The Blessings of the Animals: A Novel - By Katrina Kittle

Chapter One

ON THE MORNING MY HUSBAND LEFT ME, HOURS BEFORE I knew he would, I looked at the bruised March sky and recognized tornado green.

I’d seen that peculiar algae shade before—anyone who grew up in Ohio had—but my intimate relationship with storms was a bit of family lore.

When I was eight, I tried to touch a tornado.

Trying to touch that tornado is my first complete memory-you-tell-as-a-story without details put in my head by somebody else. It is mine. The story makes it easy for my parents and brother to put any of my rash, reckless acts into perspective.

I recall standing at the breakfast nook window watching a tornado approach our horse farm—the last stubborn farm still standing amid new housing developments in our Dayton neighborhood—through the acres of pasture behind the house. My little brother, Davy, had followed Mom’s instructions and huddled in the basement under the mattress she’d wrenched from the guest bed, but I stayed at the window, waiting for my father to return from the barn. I watched as hail—the first I’d ever seen—pinged against the house with off-note guitar plucks and chipped the glass under my hands. “Camden!” My mother grabbed my shoulders. “Get to the basement!” When I wrestled free, she chased me through the kitchen and living room, until I ran out the front door and into the yard.

I didn’t want to go back and hide, not when something was about to happen.

I’d been waiting for this, whatever it was, ever since the sky had turned this sickly shade at the end of the school day. Friends had followed Davy and me home, as usual, our horses and hayloft a magnet, but my girlfriends wanted to “play wedding.” I hated that game and was relieved that my brother didn’t mind being the bride—he willingly donned that itchy lace prom dress Bonnie Lytle had stolen from her sister’s closet. He put an old curtain on his head for a veil and even let the girls paint his nails and rouge his cheeks and lips. My best friend, Vijay Aperjeet, and I could usually be coaxed into playing the groom and the minister, which meant we could gallop around the barn lot in bare feet and dig in the dirt until it was time to stand there with my brother-bride and repeat the vows. I remember believing the word holy in “holy matrimony” was actually hole-y, as in “full of holes,” and I swore I’d never marry for real.

On that third-grade day, though, I wouldn’t even consent to be the groom. I just sat on the fence and looked at the sky—the sky so green and heavy with anticipation—even after my mother had told everyone to hurry home and called Davy and me inside.

Something was about to happen.

Pressure throbbed in my head and bones. The leaves turned their silver backs, flashing in the icy air. Candy wrappers, papers, and leaves floated in lazy circles at chest height. The horses sweated in the fields, their movements agitated. All I knew was that something was going to happen, that it might be dangerous, and that it filled me with a lovely, dreadful sensation.

I ran right out into the pelting hail.

The wind forced me to my knees. I stretched out on my belly and wrapped my fingers in grass. That screaming wind became the only sound. I knew it could destroy me.

I knew it could, but I also knew it wouldn’t.

In my child’s mind, this approaching tornado was a living, violent creature, just like my father’s enormous, hotheaded stallion. Stormwatch was the horse that had carried my father to three of his four Olympic gold medals. My brother and I were told to stay away from that horse, even though we played around the legs and hooves of all the other horses on the farm. I believed that both the tornado and the stallion knew I was drawn to them.

Stormwatch would snort and rear, his hooves pounding the ground around the delicate bones of my bare feet . . . and never touch me. His teeth could’ve ripped the face from my skull, but he just gnashed and snapped, closing on air. I didn’t cringe or cry. I was reverent. He liked it, that stallion. He looked at me, the way this tornado did, and something passed between us.

Stretched out in the mud, I let go of the grass with one hand and reached out toward the moving wall of air.

That tornado laid waste to our town. It crumpled homes