I wake up the next morning with the sun in my face and the sound of rushing water everywhere. I’m still holding on to my brother Billy’s hand, where he fell asleep with his head on my hip. His face is smudged with dirt, so mine must be too. We’d sleep on the front porch sometimes, when the weather got too hot in the house at night, but this time it’s different. This time the chocolate water is rushing by and it’s so loud and I just want to make it stop.
I’m not really sure where we are now. The porch is the same — it’s got the same posts and railings and the same peeling paint on the floor, but everything around it’s changed. The only thing that I can see that I recognize is the IGA sign, but that’s supposed to be up the main road in town, not tilted against that tree across the street. Mama and I went to the IGA yesterday, ahead of the hurricane, to get candles and batteries in case things got bad. Mama said to me, “Abbie, we’re mountain people, and sometimes we have to just make do for ourselves.”
The porch has eight steps and last night when it got dark I could see two of them not covered by the brown water; this morning I can only see one step.
It was a long night, waiting for morning. The rain stopped just before sunset and then the wind came, howling like a blizzard, but it was a warm wet wind that I’d never felt before. Mama said it was going to be a one hundred year storm, and since I’m 9 and Billy’s 5, I figure we won’t see another like it. Which is fine by me. Billy put his head on my hip and I held on to his hand and we slept like that for a little bit. I had a dream about a boat coming by with two men in orange slickers that had EMS on them. Mama was in the boat with the men and she was holding two glasses of lemonade. They seemed to come right to us, to rescue us off the porch, like they knew where we were. But I don’t think anyone knows where we are cause our house is down the holla’ off the main road. It does all seem like a dream, the way the rain came down hard yesterday afternoon and wouldn’t stop, and the waves of water that came down the road. We felt the house start to move and I grabbed Billy and pushed him out onto the porch, but Mama couldn’t get out in time before the house slid down the hill and started to float away in the stream.
Billy wakes up and sits up close to me and I put my arm around him. He’s just a kid, so he doesn’t know what mountain people are like yet. He wants to know where Mama is and I have to tell him I don’t know, but we’ll meet up with her after the storm, that it’s a good house and it will take care of her. He starts to cry but I’m not worried cause Mama knows how to make do.
The water seems calm on top, like a lake, but I can tell it’s moving underneath cause bits and pieces of the town are floating by. If you didn’t know anything about our town, you could sit there on the porch with Billy and me and get a history lesson. There was Mr. Hurley’s blue truck, filled right to the windows with brown water and spinning real slow as it went by. Last summer we all loaded into that truck after our last softball game and he took us for ice cream. And there were lots of trees, and I wondered which tree was which, till I saw a big one wash by with a yellow ribbon still tied to it. That’s Mrs. Brock’s tree, she tied the yellow ribbon waiting for her son to come home from the war. When nothing washed by we’d just watch the swirls and shapes the water made. After a while the IGA sign just laid flat on its back like it was tired and floated clear away.
The sun is straight overhead, and the water seems to have quieted down a little bit. It’s flat and shiny like a root beer bottle.
“Abbie, I want to go find Mama,” Billy says. “We could just walk right off this porch and look for her.”
“Did you see Mr. Hurley’s truck wash by, Billy? That’s what’s gonna happen to us if we step foot off this porch.”
“Not that deep,” he says, and inches a little closer to the steps.
I start to yank back his shoulder, but that’s when we both see it, a long black snake with its head up, swimming down the river. Billy scoots back from the edge and leans up against me again. He looks up at me and his eyes are big and he says, “Maybe you’re right.”
It’s near lunch time; I can hear his stomach growl or maybe it’s mine. The wind dies down and it gets hot sitting on the porch. We sit side by side and I think I close my eyes when I hear some kind of motor. We can hear it whining over the rush of the water and I look up and see a red rescue boat, getting closer. And when it gets real close I can see two men in orange slickers with EMS on their jackets, and there’s a white dog that’s soaked and dirty, and when they pull up to the porch to help us in, I can see that Mama isn’t there. I hope she’s making do.
Richard Ferri lives with his wife in upstate NY on a property that thinks it’s a farm, with a dog who thinks she’s a person. He’s a software engineer and yet-unpublished short fiction writer who spends too much time in coffee shops and book stores.