She’s listened to her Zenith radio for two days and is afraid. The excited tones of the announcers on WOR are hard to distinguish from the chorus of voices in her head, both warning of something bad. Hurricane Agnes aims straight at New York City.
Adel’s husband, Nikki, who’s read the Times and studied the arrows arrayed over the East Coast map, assures her that the storm will swing out to sea long before it gets near, but Adel knows otherwise. The birds have told her. They’ve vacated the skies around her house; the bay surrounding Sea Gate is unusually quiet. But Adel’s learned not to argue with Nikki, even when she’s positive she’s right. Nikki will assume that her illness is speaking, not the real Adel, and she doesn’t want to see that look of exasperation and impatience, the look in which he asks himself why he married this nut case. She can’t tolerate that look, so she pretends to agree with him. Now he’s gone to work, leaving her alone with the kids.
Adel digs her fingernails into her arms before she realizes what she’s doing and forces herself to stop. She chain-smokes her Marlboros and swallows an extra Thorazine, then wonders whether she should take yet another. She’s practical too, though, and makes sure the windows are down and latched and there’s plenty of toilet paper. The flashlights work, check, extra batteries, check.
But what if the ocean comes into their house? What if debris crashes through their roof and the wind throws them out of their beds and tosses them into the bay? She scours the basement for rope they can use to tie themselves to the house, but finds none, discovering only a few electrical cords. They will have to do. She brings canned food, can opener, paper plates, two rolls of paper towels to the second floor as well, and stows everything in the shelf of Kal’s closet on top of Candy Land. She should’ve bought a few gallons of water, but now it’s too late. Fill the bathtub, she hears on the radio – or maybe it was a voice in her head – and after a half-hour the tubs hold as much as they can.
Kal is too busy practicing the piano to notice what Adel is doing, and Max is in his room taking a nap. She wonders how her children can be so ignorant of the impending danger, of how harmful the world is. You try to cheat death, and yet it catches you when you least expect it. Agnes speeds right at her and her family, death’s servant ready to wipe them out.
The wind picks up, as do the voices. “Eee-vil! Eee-vil!” they whisper, and they’re talking about her, she’s done wrong and must be punished, beaten so she’ll never to do it again. She looks at the grey waters churning black on the horizon, massing in anger at her and her family. She fears for her children, who are innocent and good, who bring joy to her and to Nikki. It’s so unfair. She cries, despondent that she was ever born.
An hour later Nikki’s car pulls into the driveway, and he finds her sitting with her head on the kitchen table. He talks in a soothing voice, putting a kettle on for tea, and returns to stroke her curly hair and massage her scalp. She cannot find her voice, but his fingers feel so good, she almost purrs. Little by little, Adel comes around, “The storm, Nikki.”
“Yes, you were right. It is heading this way, but I think we’ll still be fine. This house has stood up to a lot of storms over the years. It’s sturdy, even stronger than the house I grew up in.”
Over the evening, the wind becomes a roar, and impossible torrents of rain cascade through the dark sky. Thousands of gallons of water pound on their roof and the sound reverberates throughout the house. Nikki and Adel put the kids to bed, tucking them in, assuring them that everything will be fine, even as the house groans and creaks. Kal cries, wanting her doll, which she can’t find, but Adel spots Tina under Kal’s bed and hands her the doll. Kal hugs Tina and squeezes shut her eyes. Then she looks up at Adel, “Mommy, is the storm going to hurt us?”
Of course, the storm will hurt them, that’s what Adel believes, but she knows she mustn’t do anything to frighten her daughter more than she’s already frightened, “It won’t hurt us.”
She wants to leave, but Kal has more questions, “But, Mommy, what if I need you and you’re dead? Who’ll take care of me?”
Adel sits on Kal’s bed and engulfs her in a hug, “Kal, I’ll take care of you, always.” She means it, forgetting for an instant how death has marked her, ignoring that she’s made a promise she can’t possibly keep. Kal, comforted, settles herself for sleep.
Adel returns to the kitchen to listen to WOR with Nikki. The announcers warn at 10 p.m. that residents of shore areas in Brooklyn and Long Island should prepare for power outages and listen for evacuation orders. There is danger of high tides at Coney Island. As if on cue, junk flies against the house, litter picked up by sustained sixty-five-mile-an-hour winds. We are close to the end, Adel thinks.
Nikki leans over and says something to her, but she can’t hear him through the din. She wouldn’t be able to hear him even if screamed. He tenderly kisses her ear, but she still doesn’t get it. When he touches her, however, she understands and is grateful as well as excited. She’s never made love in the middle of a hurricane. They hurry upstairs to their bedroom, and it’s wonderful. Now it’s only Nikki that she thinks about, Nicky and what he does for her. They fall asleep, nestled together, despite the noise and danger. The voices stop while she sleeps, the storm has disappeared.
At about four in the morning Adel’s eyes snap open, fear gripping her again. Something is not right. The kids. She pulls away from Nikki, who’s still sleeping. She reaches for her blue robe, and instinct takes her first to Kal’s room. The dim light from the hallway falls upon Kal’s empty bed; no Kal, no Tina, and Adel knows that evil has gone straight for her daughter. She shouldn’t have let Nikki distract her with sex. She almost calls out an alarm, but the rational part of her brain stays the impulse, and she moves to the door of Max’s bedroom. There, in Max’s bed, lie both of her children.
Kal, in her Mickey Mouse pajamas, the ones with Mickey’s arms spread wide in happiness, has crawled in with her brother, and they’re both sound asleep; Max’s arm is around Kal. Adel’s heart floods with joy when she sees how her children have taken care of each other. She walks to the bed, reaches out, and gently shakes Kal, telling her it’s time to go back to her own bed. Kal yawns, removes her thumb from her mouth, and looks at Adel, then over at Max, confused. Max, still half asleep, turns over. Tina lies on the floor, and Adel picks her up and hands her to Kal for the second time that night.
After she puts Kal back into her own bed, Adel descends to the kitchen and realizes that the storm has receded. She puts on the tea kettle and lights a Marlboro. The WOR announcers tell her what she already knows, that Hurricane Agnes has finally gone out to sea and that although the storm tide was high, it seems not to have caused a lot of damage.