Her Mother Loved the Wind
Ida’s mother loved the wind.
She loved when it invaded her sacred garden, twisting with the violence of an electric mixer. When it came that way, her amber eyes would pulse yellow, and her tongue flicked over her lips to gloss a wicked smile. First her arms would spread wide, and she would crouch real low, preparing for her mighty twirl. Then she would spin and spin and spin, until the whole world became a propeller about to snap apart from the torque of her unholy movement.
It was beautifully reckless. And terrifying.
“Come on, baby.” Her mother’s voice, like the wind, seemed to draw from all corners of the earth. As if enchanted by her invitation, dozens of green helicopter seeds lifted from the Maple trees to join her dance, and as her toes dashed a troupe of spring leaves into the air, the wind caught them, carrying them in a spiral up around her ankles and past her tom-boy hips. All of nature wanted to dance with Ida’s mother. Even the ground started to sway side to side.
Ida dropped to her knees to make sure her world wasn’t really heaving the way it seemed to whenever her mother spun. Her dizzy eyes fixed on an earth worm that had stuck its nose out of the dirt to see what all the ruckus was. Within seconds, it too started shaman twirling, as if entranced to swish and call in another storm. Ida pinched its head completely flat and yanked it out, ripping it in half.
“What’s wrong with you? Little girls love to twirl.” Her mother reached out.
“That’s okay,” Ida said, picking at the other half of the worm that was trying to escape underground.
“No it’s not. You’re going to have fun.”
She clasped Ida’s wrists and started to swing her round and round, until her glittery Jellies lifted off the grass and she thought the skin of her hands might slip off like a pair of pink princess gloves. Ida heard a distant scream. It was her own voice, but somehow sounded far away. A few giggles slid off her ribs too, but they felt dull. Inside, she was just a scared little hamster wanting the big-round world to hold still a minute so she could remember which way was North.
When her mom let go, Ida stumbled a few paces and then tumbled into the hyacinths. A sugary rain burst from their purple faces, and a bumble bee with a pollinated coat flicked water off his sticky wings and purred.
“I hate spinning,” Ida said. The bee flicked some pollen off its wing to agree.
“What’s that, baby?” Her mother asked.
“That was fun,” Ida said, still attempting to frown away the dizziness
“Again?” Her mother offered.
“Maybe after.” Ida went to find her worm.
Ida’s mother sighed and re-hooked the clasps of her overalls, which always came undone whenever she spun. The wind flung bouquets of her thick brown bob into the sticky crevice of her lips while she put her rubbers back on and retrieved a trowel out from under sweet pea vines leaking through the chain link fence. Then she set to stabbing the earth, digging out pock marks of ripe strawberries from its Adam skin, and tossing them into a strainer set on the rash of anthills next to her. As the breeze softened, her mother started to hum.
The worm was still wriggling after Ida tore it apart twice more. It had four fat spots the shape of squeeze boxes, which Teacher called hearts. The pieces seemed to shrink just before they stopped moving. Ida heard a grumble on the horizon, and looked up. Low gray clouds were frowning at her in an “I’m coming to get you” sort of way. Ida swept some dirt over the proof of her sin, and decided she would help mom get all the berries out of the ground before the clouds let go on them.
Yesterday, there had been hail. Not the dandruff kind, but the Jaw Breaker kind. The sort that left ripple marks on the hoods of cars and tried to coerce spring into ending early. Ida had her tricycle a few blocks away when the hail hit. They struck her Mini Mouse helmet so loud, she fell over peddling faster than ever before turning into the driveway. In the kitchen, her mother was staring through the screen door at her flowers, complaining that the damn hail would destroy all her hard work.
Ida loved the garden too. Especially the hyacinths. So when the hail came, and her mother complained, she took the dining room table cloth outside and set to covering them. It took some stubbornness to fight the will of the wind. Every time she had a corner of the flower patch covered, the nasty wind would flip it the other way. The balls were striking harder and harder as the minutes passed, ricocheting off the clothing line with very unpleasant, tinny “dings.” Some seemed to even fly at a curve, aiming to paint Jack Frost designs on the windows before season. Wherever they landed, they rolled a good foot farther: A sea of skinless skulls bobbing on the puddley green.
