. "Goddamit," she screamed. "Let me go!"
The paramedic ignored her request. Instead, the prick from a sharp needle in her upper arm slowly clamed her nerves and put her body into a relaxed state. Her wailing slurred, she made an effort to kick, but found her legs too heavy to move. Loose-limbed, she couldn't escape her bondage. Her head flopping back against the pillow, her limp body sunk into the mattress. She became numb. A prisoner, frozen in shock, she lay thinking one thought after another. Her stable world was no more. She lost everything, starting over at zero.
Carm didn't have a fighting chance. The sedative relieved her stimulated heartbeat, breathing and brain activity. Strung out, she breathed a weary sigh, then slipped away from consciousness.
The bright sunlight hurt her eyes when she awoke. Rubbing the tears that swam up, the smell of antiseptic pierced her olfactory senses.
A nurse in her crisp, white uniform entered with her aide, making their way to her bed side. Carm lay totally still as the nurse checked her vital signs, and the aide recorded the results.
"That's a nasty blow to your head," the nurse stated in a professional tone. "You should try to rest."
Carm, looking grim, shook her head in agreement.
With that said, the nurse and her aide walked out the door. She listened to their footsteps echo down the corridor.
Carm sat, swung her legs, then stood on the tile flooring that chilled her bare feet. She gritted her teeth and pulled herself together. She wouldn't surrender to the piercing pain of the stitches to her scalp, and a wound that ran deep in her thigh. She clutched the night stand, shaking all over. Light-headed and every muscle tense, she steadied herself from collapsing. White knuckled, grasping her hand to the railing, without a plan, she wandered the corridors as if seeking for some hidden answer, invisible to the doctor and nurses busy with patients.
Rounding a corner she turned the knob and found the door unlocked. She entered a room with row upon row of pink lockers. Searching for clothes that would fit, she was aware at the same time of the people passing through the corridor. She replaced the medical gown with blue jeans and a black sweat shirt which were a bit large. She then slipped her bare feet into white sneakers and tied her unkempt hair in a ponytail. She drew a breath, groggy, she steadied herself, opened the door and limped down the long corridor. She hurried past admitting, then outside the hospital doors.
Wincing from the pain in her scalp and upper right thigh, she stopped. Hooting taxis, car alarms, and the loud murmur of the hurrying pedestrians was deafening. She made an effort not to freak out. She put her hand to her heart breathing heavily. For the first time she became aware that she had nowhere to go. Scared and worried, she headed to the place that not too long ago was her home.
Engulfed by pavement and concrete, jittery and sick to her stomach, the heavy traffic noises never ceased. People slammed into each other, none excused their rude behaviour. Large, tall buildings stretched to the sky blocking out the day's bright sunlight. There were no emerald pastures or growing fields like back on the farm, only miles of look-alike homes built close, side by side.
Reaching her destination she stood on the front lawn in disbelief. All the debris from her destroyed home had been cleared. The cement foundation was all that remained.
Rubbing her aching temples for relief, she could hardly believe the home that had needed a fresh coat of paint and a patch job had vanished. The memory of her belongings buried in mud and stained by rain, rushed through her mind. She escaped from the horrible ordeal with minor scratches. Her husband had suffered serious injuries before her very eyes, causing his death.
Carm became overcome by her thoughts. She couldn't believe she had already experienced the best and nothing from her former life existed. She knew her past, present and future had dramatically changed. Hopeless, she stumbled, falling to her hands and knees. Closing her eyes, her breath came faster. She pounded the dirt with her fist, crying hysterically. "How am I to make it through this? I'm alone here…with nothing…and…no one. I had everything I could have wanted or dreamt of. Now, I have nothing. One minute I'm planning my future as a wife with children, then the next I am left completely alone in this strange city. There's no logical reason for this. None!"
Broken inside, misery took over. "There's no way back from this," she wept a torrent of uncontrollable tears.
The sound of church bells rang a few blocks away, the noise carrying a message of sadness. Tired and hunched against the cool wind, she inhaled deep breaths and listened. Something stirred within telling her to pay attention to the ringing that rang in the open air. After wiping the tears from her swollen eyes, she managed to stand. She left in search of the unsettling noise. She proceeded slowly from the life she knew to the unknown of what lay ahead. Sluggish, she walked for blocks and blocks when she found herself in front of a grand, elegant stone church. The traffic moved slowly between the cars parked on either side of the street. The large silver bell that tolled for her to follow hung at the top in the center, now still. Slowly, climbing the large stone steps, her heart heavy and sad, Carm approached the massive wooden doors at the entrance. Trembling from head to toe, she crept into the luxurious building. The painting and engravings with religious content covered the interior of the mighty walls. Melting wax dripped from the thick white candles which burned throughout the building. The deep blue, red and rich green colours of the stained glass windows gave insight into interpreting their faith: The miracles between life and death.
