Getting Sorted -3- Storms and Queries

Getting Sorted

by Erin Halfelven

3. Storms and Queries

He woke up slowly, the room still dark. A grayish rectangle of one high-up window provided the only light, what little filtered through from the old-style incandescent atop the parking lot light pole outside.

He heard rain pattering against the roof and walls of the cabin. Something about the sound made the room and the bed feel cozy and comfortable, inside, out of the storm.

They lay in a tangle of limbs in the very middle of the motel bed, blankets and duvet piled atop them. He wondered if he could get out of bed without waking her.


He turned his head and looked at her face. Even in the dim room he could make out the snub nose, the cupid's bow mouth with the teeth just showing in a tiny overbite, the dusting of freckles across the cheeks and nose--a face he knew so well. It did look different, now, especially with blonde hair.

He assumed her hair was blonde, difficult to tell in the dark but he knew that red hair looks black in dimness.

"I'm still dreaming," he decided and tried to go back to sleep.


In the early morning hours before dawn, the entire Mid-South region, from Huntsville to Topeka, from Amarillo to Louisville, fell under a cloud, a bunchy, gray, rain cloud. In the Upper Delta, it drizzled. In the Tennessee Valley, it stormed. In Oklahoma, late spring hail and tornado watches closed the Okay City airport.

Somewhere west of Fort Smith, Ned Sweet's single engine high-wing Cessna trundled into the variable wind, bound for a near dawn landing at Okay City.

"Sumbitch," said Ned. He keyed the mike back on, "Say again, Tower?"

"Will Rogers Airport is closed. Repeat, OKC is closed due to thunder and hail. Small craft are directed to land in Goldsby, 1K4, David Jay Perry Airport. That's south of Norman, east of I-35. Do you need navigational aids?"

"Nah, I copy." Ned released the key and cursed again. He regretted not having waited for his father's corporate jet instead of taking his private four-seater puddle-jumper. "Damnitohell." He turned to his cousin and co-pilot, Hamilton Henry Sweet. "Hank, get the boys on the cell and tell them to meet us at the airport in Norman."

Fifteen minutes later the regional tower redirected Ned's plane again, this time to Paul's Valley Municipal, then to Crazy Horse before Ned had finished logging the second change.

"This is crazy," muttered Ned. The lights of Oklahoma City had disappeared behind them, wet blurs in the night. Ahead lay only the ribbon of light made by the Interstate and the scattered small towns along the Dallas corridor through southern Oklahoma. Visibility had improved but remained inconsistent. Off to the southwest, another storm seemed ready to cycle towards him.

In twenty more minutes, he'd been redirected again, to Ardmore, then passed out of Okay City's airspace to Dallas sectional who directed him to land at the McGehee Catfish Restaurant Airstrip.

"Tower, say again?" he asked.

"That's the McGehee Catfish Restaurant Airstrip, T40, south of Ardmore, west of I-35, on the Red River. Do you need navigational aid?" the Dallas tower drawled.

"Nah, I know where it is," Ned keyed. "Sumbitch," he said to Hank. "Did you know Catfish Sue had an airstrip behind her place? It's a tiny ol' thing with a grass runway and fucken pee-can trees along both sides, a pure joy to land at in a storm."

"Wal, I swan," said Hank. "You want me to tell the boys to meet us there?"

"Yeah," agreed Ned. He thought a moment. "Leastways, we'll eat good, if we stay till Sue opens. She don't usually serve breakfast."

After Hank took care of the cellphone call to the Sweet corporate cars chasing them through the night, he commented. "Seems like this storm's a-chasin' us, don't it?"


She woke up, the weight of his leg had shifted and a sudden pressure penetrated her drowsy consciousness with a primitive urgency. She pushed at his arm where it lay, trapping her head in his armpit. She couldn't move it at all.

"Gotta pee," she whimpered. "Lemme up!"

