Shelter From the Storm

With each lightning bolt, Addie Decker jumped slightly as if she’d felt some degree of the electricity in it. Her subtle shivers became visible lurches each time. She let her gaze wander a block or so down Nickel Drive, just ahead of the car and she saw the dark outline of the Columbine Chalet. They passed a streetlight and she quickly held her watch up to the window and squinted.


“Is it six? Already?” she asked. “Shit. I thought we still had time. He’ll be home in fifteen minutes. Wait! Wednesday night? Happy hour starts at six. Maybe we’re OK.”


“Honey,” the driver paused. “It’s Tuesday, not Wednesday. Are you OK?” she asked. They heard the wind as it began to grab at the car. Shadows danced around the base of the street lamps as the car neared the building. Another sharp streak of light stabbed down and brought everything before them into a harsh, colorless focus.


“I hate this shit,” Addie said. Then, mostly under her breath, “Fucking hate it.” She looked at her watch without trying to read it.


“What? These storms? We have storms here almost every day. I’d think you’d get used to it,” the young woman behind the wheel said as she pulled in front of an aged apartment building.


“Ever been in a tornado?” Addie asked. Her voice was as cold as the rain. Her head drooped as she leaned her shoulder into the passenger door and looked toward the building.


Even in the dullness of the stormy night, Addie could still see small icons from her past. The satellite TV dish for each of the front units stuck out on either side, giving the dull, brick building a set of mechanical ears. A blue, plastic tarp that was still partially clamped to the Char-Broil grill flapped along with the oncoming storm. A citronella tiki torch leaned into three plastic Adirondack chairs that tipped, uneasily, rocking in place as a thick, wet lawn tried to anchor them against stiff gusts. Instead of the gentle serenade for which it was made, a Denver Bronco wind chime banged a rude warning into the night.


Addie reached into the pocket of her sweatshirt and pulled out an empty pack of Kool Milds. Wadded cellophane punctured the temporary quiet as she looked for a trash bag, then stuffed it back into her pocket. She ran her fingers through her auburn hair, then stopped and considered her trembling, outstretched left hand and wiggled her fingers.


“I’m still not used to it. It feels so naked,” she said. The driver’s head was fixed, but her eyes glanced sideways at Addie and then back to the street in front of them. Between the intermittent flashes of lightning, the darkness folded into itself across the skies above the small Front Range town of Purvis, Colorado. Addie reached for the handle but let her hand slide to her lap. She brought her head back up from the glass and glanced at the woman, then back at the front door to the building. Addie opened the door.


She slid out of the passenger side of the ‘98 Corolla and into the steady falling rain. The thunder rolled down off the Flat Irons twenty miles to west and bounced back across the plains toward her. She closed the door so that it would make no sound. The car puffed a light, steamy breath from the tailpipe, as it idled on the asphalt. Her clothes soaked up the showers immediately and she looked again at her watch. The shivers had turned to a continuous quake as she braced herself against the new streaks of lightning that chased her up onto the curb. She turned and motioned for the driver to turn off the lights of the car.


“My God… What’s her name?” she quietly wondered. “Lisa? Lora?” She rolled her eyes as the raindrops rolled down her cheeks.


As she reached the front door, Addie patted the pouch of her now drenched hoodie, reassuring herself that the plastic Wal-Mart bags she’d found at the shelter were still there. She entered the long hallway. The light inside the door was still burned out.


“Four weeks and it’s still not fixed.”


The smell of ancient cigarette smoke and Pine Sol clung to the walls and carpeting as she walked to the door of the first unit. There were no sounds inside, just a light coming under the door. She stopped and tapped a soft knuckle on the door. She waited a moment and tapped again, slightly harder. Still no sound of movement came from inside the apartment. She leaned her head against the door.


“Where are you? Mrs. Anderson, you’re always home. Please?” she whispered quietly to the door. She tapped again, waited for only a moment and then gave up.


