4:3: “Virginie and the Fool”, by David J. Schwartz

4:3: “Virginie and the Fool”, by David J. Schwartz

From the first reports I had a feeling about her, and by the time she had a name it was clear that she was something special. Virginie. The talking heads all muffed it; they called her Virginia or Virgin-E. It’s Virginie. It’s French. Those last two letters are both pronounced, but subtly, with a trailing breath.

It was late in the season, but then, that’s when a lot of the really extraordinary ones show up. The pictures–that eye, looking past everything into space, disdainful. On radar, she was just a jumble of reds, oranges and yellows–but when I saw her work in the Dominican Republic, I knew I had to have her.

Meteorologists are supposed to maintain a certain level of professional detachment. Dr. Hawkins, my old mentor, said it was unhealthy to get emotionally involved with the weather. At the time I thought he said it because he was one of those people who’ve never felt passion for anything. He wore tweed and walked with a cane. He never took off his glasses, and I never saw them dirty. The others in the class didn’t understand. Emotionally involved? The ones who always need answers decided that Hawkins had been burned by one too many rainy Labor Days or Midwestern brown Christmases. I knew that wasn’t right, but I didn’t really understand, not until now.

I’m aware of my own problems. The almanac of my love life is rife with stormy women: wild, destructive cells cutting swaths through property, friendships, and a series of homes. After Alicia took a sledgehammer to my big-screen TV during the World Series, I wanted her more than ever. When Opal drove her pickup through my living room on Halloween, I got such an erection that I couldn’t see straight. And Isabel–ever since she burned down my house, the smell of smoke has been a powerful aphrodisiac.

What I’m saying is, Virginie was just my type. She was a category 4 when she hit those poor Dominicans with 140 mile-per-hour sustained winds. She skipped along the east coast, erasing entire villages, leaving hardly a tree standing. All of that wore her out some, and she veered north, skipping her predicted stop in the Bahamas and apparently heading out to sea. But after twelve leisurely hours flirting with the Gulf Stream, she steered for South Carolina, blowing 180 sustained, a category 5, the first such to hit the U.S. mainland since Camille in ’69.

I had known she was going to hit Charleston long before, thanks to the cards. Meteorology is a funny science. It’s not hard to learn the factors that influence the weather, but to predict what will actually happen–that’s hard. Most of the meteorologists I know are gamblers, and all of them practice some form of divination. Jenkins at Channel 4 studies bird flights, Harris at the Weather Channel keeps a sunset color chart by her window, and the satellite guys down at the weather service are expert well-watchers. Even Hawkins used to lock his door occasionally to roll the bones–and I’m talking about real bones.

My own dirty little secret is the Tarot. Using cards to make sense of weather might seem foolish, but in fact the Tarot reflects the chaos of the world. Besides, there’s virtue in foolishness–in Tarot, the Fool is card Zero, the orbit around which the rest of the pack revolves, the origin from which the entire deck descends. Most practitioners will tell you the Fool stands for risk, chance, the unpredictable; it might be more correct to say that it stands for potential, as in energy. So the Fool is the beginning, or rather before the beginning. It’s the black before the big bang, the intake of breath before the divine word, the calm before the perfect storm. When the Fool takes action, the world changes.

I was in Charleston, waiting, the evening Virginie arrived. I had sold the road trip to my station manager in Atlanta as a travelogue–I was going to follow her up the coast, filing human-interest stories on the way as well as the expected vital statistics. I had just wrapped an interview with the owner of the Storm Surge surfboard shop across the street from my hotel when the rain went from torrential to typhonic. I told my crew to get some dinner, and as soon as they were gone I shut off my cell phone, tossed my press badge in the gutter, and went to my room to get ready.

I showered and I shaved and I ignored the room phone. I brushed, flossed, and used a minty mouthwash. I trimmed my nails, plucked my nosehairs, cleaned out my ears. I put on a clean shirt, Dockers, and sandals, and left.

The hotel was nearly empty. The pool furniture was stacked in the lobby, and the windows were covered against the rain that was already falling sideways. The kid at the front desk gaped at my outfit and my picnic basket.

“I have a date,” I told him, and stepped out into the weather.

My shirt was soaked before I made it through the parking lot, but I wasn’t cold. I could smell her all around me. A garbage can rolled end-over-end up the beach and cracked the particleboard covering Storm Surge’s front window. My heart hammered.

I walked up the beach, away from the gapers and the spot where I was supposed to meet my crew. The surf roared up onto the beach, packing and unpacking the wet sand, dragging it out, then driving it further in. I kicked off my sandals and walked barefoot to a spot just out of reach of the flooding tide.

I lay down my red-and-white checkered blanket, lit my hurricane lamp–I thought she would appreciate the humor–and uncorked a bottle of merlot. I had bought it just for her: full-bodied, with hints of chocolate and cherries. I poured a swallow into the wind and a glass for myself, then took out my cards.

Serious Tarot practitioners make up their own decks, and there are a thousand variations. Certain details are universal, though. The Fool, for example, is always at the edge of a precipice, about to step into oblivion. I laid him down in the center of the blanket, and shuffled three times before I began turning over more cards.

