Excerpt - “For Those Who Favor Fire” - Winner of the CWA Book of the Year Award for Indie Fiction

By Gary D. Wilson



           He watches her watch TV with her singular intensity. Studies her, as though memorizing her looks against a time when she might not be here.  The tilt of her head, darkening circles under her eyes, lines from her nose to the corner of her mouth, cheeks that sag more with each passing year.  Hair brown, temple grey swept behind her ears and held with tortoise-shell combs that leave furrows where the teeth bite in.  Green blouse with short sleeves and little red flowers that have black centers to match her black slacks and the black stripe on her white canvas shoes.  Coordinated, together, ready to go.

            Some people get religion.  Millie got weather.  Eighteen years ago they lost everything they had in a flood.  Four years ago the same thing happened with Hurricane Betsy.  She vowed then never to be caught flat‑footed again, and highs and lows, degree days, wind chill factors, frontal lines, radar images, rainfall records and such began to take on far more significance than mere figures on a screen would suggest.  They became instead vital statistics, true matters of life and death to be noted, analyzed and acted upon accordingly.

             As she's doing now, listening to the latest Lightning Bob Burk AcuWeather Update.  A two by three feet piece of Masonite covers her lap.  It has a map glued to it, a big one showing all of the Gulf of Mexico and the southern coast of the United States.  A sheet of clear plastic has been taped over the top of it to keep it clean while she tracks storms, each in its own color—a series of red or blue or green circles with lines connecting them from start to finish, erasable at the end of the season.  Camille is in black, a sinister parabola that cuts across the western tip of Cuba, turns and heads north.  She's followed the storm from the very beginning, before it even had a name, when it was nothing more than a tropical disturbance, a mere depression, but one she nevertheless thought was worth keeping an eye on.  And to hear it being described now—two hundred mile an hour winds, barometric pressure so low it's nearly off the scale, potentially the most dangerous storm of the season—seems to have filled her with an almost parental pride, as if Camille were her child, wild and unruly though she is, someone she alone understands well enough to predict the outcome of.

            At least better than the National Hurricane Forecasting Center which still says Camille will follow the normal pattern, making landfall somewhere along the Florida Panhandle.  She says they're full of it.  She says the storm has a mind of its own and is heading straight for New Orleans.  And when it hits, she says it'll make Betsy seem like a picnic.

            "If you don't believe me, look for yourself," she calls out, even though he's no more than fifteen feet away in the kitchen where he's mixing the latest in a series of last drinks, stirring finger hanging limp over the rim of his glass.  "There she is, not a single thing to stop her now from landing right smack dab on top of us, just like I said.  I'm telling you, Sam, there's going to be at least five feet of water in here—maybe even ten.  Could be that way over the whole city, as far as that's concerned.  One tidal surge, one broken levee, that's all it would take, because there's no place for it to go.  We're practically floating as it is, you know.  It's the truth!  Why else do you think they bury people on top of the ground here instead of underneath it like they're supposed to?"             

A rhetorical question.  As usual.  She's on a roll, working up a real head of steam, and anything he might say about high water tables and their effect on local burial customs would definitely not be appreciated.  You start thinking about one thing, after all, and it'll just lead to another and another.  And who knows where you might end up then?  Stuck somewhere not able to make a decision about anything, even when you have to.  Even when it could mean the difference between dying and not.  Like now.

            She leans toward the TV, eyes wide, mouth open, like a woman gone blind or mad or both.  She's never seemed so strange to him before, so ugly, and the thought of having to go anywhere, do anything with her fills him with dread.  Especially getting into a car piled full of bags of this and that the way they have every summer since Betsy and driving and driving along with everyone else, as if they've all left at the same time on an ill‑planned vacation, forming a single unbroken line of lights outbound on Chef Menteur Highway, around the end of Lake Ponchartrain to points north.  Like snakes swimming in droves out of the marshes whenever the water starts rising, up the canal, inland toward higher ground.  Instinct.  The urge to flee.  The thrill of the chase.  Of being chased.  All of them seemingly stopping at the same filling stations and motels, OUT OF GAS/NO VACANCY signs popping up everywhere.  Sleeping finally at a roadside park in northern Mississippi or Alabama, maybe even Tennessee, depending, and the next day limping back home, exhausted, the storm having by then been downgraded to a disturbance that did  nothing more than spawn a few thunderstorms.

            He has to look away.  Wishes he could walk away.  Takes a long drink instead.

