August 29, 2015 by RJ
The mother stands at the kitchen counter assembling hors d’oeuvres for her daughter’s graduation party. She slathers peanut butter into the canals of the celery sticks, positions raisins on top. She makes maybe forty-five of these until it occurs to her that she may have enough. She watches the little tv and tries to think of what other foods her daughter liked. The county is under a tornado watch until 6:00 p.m.
Her brother and his husband walk in, holding bunches of balloons. The balloons are black with CONGRATS GRAD on them in gold.
“What a great idea,” the mother says, as they release the balloons and allow them to roam free. “I’m making food.”
Her brother says, “I could use a drink.” So the mother pours her brother and his husband good, strong gin and tonics.
Her brother’s husband opens the sliding door and steps out onto the deck. “The sky’s green,” he says.
“Tornado watch. Hold on, they’ve upgraded it to a warning,” the mother says.
She wonders how many will show up. A few had called to say they couldn’t come but that they would be thinking of her.
Her brother sits on the stool at the counter and slurps his drink. “Can I help with anything?”
“Do you think fish sticks are a weird thing to serve at a party? Fish sticks and salsa?”
“Yes. Definitely,” he says.
A gust of cold wind blows through the house. The balloons mingle and dance. A door slams shut. A small vase of daisies topples and spills over the counter. Breathing heavily, the woman hustles about closing windows. Her brother cleans up the daisies as his husband comes back in shivering.
“Oh my,” the mother says. “Now what?” She wanders into the family room and sits on the sofa. She has made a display on the mantel there. Photographs, her daughter’s awards, a drawing of a cat and a rooster from the third grade. Her brother and his husband follow the mother and sit on either side of her. The tornado sirens wail.
“I love that sound,” her brother’s husband says. He takes the mother’s hand. “We should go down to the basement.”
“He’s right dear,” her brother says. Nobody moves. The windows judder.
“But I made a cake,” the mother says.
“We can celebrate another time. We can celebrate any time we want,” her brother says. “You know she wouldn’t mind.”
The balloons skirt along the ceiling, their strings dangling. The mother stands and gathers a few of them.
“We can take these down to the basement. I have a radio down there. You two can carry the food.”
It’s an old house and the basement has a cement floor and some boxes of old things, the daughter’s things, and not much else. The lights flicker and the mother’s brother lights some candles just before the power goes out completely. Outside they hear a roaring sound. The mother’s worried about the batteries in the radio but they turn it on and it works. Her brother’s husband tunes in to the local station but it’s just the Emergency Broadcast System and not the cool jazz they were hoping for so he switches it off again.
“We could sing,” the mother says. The roaring gets louder.
“Come here,” her brother says. They sit on the floor together and he wraps her in his arms. His husband kneels and wraps his arms around them both.
The tornado sounds like an approaching locomotive. Upstairs, crashing, a window breaking.
“I wanted a proper party,” she says.
Her brother and his husband squeeze her tight.
The house goes still again. The balloons settle into their places. The candles burn steadily. The three of them untangle themselves. The brother wants to go upstairs, check the damage, but the woman says, “No, I’m not ready yet.” So they eat the celery and the fish sticks. And when they finish, they cut the cake and eat that, too.
Kathy Fish’s stories are forthcoming or have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Slice, Guernica, Indiana Review and various other journals and anthologies. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2013), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2012), and a chapbook in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008). She has recently joined the faculty of the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver where she will be teaching flash fiction.