A confluence of Cups and Swords. The Star. The Empress. Death. Water and Air together, Nature in action, Reality in flux. A catamaran sailed over my head and impaled itself in an upper floor of my hotel. A candleberry tree tumbled towards a power line. My ears were flushed, my heart pounding. I drained my glass and stripped to my skin, my cock swaying like a stalk of bamboo.

It had occurred to me that I might not be able to satisfy her. You always wonder. But I’ve never been one to dwell on it. You do with what you’ve got, the way I see it. She was a big girl, but I’d never had a complaint. One way or the other, this was going to be the most memorable fuck of my life.

At first she ignored me. She knocked out the hotel’s generator shed, lifted the pier off its pilings, and sent what looked like an armadillo bouncing across the beach, but she didn’t touch me. The sky was a palette of textured blacks, dark and darker, and pale as I was, I felt like a beacon in the storm. But she teased. She lashed me with stinging spray, raising welts on my flushed skin; she snatched the wine bottle and smashed it against a concrete breakwater. She plucked at the cards I had laid out, slapping me with Swords and washing Cups out to sea. Only the Fool remained, soaked through and spattered with sand.

I was in agony, but my groans were drowned out by her howls. I wanted to seize her by the shoulders and thrust myself on her, inside her. But I may as well have been blindfolded, bound, and gagged–there was nothing for me to see, nothing to touch, nothing to say.

I thought I heard her laughing, a low, metallic sound. Then I realized that it was the straining of a streetlight on the sidewalk behind me. As I watched, she snapped the pole in half and launched it, the jagged end spinning towards me amid a shower of sparks.

They say your life flashes before you when you face death, but in that moment I was cresting a wave of sexual excitement. If that pole had struck me I would have orgasmed as I died. But in the last instant before I went off, Virginie plucked me up and carried me out to sea.

If you’ve ever walked against a hard wind, you know that air can take tangible form, even if you can’t grasp it. Being borne aloft by Virginie felt like it might feel to be body-passed at a rock concert, if the hands underneath were propelling you along at two hundred miles an hour, and if every few seconds you started plummeting, never sure if there were more hands below you to break your fall. Virginie’s hands touched other parts of me as well, enough to keep me teetering on the cliff of my climax, gasping for a breath that she kept pulling out of me.

She whispered to me of things she had done and would do still–of the trailer homes she would shred, of roads ripped asunder, routines disrupted, and lives destroyed. Awareness of her own mortality was something she could not escape, and she raged against it, inflicting her mark in any way possible. She screamed and wept and moaned, clawed and scratched and kissed, and I kept tumbling through her, spinning towards her center.

When I came, I forgot Atlanta, forgot Virginie, even forgot myself for one blissful moment, a moment that felt like falling into a bottomless hole. I hardly felt the impact. It took me a few minutes to realize that my leg was broken, my neck sprained, my skin abraded and bleeding in countless places. It was calm–I had reached the eye. I lay on sand again, and it ground into my open wounds, a throbbing counterpoint to the screaming in my calf and my head.

I lay half-conscious for a while before I managed to roll over and look up the wall of the eye to the pinhole of stars above. I had landed on one of the barrier islands, on a private beach below a heap of splintered beams and shingles that used to be a home. A gentle drizzle rinsed my wounds and wet my lips.

She had withdrawn into her rage, but a question lingered on the breeze. Was I ready for more? I had not taken that final step over the cliff, not yet. I might still reject her. The possibility enraged her, but should I scorn her, she would not kill me. She would abandon me here, to be discovered if that was my fate, to survive.

That’s when I realized: Hawkins had been here. He’d passed through the tempest before. All those years ago, he’d been trying to tell me that it could happen to me, that I could get hurt. But I remembered the regret that used to cloud his face in unguarded moments, the way his voice used to break when he spoke of Atlantic Depressions. If he had the choice to make again, what would he do?

I think I know. At any rate, I have made my own decision. Already the eye is passing, and the surf becoming more agitated. The cloud wall is nearly overhead. I shut my eyes, grit my teeth and drag myself to my feet. Bones grind in my leg, and I bellow into the night.

She shrieks in response, without joy. She does not need me. She is already legend; there will never be another Virginie. But our progeny–she sings an epic of the storms that will descend from our line, of endless, incalculable devastation. Nothing can prepare the world for their coming.

Almost, I reconsider. But a tire frisbees past me on a current of air, and a photo album flops along the sand, memory crawling to the sea. My heart stutters, my cock twitches, and I am lost.

My name will not be remembered–the Fool is a little man, always forgotten, because who can tell stories of what happened before the beginning? Only I, and I will soon die my little death, in the arms of my beloved.

David J. Schwartz’s fiction has appeared in such venues as Strange Horizons, The Third Alternative, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He lives in Chicago, far from the watchful eyes of hurricanes.

Every region of the U.S. has its characteristic disasters; tornadoes in the Plains and the South, earthquakes and mudslides in the West, blizzards in the Midwest and the Northeast. From the outside, it looks like one of those destructive relationships where one person knows they’re going to get hurt, but they stick around anyway. I just took the metaphor to the extreme.

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