20 April 2015
A Name for a Storm
When Maia howled wildly from between her mother’s legs on the first day of her being, she nearly caused the world to end. Halfway through the birthing process, she had decided she wanted to go back in. When she crowned, and the top of her bald head felt the cold and the fluorescent lights of the Fresno hospital, it occurred to her that being born was a spectacularly bad idea.
She had not meant to cause the earthquake. But she screamed and cried and shook with rage and her mother said tenderly, “Look at my beautiful baby.” And Maia thought, I do not want to be beautiful I want to be warm! Then the earth split, and San Francisco felt her wrath. Of course, Maia could not be blamed. She was only a baby.
It never occurred to anyone that the two instances had anything in common. On birthday parties in the future, some would remark that Maia’s birthday fell on the same day as the San Francisco Earthquake of ’89. Then Maia’s mother would laugh, and say “She was born on that day! I guess the world couldn’t handle all those people and Maia at the same time.” Then all the parents would laugh, and they would look at the chubby girl with fat brown curls and privately they would think, If anyone could cause an earthquake, Maia could. But all they would say was “Maia is growing up to be so beautiful. Was she born with hair?”
After Maia’s fifth birthday, the shock of the San Francisco Earthquake of ’89 had worn off. Maia had not been angry since then. She had been hungry and offended, and sometimes even sad, but never truly angry. She started school. The teachers found her difficult, but entertaining. She made friends with a little boy who had moved from Mexico. His name was Javi. Maia’s mother did not like Javi, because Javi was from Mexico and his family lived in the bad neighborhood. Maia’s mother found out that Javi lived in the bad neighborhood because Maia had begged her mother for a playdate. “Javi wants to show me how his titos play mariachi on the weekends,” she had repeated several times a day, until her mother finally gave in. So Maia’s mother called Javi’s mother, but Javi’s mother did not speak very good English. Maia’s mother found the house on a map and reluctantly drove Maia there. It was a white house with dying grass in the front lawn, and a metal screen over the front door. A hulking pitbull laid lazily in the beating sun. Maia’s mother turned the car right around and never went back to that part of town. Maia screamed “I want to hear the MARIACHI!” and screamed and raged and kicked her mother, who gave her a hard spanking.
Later that day the evening news blared over the TV that vicious tornados had broken out in the Midwest and the South and that at least six people had died. Maia’s mother turned the TV off. “Why can’t they ever show happy news?” she asked no one in particular. Maia pushed her peas around the plate and refused to drink her milk.
When Maia was eight years old, her mother met a tall, strong man named Mr. Frank. Mr. Frank was something called a real estate agent that Maia did not understand. He had grey hair and a moustache and he always smelled like cigarettes because he smoked inside. She tolerated him because whenever he came over he brought her a Barbie doll, and it was her goal to have a bigger Barbie doll collection than Greta Burling, who brought her dolls to recess to rub into the other girls’ faces. Soon Mr. Frank was in Maia’s house in the morning 4 times a week, and sometimes he drove her to school so she wouldn’t have to walk. Maia’s mother and Mr. Frank got married later that year. They moved into a big new house that had a swimming pool and a backyard. Maia’s mother kept talking about Mr. Frank’s real estate connections. Maia thought it was stupid that an estate had to be called real when it clearly existed right in front of everyone’s faces. Mr. Frank stopped buying her Barbie dolls.
Maia’s mother had to start wearing dresses and bigger shirts a week after the wedding. She and Mr. Frank sat Maia down. They told her that she was going to have a little brother or sister, so she’d have to share her room soon. Maia did not want to share her room. She screamed and cried and kicked a hole in the wall of their new house. Mr. Frank got angry about the hole because his real estate connections wouldn’t like it and they rented this house. The Red River flooded in North Dakota that day.
In the hours before the big homecoming game Maia’s junior year of high school, she and Jenna Iliopoulos planed to sneak into the woods behind the school and get gloriously drunk with the two cutest boys from homeroom. At least, Jenna said they were cute, although Maia never could quite remember their faces or names. One of them had a brother who had recently turned twenty-one. They had stolen a half-empty bottle of vodka and another of whiskey from the brother’s room when he was at work. Maia had never been drunk before, but Jenna had. She urged Maia, “It’s fun! Come on, Maia, don’t be a snooze. You don’t even have to get drunk if you don’t want to; you can just sip.”
“I don’t know. What if my mom can smell it on my breath?”
“Don’t be a baby.”
“It’s getting dark. Shouldn’t they be here by now?” Maia shifted uncomfortably. She had worn her new denim jacket in hopes of impressing the boy whose face she couldn’t recall. The chilled October air made the metal cause goosebumps on her arms. She shivered and drew in closer to herself. “I’m getting kind of freaked out. The woods freak me out.”
“Chill. It’s just dark, you’re imagining things,” Jenna said. She inched closer to Maia. The girls turned sharply as they heard the resounding crack of a twig snap underfoot, but there was no one behind them. From the creek rang out a cry distant of “Ladies! Over here!”
Maia and Jenna exchanged glances. “They said they’d meet us by the edge,” Maia said. “This is the edge.”
Jenna tried to look calm. “Well, let’s just go see if they’re over there. They wouldn’t call us if they weren’t, right?”
Maia shrugged and followed Jenna into the thickening trees. A waning sunset cast a cool blue tone on the out of place woods. Maia knew they were meant to be destroyed at the end of the year so that the school could build a new gym. She felt an awful sense of helplessness at the fact. If only she could have saved them.
Jenna stopped in front of her suddenly. Maia crashed into her back. “God, Jenna!” she exclaimed.
Jenna made no effort to respond. “What the hell? Are they down there?” Maia asked frantically. Jenna simply stood, statuesque. Maia stepped around her to see what had transfixed her so. Down the leaf-covered hill in the impression where a small, polluted creek usually ran languidly, something else entirely was happening.
A group of people, tall and fiercely beautiful, walked silently in a straight line. Te only sound came from tiny bells which adorned their richly colored garments that seemed to float about their bodies. They wore white masks with vertical slits for their eyes. They walked with a grace and reverence unfamiliar to the world Maia knew. She felt that she had stumbled on something incredibly important. She turned her gaze to Jenna, who hadn’t moved so much as a hair. Maia knew that Jenna would remember none of this in the morning. She probably wouldn’t even remember Maia. Maia’s feet began to move towards the procession, independent from her brain.
A sad music began to flow through the air. Maia fell in line at the end of the procession. The masked people did not acknowledge her, but she knew that she belonged there. They walked slowly and meaningfully for what seemed like a thousand miles. They stopped when they meant to stop. Everyone turned and looked at Maia. Each alternate member stepped back, creating a path for her to walk through. As she walked, each member removed an article of clothing and cast it on her. They floated into place until Maia felt as tall and beautiful as the rest of them. She had a vague awareness of the world crashing down around her. Gargantuan ocean waves and a violently shaking Earth made no difference to her. How warm I feel, she thought, and walked into the sun.