Lightning strikes the earth like God’s personal defibrillator, jolting everyone to life. The entire world is engulfed in a flash, and then impenetrable darkness regains control. Like an ineffectual revolution squelched and squashed. Roger can’t sleep. The rain whips against the side paneling of his house like it was harnessed and weaponized, and the wind howls like an injured animal that needs to be put out of its misery. Roger lights a cigarette and sweat streaks down his face. He stops wiping it with the back of his hand because as soon as he does, more sweat develops, and it becomes Sisyphus-pushing-the-boulder-up-the-hill echelon of futility.

“Daddy,” his daughter says from the doorway. “I’m scared.”

Her voice is fragile. On the cusp of shattering. He knows he has to comfort her, but is unable. He’s catatonic and enervated and transfixed. He usually doesn’t smoke cigarettes in the house—and sure as hell not around his daughter—so he takes one last drag and butts it in a dirty coffee mug on his nightstand. His wife is asleep; she’s always been more composed. Had more fortitude. When she was a girl, she went through hell; her dad was a drunk and her mom was a mess. Roger suspects that harsh environment calcified her into something unbreakable.

Shit, how am I supposed to comfort her? I can’t even manage to calm myself.

“Come on,” Roger says, voice as uneven as his daughter’s. His wife’s still asleep. She got home late from work utterly expended, so he doesn’t blame her. But he’d be lying if he didn’t admit he begrudged her for it, even if that feeling was a consequence of his own feelings of inadequacy. “Come into bed with us.” Roger tries affecting a calm collected demeanor, but somehow, it just comes off mechanical and inhuman. An invalidation of the confidence and security he’s desperately trying to validate for her. The exposure of his defective inner machinations.

“What’s wrong?” His daughter asks. “You’re talking funny.”

“Nothing,” Roger says. “Nothing’s wrong at all, honey.”

Everything. Everything’s fucking wrong, and—full disclosure—this might be the fucking end. That’s how it feels and that’s what it sounds like, and I just have to stare into your face and pretend everything’s fucking gravy. So what’s wrong? How about I take an inventory and itemize it for you. Starting with how you won’t live to see another Christmas, and ending with how I won’t live to see this year’s fucking Super Bowl. Not that the Bears will make an appearance or any kind of meaningful playoff run with that insuperable—insurmountable—impediment lining up behind center. Incapable or incompetent or fucking both. But, anyway, I digress.

You’d think he’d be used to it by now—that after all these times, the sound of a raging storm and the potential of a, er—it’s better not to mention what the storm could precipitate. For the sake of his sanity. The point is, and Roger knows this better than anyone, you’d think that after all this time, the theatrics and pageantry of thunder (the deep visceral rumbling like living in a warzone and hearing bombs detonate while everything you’ve ever known is blown to pieces) and lightning (like God was a pervert who got off on terrifying his subordinates [i.e. humans and animals] and then snapping Polaroids to jerk off to later) and torrential rain would stop sounding like missives from an imminent apocalypse.

The wind outside rattles his house, and his wife is sound asleep, and his daughter is doing her best not to cry. He can see her actively abating that base need to let it out. He wants to tell her it’s okay to be scared, but he doesn’t know if he can. Because he’s still petrified and doesn’t think it’s okay at all considering the circumstances. He looks at his daughter and she looks back and musters a plaintive smile, one of nonverbal solidarity. He wants to tell her it’ll be okay, but is too scared he’ll break down mid-consolation, like an archaic computer on the fritz.

No matter what he thinks about to conciliate himself—the bullshit consolatory things his mother told him when he was young to alleviate his fear, or maybe instead the tentative nature of things, because things are and then they aren’t, so at some point this, too, will pass—nothing works. The storm outside builds at an implacable rate, and the racket and rattling and palpable dread are unremitting, and his daughter is laying in between him and his sleeping wife, and all he can think about is how in an instant it could all end. How powerless and helpless human beings are. How it all seems synchronized and concerted, like nature had a vendetta and was orchestrating retribution. Vindication.

Lightning flashes. His daughter shrieks. His wife stirs but doesn’t wake. Tears well in Roger’s eyes. He has the wherewithal to hold his daughter tighter. To comfort her. But it feels more for him than it is for her. Every incarnation of fear subsists on selfish desire, it’s how it sustains its wretched reign; humanity as a whole is in deep arrears to both emotions. “It’s okay, honey,” Roger says in such a hushed tone that it’s almost inaudible. “It’s okay. Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Everything will be fine.”

He can tell she doesn’t buy it, and he can’t blame her. She’s always been sharp. Astute. She sees through their bullshit. Especially when they try dumbing things down in their circuitous desultory manner, because adults are messy when reducing ideas into small, manageable, and digestible (palatable, even) chunks. Mangling them until they’re practically unrecognizable. Lightning flashes again, and every time it does, it casts shadows on the wall. Skeletal and anemic figures. Like something’s in the room; incarnations of death manifested, seeking asylum, and for once, it’s not death he’s afraid of. But this other thing. And, in this moment, clutching his daughter, he realizes something he never realized before.

I’m not afraid of death. I’m just afraid of dying.

But there’s not enough time to cogitate this revelation. Because then he hears it: the corroboration of his fears. His daughter’s fears. The screech of the siren. Harrowing. Like God was being interrogated and tortured for information. His stomach drops and heart stops. His daughter buries her head into his shoulder. They’re both transfixed, and his wife stirs awake. She’s blurry-eyed, with vestiges of sleep on her face. She glances at them and hardly registers the pitiful, cowering heap in bed. She rubs her eyes with the backs of her hands.

“Is that the tornado siren?” she asks.

Roger nods his head because his throat is clogged with dread like a wadded rag stuffed down a drain. But his daughter cries out, “Yes! It’s the tornado siren, Mommy! I’m scared. I don’t want it to get me.”

