We had some scary storms yesterday in Massachusetts. The town where my boyfriend works got hit pretty hard, and today my thoughts are with all of those in Springfield, Monson, Westfield, and other towns that were affected by the tornadoes last night. Cambridge didn’t get much more than some rain and cloudy skies, but it was kind of a nail-biter with all of the news coverage and Mike’s phone battery on the fritz. Glad to say all is well with him.
My apartment is kind of a mess these days, with roommates moving out and a new roommie moving in. Last night was spent watching the news and cleaning up for the transition. During the reorganization, I found all of my old One Story magazines that I hadn’t yet read. This morning I found one in the kitchen (not sure how it got there) titled “The Tornado Bandit” by Anne Corbitt. I thought, Maybe it’s a sign, and read it on the train this morning. I’d read it before, but it was a welcome re-read.
Corbitt’s characters are the richest part of the narrative, which says a lot since the story is rife with mystery, adventure, and CIA secret agents. The story begins with this scene: The Miltons return home from Tennessee to find their house ransacked and a dead body in their guest bathroom. The struggle didn’t originate in their home, however, having busted through two other houses before ending in theirs. This brings together three very different couples: The Miltons who have settled into a cookie cutter lifestyle; the Billings who can safely be referred to as the rednecks with big money signs in their eyes; and the Finkelsteins, the Orthodox Jewish couple from down the street. Leah Finkelstein witnessed the Tornado Bandit and his later victim struggling in her home; the experience eventually drives her mad.
But rather than a mystery these couples can figure out, the Tornado Bandit becomes something else. The Miltons, particularly Carl, realize how boring their life has become and how little they have left of it. Late night rides in the cars off the car lot where Carl works and stints at the casinos in North Carolina become a regular occurrence for the couple that’s been shocked out of their routine.
The Billings, prompted by an invitation from Oprah, want to pursue a singing career for Tanya. The Finkelsteins deal with their own, tragic kind of change. Leah Finkelstein loses her grip on reality more and more, until finally she is tranquilized and numbed to the world around her.
The story has a surreal quality to it, like the Tornado Bandit somehow stopped time for these three couples, and we are watching their actions in the interim. The story ends with time picking back up again, ironically with the slowdown of the Miltons’ lives, the disappearance of the Billings, and the silence from the Finkelsteins’ house.
There is an eerie quality to Corbitt’s writing, and also a real sense of her characters that allows their faults and dreams to mix together to create a fullness admirable in such a short story. Want to read the story? Check out One Story‘s archives or leave me a comment with your favorite characters and why, and I’ll send you my copy. I’ll pick a winner and send the copy out next week. Don’t forget to leave an email where I can reach you!