As the Water Rose
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As the Water Rose

As the water rose, John Barry rose with it. It covered the floor trim, bubbled at the wainscoting, tickled the round dome of the thermostat. He sat in his chair, he stood on his table, he went to the second floor and did the same, then climbed to the attic and still the water followed. You got a crush on me? he asked it. And as if to answer in the positive, the water gurgled and surged forth.

The attic was dank but dry, a taint of mold, wedges of cedar, mouse droppings, crumbling boxes jammed with holiday ornaments and old sweaters, papers, a vinyl tube that held his fishing gear, and all other manner of forgotten nostalgia in the form of greeting cards, once used gifts. He set up camp on a swath of fiberboard, pored over old almanacs in the half-light. Mid-afternoon he straightened himself along the soft floor between the ceiling trussing and slept, confident that the water would recede, that life would go back to its same steady monotony of microwaved meals and sitting back in his Adirondack chair, his feet up, the heady smell of summer fixed in his nostrils.

By nightfall the water came to lap at the joists, the transoms. Puffs of cottony insulation worked loose and plied the water, soggy and dark pink as salmon. All the items of the attic swirled around him, caught him about the face and neck. On went the camp light and he hooked it over a loose nail and set about escaping. He pried loose the ventilation slats, kept his frantic worry at bay as best he could as the water sluiced and poured, and when he had them cleared, John Barry took a breath and dove, kicked through the open hole, shoulders and arms, sunken chest, rubbery gut, hips and crotch and legs and feet, all. One hand grasped his belongings as the other hooked through the water in violent, uneven strokes. He broke surface and wagged his head, thumped the water from his ears, and cleared his eyes. As he bobbed in the water, he looked skyward, saw a black stretch, a quarter-moon like a white gash in the inky velvet, the sky spangled with stars, and around him the trickle sound of water and beneath him a vast new unknown.

He started awake with a raging thirst and short spurts of electricity shooting up his legs. The pain cut through his ankles, into the stringy [End Page 11] muscle of his calves and through his kneecaps, settled in his thighs like rank milk. Through the night his body had slipped down the roof, and when he settled, his legs were left underwater. His boots were swollen, and John Barry swore and prayed and started tearing at the laces. Getting them untied was a task, and in working them off, he lost a fingernail to his riveted shoelace holes. It peeled off easy as a wet bandage. The blood came in a wash and he plunged his hand into the floodwater and thrummed it over the wound. He brought his finger to his mouth and sucked. It tasted like bad fish and the vitamins that his wife made him take once he came round to fifty years.

With it was the taste of the water, all that it had taken and absorbed, the smell of fertilizer and manure when summer came down like a hot wet rag, a bouquet of life, death, of alfalfa bales steaming in the morning, of rumen and cud, of his daughter coming into his bedroom with the crotch of her coveralls flecked with blood and a look of having been shocked, of having been beguiled spreading across her wide and innocent face, and too there was the smell of freshness, of new life and cleanliness, the huge tilled span of Illinois, its inter-locking sections of farmland, the highways and rural routes and gravel spills and coal mines and coon clubs and clusters of black angus and tin-roofed hog and chicken sheds, the trailer parks, their raspy denizens, all, all of it submerged and silent as slate. John...