Ida charged the garden gnomes, little bearded men with vibrant smiles and lifeless eyes, to hold down the cloth on one side. When she was done, she sat shivering at the bare kitchen table, picking at the tiny white hairs sprouting out of her goose pimples, half expecting to be venerated with a glass of strawberry milk soon as her mom saw what she’d done.
Instead, her mom licked her lips real slow and said, “Well, now you’ve done such a fine job destroying my best table cloth, why don’t you run your skinny little ass outside and fetch it for me! I swears Ida Marie Finn.”
After destroying the table cloth like that, Ida was glad to be a big help with the strawberries. She poked into a cheek of earth and extracted one shaped like an oversized molar.
“Look mom. Tooth.”
Yesterday, Ida had also lost her first molar. This morning, nestled between the mattress and the headboard, she found a tiny scroll of gold dusted parchment that smelled like matches.
Her mother explained how the parchment came to be with an elaborate tale that made her eyes dance like the wind was whirring in Ida’s bedroom:
“The woods are so dark, Fairies have to have a magic fire to write letters by. They sit round on their mushroom stools, using the flames to toast the ink in their quills so it’s got that golden sheen. See that.” She pushed the parchment side to side under Ida’s nose to let the light roll across the blue ink, exposing a citrus gold.
“Did it get burned?” Ida asked, pointing to the golden flecks crumbling off the burned edges of the paper.
“No, that’s gold dust, silly. Don’t you know fairy fires spit gold dust instead of ash, like Yellowstone?” Her mother made a spewing sound, and specks of spittle smoldered on Ida’s face, but she didn’t wipe it away. It would be rude.
“Read it,” her mother said, bouncing up and down a few times on the edge of Ida’s twin bed in anticipation of her daughter’s delight. But Ida’s face didn’t turn vibrant as she read, as her mother expected. Instead, the there was silence and her pudgy, expressionless face. Something had changed. Trying to get her to laugh was like poking a snail. Nothing happened.
The scroll was tied together with a sprig of the fairy’s bright red hair, which Ida carefully untied so as not to lose a strand. Ida was a great reader, able to conquer Golden Books without much aid, but the Tooth fairy notes always had a word in cursive here or there. This note was something about a Fairy losing Ida’s quarter fighting off a Night horse with flaming eyes and flaring nostrils that had tried to sneak into Ida’s dreams.
“She lost my quarter,” Ida said, as if that were the only detail of note in the whole, tantalizing tale.
“Well, what does a lost quarter matter when there was real, live fairy on your pillow?” Her mother asked.
Ida silently walked the treasure over to her music box on the nightstand next to her bed, careful not to let a crumb of paper fall. A bar of “You are My Sunshine” was only half played when she dropped the music box lid to silence it.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Ida’s mom asked. Before, Ida would have let the whole song play. It was the song her mom used to sing her to sleep when she was younger.
“I don’t know,” Ida said, and she saw the anger in the way her mother bit her lip. She had been such a bad girl lately, helping in the garden was a chance to make it up.
As Ida picked the strawberries, she rubbed her tongue against the space where her tooth used to be. Sharp little bumps were sprouting there. Soon it would be a whole, new tooth, and she hoped it would be stronger than the last one, which had some rot on it. All her molars had a little rot on them. Mom said it was because Ida didn’t drink her breastmilk when she was a baby. Her father said it was because mom wouldn’t let anyone suck her sacred breasts.
Ida’s mouth began to water as she worked. She chose an especially sweet looking strawberry and turned away from her mom to hide it while she picked out the seeds, one by one. They were yellow with green rims, shaped like the eyes of sewing needles stuck in the pincushion her mom was always leaving on the couch.
Ida had sat on that pincushion day before yesterday and Ida’s mom had noticed the red dots while she was in the bathroom using running water to wash the dirt out of her nails. Ida had been using the toilet in a hurry, and turned around to wipe with a snowball of tissue paper when her mother saw and asked what they were and how those spots had gotten there. Ida got scared and said she didn’t know. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t tell her mom about the pin cushion. It was something in the tone of the question: a desperate anger. No, a desperate fear.
Ida’s mom had met her father at the front door before he had a chance to pull the keys out. She wanted to know how come her daughter’s ass happened to be covered with red spots like that, and what did he think he was doing? She would leave if it were true, so it better not be, for his sake. He responded with his own questions. How should he know? What exactly had her sick mind stooped to thinking now? When would she stop temper tantruming like this? She was a grown woman, for God’s sake.
