The Notes & Stories of Madrid: The Elements of Nature
Madrid is Melancholy
A Spaceship on Rocky Ground
Tuesday, February 12
Short Story: Do You Believe in Flove
Lulu’s primer-coated Nova occupied a seven-by-twelve meter space across from the Taco Compote.
At forty-two it had known roads of hot pavement, crunchy gravel, black ice, and deep snow. It navigated Mississippi mud holes, London Roundabouts, and North African single-track without flinching.
Ghostly images of police cars and semi trucks hovered in its rearview, whispering remembrances of road trips and speeding tickets avoided.
If you were to measure Quality of Life in engine wear, motor oil, and tire tread, this Nova would be the automotive equivalent to the thirteenth Dali Lama.
Now, after becoming a refugee in a retrograded, high-tension-wired and americanized section of southwestern India, Bangalore on the coast, its only familiars were an old German shepherd and one Bronco Flove.
This morning, Flove rested his head on the wooden beads of the Nova's decrepit seat cover. Rounded impressions in the skin of his cheek would later reveal his socially unacceptable sleeping habits to all the folks on the beaches of Bangalore.
Across the street, his German shepherd was currently devouring the meat of a discarded burrito from the Taco Compote's garbage bins.
Bronco, a traveler, had little money and liked it that way. He knew how to ration, where to stay cheaply, and how to get around customs in most countries. His specialty—the happening that had consumed him and propelled his life—was nature’s best defense, the hurricane.
One of these turgent miracles could uproot centuries of civilization in a single day. As did hurricane Bonnie—Bronco’s first—tearing through southeastern Texas, and Bronco's life slow, indifferent life.
From tropical depression to tropical storm, Bonnie quickened into a category one hurricane on June 25, 1986. It decimated little and big alike, with winds up to 75 knots and pressures topping 995 millibars. After dancing with Bonnie, nothing else mattered; Flove was hooked.
He had been working the phones for a company that sold, of all things, storm windows—in Texas. Getting credit card numbers from chumps was easy money. It was his job, and he did it like Reagan did the American people—with a charming smile. The call center's owner was a faceless signature on his paycheck who spoke only through the team lead. This guy, Chet Hamstroke, was slicker than the linoleum tabletops in a trailer-trash diner in Norfolk. Whenever the cold calling method stopped producing potential clients, sales would slow down, and the company, lacking proper funds, would move to a “new” low-rent office building in a different part of town, usually near an industrial site.
These moves always took place at night. On the last occasion, we had finished setting up the cubicles early in the morning of June 23. Everyone had heard about tropical storm Bonnie buzzing off the coast, but no one figured it would amount to much. Two days later Flove was making his way through the closing pitch with Hector F. Peterson when the radio newsman calmly reported that Bonnie—a full on hurricane—had made landfall. Walls shook, phone connections crashed, the pink cellophane from a tin of raisin cookies hovered in the middle of the room as if gravity itself had been corrupted. There was a loud thunderclap-like noise. Then, screams of terror, hollow and meaningless, created a rift in the fabric of time; everything stopped. A momentary pause, a sharp intake of breath, and the cellophane dropped like lead as the substandard roofing material literally freed itself from the roof beams.
Late night news from Houston: Tropical storm Bonnie became a hurricane today. Destruction occurred. In Beaumont, cows mangled by air-born debris from unlucky windmills and tractors, flooded farmer’s field with blood. President expected early next week to survey damage. Only silver lining—homeowners with storm windows were more fortunate than those without.
That brings us back to the beaches of Bangalore Bronco Flove ate fried eggs with enchilada sauce from the Taco Mart while watching hung over tourists sweat out last night’s gin on hotel towels. It was about noon. Mr. Lancer was there as always shading his bulk with a giant umbrella. He approached Flove. Tipped his faded cap and said, “Well, my dear Bronco, still sleeping in that old car I see,” referring to the bead marks on Love’s face. “I’ve received word that a category 5 will hit the east coast of Florida sometime this month.” Flove did not respond. He scooped the last chunks of egg and sauce up with his plastic Spork, scrunched down into the warm sand, and closed his eyes. “Now, Bronco, you heard me say category five. A hurricane of that degree has not hit Florida since 1935.” A cockroach mounted Love’s paper plate and began investigating the potential food source. Without opening his eyes, Flove picked up the cockroach, kissed it gently, and then laid it back on the plate.
