Fiction

Hail, an Act of God

By: Mike Sharlow

I was watching the Lakers play the Heat Sunday afternoon when the local weather geek interrupted the game to announce a severe storm warning. This clean cut, slightly post pubescent weather guy tried to, in a less than masculine voice, explain the danger of the impending storm. Personally, I didn’t need him to tell me much of anything, since I could clearly see the Doppler radar map he was pointing to behind him, and I knew, without his drama, that yellows and reds meant nasty weather. I didn’t know by looking at the Doppler that hail was part of the storm. I’m sure the geeky weather boy knew about the hail because someone from where the storm was, or had passed through, called the TV station. It looked like someone typed it on a teleprompter as he described what he was seeing on the Doppler map. He stammered a bit, corrected himself, and said. “Golf ball size hail is being observed. This storm is traveling very fast with winds recorded at sixty to seventy miles an hour. Conditions are right for tornados. Take cover in your basement, cellar, and lowest level of your home. If you don’t have basement, go to an inside room of your house that has no windows. If you live in a mobile home, you should seek shelter elsewhere. Winds like this can toss them around. Find a ditch if you have to.”

“Find a ditch? What the hell?” I said. “What kind of advice is that?” I thought. “I’d rather take my chances in my mobile home than cower in some ditch exposed to the golf ball sized hail they’re talking about. Now if you’re already outside, and you have no place to take cover, a ditch might be the place to be. But no one, other than people inside, are watching this broadcast right now, you idiot weather guy. Why do these local TV stations perpetually affirm their stupidity?”

“What?” my son, Brian, who was sixteen, and obviously not paying attention at all to the TV. I looked over at him on the couch and saw that he was buried in Facebook. Of all the information passed back and forth on there, wasn’t there someone talking about the storm, yet?

“Let’s go to Wal-Mart,” I said. We lived in a mobile home, Trailer 100 in the Riverton Mobile Home Park. I bought it last October for ten thousand dollars from an older woman who was moving into low income housing. It was a great deal that didn’t seem so great right now, when I envisioned my home whipping through the sky like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

I grabbed my laptop, the most important thing in the world to me.Everything I had written was on that computer. If I lost it, I lost part of my soul. It would be worse than losing a limb. I knew that. I’ve already lost two fingers on my right hand (fortunately I’m left handed), index and middle, in an industrial accident. I would rather give up two more fingers than lose my laptop. Then I would have six to type with. I could do that. “We have to go. Hurry,” I said with that slightly pissed off tone I used with my kids that slightly hurt their feelings but also got their asses moving.

“Okay, I’m almost ready. Let me grab my phone,” he said.

“We’ve got to go now,” I said and walked out the door. Brian got into the car just after I started it.

“Where are we going?” Brian asked.

“Over to Wal-Mart. That building will withstand a lot,” I said.

A black Chevy pick-up was just ahead of us, also fleeing the trailer park with urgency.

“Those guys are getting out, too. Let’s follow ‘em,” Brian said.

“Why? I don’t know where they’re going. I don’t know if they know where they’re going. We’re going to Wal-Mart.” I turned left quickly. It was a very short drive. Wal-Mart was within walking distance from home, but we didn’t have time to walk there. By the time I parked the car, the storm hit, and pellets of hail began to bounce off the asphalt.

“Hurry Dad!” Brian said, as I grabbed my laptop from the backseat.

“Go. I’m right behind you.”

We ran inside and stood near the entrance to watch the storm. Some guy in a maroon minivan had just finished loading up his Wal-Mart stuff in front of the store and closed the hatch when the storm broke loose with fury. He jumped into the minivan and drove off. “That was stupid. What a dumbass,” I said to my son standing next to me, as we watched the immediate and torrential storm roar outside the building like a freight train. This was completely accurate because we lived about a hundred and fifty feet from the railroad tracks, so I knew quite well what a train sounded and felt like barreling by just over my shoulder. Strange as it seemed, the passing trains were a comfort, meditative, but the storm didn’t make me feel that way. The storm was a freight train that left the restraints of the tracks. In seconds the visibility was maybe one hundred feet. We were standing just inside the store, beyond the entrance where the carts were kept, and l could only see faint images of the cars in the parking lot. The hail combined with the rain created a wash of water that was like looking through a waterfall.

“Look Dad, a chunk of hail broke that skylight,” Brian said.

“Hail?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s on the floor. It’s about the size of a baseball.”

