Tempest
A Short Story by Liz Varley
Written using the suggestion "Storm Cloud"
Originally featured on 12-06-2006
As part of our series "Fall Stories"

In the small town of Cumulus, twelve miles west of Idaho Falls and the searing altitude of the Tetons, things ran smoothly, most of the time. In a three story farmhouse passed down through generations and dating back to the times when the West was wild and eyes sparked with the delusions of gold, lived a woman how could see into the future. She walked the streets of Cumulus in her overalls, stained the colors of a violent storm filled cloud, avoided by many eyes, as it was known that if her eyes met yours, she saw you. Like the first icy wind of the winter, her eyes cut through your skin and passed over you like a finger over the lines of a page in a worn novel. There was no evil in her look, or in her abilities. The evil lurked in the futures of the people around her. The acknowledgment of the possibility of evil was enough for the residents of Cumulus, who would jump in line at Safeway when they noticed her standing behind them, dropping the keys in their hands, the lift in their conversation with the cashier, the color draining from their already lackluster faces.

When see saw you, as she saw Maxwell Klein, known as Max, known as a sneak, a scumbag, a cheater, a vagrant–you went to her. You went to her bruise blue painted farmhouse, with windows that pressed their emptiness on the sidewalks, and you knocked. The mind of the person waiting at the door would fill to an almost unbelievable state, like breath into a balloon the thoughts would rush in, push at the edges of rationality, predictability, reality.

You would follow her around the house as she watered the plants, lifting up the leaves to get the water to the soil; as she dusted, lifting up the books a bit on the shelf to get the noticeable bits, leaving the rest hid in the dark, under volumes. She would tell you, as she told Max, that although curiosity drove him to her door, whatever she told him would ultimately be ignored. Their eyes would meet, she would continue. Once he heard her words, about his drive to Idaho Falls in November that would change his life, his efforts to change such a fate would only bring him closer, entwine him with it. The twists in life come so quickly, and so easily sometimes, she tells him, over a bowl of fresh grapes, that any and all attempts to avoid it will be forgotten amidst what you think is a matter of your own free will. This is what she tells the people of Cumulus, time after time, when she realizes where they will go wrong.

Max does not attempt to change anything. He thinks he is worthless, from all the talk of it being so, from the way his mother shakes her head at him when she finds him passed out drunk in the loveseat at five am, when she is on her way to her opening shift at the wall where she works in Idaho Falls, selling cellular phones. She has a red flip phone with a built in camera and the ability to play music.

Max tells himself he will get out. Fuck Cumulus, he tells himself, and he packs his bags for Las Vegas, where he will make it big time, he thinks, telling off everyone he knows as he punches the clothes down with his fist. He will take his sisters car, he will send her money for a new one when he gets some, she sleeps as he turns the key in the ignition. He sees her baby blue cell phone poking from under the passenger seat, but he can’t go back now, as the town fades from the rear-view mirror. He is on I-15, already picturing the red Utah landscape, the smooth dry land of the desert, when the phone begins to ring, mimicking the notes of ‘I Will Survive’ in Casio tone. The number is his mothers. He ignore it. It rings again, and again. He tries to turn it off but finds himself answering, confusing his mother, who had called to speak to his sister, the more responsible one. Her car is broken down a few miles from the mall, she says, in Idaho Falls, and there is no one around. It’s too early to shop, she says, her voice dragging.

He turns around, telling her off out loud in a booming preachers voice, pounding the palm of his hand on the steering wheel for effect. He tries to convince himself that he should turn back around, keep going to Las Vegas, where he will get a job as a valet, rub elbows with the rich people, drink champagne, make his family jealous. His eyes stay forward, focused in anger, he tells himself to take control, live his own life, stop being a pussy. He pounds the wheel, this time too hard, and the tires of the car find themselves in front of another car, he finds himself looking into the deep, dark eyes of the driver before spinning off the other direction, his body lost in the thrusting gravity of the spin. The sky he sees through the windshield is a beaten blue bordering on violet, the colors churning together like flavors of soft serve ice cream.

He wakes, he thinks, to mostly silence, his neck dry with pain, sees the stretch of highway coming towards him from miles away, the yellow line vibrating against his half open eye. He is lying on the road, the car seems obsolete.

His mother is waiting inside her car, impatiently, for him to arrive. She taps her nails on the steering wheel, asking herself where she went wrong.

The woman who can see into the future walks the streets of Cumulus, watching round gray clouds disappear into the mouth of the horizon, one by one.

Read More By Liz Varley

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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