First Blew the Wind
Jessica Hollander


First blew the wind, howling down the streets, rolling along the river, rearing up the house and tearing at the shutters. Seeping in the cracks and swirling round the rooms, ruffling skirts, jingling keys, picking up hair and throwing it down, banging against the pots, the pans, the cookie sheets hidden beneath the oven.

First blew the wind, but it used to be gentler, whooshing and rustling and long slow whispering; even howl, bark, and whine like a siren, but never angry as that night it swept in and whipped everything around, knocking down photographs and tearing off curtains, flipping over couches, artwork, glass spraying to the ground, and everybody watching, no one wanting it to end.

Next came the yelling, everyone silent til that night, wanting an excuse, a reason, something to hide behind, and then it arrived: the wind, except the wind only carried it further, took the rancor into its folds and spread it like seeds all around town.

Then the creaking, the pounding, beds moving across the floors, falling through soft ceilings to gritty, harassed basements, the anger and the revenge, the women who loved it but wouldn’t say so tomorrow; they’d blame it on the wind.

The wind started everything.

***

Nine months later a sea of infants, so many babies the hospital pulled things from the kitchen, made cribs out of baskets and silver serving dishes, stacked those little pink and brown loaves right next to each other on a rack in the oven. Those sweet darlings with their sausage feet and bean toes, their candy noses and clear eyes you could suck on; they were something separate from the wind, how could the wind lead to this? The parents were done with the wind. They would pretend the wind didn’t exist.

Everyone took their babies home, what innocence, what charm; people ate up their tears and smiled with the wails, holding life in their arms as they stepped through the broken glass and debris scattered across their floors, stuck in the carpet, cutting the bottoms of their soft feet but they didn’t even feel it.

Still, the wind blew. The wind howled in the basement with melodious thunder, the wind jangled its chains outside the door, and eventually the men grew weak and curious and a bit tired of the loaves screaming in the kitchen. They opened the windows and the women were glad for the tearing of skirts, the throw downs, the slaps across the face, the pull on their scalps, the twist of their bodies into something pulsing and violent and unpredictable.

The babies kept quiet for once, but they were there in the morning when everyone struggled shut their windows and witnessed the tears and the blood, the crumpled sheets and soft feathers spilling from the pillows, their sore jaws and thighs and stomachs and arms tingling reminders of the passion and the horror of the night. In the silence the babies screamed for attention.

The children grew older and the parents taught them manners and took them to church, the priest ecstatic by the hordes after years of no one, when he’d walked the dark kaleidoscoped-floors alone, meditating, not hearing the wind.

Baptisms all around! Bible school, bible study, youth groups, choirs, a whole group of little Christians, he’d turn them around, he’d turn them away from the sins of the parents; but everyone grew bored. They counted down the minutes and finally gave up, searched for other things: boardgames and little leagues, cubscouts, boyscouts, daisies, brownies, girlscouts. Bakesales, candybars, trips to the orchard, the zoo, the playground. Distract them. The children must never know about the wind.

The wind. The parents stopped trying to fight it, opened their bedrooms and treated the wind kindly, coaxed it into the bottom of chests and dresser drawers, tucked it into cardboard boxes beneath the bed, and made it their own.

The kids became teens amongst the damage from the wind, the torn wallpaper and splintered floors, the damp, tangy clothes in the hamper, the bloody thumbprints on the couch, and it all seemed natural, a way of life, the same at their friends’ houses, the same all around: the constant calm wasteland they wandered in the aftermath of the storms.

Meanwhile, the priest paced the floors until he too heard the wind.

***

Family dinners were kind words, love passed around like the best dish, the one everyone wanted. The teens learned to cook, large wholesome meals and rich buttery cakes no one could argue with, and soon they cooked with other kids and dreamed of having loaves of their own.

Some nightmares. Some dark tortured visions. The kids’ bodies somehow trained to sleep through the worst of the weather, to get up for the bathroom or a drink of water once it ended, once the parents snored softly through the walls.

But one night their bodies stopped knowing or they knew something different. The bodies woke the kids demanding a glass of water, and this time on the way back from the bathroom the kids noticed the wind. They heard it howling in their parents’ room, the screaming and moaning, the ripping and smashing of things already ripped and smashed. The kids dropped the glass on the ground and ran to their covers where they hoped again for monsters and high laughs and sharp-teethed nightmares, a black cap on their memories.

In the morning no trace of shattered glass in the hallway.

But the kids heard it again. They heard and they hid and they remembered and they couldn’t help it. They snuck into their parents’ rooms and felt beneath the bed, in drawers, in chests, and they released the wind. They watched the damage it caused, tearing around the room, prying at their bodies. They watched horrified and excited. Now here was something. The kids liked the wind.


Jessica Hollander is pursuing her MFA at the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quarterly West, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sou’wester, and Hobart, among others. You can visit her at jessicahollanderwriter.com.