I’ve been mulling over this story for a long time, and I finally got the idea for the beginning when we had a very small tornado a couple of months ago. I didn’t see the actual tornado, but my next door neighbor did.
The oak tree on the hill in the field across the road went down in the tornado.
I heard the siren on the nearby firehouse but didn’t associate it with the storm. I had been on the phone with my sister Shay when I heard the flue over the stove rattling. I glanced out the window and saw the undersides of the maple leaves. The laundry. I got off the phone and ran outside, and I was fighting to hold onto the sheets and get the quilt off the line when I heard a shrieking, tearing sound. The wind almost blew me off my feet. My neighbors’ cat ran across my yard towards her house and I thought, why is she not blowing away? I made it in the back door, pulled with all my strength to close the storm door, and ran to the front door. Something flew from one side of the screened porch to the other, a cushion from the glider. The swirling clouds enveloped the small hill in the field. The odd thing that I told the neighbors about late that night was the way the tornado lingered on the hill before passing on and leaving the giant old oak wrenched out of the earth. I was so appalled that I couldn’t take my eyes off the downed tree, and I missed the tornado’s disappearance.
My house faced a county road that crossed a two-line highway. Brenda said that tornado had followed the highway, then veered into the field at a ninety-degree angle.
“Them storms do strange things,” the lineman said. The tornado had taken branches from trees along the highway. The power lines were down in multiple places. “Shame about that old tree. Reckon people will stop calling it Oak Hill Crossroads?”
“I doubt it,” Brenda said. She ran a finger under each eye, but the tears had already tracked the mascara down her cheeks. “It’s been Oak Hill for over a hundred years.”
“What’s going to happen to the tree?” I asked. I had only lived at the crossroads for two months, and I wanted to cry.
“Don’t affect county property or our equipment. Up to the land owner,” he said, before he walked back out to one of the trucks.
A gust of wind stirred Brenda’s wavy blonde hair. “You got propane for your genny?” she asked.
Brenda was in her early thirties. I was thirty-seven. She was barely five feet tall. I was only five foot six, and I could look down on the top of her head. She was in a tie-dyed red tee shirt, leggings, and flip-flops. Her toenails were painted red. They looked like wild strawberries in the grass. She and her girlfriend lived next door, in a log cabin style house with a blue tin roof. When I moved into my house, Brenda came over with a bottle of white zinfandel and a tray full of handmade hors d’oeuvres, and she made sure that I knew how to use the generator. We were on well water because we were outside the city limits, even though our addresses and zip codes said that we lived in the city. We were largely on our own. I had known that before I bought the house, and I had taken all of Brenda’s advice for a power outage and still, I was afraid to move from that spot in the yard. Already the sun had dipped low enough in the sky to glitter through leaves in the very tops of the trees, but not the oak. Never again.