But Ida knew the truth, and the truth was, they had surprised him to.
All the seeds picked off, Ida pressed the strawberry against her nose for a final whiff. It smelled like the earth. Like the dirt on her hands. Ida loved the earth for the same reason she hated the wind. It was unmovable. Almost. The dirt could be perforated with a trowel, overturned by a shovel, stomped by a tamper, aerated until poop-shaped clops of dirt were extracted every six inches, but except when her mom was spinning, it never really moved.
When her world was ungluing, Ida could go outside or into the basement and cradle her body against the ground and just breathe in its calming, earthy scent until all the fragmented pieces settled again.
“It’s coming!” Ida’s eight year old sister Jamie squashed her already flat nose against the screen door. Jamie had the same brown hair as her mom, but braided into pigtails that swung down her sides like two ends of a jump rope. She also had her mom’s amber eyes, the special gift of making them flash dangerously or sparkle mysteriously on a whim.
“Did you hear me?” With her nose flattened that wide and her lips squished against her teeth, Jamie looked like a monkey on a roller coaster. Jamie’s faces still made Ida smile; she was the only one who could make her smile anymore.
“What’s coming?” Ida’s mom asked.
“Tornado!” Jamie jumped up and down like her feet were made of springs, another habit picked up from their mom. Her jean Scrunchy slipped off one of her braids, and she stopped jumping just long enough to pick it up and tie it back on. “It’s an F2!”
“Oh boy, better hope it doesn’t rip the roof off,” Ida’s mother said. She kept digging.
“The roof?” Ida stopped smiling.
“We’re all going to die! Are you ready to die, big baby?” Jamie said, pressing her nose into the screen even harder than before, but Ida wasn’t registering. She was too busy trying to remember what Teacher said about Tornado safety. Stop. Drop. And Roll. She recited. But that was wrong. That was for fires.
“Better get inside.” Ida’s mother said, unclipping half-dried clothes from the lines. The wind started to help her remove them, stripping them down piece by piece. One of mom’s granny nightgowns scratched and clawed and kicked at the ground, but was dragged all the way to the patio and smashed into a corner.
“Better get inside before you die, big baby!” Jamie said, giving a quick wink and disappearing.
Heart pounding, Ida watched the storm clouds draw closer and closer to where her mother was working. Her mom was singing now, her beautiful operatic voice mingling with the wind in a harmonious duet. Their voices rose and fell in waves of drama, behind loudly drumming thunder. Ida’s mom said it was just God rearranging furniture, but thunder sounded more like war to Ida.
In the living room, the T.V. was on, and a news anchor with a husky voice was saying that F2s were regular Paul Bunyans. They could uproot trees. This was no joke people. She bid them wait out the storm in their basements or shelters, and for goodness sake, if they were in a car pull over. The warnings were followed by real footage from past storms: A grade school with the flagpole in its eye, the red and white cloth chomping at the air like a dog nipping at a cloud of biting horse flies.
Ida finally remembered what Teacher had said: If at home, remember BBM Basement Bathroom Mattress. Put a mattress over you to shield from falling debris. Teacher did not consider what a feat this would be for her first graders, and neither did Ida until now. She had trouble enough finding the strength to pull her bedsheets over the corners of her mattress every time her father said to put these new ones on and say you wet the bed again, for daddy. How could she find the strength to drag her mattress down two flights of stairs into the basement?
Her older brother Joey had a mattress down there she could use, but he had just warned her not to come near his room. Ida knew he would kill her for touching his greasy doorknob, much less asking if she could disturb his precious fart-scented bed. The day before yesterday, she went too near his door on her way to use the basement bathroom, and his aroma swung from her nostrils for hours afterwards. And that’s not all that had lasted. Joey had come out his cave to give a good goose egg to her shoulder.
“That’s for making me lose!” he said.
“How?” Ida asked.
“I can’t concentrate with ugly little twerps around me!” He said.
“Mom’s using the upstairs and I don’t like her to see me.” She said squeezing her legs together. The basement doors were the only ones to lock because Joey was a teenager and needed his privacy, Ida’s mom said. Since Ida was just a little girl, privacy didn’t matter yet.
