The Dead of Summer
Words By Jerakah Greene
Oklahoma, the dead of summer.
When I was younger, the Oklahoma sun would hang low on the horizon like a fat fruit from a tree, so low you could wrap your fist around it ’til the peach guts came gushing over the bike-blisters on your palm.
It used to be that the tornadoes only came in the spring, salsa dancing down the alley. Now they’re here all summer long. We even had one on Christmas day, two years ago. It was seventy-six and storming ’til the rain stopped, the sky went green, and we knew it was time to hide. We dragged the stockings with us to the cellar, waited ’til the sirens stopped wailing their Christmas hymn, then later came back up to eat the Christmas turkey and glare at the wind damage littered across the yard.
Now, in the dead of summer, we’re standing a few feet back from the bank, watching the water rush.
“It’s really bookin’ it, huh?” I ask, cocking my head to the side, eyes following the brown water rippling downstream.
“Never seen it like this before,” she says. Her eyes are so dark that you can see almost anything reflected in them, even the refinery blowing big red clouds into the sky on the other side of the river.
She steps closer and I grab her elbow. “Be careful. They’re saying the bank’s eroded. People have been swept in, gone under, and haven’t been seen since.”
“I just want to see in the water.”
I don’t know why she thinks she could; the water’s always been muddy brown, too thick to swim in, let alone gaze into. I don’t let go of her. I’m not taking any chances. Imagine if we survived the last tornado, drunk off our asses in the hall closet with her baby brother’s mattress over our heads, only for me to lose her to the damn river.
“Come on, baby. Let’s go home.”
She turns and follows, but I know she doesn’t want to. In her eyes, I watch the refinery light up the sky, until she blinks and we get back in the pickup.
After two days of constant rain, the river’s up to the refinery’s front door. They evacuate who they can, but they can’t stop production completely. Everybody in town keeps whispering about the oil and gas fire at the refinery out east. I’m thinking, Great—if a tornado doesn’t get us, the river will; or if the river doesn’t, a giant fire’s gonna try.
She tells me it’s alright if we die in all this, ‘cause we had it coming. At first, I think she’s gone preachy on me, about how we’ve been kissing in sin all this time. But then she says, “Mother Earth’s gonna kick our ass. And we deserve it.”
By the end of the week, the refinery’s practically underwater. No explosion, not yet. But I’m starting to think the tornado cellar and her baby brother’s mattress aren’t gonna be enough.