I wake in the dark to the wind, the house alive and quivering against it. A farmhouse full of melting single-pane glass so loose in the frames that even a breeze sets it rattling. The soundtrack of our lives lately.
Tonight, it's bad. Tonight, the clapboard siding claps. In my bones I feel the nails loosening, working their way out as the wind fingers each board, prizing it further from its place against the house until it comes free and goes flying.
In the dark, the shape of Keely beside me, asleep. Untroubled. She'll sleep through anything but me getting out of bed.
“Where are you going?”
She's propped on an elbow. I'm pulling on pants, my heart erratic.
“Check the birds,” I say. “Make sure the—”
“Stop. Come back to bed.”
“Relax, Kee. I just want to--”
The lamp clicks and she's on her feet, blocking the door, arms crossed. “You can't keep doing this,” she says. Her words sound muffled, far away. I'm seeing the house around us fly to pieces in the wind, the chimney bricks shifting, mortar crumbling to bits. Smelling uprooted earth as huge trees topple like dominoes. Hearing the greenhouse plastic tear loose from one end of its metal frame and become a sail, threatening to uproot the entire structure from the half-frozen earth and set it scissoring across the fields, a chaos of shearing metal and crackling plastic that could kill any number of living things. It all begins with one bolt or screw or rivet pulling loose. But if you catch it early--
I step and she blocks me.
Another gust and tremor--the whole house will go over. “Jesus Kee, would you listen to it out there? That's bad. Think of what that'll do to the chickens if the plastic tears. It's too cold for them.”
Most wives would let their husbands go. Get the thing out of their system so they can come back to bed and get on with the business of sleep, ducks in a row. I wish Keely would. She used to. Thing is, she doesn't trust me to come back anymore. Because even if I go and see that everything's fine--house intact, barn and shed intact, greenhouse still standing--the minute I get back to bed it all sounds like hell again out there. The whole goddamn sky raging down on us. So I don't come back. I stay out and make rounds and find ways to be sure that nothing's going to happen. You make yourself sick, she tells me. Worrying about the weather.
We're grappling now. I get a hand on the door frame and try to pull past her but she won't budge. She means it. She's got her palms braced tight against the jambs, then pressed to my chest, forcing me back. She hits me--right in the stomach and I shout. From outside, a hinge squeal that pitches up into a sharp crack.
“There,” I say, panting, pointing. “The shed's come unlocked. You've got to let me.”
“It'll be fine,” she says, like we weren't just wrestling in the doorway. “Really.”
“Shit,” I say and scratch my head and get back in the bed, pants and all. Furious.
She stands there another minute, then two. She goes to her side of the bed and clicks off the light. I listen in the dark, through the wind's racket, to Keely's exasperated breathing, then realize it's my own. I wait for her to say something but she doesn't. She may be right. If I can breathe, I can quiet the madness outside. Forget what might happen. So I let my breathing change for her.
I inhale. I do it slow and hold it. Then, let it out.
Another. Hold it. Slow. Letting it out.
I hear her hearing me and think maybe she's smiling. Hearing me doing the thing I said I would do. I'd try, I said. And now she's hearing me do it and she relaxes. I feel it when it happens. The muscles let go, the mattress softens. Soon, her breathing's changed and I know. She's asleep.
Then I'm up and running. Through the door and down the stairs, Keely shouting after me. Halfway, I slip and chatter down the rest, hit the floor hard, my knee screaming. There's blood. But I get up, because I have to, because I can't not feel what the wind is doing to everything I love. Eating us from the outside in.
I limp fast across the kitchen and throw open the back door.
It's like a vacuum, a black hole. All that noise just gone. The wind, gone. Not even a breeze. Just cold and quiet. A scrape of open sky and spit of stars. A limb as thick around as myself has fallen from the cottonwood, barely missing the steps I now stand on. The yard is littered with debris, ours and not ours. Plastic trash and snaggletoothed pieces of siding snapped loose from the house. Bags snagged in the trees and bushes. The greenhouse is only a bare metal skeleton, its skin having torn free and blown east. I look that way but see no sign of it. The chickens, scattered and newly homeless, appear dazed--at least I think so. It's possible they're not dazed at all.
I honestly can't tell.
The shed door is wide open, but still hanging from its hinges. I turn around to face the house. Half a dozen broken or missing boards. A few dozen loose and flapping. I look up and find the chimney unscathed, still standing. Only then do I see Keely in the doorway. The look on her face--disappointed maybe, tired. But angry, too, like when some money goes missing after we have her mother over for dinner. She moves past me like a ghost but quickly becomes a woman again. Unsnares a bag from the bare branches of the lilac, then another, and tucks them under one arm. Then out to where the farthest chickens are. She says something I can't quite hear. Something like dinosaur.
“What?” I call but she doesn't respond.
Then, I remember with a jolt and I laugh. It's true; these birds are some of the only surviving dinosaurs. They've seen so much worse. Apocalypse alive in their blood.
Keely walks a wide arc, side to side behind the birds until they are one flock again and she can steer them into the open shed.