He moved just enough that she could scramble out from under and stagger toward the bathroom. The small rectangle of the high window gave very little light but enough that she could find the right door.

Sleepy-eyed he watched her. "You awake?" he asked.

"I think so," she replied. Then, "No, I'm still dreaming." Tinkling sounds came from the bathroom. "I'm still dreaming I'm you."

He lifted his head and cradled it in his palm, looking down his own long muscular body toward her blonde head he could just see in the dimness through the open bathroom door.

The light went on and he smiled at the flash of thigh he saw before she pushed the door more fully closed.

"This paper has wood in it," she complained. A small yelp, then a long pause before the flushing but still she didn't emerge.

"What if you're not dreaming?" he asked. "What if this is real?"

"Poo," she said. "It can't be real."

"Tell me," he said, "do you ever remember before, actually going to the bathroom in a dream and hearing the noise of the piss hitting the toilet?"

"Uh," she said.


Jersalam Handshaw woke on the daybed in the motel office cabin. He liked the sound of rain against the wall behind his head, that hadn't awakened him. He always woke up at about five a.m. It wouldn't be light for another two hours, with the storm, maybe even longer.

He'd had the midnight shift so his brother, Fayreuth, had slept in the bedroom of the manager's cabin they shared, number one. They had tried sleeping in the same bed, but that hadn't worked since they were kids--Fay talked in his sleep and Jerry snored.

Yawning, he got up and put the pot on the little hot plate to make water for tea. He used the bathroom for its usual purposes and came out wearing fresh underclothes, socks and shirt and the same overalls he had worn yesterday. He had three pair which he washed on Sunday afternoons while wearing his one suit.

Fay wandered out of the bathroom, mumbled a good morning, then took his turn in the bathroom while Jerry put out cups and poured cereal into bowls. Shredded wheat this morning, he decided, with cut up bananas on top.

Meddina, the Handshaw sister, had a room above the general store across the highway and always picked up a few things on her way over. She would be arriving soon with milk and three morning papers; the Jonesboro Sun, the Memphis Press, and the local East Arkansas News-Leader.

They would each take turns reading interesting articles aloud over breakfast while passing the papers back and forth among them so that they all got to read every one of the funnies. Jerry looked forward to the morning ritual inaugurated by old Cenatcherub Handshaw when the twins were still in diapers and Meddina had just learned to read.

The names and sources of the papers sometimes changed, and on Fridays the weekly Sortie Forth got added to the pile, but the stability of the tradition pleased all of them.

Meddina entered the front door with a pink-and-gray umbrella held above her head and the milk and newspapers in her mail carrier satchel just as Fay came out of the bedroom dressed in his overalls and tying a bowtie. Fay took the umbrella, shook the water out of it onto the mat and hung it on a hook by the door with two others, Jerry's olive-and-teal, and Fay's own black.

They murmured good mornings at each other and Meddina stood on the mat a moment longer, letting her wool serge uniform drip. A handsome woman in her sixties, she made the most of the Handshaw family features. The round but somehow bony faces of her brothers translated to an elegant oval on her. Their lank, no-color hair became a rich ash brown touched with white at the temples and their pale gray eyes turned to jade with silver flecks.

Fay and Jerry looked tall because they were skinny but they actually stood several inches less than six foot. Meddina's slender form also gave the impression of height, but on her it lent dignity rather than rustic clownishness.

Maybe the mail carrier's uniform helped.

Meddina walked around the guest counter into the cabin proper, swung the heavy leather satchel onto the tiny dinette table and began taking out the bottles of milk and rolled up newspapers she had fetched from Hosie's Sortie General Store and Post Office.

The store opened at five a.m. in the spring and fall to sell worms to fishermen, even earlier in the summer and winter when hunters made the woods around Sortie dangerous to anyone who looked anything like a bird, deer or varmint.

Fay pulled the chair out for his sister and she sat down. "You've got someone in number five," she said, not asking.