“Go shit in the yard then,” Joey said. Joey was 15, and took his Spring Breaks seriously. The whole week, he hibernated like a bear, only coming out to raid the fridge for food. Ida’s mom said that’s what puberty did to a person, and it was worse for girls, so she should try not to grow up to fast. Her dad said he’d be disappointed if she did.
Ida’s mom finally came inside, shaking raindrops from her hair and balancing the basket of half-dried clothes on her hip.
“I’m a hot mess,” she said, seeming to enjoy the label.
Ida followed her into the laundry room. The whole of a laundry room smelled sour, and there were heaps of dirty clothes drifting against the concrete wall.
“Help me clear the floor so I can lay these out baby,” her mom said, putting the half-dried clothes onto the broken dryer. In a quick motion, she took off her wet overalls and socks, until all she had on was her bra and high waist underwear, pulled up over some stretch marks.
“Mom, Teacher said to hide under a mattress,” Ida said.
Ida’s mom was examining her daughter’s bedsheets, which she seemed to always be hanging out to dry lately. “Did you pee your pants again, baby?”
“I’m sorry,” Ida said, forgetting about the tornado a minute. “I just forgot to wash them. Don’t tell daddy.”
“What you apologizing for?” Ida’s mom pressed the sheet to her nose to smell the stain. Then she put her hand over her moth and swayed to one side. “Holy Mother.”
“Are you dizzy, Mom?” Ida asked.
“Take this. He’ll be home soon.” She pushed the sheet into Ida’s diaphragm so her breath halted a second. Then her mom tumbled into the kitchen, where she rested longer than usual on the yellowing fridge handles, just staring at the glass bowl of chicken salad in front of her. When she pulled it out, her wrists looked weak. She slopped uneven scoops of salad onto Wonder Bread and smashed them together with her palm.
“Mom, that’s ours,” Jamie climbed onto the countertop for the peanut butter and jelly, and threw the Whole Grain at her mother.
“That’s right.” Ida’s mom tried to slide the Wonder Bread Jamie’s direction, but it fell off the counter onto the floor. Jamie picked it up and stared at her mom.
“Mom, are you worried?” Jamie asked.
“Mom, it’s serious!” Ida said. She was repeating what the news anchor said about the tornado, but her mom didn’t know.
Her mother threw down her spoon. It bounced off the countertop, flipped in the air, and slid across the tile.
“I don’t want to see you right now Ida. Get to your room. Jamie, take your sister a sandwich.”
“Ida-don-wantcha, Ida-don-wantcha” Jamie sang as she made a sandwich fit to fuel a Firing Squad. Ida cradled herself on the floor. A tornado was coming, and no one seemed to care but her.
“Ida look, a booger” Jamie said, putting a glob of grape jelly under her nose and licking it.
“Jamie, stop playing with your food. Your father will be home any minute.”
“She’s afraid of a little old tornado. What a big baby.” Jamie said, going back to her station to finish the sandwich .
On the news, a woman was saying she had “lost everything” except a picture of her mom next to her brand new Kitchen Aid. Her mom loved how fast that mixer whirred. The minute it was plugged in, she almost died laughing. After all, she’d grown up in the Great Depression, when good old fashioned muscle grease did the hard work, not a machine. The pink faced woman said she was grateful to the Lord for nudging her to put the photo in her wallet that day, because she never took photos out of albums. It was the kind of miracle that made you think the Big Guy upstairs really thought about you, you know, individually, because she would’ve grabbed her diamond earrings or Rococo plates if she knew what was coming, but He seemed to know what she cherished better than she did.
The testimony inspired Ida. Up to her room she went, de-stuffing her pillow case and frantically searching the room for cherished items to fill it with. She started with the music box where her tooth fairy scroll was hidden. Her mom loved it. Then she sifted through a mass grave of scanty Barbie dolls. It was her Jasmine Barbie doll with the plastic, blue gemmed eyes she was looking for. The doll’s eyes were so blue, like a stone cut from heaven’s tears, and Joey had bought it for her with his own allowance.
“What are you doing?” Jamie asked, appearing at the top of the basement stairs with an overstuffed PB&J snuggly wrapped in a paper towel.
“I’m playing tornado,” Ida said, knowing that her sister loved games and hated to help her.
“What’s in there?”
“Cherished things,” Ida said.
