A storm in summer by Urooj Salar
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A storm in summer by Urooj Salar

A storm in summer by Urooj Salar

June 2002, Before 

It was early in June when the storm hits us. 

It didn’t do much damage, besides ripping away one of the biggest branches from the maple tree. Just a week after we moved into this house, our neighbours told us about that half-dead, century-old tree, and how the original owners didn’t want to cut it down when they were making property lines. They paid more to have it on their side—our side now.  

The branch that fell was about two feet in diameter and at least fifteen feet long. It crushed the flower beds.  

Back in May, I had told my mother not to plant the newly living next to the dying; the universe would smite us. She said the flower beds were a birthday gift for my sister. My mother and my sister don’t get along, but they both liked flowers.  

They had another fight this morning. Right before the flower bed was crushed. 

The yelling started when my sister got home that morning. She was supposed to be home earlier, as in the night before. The yelling stopped when the glass shattered. Only for a minute though, to make sure everyone was okay. When it started again, it was louder. 

The weather was calmer by the evening, but it was still raining. My sister took her car (a sea-green Beetle she’d bought from a garage in North Bay), a duffel bag filled with the clothes my mother hated, and she left. 

*** 

The rain had stopped by the next morning. My father was chopping the fallen parts of the tree into firewood, and my mother and I helped stack it in piles at the back of the garage.  

The wind was still strong after the storm. Damp socks pruned my toes. My sister didn’t hug me when sheleft . She said she didn’t want to say goodbye; she was going to see me at school on Monday anyway. 

My father swung the axe, lodging it in the stump before straightening his back to look at me. His hat was pulled low over his head.  

“Chai?” 

I smiled. “I’ll make some right now.” 

The storm door chased me on my way in. It had bit at my heels that spring, and even though my father had fixed it so it slowed before it closed, I couldn’t help hopping over the threshold anyway. 

The landline was ringing, the shrill sound piercing the silence of the house. I picked it up. 

“Hello?” 

“Hi, this is Dr. Brannen from Ottawa General Hospital. Whom am I speaking with?” 

 

November 2002, After 

Corn is interesting. In the autumn when we harvest, it’s covered in soft leaves and fine hairs, like down feathers on a duckling. This year, the crops didn’t grow the corn big enough, so we didn’t bother harvesting it. I say “crop” and “harvesting” like we live on a farm—we don’t. My parents just like to grow everything in the summer. Well, my father grows everything, my mother grows the corn and the flowers. 

The corn crop is dead now, though it will stand until next summer when we plow over it to plant the new corn. The corn husks are dry and falling apart, revealing the blackened ears with most of the fruit missing, the rest like rotting teeth. The leaves don’t crumble between my fingers like the tassels do. If you push on the dried stalk, it will stay straight and tough. When you push hard enough, usually just a little harder than the first time, it gives all at once and bends right over, creasing where the force was too much to bear. Like it was bluffing, and you gave away its weaknesses. 

My mother hasn’t spoken much since the funeral. She gardened a lot in the summer, though. It’s winter now, or it’s supposed to be, so she can’t really garden anymore. She sits inside, warming her hands in front of the fireplace, stoking it with the wood from the old maple. Her clothes smell of smoke. 

My rubber boots are on the bricks again, the ones that my sister placed around the outside edge of our little corn crop, so she could get to the back of the garden to call her friend without our mother listening and without wrecking her shoes in the muddy spring and the even muddier fall. I tried to paint a portrait of her once as she stood back there, her bleached hair blending in with yellowed crops. 

I like stepping off the bricks sometimes, just to feel how my foot sinks into the water or into the mud when I don’t expect it to. I guess I should expect it most of the time, but some places look solid until I step.  

The movement of a mouse makes me scream. I am startled easily, and I think the bundle of hay I just stepped on was the mouse’s home. I don’t look back as I hop quickly from brick to brick until I am at the decomposing pumpkin patch.  

I wanted to make it to the end of the garden and touch the fence that she would lean against for hours, like it means something. But then, I would have to make my way back because it doesn’t actually mean anything.  

There could be more mice over there, so I don’t go. The thought makes my stomach turn, like looking at cell slides in science class right after eating lunch.  

I was supposed to start my senior year of high school almost three months ago. 

There is no snow yet, but everything is almost frozen. Our garden hose winds around the dead leaves and the drying stems of squash plants. I hope this one is the broken one, the one that doesn’t attach to any nozzles. My father said something the other day about winding up the hoses before they freeze. If he forgot this one, it may be too late to save it now.  

 

May 2003, Now 

My sister’s room is on the side of the house closest to the train tracks. It is early in the afternoon when the train passes, and I wake up. The pencil cup on her desk rattles and the clothespins holding up Polaroids of the places she liked to visit tap against the walls haphazardly. I’m not quite sure what closure is, but recently, I’ve found myself sleeping in her bed. 

I wish my father didn’t change the sheets every week and vacuum her carpet like she still lived here, like she still lived at all. I want to sleep on the pillowcase she slept on, breathe in her duvet, smell the perfume our mother told her was a waste of money. The only clothes in her closet are the ones she never wore. 

I didn’t cry at her funeral.  

Some days I sit in her car with her CD player. They pulled the car out of the lake, so it doesn’t work. My father parked it in the garage anyway, in the corner where we stacked the firewood from the maple tree. Although I prefer my father’s old rock records and my mother’s jazz, I play her CDs anyway. I’ll never know what song she was listening to. I’ll never know if it hurt.  

The silence is loud when the music stops. I can hear everything but it sounds like nothing. Even that feels like too much. How can nothing feel like too much? 

I found her photo album the other day. My mother took down all her pictures the night that she left. While I don’t know where my mother stores them, I wish I had put them back up when we found out, because most times, when I saw her in my memory, I could never focus on her face or it would disappear. 

About a month ago, lightning hit what remained of the old maple tree. Only the stump is left. I read there sometimes. There were a few perennials in the flower bed, and they’re starting to push up through the soil. My mother says she expects them to bloom in a few weeks. 

Illustrated by Karen Au