LIVE FEED by L.D. Blue
I MIGHT AS WELL BEGIN with the tornado, even though it'll lead to all sorts of questions. You'll want to know how it felt to hang in the taffy-like stretch of time as sure of death as the dead; about how little Kyle entered a bundle of hyperactive incoherence and emerged tightfisted, pinched with crazy poetry; about Jamie, who no one ever helped, ending up at Yale; or how our tragic mother fell down and couldn't get up; about photographs of guestless twelfth birthday parties, divorced parents' weddings and unalike sisters goggling for the camera—that Good Samaritans swept into Food-For-Less bags, along with holey underpants and canisters of Mr. Clean. But remember: the best stories, the truest stories, are the ones that hide underneath, that belong to questions you'd never think of asking.
Since dawn that morning, the wind had been gusting gravel up against the aluminum siding and for a while it hailed, small stones of ice that pinged and clanged off the Oakley's tin roofed shed. Throughout the neighborhood, other kids munched sugar cereal and watched Alf chase the Tanners' cat; but in our home, Kyle-the-Terror was still asleep in Mom’s room, so Jamie and I were trapped, no TV, no bowls and spoons in the kitchen, trying to keep him that way. Not that Jamie minded. She was delighted to spend her Saturday lecturing from Physics: An Introduction to an audience of one. That morning in particular she was droning on about “muon” particles and how they were the something something proof of quantum physics and would make it possible to manipulate time-space, the ultimate sign of American greatness and the perfection of democracy—watch out Mother Russia, here we come!
“What I don't get,” I said, “is how do scientists know they're time traveling?” I was balanced at the end of Jamie's bed, eyes rolled to the ceiling and finger jabbing like Reverend Diener exegeting a particularly recalcitrant line of scripture. “They can't videotape them. They can't even see them, that's what you just said.” I sprang from footboard to mattress and back, exactly the way Diener would if he was inclined to jump on beds. “Sounds like a bunch of bullhooey to me.”
“Jesus, B, will you knock it off? Not time travel. Time dilation. Because there are two distinct timeframes, inner and outer...See, you live in your time and I live in my own time and how they line up depends on what speed we're moving. Or not.” Jamie spread her hand across a shiny diagram of dots and arrows. Her button-down shirt—even on the weekend she dressed like a secretary—folded with the movement and she eased it carefully from between her skin and the quilt. “Anyway. Physicists aren't like, like Hollywood or, well, Life Magazine where the concepts lose so much complexity they're virtually meaningless.”
“So if I had a golden retriever and said it changed into a Siamese cat, but only while you were at school—” I bounced back to the footboard and in my Dienerish dignity tripped over Jamie's bare foot, landing nearly on top of her.
Jamie shut the book, rolled off the bed and stood. She straightened her shirt. She sat down again, flustered, probably wishing she could smother me with her fluffy down pillow. Me, all the while gasping with laughter.
“Oh god,” I cried, holding my stomach. “Oh my god, I almost killed you.”
"You know, B, in high school, you can't go around acting like a little kid. Teachers will fail you. Guys won't ask you out. I mean, it's ok if a girl decides to not date until college. If you decide. Like me, I'm focused. I'm on my goals and I have to say no to guys all the time. But I don't have a bad rep, because—”
"Hey, quiet. The wind's gone,” I said and Jamie actually did shut up. We pushed the window open, but there was no sound, only paste-thick humidity. Long blades of grass leaned against the Oakley's drainpipe, and Alder leaves hung pendulous as raindrops about to fall.
“Listen,” said Jamie. All I heard was a quiet hiss like radio static, the suck of our thighs unsticking from our calves.
Then, faintly, from within the hiss: a train whistle. A scream.
From beyond the edge the neighborhood—past the Oakleys, the Calcagnis, Bobby Buttar's house and Mrs. Korning, who handed out toothbrushes on Halloween—sped a triangular cloud that was not a cloud. Jamie slammed the window shut and I dove to the far wall, knees to chest, arms over head. But there was no protection. The tornado raged, squealing straight for us.
The tornado moved our house exactly two hundred feet, parking us between our mom's dented Yugo and a row of plastic garbage bins. When we landed though, I wasn't sure of anything except a burn in my lungs. I shoved past Jamie, past Mom's hoarse “Everyone okay?” past Kyle's silence, out onto the front steps. Except of course the steps weren't there, not the old bathtub and its lobelia cascade, not the splintered fenceposts that Jamie and I were supposed to fix but hadn't, only gray asphalt. Overhead, a fallen string of traffic lights creaked against the windowpanes.
