Before daybreak, the rising tide breached the top steps as Manjula opened the basement door. Murky brown water lapped gently amongst schools of Legos and drowned Barbies. Her screams woke the household, whose night had been disturbed by the ravaging winds and a downpour of rain.
“Raju! The family room flooded!”
Manjula’s mom, making tea in a house dress and cardigan, scoffed, “Only your husband would buy a house in a ditch.”
Raju tramped in wearing high waders and long gloves. A wake of small children trailed behind, still dressed in pajamas, carrying nets and fishing gear. She could see her mother shaking her head in disbelief and tried to blot it out, focusing instead on the chaos of giggling kids.
“Search and recovery mission, kids! Save what you can!” her husband sang, unfazed.
“This is not a game; there are important things stored down there,” said Majula, exasperated at Raju’s antics. A rapid exchange of Hindi between the three adults was interrupted by squeals of success as the children held their salvaged treasures aloft. Sometime between threats of moving back to India and jabs at his thrift, Raju relented and called a cleanup crew, stopping the flood of angry recriminations.
It was late afternoon when the waters receded, allowing access into the basement below. The whir of fans replaced the suction noise of pumps, and the damp smell of earth permeated the carpeting. The family stepped around bloated carcasses of stuffed animals and paperback novels. Manjula bent down to pick up a stray photo amongst the many scattered like fallen leaves. Her mother trailed behind her, not so silently emanating disapproval at the entire scene. The picture was of their wedding in Mumbai ten years earlier. Raju photographed her backlit by fireworks. The small explosions followed by the burst of glorious light brought with it a sense of hope and excitement for her new life. Holding back tears, she rushed to salvage as many photos as possible. The room once held a treasure trove of her past. Love letters, school papers, and art projects are all silently swollen, disintegrating into unidentifiable lumps of gray matter. Her mother muttered about astrological portents and ill-advised love marriages while poking bloated boxes with her cane.
With each muddy stomp of her children’s footfalls, the disaster before her washed over her anew. She looked to Raju for support and saw him hauling the daybed mattress up the stairs. Clutching the loose photos to her chest, she envied his exuberance at moving forward as she continued to lapse backward. She placed the wet pictures on the laundry table. She added to it images of her ancestors in black and white, ones of her family who remained in India, and a random collection of her children in various stages of growth. They clung to each other as if desperate for warmth. She attempted to peel one apart, and the image tore, permanently separating her from her sister at her wedding; that day is still sharp in her memory despite the photos blur. Tears threaten to flood her vision.
Her mother’s cry brought her back to the present. An enormous spider hung in the corner of the ceiling, a bright white egg sac clinging to its abdomen. Slowly but methodically, she began to weave a new web. Mesmerized, Manjula watched each new thread form and the delicate fibers stretch from wall to wall. The web she lost in the storm will be replaced with a new one, but her prize possessions remained safe. Manjula’s connections were not on photographic paper but safe from the storm bustling around her. Sensing movement, she turned in time to snatch the broom from her mother’s hands.
“No, Amma!” A fly attracted to the damp decay of the moldering basement flew headlong into the newly spun filament. The spider, with practiced ease, parceled it for later. “Our friend is aiding in the cleanup,” Manjula said. She looked around the basement anew, with Raju taking footage of the damage with his camera while the kids fought over who could use the hair dryer to dry out the photos. Ushering her mother up the stairs, she returned with gloves and garbage bags, ready to make some new memories with her family.
Nina Miller is an Indian-American physician, epee fencer and micro/flash fiction writer. Her work can be found in TL;DR Press’s anthology, Mosaic: The Best of the 1K Word Herd Flash Fiction Competition 2022, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Belladonna, Five Minutes, 101 words and more. A graduate of Cornell University and NYU Medical school, she currently resides in New York.