I couldn’t see it, but I took his word for it, and I looked up to see that a skylight was above us. As I looked around I realized it was difficult to be anywhere within the shopping area of the store and not be under a skylight. At that time a female employee told us that we should go to the back of the store. In the back of the store where the bathrooms were the ceilings were lower and there weren’t any skylights. My son walked ahead of me. His torn straight legged skinny jeans hung halfway down his ass with his green boxer shorts sticking out. I hated this look. One tug and his pants would be around his ankles. This was one of the few times I didn’t tell him to pull up his pants. Sometimes I just wanted to smack him in the head, but I didn’t. I never did. He was sixteen now, and through all the stupid things he ever did, I never made him see stars, flash of white. I knew what kind of person that created. Besides, his pants weren’t that important right now.

The Wal-Mart was a sturdy building, but would we return to the trailer park to find our home in shambles or maybe gone? I had enough insurance to replace the trailer and everything in it, but I didn’t want to have to do it. My collection of books was valuable and replaceable, but it would be a hassle. After the divorce I really didn’t have or want anything that meant anything to me except for some pictures of the kids. I had my laptop with me that had hundreds of hours of writing on it. Once again, there was nothing more important to me. There were people, like my kids, my girlfriend, and my girl friends’ kids, but they weren’t things. My writing didn’t feel like an inanimate thing either. It felt like a vital organ.

My son and I stood at the back of the store with the other customers. I called my girl friend and told her the storm was heading her way. Here, the storm ended quickly. It looked like everyone was waiting for permission to leave this part of the store, but I was never much for waiting for permission. I didn’t like other people to make decisions for me, so I told my son we were going, and I left.

The parking lot was covered with chunks of hail from marble size to golf ball size. The dimpled dings on the cars were obvious, and we saw the rear window of one car was shattered and completely busted out. On other cars the windshields were cracked. Then I saw my car, the 2000 blue Honda Civic. It was in decent shape, no rust, no major damage, but the hail did a number on it. It was beat up like it was in a fight and lost. My windshield had four places where hail had breached it, and spidery cracks emanated from each impact. I was pissed. I only had liability insurance. It’s all I had to have since the car was paid for. I remembered that I replaced a windshield on a Corolla I owned, and it cost about two hundred and twenty-five bucks. The numerous dimples now pocking my car would probably cost hundreds. I wondered if there was a way I could do it myself.

Brian picked up a couple of the biggest chunks of hail he could find. He got into the car with them. “Look at these,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t want to touch them or even look at them, the sons of bitches. “What are you going to do with them?” I asked.

“Save them. They’re cool.”

“Yes, they were a real fucking wonder of nature, weren’t they? I hate Mother Nature,” I said.

“What?” Brian asked. Either he didn’t hear what I said, or he didn’t understand why I said it. “Your windshield looks really bad,” he said.

My son had a real knack for the obvious.

“Can you see through it?” he asked. He was always worried about getting into accidents. This was kind of odd since he was usually so careless and fearless, as most skateboarders are.

“I can see. Most of the damage is on your side.”

“Are you going to get it fixed?” he asked.

“Have to,” I said and felt the twinge of financial anxiety. “Can I afford to fix it? When can I afford to fix it?” Many quick calculations triggered through my mind.

We drove into the trailer park. It was all there, but cars and homes sustained damage. The side of one trailer looked like it had a bunch of bullet holes. The hail had completely broken through the siding. Other homes and cars were dinged and dimpled. At first, when I drove up to my home I didn’t see anything. My siding looked fine. Then I noticed that the screens on my windows had holes torn in them. The screens themselves were made of cloth, vinyl, or plastic. The hail hit the window hard enough to tear holes in the screens, but not one window got broken. To me, it was kind of amazing. My windows also had metal grills. A chunk of hail hit one hard enough to bend it without breaking the window. Either my windows were made from tempered glass, or it was a small miracle by which the hand of God had created a force field like shield over the glass of my windows. If a miracle occurred, it probably had nothing to do with God. I hope God had better things to do than protect my windows from hail. It was more of an anomaly than anything.

I stood back to a look at my roof. The woman I bought it from said she just had it sealed this last year, and that she religiously had it done every two years. Like meteorites the hail had created small dents on my roof, and at the impact points patches of the sealant had come off. Then I noticed that there were pieces of it in the yard.

