My new work, a John LeGrand novelette entitled The Protector, starts with a hurricane located in the Gulf of Mexico. The story came about a few years ago while I was doing research on another story. I found an article about Grand Isle, Louisiana, a barrier island off the state's coast. The author of the piece called the island "The Great Protector," because it serves as the first line of defense against the ravages of hurricanes that come ashore. The article had little to do with the story I was researching, but it stayed with me. A few months later, I started work on a John LeGrand story about a mother, who wanted him to protect her and her two daughters from an abusive ex-husband, who had threatened to kill them. The Grand Isle article came to mind then, but I could not find it again. However, the idea that LeGrand needed some impediment to keep him from being able to protect the woman and her children formed. Why not a hurricane?
I have experience riding out hurricanes. The most memorable, for me, was Hurricane Audrey, which struck Louisiana on June 27, 1957, my sister's birthday. I was eight years old. My mother, my sister, and I, left our little shack and trekked across the cotton field to the Aucoins' house about a quarter mile, or so, away. My father stayed in the cotton field, trying to save as much of his crop as he could. He joined us later, once the rain started. Mrs. Aucoin and Momma made a gumbo and baked a birthday cake. We ate, sang Happy Birthday, and had a good time, until the wind started to pick up. The adults discussed what to do, and we packed into Mr. Aucoin's old car: me, my father, mother, sister, Mr. and Mrs. Aucoin and their two children, and drove to the school in Chataignier. The eye passed over us some time that evening, and my father took me outside, where there was no wind, and the sky was filled with stars. I asked him if it was over. "No," he answered. "There's lots more to come." When we finally returned to our little shack, walking through the fields in at least two feet of water, we found the Chinaberry tree in the front yard uprooted, Daddy's barn about a hundred feet out in the cotton field, and our house shifted on its foundation several inches. We were all alive and unharmed, however, and my parents were grateful for that. I wrote a poem about the experience, and I'll share it at the end of this blog.
I've gone through and survived many hurricanes since then: Carla in '61, Hilda in '64, Betsy in '65, Camille in '69, Danny in '85 (I was in college then and foolishly spent the evening in a friend's house enjoying a hurricane party.), and Bonnie in '86 are just a few. I left Louisiana in 1987, but I still feel the fear when I hear about a hurricane brewing in the Gulf.
In my story, LeGrand is hampered from doing his job by Hurricane Buster—flooding, downed trees, downed power lines, no power, and a dead cellphone. He quickly realizes that the longer he waits, the more likely he will find the people, he promised to protect, dead.
From the open doorway,
I watch the clouds gather,
the horizon blue black,
like the finish on Daddy’s shotgun.
Daddy stands among the mature
cotton plants. His dark shape
snatches the fluffy white bolls
before the wind takes them.
He stuffs them in the gaping mouth
of his cotton sack. Two more rows
to go before he can come in,
out from under the approaching clouds.
The storm roils forward,
dwarfs all I see—
the cotton field, Memere’s house
Monsieur Alcide’s barn, Daddy too.
The house groans under the pressure
of the storm. The wind
slaps the screen door open;
the blackness swallows the daylight.
I can’t see Daddy anymore.
Momma lights the kerosene lantern.
The light tunnels into the darkness—
grabs Daddy’s bent figure
and pulls him into the safety
of the house and my small arms.
Daddy wipes away my hot tears—
tells me that everything is all right.
I feel the house shutter.
I hear the storm growl
as it snaps the trees.
The fear seizes me.
Momma huddles us in the kitchen
next to the soot-blackened fireplace,
while Daddy tells us stories
about other storms that he survived.
The wind rages outside
but it does not drown out
Daddy’s weatherproof words.
It does not extinguish the lantern light.
I study Daddy’s leathery face,
half covered in dark shadows, and
I am comforted to see in it
a force equal to the raging blackness outside.