"The way I figure it," she says,  "We'll need to leave no later than tomorrow morning.  Sooner if we want to be really safe and get a jump on the crowd.  You remember how it was last year. So let's see, you get the suitcases from closet while I—

"I'm not going anywhere," he says, a bit shocked at hearing the words aloud, as if a thought had slipped through before he could stop it.  He's never opposed her before.  At least not about the weather.  Money and the weather.

            She frowns, finger to her lips, head quivering slightly.  "I'm sorry, I—"

            "I'm staying here."    

             "Are you drunk?"

             "Not in the least."

             "That's how you sound."


            "You have had quite a few, even though I haven't been counting."

            "Well I'm still not drunk."

             "Okay, what is it then?  What's wrong?"

            "Nothing's wrong, Millie.  Maybe I just don't see the reason for all the excitement.  Maybe I think for about the tenth time you've blown the whole thing out of proportion and I'm tired of it and I'm not going anywhere."

            "I see."  A nervous little smile.  "I'm just making this up?  Is that the idea?  As a way to torment you, make you more miserable than you already are?  Good god, Sam, what's gotten into you?  We're not talking about your run of the mill storm here.  This one's a real killer.  Everybody's saying so."

            "Right.  And they're also saying it's not going to hit anywhere near here."

            "So?  They have been known to be wrong once or twice, you know."

            "And you haven't been?"

            "Of course I have.  I'm not saying that at all.   But I've always thought it's better to be safe than sorry.  And so have you."

            "I have?  How do you know that?"

            "Sam, what on earth—"

            "Did you ever ask me what I thought?"

            "Some things don't need asking, do they?"

            "Like what, Millie?  Like whether you prefer apples to oranges?  Whether you want your eggs sunny side up or turned over easy?"

            "No," she says.  "More like whether you want to live or die.  Whether you still—"

            "Still what?"

            She shakes her head, tears in her eyes.

            "Love you?" he says.  "Love you enough?  Something like that?"


            She waits.

            He says nothing.

            The sound of doors and drawers slamming in the bedroom eventually stops and he watches her lug two Pullman suitcases out and set them by the front door.  She goes back for a card­board box filled with books and pictures, a small metal file containing their personal papers, a pillowcase bulging with sheets and towels.  She then unfolds a second, larger pillowcase and drags it around the kitchen and living room, taking whatever seems to catch her eye—a brass horse with a clock in its stom­ach, a framed needle‑point, their good silverware, a favorite teacup.  With a final, impatient sweep of her arm, she clears the shelf behind the couch, keepsakes clanking and crashing all around her, and hefts the bag over to the door where she stands beside her goods, as haggard and forlorn‑looking as a refugee waiting for a train.

            "I can't force you, Sam.  I'm not big enough.  And I don't have time to get you declared insane.  But believe me, I thought about it, because you are crazy.  You'd be a whole lot better off, you know, taking a gun and putting it to your head right now.  At least then we'd know what was going to happen.  At least then—  Please, Sam?  I'm begging you.  I'll get down on my knees if it'll help.  But please come with me.  I am your wife, remember.  We've been married thirty‑one years.  That should count for something, I would think."  She stiffens, glances away.  "But whether it does or not is up to you.  I'm going no matter what you decide.  Right after I put these things in the car, I'm going."

            Doors bang, the trunk lid whumps.  There is a strange quiet between rushes of traffic on the highway, the night air heavy, full of smells—mud and salt and fish—full of presence, as palpable as warm dough, mosquitoes clinging like a second screen to the window.

            Finished, she pauses, pale and trembling, in the doorway. "Well?"

            He turns to look out the window above the sink.  Is that it?  That all?  Well?  What'd he expect?  Hysteria?  Screaming, crying, yelling?  Being pounded on the chest, kicked in the shins?  Cursed at?  Called a rotten bastard?  A dirty two-timing son of a bitch who never thinks about anything but himself and his goddamn job?  Oh he could do a good one for her.  Pull out all the stops.  Give him enough to think about for the rest of his life, which according to her isn't going to be very long anyway.

            But maybe she doesn't care that much anymore either.  He never thought about that.  Maybe well is the best she can do.  Except she did beg him to go, didn't she?  Actually say she would get down on her knees?  But that could have just been out of loyalty or something.  Although he would like to know or at least ask now that his curiosity has been aroused.


            The starter screeches.  The engines roars through the open door.

            He runs toward it, headlights flashing across him as she backs out of the parking pad onto the driveway.


            A squeak of tires on pavement and she's gone.