Last Days of Tornado Season in Topeka | Desmond Everest Fuller

The old chrome barber’s chair is cool against Donna’s calves. Scissors sigh around her shoulders as bright straw drops between the barber’s old fingers, falling quiet and heavy like snow. The floor is bright with dead gold fanned around his feet.

Outside, Topeka makes a yellow film on the window. There is the hot smell of storms come and gone.

The barber places his hand on Donna’s shoulder.

“If I take it any higher, I’m gonna catch hell from your mother.”

They regard each other in the mirror. Donna holds his gaze and makes an abrupt scything motion across her jawline.

“It’s called a pixie cut.”

A pair of old men, regulars, roost in the shop’s waiting chairs, muttering like broken fans. The day’s Topeka Capital-Journal lies folded on the counter under the mirror. Donna sees the creased story the police broke to her family the night before: the search for her brother Leon has been called-off, over a year after he would have graduated. His varsity football portrait plays like an obituary, his forearm draped over his knee-pad at the fold in the newspaper.

Air-conditioning tingles Donna’s nape. One old man wheezes something about her looking like a boy. Another says, it’s a shame about Leon; everyone was hoping for a champion. The barber’s bib is tight and scratchy against her throat, until it isn’t and he’s brushing stray hairs from her face and arms. An envelope emblazoned with a UC Berkeley crest crinkles in her pocket as she stands. She runs her fingers through the new ends of her hair as the doorbell jingles behind her. There’s a breeze following her she’s never felt before. The wind is blowing west.


People say Raven is weird because her parents are hippies. Kids say she’s dumb from the pot and the year she home-schooled; she asks all these random questions. I’ve always liked how one of her teeth hooks over her lip, and the freckles along her arms are like dots of light coming through a tent. She’s running her fingers through my short hair that still feels strange, like my head is too light.

Raven flips a cricket off her sneakered toe and sags against my shoulder.

“When someone’s sentenced 366 days, what’s the extra day for?”

We sit in the shade of the yellow-brick high school, waiting for her mom who doesn’t own a phone and always compliments my radiant aura.

Her long hair tickles my arm. “Tanner’s older brother got a year and a day for all the scripts he ripped off. The cops didn’t find Oxy, just other stuff. Tanner says they seemed disappointed.”

I blink against the sun moving below a rare cloud. “What does that matter?”

“Maybe that’s why the extra day? Y’know, for the letdown.”

I shrug against her arm. “I guess. Tanner’s in your third period?”

She nods into me. “Chemistry. We could go to his party tonight. It’s just him in that house now.”

Raven is soft skin and sandalwood perfume.

“I swiped some of mom’s acid. Way better time than cheap beer and pills.”

Sprinklers chatter over the football field. 366 days. I wonder how long would Leon serve if anyone could find him? Would he get an extra day for letting everybody down?


“How long till it kicks in?”

Donna’s voice is feathers and cinnamon gum.

Sweet Tart residue on our tongues.

Night holds us like bathwater as we float over to Tanner’s party. White light pours through a hole punched in the door. Donna goes ahead, and I can see the back of her neck where her hair is so short now.

Boys on the couch mash Xbox buttons beneath naked bulbs in the ceiling. Tanner leans against the counter in what’s left of a kitchen. My hands fluttering under his tank-top find Donna’s there next to mine, running over his skin. It feels amazing. His buzz-cut smile lolls between us, and we catch him sagging toward the linoleum. I slap him, kiss him, take Donna’s hand beneath his shirt again. But all he can do is smile shyly, laughing stoned at himself, at us. We each take an arm so he doesn’t fall down the stairs creaking beneath our chorus of feet.

Boys in the basement cool themselves on the cement floor like spokes coming off the keg, too many pills to even drink. We feel for heartbeats in the syrupy dimness, brushing away their uninspired pawing. We are the only vertical beings. We ride the slow chopped-n-screwed beats until we ascend out of the basement, and then we’re on the lawn and the warm air is wild on our bare arms.

The grass on every lawn is breathing. Every skeletal Chevy up on blocks might wake as we pass. The street lights have joined hands in a knotted string of yellow light and moth-wings. Donna takes my hand and we hear each others’ breath in our ears flushed pink.

Donna scrapes her belly crawling through my window after me. We lie down in my bed, and she cries wetly into the milk of my collar bone. She’s been carrying her letter from Berkeley around for a week. Her breath catches in my hair falling over her face.

“Raven, I’m not coming back.”

My bed expands and contracts, our breathing sinking, syncing as we thread together, and before this wears off she whispers that she’ll miss me most of all.


There’s nothing west of Topeka, not even shade, for over eight hours. Too long for someone cramping with dope sickness. Driving west, I imagine Leon hitchhiking east: Kansas City, St. Louis, Carbondale.

I watch the sunrise over amber fields from the window of a Denny’s in Colby. Leon used to go running at sunrise, then run home after football. After ACL surgery, the doctor wrote a script for Oxycontin. A year later he mostly left his room after dark. It says right on the bottle that vampiric tendencies are a common side effect.

Raven gave me a journal on our last day, so I try to write something over this cheap coffee: I was still texting Leon’s number less than a month ago. I told him how I got into Berkeley, how Mom acts like he’ll be home any minute. I called him an asshole for not being there to see me off. When my phone buzzed I about puked, but it was someone telling me the number was reassigned and to please stop texting them. Leon was my brother. He liked Cheerios with peanut butter, called me “Donnatello” and was scared of touching dryer lint. Now he’s the one thing I had no say in abandoning.

Raven wrote in the first page of this journal in her slanted script. I read it again. I can still smell her in the paper if I duck beneath the wafts of cheap eggs and sausage. I read it again.

I wish I could give you a jar of lightning bugs for a nightlight. How far west do you have to get before you feel your life falling away? Tonight you’ll dream of Dairy Queen and Westridge Lanes – remember the summer Leon and Tanner had to work off the damage they did shot-putting bowling balls? The bridge where we first smoked weed and laughed at the frogs we couldn’t see, just heard yammering on. “Is there somebody out there gonna love me tonight? Ribbit, ribbit.” You’ll dream dust so real you’ll think you turned around somewhere in Utah. You’ll imagine you smell lightning, tornadoes around every corner.

Desmond Everest Fuller studied writing at Portland State University and at The Attic Institute. He lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.