Such an amusing influence the sirens have on humans.
I gotta laugh when I see the darkness spreading all over their faces, their everyday conceit substituted with worry. With fear, lots of it.
Suddenly they don't long to have faster cars than their neighbors anymore, or owning perfect-er façade than the neighboring house does. They look like they finally comprehended the minus in their bank accounts. Oh, they go, I can lose a house. Maybe I should have started buying clothes from Target. It would probably keep me just as warm.
It's sad that this kind of a wakeup call is needed to open their eyes and see the misery they are living in. Every month a part of an already meagre salary goes to a decade old mortgage. Every morning they greet the hated co-worker. The peak of the day is dinner involving plastic plates and reality TV. Conversations are spent arguing about the color of the car owned by their has-been-late-for-thirty-Years grandpa and comparing best ways to slice the salad.
Of course they would never just get up, scream I have enough. No way in hell that they would carry bags and boxes into a trunk of a car instead of in the attic, turn up the volume of the radio to the maximum and drive away, singing the country evergreens. They would never ever fly out of this cage of utter boredom, into the freedom, take a breath that is not fraught with the agony of every day. Of course not. Some weird magic of their hometown chains them, makes them believe they have to stay. Did I say magic? Dread. That's it. They are afraid to leave. because here they were born! Hey, this is where they prospered in high school! Here they are something. As soon as they pass the board announcing the neighboring county they are only a part of the herd. Nothing special.
But we all wanna be special, right?
It is a struggle to become somebody - be different, be viable. They are so afraid of failing they rather stay at home. They are forever momma's boys; they encounter familiar faces till their death; they have lunch every day at the same hour at the same table in the same bar. They do the work they hate; they become what they were always afraid of – the copies. The copies of their parents, copies of everyone they've been seeing since childhood. Life passes them by and they never visit places they fall in love with while reading child literature, they never admit they never really got over their first love and they never say out loud that the shirt they're wearing day after day is in fact suffocating them.
Once they realize this it is too late. They are already 80-year-olds, permanent visitors of nursing homes, it is too late to turn the wheel of time around, change things. Mistakes they made are like religion - anchored in their lives.
The sirens are probably the only time when they actually think they don't have to be here. They could be living somewhere else, somewhere far away. The moment when they grab the boxes of rubbish they don't need but yet have, maybe in that moment they think of their classmates that departed after high school and never came back. They launched their own companies, they have a live-in maid, they dine with their darling at el Bulli and the congressmen often come to their backyard barbecue. Hey, that gotta be cool, the whispers at high school reunions say. There comes the Sunday and there's no need to clean the already lemon-smelling house. It could be me. Hey, maybe I can still be that!
But when the sirens sing, they are too concerned to save the high school sweetheart souvenirs to throw their hands up and try. When the floods pass, they have to go back to work.
These sirens, what are they? Why are they such serum of truth, a key to buried truths? Is the vibration or are the silent tones to blame? I don't know. I am probably immune as I am aware of all this every day. As I live in peaceful co-existence with facts. I continue breathing in this contaminated atmosphere and counting down the days when I will finally break free. I have never been so close.
I hadn't gone to sleep yet when the sirens went off at eleven thirty. I was lying in my bed, watching the candle slowly fading. My fingers visited every single one of the forty-seven pendants of my silver bracelet. The moment the sirens cut though our little town the thunder struck. As if the storm was angry that someone was brave enough to interrupt its concert. I totally knew where it was coming from.
I waited until the candle burnt out and got up. I put on one of the shirts he had left over. It was slightly cold, although the October had been reasonably warm. It was probably only the wide open window in the times of the thunder.
When I stepped onto the hallway all the lights we own were on. Oops. Looks like the next money for mortgage will go somewhere else.
I descended the stairs and stopped somewhere in the middle. My dear parents appeared, Patricia and Albert. She had her jacket wrongly buttoned and his forehead was drowning in sweat. Running from the raging flood can be stressful.
"Al! Leave the garage alone! There's nothing valuable in there! Or important! Take care of the car!"
"You do it, Pat and I will…"
"I will not drive in this storm!" she screamed and realized her voice had panic written all over. Cold-blooded Patricia McGee cannot afford being seen afraid! She never loses control. She faces with everything that crosses her way. She is like those heroic marines that carry injured brothers on their backs through the minefield. If she shows fear ... people will know she is like them. That they too can rule like she does. There would be chaos. And as Pat only masters warning speech and one fighting scream, she would probably lose.
She was blinking nervously behind her thick glasses.
"I mean … I know what you want, Al. You want me to go out so that you can take care of your precious garage. You won't! I won't let you destroy everything we own! You will take care of the car…"
"Fine! I'm going!"
