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the vacant lot

The spout drifted here and there for a while – well offshore. There was no sound. The sky and the ocean were a contrast of greys and the air held billows of warmth, currents of colder air.

Two boys sat beneath a pandanus palm on the headland watching the spout gain a thickness as it sucked up the thousands of litres of cold seawater, as it gathered up a great white racing furrow upon the surface of the sea and slowly turned towards the long miles of open beach.

Mrs. Graham, the widow, turned from her front window and locked it. The last one. The air in her old home already stale. She had been watching the sky and knew that the sea threatened. Something. Eighty-five years in the same house, her husband taken by the Ballina bar in 1956.

The old home standing amongst so many new buildings, all of them pressed up hard against their boundaries – pressed up against her old fences and the gardens they contained. Her roses, petunias and the great frangipani shadowing the lawn. Where the children once played under its deep shade. So many summers gone.

One hundred metres from the dunes, the sea an oily calm, a turbulent sky. A darkness to the east.

The two boys were the first to hear the roar, the hissing growl of upward rushing water as the massive spout rushed at the beach. They sat with their arms wrapped around their knees and watched the black funnel as it devoured the ocean’s surface. Houses in its path.

Somebody screamed, and a sudden violence overtook the village.

The great wind battered through four streets and it scoured the earth there of everything built and grown upon it – tossed it all up into the sky where it all whipped about, and hung in the air. All things. Living things. Whole buildings. Wholly dismembered.

The funnel-wind shrieked as it pulled the widow from her collapsing home and tossed her up. Flailing up through the tin sheets and tree branches, a neighbour’s plastic garden chair, all the leaves from all the trees. Born away.

There was no insurance, she left no will – and after a while the local council cleared away what little was left on her land. There wasn’t much. The wind had taken it all.

Only the petunias returned.

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