Tropical Country

Travis Dahlke

My aunt’s birthday dinner at the Rainforest Café was abandoned halfway through because of the hurricane. The hurricane, which they had named Cassidy, shifted paths, rebuilding its strength and bursting a gas main beneath the mall. Our dress clothes held the scent of chlorinated downpours, fries and blackened Cajun tilapia. My aunt had brought a glass of chardonnay for the car ride. She sat next to me in the back seat where she closed her eyes and said, ‘Every dream I’ve ever had took place in my childhood house.’ Together we watched the city outside blur into a long green wall. As my aunt drifted off, I saw my mom turn toward my dad and whisper that her sister often forgets their family never had a house.

There was a guy in our barn when we pulled in the driveway. He’d built a nest with blankets and rubber mats. The barn was where my mother taught yoga to help postpartum women in their healing journey. The previous owners used it for rescue horses. In their prime, the horses had all been champion thoroughbreds. It was my dad’s job to make the guy leave. I saw my dad hand him cash while the storm’s wind exposed the pale of their scalps. They both said their secret things before the guy disappeared into the forest. My aunt wept at all the green, saying she’d never leave the city again. She told me never to throw away the gift card given to us by the Rainforest Café hostess or the clothes we had worn to dinner. My aunt called these things artifacts. As the storm built, I watched her wait alone by the end of our driveway until a taxi came to collect her. I saw how gnats from far away craved the thunder. How they settled for the vinyl green of palms that came dripping down from the ceiling. The hurricane swept through, leaving its guts in every flowerpot, gutter, bucket, and swimming pool. Moisture departed the ground as one humid spirit. Other than that, there were no nightmares.


Travis Dahlke is the author of Milkshake (Long Day Press). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, HAD, Juked, X-R-A-Y, and The Longleaf Review, among other journals and collections. Find him at