Hurricane Season

By: Lauren K. Denton
one

Betsy

She usually stayed in bed until at least six, but this morning she was restless, like animals get when the barometric pressure drops before a storm. It wasn’t the cows, or the approaching hurricane season, or even the milk prices, which had dipped lately. It was something else, something she couldn’t quite name. She felt like she needed to both run a mile and go back to sleep for the next three hours. It was energy and lethargy, anticipation and dread. Anna Beth would likely diagnose it in a heartbeat, but Betsy had always been good at pretending everything was just fine.

She kicked her legs out from under the sheet, her feet searching for a cool spot in the bed Ty had just vacated. Even with the windows closed and the AC pumping, heat still seeped in, filling the cracks and crevices of her old house with thick Alabama heat. The meteorologists on the news last night had been in a frenzy as they pointed out heat waves radiating across the country. It was only mid-June, but two tropical waves had already rolled off the shores of Africa. Thankfully, they’d fizzled out before reaching land.

“We likely won’t be so lucky later in the summer,” the forecasters thundered, striking terror into the hearts of all those living near the coast, including those in Betsy’s small town of Elinore, fifteen miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. “The most active hurricane forecast in two decades,” NOAA predicted with eager excitement.

El Niño this, La Niña that, everyone had a handy explanation for the coming tide of heat and storms that promised to pummel south Alabama and surrounding coastal areas, but Betsy had her own ideas. This summer she’d turn thirty. Not as big a milestone as forty, but it was a milestone nonetheless. The idea of thirty had always felt maternal, heavy with maturity and substance. While everyone else was talking about the fanfare of an active season—every word punctuated by an exclamation point!—all she felt was a slow hiss of air. It leaked gradually, lazily, not so quickly that anyone else would notice, but she felt it. Like a slow but steady lightening.

Downstairs, the toe of Ty’s boot beat out a rhythm on the kitchen floor as he waited for the coffee to finish dripping. She heard his jumbo-size metal coffee mug scrape across the shelf and thunk down on the counter. The coffee pouring into the mug, the carafe sliding back into place on the hot pad. She imagined Ty’s face, prickly with the night’s passage. His hands, big and warm, knuckles sticking out from his long, sturdy fingers. His brushed-silver wedding ring.

When the screen door thudded closed, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She grabbed a clip from her nightstand and twisted her long brown waves up into a bun, then pulled her light cotton robe around her shoulders and padded into the kitchen. At the window over the sink, she brushed aside the curtain to peek into the backyard. Ty made his way across the dewy grass to the barn. Only the curves of his shoulders were visible in the moonlight.

The coffee was good and hot, scorching her throat on the way down. After pulling her breakfast casserole out of the fridge and popping it in the oven, she opened the back door. Damp morning air met her face with a whisper. On the porch Etta was curled up in a tight ball in her favorite spot on the couch. Betsy couldn’t stand the layer of fur Etta always left behind, but the cat was too cuddly to stay mad at for long.

She reached down and scratched Etta’s chin and behind her ears. When she pushed open the screen door, Etta jumped down from the couch and slid between Betsy’s feet. By the time Betsy reached the bottom of the porch steps, the cat was already halfway to the barn to check for spilled milk.

Crossing the yard, she inhaled the aroma of damp grass, earthy hay, and fresh sawdust coming from the henhouse. It was the same henhouse generations of Ty’s family had used on this property. She and Ty had repaired as necessary and added extra space a few times to accommodate more hens, but the house was basically the same. Not a typical box made of wood and screen. It had a shingled roof, weathered wood siding, even a screened porch. A trumpet vine covered in long red flowers climbed one corner post, and a gravel walkway snaked around the side. Some mornings, when dewy fog hung heavy over the farm and everything was blurry and half erased, Betsy imagined the henhouse as a home for fairies or hobbits.

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