eorge said there was nothing to worry about, but Denise wasn’t so sure. The news people on the television were locked into a continuous loop, cutting from images of the storm – a swirling mass of white clouds and nasty red lines indicating the path of the hurricane – to their furrowed faces and concerned voices, begging people at home to take cover or better yet, run. From what Denise could tell, she and George were right smack in the middle of where this thing was supposed to land. “Evacuate or face certain death,” was the grim proclamation from too many sources. But Denise’s main source simply scoffed and cracked open another beer.
“Don’t listen to them,” he told Denise. “Not gonna be nothing but some wind and rain. Don’t know what everyone’s so excited about.”
“I don’t know, George.” Denise was nervous. The air thrummed with electricity and she could feel her heart keeping time. She imagined birds and squirrels taking cover in stout trees, fox and deer running for the mountains and away from the coast. Denise had always believed that animals were smarter than humans, and her own dog – a black and white mutt found on the side of the road and the only real gift George had ever given her – seemed to be proving her right. “Look at Charlie,” she begged George. The old dog was lying behind the couch, his gaunt rear legs sticking out around the end table, his tail curled around his feet.
“Charlie does that all the time. Got nothing to do with some storm.”
Denise jumped at the sound of a banging against the front door, then hurried to answer it before George complained. She opened the door and found Mary Ellen, her friend from the down the street, standing on the porch, a thin coat wrapped tightly around her body as the rain began to fall.
“Honey, we’re leaving town. It’s not safe here.” Mary Ellen looked past Denise, made sure George was not within earshot. Her fingers gripped the doorframe. “Do you want to come with us? We’ve got just enough room for you.” Denise glanced over her shoulder. George was watching a football game on the television and yelling something not worth repeating at one of the quarterbacks.
It would not be so hard to leave after all. Her purse limped against a chair next to the door – she could reach it in an instant – and she didn’t need much besides that. Hell, she didn’t have much besides that. George probably wouldn’t notice she was gone until they were half way to Texas or Mississippi – what did the direction matter, as long as she was leaving?
She was about to answer Mary Ellen when she felt a nudge against her hand. Charlie raised his milky eyes to hers, and she felt something snap inside her. Denise looked at Mary Ellen and Mary Ellen shook her head.
“We only have enough room for you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“This is ridiculous,” Denise shook her head. “We’re fine here, we’re not going anywhere. Thank you, but we’re fine.” She laid a hand on Charlie’s head and he leaned against her leg. Mary Ellen hesitated before walking down the three crooked steps that led to Denise’s home. At the bottom, she paused.
“I wish there was something we could do.” Mary Ellen’s car was running at the end of the driveway, her kids pressing their faces against the back widows, tongues sticking out and pulling dirty streaks across the glass. Denise waved at them and stuck out her own tongue, which sent them into hysterics. Mary Ellen smiled. Her husband honked the horn.
“I’m sure you’re gonna be fine,” she told Denise.
“Yeah,” Denise said. “George says it’s nothing. “
“Yeah. Well. I gotta go. I’ll see you when the storm’s over.”
Denise closed the door behind her and walked slowly back to the living room. The wind was starting to pick up outside and the trees were stirring, as if reminding Denise that it was not yet too late to change her mind. There was still time to throw open the door, run down the street chasing Mary Ellen’s car. Surely one of the kids would be looking out the back window, trying to memorize the neighborhood in case it wasn’t here when they came back. Surely one of them would see Denise, desperate and afraid – of the storm, of George, of the world – and they would stop the car and let her in and take care of her. She would be dry. She would be safe. And George would find some way to take care of himself.
“Dinner ready?” George asked without looking up from the screen.
“No,” Denise replied. “I’ll start it now.”
She walked to the kitchen and began pulling down pots and pans. Charlie lay down at her feet and went back to sleep.
Christine Hennessey, a native New Yorker, has a BA in creative writing from SUNY Purchase and currently lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, where she works as an academic librarian. She spends her spare time walking her dog, training for marathons, and following far too many people on Twitter. You can visit her at her blog at http://christinehennessey.blogspot.com.