Jerry nodded, flashing his grin. "Couple of city folk traveling from Memphis."

"How do you know they's from Memphis?"

"Fay said."

Fay nodded and the brothers sat down, too. They passed a bottle of milk around, which they each in turn poured into big bowls of cereal and added to their cups of tea. Jerry reached behind him to put the two full and one nearly empty milk bottles into the small refrigerator while Meddina distributed the newspapers.

Being the family intellectual, Jerry took the college town Jonesboro Sun first; Meddina liked to keep up on local affairs and kept the News-Leader for herself leaving the Memphis Press for Fay which he sniffed of before opening.

"How do you know they came from Memphis?" Meddina asked.

"Smelled it on them, or him," said Fay. He rattled the paper. "He smelled just like this here newspaper. They had Memphis mud on their car, too. Fancy car."

"It's going to rain all day," Meddina mentioned.

The twin brothers nodded.

"Going to rain like Noah's raising daisies," said Jerry.

"Why did you put them in number five?" Meddina asked.

"They needed sorting out," said Fay.

Jerry smiled. "Are you certain?"

The other two winced because in the Crowley's Ridge dialect "sorting" and "certain" are both pronounced "sartin", more or less.


In the bathroom, she stared at her reflection in the three-quarter-length mirror on the back of the door, a small, slender woman, almost a girl, with lots of blonde hair. She put a hand under one breast and lifted it; they did seem a bit large.

Outside, the rain whipped and beat against the cabin walls. A late spring chill rolled off the tiny frosted glass window in the bathroom but she felt safe, warm, and calm despite what seemed to have happened and a fluttery, excited kind of wobble in her very middle.

"I am still dreaming," she whispered. She rubbed her hands down her sides to the swell of her hips, across her rounded little tummy, then up to her breasts, her face and through her hair. "It feels real, but I know I'm still dreaming," she said.

His voice came through the door, "If you're in there feeling yourself up, I get to fucken watch," he said. "It's my body, you know."

She rolled her eyes and smiled. "I'm so pretty," she said. She seized a sudden impulse, opened the bathroom door and strutted toward the bed with the light behind her.

He lay still, watching her, his eyes and mouth smiling. She wondered if he had a hard-on, if he were dreaming that he had a hard-on. Or was it that she was dreaming he had a hard-on?

Or was it that he was dreaming that he was she, dreaming that she was he and getting a hard-on dreaming he was watching her? She felt a bit dizzy and very, very sexy. She stopped in front of the bed and smiled back at him.

"Wow," he said.


"T40 traffic, this is the blue Cessna over the Red River. I want to land on Runway Three Five," said Ned after keying the mike.

The radio squawked back. "This is T40 ground. Not a good idea, Cessna. You'd be landing on a downhill slope, about four degrees, partner. Plus which you'd hit a gravelated crossroad just about the time you got her wheels on the grass. Better take One Seven."

"Negative, ground," said Ned. "We'd have a tailwind landing One Seven."

Hank peered out the side window toward the little runway between the dirt road and the river. The restaurant sat just off centerline at one end and a grove of pecan trees lined both sides of the other end. Landing One Seven would be heading toward the trees.

"...crosswind...," squawked the radio.

"T40, say again," said Ned.

"I said, you're gonna have a crosswind no matter which way you fly. This storm is whipping 'round the compass like they got a sale on windsocks at Nordstorm's."

"Maybe we should go on toward Denton," suggested Hank. "They got a real tower there and more than one runway."

"Fuck Denton," said Ned, forgetting that he had keyed the mike open again.

"Cessna, say again?" said the voice on the radio.

"I said," Ned hesitated then continued. "I said, I'm going to land Runway Three Five."

"Getting between them trees coming down in this weather would scare the tits off me," said T40 ground. "You got an overwing and visibility, I reckon you know whether you can do it."

"T40, is that you, Sue?" asked Ned.