Many family, friends and acquaintances squeezed into the pews. The mourners openly wept. All who attended were gravely upset. Inside a great arch carved with foliage contained an altar. Behind that, a large wooden cross hung from the wall. Below that lay Jordan's lifeless body in an oak coffin encased in bronze and fitted with soft white sheets and a pillow.
In the soft candle light his face held both strength and a kind of innocence. His hands folded across his chest as if he were enjoying a peaceful rest, dressed in a midnight blue suit instead of his usual white tee-shirt and boot-cut jeans, to be buried in. Staring at him she ached, wanting him back in her life in every way. She wished that if she closed her eyes and looked she'd see him sitting alive and breathing.
Looking to the photographs on the makeshift shrine, she expressed a faint smile. There were pictures of him from infancy to early manhood: A short lifetime of shared memories and friendships. None of the snapshots showed them as a couple, not a single one.
Heart pounding, nervous in the stomach, she stayed back watching, away from those part of the formal ceremony. She sat in the back pew and remained silent while an older man, dressed in ritual garb, with great passion, performed the service.
"People come and go in our lives, but will always remain in our hearts. Our God chose to call Jordan back to be with him. We cannot comprehend why he was chosen to leave the physical world at such a young age. Although absent, he will ever be near. He touched our lives with love and laughter. Treasure your beautiful memories, then the wonderful events of his life will last forever. He will be missed, loved and remembered. He was a gift from heaven and heaven is where he will return. Live knowing he is forever close in our minds and hearts."
She searched through the crowd of mourners. In the wooden pew, right in the front row, sat Jordan's parents. His father, Mathew, a passive man, never spoke much. His mother, Sybil, was sharp, incisive and cynical. A cold shiver ran along her spine remembering she hadn't been pleased to learn of their union. Sybil had not welcomed her as a daughter-in-law and Carm knew why. She regarded her as a social inferior. Being a farmer's daughter, Sybil viewed her as someone born into poverty and only good for menial work.
Sybil, stepping up to the open coffin, her grief so profound, her reaction hurt Carm's heart. Sybil, centered in lights, told her only son that she loved him, then kissed his brow. Her expression held pure disbelief, seeing him unable to move or open his eyes. Jordan, laying still before her, the loss seemed to be far the most devastating of her losses. Overcome with agony, her composure fell away. She made some lonesome sound and her knees became weak. She collapsed, motionless, sobbing, on the shiny marble floor. Mathew struggled to help the overweight woman stand. A neighbour, dressed for church, rushed to give the support needed to lift her exhausted body.
As the service ended, pallbearers dressed in black suits and ties, lifted her husband's coffin onto their shoulders to bear him aloft like a prince. They were accompanied by aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbours with tear-stained faces. Sybil and her husband emerged from the crowd, edging their way to where Carm hid. Her nerves trembling and her body weak, she felt pangs of panic when their eyes locked. Mathew, clearly taken aback, the colour draining from his wrinkled cheeks, stared at her, saying nothing. Looking into her mother-in-law's aging face, reddened from her flowing tears, her eyes blazed with anger.
Carm, her heart thumping in her ears, jumped to her feet, wide eyed, not having a clue what to say. Her mother-in-law, in an over-sensitive and critical manner, weighing, judging and choosing a guilty verdict, lashed out. "My son's death is your fault! His demise could have been prevented if he had not left home and met you!"
"What?" Carm answered with a tightening of her throat. "You think I'm to blame for this?"
"You are!" she screamed, challenging her to a very public battle. "He squandered his life being with a poor creature like you!"
Carm shook her head. "No! He loved me," she yelled, sniffing. "That's not how it happened. Wild winds, torrential rains hit and the building crumbled around us. I couldn't breathe…by morning all was lost."
The shouting whipped heads quickly around. No one moved, all eyes were on the confrontation.
Her mother-in-law, less than sympathetic, pointed her index finger of her right hand in a jabbing motion at Carm's chest to assert herself. "Shut up!" she demanded, while she cried tears of rage and frustration. "I don't want to hear or see you. Leave! You are certainly not family, and you are not welcome here! Go back to the farm where you belong!"
Sybil had no tolerance or forgiveness for her daughter-in-law. In the final judgment, with little chance of conducting a civilized discussion, Carm gave in. Upset by the outburst, her heart pounding dangerously fast against her ribs, she made no demur. She turned, dashed down the aisle towards huge wooden door, shoving it open. She had every cause to run and not look back.
Outside, crying, she ran past the shiny black hearse parked at the bottom of the large stone steps, and the number of people standing, jamming the sidewalk.