Shelter by William Bradley


“What they don’t tell you about hurricanes is how many ways they can break your heart.” – Philip Gerard

We watched the effects of Hurricane Irene from our front porch.  While the streets flooded and our neighbor’s fence was blown down, we sipped from bottles of Blue Moon, strangely untouched by the wind that was causing so much devastation around us.  When you went in to get another beer, Leroy—one of the two cats we found as kittens, abandoned in our backyard a year before—tried to escape, as was his wont.  Once in the yard, he seemed to realize his mistake and tried to shelter himself beneath the hydrangea.  He was shivering when you carried him back inside, but he never tried to escape again.

Tom, the other cat, was never much interested in going outside, once we brought him in on that other rainy day when we found them.  It was as if he came inside, shook the rain from his coat, and thought, “Ah, that’s more like it.”  He would sometimes come up to the screen door while we sat on the porch and yell at us, but the yelling always seemed a request for us to come sit inside with him, rather than to be let out with us.

The kitchen ceiling started to leak again during the deluge, after we’d spent a small fortune repairing the damaged roof and ceiling when we moved into the house.  I got mad and senselessly shouted “Fuck you” to the ceiling.  You, more intelligently, placed a bucket below the leak.  Less intelligently, you told the cats not to drink the water that was accumulating.

We switched to wine in the late afternoon and played Trivial Pursuit by candlelight—the cats won’t let us play Scrabble, intrigued as they are by the tiles that just beg to be smacked around the table and onto the floor.  And eventually, the four of us curled up in bed—Leroy tucked into your arm, Tom between my ankles, our fingers touching, as usual.  Safe and warm.

Some storms, you can see coming for days in advance, so you can buy batteries, stock up on candles, make plans.  Others come up suddenly, and are more metaphoric than meteorological.  It was only raining lightly the evening the provost at our small Christian school told me that he would not be presenting my tenure application for the Board of Trustees to vote on.  He had wanted to hire a creative nonfiction writer just a few years before, but now feared that some of my more confessional work might make people think I’m an immoral person, and that, he said, would be bad for fundraising.

You cried as we sat on the porch that night; I was still a little shell-shocked, I think.  I was drinking whiskey, you were drinking a martini.  The alcohol neither cheered us nor depressed us further.  We each feared the other would be angry—I wrote the work in question, you were the one who found the jobs and convinced me a couple of liberal Lutherans would have no trouble fitting in at a Southern Baptist University.  But neither of us blamed the other—to do so would be as stupid as shouting “Fuck you” at the ceiling.  Rational people could not have predicted such a storm.  All we could do is go inside and shut the door and hope that those walls and ceiling would protect us from outside threats.

We found other jobs, of course.  We won’t be filing for bankruptcy.  And we still have each other, and Leroy and Tom.  Leroy has been especially sensitive throughout this ordeal, climbing up into your arms and licking your tears away.  Tom and I have been a bit more stoic, less emotive.  Stable, I like to think.

Someone has put in a ridiculously-low offer on the house; we will negotiate.  The books and DVDs are being put into boxes.  The ceiling remains unrepaired—just as it was when we first looked at the house and saw so much potential.  A dining room where we could host Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.  A backyard large enough to one day install a hot tub. Upstairs bedrooms that could be converted into home offices, then back into bedrooms once we started a family.

I have everything I really need in life—a job, a place to live, the cats and, most of all, you.  It seems ungrateful to complain about anything in a life so full of blessings, but I’d be lying if I claimed that all of my dreams have come true.  I have loved this house, and the memories we have made in it.  My stoicism fades and I feel a tightness in my chest at the thought of putting the cats into carriers, locking the front door, and stepping off that front porch for the last time, to walk into the tempest beyond.


About William Bradley