Through the quiet, I perceived a whirr. Kind of gentle. A clothesline spinning through a mother's creamy hands. Ahead, a black dot bled into angles, a box shape, widening outward. “Bentley,” I whispered—a Jamie answer, thinking species, when what I should've said was Crap.
The brakes as they engaged must have screeched. I didn't hear, didn't see, didn't feel. And yet, I felt, saw, heard everything: the steaming hood, bumper kissing my knees, rough, red-rimmed man in the glass—my own reflection fitting perfectly inside the lines of him.
The driver and I gaped through the windshield like his circuit had linked with mine, like radio fuzz from within the car was compressing us into a space smaller than sound. So slow. A blank. A hum. Me inside, outside and above, taking in the sight from a distance. He and I, I and he, this unit with the puffing car a wire through which a current hummed. It buzzed through, loop-de-looping, and me, its outlet turned him-ish. Or like I blinked but it wasn't me blinking, if you see what I mean.
"This is what it's like to be electrified," the outside part of me announced in a radio baritone. Except no one's lips moved, not mine or his, and around us it was zzzz and silence.
Within thirty minutes, TV trucks with their metal appendages ringed the house, the rippling blue-red of police cars, traffic copters tying knots overhead while a dump truck rattled through the crowd of neighbors in ballcaps toting juice boxes for the wounded.
Pinned between an ambulance and a giant camera, I found Jamie and Kyle. A lady reporter with a brunette perm was questioning them, while Jamie, cream shirt streaked with armpit sweat, pushed Kyle down as if shielding him from bullets.
"Where were you?" Jamie seized me by the elbow and pulled me in. Her teenage B.O., oniony and floral, filled my lungs.
“The missing daughter,” cried the reporter and thrust the microphone in my face. Was I ok? she said, then, It was a miracle any of us were alive. Had I felt anything special inside the tornado? A protective light? Hands lifting me? What did I remember that I could tell the audience at home?
My brain felt like the yellow apples my fifth grade teacher had split with his bare hands. He'd walk around the room, holding the two halves parallel, showing us how the gap made a ghost fruit that matched the break. Negative space, he said. On one side of my memory, there was Jamie talking muons. On the other, the driver of the car, while in between, a giant fissure gaped, sizzling with a foreign energy. A shape that should not be.
I opened my mouth to answer, but could not think of anything to say. I looked down at my dust-covered Keds and found Kyle gazing up at me, his eyes larger than I'd ever seen them, brown as birdwings and full of tears. He mumbled sounds that made a picture I understood. No Kyle monosyllables, Rarrs! and Hi-yas! Something like the poetry Mom used to write.
“What’d you say?” I asked. Dimly, I was aware of Jamie telling the reporter that our mother was not available to sign consent, they should go find other children they could legally exploit.
“Say it again, Kyle,” I hissed, but his mouth had pinched shut and his eyes were hidden under a dirty blonde tangle, our mom's last attempt at a haircut. Jamie pried his bunched shirt from my fist.
“He didn't say anything, B. He hasn't spoken since it happened, ok?” She squinted at me like I was an amoeba waggling my fins between the glass slides of a microscope. “You really shouldn't bother him right now.”
On the steps of the ambulance, two EMTs were wrapping Mom's arm with gauze.
“Where were you?” Jamie asked again. Kyle had begun to hum and sway. We watched him.
“Just, you know, taking in the sights.” I forced a laugh. “Hey, we'll probably be famous after this. Don't tell me that being in a tornado isn't the coolest thing that's ever happened to us.”
“Ok, B,” she said after a pause. She was talking like a grown-up. Not like our Mom, who mainly sounded stoned, but like a real adult, a teacher or social worker, her voice fine and musical and so very far away. She heaved Kyle up into her arms and went to sit with Mom, while I watched strangers drag furniture and garbage bags of our clothing to the sidewalk, making way for men with sledgehammers. I danced the wind like paper: the unlikely words I'd thought Kyle had said. I tried not to imagine him in the spray of plaster, a square of white gliding over the comic wreckage, lighter than the air itself.
