After the storm, we all came out of the shelters to assess the damage. It would have been easier to assess the remains, as there were fewer of those. All of the adults who had sheltered their families in the ground stood about with sunken eyes and swayed on their feet as though the winds hadn’t finished with them.
I stood next to my neighbor lady and reached out to hold her. As my fingers touched the back of her hand, she flinched, and a cry came out of her mouth, sounding like a young chick. That little peep of terror was all that was left of her former life. She turned her head toward me, mouth agape, and dropped to the ground. There was a run of aluminum gutter under her, but she didn’t notice. Her two kids were wandering around, picking at the debris and playing King of the Hill on a pile that looked like it might have been the grocery store from four blocks away. How it ended up here was fascinating to the kids.
There was a sudden stillness to everything, as though the strength of the storm had used up all of the air, and it was waiting to recover. A siren wailed in the distance, but someone must have realized how stupid it was to have it running, and it stopped. We stood, or sat, and waited for the world to come and help us.
Come they did. First were the neighbors from a couple of blocks over coming to see if everyone else had been wrecked. They asked if we were okay, and we asked back. Then came the fire trucks and police and ambulances, but they took a look and went off to where they were needed and could do some good.
I attached myself to the neighbors and we all went trooping off to see if we could do any good. The stunned neighbor got up and gathered her kids and joined our little mob. We attracted others who came through in one piece, and we just traipsed around, growing in size.
There were over fifty of us when we came to the empty lot where that grocery store belonged. It must have been picked up straight by the wind because there were shelves standing up on the floor with goods still stacked on them, all alone in the open air. The police cars and ambulances were parked in the parking lot, setting up a command post. One of us went over and talked to them for a second and then reported back. They said it would be just a little while before they were ready. I said to our mob, “Ready for what?”
It was summer, or we would have been in a world of hurt. We all slept outside on piles of stuff we found and pushed together into beds. The kids tried bouncing on it, but found the stuff lacking, so they lay down and went to sleep. The mob mostly sat around talking quietly.
In the morning, FEMA showed up and took over for the cops and fire department. We all lined up and gave our name and address. What they would do with that was going to be interesting, seeing as how there wasn’t any such thing as an address left in the town. They brought along the Red Cross, and those kind folks fed us and set up tents and gave us showers and toilets. The kids ran around exploring and getting under foot.
One of the FEMA folks came over to the mob and called out some names. They had papers that we signed, and they gave us checks for money. I tucked mine in my pocket and went over to the Red Cross to get a cup of coffee. The nice lady took my name and wrote it down on a clipboard and gave me a paper cup of pretty good coffee and a big cookie. I thanked her. My neighbor lady was there getting a big tray of food for herself and the kids. She still looked like she couldn’t do much more than peep, but she steered herself back to her kids and they all ate a late breakfast.
The rescue folks set up a bus so we could go shopping for stuff we needed or wanted. There was a mall a couple of towns over that hadn’t been hit, and the mob invaded it. I took my check up to the window of the bank in the mall and cashed it in. I asked for small bills, so it took a while. They brought it to me in a bag, and looked at me a bit funny. I stopped off at Staples before we got back onto the bus and headed back to the blasted zone.
When the Red Cross Lady came around the next morning, I had been up for a couple of hours already. She stood for a while, watching me as I rolled up each dollar bill and taped it into a cylinder. I had connected about a thousand dollars together into sticks using the tape from Staples, and I was well on my way to building myself a new house when the ambulance folks came by to admire my work. I smiled up at them from where I sat inside the frame of my little house and asked them if they wanted a cup of coffee from the nice Red Cross lady.
Two months after I got out of the hospital, I got a letter in the mail. I picked it up in the grocery store parking lot where the police and ambulance had set up. It was a bill from the Red Cross for five dollars and twenty five cents for the coffee and cookie.