We ate at Harriet’s that night. Mrs. Eastbrook cooked out on their charcoal grill, for there was still no electricity on the street. As we ate, she explained what she had seen.
“I was watching out our window,” he said, “and I saw you run inside with Harriet. I knew the safest thing to do would be to go to the basement. But then I heard a change in the wind, so I looked out.”
“And?” my father asked.
“The funnel was going back up into its cloud,” she said . “It was a miracle. But just then,” she added, “just when it got over your house, it started to touch down again. Shingles and siding were soaring everywhere … books were flying like birds—the pages were literally flapping like wings! It was like they were flying away somewhere. Then I saw the entire top of your house rise up into the cloud and disappear. I watched your couch whirl right up out of your house and spin its way over onto our roof. It was amazing. Truly amazing.
“And then,” said her mother, “the cloud seemed to pull the funnel up into it— almost like someone was up there, reeling it in.” She paused to think about that. “And then it was all over.” She put her arm around Harriet. “I was sure you were all dead,” she said, her voice breaking. “I was sure I’d lost my Harriet. Lost you all.”
Harriet and I were up in her room, spread out on the floor, our ears to the heat register, listening to the adults talking down in the living room. Their words came to us, broadcast through the ductwork as clearly as if we were listening to a radio. We had done it many times before.
“I’m so glad no one was hurt,” we heard Harriet’s mother say. “Without Harriet, I don’t know what I would do.” She sounded near tears. We heard my father moving across the room.
“It was the most frightening moment of my life,” Father said. “And all I could think was that I was not going to get to see Vickie grow up.”
There were no sounds for a few moments. And Harriet and I just looked at each other.
Harriet then whispered to me, “Do you think they’re … you know …?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. Then I tried to sound like a radio announcer: “Stay tuned to this station,” I declared. “Up next … kissing sounds!”
And then we were both giggling so hard we had to move away from the register so our parents wouldn’t hear us.
When we recovered, we went back to listen some more.
“… and you won’t think I’m crazy?” we heard Mrs. Eastbrook ask.
“I could never think you’re crazy,” my father said softly. “Not now, not ever.”
I could not look at Harriet, for I knew if I did, I would erupt in laughter and give away our secret listening post.
“So what did you see?” Father asked.
“The more I think about it,” said Harriet’s mother, “the less sure I am that it really happened. I mean, it couldn’t happen, could it?”
“How would I know?” Father laughed. “I don’t know what it is yet!”
“Okay, Henry. But promise you won’t doubt me … won’t … laugh at me.”
“Never, Elizabeth. Never would I laugh at you.”
“Okay.” We could hear her take a deep breath. “Moments after you all ran in the house, I was just about to go to the cellar when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.” There was a silence.
“Well, what did you see?” asked Father.
“It was Aunt Claire,” she said. “I saw Aunt Claire.”
“Oh, no,” said Father. “She wasn’t hurt, was she?”
“That’s hard to say,” said Mrs. Eastbrook. “I saw her … rise up, right out of your chimney.”
“Out of the chimney?”
“Yes, she had her arms stretched high over her head, as if she were reaching for something. And then she began turning, slowly, slowly, around and around, as she rose into the funnel cloud.”
“Oh, poor Aunt Claire,” said Father sadly.
“Henry,” said Mrs. Eastbrook in a firm whisper. “Listen. She was rising much more slowly than she would if the funnel were, you know, taking her. It was if she wanted to go up into the cloud. I know this sounds crazy, but she seemed, almost, to be flying into the cloud.”
There was more silence while Harriet and I looked at each other in shock.
“But that’s not the worst part,” Mrs. Eastbrook went on.
“No. As she rose, her black dress flew up—and then over her head … and away.”
“And Henry …?”
“Aunt Claire had no body, Henry. She was a skeleton. It was just a skeleton that rose into that cloud. And as she vanished from sight, I could hear her scream. Only, it wasn’t a scream of pain. It was a scream of joy, Henry. A scream of pure joy.”