by Danielle LaVaque-Manty

Thunderclouds roll in low and dark over my cornstalk, pushing every color but slate off to the southeast.

I’m sitting here in my parents’ yard because I’ve lost a few too many things at once—a job, a husband—and I have come to stay with them indefinitely. They are surprised; asking for refuge is out of character for me.

I stare out across the bay. Between me and the shoreline, the solitary cornstalk sways, lightly green, like a grasshopper. It’s a runt, planted late, only two and a half feet tall now in September.

It’s not really mine, the cornstalk. But I’ve adopted it anyway.

To my right, the largest birdfeeder starts to creak. My mother has already taken the others inside to wait out the storm, but this one is too heavy to move. It is huge, mechanical, with a built-in defense against squirrels. A bird can perch on it to eat the seed inside, but the weight of a squirrel triggers a spinning mechanism that flings the squirrel off. I study the birdfeeder and decide that it will probably be fine, probably not fall over or come crashing through my parents’ windows.

The cornstalk, though. I don’t think it’s going to make it.

A veil of rain moves across the water. I watch the storm step ashore, let it slap my face, and then I go in. My mother sits at the kitchen table, working on a crossword. My father has a television news program on, but he is asleep on the couch.

Hail begins to crack at the windows, the universe pelting my parents’ home with marbles.

“Geez!” My mother gets up, comes out to the living room to look. She shakes her head at my father when she notices him napping there. I think of the birdfeeder swaying outside. My mother has done everything she can think of to keep squirrels from stealing her birdseed—jumping up and down and yelling, shooting them with a b-b gun, installing the spinning feeder. But she also spreads corn on the ground for them and for the raccoons and other hungry non-birds that might come by.

It makes a mess. It scatters everywhere, gets mushed into the cracks between the floorboards on the deck. One kernel even planted itself in my parents’ semi-suburban lawn. My cornstalk. It’s ridiculous, growing there in the middle of their yard.

The nice thing about my parents is, they haven’t cut it down.

Something big thuds against the roof and wakes my father up.

The hail stops, and then, slowly, the wind dies away. My father goes downstairs and outside to check on things. I stare at the floor, knowing what he will find.

When he comes back, he is holding something in his hands.

“Well,” he says, quietly. “Anyway. I saved you this.”

A tiny ear of corn, green, and very wet.

Danielle LaVaque-Manty lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and works at a research institute on the University of Michigan campus. Her work has appeared in Bold TypeZoetrope’s All-Story ExtraIn Posse Review, and Literary Potpourri.