The shadow of the hall receded into the naked, antiseptic brightness of the further hallway light that did work as she moved down to the door of unit 3A. Her hands were still shaking as she reached the key towards the lock. She could see the once beautiful nails of her right hand were now chewed along the edges and colored the hard pink of missing skin. She didn’t have time to be shocked any more. She pushed the key into the lock and twisted. When the lock gave way, she let out a tight breath and turned the handle. For the first time in four days, Addie was back in her apartment.


The kitchen light was on as she closed the door behind her, pulling out the first bag. She tried to go through the checklist she had memorized over the past few days.


“Bathroom…bedroom…kitchen…cash. Bathroom…bedroom…kitchen…cash,” she whispered to herself.


Addie looked around then stood still for a moment while considering a scene that was part of her mental tapestry. It was as if this were the first time she’d really ever taken it in. There were dishes in the kitchen sink. Two pizza boxes sat open on the tiny table that served as the dining room. The size of the flat screen TV on the wall startled her.


We should have asked the landlord, before we hung that on the wall.


Addie could see the silver duct tape still straining to contain the crack on the sliding glass door, which led to more lawn chairs near the garages in the back. The dull, blue curtains were pulled back exposing her to an outside world of darkness. Near the door, the food and water dish for the cat on the floor sat empty. As if on cue, a large gray cat scampered out of the bathroom door in the hallway, stopping to stare at Addie. It arched it’s back, but let out no sound. Addie’s nose scrunched almost instinctively as she caught the scream in her throat and took in a breath, bringing the bag in her hand to her throat. The cat glued his eyes on Addie as he slumbered down the hall and sprung up to sit next to the pizza boxes.


“Jughead, stay away from me,” she seethed at the cat. The presence of the cat brought Addie back to her purpose. She glanced at her watch and her knees went weak.


“Fuck. Five minutes. Where do I start? Bathroom…bedroom…kitchen…cash.”


She moved quickly to the bathroom and flipped the switch above the sink. Into the first bag she tossed a tube of toothpaste and her naked toothbrush. She pulled open the mirror above the sink and reached into its cabinet to grab her half-full bottle of Xanax. She also picked up the small case with her extra contacts in it. From under the sink she grabbed contact solution and a box of tampons shoving it in the bag.


She moved to the bedroom at the end of the hall and turned on the small lamp next to his side of the bed. She stopped and instinctively began to reach for the dirty clothes on the floor, but pulled back and stepped up to the dresser standing next to only window in the room. She took her eyeglasses sitting next to a framed print of a young bride and groom. When she pulled open the top drawer, a streak of lightning brought her eyes to the rain beginning to pound at the glass. The tree at the edge of the property line was flushed with the yellow blaze of headlights. She knew someone had pulled into the back lot. The tree went dark again. She grabbed at panties and bras stuffing them into the bag without looking. Addie pulled out a second bag and opened the next drawer on the dresser. Suddenly, even this far back, through paper thin walls, she heard the hallway door open from the outside. Addie froze, one hand still stuck in the drawer, clutching a pair of jeans. Heavy footsteps walked the hallway. A peal of thunder buried all other sound and the rain pounded the windows and siding. She wiped her nose, which had started to run with her tears. She tried to re-catch the sound of the steps. They had moved onto the stairs going to the second floor. She moaned and her knees buckled slightly again. She grabbed at the drawer and steadied herself. She opened the third bag and shoved in another pair of jeans and a pair of tennis shoes from the floor.


She made it as far as the dining table when Jughead howled and jumped at her zooming back to the bedroom. She stopped in her tracks and muffled another cry. To her left, through the sliding door, was the glare of headlights again in the parking lot. Addie ran out the door of the apartment and away from the closest exit. Her arms clutched the three bags to her chest as she struggled to keep her legs from giving away. Addie stopped at the door of Mrs. Anderson’s apartment and looked back over her shoulder.


“Shit! The cash,” she cried out.


The darkness beneath the dead hallway light swallowed her as she crept backwards toward the exit, feeling around for the knob. Her eyes were glued to the parking lot door. When it opened, she saw his figure walk in. Addie turned and grabbed the knob, then pushed her way past the door and into the shelter of the storm.