For Speakeasy #161, a Yeah Write writing challenge…
She had seen the boy earlier that day. Thunderstorms had been rolling in, one after another. Volunteers lined up along the creek bank in between storms, loading sand bags. Carlotta sat in the wheelchair on her concrete patio, drinking a vodka tonic. It was 2:00 in the afternoon. Chelsea Run, a small creek behind the row of apartment buildings, was rising and all the pipes feeding it from yards and streets uptown gushed with run-off. Carlotta wanted to jump into the creek, let it take her downstream, feel her tennis shoes filled with silt and water, dragging her down. She pictured herself floating and bobbing, rolling in the deep, arms spread out, head first, skirt torn, carried to the Picquiti River.
Carlotta had tried to quell her ingratitude, her faithlessness. It wasn’t working. On Thursdays, she attended a therapy group for survivors of paralysis. If she survived paralysis, she thought, why would she need a therapy group? None of them were survivors. They were a captive audience for a chatty therapist who needed more positive reinforcement than they did. She had joined a book club, met with ladies at the library to talk about Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steele. The women whispered and shifted in their seats, crossed their legs, reached for tea, while Carlotta’s wheelchair squeaked. Ricky, a weightlifter who lived across the hall, had been training her to build upper body muscles. Ricky promised that she would discover a new world if she could rely on her upper strength.
Drinking now buoyed her mood, especially after the second pour. Carlotta watched the boy, who looked no more than 10 years old; he wore a Reds baseball cap and bright red sneakers. He worked alongside Ricky, who yelled to Carlotta: “Are you going to help or are you going to drink all day?”
“Drink!,” she hollered back, raising her glass. Ricky shook his head.
Off to the southwest, Carlotta saw the horizon turning black. The clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground. It was sudden, this change. It was trouble. The volunteers scattered to their cars and homes. As the wind picked up, Carlotta backed herself into the screen door, slid it open, got inside, never taking her eyes off the sky. She heard the boy cry for his mom. He was walking in circles. No sign of Ricky. Carlotta rolled back outside just as the freight train rumbled and objects whipped the air. Tornado.
“Come here! Run!” Carlotta yelled to the boy. Papers flew, and a mailbox hit the building; an oven door landed on the patio. Whose house did it come from? The boy covered his head and ran towards her. A tree limb struck his back; he fell to the gravel driveway. Carlotta watched the boy struggle –willed herself to be bigger, stronger.
“Don’t underestimate,” she said aloud, “the things that I will do.” Wrestling with each rotation, she wheeled herself across the patio, over the gravel, pelted by glass, stones, wood, trash. She grabbed the boy’s left bicep and pulled him on top of her.
She wheeled back to the apartment, through the door, down the hall and into the bathroom. “Get in the tub,” she said in the boy’s ear. He rolled off her lap and into the bathtub. “Hunker down,” she said and the boy curled his legs and arms underneath himself, tucked his head. Carlotta grabbed the chair arms, flexed her triceps, and hoisted herself out of the chair, her torso and head covering the boy’s back, the weight of her useless legs balancing on porcelain. She would shield him.
She thought of the things she did, at the urging of her doctors, to be a good patient, to unearth some gratitude, to keep from rolling herself down to Chelsea Run. She was certain that she would never go back to therapy. She survived this. She listened to the wind and then it stopped.
The boy crawled out from under her and stood in the tub, chanting, “Oh, my god.”
Then she heard Ricky. “The front half of the building is gone. You ok, Car?” he asked.
“Can you help me back into the chair?”
As the boy and Ricky dragged Carlotta out of the tub, she looked up and saw open sky. She reached out for the boy’s hand and held it to her face. “So this is gratitude.”
About the Speakeasy:
The speakeasy is the sister blog to the yeah write challenge grid, which is a weekly collection of traditional, non-fiction blog posts, and personal essays. The speakeasy challenge is for fiction and poetry. At the speakeasy, we provide you with two prompts. The first is a line to be used somewhere in your piece (where varies each week), and the second is a media (photo, music, video, etc.) prompt for inspiration. This week’s prompt is: “The clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground.” The media inspiration is Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”