Topless in Tornadoes...


I worry sometimes that my life has become staid, mundane and boring. And then I have an evening with my buddy, Marti.

It is five o'clock on a Friday afternoon when Marti and I leave the assisted living facility where I have been sitting with my dying father. We walk out onto the porch where the old folks congregate to watch the weather and find them all standing at the edge of the porch, staring up at a lowering sky. Thick gray and black clouds hang so low to the ground that I can almost feel the impending tornadoes. The air sweats moisture. The sky's light is an eerie greenish-yellow.

My favorite old lady, Ora, stands next to us, staring up at the clouds, leaning on her cane and studying the sky much as she studies everything, with detached interest, as these earthly events are no longer of any consequence to her. She's seen it all for exactly what it is.

The sky reminds me of the only other time I have been in the presence of tornadoes. That time, in Alabama, a small twister cut through the gas station parking lot where I waited inside a van while my best friend called her mother. When the tornado touched down, Kim shrieked into the phone, "Oh my God, we're going to be killed!" Dropped the receiver and ran for the open bay of the station.

In the furor of the moment, we never remembered to call her mother back and let her know we were alive. She was a understandably hysterical when we finally arrived in Battle Creek that night.

But I digress...

Ora's watching the clouds as I say, "Looks like a tornado sky."

"Yep," she agrees. "I'm one to know, too. Grew up in Alabama. We had a plenty of 'em there!"

Marti looks at me, wide-eyed. "Should we go back inside?"

It has been a long, slow day. We are looking forward to a glass of wine and a long evening of laughter and talking.

"Nah," I reply. "I think the mall would be safer. That way, if the tornado touches down there's only a fifty-fifty chance it'll wipe out my entire family."

This is not a callous lack of concern on my part. It is denial. I don't truly believe a tornado will come to town, not with life already about as awful as I can imagine. My karma couldn't be that bad.

So we run for the car and drive, top down in my convertible, to the mall. As we run inside, we are sure the sky is about to open up and release all manner of hell on the parking lot.

The mall here is dying, too.

There are maybe six stores left; but it is at this moment, the best other option we can come up with. We have decided to treat ourselves to manicures and pedicures in the small nail salon. But on our way we stop by a display of outrageous flip-flops, considering the merits of rhinetones over fake turquoise.

We are there when the lights go out. The store is plunged into an inky darkness that prevents any movement. When they flicker back to life a moment later, Marti is freaked. The flip-flops have lost all appeal and she's ready to run.

I say, "We can't leave the mall now. It's too late."

We wander toward the nearest exit to survey the sky and encounter a clerk. She has obviously unnatural red, short, spiky hair and black cat's eye glasses.

"Tornadoes are coming! We're going to get five inches of rain in the next 25 minutes! The parking lot will flood, it always does! Our cars will be ruined! It's happened before! I've seen it!"

Marti tenses.

"That's the back lot she's talking about," I say in an undertone. "The front lot where we are is on higher ground."
"Should we run for it?" Marti asks.
"Nah," I say, attempting to affect a casual, unworried attitude. "Let's just go out into the mall, away from these windows." Away from flying glass, I think.

"You sure?"

"Oh, yeah. The infrastructure is better in the center of the mall."

I do not tell Marti I have no idea what infrastructure is.

We leave Belks. In the stepdown seating area just outside the store, about 20 old guys are standing around playing guitars, mandolins and fiddles...Some wear ball caps, one sports a Fedora, and all wear the hallmark of elderly males- calf-high socks and old guy shoes...They're playing bluegrass!

More old people rim the circle, sitting in gaily colored, folding lawn chairs, the kind with drink holders in the armrests.

Marti gives me "The Look," which reminds me I'd told her about the chance we'd see the Friday night pick-up session.

"I told you we should've brought our clogging shoes in with us," she says.

She relaxes, forgetting the storm and enjoys the music. I look around and then I look up. Above us is a huge, domed skylight...Total glass. I know sooner or later, Marti will look up too, so I decide to take the bull by the horns.

