By Page Powers
My Pawpaw’s steamer trunk sat on the porch covered with stickers that mapped his travels of the world. Next to it, rocking back and forth in the chair he made for his bride, sat my grandmother. She stood up to greet me, silencing the little dog yipping around my feet.
“I am plenty glad to see you, Penny,” she drawled. She was the only one that called me that anymore. It used to make me cringe when she called me her lucky Penny. Now it made me feel lost in time, wishing things were the way they used to be.
Giving her a quick hug, I said, “We don’t have much time. Is everything packed that you want to take?”
Looking around, she let out a tired sigh. “Ain’t nothing left here but memories and chores. Let’s git. Everything is on the porch,” was her gruff reply.
Grandma stepped into the downpour, shielding her dog from the raindrops splattering the dirt. Without looking back, she left me to get her things. Relieved it was all we had to take, I lugged the battered trunk down the rickety stairs and wrestled it into the back of the truck. Slick with the wet of rain, I slid into the cab next to her.
“You forgot the chair,” she admonished.
I pushed my soggy bangs out of the way, and through the rain glazed windshield, I watched as the old chair danced in the wind. When I turned to reason with her, the disbelief in her gaze shamed me. Without a word, she made it clear she would not leave that treasure behind.
Years of living together had taught me it was pointless to argue. A few precious minutes later, I had it tied down under the tarp with the trunk. Thunder clapped in the distance, urging me to hurry.
The truck rumbled to life, coughing in displeasure. We raced to outrun the storm. Dark clouds bruised the sky as angry winds pelted rain and debris around us. White knuckles gripped the wheel. Wipers beat at the deluge that was pushing back at us.
Within minutes of the highway, we heard the song of the tornado siren. The water was rising fast and flooding the route ahead. Eyes glued to the road, I pushed the gas pedal to the floor and prayed until, with a final shudder, the truck’s engine finally died.
Stranded beneath the highway overpass, we listened as the savage storm raged above, and the water seethed around us. Water pooled in the floorboard. Grandma tried to push open her door, but the flood was already too high.
The growing puddles made me think fast. The cargo window was just big enough to squeeze through. “We have to climb into the back!” I said.
“You go first and untie the tarp so we can get underneath it,” said Grandma.
Forcing open the window, I wiggled through and into the slippery bed of the truck. The shifting water was frightening, and my hands shook as I took the small dog first. When I tried to pull Grandma through, she shook her head no.
“I won’t fit, Penny,” said Grandma.
The truck lurched forward, the flash flood trying to push us out of our concrete refuge. I stumbled back and fell hard against her beloved chair, smashing it into pieces against the trunk behind it. Grandma crawled out of the passenger window, trying to get to me.
“Oh my God, Grandma, hang on. Let me help!” I said, leaping to help her, terrified she would fall.
Crawling over the broken chair, I pulled her out of the window with a heave. We both fell backward, narrowly missing the trunk as it slid to rest underneath the back window. Grandma looked around in a daze at the pieces of her chair. The little dog barked for her attention and jumped into her arms, eager to be held.
“Are you OK?” we both said at the same time. A small smile from Grandma gave me my answer. I answered with a swift hug.
The warm rain pelted us as the flood pulled the truck out of the protection of the overpass. Before it slid away again, we used the trunk like a stair and pulled ourselves onto the top of the truck’s cab, dragging the tarp up over our heads. The staccato of the rain beat the rhythm of the storm against the bright blue plastic. We held on to each other with the dog sandwiched between us.
The acrid tang of lightning lingered in the muggy air. A crumpled bike with its pink plastic spokes spinning in the murky water drifted past. The little dog whimpered when the sirens sounded in the distance. I looked at my watch. Only an hour had passed since we fled the storm. My grandma leaned her head against my shoulder, looking at the broken chair below.
Grimacing, I said, “I’m sorry about the chair. I know how much you loved it.” Guilt clutched at me as I remembered trying to leave it behind. The rain running down my face tasted salty.
Reaching out, she tucked my hair behind my ears, caressing my face for a moment. “What I loved was rocking my babies in that chair,” she said in her slow country drawl that would always sound like home to me. The sky cleared as the sun pierced the retreating clouds. Holding each other close, for the first time in a long while, we swayed in the drizzling remnants of the storm as the truck rocked back and forth.
Page Murray, (Page Powers) returning to her roots as a writer of fiction and poetry after years of creating ads and pitching marketing solutions for a local newspaper. Currently working at Full Sail University, she has a passion for education, literacy, Gulf Coast beaches, and her black cat Toothless.