The Paris Review

On Warnings

Still from Belly (1998)

It is hard to say when I stopped noticing the sirens. They’re still there, piercing the otherwise normal Wednesday-afternoon noise. But I haven’t noticed them for at least fifteen years. In the central Ohio area, a test of the state’s tornado-siren system takes place every Wednesday at noon. I would describe the sound for you, but even now I can barely remember it. I recall it beginning as a low whistle that bends into a loud howl, but the sound feels distant to me now. It’s indistinguishable from all the other ways this city rumbles its way toward productivity.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I assumed the siren tests happened everywhere. Twice a month, at noon, when the howling began to announce itself, all of us kids spilled into the hallway, and sat on our knees facing the wall. We’d lock one of our hands into the other, put them behind our heads, and curl ourselves downward. It was practice for the actual tornado, which we were told might come at any moment. It might come while we were in our classrooms learning whatever it is elementary school kids learned in the nineties (yet another thing I don’t recall). I never knew this was something exclusive to my school, or schools in my area. I imagined an entire chain of balled-up bodies, trembling against walls in school hallways across the country.

Once I hit my

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review12 min read
What Thom Gunn Thought of Oliver Sacks
Thom Gunn, left, in 1960 at Hampstead-White Stone Pond. Oliver Sacks, right, with his beloved BMW motorbike at Muscle Beach. Courtesy of the Oliver Sacks Foundation. Photo taken from Sacks’s memoir On the Move. Back in the early eighties, when I firs
The Paris Review13 min read
Dislocated Realities: A Conversation between Helen Phillips and Laura Van Den Berg
Helen Phillips (left) and Laura Van Den berg (right) When an early copy of Helen Phillips’s new novel, The Need, turned up at my apartment, I had not read a book in two months. I had been unable to read, in fact. My father had died recently and each
The Paris Review7 min read
Rumple. Stilt. And Skin.
Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood. “I hope you’re not afraid of mice,” my friend Amy says. I am in her car. She clicks open the glove box and a soft shock of fur and paper and string is gently exhaled