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Robert Marsh’s Hurricane

by Ron Van Sweringen

Robert Marsh sat in his dark living room watching wind-driven raindrops explode against the picture window. Occasionally, a police car passed slowly down the empty street in front of his stucco bungalow with its tropical landscaping and small swimming pool.

Two hours ago the street had been busy with packed automobiles fleeing the onslaught of “Martha,” the third Florida hurricane of the season. Now all of the homes were dark. Stubborn man that he’d always been, he was the only one to remain. The weather reports had called her a possible category three storm with wind gusts up to 90 miles an hour.

“So what if she’s a one or a ten, it makes no difference to me,” Robert thought to himself, as a white plastic lawn chair did somersaults down the street, winding up against a tilted mailbox.

“Whether I die now or six months from now doesn’t matter a hill of beans,” he whispered, remembering the moment in Dr. Wilson’s office that had hit him like a brick wall.

“You have stage four liver cancer; you have six months to live, Mr. Marsh.”

At that instant Robert’s brain was numb, feeling as if a million pins and needles had been shoved into it. The remainder of Dr. Wilson’s conversation became a blur. It was all Robert could do to breathe.

Twenty minutes later on his drive home, a rational thought finally occurred to him: “You’re seventy-eight years old, did you expect to live forever?”

“No, not forever,” Robert answered himself, turning into his driveway, “but for more than six months.”

News of Hurricane Martha had been saturating the newspapers and television for days now, until there was no escaping it. The evacuation of Robert’s neighborhood was advised, but not mandatory. He had spent the day in front of his picture window watching the families around him flee.

That’s where he was at four o’clock in the afternoon when he noticed an animal cage on the front stoop of the vacant house two doors up, the wind and rain whipping it mercilessly, threatening to turn it over.

When Robert put his hands up against the glass and peered through the heavy rain, he saw something move inside the cage.

“My God,” he cursed under his breath, “somebody abandoned a pet. Who did they think was going to take care of it? Couldn’t they see by the For Sale sign in front that nobody lives there?” Part of Robert wanted to put on his raincoat and rescue the creature, but indignation flared in him at the thought. “Why the hell should I care if it lives or dies? Nobody cares if I do.”

Just then a gust of wind slammed against the house, rattling the picture window. When Robert looked for the cage again, it was gone and a sudden feeling of panic caused him to open the front door and step into the stinging rain. His porch light made the cage barely visible, now turned on its side and pushed off the porch.

“All right, all right,” he growled, charging into the howling wind, “I’m coming.” Robert was stunned at the force of the storm, and it was all he could do to reach the cage. When he peered through the wire door, the face of a small dog stared back at him. A pink plastic beret clung to the animal’s drenched hair between its frightened eyes.

Robert took the little animal in his hands. It didn’t resist. He was shocked at how cold it was. It shook so violently in his arms that he was afraid it would have a heart attack. When they reached the front door of Robert’s house, a blast of wind blew the door shut behind them with such force that Robert collapsed on the living room floor.

As he sat there with the little dog wrapped in a towel and pressed against his chest, something strange happened. Robert began rocking back and forth and laughing uncontrollably. A moment later the laughter had turned to wrenching sobs that echoed through the small house. “I’m not ready to leave!” he yelled.

When Robert looked down a few minutes later at the small dog nestled quietly in his arms, he whispered, “How would you like to spend the next six months with me? I could do with the company. Maybe we could even rent a fishing shack in Key West and sit on the beach. I bet you’d like that. After six months, if I’m not here to take care of you, I bet we could talk my sister into taking you in. She loves little dogs like you.”

Copyright © 2015 by Ron Van Sweringen

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