I nudge her and point upward. Before she can react or say anything, I cut in. "Hey, look at it this way...If the tornado hits, we'll be sucked up to Jesus while the band plays "I'll Fly Away!"

That does it. Once again we are the fearless duo. Batwoman and Catwoman. Thelma and Louise.

We are undaunted when we see the manicurists are booked up with fat women in polyester. We cruise the shops, decide not to sit in the curtained photo booth and eventually come to the conclusion that if the tornado hasn't taken us yet, if the hail and rain have still not arrived, we can risk the run to the car.

We put the top down because we are invincible.

We go to a grocery store, buy wine, cream cheese, jalapeno pepper jelly, crackers and, because we've earned it, we grab a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake.

We drive back to my one room efficiency, top down, defying the storm that seems to blow just ahead of us. My black convertible crosses the Trent and Neuse rivers in the fierce pink, red and purple of sunset.

We sit on my bed, eating and drinking, laughing and talking until, miraculously, a bottle of wine has disappeared.

I take the cake out of the minifridge. With the careless abandon of my alcohol-induced euphoria, I open the box and plop the cake and 2 forks into the middle of the my antique quilt-covered bed.

Marti and I own the universe. Death cannot defeat us. The woes of married life leave us unbent and unscarred. Our children are well taken care of and happy...But not with us.

Life is not at all bad, we think.

And then, like all intoxicated idiots, we think...What can we do next?

There is nothing on TV. Cellphones don't work, but for some reason, text paging does.

During the second bottle of wine, we decide it would be a marvelous idea to text page our friend, Martha The Cop.

"Tell her we got stopped by the police on that long road out here," Marti instructs. We giggle hysterically.

"Guess what?" I text. "We got pulled on Broad Creek Road!"

30 seconds later my cell beeps. "What?! What for! What happened?"

She took the bait.

"Speeding," I reply. "Don't worry! You know that Marti. Talked us out of the ticket!"

"How fast were you going?!"

Marti is a brilliant genius of inspiration. "Tell her we were topless!"

Oh, now this is good. This is wonderful!

"We were topless! Thank God he let us off!"

"Oh my God!" Martha texts back. "Which department?"

I can see her, glasses sliding down to rest on the tip of her nose as she texts furiously. She will want to call the chief of whatever local station we say captured us and present some excuse, like "They were grief-stricken and overly stressed..."

We are eating all the good parts of the coconut cake, the corners, licking up thick swipes of the creamy white confection and laughing like the maniacs we are.

"Local New Bern cop," I reply. "Marti invited him back for a drink. He is cute as a bug's ear!"

Marti and I high-five each other. We collapse back against the headrest, weak and spent with laughter.

And then there is no response.

After five minutes I begin to watch the clock. "You don't think she called them, do you?" I ask.

Marti's eyebrows rise into little umbrellas of uncertainty. Eleven minutes. "Text her back," she says.

"Hey Martha," I type. "Don't worry! We invited the aliens we met too! Gotcha!!"

30 seconds later my phone beeps..."Oh. My. God!" Martha's text screams. "You so had me!!"

We laugh and laugh. It isn't until the next day, after we learn that her pager delayed sending her response, that we realize we could've kept stringing Martha along all night!

"Of course I believed you," Martha assures us later. "It just sounded like something the two of you would do!"

Marti returns to her home and real life. I go back to the assisted living facility to confront the reality of my father's impending death all over again. And it isn't until the next day that the thought occurs to me...

I call Marti and when she doesn't answer, leave a message, despite the fact I am reasonably sure her husband will hear it first and totally wonder...

"Hey Marti," I say. "I've been wondering this all day. Why didn't we take our tops off? I mean, if it's so like us, how come we didn't do it? I think next time you come down that's exactly what we should do! Love ya!" I end my message with a long, conspiratorial giggle.

Let him wonder, I think. Let 'em all wonder.

Why didn't we?!

1 comment:


I've been reading since 'the wisest man in the universe', keep writing and keep living. Post a picture of your Father if he would allow. In the mean time keep the posts coming, and inevitably I am sorry for the loss you will face, I don't look forward to facing your circumstance, but you seem to be enduring it strongly. I appreciate your blog.