he sky rotated into a yellow-green, the kind where the sun strove to shine through. Cindy stayed out in the yard. Her son texted hide in the basement! A siren wailed through the empty street.
But Cindy waited.
She’d just finished washing the dishes and wanted to check on her hummingbirds. The feeder hung, still and dull; the jeweled visitors probably huddled in the basements of their trees. The air had a sticky texture, clinging to her throat like it didn’t want to sink into her lungs.
One hummingbird darted over, peering into the feeder. Its puffed-out chest shone the same copper red as Kaz’s beard, and she held her breath, captivated. The same bird as the day before. It hovered for a moment, then zipped away.
No. Come back—
She should refill the bird seed. Cindy trailed inside to grab it from beneath the kitchen cabinet. The house muffled the siren’s keening song, and once she got back outside, it grew louder, more insistent. “Shush,” she said. “I heard you the first time.”
People worried so much over nothing. Not that it accomplished anything. Look at her, a worrywart for forty years; it hadn’t helped Kaz. Maybe she’d worried so much the stress had transferred to him, attacked his heart instead of hers.
She poured more bird seed in and leaned against the porch railing. Maybe the little red one would come back.
The air thickened, and everything stilled. A bad one, then. Maybe the funnel cloud had touched the ground. She checked the weather on her phone: Tornado Warning. Two-funnel touchdown. Seek shelter in a basement or cellar and away from windows.
Cindy waited. She wouldn’t let things like high winds pull her into that spiral. She’d done that with Kaz, and look at how she’d hurt him.
The little red hummingbird zipped up again, but now the tornado was close. “You need to find shelter, little guy,” she said. “Don’t you hear the siren?”
The bird whirred near. Cindy tried to swallow, but the dank air stuck in her throat. The bird hovered in front of her, tilting its head.
“Kaz?” Cindy said.
The hummingbird dove into a bush. The wind picked up, sweeping away the clammy air. Trees swayed all along the empty street, and stray droplets rained sideways, splatting the sidewalk.
Cindy hurried back to the porch. She peered out, straining to see the little bird. It was safe. It knew where to hide. Didn’t it?
The wind whipped through the grass, now creating waves of green. She fumbled at the door latch, which slammed open, scraping her arm. She dashed inside, trembling, and then rain ran down her cheeks. But it was tears.
The tornado reeled through the street.
The windows shattered in the kitchen. Plates spilled out of the cabinet and splintered across the floor. A gray toss of selfish stress. Spiraling, egotistical pressure. Didn’t it know the damage it dealt? Why couldn’t it stay in the sky and forbid itself to touch the ground? Didn’t it blame itself?
The eye of the storm paused, and inside the vortex, the abrupt solemnity gave her a start as if the tornado looked down at her and tilted its head. She saw herself from its point of view: a funnel cloud with nowhere to go, an endless yellow-green sky in her heart. “Why not let go of the guilt?” it seemed to ask.
Then the funnel passed.
It roared in the distance, and Cindy huddled on the floor. Shards from the shattered plates had lodged in her leg, but she barely felt them. The air had cooled.
She cried for the bird outside and Kaz. She let the destructive tears roll, allowed the tornado to wreck her because she’d found the fine line between worry and care, between guilt and grief. She understood the care and keeping of funnel clouds and how emotions passed after, allowing them to touch down.
She texted her son back, and he dashed in thirty minutes later.
“Mom! Why didn’t you go down in the basement?” He bandaged her leg. “You’re gonna need stitches.”
“I was trying not to freak out,” she said. “Can you check outside for the hummingbirds?”
“We’ve talked about this,” he said, helping her onto a chair. “You didn’t stress dad out. The heart attack just happened.”
“I know. I know that now. It’s hard to let go, sometimes.”
The little red hummingbird flew in through the shattered window.