THE HOWLING OUTSIDE FADES into an eerie silence.
The lights flicker back on, showing me nothing more than the smooth, charcoal-colored bars I’ve been staring at for the past three days. Or has it been four?
The muffled static of a distant radio reaches my cell, its volume ebbing and flowing like the sheets of rain that have been battering the walls of the jailhouse.
*khhhhhh-upgraded to a category five-khhhhhh-mandatory evacuation-khhhhhh-some have chosen to stay behind*
A sarcastic chuckle slips through my lips. “You think people choose this?” I raise my head to scream through the cell bars, “You think people stick around for shits and giggles? What is wrong with you? People are fuckin’ trapped here! I’M TRAPPED HERE!”
I hop up, run to the cell door, and clutch the bars so tight my knuckles change color. The full strength of my body is nothing
compared to the steel structure. I shake the bars furiously, only to find that my soft palms take the brunt of the force. Hands numbing, I retire to the only dry corner of the piss-scented cell.
My gaze is fixated on the concrete floor. My eyes are stuck, my mind is stuck, everything is stuck.
The gentle pitter patter of the rain becomes a heavy drum roll. The growing bass vibrations are joined by the wind’s treble, whistling through an elevated window frame. I look up.
Water droplets slap the window sill then splash into the room, some wetting my sweaty skin. I’ve never been in so humid a place as this awful little town, with air and humidity so thick I can taste them. The light sprinkling does nothing to relieve my discomfort.
A single leaf flips through the bars over the window and sails to the middle of the floor. A thin stem and five points sustain the leaf’s rust-colored surface. It is wet and helpless, the weight of the water it bears precluding it from being scooped up by a wandering breeze.
My mind wanders.
It’s late September. Three kids are running in the middle of a residential street abutted by broad-leaved trees and boxy apartment
buildings, no taller than two stories each. The children are laughing and screaming, chasing each other about as rust-colored leaves flit through the air. “No school for 3 days!” one of them calls. Not a single light is on throughout the block, just the sun shrouded by an overcast sky.
The trees begin dancing again, the leaves melting off into the wind. “Get inside!” Calls an all-too-familiar voice. I look left. Ma is standing within the front door of our one-bedroom apartment.
“But we’re playing, Ma!” I protest.
“Right now!” she demands, and I’m helpless to comply.
Inside, I’m peeking out of the window, watching the world transform before my eyes. I never noticed the bright yellow and pink flowers lining the side of the apartment I lived in until now. The storm’s wrath weakened significantly before reaching us – they always did. Tropical storms, hurricanes, whatever they call ‘em, they’ve always been more of a spectacle than a disaster for us.
Ma quietly steps behind me and places her hand on my shoulder. I feel the warmth of her presence, enveloped by the comfort that only Ma’s presence brings.
“Ma!” I scream.
The wind is furious, the window panes shudder. Rain pours into the cell; what was once a trickle has become a cascade. An amorphous puddle washes the sole leaf away.
“Is anyone here! I need to make a phone call!” My voice is met only by its echo, vibrating back and forth through the single hall of this tiny jailhouse.
I rise to my feet and squeak over to the door. Again, I grip the bars. “I need to call Ma! I need to call Ma! I need to call me! Please! Is there anyone here? I’m going to fucking die in here!” Tears make their way to my chin.
What good would a phone call do, anyway? No one can afford to help, much less during a natural disaster. My best friends can hardly afford rent, how are they going to post bail for me? My brother lives in the middle of the country, he can’t just pack up and drive two days to get me out of jail. Ma’s the only one would could get me out of here. But even she couldn’t! How old is she now? Seventy-one? Seventy-two? She can hardly drive in fair weather, much less in the middle of a fucking hurricane. She’d get in a wreck before she got to the freeway!
The lights flicker, announcing the arrival of darkness.
“I’m going to die in here!” I no longer have control of my voice. “I don’t deserve this!” I struggle to breathe in the thick air around me.
My rib cage compresses my lungs. A deep pang in my chest sends me right back to the floor. A river has replaced my face.
My heart is racing, following the quick rhythm of the rain pounding overhead. I’m bawling, rocking back and forth, hugging my knees to my body. This is a tiny holding cell, a tiny building. Are the walls even built for this kind of storm? The whistling is louder than before; it derails my mind. I can hardly hear my thoughts.
The room begins to shake, rattling the metal bars keeping me inside a space with no water, no food, no human connection. Thunder roars outside, accompanied by clamorous waves. Rain sweats through the window. I can barely see any more with the few lights left continuously blinking. I crawl to the wall with the window and place the palm of my hand to feel the wetness. How I long to touch, breathe, and experience the natural world again.
Boooooom! I’m launched across my cell – the wall violently reverberating. A surge of electricity causes every light to go out. Darkness arrives.
My eyes dart to the mechanical lock on my cell door. I jump to
my feet. In disbelief, I slide the cell door open. I’m free.
I cautiously walk down the narrow hallway – looking over my shoulder, waiting to be tackled to the ground at any moment. When I swing the jail’s front door open, the wind slaps my face, nearly knocking me down. The permeating gray stings my eyes. It’s unrecognizable outside. Power lines are on the ground, sparks of electricity rising from the flooded streets. The sky rumbles and a funnel cloud emerges from the enraged clouds. Horizontal rains whip up everything in their path.
My head drops. I retreat back into the building and amble down the lonely hall into my cell. I pass through the sliding door and close it behind me. I take a seat in my corner.