From the rack he grabbed his military-looking jacket bought in Mr Peterson's Shop Of Used Things. It was supposed to be impermeable so in his mind is was a perfect companion in the war with rain cannons. Before shutting the door he put on a matching hat. I might have mistaken him for a real soldier had it not been my dad.
Par shook her head.
"What did I say?!" she exclaimed and started a rescue mission for all our valuable objects. I was kinda curious what she would find.
It was all Helene' fault. Helene is the new weather girl on the local TV channel of Papa's Bacon County, Kentucky. She had shown up three weeks ago and ever since the weather forecast was the most inhabited moment of TV broadcast. It had more to do with her being well-endowed than well-talented. White tops, transparent for her red underwear and the one button proper opened increased the ratings.
Howard, the previous weatherman, had only been able to attract female live-in visitors of nursing homes at his 50 years of weather forecasts. For years we had represented the county that didn't discriminate against the elderly. Howard even had his own fan club and was voted the best dressed Papa's Bacon man eleven times in the row. Sadly, everything changed when Helene walked onto the screen.
This way the news of terrible floods two counties north of ours had reached us all. It was caused by the stormy season tea-timing a few miles above us. We were served in the best way possible – the service included the debris from other counties, such as wooden sculptures, tires, clothes, baby toys and mostly the dark, scary, frightening water. It was whirling under the county bridge, angry, like OJ when he saw Nicole and Roland. It made you wonder what, what if it takes me with her?
But I still think that because of the super-importance of our county no one really thought that the river Vendré would have the guts to attack us like the Yankees fought with the South. I mean, we are the sons of our great-great grandfathers from the times of Civil War. We will grab old guns hanging misused on the walls, stand on the river banks and protect our land with our lives. Nobody messes with us. Being a resident of Papa's Bacon is an honor and we will serve.
Hours ago they all went to bed, used to lightings above the chimneys. But now, when we were in the eleventh hour, now we were preparing for war.
Light were on in all the houses in the street. I saw Al driving away. Pat was producing noise in the living room. Shoes were not going to grab umbrellas and protect themselves.
It might not seem so, but ever since Al and Pat set up their own business a few months ago, they have been getting along remarkably nicely. Tension usually erupts at work already so upon arriving home they are simply too tired to fight in front of their daughter. Kudos, now I have the much needed peace to study physics.
To be exact, Al employed his darling wife in a company he started with his old friend Trent. I guess someone had to take over the financial obligation. Actually their car-fixing company is doing much better since these two only fix cars. I'll take a wild guess and say it is because they don't have the guts to spend the earned money in the closest bar playing darts. Patricia would rather get killed that let one cent go to waste.
Although their freedom is limited, Al and Trent have many reasons to feel happy. Their former employer who heartlessly fired them is now barely keeping his head above the water. The only thing saving him from bankruptcy is his well-heeled wife who is too busy fooling around with her 30 years younger boyfriend to notice the money disappearing from her bank account.
Al was back less than ten minutes later. He left the car in the top floor of the car parking garage. In good company, with the rest of the county wheels population. Maybe they really couldn't drink beer instead of gasoline but I bet they could still have a hell of a party. They would have dozens of radio stations to choose from, from gospel to country. Gosh, it is better to be a car than a teenager in our town.
Patricia used to have her own car, a little yellow thing that seemed to take after a lemon. It didn't last three months before she realized the costs of maintaining two cars in our household. It wasn't just two full tanks; it was her ride being far from ideal condition. As soon as a one spare part came with priority mail, a need for another one appeared. Pat just gave up and sold it to some Nicaraguan car dealer. With the money she bought us dinner in the most expensive restaurant in town nice treat but I would be perfectly happy with Burger King. At least food there doesn't smell. And you usually get the amount that doesn't leave you yielding for more. But I smiled and asked god to bless my mother. It is under my skin by now.
"Oh, Al, you are back already? I thought you were going to stay there!"
"I was gone for less than 15 minutes!"
"15 minutes? You think the flood will wait 15 minutes? Roll the carpet, Al, I don't want to have to throw it away…"
"I will, I will. But TV first."
"TV? Oh, you and you Big…"
"Patricia, we still have the old carpet on the attic…"
"I will not have the legacy of your mother in my living room even now when she doesn't live here anymore! The carpet, now! And stop looking at TV Guide!"
"Where do you want me to put it?"
Summer won't mind. She is almost never home anyway.
Summer's my elder sister, the main trouble maker of the family. She started hanging around with a local bad boy, drug dealer Wade and dreaded of the shame it may bring Patricia sent her away. Summer is now living with Pat's conservative mother Olga somewhere in the heart of Arkansas that has to my knowledge been recently named the most depressing state. My dear sister might have seemed to go from bad to worse but I still think the analytics simply didn't walk into the Papa's Bacon County yet. It's kinda hard to imagine life anywhere being a louder party than in our little corner of the world. Except maybe in Aruba, where you're avoiding the ghost of Natalee Holloway begging you to take her home.