I examined my siding, but I didn’t notice anything. It held up better than a lot of the trailers I saw as I drove back home after the storm. The newer, nicer trailer next to me that was for sale was dented up like my car.

After I bought the trailer I procrastinated about buying insurance, but like most things, I do get around to it. I called the insurance company, and they said that someone would call to let me know when they could take a look at the damages to my trailer. The first guy that called said it would be a few weeks before he could visit. They were swamped with claims from this storm. Then a few days later another agent, Angela called, and said she could visit in about a week on Saturday between 11:00 and 1:00. She showed up closer to eleven. Angela was a cute, short, dark haired girl with shiny oily skin and braces. Her polished fingernails were painted with additional design that looked to be flowers. She had short stubby fingers which she really shouldn’t draw this much attention to. She mentioned that she was from Las Vegas, where she had come from a few days ago to deal with the many insurance claims wrought by the hail storm. Here in Wisconsin we were having inordinately cool weather for April. About a week ago we had a snow storm. She was complaining about our weather, our lack of sun. “I can’t take this, all these clouds,” she said. “It seems like forever since I’ve seen the sun.”

“Welcome to the Midwest,” I said.

My girlfriend, who was sitting on the couch, laughed. I’m not sure that she laughed to let me know she was there, or that she really thought it was funny. It didn’t seem that funny to me. Women are covertly possessive and suspicious. My girlfriend, Loraine, was a very pretty blonde Irish woman with a calculating mind, and a cheerful nature, but when she was pissed off I didn’t want to be within striking distance. She had no reason to feel threatened by this greasy dark-haired girl from the west. I don’t think I would have fucked her if I even had the opportunity, unless I was drunk or very hard up or both. There are some girls I would probably never sleep with unless they crawled into my bed naked. There are others, that if they crawled into my bed naked, I would likely crawl out the other side.

Angela said that she had itemized and calculated the damages to my home. “This is for the roof, the siding, the windows, and the skirting,” she said. “And the printed check is at the bottom.”

Before I saw the amount of the check I said, “I didn’t notice the damage to the siding.
“Oh yes,” she said, “if you run your hand along it you can feel it.” Then she directed me back to the check. “I’ve printed a check in this amount.” She pointed with her colorful fingernail.

“Oh,” I said. It was for $5649.00. I bought the mobile home for ten thousand-five hundred a few months ago. I was pleasantly surprised, and for a moment I thought it was a mistake. But that’s what I did when I had good fortune; I questioned it. “How’s the roof look?” I asked.

“The coating is obviously chipping off where the hail impacted like we talked about before. There’re dents, and where there’s dents you can get rust and leaking. That’s why I’ve put in the cost for complete replacement.”

“I’m not doing that,” I thought. “I plan to get some of the same sealant and cover where it’s chipped.” And then I said, “The integrity has been completely compromised then?” I was being unabashedly pretentious with my vocabulary. I always had to let people know that didn’t know me that they weren’t dealing with a moron.

“I can show you if you want?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. Now I was wondering if maybe she was calling my bluff. I had to accept the invite, since I had set myself up for it.

“I still have my ladder set up,” she said, as she opened the door.

“I’ll be right out. I have to put my shoes on,” I said.

After she walked out, I held up my check to Loraine and my twenty-two-year-old daughter Maelie. “It’s an Easter miracle,” I said sarcastically. Tomorrow was Easter.

Loraine smiled painfully. She tolerated my disdain for the Almighty.

Maelie laughed loudly. God-people bugged her more than they bugged me. I believed in God, but that It had limitations of power otherwise there wouldn’t be so much nasty shit going on in the world, and It likely had nothing to do with my insurance check. Maelie was an atheist, maybe agnostic. I’m not sure. God was a myth to her. Maelie was a pretty girl, petite, long brown hair. She was endowed with grace. Grace was supposedly a gift. If God could give anything, it could give this. To me, God was like a parent. When I was a child, I thought my Mother and Father were omnipotent. They had all the answers to all my questions. No harm could come to me, if they were near and they were the only ones allowed to harm via punishment. Then, the older I got, the less power they had. So did God.

I followed Angela up the ladder, first waiting at the bottom watching her stout round ass packed in her black yoga pants shift from side to side, as she stepped up rung to rung. “Be careful,” I said.

She turned around and saw me checking her out and smiled. “I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’m on a lot of roofs with this job. Yours is nothing.”