"Are you okay?" Michelle Tan stuck her head in the bathroom where I lay curled on the tiles. Michelle's mom and mine stamped letters together at the post office and Jamie had called her from the hospital to see if they'd let me stay. Any other day, I'd have swallowed baby aspirin to avoid Michelle the Mutant, but when Jamie asked in her smooth adult voice if I wouldn't mind sleeping over, I only nodded.
"Yeah, I'm cool," I said to my knees. Michelle stared, which, given that I was tangled in my own shirt on the floor beside her bathtub, was not unreasonable. I guess I'd been feeling out-of-sorts since the almost car accident that no one saw, but Michelle's bathroom was the first quiet place I'd been, the first minute alone. As soon as I started to pull my shirt over my head, it had hit me, this crazy surge. Like a migraine, I guess—visual mixed with electric, whatever lies below pain.
"Working out." I mumbled. "Soccer. You know. Stretching?" I struggled to extend a leg but only managed to bang my knee. I curled in a ball, breathed into the swirl. In a minute, it wasn't so bad. Another, and I could stand.
"I wouldn't have pegged you as the sporty type,” said Michelle. “You seem more like a, I dunno, not a nerd or a drama kid, but like a, a loner. It's cool. You do your own thing."
She climbed onto the bed and threw her brown legs across the top of the sheet. Chomping on her bangs, she watched me navigate through the drifts of junk on her floor—grease-stained cartons from Domino's Pizza, wadded underpants, scissors, and shreds of Vogue and Sassy pasted together so the models had four heads and twenty eyes and boobs stuck all over like pustules. Michelle reminded me of this tomcat we'd adopted the previous winter. It spent whole months stretched along the windowsill, tracking me back and forth with its single eye, while behind it the yard disappeared beneath layers of white. In April, the cat ran off. "Probably got hit by a car," Mom had said. Secretly, I'd been glad.
"Show's over," I said, switching off the lamp. I crawled over her and lay down with my back to the splintery attic wall. An orange glow from the parking lot of the 7-11 seeped under the window shade. Michelle hadn't taken off her glasses. They were these old lady frames, swooping pink plastic with gems in the corner that clashed with her men's boxers and stained wifebeater. The weird light only underscored the effect. It quavered in her lenses and in the quaver, I made out hints of a face, a body; form struggling to surface.
Even with my forehead pressed into the pillowcase, the image from the glasses remained, twisting and arching, taking definite shape. A scabrous jowl. A blonde hairline beaded with moisture. The watery gaze of the car's driver that I had seen but not seen, felt but not felt. The strangest part was that just to the left of the normal memory was another thing. The negative space where the tornado should have been which no longer felt like a gap, but semisolid, palpable. I don't know how to explain it, other than that I reached in. Not entirely. I grazed it more like, but enough. There was a young boy playing ball in a grass-stained jersey; the crunch of sand and icy salt water; a sprawling cityscape of smashed and jagged tile, juts of mud-colored brick. A boy I loved. A beach I’d played on. A war I’d fought in.
I had never felt anything like this. Like my brain contained endless passageways that if followed far enough would lead into another body, another set of memories, another life entirely.
"Are you okay?" Michelle asked.
"...mm fnn..." I said into the pillowcase.
"You're acting sort of batty. Are you thinking about what happened?"
If a normal person had asked that, they would have meant the tornado. But Michelle Tan was warped. She smoked drugs at school and her mom had a fortune-telling business that ran ads 24-7 on public access. Maybe Michelle didn't know specifically about the driver of the car, but I could feel her peeling away the layers. She could see into you. That's what kids said.
"Whoa. You just went totally green. You are thinking about it, aren't you? You're like all damaged."
"Am not." I lifted my head. "You can't even see me. It's dark." Michelle was right though; I was thinking, or more like feeling, It. Lukewarm air blowing from the vents, a fly buzzing in the against one of the windows, the reliable throb of Muslanne's engine and my own acridness seeping, went my brain.
I hadn't been in that car, of course; the driver was a stranger, no one to me, not family, not a teacher, not a dad from the neighborhood. But without hardly trying, I could see the leather wheel, the nick in the windshield. I could also look through the windshield at a dusty kid with spiked hair and washed-out freckles staring at me like the second coming. Except the kid was me too, wearing the 1982 World's Fair shirt Dad had given me before he left. If I wanted, I could switch from one me to the other or simultaneously inhabit both, the way your eyes can see different things and blend them. Or, maybe I got to choose. Maybe I could rotate the wheel 180 degrees, drive from the kid and house ‘til they were specks in the rearview mirror and then nothing.
