Tuesday, August 30, 2011

People Who Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘bout Hurricanes Call Us Crazy

Short Fiction Inspired by & A Review of Demeter Fragrance Library Salt Air 

I knew I should have left. Most people left the peninsula days earlier, when the first warnings came out. The big one was coming. It was a topic often belabored during hurricane season in these parts: a hundred year storm. Over due by almost a decade, the weather men, the politicians, the local LEOs were all clear on one point: if you’d never evacuated before, now was the time to start.

A Galveston, Texas cemetery
flooded after Hurricame Ike.
The stories of the last one were famous. The dead floating up out of their deluged graves, the wooden caskets suddenly buoyed by the onslaught of water, six feet of  storm soaked earth nothing in the face of the swirling currents washing through the city. Those left on the island who survived never got over the terrifying sight of their dearly departed coming up out of the ground and parading through the streets, a sure sign that if you’d made the choice to stay, you were already dead.

Issac’s storm wiped out the island, turning a bustling gem of a city into a waterlogged ghost town that had to be rebuilt from the ground up, literally. After the storm, the city brought in tons of earth to shore up the water fronted edge of town, covered the area in six foot tall slabs of concrete to create a wall between the residents and the sea. The dead were no longer buried in wooden crates; they were stacked in mausoleums or cemented into the ground, a pledge to returning residents that such horror would never befall the city again.

Except now it was.

The new storm was set to wipe out the town again, perhaps forever if it was as bad as anticipated. The news people said anyone who hadn’t left either had a head full of delusion, a love so strong for the city they’d rather die there than contemplate living anywhere else, or was certifiably insane. There was no two ways about it, said the radio and tv folks. Staying in the city was a resignation of your life to the Fates and the Furies.

Knowing all that, I still stayed, and I wasn’t even in the city. Given how dire things were on the main island, staying on the long narrow spit of land that made up the peninsula I lived on was more than pushing your luck; it was a death wish written on paper, stuck in a bottle, and cast into the sea begging it to claim you. Some people went for death by cop; this, quite simply, was death by hurricane.

So what was I doing here? Watching the hundred year old pear tree in the yard next to the rickety house twist and sway in the increasing winds, even I couldn’t say. If I had to put my finger on it, though, I’d have said because it was the only place I’d ever known peace and happiness and love, and if it was going, then maybe I didn’t want to remain in the wake. Looking at the peeling wall paper and fading paint, I knew the little two bedroom house wasn’t anything much to look at. Built on stilts with a room downstairs that various male relatives had talked about finishing but never got around to, it was a crazy place to ride out waves estimated to top well over the second story.

The kids had said as much when they’d called, pleading with me to head to Houston. They’d begged, but I knew they were all too far away to get here fast enough to force me out and I wasn’t having any of it anyhow. First of all, I didn’t have a car to get there, because I couldn’t drive after my cataracts developed, and I wasn’t about to go begging strangers for a ride. I had more pride than that. Second, I told them what I told them every single time a storm came. I’d made it through the ones that had come before; I’d survive this one. I wasn’t about to leave my home and all my worldly possessions abandoned for looters to get at if it took me too long to get back to the peninsula.

But it was more than that. I’d buried my first dog in that yard, and squinting into the wind, I could just make out the little row of stones shaped in a cross where his bones laid. I’d had my first love in that rickety house, I’d unexpectedly given birth to my first baby in the old claw foot bathtub, and after the kids had grown up and moved away and the old neighbors had sold their houses to summer people and my husband of thirty years had up and died on me too old to remarry and too young not to be lonely, this house was all I had.

Standing on the porch, I curled my gnarled fingers around the banister that encircled the balcony, and let the wind slap me in the face as it pulled my wispy white hair out of its bun. Looking down at my hands, I could still see the ghost of younger ones in their place, and I wondered when so much of my life had passed me by, like sand washed out to sea. Everyone I loved had left or died. I was eighty-one years old. I loved my house. It was all I had left.

