Outside of Oklahoma

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March 20, 2019 by The Citron Review

by Zack Butovich

 

I wasn’t naked when the tornado touched down. A minute before, I had thrown on a shirt, wrinkled, from underneath a pile of not-so-dirty laundry. It whisped, spindly at first, then fat, sitting across the open prairie beyond my trailer’s kitchen window. The sky was green and the wind scissored up and my home shuddered under the pressure. Thud, thud, thud. I didn’t go for a run because the tornado sat there, watching me watch it, waiting to see where each of us would go. I didn’t go for a run because I was too hungover to put my shoes on. I didn’t go for a run because there was a man in my bed whose name I couldn’t remember and who I wanted to leave but didn’t want to wake up. He had clammy shoulders, hairy elbows.

Beyond the tornado was the Oklahoma border, where I used to live and liked to look at on bad days. Good things happened in Oklahoma. But today I could only see the distended stomach of a stationary tornado.

I prepared coffee as loud as I could, banging French press against sour cream crusted plates of the pierohe I made the night before. I couldn’t remember who taught me how to make them, only that it was someone from a place where they don’t have a word for ‘tornado.’ The stove whined when I twisted it on.

The tornado swung around the hill and dipped into the valley at the edge of the park. Two trucks swerved onto the highway. The bag of flour on my counter ripped open down the seam. A white cloud burst left stencils of my feet on the sticky floor. Proof that I once existed in that exact spot.

Aching winds swept in through windows I left open. Thud, thud, thud, my trailer mumbled. Behind me, his back peeked out from my comforter, pimpled, and I remembered, strong. I coughed. And then I coughed again, staring at his neck, his uneven haircut. He was vulnerable. I could leave and the tornado could take him and I wondered if I would ever think about him afterwards.

The kettle whistled and he stirred. Flecks of flour thickened in the French press. Steam poured up, rough ground coffee bubbling. A quiet gurgling. I slapped my feet against the linoleum floor, muffled over layers of flour. Outside, the sky darkened above prairie grass. The tornado drifted closer, then away, then back again. Barbed wire currents held to the ground on dead wood posts.

I drank coffee from my favorite yellow mug. Dishes toppled in my sink, ceramic scratching against ceramic. Oklahoma sat invisible, far away. Behind me, he stood, his feet marking messy stencils on my floured floor. He breathed heavy and kissed me on the neck and asked if we should leave. We should have left, but I wasn’t going to move. He asked if the wind blew flour over the floor. “Yes,” I told him, “the wind did that.” I imagined myself as the tornado, something that could wipe my world clean, and disappear just the same.

Wrinkled hands wrapped around my waist. He smelled like wet sage, like the Oklahoma sand after summer rain. A smell he didn’t have the right to. “I’ll shut the window,” he said, reaching over my kitchen, my counter, my half-eaten pierohe crusted at nibbled corners. Thud, thud, thud, his footsteps across my floor.

“It lessens the damage,” I said, my voice louder than I expected. “From the tornado. The open windows lessen the damage.”

“That’s a myth,” he said, his voice softer than I remembered. The window snapped with a click. “Did you make pierogis?”

Pierohe,” I said.

“Are you Polish?”

I don’t know, I don’t say out loud. “I’m from Oklahoma.”

The tornado skipped closer, thick rickets of debris raining against the side of my trailer. It might sweep in at any moment, clean my kitchen, collect the flour from the floor and the dead food from my plates and everything else that lingered in front and behind me. It might rip my walls apart, leave no evidence I was ever there at all. It might throw me up, high in the air, where, if I was lucky, I would land on the Oklahoma side of the border.

 

Zack Butovich is an MFA student in fiction at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he teaches composition and is one of the managing editors for their literary journal, the Blue Earth Review. He has had previous work published with Arcturus, Wilderness House Literary Review, and The Corresponder. He is currently at work on a full-length novel.

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Snow on brush in desert

IMAGE CREDIT: Jill Katherine Chmelko. Protest Road, Winter. 2019.

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