I’m working at the grocery when the wind blows you into town. I stock the shelves there, arranging the oldest merchandise in front, cleaning up after shoppers who think twice about that bar of chocolate and stuff it between pasta boxes two aisles down. It suits me, this job; I like the orderliness of the rows of boxes and cans, the way I can shuffle things around to fill any gaps. The way that everything has a place.
And then you land in the parking lot, bruised and disheveled. I bring you water to drink and antiseptic ointment for your lacerations. The floor manager takes one look at you and threatens to kick you out, but I tell him you’re my cousin. I don’t know why I do this. We’ve just met; you’re not my responsibility. I should be stocking bottles of ketchup, not lying to my manager in the break room. But you smell of rain and wet leaves and worms poking their heads above the soil—comforting smells that remind me it’s springtime outside the grocery. So I say you’re in town for a while and you’re looking for a job, and he puts you to work cleaning up spills in the dairy aisle.
I don’t manage to catch up with you again until break. When you tell me that you go wherever the wind takes you, at first I think you’re one of those people searching for something—a path, a truth, a grand purpose—and you’re leaving things in the hands of the universe. I’ve never understood that. We control our own fates. We keep our shelves ordered and tidy; no one’s going to move that chocolate back to the snack aisle but us. And maybe we walk the epoxy floors so often we’ve memorized every scuff, but that can be a comfort, too. There’s nothing out there but new floor plans to learn.
But you tell me that’s not what you mean. There’s no path, no purpose to find. You say that the wind doesn’t care about any of us. It doesn’t treat you gently; it doesn’t care where it leaves you when it departs. When you let the wind take you, you agree to surrender. The wind pulls you apart, and usually it puts you back together again, but not always. When you give yourself to the wind, you accept that you might not be whole at the end of your journey.
“How long are you planning to stay?”
“I don’t know,” you answer. “Until the wind comes back.”
But the storm that brings you leaves a high pressure system behind, ushering in a long stretch of mild spring weather. The sun bakes the sidewalks and the only wind that comes through is a gentle, toothless breeze. It’s clear you’ve got nowhere to stay, so I loan you a sleeping bag and let you camp out in my living room; and then, after a few days, I let you share my bed. It’s comforting, having you here. Waking in the middle of the night and hearing you breathe beside me. Smelling coffee in the morning and knowing, without having to look, that you’re in the kitchen.
It’s so comforting that I forget it’s temporary.
After a couple of weeks, the weather vanes squeak and turn; listless flags begin to stir. I can already feel the wind brushing against my clothes, an insistent caress. I look at you, weak with longing, as your hair blows in wisps across your face.
“Come with me,” you say.
I don’t understand. You’ve already said the wind doesn’t care about us. It might send us in opposite directions. It might pull us apart. How can I choose to live that way, not knowing what will happen?
You hug me, pulling me in tight. “No one ever knows what’s going to happen.”
The wind starts to kick up leaves and spiral them into the air. It buffets our backs, pulling at our clothing, yanking our hair. I feel my connection to the ground weakening. My toes scrabble for purchase. Your arms are strong around me, and your lips are close to my ear, but for how long? For how long?
“It’s your choice,” you murmur. “We don’t know where the wind will take us. But you choose whether you stay or go.”
You kiss me once, and then release me. The wind pulls you upward in an instant; it’s terrifying in its speed and brutality. I think of letting the storm pass by, and going home to make myself a familiar cup of tea. I think of the grocery shelves, laden with orderly boxes; the aisles that traverse back and forth in straight lines from the front of the store to the back. I think of my life, and the grip I’ve had on it since I can remember.
The wind roars around me. I feel myself pulling apart, and I don’t know if I’ll be whole at the end of my journey. But I never really did. No one ever knows what’s going to happen. As the wind lifts me with its rough fingers, I close my eyes.
About the author:
Jennifer Hudak is a speculative fiction writer fueled mostly by tea. Her work has appeared on both the Locus Magazine and the SFWA recommended reading lists, and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Originally from Boston, she now lives with her family in Upstate New York where she teaches yoga, knits pocket-sized animals, and misses the ocean.