At Odiorne Point State Park the sight of the ocean is immediately tranquilizing. She loves the sand, the cool trembling water, the ranting gulls, the waves’ susurrus. The ocean holds onto an untouchable wildness that the rest of the world is losing. Today, a Wednesday, the park is deserted, no doubt because of the overcast sky. No families, no hand-in-hand lovers, no tourists with maps and binoculars. She sees only a single runner, a woman, adhering to her fitness routine, face set in an expression of grim stoicism. Bronwyn always finds this a sad sight; she hates the thought of anything in her own life becoming so doggedly, cheerlessly habitual, and yet there is something in the woman’s face she understands, and she worries her own face might sometimes look as cheerless.
She puts on the running shoes she always leaves in the trunk and chooses a path that leads over a lawn, then slopes gently down through tall beach grass to the shore. It’s a shaggy, scraggy beach, one for walking and skipping stones, its sand coarse and multi-colored as wild rice, and strewn with pebbles and fist-sized rocks and driftwood and whorls of dry black seaweed. Unraked, unmanicured, it doesn’t have the fine-grained white sand that appeals to sun-bathers and swimmers. Bronwyn likes it for that. She appreciates an unpretentious beach, a beach that still belongs more to the earth than to humans.
Whenever she comes here she thinks of childhood trips to the Jersey shore, to those wide flat beaches where swimmers and sunbathers flocked during heat waves—Long Beach Township, or Surf City, or Seaside Park, sometimes further north to Manasquan or Belmar. Maggie always had strict rules. No running, no rolling in the sand, no throwing rocks or shells, no swimming until she said it was time. But mainly Bronwyn was to always stay in Maggie’s sightlines. Dreadful things are done to girls who are found alone, Maggie would say, though when Bronwyn would push to know what exactly was done to those girls, Maggie would never say. Girls just never have an easy time of it; men call the shots in this world, you might as well know that from the get-go.
Here the shoreline curves in a gentle crescent. The tide is out and timid waves nibble the sand. At the far end of the beach a woman tosses a stick for her dog. Bronwyn loves dogs, has been teased for the way she brings her face right down to a dog’s to exchange sloppy kisses.“She hates the thought of anything in her own life becoming so doggedly, cheerlessly habitual, and yet there is something in the woman’s face she understands, and she worries her own face might sometimes look as cheerless.”
Usually she walks quickly, savoring the elasticity and power of her legs, but today her dress is restrictive, and the sky’s strange antics grip her attention, keeping her in place. The clouds are cleaving in a solid impenetrable line, as they have been for several days, barring the brief movement she witnessed at the Blue Skiff. In all her years of weather watching she has never seen such prolonged and defiant stillness. It reminds her a little of how her mother’s face used to look just before an outburst, battened down, so uncannily motionless it almost seemed dead, or as if she was compressing all her energy to bring additional force to her imminent explosion. There’s that feeling now, of limitless energy hovering behind the gray-brown wash of clouds. The sun is clearly there, but inaccessible, a curtained wizard waiting, unwilling to reveal his next move.
Surely things are moving in other places—natural forces are never static—so why not here on this stretch of New Hampshire coastline? It’s almost like being at the eye of a glacially moving storm. A catalyst is necessary, a slight change of temperature, or air pressure, or wind speed. A sword of righteous anger.
She draws a line with her gaze up from her shoes across the rough rock and sand and desiccated seaweed. It travels over the black water to the murky horizon where sea and sky are scarcely differentiated. In the path of her gaze the molecules are stuck in their dance like human veins occluded by plaque. She locks her eyes on a distant point where the clouds look most menacing. Her vision takes in a wide swath of sky. Eyes like telescopes, she zeroes in on the distant droplets. She sees molecules: hydrogen, oxygen. She hears the rise and fall of her own breathing, nothing more. Then a pulsing hum. Her body expands in steely concentration until it domes the beach, the ocean. An inferno, hot as the sun, explodes in her gut, spreads to her chest. She doesn’t move, at once sunk in her body and soaring out of it. She presides here for a while, swirling in moisture and light, in a trance but more sentient than ever before.
A spear of sunlight tears the sky vertically, lightning-like, dividing it in half. She pants, grabs another breath, deeper, and holds it for a long time, releases it slowly, to a sound like a pigeon’s coo. Before her, the sky is ripped and frayed by the light streak, the cloud masses on either side parting and drifting in different directions as she’s never seen clouds do; the light in the middle spills out, viral, blooming, a gold limned with silver. It’s like the light after drenching rain storms, prismatic, promising rainbows, light so sudden and welcome it appears more dimensional and colorful than other light.
The dog surprises her, bounding up to her legs, barking enthusiastically, demanding attention. Bronwyn pants, turns, begins to hear the world again. The light has blinded her, leaving dark floaters drifting across her vision like a flotilla of tiny boats. The day has become a circus, loud and confusing. She crouches to greet the dog. “Hey there, buddy.” She looks around to find the dog’s owner, but there isn’t a soul in sight, and the dog takes off back down the beach.
