(originally published in Alaska Quarterly Review, 2001)
The swamp cooler is broken. No hope of a breeze. The weatherman said it that way--no hope. No breeze; no rain; just 100 degrees. We watch Gunsmoke in the dark with Mama. We are too close. Aggravating. Our breath, hot and moist. We are dirty and sticky and we adore her. She slaps at our bare legs. We scoot to the floor. The tornado warning is posted at the corner of the black and white TV screen. The dial in the center touches Plainview, Levelland, Muleshoe. It almost touches us. Watching Gunsmoke leaves Mama wanting a beer. Not just a can of beer. I could get her one of those from the refrigerator. She has to have the cold glass mug with a foamy white top, the kind the cattle rustler is drinking. The kind the bartender in town serves. When Mama goes Sister grabs my hand and stomps out into the field. We scramble into the ditch. It is dried into dirt cakes, the kind we serve at tea parties. If you are caught outside in a tornado, you should lie flat down on your belly. That is what the weatherman says. A tornado is a hole trapped in the sky. It shifts directions and we greet it face down in the ditch. Mama's in the bar, Sister says. She won't even know what hit her.
Jane Hammons recently retired from 30 years of teaching writing at UC Berkeley. Her writing can be found in several anthologies: Hint Fiction (W. W. Norton), The Maternal is Political (Seal Press) and California Prose Directory (Outpost 19). She has also published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of magazines: Akashic Books' online series Mondays are Murder; Columbia Journalism Review, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Southwestern American Literature and Word Riot. She currently has fingers crossed for a story among the semi-finalists in Screen Craft's inaugural short story contest.
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