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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Weather grows from underground. Great storms explode, often from just below he soil, where they lie, begging to be let loose by a spade. When lightning strikes it’s like visiting a birthplace, digging to that brown pile of soil from which it sprung, to hide and be bright down there, amid the clouds below the soil. Sunburnt grandmothers knew this, and hated when their headstrong husbands went out to tend the gardens, unafraid of what weather they might unearth.
When I wasn’t even a decade old, my own father drowned planting the tulip bulbs that would forever brighten the boarder of the walkway that my mother would shuffle along to reach the mailbox each morning. He unwittingly hit upon a hurricane and was suffocated by the flood of water that came up out of the soil. My mother never recovered. She sat by these untended walkways for the rest of her life. She moved to keep herself constantly out of the shade, and kept her neck straight against the sun. She rested there, being slowly baked and watched the tide of the untended yard. I’m not sure if that’s a suicide.
The force of Mary’s body pressed itself against me in a way that no one else’s ever had. I remember the first time we slept an entire night together. Not much about us, really, just that the sky that night was clear, and had been throughout the beautiful and unavoidably wet southern day.
It would be fun to tell a sex story, but the thing I most remember is how comfortable Mary and I were sweating next to one another and not talking, wanting to, but because of the heat, trying not to touch. We just slept silently as our sweat soaked through the bed, so that when we woke up, sticky and surrounded by a lake of dampness, each of us was un-self-consciously disgusted by the other.
In 1937 the worst series of tornados in Indiana’s recorded history left the state decimated. Small town post offices were thrown apart, doors found blocks away, and signage asunder. Farms were ruined, their crops beaten away by wind and gifted to the next town like airdropped rations. All the residents of a downtown hotel awoke without walls. It was a farmer’s fault. He dug too far while planting his field, hit a storm system, and when he awoke, covered the bodies of his two drowned sons with a sheet and stood looking down, into the upwardly pounding rain.
The wife of the farmer sat on her porch alone and thought of how barren memory could become. At a certain point all that you’ve done touches lips with all that you remember. At that point she realized that memory is a far, far better carry-on bag than reality will ever be. She looked out over her husband’s fields and didn’t think about them at all. She died, realizing that the sun was flooding her face and all of her uncovered skin.
Mary’s surface fascinated me, and I would examine it. It happened, every so often, that she would be asleep first and I would be able to look at her ribcage slowly move. I don’t think I ever understood the meaning of the word ‘blossom’ before I saw her ribcage while she was sleeping. That protective structure of bone and cartilage opened and closed above her lungs with each breath. She was her most vulnerable then. She breathed the way you watch clouds plow slowly over ill-shorn grass, up hills, and onwards towards you. I was waiting for rain. A great storm. But there was nothing titanic there: there was no thunder, or dark clouds, but simply silence: in our life there was just the unbroken space between two people in a weatherless living room.
Later, Ohio had a period of cloudlessly beautiful weather. Three months of clear and perfect pond-swimming days. Children with their pants rolled above their scabbed knees ran down dusty roads to leap from moss covered stones into rivers and lakes full of all the youthful reflections of so few clouds. All of the crops starved that summer, and Ohio needed federal rations.
Before the storming between Mary and I, which was inevitable and growing below the ground for months, I began to make a raincoat out of little bits of paper as thin as the peal from an onion, secretly praying that it would be broken apart at first rainfall and I would be washed, once naked and alone with the weather that was on its way, unselfconscious, but certain that I had made something.
The wife of a dead farmer sat at the edge of a greyish and barren pasture. After so many years she was able to finally long for water to fall down onto her husband’s land and her dirt-gritty forehead. The years were the only thing she could blame. She raised her hands to the sky, begging it to poor down over her, in one wet mass. She crawled into a bed made dirty by a red dust wind and rubbed her tongue over her teeth to feel all the bits of earth lodged between them by the breeze.
As she dreamed, all of the water within her began to storm. She peed seven times in two hours and vomited clear liquid twice into the pan next to her bed. She fell to sleep with a thin trickle running from her mouth and eyes.
When she woke up, the yelling of the water in her ears was the first thing to tell her that she was about to drown. She let go of the pillow that she had embraced in her sleep and slowly floated towards the ceiling. She smiled as her flood filled the room. As she began to suffocate she turned to look out of the window to watch the weather rise slowly and meet the sky.
Charlie Geoghegan-Clements lives in Boston. He has been published recently in Prick of the Spindle, the delinquent, 3:AM Magazine, and Marco Polo Quarterly.
*Tin House is now accepting flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for FLASH FRIDAYS. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org with FLASH FRIDAY as your subject line.