As soon as a nurse in rehab, stuck-up cow with perm judged that Summer's tissue had been successfully drained of any traces of weed Pat grabbed a telephone and dialled a number she had burned into her brain. She called Grandma Olga although these two hadn't talked for nearly 20 years – an absurd ban had forbidden 16-year-old Patricia Grey from spending days with one year older boy named Albert McGee, infamous for being the a reserve for all school's sport teams. Because of the grudge I actually had believed Grandma Olga was long gone.
Less than a day later Grandma Olga appeared, military postured and sparkling with naturalism. Wearing a white coat made of fur she refused to embrace the long lost daughter; she rather spent an hour barking about Pat not putting a Jesus in the living room. Before she was told that her younger granddaughter had broken it on one of her birthday parties as the storm forced the invitees to organize a football championship in the living room Olga exclaimed that therefore nothing is surprising to her. She didn't even look at Albert; she was too busy fussing over the fast food packages found in the fridge. Apparently she had never let her family eat any of the processed food; instead she cooked all meals of fresh vegetable. At least in that aspect Pat had a better childhood than me.
Summer was listening to Olga with her mouth open before running into her room and locking herself in. dreaded Pat sent Al under her window to stop the possible escape as our family couldn't survive another scandal. It ended with Summer begging Pat not to let her go to Arkansas, swearing she would never use drugs again. It didn't help. Grandma Olga dragged her into a cab of Benny's PB Taxi Service and they drove away. Judging from the information we receive through the phone lines Summer is doing ok now. Or at least she says so. I kinda doubt Grandma Olga that never lets Summer out of her eyesight would let her say in what kind of a North Korea imitation she has been living in.
I can't say Summer and I get on well. We are still the targets of full loathe from each other's side. I don't give a damn about her. When she came to visit a few weeks ago she was staring at me, with her eyes full of black mamba kind of poison but like a mongoose I was immune. Without any rapid heartbeat I was enduring the family trips set up by Pat trying to improve the family relations. I was walking around peacefully with los auriculares in my ears hidden under my hair as Summer was trying to walk as far away from me as possible. I enjoyed the food while she was wrathfully staring at the hot waiter who, under the assumption Summer was trying to flirt with him, started shaking his behind to the extent that triggered Pat's decision to leave before the appetizers reached our table. I was calmly looking through the car windows while Summer was desperately trying to make a hole in a window using her head so that she could escape. In the end of the day I was happy to have spent time in the fresh air while Summer might have been trying to scratch out the lungs that were forced to breathe the same air as I did. I can't say I missed her when she returned to Arkansas.
Important part of the McGee clan is also my uncle Simon. I sued to be living with us and now I kind of miss him. Not to the extent that I would be standing at the roof top in the middle of a storm, yelling at God and waiting to be hit by a lighting. But I miss him enough to notice the empty chair at breakfast.
Simon is a local photographer and failed theatre actor. He suffered a breakdown after his wife left him and started living with us.
Pat finally had enough of his parasiting so she sent him to a special place to recuperate. At first it seemed it was a marvelous decision as he landed a starring role in the center’s performance of Hamlet but the play got devastatingly cancelled after half the cast were found boozing with the cleaning lady. With Albert's help Simon rented a small place and landed a gig with local newspaper. He was also hired by our high school; he took pictures for the year book. He did leave half of the first wage in mickey's Bar as his so-called friends refused to go Dutch but I do think he is doing well. I feel like Al is kind of jealous of him as now his sash for The Most Successful Brother is seriously jeopardized.
I don't know why he cares about it so much. Ain't like anyone in Papa's Bacon cares about anyone else but themselves. Even their mother has abandoned the motherhood role since she moved in with her boyfriend, Jackson. She must be enjoying her second youth; last time I saw her beloved dog Bongo, he was kind of skinny.
Patricia is ecstatic now when her mother in law is not around anymore. She got rid of everything Ilene bought for us – carpets, plates, paintings, curtains, even little red pillows that were immensely cute. I wanted to take one out of the dumpster but I figured it wasn't the best way to show on whose side I was supposed to be on.
"Al!" shouted Pat , "did you remove everything from the hallway?!"
"Yes, dear. Do…"
"No, you will not go to the garage! That metal tools of yours would survive the ice age!"
Poor Pat. She has no idea Albert is not really concerned about pincers and screws. He is afraid for his bottles of enticing liquor, hidden behind the left over from building the shed. In times of apocalypse he would return to the garage to retrieve them and refuse to get locked in the five star hotel, the WW1 bunker after mayor Charlie's office. With his body he would protect the fragile glass; at least once he would get to let out a combat scream before running away. At least for once he would get to live his high school fantasy of being the fastest on the field. He would be a hero, like Robert Neville. He would be a legend in the world of whiskey. The perfect death for Albert McGee.
