“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” - Rose Kennedy
During a severe storm, the best thing you can do is find a place with few windows and settle in with a good story. See, whatever is happening outside, you must remember that there is nothing you can do about it. Worrying will not stop the wind and the rain. You cannot reason with it, or bargain for it to come back on a day you are more prepared. Just hunker down and wait for it to pass with a strong roof over your head, a story at the ready, and maybe if you are lucky, someone to tell that story to.
During the last big storm, I was alone. As Katrina raged around me, sat in a small exposed apartment and drank beer after beer. A few times I stepped outside for a smoke break. One of those times I recall flicking my cigarette out into the darkness and seeing the small cherry fire vanish into the wind. My neighbor called out to me, “Kinda windy, itn’t it?” I agreed.
As of this storm, I found myself with a fairly large group huddled in the library’s sub basement computer lab. The wind lashed at the high windows and rain beat at the steel doors that lead outside into the parking lot. Water pooled around the bottom of the doors, but we shored it back with several sandbags already made for the occasion.
I would have sent everyone home earlier, but the madman with the gun would not let us leave.
“I dunno, boss. She don’t look so good,” Darling said.
I put my hand on Betty’s forehead. She was cold but her breath was steady. After Can Opener Man had fired off his first shot into the display case, Betty had cried out and fainted. Most of the patrons in the computer lab had fled out the computer lab doors, but Darling, Betty, and a couple waiting to check out had been on the main floor with the man with the can opener tattooed on his face and had become his hostages.
With the storm preparations only half finished, I convinced him to let us go down into the basement if he was going to hold us for a while. He whispered to himself, detached, but nodded. When we carried Betty downstairs we started to hear sirens. Can Opener Man had Darling close and block the door with the available sandbags, then shoved the staff table in front of it for good measure.
We stood in the room, listening to the wind and rain build outside while the police gained entry to the top floors of the building. Can Opener Man shouted threats at them, warning if they came down he would shoot one of us. When the phone rang he shot it, then crossed the room, opened the server room and yanked the cords from the back of it. I gave a silent prayer of thanks that he did not shoot the server I that had been stolen once already. Dave would kill me.
When Darling asked about Betty, though, Can Opener Man looked nervous for the first time.
“She okay?” he asked.
“She has problems,” I said, “Stroke. We need to get her out of here before the weather gets worse.”
“Storm. No birds out in the storm. Birds after, though. Birds always sing after the storm,” he said, “Little bird used to sing on her birthday.”
“Rose Kennedy?” Darling said.
Can Opener Man did not answer.
I thought of a different tactic, one I hoped would not get me killed. I took a deep breath.
“Is this about Ava? Did you see something that night?”
His glare caught me and the gun in his hand twitched. I tried my best not to look at the pistol, to stare into those calm eyes.
“See something?” he asked, “See something? I saw. I saw this boy. I saw this lady. Both there. Both with my bird. And that boy, there, too. Ran away with her.”
His eyes were on Betty and Darling. I looked at them.
“He was there that night,” Darling said, “Seth, too, near closing. That must be who he was talking about. Ava kicked them both out, about an hour after you left.. I didn’t see it, I was shelving.”
“Asked,” Can Opener Man said, “Little bird asked me to leave and I did. I did. With the boy. Wanted to kill the boy. Instead...”
We were quiet. There was nothing to say. Nothing that might set him off. His eyes swept the room. Silent tears fell.
After a minute, he shook his head and wiped his face with a sleeve. I looked at Darling. He was pale, his jaw set.
“What did you see that night?” Darling asked.
“I TOLD YOU! I. TOLD. YOU. I KNOW WHAT I SAW.”
The man’s face became red as he charged Darling. Darling rose to back up, to get away, but the fist with the gun was quick and Darling went down clutching his forehead.
“Told you. Saw what I saw and left. Because she asked. Because today is little bird’s birthday and you will sing on her birthday.”
“Stop,” I said, “Just stop. We just want to know why we’re here. What do you want?”
“Why you’re here? Why wasn’t I here? Because she asked,” he took a deep, wretching breath, “What do I want? I want my little girl back. I want my daughter back to me. To sing on her birthday. But she asked...”
He fell to his knees weeping. I moved to help Darling, but the gun rose. Through bloodshot, wet eyes Can Opener Man stared at me.
“Nobody...” he said, “Nobody is leaving until I he says what happened to my little bird, Ava. Today is her birthday and he is going to sing. He was here. You were here. You and him are going to sing on Ava’s birthday and this time I’m not leaving.”
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