“Overhead, the wild huntsman of the storm passed in one blare of mingled noises; screaming wind, straining timber, lashing rope’s end, pounding block and bursting sea contributed; and I could have thought there was another, a more piercing, a more human note, that dominated all, like the wailing of an angel; I could have thought I knew the angel’s name, and that her wings were black.” ―Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker
Daniel watched it, not flinching at the rain splatted fat drops striking an inch from his face. “Doesn’t the storm scare you?”
Irma shook her head knowing he didn’t care how or what she felt and she was long past fear, “What’s that from ‘Islands in the Stream’? What Hemingway wrote about hurricanes.”
“What line?” he replied not turning from the window.
She quoted: “He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”
“You wanted to move here. Here’s our hurricane.”
Daniel aspired to be a writer of Hemingway’s stature and sustained career and had insisted on moving to Key West. Hoping the vibe would revitalize his stalled career. It hadn’t yet and nothing had changed. When he sobered up, he defended his actions. Alcohol had been a crucial existential salve for Hemingway, a much-needed release that fueled his writing. Daniel had believed and chosen the same path, a bargain with the devil that had proved one-sided. Not in his favor. Seven years from his bestseller, he still could not repeat its success, and cruelty had replaced creativity.
She stepped closer to him as he looked out at the wind-whipped palm trees through rainwater coursing down the glass. “Maybe going through this—the storm—will make things better for us,” Irma lied as the hurricane’s shriek grew and the walls of their small house trembled. Daniel didn’t move from the window as she turned and shifted to stand behind him.
* * *
First responders worked their way through streets full of debris. A tumble of broken jackstraw, formerly storefronts and homes, the detritus of a community that would take a long time to recover from the hurricane’s aftermath. There were bodies of those that had not evacuated and others dragged out to sea and found washed ashore miles away. In the devastation, only one survivor.
“He wouldn’t go… he thought riding out a hurricane was just another experience… something to help his writing,” Irma looked at the police officer as two paramedics zipped the body bag around Daniel, “and I couldn’t leave him.”
Two Years Later
“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.” ―Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The reporter from the Santa Fe New Mexican closed the notebook and reached for his phone which was still recording the interview. “After the storm and your husband’s death, Ridley Scott’s production company optioned your husband’s novel for a major motion picture with Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. That movie became a huge hit, grossing $478 million. And the points on the back end—the profit piece you secured—paid off. Does it make you sad that your husband isn’t alive to share the joy and financial success of that with you?”
“He had always hoped he could see some of his work in film and he was a great Samuel L. Jackson fan.”
Irma had slipped into a memory and did not follow what the reporter asked. “Am I what?”
“Are you a Samuel L. Jackson fan?”
Irma smiled, “No. I’m more a Liam Neeson type, those ‘Taken’ movies.” Her thoughts returned to what had happened—what had to happen—that night at the height of the storm. Daniel, drunk, not concerned by the wall and window’s buffeting from the Category 4 force winds, had not even turned when she called his name hoping to look him in the eye. And she had done what she needed to do and then had slipped out, hanging onto a line secured to one of the stout pillars either side of the front door. Breaking the window’s glass from the outside, she had gone back inside and looked down at him. Shards of glass had covered Daniel. His skull caved in, blond hair darkened with bits of bone and a lot of blood, he was moving. Trying to stand. She had pushed him down and kneeled to whisper in his ear. “Here’s the line I like best from that Hemingway story, ‘He also knew hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them.’” Stormwater from her hair had dripped onto his face as she lifted the section of 4×4 post brought in from where he had been building a deck extension. She had driven it down with all her weight, leaning into it until the twitching stopped.
Coming back to the present, Irma blinked and took a deep breath.
The reporter turned off the recording. “That’s a good wrap up,” he smiled at Irma. He had met with her three times now for the interview and to welcome a new—affluent—resident to Santa Fe and each time Irma had worn clothing odd for summer wear. “Sensitive skin?” he gestured at the long sleeve, high-neck shirt.
“A history of skin cancer in my family,” Irma tugged her sleeves down. The sleeves and high collars she wore as habit had hidden the scars she had accumulated through years of abuse. That the film rights sale of Daniel’s one successful work had paid for plastic surgery—she had found a discrete surgeon in Los Angeles—had not pleased her as much as how it had felt with that piece of wood in her hands when she made him pay for what he had done to her.
“You must feel blessed….” the reporter stood and tucked his notebook under an arm.
Irma looked up. “Blessed?”
“To have survived that hurricane.” The reporter held his hand out.
Irma shook it with a grip that surprised the reporter. “I’m hard to kill…”
# # #
Note from Dennis
―THE ORIGIN STORY ―
I had a note in my story-idea book for some time about a revenge killing at the height of a hurricane. It seemed a perfect way to cover up a murder. One hurricane-season morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching Hurricane Irma news (I live in Florida), as the caffeine kicked in I toyed with the thread of a few lines for that story. As I scanned my images folder, I came across one that gave me not only the title but also the core of the story’s protagonist. It fleshed out my premise… you can push a person too far and then the 6th commandment (or other laws) may not keep them from doing what they must do to survive. And what better time to do something so drastic—killing someone—than when you stand a good chance of getting away with murder. What you read was the story that resulted.
‘cause I’m standing in the eye of the storm
And everything I’ve known is blowing away
I’m caught in a hurricane
I’m leaving here dead or alive
And I know that I’d be willing to feel the pain
If it got me to the other side
‘Cause it only hurts, hurricane
Yeah, I can feel it hurt, hurricane.