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All I Can Taste Is the Storm

by George Looney

We can’t sleep, the sand a storm in our eyes. For days we’ve stayed up watching TV reporters trying to stand on boardwalks in the wind and the rain. The windows blew out two days ago.

We’ve been up so long we could be starting to hallucinate. The gull walks into the living room. We should try to get some sleep, I tell you.

Everyone else has left. Even the reporters. The boardwalks are gone. We’re going to start to imagine things, I say. You laugh, say you’ve always wanted to see things differently. You say you won’t sleep until the hurricane hits.

You start to say your husband’s name, the name of the storm we may be the only ones waiting for. Instead, you talk to the gull. Sarah, you say, and it looks at you as if it knows the name you’ve given it.

You don’t know storms the way I do. I’d rather not name them. I know what they can do. If I were to call your house and tell your husband that, according to the maps on the local weather channel, the hurricane will pass right over us, he’d say we deserve whatever happens to us and hang up. I’d keep on talking, saying things I’d never say with anyone listening. I’d say that damage forms storm fronts inside us, that winds born when these fronts meet tear us from ourselves.

I haven’t slept in days, but not because of the storm, not because we don’t have glass in our windows, or because the gull talks in the dark. I could sleep with any of that. But I haven’t slept since you woke up to the radio news naming the hurricane and suggesting everyone leave.

I’d been waiting for you to wake up. I hadn’t slept. We had never done this before, spent the night together. Your husband thought you were several hundred miles inland. When the radio told us to leave, you opened your eyes and said you wanted to stay and live through the hurricane. You held my hand and asked me to stay. I promised. You knew I would.

Now the sand is in our breath. When we kiss all I can taste is the storm.

Yesterday you walked down the beach on your own, didn’t tell me you were going. I’d been making dinner and talking to you from the kitchen, and you stepped out the door and walked off. I put on Van Morrison and wandered around the cottage while he sang how there was only you and I and nature. And nature’s a killer here, I thought. It was almost an hour before I saw you in the distance, carrying something in your arms.

You brought the gull onto the porch. One of its wings was broken. You asked for a blanket and wrapped it up and told me to bring some bread which you tore and held out. The black-ringed beak darted out far enough to take it from your fingers. I was afraid, but it never broke your skin. Not even a scratch.

Today the storm is closer and the sand’s in everything. The gull is inside with us and the boards we put up are keeping the worst of the wind out. You’ve been talking softly to the gull. We still haven’t slept. The scars I see on your arms could be from the lack of sleep, or the gull, or it could be they were always there. And the sand that dances in your breath as you talk to the gull could be real, or it could be I can’t trust anything I see.

Earlier you called your husband. I stayed in the kitchen while you spoke to him from the bed still damp from our bodies. I didn’t want to hear you talk to him as though you hadn’t been with me. I remembered once seeing you in your house a few minutes after we’d made love in an office chair and you had said you didn’t want to leave but you had to. Though I didn’t know what that meant, I kissed you and you left. My car was parked near your house. You were kissing him. It was like looking in a mirror. It made me wonder how real anything was to you. How real I could be to you.

The gull stayed in the kitchen with me while you talked on the phone. I threw it bites of the shrimp I was using to make what would be our dinner if the power didn’t go out. I could hear the murmur of your voice over the sound of the knife on the cutting board. How bad can a hurricane get, Sarah? I asked the gull. There was no answer. Even though I couldn’t hear the words, I heard you say you loved him just before you hung up. I could tell that’s what you said even though you’d never said it to me.

How bad can a hurricane get? Maybe bad enough, I thought, to clear away even the debris.

Now you’re telling the gull on your lap how beautiful it is. I love you, Sarah, you whisper. You’re on the couch, sand dancing in your breath. The sand is everywhere. The news is saying the storm has lost some of its punch, that the worst may be over. If I could sleep, I might believe that. If I were a gull with a broken wing, I might believe anything.

George Looney’s recent books include Meditations Before the Windows Fail (Lost Horse Press, 2015), Structures the Wind Sings Through (a book-length poem from Full/Crescent Press, 2014), Monks Beginning to Waltz (Truman State University Press, 2012), and A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011). He founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie and serves as editor-in-chief of the international literary journal Lake Effect, translation editor of Mid-American Review, and he is the co-founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

Lead image: “Winter Storm on Coast, Oregon” (via Flickr user Bonnie Moreland)