If The Wind Should Ever Be Lonely
by Jennifer Popa
“’What is this giant’s name?’ you ask. It is the Wind.”
—“The Unseen Giant,” A Child’s Book of Stories
If the wind should ever be lonely, tell him that I’ve always fancied him a giant—though not the friendly variety from a children’s fairy tale. I imagine him dressed in muscle and bloody-knuckled in the morning dew. He likely licks the blood from his knuckles, relishing its warmth upon his tongue after a gruesome tussle. I admire his sense of humor when he plucks the cap from my head, when he wafts the aroma of manure over the windowsill or puffs up a lady’s skirt just to be funny. My dad would have liked the wind’s jokes.
Though of course the wind is invisible, be sure to mention that in his wake I always feel his pulse in the trembling debris he’s heaped under bridges, and see him waving in the plastic bag looped on the branch, a common ghost. After his departure, the city’s wounds bubble up like anthills. I wonder—how can nothing become so much something?
It’s no secret that he is hurting, or that the rain abuses him. His loneliness is as evident as the oaks he folds over Main Street, the way he hooks and braids the chains of swing sets, the feeling as he gathers behind my knees in the schoolyard—pressing and threatening to topple me over. I recognize a sadness in every gale, every flurry and chinook.
There can be no misreading the hollow whistle that emanates from his throat. He is a lock picker who rattles doors in their frames. A sleepwalker with chipped teeth. I imagine his spine a corridor, his mouth like a wasp’s, spitting the woody pulp he’s packed between cheek and gums. This isn’t to say his violence is lost upon me, or that I don’t fear him. Just know that his moans are as familiar to me as the loops of my own handwriting.
Sometimes he’s a pest too. He’s flipped the pages of my book when I read at recess, inevitably making me lose my place—or flicked a beetle along the book’s spine as a bookmark. Sometimes I ignore him.
He was with me on the day I angled emptied jelly jars over grasshoppers. He whipped the grass, triggering their launch into my glassy care. I was sure to include a clump of loose grass and twig for each grasshopper before placing them in my backpack. Once back in my bedroom I lined them on my desk, named them Reginald, Juanita, and Lawrence. Lawrence panicked, and with spring-loaded legs kept flicking his body on the jar’s lid. I asked that he behave before unscrewing the top. I tipped the jar and made him a bed with the sprigs of grass. At first Lawrence seemed suspect, but eventually came out and hopped across the room toward the door, where I keep Anne of Green Gables and all my Brontës. I told him if he didn’t stay close he’d have to be put back, but it was too late. We’d been found out.
My mom’s rude boyfriend Curt opened the door without knocking. He said, “Your mom needs help setting the table,” and found me shuffling on my knees. I attempted to cup my hands around Lawrence but he leapt further away each time I closed in upon him. Curt was visibly disgusted, and yelled “Jesus Christ!” loud enough so that my mother would hear. I’d committed a new offense. Another in a long line which made him look at me like I was diseased. My dad had never cursed, not even when stubbing a toe like Mom sometimes does.
Without pausing Curt stomped Lawrence beneath his boot, mashing him into the carpet. One of Lawrence’s spikey jumping legs bent toward the ceiling, and when the boot lifted—a brown goo stained the carpet. Beyond the walls of my house the wind groaned, and his kindness is one for which I am grateful. Then he flapped open the back door and made the dog bark for the next hour. Curt yelled at the dog, and this bought me enough time to save Reginald and Juanita. I dumped their jars in the alley.
With the drought, the wind has gone quiet. I want to hear him snort at almanacs, to tell him about the people in the TV—their hilarious troubles, to ask what rotting barns taste like. I look for him often, delaying the trek back home after the school day—despite the lashing I’ll surely receive for my tardiness. This morning there’s a field of flattened yellowbrown grass which must be the wind’s bed, his knees like Volkswagens tucked into his belly as he snores. His breath the fog, his tears giving shape to the gritty pools I splash in en route to the bus. By tomorrow this corner will be something else: a patch of dirt, a congregation of hubcaps, the resting place for some muddy headless doll. Proof I’d just missed him.
If the wind should ever be lonely—be gentle with him. You should know he cannot take a hint. Be sure to tell him, while you are alone, it doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Without him I might never have come to know that change only comes when something else is maimed beyond repair. Some little death unfurls a newness: seeds carried away with a flood, or a sprout threading its way out from a burnt tree’s root. Though I could never fake a belief in God, some man in the sky, the wind offers solace as he whips my hair and bristles at my nose. He swells inside my lungs. When I feel like I can’t breathe he pushes his way between my teeth. Without him I might believe I am supposed to suffocate.
About Jennifer Popa
Jennifer Popa recently relocated from the interior of Alaska to the South Plains of West Texas where she is in her second year as a Ph.D. student of English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories, some of which can be found at Grist, Watershed Review, The Boiler, Monkeybicycle and Fiction Southeast.