by Christian Linville
It had been brewing for two days. Some news channels had warned about it, and others just mentioned a light sprinkling. But off the shoreline, out toward the water, you could see it coming for yourself if you looked hard enough—the clouds dark and the lighting flashing. When it did come and the rain held steady over Charleston like a sheet, Miss Sarah Murphy sat rocking on her porch. On the second day, the waters covered the streets and swallowed cars and pushed their way into homes. Sarah was forced upstairs as her first floor disappeared under water. She sat at a window and watched neighbors begin to flee. Days later when the rain had stopped and the waters receded back to the porch level, she pulled her one good rocking chair onto the veranda, where she rocked forward and backward over the swollen and muddied wood, nodding her head at each family passing in a car and every person slogging through the shin-deep water. Shortly after, the ones who tried to hold out began leaving in the boats that the Red Cross sent in. Sarah didn’t move but for her rhythmic rocking. She watched her neighborhood turn into empty flooded quietness until eventually nothing remained but the rattle of locusts and the distant whine of those motorboats.
Two days after the water had settled, one of the boats came puttering around the street, pushing aside muddy water into tiny white foam beads. And the people riding stared as the motor hummed them along, Sarah staring back at them from her porch. One of them—a boy—waved lowly, like he was sorry for her, as he was carried away down the flooded street. The boat paid no mind to the stop sign and grew small in the distance till all Sarah heard was their motor engine receding toward the Red Cross base. And Sarah kept on rocking on her porch, forward and backward, fanning herself with her paid mortgage papers she managed to collect from inside a dresser before the water came into her house.
It was hot that day. The June sun cast silvery reflections upon the brown water. Sarah sniffed the air deep, spreading wide her round nostrils. The air was still wet, smelling like a good rain, but the sun shone brightly. That made Sarah chuckle, but the laugh died in her throat as she thought of all the homes on the block slowly molding inside out with black and green fungus growths. And all the mosquitoes buzzing in orgies above the stagnant water.
No one remained but for Sarah. She had heard that the Red Cross was going around on a small motorboat with a can of black spray paint, writing DESERTED on the front of houses. The thought made her stomach hurt. How can a person you don’t know bar you from your own home and do it for your own good? “They’re kicking them out officially—better leave before they make you,” the people on one boat had said. But that was yesterday, and there she was, still rocking on the porch. Sarah had decided when the Red Cross came to her house they’d be out of luck for their spray-painting game.
The water was still slushing gently from the last boat that had passed. Sarah watched the tiny waves vibrate from the street, across what used to be her front lawn, up to the porch to where it sloshed over on the wooden planks, splattering her big, pale round toes with muddy water. It was a backward sort of peace, thought Sarah, all this quiet and stillness. The only sound that engine’s hum dying away and the sloshing of that black mutt trudging in the flooded road, looking for a dry resting place in the sun.
Sarah realized a moment later that the humming wasn’t dying after all. It grew louder and the waves seemed to come faster. Her fatty heart thumped a little quicker, wondering if this would be the Red Cross men come to try and vanish her from her own home like they’d done to the others. I was here on this street before any person was, she thought. She practically owned it now that everyone was gone. She had watched children grow and leave and come back and leave again. I watched most the people die in their own homes, the ones that were here before these people came, she thought, still searching down the way for the red motorboat. And I plan to die here too. She’d watched her husband die behind the walls where she sat. I want to die in my home, she resolved as she sat and rocked, fanning herself with her paid mortgage papers. They were proof this place belonged to her—paid in full fifteen years ago, the papers said. It was a thing of pride, a token she’d never let go of.
The motor hum continued to whine, and around the corner came a red-and-white boat.
“Ma’am,” they called out, slowing in front of her flooded lawn. “Are you okay?”
Sarah was quiet a moment, looking at them looking at her. “I am,” she stated.
“We’ve come to take you away from here … to our base.”
“I don’t need to go to no base. The water will drop eventually. Things will be like they were before. I’ve been fine for two days. I’ve got dry clothes and a place to lay. You all float down to another house.”
They steered their boat up the driveway, nearer the porch.
“Ya’ll stay there. I’m fine where I am, like I said. And I been fine for two days, and I’ll be fine for another two.”
“Ma’am, are you aware Charleston has been declared a disaster area? You can’t just go on like you were before. And it’s our …”
“I am.” Sarah interrupted.
“And it’s our responsibility to evacuate all people from here.”
“Well, I can’t move because I won’t move.” Sarah declared. “I’m as solid and true as Mr. Lee downtown, so you boys are helpless.”
The two Red Cross men exchanged a look. Then the man steering the boat, stoic and sporting a full beard, idled in front of Sarah’s porch, just close enough for the other one to put his foot on her porch. But he stayed in his boat so as not to invade Sarah anymore.