Was this what it was like to lose your mind? I wondered if the tornado had broken me after all, like it maybe had Kyle, made me strange. I saw a special once about how people hit by lightning become electric. They don't catch cold, but in storms they have to hide because lightning will always find them again. Maybe a tornado's the same, only instead of electric, it leaves you twisted up and full of holes, so you can't tell outside from in.
“Can I ask you something?" Michelle said in a low voice. While I'd been concentrating, her velvety calf had drawn close and now grazed mine, the back of my knees. Reeds in water.
"What was it like?"
"What was it like?" I echoed dumbly. "The tornado?"
"Yeah. Dork.” Michelle's fingers, warm and liquid, slipped under my shirtsleeve. They stroked the baby skin that never gets touched, staticky and hot. "The tor-nay-do."
It occurred to me that Michelle couldn't know what she was doing. The touching might be subconscious or a tic, rude to point out. If she didn't know, I should have pushed her away, but the chemicals needed to execute such an action seemed to have dried up or gone missing. I could barely breathe, let alone move. Also, the touch was making it harder to focus, to know which person I was supposed to be. To pick a side.
“Ok, what’s the first thing that happened? The very first part you remember?”
I bit the pillow. Don't say anything, I willed myself. But like puke edging up my throat, it came.
"A freight fucking train whistle! They're not kidding about that. Scared the shit out of me too, made me slam the gas. Stupid. You know, I was driving straight toward it, literally. Why? Panic. Pure, animal terror. It coulda been a mess, it really could. So anyway, I finally get a grip on myself. I look up and fuckin' A, there's this little girl in the middle of the street, straight in front of me. And a house that's, uh, in the wrong place. Looked like the twister musta dropped it there. Slammed the brakes and--"
The light flicked on and Michelle was leaning over me, her palm clamped on my cheek. It beat like a tiny sun.
"I...think...you're...possessed." Blue-black hair haloed Michelle's face. She'd taken off the glasses and in the shadow her eyes seemed to pulsate and I understood why people called her a witch.
"No, seriously, seriously I'm cool. I was just messing around. Let me up, okay?" But Michelle only smiled, showing off a row of perfect teeth.
"Oh my god, you're wiggin'. How'd you do that voice? Like a guy." She aligned her body to mine. We were two mirrors surface to surface. Except her legs were longer, her torso wider.
"How'd you do that?" she repeated, like words were only a side effect of putting your lips to another's. A syllable equal to a tongue or slipping it in.
According to Jamie, time does not proceed linearly. Time is a spatial dimension which can be traversed diagonally, sideways and backwards as logically as straight on ahead. When Michelle Tan kissed me, I don't know why, but I thought of skinny-dipping at Grandee Lake. Under a field of stars, one darkness descended while another rose, between them: my body, the silk thread drawing them tight.
Maybe everything I'm telling started then.
After the tornado, I realized facts can lie. My brother, for instance. Ask him what happened and he'll say, "I wasn't there." That boy was another Kyle, noisy and rough. My brother speaks in murmured fragments. Catch him by surprise and he'll fold like an origami wing.
As for me, I was there sure enough, but can't remember. Whatever I absorbed from the driver blanked out my memory. The twister along with most of pre-algebra is part of what's lost. Jamie, of course, has a millisecond-by-millisecond record. She even won a scholarship from the American Meteorological Society for her paper, "Argument Against the Fujita Scale: Experiential Notes on a Low Pressure System.”
When people ask me about the tornado, I give them Jamie's version, but I put in the emotion she won't. I make it exciting, dangerous, terrifying, full of magic. I say, "We spun like pieces of paper across the room and time held still, because when you’re grabbed up by sky, you might as well be quantum physics. You might as well be time traveling." More and more, when I tell the story, I forget it's Jamie's and start to think, “This really is how it happened to me.”
LUKE DANI BLUE’s essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in Bluestem Magazine, Writing Without Walls, Redlight Lit, Redlemona.de and The Stoneslide Corrective. Her short stories and poetry have received honorable mentions from the 14 Hills Michael Rubin Book Award and the Academy of American Poets. She currently leads private writing workshops in the Bay Area—and reads a mean astrology chart. Be her digi-friend at @lukedaniblue & lukedaniblue.tumblr.com!