The Summer of Adventure!
by Frederick Key
The perfect sister record went out the window a couple of days later because of Jane’s parents’ surprise thirty-fifth anniversary party coming up on Friday night. Jane and Julia were forced to make up and hug it out to get the plans finished. Jane, in fact, was feeling pretty guilty by then and overspent at Party City, looking for coral (traditional) or jade (modern) type decorations. As the layoff rumors were intensifying at work, Henry got itchy over the bill, but kept his trap shut.
“I’m worried,” said Jane on Thursday night. “Your ‘Summer of Adventure!’ has me terrified, actually.”
“Why? Hasn’t it been adventurous?”
“Too damn adventurous! I’m scared my dad will have a coronary when we pop out and yell ‘Surprise!’”
But her dad did not have a coronary when they popped out and yelled “Surprise!” He had a coronary hours after the party, when all the food and fun and stress sent his blood pressure soaring. The call came in at one a.m., and Jane left Henry in charge of the kids while she fled to meet her folks at the hospital.
“You’re crazy with worry for him! You can’t drive!” said Henry, who was crazy for worry for her.
“Watch me,” she said, and left.
Well, he was home with the kids, so he couldn’t watch her, so instead he watched the clock until she finally called as the sun was up over the horizon. “He’ll be okay,” she said. Her voice was drained and flat, but Henry knew it was from exhaustion and relief. A good kind of drainage, then. “It was a heart attack, but a mild one. Probably no permanent damage.”
“Fortunately, Mom called the ambulance right away. But he’s got to start taking care of himself.”
“We’ll get him mall-walking or something.”
“He’s resting, so I’m taking Mom home. Julia’s going to stick around. See you soon.”
“Love you, too.”
Henry happened to love his father-in-law too, so he was at the hospital every day after work until they let the old man out, cheering Pops up as best as he could. Hal went with him a couple of times. Hal had not been in a hospital since he’d sprung from his mother’s womb, and got it in his head that Pops was in custody.
“It’s not jail,” said Henry after the second trip.
“They won’t let him go, he said.”
“That’s how you know it’s not jail. They throw everyone out of jail as fast as they can.”
After Pops got sprung and Jane got him home, she told Henry, “I’m done with adventure for now, okay?”
But adventure was not done with them.
Hovering at the ice cooler, Henry had a beer and said with authority, “It will never make it this far. Too early and too slow.”
“It’s gone from a Cat Two to a Cat Three,” said John Trout, who liked to slip in jargon when he could. “If you think it will fall apart, think again.”
“It’s been such a pleasant August,” said Tommy, who was an old friend of Overmyer’s and whose last name was shrouded in mystery. “We’re due to get slammed.”
“The weather gods going to cream us?”
“Everything balances out.”
Henry was far more concerned with the hurricane that was about to blow through his company. With the bulk of the holiday work done, everyone expected the pruning to begin. What was left of Henry’s mind was eaten up by concern over Henry’s father-in-law and that constant thrumming worry about his children that never ceased. Real hurricanes were too picayune to slip in.
“If we get anything it will be a tropical depression,” he announced to the other cooler copters.
“What makes you think so?” asked Tommy.
“Because I sense depression in my future.”
Shortly after sunset, after burgers had yielded to brownies and brownies to crumbs, Jane gathered up the family and dragged them home before the kids got too tired and the adults too beery.
“We’ve got to get ready,” said Jane. “It will be here in two days.”
Henry would still be inclined to scoff, man that he was, but Jane was very worried, and he had enough respect for her and experience at marriage to know that a teaspoon of action beat a gallon of reassurance.
The TV weather geniuses didn’t advise boarding or taping windows, so that was okay. Jane bought the recommended supplies—batteries, water jugs, emergency food—bread, toilet paper, and milk were growing scarce—while Henry gathered in all the summertime toys, tools, and tables and did his best to childproof his cluttered and unfinished wreck of a basement.
Jane made sure her parents and her sister’s family were all right. Henry called Kerry, who lived on the top floor of a garden-apartment condo.