Inhaling deeply, I caught a whiff of the storm wind pulling the ocean closer and closer to the bay side of the peninsula, where the house sat waiting to make a last stand, and me with it. The air was so salty it stung my nose and eyes, and the brackish edge told of all the driftwood and kelp and sea creatures being dragged in along with those thousands of gallons of water, pushed harder and closer every passing minute.

Looking up at the sky, I said a prayer to God. If this is it, Lord, then you can take me. I’m ready. I just want to know that the last thing I’ll remember is this place – the way it felt, the way it looked, the way it smelled. If you gotta take me now, then I’m leaving this world knowing the last thing I’ll ever see will be my home.

Nodding as if in agreement, I wandered back inside. I couldn’t hide in the tub because I’d filled it with water in preparation for the storm, so I curled up on the floor next to it with a blanket and a book and waited for the beginning of the end.

A single surviving house in Gilchrist,
Texas after Hurricane Ike.
Three days later, the house and I were still standing. Rumor was only about ten houses in our little town had survived more or less intact. Mine was one of them. 

 When the search and rescue people brought me a little prepaid cell phone with some groceries almost a week later and I called my daughter, she burst into tears and yelled for a half hour that the next time she was coming down to drag me out if she had to, but she wouldn't let me take that kind of chance again. She’d been sure I was dead. I told her to hush, that I knew enough about living and dying to know that if it was my time, no amount of her caterwauling was gonna change things. The good Lord would take me when he was ready, I told her. And apparently he wasn’t ready yet.

He took the pear tree, though, and I was awful sorry to see it go.

   Demeter Salt Air is described as follows: 
Imagine a perfect sea breeze on the perfect beach at your favorite tropical island. Now you have the perfect description of Demeter's Salt Air. 
There's just no denying it... Demeter's Salt Air will have you thinking of that last vacation and much needed new one. Take off to the land of tranquility where the scent of the sea breeze wakes you up each day and sends you off to dreamland at night. But don't forget to book your airfare early!
Woza. Salt Air smells like...salt air. It smells like the beach on a really briney low-tide day. It’s the smell you smell when you are driving near the coast and you roll down the windows and think, “I’m at the beach!”
My friend Kate thought it was sweeter than she would have thought it would be, and I thought the salt bit was awfully sharp, almost biting on the nose if sniffed too closely, but otherwise, it was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be able to smell the beach when I went to sleep at night. I wanted to splash some on and drift off with a fan blowing on me thinking back to those hot sticky nights sleeping near the Gulf, the memories of which I still cradle in my heart like a delicate and precious jewel. That smell is the memory of happy times, a memory formed before I could even consciously recall memories. I love it because it is one of those memories I crave to recall on demand. How lucky am I that someone bottled it up for me?

This scent is not at all floral and there is no coconut in here, so if you've ever wanted a definitely coastal scent that did not focus on either of those aspects, this might be a good try for you. I tried layering with Jo Malone English Pear and Freesia because there is a pear tree in the yard of my grandparents’ old beach house. It worked, kind of. I got a little too much Jo Malone and not enough Salt Air. I’m going to take another stab at it, though.

5 of 5 nods for the scent, and I’d have paid far more than $6 for 15ml. If this scent sounds attractive, you can get a FREE ONE OUNCE SPRAY right now with a $25 purchase of Demeter scents.

Yes. That’s right. FREE.

What are you waiting for!?!

Seriously. Go now.

See other pieces in the series here.

Photos from the Boston Globe's collection of 2009 Hurricane Ike photos. Photo 1 AP Photo/Matt Slocum; photo 2, David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images.


Undina said...

For the first half of the story I didn't realize it was fiction. I don't know if to attribute it to your talent as a story-teller or to my poor concentration on details. Even when I read "kids" I still tried to paint some logical picture of some abstract kids - younger siblings, cousins, etc. whom you might be calling that.
Powerful writing. Thank you. Now I want to try Salt Air. And try to pair it with Pear & Freesia - one of my favorite Jo Malone's colognes.

Diana said...


Sorry for the confusion. I went back and tried to make it clearer.

Another layering recommendation? Salt air and Jo Malone Bluebell. There's a sharp salt edge in both that really works for me.

Thanks for reading!