"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans"
Locals say it's a magnet for drifters but he just calls it home. It’s known as Tornado Alley, but most folks don’t go there to bowl; they go there to drink and forget. The foundation is original, but the building is not; it’s been rebuilt twice, once in 2009 and again in 2014.
His small apartment sits just behind the office and has everything a single man needs. He has a comfortable chair positioned right beside a twin bed and in front of a flat screen TV. He has a refrigerator that sometimes has food, but always has beer. At closing time he cleans the mess from the drunks he never kicks out, restocks the bar and retreats to his sanctuary to wait to do the same thing the next day. He is alone. He is always alone.
In Moore, Oklahoma, everyone knows the sound. It’s high pitched, it’s loud and it’s continuous. Most folks hear it and rush for the cellar but not him, not tonight. He’s been destroyed and rebuilt, twice. It’s his business and his life and he’s not going to do it again. If fate chooses him tonight he will go willingly. Tonight he is Ahab. Tonight he is Leonidas. Tonight he’s a bowling alley owner at his breaking point. As the siren sounds he pulls the rag, ever present, from his back pocket and cleans the bar just as he always does at closing time.
The door bursts open and he sees her standing against the quickly blackening background. She is windblown and panicked. Her hair ruffled and unkempt. She isn’t pretty now but he’s sure most Friday nights she’s manicured and attractive. She’s dressed in a skirt and high heels. Even tonight she doesn’t fit in. She scans the room but finds no one but him. Her face contorts in fear. If she’s looking for safety, it's nowhere to be found. There is nowhere to hide, no protection from what is coming.
A mind plays out all the scenarios in the space of seconds but in a moment she changes everything. He is willing to let destiny decide his fate tonight but that is his choice, not hers. Why is he responsible for her? He doesn’t know but he is. The cellar is too far. There isn’t enough time. There is never enough time. There had been women before, women he knew but in this moment there is only her and in this moment he is no longer Ahab or Leonidas, he is a father or a brother or a husband.
His instincts take over as he motions her to follow him. Without hesitation she complies. No words are spoken as he leads her to the room behind the office. It doesn’t offer safety but it offers companionship; they will not face this trial alone. He leads her to the chair beside the bed in front of the TV and he coaxes her to sit down next to him. He knows she shouldn’t do it, she doesn’t know him. None of that matters, she follows his directions without question.
In the chair he places his arm around her. He’s not sure why, he just thinks he should. In the chair she leans against his chest as if she is listening for his heartbeat. The only sound is the siren until it comes. A tornado is wind, only it’s not. It’s death. It’s a freight train. It’s the sight of things flying that don’t fly and the sound of things colliding that don’t collide. In the chair and without words they feel the rumbling of the building, they hear the destruction that surrounds them. He is painfully aware of his vulnerability and the consequence of his choice. He is aware his choice now involves her. He pulls a stranger close because a stranger is all he has. He is powerless, which is terrifying yet strangely beautiful. In an unexplained way he understands what it is to share only one thing with another human being. No past, no future, just this moment.
And then it’s gone. Death came for a visit but could not stay. The siren is silent, the wind has subsided and the danger has passed. The two strangers, as if waking from a dream, realize they are in a life-saving embrace on a comfortable chair in front of a flat screen TV next to a twin bed. A few frightening minutes, that felt like years, are over and real life is back, only it isn’t. She gathers herself and stands. He does the same. She fixes her hair as best she can and he puts his rag in his back pocket. She turns to him as if to say something, anything, but there is nothing to say. After a pause, almost longer than the trauma, she takes his face in her hands and kisses him.
In his life he will never have another kiss like that one. Soft yet strong. Thankful and passionate. Loving yet anonymous. She turns to leave, he wants her to stay. He wants her to stay but he knows she won’t. He wants the moment to last, but like a tornado, a moment like this is here and then it’s gone and there is no way to stop it. He watches her walk out the same door she entered just a few minutes earlier and his mind fills with questions. Is it possible to meet the love of your life without words? Is it possible to see her just once and have her fill your heart forever? Is it possible to face death and find life? Is it possible she might feel the same?
He will never know the answers to those questions, but he knows the bar won’t clean itself so he pulls the rag from his back pocket and starts to wipe. Everything is back to normal but nothing will ever be the same.