“I know you’re not talking to me,” he said, “but there’s a hurricane coming. Wanna come sit in the basement with us?”
“I hate you.”
“I am aware of that.”
“Can I bring Screwball?”
“Labradoodles are welcome.”
“I’ll be there Thursday morning.”
Henry’s office announced that it would be open for normal business hours on Thursday, when Jeremiah was due, but of course employees were encouraged to exercise caution blah blah blah.
“I’m exercising caution,” Henry told Geoff on Wednesday. “Proactivity!”
“Good. Me too.”
On Thursday, Auntie Kerry renewed her popular with Henry’s kids, popularity that was especially high when she was accompanied by Screwball.
At about two in the afternoon the sky went black, like someone had blown the sun’s fuse. The first gust of wind threw debris across the lawn, pinging things off the windows. It howled over the roof and whispered around the doors. Jane closed the curtains. Then she turned to her family and clapped her hands.
“Time to camp in the basement!” she said, in the same way she might have said Time for ice cream and chocolate sauce!
Things were okay in the basement for a while. All the sharp objects were packed away, there was plenty to eat, and although there was no bathroom Henry had set up a changing station for Nug at the washer and dryer, complete with a ton of diapers and wipes and (wisely) the diaper can. If the house got flattened and they were stuck under debris for days, Henry would be damned if he would be trapped with Nug’s poopy pants out in the open. He was not sure how Nugent Kingslip did it, but his younger son could convert the mildest of foods into the most powerful of poops. It was like a bad superpower.
For the rest of them, the bathroom was right next to the cellar stairs. They’d be quick if they had to go, and children would be accompanied by an adult.
They had a TV and a DVD player downstairs, and a big stack of animated crap on DVDs, so the kids should survive. As it happened, they were excited to be camping in the cellar. Broke up the same old same old.
“Daddy,” asked Hal at one point, “if the hurcane knocks over the school, do I have to go?”
“Yes, son, they will hold classes in the rubble. We believe in education in this town.”
Hal chewed on that for a while. Phoebe was trying to braid Screwball’s curls, Nug was reading a spitproof picture book upside down, and Jane and Kerry were listening to the radio off in a corner.
“If the hurcane knocks down the jail, will the bad guys all get killed?”
“We don’t have a jail in this town.”
“Where do the bad guys go?”
“To jail in a town with low property values, son.”
“What if their jail gets knocked down?”
“Well, then, the bad guys might get hurt. Maybe some could get killed.”
“Don’t worry. They’re all low-down bushwhacking lily-livered sidewinders.”
“I would feel bad.”
“Yeah, ’cause if there’s no bad guys there’ll be nothing for Batman to do.”
“You’re right, Hal. Good thing they build jails out of very tough stuff, like our manly masculine basement here. No hurcane’s gonna get us, right?”
But as Henry looked over at the faces of his wife and sister, he could only hope he was right.
It got worse, a good deal worse. Things weren’t too loud in the cellar, which had no windows and one steel door to the backyard that Henry had muffled with cushions—nothing that couldn’t be removed quickly in an emergency. But on a trip up to the bathroom, the lashing of the rain and wind and endless rumble and boom of the thunder was bad enough to make Henry fear for the state of his family and even for the state of his pants.
There were a few sudden patches of calm, in which only the ticking off of seconds on the kitchen clock could be heard. Then the wind whipped up again, driving rain and maybe bits of debris against the window, ticking hard off the glass, and Henry’s fancy suddenly took the sound as a fistful of seconds all scattered at once, as if the storm was blowing time to pieces too.
Henry did his business quickly and prayed all the way downstairs.
The kids were pretty quiet now. Even Nug could pick up the grown-ups’ worry. On the TV Prince Phillip and the good fairies were giving Maleficent the works, but outside the storm was doing the same. No one was paying much attention to the movie, not even Phoebe, and it was her favorite.
Then no one could pay attention to the movie, because everything went black.
It was instantly silent in the cellar. Then a thunderbolt burst nearby, close enough to the house to make three adults, three children, and one dog all scream.
It was nice when the family could do things together.