“You don’t know what cherished means.”
“It means I won’t let the wind get them.”
Jamie crossed her arms. “Gosh, let it go will you. If the tornado was real, mom would’ve protected us by now.”
Ida just blinked at her big sister.
“Well, wouldn’t she?” Jamie asked, amber eye twitching dangerously.
“I’m just playing,” Ida said.
That satisfied Jamie. “Alright, I’ll help,” Jaimie took a big bite of Ida’s sandwich and then threw it onto Ida’s bed stand so she could use both hands to sift through the bag of treasures.
“These are all your toys. What about mine?” Jamie went next door to her room and had her own pillowcase filled in a matter of minutes. Mostly with baby doll care supplies: a plastic bottle that made chugging noises when she titled it back, a hairbrush for her baby’s plastic scalp, a burping blanket, and a pink hat.
“Where should be bury them?” Jamie asked.
Ida said not to bury them, just take them to the basement. She explained about Teacher.
“We’ll make a fortress. You get the mattress,” Jamie said, dragging the pillowcases of toys into the hallway.
Ida pulled the sheets off her mattress for the second time that week, but threw them on the floor instead of taking them down to launder this time. Pinching the cushion’s silky seams, she leaned backward and used the strength of the floor for leverage. With the faces of her mom, Jamie, and Joey cycling through her head, she somehow dragged the mattress off the bed and through the door. Then she leaned it against the rail as best she could, and got beneath it on the stairs.
“Help me, Jesus,” she prayed, sliding down the staircase one step at a time with her bed burdening her back. By the end of the stairwell, her fine air was sticking to her scalp like she’d been dancing in the rain. Now she had to face the slippery carpet of the much steeper basement stairs.
“Help me not to fall down the stairs.” Ida didn’t understand all the theology or rules of religion. All she understood about Jesus was that he was like the nightlight that stayed on when everything else was dark. He was the light she fixed on when the Night horse snuck into her dreams, when her dad’s polished loafers appeared in her doorway, and his shadow curled over her like a rain cloud, and his skeleton struck her body frozen.
Ida was half down the staircase when the tornado tried to rip the house apart. She heard the door bounce against the stopper and slam shut. The sound of glass crashing against the wall followed. Her parents were arguing. Ida could hear her mom shriek her name. Then someone turned up the T.V. so loud it spanked Ida’s eardrums. The words “tornado” and “F2” and “rip, tear, damage” seemed on repeat, and Ida couldn’t tell which were from the husky voiced news anchor and which came from her mother. But Ida could still hear her dad yell he didn’t need that little shit spreading any more lies. Her mother’s voice was hoarse as the reporter’s now, like all the wind had been knocked out of her.
“Jamie,” Ida called out, but Jamie didn’t show.
The whole house seemed to be spinning apart. The roof might fly off any second. But it didn’t. The door slammed one more time, and the T.V. and the voices and everything went stiff. By then, Ida was sitting in the basement. In the dark. On her mattress. There were beads of blood from a carpet rash on her backside, but she didn’t feel it. She felt distant again. Like she wasn’t even in her body. Slowly, touch came back to her. The tornado was over. She had made it. She had survived.
“Thank you Jesus,” she said.
“Ida Marie Finn, what are you doing?” Her mother’s furious voice was like lightening on Ida’s chest. She jumped.
“It was her idea.” Jamie emerged from the bathroom, but without the usual bounce to her step. Her braids were all bedraggled, like some great gust had unraveled them. The Scrunchy was long gone.
“Teacher said to hide,” Ida said.
“You told your Teacher?” Ash seemed to spew from her mother’s lips instead of gold, and her cheeks, nose, chin—everything was burning now. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Now that you’ve done such an amazing job getting that filthy, sin infested thing all the way down here, you can just bring it all the way back up. Jamie, you help clean up her mess.” Her mother’s usual amber glow was infrared as the eye of the storm. She was tail spinning in it now.
“But the tornado,” Ida said.
“I wish it would take you,” she said, turning away.
Her mother loved the wind.
About the Author
Shimon Moore is an artist and literature professor who lives with her heroic Marine, two spoiled Pitbulls, and ninja-like cats that try to lick her watercolors and bat her beads into oblivion. When she isn’t wandering through nature taking pictures of very small wonders, she is at home creating something new.