“Overhead, the wild huntsman of the storm passed continuously in one blare of mingled noises; screaming wind, straining timber, lashing rope’s end, pounding block and bursting sea contributed; and I could have thought there was at times another, a more piercing, a more human note, that dominated all, like the wailing of an angel; I could have thought I knew the angel’s name, and that her wings were black.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker
Daniel looked out the window. “Doesn’t the storm scare you?”
Irma shook her head knowing he didn’t really care how or what she felt and she was long past being scared, “What’s that line from ‘Islands in the Stream’? What Hemingway wrote about hurricanes.”
“That’s not one of my favorites,” he replied. “What line?”
She quoted, “He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”
“You wanted to move here. To be near Hemingway’s home and drink Scotch at his favorite bar.”
Daniel aspired to be a writer of Hemingway’s stature and sustained career and had insisted on moving to Key West. Hoping the vibe would revitalize his stalled career, he frequented Sloppy Joe’s and lost count of the number of Scotch and sodas he drank and what he did afterward. When he sobered up, he defended his actions by quoting from an article by John O’Connor that he knew by heart. That Hemingway’s acquaintance with booze was quixotic and nearly spiritual. That even though drinking insane, heroic quantities that left a trail of smashed glasses and friendships in his wake, alcohol was a crucial existential salve for Hemingway, a much-needed release that fueled his writing. Daniel had believed that and chosen the same path. Seven years from his bestseller, he still had not been able to repeat its success, and his creativity had been replaced with cruelty.
She stepped closer to him as he looked out at the wind-whipped palm trees through rainwater coursing down the glass. “Maybe going through this—the storm—will make things better for us,” Irma lied as the hurricane’s shriek grew and the walls of their small house trembled. Daniel didn’t move from the window as she turned and shifted to stand behind him.
* * *
First responders worked their way through streets full of debris. A tumble of broken jackstraw storefronts and buildings, the flotsam, and jetsam of a community that would take a long time to recover from the hurricane’s aftermath. There were bodies of those that had not acted prudently and evacuated. Many more had been dragged out to sea and washed ashore miles away. In the devastation, a sole survivor was found.
“He just wouldn’t go… he thought that the visceral experience of riding out a hurricane would spark his writing in some way,” Irma looked at the police officer mournfully as two paramedics zipped the body bag around Daniel. “And I couldn’t leave him.”
Two Years Later
“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The reporter from the Santa Fe New Mexican closed her notebook and reached for her phone which was still recording the interview. “Shortly after the storm and your husband’s death, Ridley Scott optioned your husband’s novel for a major motion picture with Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. That movie became a huge hit, grossing $478 million here in the United States and internationally. And the points on the back end—the profit piece you secured—really paid off. Does it make you sad that your husband is not alive to share the joy and financial success of that with you?”
“It’s terrible that he’s not here. He had always hoped he could see some of his work in film and he was a great Samuel L. Jackson fan.”
Irma had slipped into the memory and did not follow what the reporter meant. “Am I what?”
“Are you a Samuel L. Jackson fan?”
Irma smiled, “No. I’m more a Liam Neeson type. Those ‘Taken’ movies.’” She returned to what had happened—what had to happen—that night and height of the storm. Daniel, who had been drinking heavily, barely roused by the wall and window’s buffeting from the Category 4 force winds, did not even turn when she called his name hoping to look him in the eye. She had done what she needed to do and then had slipped out, hanging onto a line secured to one of the stout pillars either side of the front door. Breaking the window’s glass from the outside, she had gone back inside and looked at him. Shards of glass now covered Daniel. His skull caved in, blond hair darkened with bits of bone and a lot of blood, he was moving. Trying to stand. She had pushed him down and knelt to whisper in his ear. “Here’s the line I like best from that story, ‘He also knew that hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them.’” Stormwater from her hair dripped on his face as she lifted the section of 4×4 post brought in from where he had been building a deck extension. She had driven it down full-force with all her weight, leaning into it until the twitching stopped.
Coming back to the present, Irma blinked and took a deep breath.
The reporter turned off the recording. “That’s a good wrap up,” she smiled at Irma. She had met with her three times now for the interview and to welcome a new—affluent—resident to Santa Fe and each time Irma had worn similarly styled clothing, a bit odd for summer wear. “Sensitive skin?” she gestured at the long sleeve, high-neck shirt.
“A history of skin cancer in my family,” Irma tugged her sleeves down. They and the high collars she wore hid the scars she had accumulated through ten years of abuse. That Daniel’s one successful work was going to pay for plastic surgery—she had found a discrete surgeon in Los Angeles—did not please her as much as how it had felt with that piece of wood in her hands that night she made him pay for what he had done to her.
# # #
Note from Dennis
A QUICK LITTLE ORIGIN STORY —
I’ve had a note in my story-idea book for some time. About a revenge killing at the height of a hurricane. It seemed a perfect way to cover up a murder. One morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching Hurricane Irma news (I live in Florida, by the way), as the caffeine kicked in I toyed with the thread of some lines for that story. As I idly scanned through my images folder, I came across one that gave me not only the title but also the core of the story’s protagonist. It fleshed out my premise that you can push a person too far and then the 6th commandment (or other laws) may not keep them from doing what they must do to survive. And what better time to do something so drastic—killing someone—than when you stand a good chance of getting away with murder. What you just read was the story that resulted.