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Swept

by Frances Badgett

 

The wind raged against the windows, broke windows, tossed debris from the yard against the house, knocked a fence into the chicken coop. The wind told us who it was and what it wanted, and didn’t wait for us to be ready for it. It simply took us, one-by-one, until only the largest were left, the saved ones, their heft a mighty power, a worshipful thing. The wind came on some days and not others, came in a flash at times, quiet rolls at others, finding a crescendo that could pluck a cow from the field, a man from his yard.

The wind slid dogs from collars, cats from trees, the worst of it the children—unbearable. We watched them go like balloons, strings slipped just beyond our fingertips. Babies were born into it and lost, wars were fought about it and soldiers sucked into it like dandelion fluff, indistinguishable armies.

My mother was a giant—saved. My father was one of the first to go, clinging to a hay wagon, his shirt ripped clean first, then pants, then his bare body lifted, sprawling into the sky. Mother sank to her knees and offered herself instead, but it was too late.

I hid in a spot mother dug just for me when I was born, a burrow under the porch that she carved bit-by-bit as I grew. She dug me into my hollow where the wind couldn’t find me. No one knew where I hid. For nine years, I bedded in this hollow when we heard the wind. At the first sign, I would crash through the house, race through the fields, drop the milk pail and eggs and dive into my safe spot.

To the village, my living was a testament that some survived. I was a magic girl, wrapped in the wind’s favor, and offerings were pinned, tied, staked to our porch, little dolls I might like or ears of corn for roasting, or long, fine bolts of cloth flapping like flags, my secret hiding beneath the wooden boards that my father had nailed into place with giant iron nails, the earth my mother had moved to save me.

When it vanished, the village came from their huts and sang, gathering the debris, tree limbs, clothes of the departed. They placed these things in a pile in the center of town and burned them. I watched the flames flicker in my mother’s eyes and I knew she was thinking of him, the man she loved, stripped from us.

All summer, the wind stayed away. All summer we gathered flowers and napped under the oak trees. All summer we watched the lambs grow and chicks hatch. It was a warm summer, and we swam in our river and fed the goats raspberry canes. But once the wind found us again, summer felt distant, out of reach, like our lost ones.

This time it came for me. Unexpected, howling from the clear fall sky, it raced down on us so fast, I didn’t have time to find the burrow. As it lifted me, my hands scrabbling at the air, I tried to hold it steady, tried to stop its hands, but I was so high up, until all I could see was the peak of our roof. I reached for my sturdy, unmovable mother, but my grasp was met with only the whites of the clouds, birdsong, a moan, then nothing, and with it the scrub of all known things from my mind. Memories slid from my ears, my eyes smeared with blankness, as I, too, became the wind.

 

Frances Badgett is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Anomaly (formerly Drunken Boat), Word Riot, Matchbook, Atticus Review, JMWW, Salamander, and elsewhere. Two of her stories have made the Wigleaf 50 longlist. Her story Half Hitch has been selected for the 2019 Best of the Small Fictions from Sonder Press. She grew up in Lexington, Virginia and has a B.A. from Hollins University and an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Bellingham, Washington with her husband and daughter, and is currently working on a novel set in the Pacific Northwest. Her website is francesbadgett.com, her Twitter is @francesbadgett, and her Instagram is @FrancesBad.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Swept”?

My father had died in February. I traveled to his funeral in the early days of our current pandemic (also on my birthday. The day we returned, a windstorm arrived, knocking fences over, throwing garbage cans around, shattering glass somewhere in the darkness. I thought a lot about this storm, how everything seemed to be stripping away, all these protective norms, branches coming loose overhead, all the things we take for granted as safe that are no longer. I think of myself as both the girl blowing away and her sturdy mama trying to hold everything down, protect what she can.

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