“Are you aware that statue has been demolished by the flood?”
Sarah sat quiet and uncomfortable, eyeing the man’s foot on her porch. That statue of Robert E. Lee that’s been standing since I was a girl—gone. And its own kind ruined it. This unexpected flood, a flood of its own kind. Destroyed … Its own water destroyed it. Something from its own home. Sarah kept eyeing the man’s boot, but she never stopped rocking and fanning.
“Ma’am, please come with us,” the Red Cross man said.
“Who will take care of my home?” Sarah questioned, chuckling to cover her nervousness.
The man rested an elbow on his knee and said, “I don’t think there’s much left to take care of now. And the city will be handling this. I’m just here to take you to safety.”
“I feel safe here.” Sarah replied calmly, but she couldn’t stop thinking of the statue lying ruined in the flood of dirty water.
“But you’re not,” the Red Cross man reasoned. “Can I come up there, ma’am?” he asked.
Sarah nodded him the okay.
He stepped up out of the boat. Beneath the porch, the water swished gently like the rocking waves under a pier. The man knelt down beside Sarah while the other man in the boat, the one with the beard, kept hold of the steering rod.
“Ma’am, come back with us, won’t you? It’ll make me feel better,” the Red Cross man said.
Sarah noticed for the first time his northern accent, and how the one with the beard looked finessed as a Greek statue—that noble nose.
“Why are you all the way down here?” Sarah questioned.
“Because of this,” he said and glanced over his shoulder. “Why are you still here?”
“Because this is my home.” Sarah replied.
The man smiled. “Why are you fighting us so much?”
“Because you’re down here. You want to change everything,” Sarah replied, ruffled for the first time.
The two studied one another a moment. Finally Sarah broke off the look and turned her eyes to the street and the front lawn flooded in muddy water. She suddenly felt trapped, thinking of General Lee and how she’d been stuck for days. They’ll mark my home deserted whether I leave or not.
“Where’s your food?” The man asked, looking about the porch.
“You’re not going to reason me out of staying.” Sarah assured.
The man nodded his head and adjusted his red cap. He knelt beside Sarah. “If you’re willing to come with us we can at least get you food.”
Sarah looked down at the kneeling man then to the water surrounding her home like an island. The statue of Lee came to her mind again and she pictured it toppled over, drowning in the dirty water. A rumbling from her stomach broke the silence between Sarah and the strangers.
“It took me a long time to make this house mine.” Sarah stated, holding her mortgage papers for the man to see.
“I don’t doubt that.” the man replied. “I’m not asking you to let go of your home. I just want to bring you to safety.”
“My home will ruin if I don’t stay.” Sarah stated.
“Do you want to go down with it, drowning in the water like that statue downtown?”
Sarah again pictured the statue of Lee drowning in the water but with one hand raised above the surface in a proud fashion, yet nonetheless sunk. Visions of her future came in sight. She stood at the top of the stairs watching the water rise first to her toes then to her pudgy knees, eventually up to her sagging breasts and rising still until she was forced to swim her way out, never reaching any window or door, that statue attached to her ankle by chain like an anchor. Then Sarah came to at the softness of a breeze skimming her plump freckled face and she inspected the red and white motorboat idling before her porch.
“Who’s gonna help me get in that tiny boat? Are you strong enough to help this fat woman?”
“Well, sure.” the man blushed.
Sarah groaned, scratching her chin and still picturing Lee downtown, his one noble hand raised above the water’s surface. “I’ll come with you two for now,” she said, “but not because you’re making me and not because I’m afraid, but because I know Charleston will rebuild itself and be better than before. And they’ll erect that statue of General Lee again and you’ll never have to come down here and I won’t see you again. And maybe it’s better I let the city do housework without me in the way.”
The Red Cross man stood up beside Sarah and said, “Well then, let’s go before you change your mind.”
But standing up, Sarah knew she wouldn’t change and that she hadn’t. She knew she was forcing herself to leave because what she’d said about Charleston and General Lee was true. Sarah took her small purse she managed to save from the water and handed it to the man. She folded her sleeping bag that was spread on the porch and placed her yellow sleeping pillow neatly on top. She looked about the porch in case she should leave anything behind. And then she stepped into the boat, holding onto both the men.
The one with the beard navigated them out into what used to be the street. Sarah sat looking behind her at her home, and from her purse she took out her mortgage and read it over once, feeling a strange mixture of pride and loss. Then with a sort of smile, she let it go and watched it settle far behind, landing atop the water. I’d been holding onto that thing for too long anyhow, thought Miss Sarah Murphy. I’ll start over new when I get back.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing