Author: Audrey Frank
Cora Walker had been watching television when a weather report announced a hurricane was heading toward St. Augustine and people were urged to evacuate the area.
Nonsense, she thought. Her house was sturdy and could withstand strong winds. She glanced out the window. A large palm tree in the back yard was swaying like a woman urgently fanning herself. Potted geraniums had blown over, the florets buried in the mud.
Cora sighed. Tomorrow she'd go out and pick them back up. Watching the rain pelting down, she closed the blinds and went back to watching her favorite television show.
Suddenly the screen went dead, the lights in the house went out.
Damn, she thought. How long before the lights went back on?
Someone was banging on the front door.
“Just a minute, I'm coming,”
As she opened the front door, a blast of wind tore it from her hand.
A soaked policeman steadied himself against the raging wind.
“We're advising everyone to vacate their homes and seek shelter elsewhere,”
Cora cocked her eyebrow and tilted her head so she could see over her reading glasses.
“Thank you, young man, but I'm not going anywhere. The house is strong enough to weather the storm. Besides, I'd probably be in more danger if I tried to drive in this rain.”
“You don't understand. You'll have no electric and if the wind gets any stronger it could blow in your windows. You really need to leave. I can take you to a nearby shelter if you're afraid to drive.” The gusting winds drowned out his voice.
Cora folded her arms. She wasn't about to go anywhere.
“I appreciate your concern,” she shouted against the wind.
“Most of your neighbors have already left. Are you sure you won't do the same? Do you at least have enough water and food to see you through until the hurricane passes?”
Cora nodded. “Now please go. We're both getting drenched standing here.”
She shut the door and watched him shrug as he headed back to his patrol car.
Shivering from her wet clothing she walked the thirteen steps to the upstairs bedroom and shrugged off her dress. After changing bra and panties she wrapped herself in a faded green robe.
At eighty-four she had weathered many storms in life and they weren't just hurricanes. She dug through the desk drawers and found three flashlights that still worked. I'll just read during the night, she decided.
A sudden roar of thunder, combined with gusts of screeching wind, rattled the
I think I'll spend the night on the downstairs couch, she decided. It would be safer there. No sense taking foolish chances.
These steps are eventually going to be my death. She held tight to the railing and step by step headed back down. Ten years ago,when she bought the house, the real estate broker had suggested that just maybe a one story house would be better for her.
“Nonsense. The steps will give me some exercise. I don't walk a lot lately.”
She bought the house and loved the way it was laid out. Upstairs was her computer, a messy craft room, and her bedroom. The bed was covered with a floral quilt. Matching curtains added a soft look. A small sitting room had a television set, along with a table top refrigerator and microwave. Perfect for a widow living alone.
The jangling of the phone startled her. Well, at least that's working. She held the phone to her ear.
“Mom, are you okay? Weren't you supposed to evacuate?”
“I'm fine, Susan - just without electricity.”
“I've been listening to the television. It says they're evacuating St. Augustine. Why are you still home?”
“Because I'm perfectly fine here and didn't want to leave.”
“But nothing, Hon. I'm sure your Atlanta station is exaggerating the severity of the storm.”
A sudden blast of pelting rain shook the windows.
“What was that sound, Mom? It sounded like banging on the windows.”
Cora moved away from the window. Kids, you worry about them when they're young. Then they worry about you when they think you're too old and can't take care of yourself. Ridiculous.
“Susan, I'm fine. Stop worrying and hang up. My arm is cramping from holding the phone.”
“Okay, but I'll call back later. I love you so much, Mom. Don't get annoyed with me.”
“I'm not. I love you, too. Chat later?”
“Okay, but be careful.”
No sooner had she hung up the phone when there was frantic banging at the front door. Now what!
She opened the door just a bit so it wouldn't blow open.
“Jason, what are you doing outside in this storm?”
He was clutching a small puppy. Both were drenched and shivering. He slid through the door. Puddles dripped on her carpet.
“ I ran back inside to get “Sniffles” and the bus just left. I could see your flashlight through the front window, so I came here.
His large, blue eyes looked at Cora hopefully.
“Can I stay with you until they come back for me?”
Just what she needed – a frightened boy and a smelly puppy. Susan never had children so Cora wasn't sure what to do with an eight-year-old boy.
“Of course,” she murmured. “Just stand here while I get a towel to dry you off.”
Back up the stairs and down again. Her legs felt wobbly as she handed Jason
the huge bath towel.
“Dry yourself off while I make some hot chocolate.”
She shuffled to the kitchen. Why did she feel suddenly weak? She grabbed
some candles from a kitchen drawer and lit them. At least it was a gas stove so she
boiled some water in an old copper tea pot.
She jumped when Jason entered the kitchen.
“I'm sorry. Are you okay? You don't look too good.”
Why was everyone so worried about her? When you're eighty-four you never look good.
“I'm fine, Jason. Let's make that hot chocolate.”
They sat together on the couch sipping and eating ginger cookies. Cora tried to ignore the fact that Jason's behind was leaving water marks on her couch. She wasn't used to having children around. Never having to cope with grandchildren, she liked her solitude.
“This is good. Thank you, Miss Cora.”
Cora smiled. He was a polite, good looking child. She had seen him riding his bike up and down the street, but had never really talked to him. Her knowledge of his parents consisted of a quick hand wave if they were all outside when she left the house. She'd have to tell the Carters what a fine job they were doing raising him.
Cora checked her watch. It was only seven o'clock. It was going to be a long night. Hopefully the Carters would be back soon to pick up Jason. She had no idea how to make small talk with an eight-year-old. She cleared her throat and smiled. .
“So, Jason, what do you like to do besides ride your bike up and down the street?”
“I like a lot of stuff. I have a model train set that you ought to see. Dad helped me build mountains and scenery. It's neat.”
As he droned on about his activities, Cora's mind wandered. What was that strange feeling she felt in her chest? It wasn't exactly pain, just a vague discomfort. Maybe some Alka-Seltzer would help. She pushed herself to her feet and promptly hit the floor.
“Miss Cora, what's wrong? Are you okay?”
Cora watched his eyes tear up, but no words would come to assure him. She felt her body shutting down.
She looked up at a bright light shining above her. A doctor was working over her, adjusting her oxygen.
“Welcome back to the world, Mrs. Walker. It's a good thing your young friend had the sense to call 911 for help. He's really worried about you. By the way, why didn't you evacuate when the policeman told you to?
Cora sighed. “Because I'm a stubborn old fool who doesn't want anybody telling her what to do.”
She cocked one eyebrow and a lopsided grin lit up her face.
“Where is Jason now?”
“In the waiting room with his parents. They came back just as the emergency crew was getting you into the ambulance. Jason was really upset so they brought him here.”
“He's a sweet boy. I'll try to get to know him better. I'm a bit of a recluse, you know. Like my privacy.”
The doctor folded his arms across his chest and a frown crossed his forehead.
“Mrs. Walker, I'm giving you a piece of advice whether or not you like it.
Your daughter lives too far away to help you in an emergency. You can't hide away from your neighbors. Get to know them, all of them. I bet there are some great people on your street. Mrs. Carter mentioned she wanted to get to know you better, but you always seemed so aloof.”
Cora wiped away tears that flooded her eyes. She was too independent. She would try to change. At least she had been given a second chance.
“I'll try, I really will. May I see Jason for just a minute?”
“Well, it's against rules for a child to visit a hospital room.” He winked.
“In your case I'll make an exception. But it has to be a very short visit.”
Jason came bounding into the room and jumped onto the bed. Cora could see his parents standing by the door and weakly waved.
“Gosh, Miss Cora, I was so worried about you.” He planted a moist kiss on her forehead. “When you get home you gotta see my train set, promise?”
Cora nodded. She thought about the doctor's words. From now on she'd become a part of the neighborhood. After so many years sitting alone in her house, this might be a grand enlightenment.
When the Carters left, she asked for a phone.
“Hi, Susan, it's Mom. Have I got a story to tell you.”