Bronco’s second storm encounter was intentional. On August 18, 1986, Flove came soul to soul with another category 1. Charley tore houses apart, cracked open stores like treasure chests. During that storm Bronco gained his taste for loot. After several triumphant escapades with storms along the east coast of the United States and Mexico, his most interesting encounter happened during the summer of 1991. Beginning as a subtropical depression around the Bahamas, Bob moved up along the coast. Somewhere near the border between Georgia and South Carolina, the storm lost its “sub” delineation. As a category 3, landfall occurred at Wilmington, North Carolina. Bob had been a hurricane for one full day, when Flove arrived, and the town was a freak show. His affair with Bonnie and the others paled in comparison to this grotesque twisting of the foundations of community. Obviously, people had not followed the rules of hurricane preparedness: Have disaster supplies on hand; plan evacuation routes for 20 to 50 miles inland, and never forget your pets. Dead dogs and cats lay about like trash after a parade.
Flove wanted to get as close to the heart of things as possible. Which would be easier than one might expect since most people were trying to get out of town. He felt a rush of excitement when he realized that just a half mile off, buildings that had stood for decades were being ripped from the earth and splintered into funnels of scrap. People’s entire lives decimated. And it had happened before. Within this century, within ten years, all up and down the east coast, and everyone continued to hunker down and take it on the chin again and again. Hurricane Bob, hurricane Floyd, hurricane Andrew, Donna, Carla, and Opal. An endless number of names for endless destruction. It was more unbelievable to Flove than anything he’d experienced. At that moment, as he dodged one half of a bloody Spaniel, it came to him. Storms fed on ignorance and sloth. To fight a storm one had only to know it. Flove was alert and ready this time. No running away. He would move with Bob like a scavenger fish with a shark. During natural disasters, all bets are off. Face the storm, collect the prize. He flattened the gas pedal to the floor of his rental car and flew through a red light.
The woman that had been pushing it stood wringing her hands in the middle of the crosswalk. A moment of fear, a sharp intake of breath, then everything stopped. Flove, his car, the shopping cart, and its assorted Plunder had come to rest on the sidewalk. The streets were empty under a sky of putrid, angry gray. On the horizon a blue and orange gash torn between the mountains and the clouds. Flove recovered, opened his eyes. The hurricane now moved away drawing the town up into its dance. From above, Bronco knew, the storm would look completely different, a swirl of white cotton candy, calm and inviting.
He made his way back to where the woman stood. She appeared to be uninjured. On a chain around her neck hung a single key. Homeless woman or looter, he wondered. The woman then fell to the ground. “Are you hurt?” He quickly put his coat under her head. No response. “My car didn’t hit you directly. Are you in shock?” The woman rolled onto her back and pulled Flove close by the collar of his shirt. She began to talk, to tell him about her life. Things do not always add up to a perceivable sum total, she said. Not everyone’s lives are linear. She’d traveled all over the world, played many different roles, gone to college, had several careers. Although she was homeless now, it was not indicative of her entire self. She’d been rich, poor, lonely, loved. At one point, she used to spend her time driving from place to place hunting antique door knobs. Drove, she insisted, drove, all over the world. Her car was a Chevy Nova, given to her by a father that loved engines. That engine, he swore, would run until the end of time. He had made her promise never to paint the car. Primer disguised its true value. No one in their right mind would steal an unpainted Nova. She had done what he asked. Father knew cars, she repeated several times. But it all came to an end in Bangalore, India. The homeless woman imparted these words with an intensity that could have given even Hurricane Floyd pause. The day her Nova stopped running, time ended. She had been in Bangalore for a week hitting all the street markets in hopes of finding even one precious or unique door knob. In that instant, with an engine that would not turn over, she knew that an active role in society was no longer hers. Removing the key from its chain, she gave it to Bronco. Whenever he came to a point in his life that he did not desire to play an active role, he needed only go to Bangalore and he’d have a place to stay. She told him every good person had that moment when fleeing was smarter than fighting. He had taken the key from the woman without saying a thing. He drove away from her and from hurricane Bob.
Mr. Lancer plucked at Bronco’s earlobe. He was English and did not understand Love’s desire to vegetate. “Bronco, dear boy. It is late afternoon. Are you going to stare at the ocean indefinitely?” The old German Shepherd loped up at that point and growled at Lancer. Flove stroked the dog’s fur. “Now, now Lancer, it’s time you realized I’m no longer a hurricane hunter. My days of looting ended when I spent six months in a prison in South Carolina last year.” Lancer rubbed his chin with shaky fingers. He bent down to gaze into Love’s eyes. “A category 5 means no organization and little police or military presence for several days…The outlying areas are always the best. Florida is a rich land.” Lancer strolled away. He would leave Flove alone for now, plenty of time. Bronco would come around; get tired of the Nova and its wooden beads. Beach life had a way of turning a man’s heart to ill deeds.