"I get this down and tie her to them trees, she don't blow away to Texas, you can rustle us up some breakfast?"

"Kitchen don't open till noon, Cessna. It ain't six a.m. yet."

"I got five guys coming in two cars, plus me and Hank here. That's seven. I'll pay five hundred dollars for breakfast for all of us. Cash money."

"Eggs, taters, hush puppies and catfish, with coffee, okay?"

"Yup," said Ned, satisfied. "Landing Three Five, approach beginning."

"Keep your nosewheel down, Cessna," warned Sue. "You hit that gravelated hardpan five seconds after touchdown, you're going to wish you had shocks instead of springs on that monkey."

"Copy," said Ned, beginning his approach checklist.


"We have to be dreaming," she insisted. "I mean, we...." She trailed off realizing that shared dreams weren't much less odd than what seemed to have happened. "I mean, I must be dreaming."

She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the comforter around her, for warmth and maybe modesty since she realized she was naked. What had happened to the orangey nightgown? Had she been wearing it? What had happened to her confidence?

She'd left the light in the bathroom on and he watched her through his eyelashes, his eyes half-closed. "You often dream of being a cute little blonde with a button nose and big tits?" he asked.

She shook her head and blushed, though she wasn't sure why.

He laughed. "You looked in the mirror?"

She didn't answer but pulled the quilted bedcover higher up on her shoulders.

"This isn't a dream," he repeated. "Listen, hear the rain?" Outside, it seemed as if some moronic giant had emptied a bootful of water on the little cabin while trying to read the instructions on the heel. "Listen carefully, there's the roar that sounds like it ain't going to stop and then under it you can hear a little dribble, like we've got a leak somewhere."

Her expression went blank while she tried to concentrate on the sound.

He pointed. Near the window, on the ceiling, drops gathered and fell to splash on the top of the highboy chest of drawers, one big fat juicy drop every ten or twelve seconds.

"I could dream something like that," she said.

He pushed himself up to a sitting position beside her. She glanced at his lap, he was naked and obviously male and more than semi-aroused.

"Take a deep breath," he urged. "Smell the mildew in this old place? And something like old cleaner, piney and sharp."

She closed her eyes and sniffed. "Uh-huh?"

"Why dream about something like that? It's too real. This isn't like when we were dreaming about going to school and playing on the swing set. Colors kept changing then, we even grew and changed. Nothing's changing now. Those drops still are hitting five or six a minute, not one or two or ten or twenty. It still smells like mildew and Pine-Sol, not chocolate frosted cupcakes and Beernuts."

"Beernuts," she said.

He grinned and put an arm around her. "I'm you and you're me. We're not dreaming." He shook his head. "It's weird but we're not dreaming."

"I feel sick," she said, not sure if she liked having his arm around her just then.

"Sick-sick, or just kind of blehh?"


"That's interesting," he said.

"Not so much from over here. Don't get in my way if I run for the toilet, I think I may throw up."


They didn't say anything for a while. She didn't know what he might be thinking but for her part she felt both queasy and hungry and struggled not to think of food. Especially not greasy breakfast food, like eggs and sausage and gravy. Just the thought made her want to urp.

"I do have to piss," he said. "Sorry." He stood and walked into the dim light of the bathroom, naked, tall, muscular, very male, his red hair suddenly gleaming as the light hit it. His dick stood out in front of him, leading the way.

She forgot about food for a moment, then discovered a need to distract herself from watching him.

"Hey," he said. "Getting it to point down is sort of...oh, wait, let me lift the lid." He did so then stood there, casually pissing into the bowl. "This is kind of fun."

She looked away toward the drip in the corner but that didn't really help her forget what he was doing. "How come I'm a blonde then if we're not dreaming, and you're a redhead?" She asked. "Did we swap bodies or did we keep our bodies and morph into each other?"

""That's a really interesting question," he said.


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