It was the summer the tornado ripped through town, peeling the roof off the Crossroads Diner and powdering the big front windows, hurling the deep fat-fryer through the windshield of a Ford Ranger in the parking lot, and spinning the silverware bin so fast it embedded seven coffee spoons into the wooden door of the Lucky Dog Tavern across the road.
It was the summer of jagged hailstones and flattened wheat crops, of immature seedheads pulped into the flash-mud that baked dry again before lunchtime the next day. There were no jobs for farmhands that year, but plenty of work at the Windfall Roofing Company, so the high school boys labored in town, hammering shingles and sweeping boiled tar across the flat roofs of the laundromat and the Two Dudes Enchilada Hut. They cursed and shimmered shirtless in the heat for us girls to assess as we sat in Delfa Cargill’s car on the vacant lot that used be the Crossroads Diner, sipping cool vodka lemonade and passing judgement.
It was the summer Crystal Toynbee tied her drunk husband up in a bedsheet and beat him with the cast-iron skillet until he pleaded for mercy, but she knew how his bar-knuckle mercy worked, so she kept swinging until her muscles burned with fatigue and hope, leaving everyone in town marveling at how a tornado could render a man unable to speak or eat or piss without a straw.
It was the summer Worthington Cargill left his wife and daughter, taking the insurance money from his hail-damaged farmhouse and his dented Ford Ranger, and drove all the way to Telluride to bet his life’s cash on a pair of jacks with a group of players who knew how to handle a yahoo who insisted they call him “Worthy.”
It was the summer Jim McCross fell bare-assed on the floor of the men’s room at the Lucky Dog after a surprise weasel launched out of the toilet, the animal misplaced and traumatized by the storm, the man misplaced and traumatized by the loss of the diner his father had built, leaving Jim staggering more from the sudden absence of patrimonial obligation than from intoxication or rodent-fueled adrenaline.
It was the first summer in ten years we saw Delfa Cargill’s mother smile. Mrs. Cargill used her husband’s life insurance payout to go into business for herself, finding that a decade of marital disappointment had honed her knack for sizing up unemployed farmhands and stray local boys. She put them to work slopping hot tar, while teaching Delfa how to keep the books and structure an insurance policy and size up a man.
It was the summer we watched Crystal Toynbee and Jim McCross fall in love over a platter of cheesy poblanos at the Two Dudes Enchilada Hut. Filled with spice and newfound freedom, they ran off to Telluride to open a t-shirt shop with a two-for-the-price-of-one sales policy and a wildcat poker game in the back that more than offset their loss on bargain-priced Van Halen tees. The loft above the shop came with a half-size refrigerator and a king-size bed where they slept until noon, whenever they wanted, and no one could give them any shit about it.
It was the last summer of acquiescence, when convention spun free in a ferocious whirl of wind and consequence, and though our fathers argued we didn’t yet understand, we decided, sometimes, a tornado is just what a town needs.
Myna Chang writes flash and short stories. Her work has been featured in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, New World Writing, Reflex Fiction, Atlas & Alice, Writers Resist, and Best Indie Speculative Fiction 2020. She is the winner of the 2020 Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Read more at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.