From the ground the eve of the roof didn’t look that high. It was about ten feet. I climbed up and crawled onto the roof. Angela was standing there waiting for me. Like always, as I was standing up on a roof looking down looked so much higher than from the ground looking up. The pitch on the roof wasn’t very steep, probably about a three-twelve.

“Well, you can see how the sealant has been removed by the hail,” she said.

“It’s a lot worse than I thought,” I said. Right away I was wondering where I could buy the sealant I would need to repair the roof. There was no way in hell I was going to pay somebody to do it. Glopping on some goop took little or no skill. Just getting the right stuff was the key. I didn’t know how much the sealant was going to cost, but for money the insurance company was giving me to replace the roof, I was sure I would be way ahead.

“Can you see where the metal is dented from the hail?” she asked.

Standing, it wasn’t really that obvious. I bent down, as she bent down and we clunked heads together. I saw a familiar flash of white, that stunned and disoriented feeling, and I went down on one knee. Angela made the mistake of standing up. I looked up, and I was going to say, “Sorry, you okay?” But I saw her take a step back and lose her balance. It looked like she realized she didn’t have her equilibrium, and she attempted to take a knee, but she fell backwards onto to the roof. The flexible metal roof kind of reacted like a trampoline, because when she hit it, she bounced right over the edge of the roof. It happened so quickly, I wasn’t quite sure what happened, or where she went. I stood there for a second, and I noticed the little boy from across the road sitting on his Big Wheel. He was staring at me. Then he waved.

As fast as I could I crawled to the ladder and climbed down. I ran around to the other side of the trailer where she fell. When I turned the corner and saw her, I knew it wasn’t good. I hurried to her side, and I began to ask her if she was okay, but by the look on her face, I knew she wasn’t. Her head was twisted unnaturally to her contorted body, which made me think of the Exorcist. I thought, “broken neck.” Her eyes and her mouth were open. Her face was emotionless, but it looked like she was quite surprised before the moment of impact. I didn’t know if I should touch her. I didn’t know CPR. I ran into the house and said, as I grabbed my cell, “She fell off the roof!”

“What?” my girlfriend said.

“Who?” my daughter asked, and as she asked she knew it was a dumb question. I think she meant, “Where?” or “How?”

“Do you know CPR?” I asked.

As we ran outside, I called 911.

Loraine felt for her pulse on her wrist. “I can’t feel anything,” she said. Then she bent over Angela and began to awkwardly give her CPR.

It wasn’t long before a small crowd had gathered.

“What happened?”

“Who is she?”

Various questions murmured through the crowd. Then the little boy on the Big Wheel, who was at the front of the crowd of the trailer court dwellers said to me, “You push girl.”

I looked at the dirty faced little twit. He was probably four, or a stupid five. He had light brown hair on an oblong head, probably the trauma from birth that caused his brain defect. He wore a filthy t-shirt with red and white stripes.

The moment the words dribbled out of his wet mouth (it looks like he had a problem with drooling too), everyone looked at me. My girlfriend even stopped with CPR. My daughter looked at me, recognized the annoyed pissed off look on my face, and she smiled, and would have probably laughed if it weren’t for the circumstances.

“She’s my insurance adjustor. She fell off the roof,” I said.

Then a young female hand, fingernails with chipped red nail polish, stabbed through the crowd and yanked the little boy and his Big Wheel into the crowd and out of sight. “Come here! What have I told you about lying?” said the obviously embarrassed angry mother. Through the crunching of plastic wheels on the crushed rock trailer park road, I heard the smack of her hand on his head. The boy began to cry, as he was dragged away.

I now felt bad for the little boy. For all anybody knew, I could have pushed Angela off the roof. The little boy could have been telling the truth. He thought he was. It was what he thought he saw.

A nurse that lived in the trailer park had come to Angela’s aid. By the look on her face, a woman that had probably seen plenty of death, the prognosis for Angela wasn’t good.

Sirens wailed increasingly louder. There were at least two different kinds approaching. One was an ambulance for sure. One of the others was probably the cops. As I watched the nurse and Loraine shield Angela’s body from the crowd (that was the plan now), I wondered what my story would be to the cops. I would leave out the part that I left out before; that when we clunked heads together, I pushed her away. It was a defensive involuntary reaction. I didn’t intend for her to fall off the roof and die. Maybe it was an act of God, if you believe in such things, just like the hail.

Categories: Fiction

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