Thirteen-year-old Georgia doesn’t speak; but she is inexplicably drawn to the drama of the hurricanes that pass through her home in coastal Maine. Maybe it’s because she survived a tornado that left her an orphan when she was just an infant. Maybe it’s the roar of the storm, the hum that seems to make up for the lasting silence that inhabits her – a part of her history she can’t let go of. And when a well-hidden secret is revealed unexpectedly, Georgia has to face the truth about her past – and find a way to forgive the ultimate transgression.
June 14, 1967
This is what I remember:
1. The gray field.
2 .The wind.
3. The rain.
4. Nothing at all.
Here’s the thing. The clincher. I may or may not remember any of it. Maybe it’s just a dream I had, a kind of hazy wish that the most pathetic creature might long for, fingers crossed in the middle of the night, whispering desperate words on a shooting star, longing to be exceptional. Maybe I just hope I remember. Okay, I was only a baby. It’s a long shot.
So what I imagine happened is this: The wind whipped and pelted the earth as I looked into the sky – rain and marble-sized hail skittering across my face in an earnest caress. The rain – first a sprinkle, then a torrent, then a drizzling spit – set out to overtake me, but finally adhered to my skin in a protective glaze, the soak of it in my pores creating a union of sorts, breathing into me and making me the essence of it – its twin, its doppelganger – so that any kind of violent inclination would have been almost cannibalistic.
Of course, I was too young to contemplate such a thing, too soft to retain it. But the grass held me and the wind rocked me, and I was saved. Not in any religiousy kind of way; God wasn’t involved in this one, not all that much – if there is a God. You could say I was reclaimed. On solid ground. Somebody standing over me, saw the whole thing. Or heard my cries, wandered over afterwards. Or maybe it was a group of them, rescuers in their shells, protective suits and helmets floating on their bodies, as if they were crabs about to shed their outer layers, moving sideways to take a look at this little wet bulb of a baby, this aberration searching the sky like a drowned rat or hopelessly soggy slice of pie. Picked me up and carried me to wherever home was. I don’t know where home was then. I don’t remember.
I didn’t want to leave, though. No, this much I’m sure of. I didn’t want to miss the earthy grass and the fallen light and the tornado that lifted me with such determination and then set me so gently down. It was buried in me, by that time. Already sucked inside, a creature inside a creature, part of my breath and my blood. I wanted to ride that tornado, again and again and again. To be inside it and up in the air and spinning around, a speck of nothing riding a vigorous torrent. They say I was lucky to be alive. Lucky, although I don’t know if luck had anything to do with it. Lucky that it lifted me up and carried me for miles, over the Mississippi River and into that field, where it lay me as tender as a mother laying down her baby in a crib. Like that.
Of course, I have to reiterate that I don’t remember. I just wanted you to know that.
It’s inside me, still, somewhere. Whipping like a cascade, like one of those things at the fair. What are they called? Oh, right – the Funnel Rocket. You get inside one of those and you feel like you’re being shot all the way to the moon. For twenty-five cents, you can spread your pseudo-wings and fly like the most convoluted bird in the universe, or at least go a few feet in the air while being strapped like pig’s meat in a sausage into this electronic device that turns and twists as you rise. They had it at the Spring Harvest Fair last year – the one in Scarborough. I sat in that thing and imagined I was in the tornado. Closed my eyes. When it was over, I acted like I didn’t know my ass from my elbow, and clamped down in the seat. They couldn’t get me out of it, no matter what they did. They didn’t dare touch me. I think they thought I was contagious, like they’d catch whatever I had. The dreaded-non-speaking-weirdo disease. I sat still, my eyes closed, and I heard them talking.
“Get her the hell out of there.”
“She’s dumb. I don’t even think she understands what we’re saying.”
“Don’t call her that. Christ, she’s just a kid.”
“I’m not calling her anything. She can’t talk. She’s the O’Shea girl – the one what lives past the Eldridge place, down across Bainbridge. She’s honestly dumb. Like, as in the dictionary definition.”
I heard them pause. They were looking at me, I’m sure of it. One thing you can always count on, is people treating you a little softer once they realize you’re a half-wit with nothing on you except seventy-five cents and three chocolate ice cubes in the pocket of your training bra. What my bra is training for is anyone’s guess, but I suppose you could say it’s training my boobs for the day when I can sit with them anywhere I please and no one will hassle me. In training for grandiose plans; maturity and all that. Boys. Sex. Unwanted hair in various places I’d rather not disclose. I just hope the chocolate doesn’t melt in there. That would give away my secret – which is, I am a pathetic wreck of a child in a conventionally pretty, socially inept body floundering its way toward womanhood.
I said not a word as they stood around like seagulls on the beach waiting for someone to leave behind their potato chip bag, wondering if they should move me. It’s worked my whole life, this not talking gig – one benefit being they’re sure to leave you on the Funnel Rocket one more time if they think you’re an idiot. I pressed my eyes closed tighter, so the lights from the arcades flickered behind my eyelids and then practically disappeared. They didn’t know what to do with me and it drove them crazy.
“Leave her on,” I heard one of them say. “Let her have one more ride.”
You see, it’s always the same. Act brainless, and they glide around you, look the other way, feel sorry for you. Let you ride the Rocket twice, maybe three times. Give you space, press the bar that starts the rocket into the palm of their hand until it’s obvious they’d rather be any other place but here. Look the other way, leave you alone, pretend they don’t see you or your gangly limbs splayed everywhere, waiting for the rest of your body to catch up.
The moon just shifted, now, and something’s different about the air. The storm’s getting nearer, a promise as certain as my new breasts as I cup my hands around them, or the sound of Louise-the-goat braying like a small, tufted madwoman, running in circles in the yard until someone strokes her wiry back and says, “There, there.” I can feel the storm coming from the ocean, in my marrow, cataclysmic, egging me on to jump out and join it. I’m sure there’ll be hail the size of small apples, and that when I go outside to claim the wind, the sheer virtue of it, Bridger will scream at Joey to go the hell outside and get her she’ll die out there why the hell does she have to do this every single time she’s going to drive me insane one of these days I’ll be in the nut-house I swear. And Joey will plod out in his big boots and look for me, search in the tall grasses bending low to the ground, but I’ll be behind the barn, reaching my arms up, stretching them as far as I can, wanting to be spirited away like before, into the sky so that I can fly- really soar up there, as if I have no reason to be stuck on earth. An alien, never satisfied being on this particular planet. I’ll wait on the edge of the sucking, gorgeous wind for the storm to transport me, lie down on the horizontal grass with whipping dirt flying in my eyes and hair, until Joey comes and lifts me up in his arms, his careful eyes troubled, and so kind that I am almost sorry for being the child of the tornado – sorry he is compelled to find me and carry me back inside again.