His wife’s immediately galvanized by the sound of their distressed daughter. The gravity sets in and paradoxically pulls her up, raises her to the point of total, acute awareness. She looks at Roger in disbelief for a moment. He’s a mess and visibly distraught. Petrified. Practically catatonic. On the verge of a breakdown. Her incredulity almost transmutes into contempt for not comforting their daughter, but it doesn’t. Because he can’t help it. It’s just how he’s wired.

“Come on,” his wife says calmly to both of them. She talks to Roger like a kid, too, and Roger pretends he resents it, but secretly, it’s exactly what he needs. “Let’s go down to the safe space.”

Roger and their daughter nod in unison. His wife picks her up and carries her to the stairs. Roger trawls after. Legs weak and shaking. Barely able to support him and his efforts to traverse their house. He’s a Midwestern boy. He should be used to it by now, seasonal tornado warnings. The procedure. Protocol. And besides all that, he’s a Midwestern boy. That has to count for something. Blue collar. Salt of the earth. Man’s man. It should take more than a thunderstorm to seize and constrict him with fear. If for nothing else, then at least for his family. Every tornado season, he’s forced to confront and take an inventory of the decrepitude that surfaces.

Before Roger can walk down the stairs, his wife asks his daughter, “Do you want any toys to play with in the safe space? We might be there a while.”

His daughter nods in that demure way kids do. The siren belies it all and renders it eerie and incongruous with what’s actually transpiring. “What do you want?”

“My stuffie.”

“Rog’,” his wife turns her head, “I know it’s asking a lot (she has this inscrutable tone Roger decides to interpret as mocking and condescending, maybe even patronizing), but can you bring her stuffed animal to the garage? I just wanna take her there as fast as possible.”

No! I can’t do that. The longer I stay out here, the longer I’m exposed. The higher my chances of dying are. I just want to get to the fucking space and curl up in a ball and close my eyes and wait this thing out. This fucking siege. Why can’t you do it? You don’t care. I can’t and won’t and outrightly refuse to comply with this egregious abuse of the authority you assume just because you’re calm and composed and not melting down internally like me.

“Sure,” Roger says. He can’t formulate a good enough reason to refuse, and initiating a fight would be messy and ill-advised and generally counterproductive. So he decides to simply capitulate and take a minute out of this exodus to get his daughter’s stuffed animal, because she wants it and needs it, and he’d look like a pretty abhorrent piece of shit father if he didn’t. He’d never hear the end of it.

“Can you bring water and snacks, too?” she asks as she descends the stairs, not even looking back.

(Recapitulate previous internal meltdown.)

Roger doesn’t say anything, which is interpreted as compliance, and his wife carries their daughter to the garage. Roger can’t help noticing how much more comforted and calm their daughter looks in his wife’s arms. He practically lurches into his daughter’s room, tears through her stuff—throws her blanket and pillows on the floor, empties drawers, wonders where his daughter hid the fucking thing and if this was one big set-up on her part—and then he finds it. When he’s on his hands and knees in supplication, sobbing (secretly relishing it because it’s the first time he’s been able to let it out since the storm infiltrated his soul like an insurgent; it’s the first opportunity for that much needed catharsis).

He sees the stuffed animal under her bed. He reaches and grabs it. He clutches it close to his chest and it has some kind of placebo effect because it actually helps a little. It restores some semblance of security and he wonders if he should get one, but ultimately defers that decision for when he’s relatively clearheaded and not on the verge of defiling his pajama bottoms. His daughter’s curtains are open, and he sees trees swinging in the wind like the needle of an overwhelmed meter, bent to unprecedented angles. And then lightning flashes and the forked bolts look like missives etched into internment walls.

Please don’t let me die. I just want to live. Anything I’ve done that can be remediated or rectified, I’ll fix. I’ll reform myself. There are just some things I can’t be held fully accountable for. Honest. I’m as much an accessory to riding this life out as I am to being born. Anything that’s happened in between has been an unintended consequence. Concomitant supervention. Honest. I mean it.

Roger clutches the stuffed rabbit so tight he thinks it might rip, but he scrambles to his feet and runs out of his daughter’s room towards the stairs. There’s a carpet on the floor that’s always bunched up in parts. It gives and he slips, and his momentum catapults him downward. He tumbles and rolls and it’s all a blur. He feels each collision, but he doesn’t feel the culmination of his plummet until he’s laying on his back and his leg is throbbing. Dazed and staring at the ceiling vacantly. He’s miraculously still holding his daughter’s stuffed animal. He tries to stand but collapses and feels a paralyzing and unparalleled pain in his leg.

He looks down and sees it bent in an errant direction, and then the pain amplifies. Seeing it makes it worst. It’s snapped like a twig. He howls. But it sounds so much like the wind and the siren that it gets drowned out. He doesn’t know what else to do but crawl toward the garage. The door leading out is across the room. He forces himself to crawl, wills himself across the hardwood floor. He’s sobbing and the stuffed animal is clenched between his teeth. The kitchen is spacious and open. Adjoining it is the capacious dining room with big paneled windowed doors leading to the backyard. The curtains are opened.

He sees the world doing what it does so well. Everything’s in disarray, being flung around like they lived in a sordid snow globe wherein wreckage and debris supplanted fake snowflakes. He’s never seen it so bad. He hears noises he’s never heard before. Like the integrity of his house is compromised. He crawls as fast as he can. His pants are soiled. He reeks of shit and piss. His leg hurts so bad he doesn’t feel it, but that just makes it worse. Like how deafening noises just blow out your eardrums and muffle the world. And then the noise gets louder, like the creaking, cracking groan of fragmenting icecaps. His arms can only carry him so fast.


And then it all comes crashing down.