I was listening to the radio while I drove back from Walmart on Easter Sunday, when an analogue buzz interrupted the music. Three sharp shocks sounded, punctuated by beat-long silence, then a computerised male voice stated:
“The national weather service in Shreveport has issued a severe thunderstorm report …”
The voice crackled, struggling, through the unstable air, “At 7:48pm Central Daylight Time, a severe thunderstorm was located near Emerson, 11 miles East of Springhill. Hazard. 60 mile per hour winds. … For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of the building …”
I immediately got a text from Russell, “Call me.”
“Ali, I’m coming to get you whether you like it or not. These storms aren’t like them little ones you have out there in England. They’re liable to pick up trailers like yours, and with trees coming down and what have you, well, I don’t like the thought of it.” He paused. “I know it don’t look bad right now but them things move so fast, when you realise you oughta be gone it’s too late.”
In the time it took me to get home from the supermarket, the wind picked up, the sky turned black, and the sun was swallowed by the storm. I rushed around the trailer collecting essentials: a toothbrush, my glasses, a coat for tomorrow. What else what else what else. Suddenly a battering of sweet gum seeds started on the tin roof. Then the rain all fell at once. The familiar lights of Russell’s truck pulled into view, we scrambled to put all the ranch trucks into the barn, then powered back to his house through the deepening rain.
Another warning interrupted the radio, then everything went dark, and there was nothing over the airwaves but the fuzz of white noise. We tried another station; the same. The whole town had lost power.
“I sure hope that dead ol’ tree hasn’t fallen on the house. It’s so wet right now those big roots just come right on up and out of the soil. Dog Garnit I knew I should’ve cut it down yesterday.”
The tree did not fall down.
As the night wore on, and the storm tumbled over us, and past us, it became clear that the towns of Magnolia and Waldo were safe. Russell lit the fire, and we were okay. He had filled up his generator with diesel the day before. The telly showed that we were lucky. A trailer just like mine had been flipped over, and a man in Jefferson died after a tree fell on his house. I can’t get my head around it, how ruin can sweep through like that, upending trees, homes, and lives, all in the same breath. It’s too big, too brief.
But, it brought out people’s kind level-headedness. Driving home through the storm, we met some cars stopped in the road. Chainsaws were cutting through the sound of the wind. Russell rolled down his window and a young man’s face shone red in the brake lights nearby.
“Sorry Sir,” he said, “We’re nearly done here. Tree came down on this here fence and it was over the road. There’re cows in that field so we gotta take care of it fast.”
He was wearing a navy blue hoodie, and the light on top of his truck was just a big torch. I realised he wasn’t wearing High-Vis. He was just a guy.
“I just called Ronald,” said Russell, “He’s gon come down here with his tractor and help you guys out.”
“Thanks, man. Hey, I know this truck – do you live just down the road? In the woods down there?”
“Yeah I do. You hunt over here with Jesse and the boys?”
“Yeah, yeah I do. Name’s Lance.”
We passed Ronald in his tractor as we drove away.
“That was nice of him,” I said.
“It’s just what you do.”
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