Storm by Rosie Toth
First came the wind, lashings of it, shuddering window panes, shaking birds from roosts, thundering down chimneys and stirring up last winter’s soot. It forced its way under ill-fitting doors and tinkled their metal locks. In the deep valley many woke, and with feet pattering nervously to windows, peered into the dark: what next, more fire and brimstone? Flooding rain?
The only one whose dreams lay undisturbed was Tess Mahoney, her hearing aids lying in their capsule on her bedside table. She’d had these devices just a week, finally giving in to her daughter’s nagging logic. Tess felt a bit silly now, letting her vanity interfere with common sense. They were such tiny things; well, who would even know? But she wasn’t quite ready to admit this to Margaret. Even though she loved her children equally, she reminded herself, Margaret was a bit bossy.
Brendan Hardy, along Araluen Rd, with an old outboard motor serving as his letter box, was instantly awake. He’d been a fisherman most of his life and was used to unpredictable, blustery weather turning foul on the spin of a boat. Hard work it was. All those years. He’d reckoned on a tree change and waited till Mary, along with her opposition, had died. A block on the other side of the river, close to 30 kilometres out of Moruya, was where he found his trees. But on occasion, when darkness stilled all noise, he swore he could hear the sea, the surge of swell rocking him to sleep.
Back in town, Lea Spiros was not about to wait for a suitable Greek boy to bring a bit of excitement into her life. Life was for living now, not for wasting on dreams and hopes. Her crystal ball saw only Sam Marshall whom she’d met at a music gig at the Waterfront Hotel recently. Coyly speechless during the breaks, they’d shouted over the amplified sets and swapped phone numbers. That Sam worked at Cameron’s Hardware, was only mildly interesting to Lea; she was more interested in exploring other parts of him.
Fast forward to this particular night. There’d been no hint of any wild weather, the moon was in its fullness, and Sam and Lea were on their way out of town – she with her head in his lap and feet splayed on the passenger window, he sharing his speakers with Lea and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Dazzled by Sam’s knowledge of the wilds west of Moruya, she obediently followed him after they parked beside the river, really just an ankle-deep creek, and waded across. Their destination – the flat grassy banks on which to gaze up at the moon… or whatever. But it was to an old shed, discreetly separated from the rest of the property by a bend in the river, that they fled when the wind whooshed down on them, pelting their bodies with leaf and branch shrapnel.
It was to this same shed Brendan Hardy, clothed in just his pyjama top, was braving the gale to check. A proud DIY fixit man – you had to be, out at sea – he’d somehow managed to put off replacing the flapping iron sheets that had rusted around their nailings. How had this happened? Had there been more urgent jobs? Ashamed of himself, he spat on the hard ground, his lace-less boots and the slapping of the wind thwarting his progress.
It was at that moment the sky began emptying itself of every drop of moisture it had held back for the last few years. Long, sharp daggers, like exclamation marks, thudded onto hard-baked clay. In town the rain backed up from weed-soaked gutters to pool perilously across roads and the thirsty Deua River gulped greedily. Trees, heavy with sodden branches, sagged like stooped, ancient men.
In the blinding darkness, Brendan Hardy cursed his boots and his failure to retrieve his pyjama pants from the bedroom floor; the rain, just a hint of it a minute ago, now dumping its store directly onto him. Head down, the wind whipping icy shards into his nether regions and freezing his legs, he tripped over his boots, smashing his knee against a rock he swore wasn’t there yesterday, pain howling through him.
For Lea Spiro, fear of the nameless scurrying creatures inside the shed was nothing compared to the howl of the wind through the gaps, its teeth ready to rip the walls apart. She’d often felt courageous enough to challenge her parents’ Old Country beliefs, but she no longer felt courageous about consummating her feelings for Sam Marshall with the shed’s likely collapse onto them. Sam was not about to argue with either Lea or the ferocious storm that swelled, dimming his own desire, now that a large sheet of roofing iron finally dislodged itself. With the rain spearing their unprotected bodies, they were up and out of there, clothes hoisted as they left.
They were in for quite a surprise, Lea suddenly realising that Sam’s knowledge of the area was not as broad as she thought. Instead, it was the river that had the breadth - unrepentant, gorging itself, swallowing the banks on both sides and all of its scorched debris from the recent fires.
This was not the sort of excitement Lea Spiros had seen in her crystal ball, to endure many hours of a wild night on the wrong side of the river. Brendan Hardy thought of his days at sea. At least there’d been the cabin close at hand.
Tess Mahoney slept on.