THE CALM AFTER THE STORM • by Cassidy M. Wells

August 30th, 2005

It’s eerie: the stillness when I looked at everything I ever called home underwater. There was a surge of unease in the air. One that whispered, though the storm had passed, the worst had yet to come. There was a sort of celebration going on for our survival as we sat atop the roof of my childhood home, buried under 10 feet of water. My closest neighbors swam through murky water soured by the bodies unearthed from Lafayette Cemetery to join us until the government bothered to send rescue teams this far east of the city. New Orleans East sat outside their cone of importance, so it would be a while before anyone came looking. Though no one could imagine how bad this would turn out, we didn’t need anyone to tell us it would be okay. We were resilient.

We had to be.

Well, I tried to be.

Papa managed to keep a cooler of rations, though most of it was beer because he couldn’t imagine going through all of this sober. He kept looking my way to make sure I was alive, then went back to drowning in a warm can of Bud Light. Mama sobbed to her friends about how she lost all her valuables, like her Gucci bags and Louis Vuitton, that everyone knew was fake, but status in such a poor part of the city was everything. She didn’t care about her ruined wedding photos or my soccer trophies and participation awards. I mean, I didn’t either. I only got those trophies from my teammates who put in all the work while I was barred to the bench because I had the coordination of a blind sloth and was forced to stay late after school, so Mama didn’t have to care for me longer than the time it took to get home for my early bedtime. But wasn’t a mother supposed to care about those things? The small wins? She rejected those kinds of comforts from her own mother which didn’t surprise me. Sweat dripped down Mama’s brow in the harsh August heat, they blended into tears as she poured out for her lost things that didn’t matter to anyone but her, while my heart sank to my stomach and my body trembled as I stared ahead at the house two streets over, underwater with no one on the roof.

“Allat shit going on cause there’s evil in the city. God on’t like when people think they bigger than him,” Mama said, kneading a cigarette between her fingers, cherishing the last of her pack of Malboros. Papa continued to check if everyone was alive before passing out from his drunken stupor. The heavy winds from last night had finally settled, but the smoke she blew through her teeth swirled straight through my nose and into my lungs. My throat tightened and erupted into a coughing fit that triggered my asthma. I blinked back hot tears; trying to get air into my lungs that would never come because my inhaler was floating around our flooded home beneath our feet. Mama glared at me for interrupting her with her friends, then started laughing. I hated her sometimes. I knew it was wrong to wish your family ill, but there was always a disconnect between Mama and me amplified by our forced proximity. I bit my lip holding back the threat of tears. I didn’t want her to win or let her get to me. But she didn’t even have to try hard. Her words always hit a sore spot that longed for intimacy between mother and child that she couldn’t provide. My wheezing continued getting worse, my chest tightened, burned, and the fast-paced breathing eventually turned to an anxiety attack while my eyes were glued to the house two streets over. If I squinted just right I’d see the peek of white wood, with hot pink rims which became visible only over the water rippling up and down the sides. That was home.

Please be on the roof.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking bout. It’s them demons runnin’ this city with that Hoodoo mess, and they calling on Satan to fix they problems. That’s why Jazzy up here safe with us and not by that witch. She got exactly what she deserved.” She kept talking about it too, how even the word Katrina meant cleansing, and this was an act of God to rid of those who were disobedient. On some level, I think she wished I was over there, two blocks over, unable to get out because the windows were barred and the pressure from the flood kept the doors sealed shut. Mawmaw was frail and never learned how to swim in a time when Black people weren’t allowed in pools. How she was too poor to evacuate cause she ain’t even have a car and hobbled on a cane with her good leg to catch the bus to run errands. How she probably thought her protection prayers would work, but maybe Mawmaw just wanted to protect her soul because she knew she wouldn’t make it. I watched the home two streets over with no one outside on top of the roof, where I knew her body — swollen from floating back and forth across the ceiling — was trapped inside the place where we shared our love of magic and one another. The place where I was allowed to sing songs off-key about the war of Judah, which Mawmaw loved more than anything. Because she was a Christian, unlike Mama believed. A home where there were pictures of me on the wall and awards that meant absolutely nothing but were celebrated all the same. But maybe her soul was freed, and our connection hadn’t been severed or lost like everything else I owned — destroyed by a beast more spiteful than my mother’s disdain for me. The woman with the beautiful eye swept through New Orleans and left nothing but death in her wake.

Cassidy M. Wells is a New Orleans, Louisiana native. She graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a B.A. in Criminology & Justice and with her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently in her fourth year of her doctoral degree in English at Florida State University in order to fulfill a career in teaching in higher education. She is currently the nonfiction editor for the New Orleans Review and a 2024 Hurston Wrights Fellow.

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