By Abigail Miles
There were cupcakes with bright purple frosting, there were neon streamers hung between rusted metal lamp posts, there was loud and joyful music piping through the twenty-year-old speakers that had been set up around the perimeter of the parking lot, there were trays full of barbeque and hushpuppies and slaw, with jugs filled to the brim with sweet and unsweet and half-sweet tea.
In short, there was a celebration, and so of course there was the laughter, and the children running in circles for having eaten too much sugar, and the congregations of adults who talked to one another approximately twice a year, when the HOA decided to host functions such as this.
But there was also, beneath the smiles that were pulled a fraction too tight and the eyes that flicked maybe once too often in the direction of their homes, a dark cloud that sat around all of the residents that had gathered together for the anniversary.
The anniversary of the day the tornado had come to town.
Lucy McAdams stood apart from the festivities and reflected on how it had been three hundred and sixty five days since her roof had been torn off. Three hundred and sixty five days since the sky had gone black at noon, and the sound of the wind had made her feel as though she was trapped in the belly of a vacuum cleaner, and the hail had made neat piles atop the furniture on the second floor of her house after the ceiling had been so ceremoniously carried away.
Three hundred and sixty five days since she had cowered in the ground level bathroom—the only room in that part of the house that didn’t have any windows—convinced that the last sight she would ever see in this life would be that of the peeling wallpaper, covered in faded dancing bears, that she had been telling herself to strip away for years without working up the initiative to actually do so.
And it had been three hundred and sixty four days since she had crawled out from her mangled home and looked around her once manicured street. There were garbage cans and roofing tiles and the occasional tree branch gathered together like a tossed salad in the middle of the road. Houses both better and worse off than her own—she could see, three doors down to the left, the Leroys, who it seemed had lost an entire floor, while, directly to her right, the O’Connors didn’t have so much as a fleck of paint out of place. The tornado had been fickle like that—picking and choosing what property it wanted to take, which lives it wanted to dismantle.
As Lucy walked down the street that no longer looked like her own that day, she had seen the pseudo familiar faces of her neighbors doing the same, each with an identical glazed look of denial and uncertainty on their faces. No one wanted to see their surroundings as reality, and most weren’t yet convinced that it was.
Three hundred and sixty four days ago was also when the vans had arrived. News vans—local and statewide and, in one instance, from a national news source, all of which had come racing to the sight of the destruction, trampling over Lucy and her neighbors in their mad dash to get the first scoop, to document the damage and to capitalize on the loss.
“And here we can see what looks like a house with its entire front surface missing,” one well dressed reporter with slicked back hair said in a loud and authoritative voice into an overly large microphone as he walked down the ravaged street. “Who knows how long it will take the residents of this neighborhood to rebuild, or to come back from this? It is clear: no one was prepared for this disaster.”
The words of the reporter had brushed against Lucy like sandpaper on sunburnt skin, but his declarations were proved soon enough. Three hundred and sixty three days ago, she had learned that her home insurance did not cover such damage as might be sustained from unprecedented natural disasters. From such unlikely occurrences as tornados, for instance. Three hundred and sixty three days since she had learned she had nothing.
Three hundred and sixty days since she had fought for a different outcome: for a loophole or a missing clause or something—anything—that could give her a new roof over her head.
Three hundred and forty days since she gave up, dragged her feet back to the motel across town she had been staying at for the past month, and buried her face in her hands in a manner that one might perceive as the very image of hopelessness.
Three hundred and thirty seven days since she took out a mortgage on her already ruined house.
Three hundred and thirty three days since she sold her car.
Three hundred and twenty nine days since she went to the bank in the most presentable outfit she had been able to salvage from the wreckage of her bedroom post-tornado—as her room, and so all of her clothes, had very unfortunately been located on the second floor of her home.
Three hundred and ten days since she finally had enough to begin to rebuild—or hire someone more qualified to rebuild—her damaged house.
Two hundred and eighty one days since she was notified by email that the work to her roof was complete, and she could now return to her place of residence.
Two hundred and eighty days since Lucy stood on her front stoop, breath abated, and turned the doorknob with the reverence typically reserved for bowed heads and prayers. The first floor, she noted, was relatively untouched. The dishwasher she hadn’t wanted to unload before the rain had begun on that fateful day months before was still full and waiting, a lamp in the living room was still brightly lit, illuminating her way in, and a blanket still laid on the floor in that bathroom with the dancing bear wallpaper, a remembrance of the night she had spent curled up in fear on that cold tiled floor.
It was the second floor that she barely recognized as her own. Everything that had been damaged by the wind and the water that had come vanquishing in her house that day had been thrown out—by whom, she was not sure, and did not try to think too closely on. What remained had been shoved into the one room on the floor that had gone relatively untouched—the guest room, of all the rooms. There was new carpet, new paint, a new freshly-popcorned ceiling above her head.
She was home, but she had to wonder how much it could still be considered her home when so much of it was gone or replaced, and when it had been so long since she had been back.
And so, it was two hundred and eighty days ago that Lucy sat down on the floor in the second level of her house, on the newly installed carpet, and wrapped her arms around herself, and allowed herself to cry for the first time since it had all happened.
And then two hundred and seventy more days passed, during which Lucy worked twice as hard as normal in an effort to try to pay off her debt as swiftly as possible. At the end of each of those two hundred and seventy days Lucy would return to the house that she was still trying to convince herself was her home and, exhausted, she would collapse on the new bed that she had found for sale at a consignment store, and she would sink into a deep sleep.
A sleep that more often than not wound up plummeting to the same place. A place of blackness, a place of swirling debris and thrashing winds. A place she was always afraid she wouldn’t be able to come out of, and even some mornings wasn’t sure that she fully had.
This happened for months, until ten days ago, when Lucy opened her mailbox and saw a bright green flier, with large bold letters protruding from the page:
Join us Sunday at Noon for a One Year Party!!!
There will be food, music, and festivities. Let’s celebrate together!
Lucy had felt sick, just looking at the flier, thinking about what it would mean to celebrate the three hundred and fifty five days that she had lived through. And now, ten days later, she stood on her porch, gripping a fresh flier with the same bright lettering that she had found taped to her door that morning. With the neon slip of paper clutched in her fist, Lucy gazed off past her lawn, her driveway, out beyond the road and up the hill that faced her house and toward the assembled festivities occurring less than fifty yards from where she stood. She stared at the streamers, at the tables overflowing in catered food, at the children who ran around with hands full of fizzing sparklers and fistfuls of candy and limp balloons tied to strings. She stared and then she closed her eyes, turned away, and walked inside, crumbling the flier up into a ball as she entered into the house that barely even felt like hers anymore.
Abigail Miles has a degree in Creative Writing from Appalachian State University. She aspires to make the world a little more interesting and a little more bizarre through her writing, and to share with readers the stories that both haunt and inspire her. Her work has been published in a variety of online platforms, some of which include Cold Mountain Review, Bookends Review, and Bending Genres.