Iowa Writes

AMY BERNHARD
Excerpt from "Storm Chasers"


       I was eleven years old when my father arrived home from work one summer afternoon with a tape he had rented from the dim, cluttered video store up the street.
       "This one looks good," he said, tapping the plastic case with his big fingers. On the cover, an impossibly black funnel cloud loomed over a man and woman, clutching each other and running across a field. Twister, the movie was called.

       I was eleven years old when my father arrived home from work one summer afternoon with a tape he had rented from the dim, cluttered video store up the street.
       "This one looks good," he said, tapping the plastic case with his big fingers. On the cover, an impossibly black funnel cloud loomed over a man and woman, clutching each other and running across a field. Twister, the movie was called.
       We were trying to do things as a family. Lately my father had been spending less time at home and more time after work on my grandparents' farm, helping his aging father feed the pigs and till the soybeans. He returned tired and moody, his presence embodied in the thin blue TV light streaming beneath his bedroom door. Marooned in darkness, he spent hours listening to muffled TV voices report the weather he blocked out with thick velvet curtains, as if letting it inside would make him feel worse. Maybe it had been a grey, wet day, the wind slicing through his raincoat as he walked with newspapers and letters tucked under his arm, his mail bag sopping wet, banging like a dead weight against his thigh, and it had taken him longer to finish his route. Maybe the evening had been hot and bright, the air motionless as he crouched over my grandfather's cornfield, his shirt soaked through with sweat, glasses slipping down his nose.
       That night the three of us gathered in the living room to watch Twister—my father in his chair, my mother and me on the lumpy plaid sofa across from him. My father leaned over and nudged the tape into the VCR, and I was startled by the movie's beginning scene. A tornado crashes into a family's home and sucks its father up into the black sky, still clutching the cellar door meant to keep them safe. I watched as trees, pick-up trucks, barns, houses, tractors, basketball hoops, picket fences, cornfields, even cows, their pink tongues lolling, were uprooted and shuffled through the sky, pulled as if by a current to the spinning center of the tornado, where they were ingested and spat out on another patch of land. Suddenly I was freezing, and I wrapped my arms around my bare, trembling knees. The things that existed around me every day without my noticing had been torn away. Gone, just like that.
       My father slapped his knee as the movie father was yanked, screaming, into the sky. "That sonuvabitch isn't ever comin' back!" He laughed, a hissing sound that snaked through his teeth.
       I looked at my mother, shocked to see that she was laughing, too, so hard that tears filled her eyes. "Did you see that cow fly?" She fanned her face with her hand. "That stupid cow!"
       The movie follows the adventures of a group of men called the storm chasers who drive around in bulky, muddied pick-up trucks with all sorts of technical equipment clanging in the back. They wear shaggy hair and scruff along their chins, Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps turned backward. They curse and spit and drink alcohol out of little glass bottles tucked inside their shirt pockets. When a storm is close, they jump out of their trucks, pull headphones over matted, greasy hair, and yell into walkie-talkies.
       "She's an F-5," one bellowed into his headset. A funnel cloud hovered in the distance like a big grey brain.
       I asked my father what an F-5 was. "Them're big suckers," he said, his eyes excited. "One of them'll kill you."
       I watched the rest of the movie with my back pressed up against the couch. My father was having such a good time that he didn't notice my wide eyes, my fists digging deep into the cushions. Looking back, I'm sure he would have stopped the movie had I asked, but I didn't know how to tell him I was afraid.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


AMY BERNHARD

Amy Bernhard is a current student in the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program. Her essays appear or are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, and The Journal, among others.

This page was first displayed
on December 05, 2012

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