Particularly Dangerous Situation
by Patti White
Available January 2020
When I say that it is best to be two-dimensional during a storm, I mean that pieces of paper travel well in the wind. A tornado can carry a photograph 200 miles and set it down without a crumple or tear or even a hint of dampness. So if you cannot hunker down in a safe place you must become as paper. Think of flatness. Extend your arms and press your body to the ground. Then if the tornado takes you, it will bear you up in tendrils of cloud, in long white fingers of condensation. The storm will let you drift and waft and settle like a leaf on a field of cotton. Or on a patch of concrete. In either case, it is better to be light and flat, to be paper, to carry an image of something long past and fading.
When I say that a tornado can carry paper a great distance, I mean that cattle will be transported to another pasture and skinned alive or dead by whirling gravel. That rocking chairs will appear on alien porches and pickets from a wrought-iron fence will arrow into a bed of bearded iris. A crystal teardrop from a chandelier, a boxed set of state quarters, an empty suitcase, a teacup and saucer, these will be caught in a divergent current until dispersed by the collapsing supercell. When I say a tornado can carry paper I mean the updraft will lift trucks high above the ground and crash them down on your head. Trees will be plucked up out of the earth and replanted elsewhere. And no one will know where anything came from. Except for the cancelled checks and receipts and you will see those on television, along with the child's shoe and the skeleton of a cat.
When I speak of these things perhaps you will think of the Biblical rain of frogs. Or the rain of blood that soaked Richard the Lionheart. I tell you these signs and wonders are in fact so commonplace they appear in meteorology textbooks. Frogs get sucked up as a waterspout passes over the pond. Rain becomes infused with Saharan dust or the soot from coal fires or the spores of microalgae. Trentepholia in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. Iron oxide from dried swamps. The small detritus of the world borne aloft and mixed with the humid air of the Deep South. This is what you will see: A red rain staining your clothes. The frogs sliding off your skin and hopping away.
No one ever forecasts displacements or discolorations. But what I want to tell you is that whatever falls from the sky was once a part of the earth. That some things will fall more slowly or in places more unexpected than others. And that it is well to be two-dimensional in a storm. Think of flatness. Be the paper.