Robin Rozanski’s writing has appeared in The Humanist, A cappella Zoo, Wilderness House Literary Review, Thrice Fiction, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of Central Florida, and is a teaching artist at The Loft Literary Center. She lives and works in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @RobinRozanski.
The news had been following multiple hurricanes, and as they drew nearer the graphics became convoluted and dazzling: A semi-transparent image of wind-blown palm trees with white waves breaking against it. Phrases like “bottled water” and “battery radio” zoomed in and out.
Esme was visiting her older sister, Jenny, who lived with a man named Eric. The TV had been on for days. First just the local channels, but as the storm neared landfall the national news picked it up. Hurricanes move with winds exceeding 175 miles per hour destroying everything in their path, the anchor said.
“It’s not even raining yet,” Esme said.
The screen filled with mud-covered corrugated steel, uprooted trees, crying babies, an overturned car, and a three-legged dog navigating fallen cables. At the last second the disclaimer “File Footage” appeared in the corner. CNN will provide updates as Hurricane Threat 2004 potentially causes three billion dollars of damage and could become a deadly event.
“Is it true that a straw can cut through a cinder block?” Esme asked.
“Two gallons of water and some lemonade,” Jenny said, leaning into the whirring fridge.
“Yeah, but no food,” Eric said casually.
“My science teacher said that once. That a flying straw can go through bricks.” Esme wiped her glasses on her T-shirt. Her eyes were weak even though she was fourteen. She used her eyeglasses as a prop the way older girls used cigarettes.
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” Eric said.
“Let’s tape the windows,” Jenny said.
“We don’t have tape.”
“I have some packing tape.”
“No one else is doing it. Look.”
Together they moved to the window to look at the other buildings in the apartment complex. Clouds darkened the sky. Kids that had gotten out of school early played basketball in the stairwell. The heavy air seemed to stifle the echoes of their voices. Small Xs of masking tape had appeared on a few windows, but the rest displayed only Puerto Rican flags and fraternity letters. They watched a pizza delivery guy lose his hat in the wind.
The tape went up as darker, higher clouds rolled in. Heavy rain splatted against the door. Jenny stood on the couch, stretching to reach the upper corners of the pane. Eric peeked up at the round creases of skin revealed by her shorts. His fascination made Esme blush. She wished she’d volunteered to put up the tape so she could stretch out her legs like that.
The exterior walls of the apartment shook as the winds picked up. The walls shared with other apartments tingled with the shrieks of children and pets.
“I’ll sleep on the couch,” Eric said. He rolled his pinkie around in his ear. “Little sister can sleep in my room.”
“She can sleep in my room. I’m not sure anyone should be by this big window,” Jenny said. “Just in case.”
The hum of the air conditioner stopped around one o’clock, and Esme woke up feeling lost. The clock on the nightstand was dark. Without the red numbers as a beacon, she waved her hand around for her glasses and knocked everything off the nightstand. The heavy flashlight entrusted to her landed on her glasses. She searched the area with her palm, but found only a battery.
She walked on her knees out to the hallway. She’d moved this way before, when her vision started to fail and dim rooms became dangerous. Without her glasses, walking upright left her vulnerable to dizziness and tripping.
She inched along the bookcases into the living room. Several doors had opened and closed after Jenny said goodnight. Esme had lost track of who was going where and assumed Jenny and Eric were both in his room. But now, as she squinted in the darkness she thought she felt a movement from the other side of the room. If Eric was in this room, he could be staring right at her, seeing her clearly with his perfect eyes. The thought made her stomach tighten.
Pale blurs of astigmatised light glinted off the dark television screen, but Esme could not determine the source. The light moved around her. She scooted forward. She recognized the glint of metal to her left and reached out a hand to touch Eric’s bicycle. The handlebars were cool in the increasing heat of the sealed room. The curved metal felt soft, even though the entire length of it was free of tape or padding. There were no brake levers or cables. It was unstoppable. Her heart felt so big in her chest that every breath seemed to skip her lungs and go straight to her pulse.
The walls shook with a steady vibration; the windows creaked from the violent bursts of wind. A fire alarm went off in an adjacent building, muffled by swirling water and wet leaves. Esme’s fingertips rested on the bike’s frame; just to keep it in place for a moment before it escaped, like a balloon destined for distant power lines. She shut her eyes as tight as she could—tight enough to save herself from shattered glass and the fabled straw.