The sky looks dappled now, like the forest floor on an exceptionally sunny day. Not quite as disturbingly dramatic as it was a minute ago, though still impressive. She thinks of Reed, wonders if he is seeing this. To whom could she describe this piercing beauty? Suddenly she panics. She’s due at work in ten minutes and at best it’s a forty-five-minute drive. She hikes her dress to her thighs, sprints toward the car, trips on some of the loose rocks, falls, scrambles up. She arrives at her car panting, discombobulated. Behind the wheel she studies the sky again. The light has gone from gold to white, a canvas to be filled. She gets out of the car and brushes the sand and curls of seaweed from her dress. She peers at herself in the window’s reflection. Her hair jets out in all directions, but she has nothing with which to groom it except her hands.
She drives too fast, eyes on the horizon. Stuart doesn’t take lateness lightly. He lectures tardy employees about professional carelessness and about their disrespect for the “team.” Will she make a ploy for sympathy by telling him she’s been dumped? Would it make any difference with Stuart? She’s certainly not going to tell him she fears there might be something wrong with her brain.
She makes a resolution: when she arrives at work she will enter cheerfully, genuflect to Stuart, apologize, pander, tell him she’s sorry and she’ll never be late again. Then she will prepare for the first of four nightly broadcasts. She will download the National Weather Service data and make some sense of it all; she will prepare her remarks, create her graphics. By the end of her last broadcast it will be close to midnight.“Bronwyn pants, turns, begins to hear the world again. The light has blinded her, leaving dark floaters drifting across her vision like a flotilla of tiny boats. The day has become a circus, loud and confusing.”
In the rearview mirror something catches her eye. Crap, a New Hampshire State Patrol car, flashing its lights. She pulls over and watches the cruiser pull in behind her. A Paul Bunyan–sized officer gets out of his cruiser and lopes to her car with swaggering, no-nonsense, officer-of-the-law authority.
She rolls down her window to act the part of the good citizen, aware she does not look like a particularly good citizen now. He leans down, his chest curving over the window gap and blocking the sky like a giant umbrella.
“I don’t suppose you know how fast you were going?”
“Seventy-eight. In a forty-five-mile-an-hour zone.”
“That’s all you have to say for yourself? Oh?”
“What would you like me to say?”
“I’ll bet there are a lot of times you have a heck of a lot to say.” He stares at her with a blank unrelenting look that is hard to interpret. Suspicion? Lasciviousness?
“I’m late for work.”
“You and every other schmo. I need to see your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
She digs into her purse and the glove box, mind running triple speed, unreasonably furious. She hands him the documents, and he glances at them, slaps the top of the Volvo twice so the car’s entire body shivers, and heads back to his cruiser.
Bronwyn smoothes her hair. She needs to bring this day into submission. An earring is missing. Damn. She can’t go on the air with a single earring. That is something Stuart would definitely scold her for. She searches the passenger’s seat. Not there. She unclips her seat belt and looks on the floor. Not there either. She’s just getting out of the car to search the back seat when the officer returns.
“Get back in the car,” he orders.
She does as he says. The power is all his, legal and personal. He can do whatever he wants with her—ticket her, arrest her, rape her if he chooses. He’s easily twice her size. She is just a speeding, unstable girl, a possible suspect, no doubt looking for drugs on the floor of her car.
“I lost an earring,” she says in self-defense.
He hands her papers through the window and leans down. He’s smiling. “You’re the weather gal, aren’t you? I watch you every night.”
She nods, noticing the hand that hangs at his side, thick as a baseball glove, broad and leathery.
“I didn’t recognize you at first. You’re a tiny little thing, aren’t you? Even prettier in real life than on the tube.”
“It’s been a hard day and I’m late for work. Can you just ticket me and let me go?”
“Hold your horses, sweetness. Guess what? You’re in luck. I’m giving you a warning, no ticket. But watch your speed. We don’t want you in a ditch. We need you on TV.”
“Thanks. I will.”
“Hope you don’t mind my saying . . .” He flaps his fingers in an inchoate gesture over his head. “You have stuff in your hair. You might want to fix that before you go on the air.”
Her hand leaps up to finger her hair. She pulls off a piece of seaweed. She’s trembling. He watches intently.
“You okay? Trouble with your boyfriend, maybe? He gives you any guff, you call me. Good-looking gal like you, no one should give you any guff.” He hands her his card. Ken Donovan. He means well, she supposes.
“Good to meet you, Bronwyn. Hey, you should get yourself a new car. Being a celebrity and all.” He licks his upper lip. “You got my card.”
She nods and smiles weakly. By now Stuart is probably furious.
From Weather Woman. Used with permission of Red Hen Press. Copyright © 2018 by Cai Emmons.