I saw her first standing in front of me, rubbing her pale fingers around on her temples with her eyes closed. The speakers gave a loud pop, a boom, and while the others just gasped and laughed, she gave a low gasping moan. And her friend put her arm around her and led her out. I watched them go.
I didn’t recognize her at first. My heart gave a pause, then quickened. Suddenly, something inside me had changed. Something was different. I hadn’t realized my daughter had survived.
The wind was marvelous, full of singing strong power. I stood on the porch with my hands open, mouth closed tight, shoulders limp under the weight of shock. Jenny wailed behind me.
Trees came whipping by, sludgy mud and thick rain, water enough to refill the shrinking Aral Sea. People swirled by, screaming and crying, holding bloody cuts and half-drowned children.
Jenny’s scream woke me. I turned, gasping with tears, and held her to my chest, breathing hard. I waded out into the dark whirling water up to my chest, held her high, begged prayers, and tried to swim even though I’d never learned. Panic sang in the air, laughed at the dead and dying bodies, danced on the heads of those who were struggling to breathe.
It had come like a devil in a whirlwind. Thunderous, searching, limitless. I heard the noises and rushed outside, Jenny following, scooting on her rump, crying for her lunch. The sky was black as hate, and I could do nothing but stand with my hot hands empty and shoulders weak, watching the gods wreak havoc on my city.
Jenny was bawling red, eyes scrunched up in that way babies have, no longer mewling for lunch but screaming in full-lunged panic and fear. I could feel it too, a scream rising in my gut.
Then a tree came flying past and knocked me down. When I shook the mud from my eyes and tried to shush the baby, the water round me was dark with blood. My blood. I felt my brain go white, my eyes suddenly hot and empty in a flashing pain. In a haze I watched an inner tube from someone’s backyard pool float past, with someone’s kid on it, crying as he gripped the tube with bloody knees. Smithy’s kid. Betty’s son. I yelled his name and threw Jenny and he caught her, looked down, smiled in a half-hearted way, and she quieted.
And then I couldn’t remember anything, just white and a sharp stabbing pain that was slowly overtaking the rest of my body, enveloping me, pulling me down.
I watched her go. Her hair was thick and dark and long, like my mother’s had been, and she was short, like me. Her slender wrists bore three watches each, and I laughed when I saw them at first. I think they all kept different times. Her friend was hugging her as they faded from sight. Watching the way she rubbed her temples reminded me of the migraines I got when I was pregnant with Jenny.
She looked familiar. Her face—thin, sharp-boned, quizzical—made me look at her more firmly, trying to remember who she had been.
White. Peaceful, blank white, and silence save a buzz somewhere in the depths of the rooms. I could hear someone speaking after awhile, and I didn’t want to sit up, but someone was forcing me upward.
Her face was round and fat and smiling. I never found out her name, just the nickname the other patients called her. Awley. She held my hand, crooned nursery songs, told me it was going to be okay. When my brain shook itself awake I sat up and screamed JENNY!
But I couldn’t reach Betty over the phone. Smithy was dead, they told me. Perhaps the kid was dead too. Perhaps Jenny was dead too. Perhaps—and then my thoughts halted and I refused to believe she was dead. She had made it out, the kid had lived, and was somewhere safe in a hospital. She must have made it out. She must have made it out.
I walked after her, as if in a daze. A sort of dream. The friend looked over her shoulder and saw me coming, just a short woman with silvery hair in braids, probably dangerous and glared at me.
“Excuse me?” I said softly.
She looked up. Her eyes were full of pain—or maybe it was just me, knowing what she must be feeling. Her head was low and her eyes half closed. Her friend stood and said, “Yes? She’s not feeling well, you should let her alone.”
“I’m Bly Withy,” I said, holding out my hand. “You can call me Bly. I’d—I’d like to ask you something.”
She nodded, held my gaze, looked confused. Was she wondering? Realizing?
“What is your name?”
Then I hesitated, stuttered, tried to explain. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be scary or imposing or anything, it’s just—I lost a daughter in the hurricane here, years ago, and—and you look so like her. I—”
The friend was glaring at me again. “Can’t you see she’s not well? She’s got a migraine! Leave her be!”
“It’s okay, Emily,” said she. “I was a baby then, I think. I’m adopted.”
I swallowed. My face felt stony, my breathing shallow, my hands suddenly hot. I knelt before her. “That would work, I think. My daughter was named Jenny.”
She nodded. “My parents named me Jennifer.”
Then I stopped. “But what if it’s a coincidence?” I asked her. She wanted this as much as I. I could see it in her eyes.
“Why did they name you Jenny? I remember,” I tucked a thin silver braid behind my ear, “I remember that the day I lost her, Jenny was wearing a little pink jumper with a—with a monogram. It said Jennifer on it. Do—do you…? Did your parents ever tell you why?”
A ghost moved in her eyes, a white pale thing of recognition and shock and acceptance. I saw it in her eyes and my heart burst. I felt hot all of a sudden, all of me, from my toes to the scar on my scalp. A sob rose in my throat.
With a gasp and a fluid motion, she threw herself into my arms and buried her face in my hair, crying.