Without cloud cover to hold it at bay, the cold pours over the eaves of the house and mounds up against the foundation like sand in an hourglass. My husband leans back against the sofa cushions, holding his magazine open, but he hasn’t turned a page. My son and our dog lie tangled in front of the fire, too overheated to do more than nip and poke at each other half-heartedly. I pick at my cuticles, stare at the black windows and think of my daughter, alone up in her room. Worry curls in my stomach.
Then, as one, we look up. Did we hear something?
No, there is no sound. What we hear is the utter absence of sound, a black hole. The fire normally keeps up a reassuring background chatter, hissing and popping, while the stove makes its own familiar chorus of creaks and groans as the cast iron expands. But now even the flames seem to be frozen and waiting, holding their breath.
The dog sits up and whines, and we all turn to the west, to the freight train of fury that has rounded the Crazy Mountains northeast of Bozeman and is headed our way across the high Montana plain. We register the sound only at the moment of impact, when the wind slams into us and the house shudders and groans. Somewhere inside one of the walls, the wooden frame screams.
At first, it seems that the wind is punishing us for having the audacity to linger in its path. We sit meekly, imagining ourselves as small as possible in the hope that the wind will quickly pass us by. Its voice only rises, higher and even higher, to a pitch that is beyond reason, beyond rage. It is so loud that it crowds out our thoughts. A windowpane begins to rattle, insistent and erratic.
The darkness heaves around us, and we are sheared from the rest of the world. The wind shifts abruptly, and there is a moment of deafening silence. We brace ourselves for the next onslaught, but it doesn’t come. I slump back in my chair and let out a breath in relief—and wham! The house cries out again, and I think of the strain on the hurricane straps that hold the roof trusses on.
No longer able to sit and listen, I launch myself up from the sofa and head into the kitchen. If we’re going to be hurled about and dropped from the sky like Dorothy’s house, we might as well land with clean counters. I turn on the tap, and while I wait for the hot water, I stack pots from the dish rack. I drop each one, ringing, inside the next and shove them unceremoniously into the cabinets. The lids: they go one by one, tossed in like frisbees, each one landing with a satisfying metallic clang. I slam the cabinet shut once, twice. The silverware comes next. I hold the spoons high and let them cascade into the drawer. The same goes for the forks. The table knives go one by one, each one slotted noisily into place.
I know how to make noise, too, but the kitchen is soon ship-shape, and I haven’t made even the slightest impression. The wind is louder than an airplane engine reversing thrust. It makes a metallic, grinding sound, a cosmic gnashing of teeth. It occurs to me, then, that we are not being punished; we are being overlooked. There is nothing we can say that it will hear. There is no argument. No appeal.
Since the wind will not observe the proper rules of etiquette by quieting itself at a reasonable hour, going to bed seems a futile gesture, but there is comfort in habit, so we fill the stove with wood, tamp it down and head up.
When I crack open my daughter’s door, the usual squeak of hinges is drowned out. She has already gone to bed—is asleep in fact—only the top of her head showing above the jumble of her comforter. I tiptoe over, even though I know my steps won’t disturb her, and watch for the rise and fall of her breath, just to be sure. Leaning over her, I rest my cheek against the perfect curve of her forehead, feeling the warmth of her skin.
Later, just before dawn, I’m startled awake by the quiet. I will find the wreckage from the wind’s fury later, strewn about the yard, but for now, if it weren’t for the echo of it in my ears, the utter stillness about the house would suggest that it was all a dream, and I try to grasp the comfort of that possibility as I wait for day.
Lea Page’s writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, The Boiler and Krista Tippett’s On Being blog. She is also the author of Parenting in the Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have. She lives in Montana with her husband and dog. Find her at www.LeaPageAuthor.com.