"If you don't know what to do, Al, maybe you can just stroll around! because I don't know if you know but we have to take care of the guest room!"
Patricia pushed the glasses even fathered up her nose. Yep, panic was breaking her. Her voice could as well belong to the lead singer of Choir of PB Church.
Loud thunder shook the house again.
Pat let out a silent scream and turned pale as if the ghost of bob Marley had appeared in front of her. Ah, Bob Marley, her main inspiration in high school and the culprit for her agreeing to get in the car of Albert McGee and sealing her fate.
Al stood still, looking pretty much the same as when he's looking Big Brother. It was here. The eye of the storm had pom-pomed to Papa's Bacon. What was done was done. All there was left was to flee. From the distance we would observe if the sandy embankments would protect our homes from the monster. We would find out if everything was in vein, if last moments would have been better spent watching MTV. Were we Sisyphus?
Or not. It turned out it was just knocking on the door.
"Finally!" exclaimed Pat as Al ran to the door. "Finally they sent the National guard!"
It would be nice. Tsunami of sugar would hit my fragile body if a member of National Guard would really be standing on the porch. Young, handsome boy in the uniform. He would stand tall, proud; his figure would insinuate a Greek god. My knees would weaken when he would look at me. Our eyes would meet he would nod, smile. He would be the prettiest storm I had ever seen on this side. His smile would enlighten my life just like lighting enlightens dark sky. His smell would be fresh April morning; his voice would be the sound of drizzle playing soccer on green leaves of hardly awaken birch. His moves would be as fine as the movement of cloud in the immense heights. He would be a rainy fairytale.
But I am not a princess and this is not a fairytale. Simon was standing at the door, holding a Miki Mouse umbrella.
"Simon?" said Albert in disbelief.
"Albert, I need your help! I don't know what to do! These sirens and all … everyone is running around, carrying things and I don't know what to do!"
Oh, maybe I have an idea. Why doesn't he call his sponsor, a married chef with three kids who is also a healed alcoholic? Ah, he would be probably too concerned with saving his own business to help some pretty unimportant Simon who is actually one giant hypochondriac.
Al didn't think like me. He looked over his shoulder, at his wife. Patricia stood with her arms crossed and shook her head. Probably because she was aware of Simon's apartment being on the third floor.
"Sorry," he uttered and started breathing heavily as if he got infected with a plague in the rink.
Simon started nodding with the speed of light. He looked like a junkie, struggling to find another dose. He almost fell down since his muscles substituted their main assignment for uncontrolled shaking.
"Fine," he squeaked, "fine, I'll … I'll go to the firemen."
It hurt me to watch Al as he stared at his leaving brother. Only a dress and excessive make up were missing and he would look like a woman letting her darling leave for second world war. Who knew if their next touch would be through a wooden coffin? He really really really wanted to follow Simon and help him in these doubtlessly very hard times. But Pat's look was worse than super glue that glues your fingers together in a second.
"Close the door already! I don't want any water in the house before it is absolutely unavoidable!"
Of course she didn't know about the window in my room. Why would I tell her?
Then she turned around and the aura of unbelievable Patricia McGee, the super woman was back. The Queen Of Crisis. The commander of rebel against the torrential waters rotated to the stairs and saw me.
"What is it, Winter?" she Pinscher-ed me. It was about to jump over the fence, break the chain and launch itself at me. What a shame; we the Pekingese can crawl into the smallest holes and hide. It would be fun to play with her. "Why don't you come and help us, huh?!"
How nice, somebody actually noticed me in times of raging nature. If I really wore a gown I would sit in his lap and we would watch this Broadway show together. But I am just a maid in Papa's Bacon.
I sighed and ascended the stairs. The lowest of the voices in the storm orchestra started playing again. I had to smile.
The next morning we caught a report on Papa's Bacon local TV station that slowed our breathing, stopped our nervous sweating and ended our worries of dying of heart attack before 40. There was no danger. Mayor Charlie was surprisingly cranky when he told us the breaking news. Of course, he hoped for government help in rebuilding the city after disastrous floods. They would stroll straight into his pockets and pay for holidays on Marshall Islands, a vacation a mayor's salary could never cover. What propaganda for politics. Makes me wanna join.
Later that day Mickey, the owner of the local bar, told me the truth about the flood alarm. There had never been any danger at all. All the weather people, including the bonny Helene had been aware of that. What happened was that Helene got bored of being alone on duty in the office so she called up her boyfriend. The passion erupted like Eyjafjallajökull and they barricaded into the control room and surrendered to the joy. As he reached his physical peak he accidently pressed the button that turned on all the alarms in the county and sent a package of panic in every Papa's Bacon home.
The next evening, Howard was once again the weatherman.