Yellow Weather

by Christine Schutt

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

Shaped like a hatchet or a gun or a pot, flat as a pan or a block or a beach but dry, cracked, cruel, buffeted by wind and yellowing weather, this state is in a state of danger only Mother and Father, sleepless, see until the knock at the door wakes my sisters and me, and the motel manager gravely informs us of what the stillness portends: tornado. He has come to offer us shelter because there are children— we three are children—the only children at the U-Right Motel on this night in May. “Follow me,” he says, and we do, Mother, Father, my sisters and me. Barefoot in blankets, we children follow the bobbing light to the shelter and down the stairs— oldest first, which means I’m last and most afraid, in tears. Mother is saying, It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, we’re safe, when the hatch is yet open and the wind is a whine, and my sister, the oldest, the worst, that brat, says she’s forgotten her jewelry, she needs her jewelry. Her jewelry? Mother asks. Glass beads, brass bracelets, cheap metals that go green are my oldest sister’s valuables, yet Mother goes back even as the wind rubbles doors, tumbles baskets and empty barrels. Oklahoma is rolling over us and over our Mother who is where? She has abandoned us. Later, she will tell us how she saved herself, curled away from the windows and waited it out while I wailed in the shelter, inconsolable. The jewels were found, but for as long as the day, I wouldn’t speak to my mother; I wished she were dead.