First published in The Shine Journal (2010)
Ruthie's not talking to me. I don’t blame her. The authorities warned that anyone who failed to evacuate from the path of the hurricane faced certain death. I told her she should leave with the Evans, but that I wouldn’t go. We did last time. Fifty miles out of town, in a place where there was nothing but road and fields and dust, traffic stopped. We sat in the August heat for three days. No one came to get us or bring us food or water. Ruthie spent the next week in the hospital. I hate hospitals.
The wind picked up a few minutes ago. Ruthie said we still had time to leave. Dang it, Ruthie, I said. 'I told you before I’m too old to race a storm.' She stood, hands on hips, head cocked to one side, and nailed me to the wall with those tiny eyes she gets when she wants to say something, but knows it won't do any good.
Ruthie’s in her sewing room now, making something. Does that whenever she’s worried. She was in there for four days straight when our daughter, Ellen, the one who lives in El Paso, had her hysterectomy. Ruthie wanted to fly up for the operation, but the doctor said it wasn't safe given her heart condition. I waited until she wasn't looking before letting out a big sigh after she told me what the doctor said. I hate flying almost as much as I hate hospitals.
The man on the radio says the winds are over ninety miles an hour. I believe him. Through the bay window, I see a garbage can skitter from behind the Jenkins’ house across the street. The traffic light on Baxter dances a jig over the last cars trying to get out of town, and the oaks and pines along the street strain to remain upright.
I walked by the sewing room a couple of minutes ago. The door was closed, but I’m pretty sure I heard Ruthie praying. I’m not the praying type. I let Ruthie do that for the both of us.
The electricity went out at twelve minutes after three. The radio fell silent. I forgot to get batteries. I did find a working flashlight in case we need it later. I decided it was time to get upstairs for good when I noticed water coming in under the front door. I paused outside the sewing room, both hands on my cane to ease the pain in my hip, and whispered to Ruthie I was sorry.
I looked down the stairs a few minute ago. Two feet of water covers the first floor, a couple of windows are broken, the house is rocking, and I smell smoke. Ruthie and I are in the master bedroom closet. Her only conversation since we settled in has been with God. Maybe I should have agreed to go for her sake. Too late now. Geez, something just hit the house.
Hurricane must be over us. Head hurts. Ears ache. Hard to breathe.Flashlight done. Ruthie curled up. Back to me. Don’t know how much more a house can take. Ruthie’s right. Am a damned, old fool. Next time I’ll go. Touch her elbow. Remain silent. Don’t want to interrupt her dialog with God.
The wind has calmed down. The rain continues. There was a noise a while ago loud enough to make Ruthie jump up and into my arms. It won't surprise me to see that big, old oak in the backyard lying across our bed when I open the closet door. Neither of us has said anything yet. She knows next time we'll leave when told to, even if I have to fly, but I'll tell her anyway soon as we're safe. For now, I hug her tighter, thank God we're together, and wait for help to arrive.
Motivation:In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, causing the evacuation of the city's residents. Hundreds became stranded as they drove north. This fictional tale relates one man's reluctance to evacuate in preparation for the next storm to hit the area.