Float On

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It started with the dripping, rhythmic like Chinese water torture on my forehead. It stung as it splashed in my eyes, when I got around to opening them. Pale gray light filtered in through the grimy window, highlighting every dust mote. The damp basement bedroom was completely still except for the tiny, fairy-like particles dancing in the dim light and the solitary drip. Moisture from the air soaked my lungs like a sponge with each breath. As I sat up, the springs creaked and sent ripples through the scummy water surrounding the bed. I watched desolately as an orange tee-shirt floundered and slipped beneath the murky surface. Three and a half inches of water saturated the bed, the dresser and the nightstand, and lapped against the basement stairs. The leak, without my forehead to obscure it, pattered evenly on my pillow. Any shoes that could have protected me from the onslaught of water were safely stowed in the closet, ten feet of frigid flooding away. I examined my feet; green woolen socks, the ones with the holes in the toes. Not exactly galoshes, but preferable to naked toes. The bare light bulb suspended from the low ceiling cast irregular shadows on the undulating pool. Carefully setting aside my red and blue threadbare quilt, the one my grandmother made when I was born, I gingerly lowered my feet into the cutting deep. Every hair on my legs stood on end, and the gooseflesh soon spread to my arms. Each pore snapped shut and a tremendous shudder echoed through my body. The deluge surged away from the disturbance of my feet, nudging the walls eagerly. Steeling myself for the icy journey, I heaved myself off the twin-sized mattress. In four long strides I reached the stairwell, taking refuge on the first dry step. I turned to survey the damage, peeling off my socks hastily. The fifth step groaned as I sat down, propping my elbows on my knees and cradling my chin in my palms. There were calluses near my thumbs from where I held my baseball bat, the same Pennsylvania white ash bat that bobbed past me on the newly-formed pond. My toes creaked arthritically when I stretched them out, and I longed for the warm embrace of a pair of fuzzy slippers.


I watched the steady procession of ruined possessions stream morosely by. There was a sneaker, the laces tangled and ragged. A sodden notebook with slurred, smudged syllables veining each decomposing page. The ghosts of poems being sapped from their homes in the pages of books, bleeding into the invading tide. An heirloom Beatles album passed down paternally, four solemn English faces fading into shadow. They floated listlessly, circulating with no purpose and no destination. Stains started creeping up the walls and permeating the concrete behind the drywall. They are like a snapshot, a lasting imprint of the subtle destruction.


The stairs have been spared. The peeling gray paint on the walls and groaning planks are the same as when we moved in, when the house was empty and gleaming, and the basement as dry as a bone. Now the kitchen at the top is crowded and dusty. The Formica table sits forgotten in a corner, longing for another pot roast, another platter of grilled cheese. Across the scuffled linoleum, I kept my eyes to the floor, searching for puddles. Over the threshold, the living room hadn’t suffered. The coffee table’s rickety legs were worn but unharmed, more bothered by ten years of stubbed toes. Underneath, a threadbare rug dispersed a musty scent that enveloped the house and, maybe just to me, transformed it from forlorn to quaint. The olive drab couches, although long missing their decorative pillows, looked inviting. The overstuffed cushions, familiar and dry, threatened to make me forget what lurked below. Rather than succumb, I pulled open the screen door to the porch. Red-orange flakes sprinkled down from the hinges that screeched in alarm at the sudden movement. The black paint had rubbed off the handle from hundreds of greasy hands grabbing it, letting it slam shut as I did. The porch swing sat achingly still, too weak to handle one last rock. The rough floorboards, nailed together unpainted and unstained, settled themselves under my weight. Down three steps, each slick from the week’s steady rain, onto the sidewalk. The air was eerily calm and still heavy with humidity. Timidly, the sun peeked out sporadically to pierce the chill air. When it did, it exposed the heavy beads of water weighing down each blade of spring grass that stood among the mud. From here, I could see puddles. Puddles wearing away the asphalt and the sidewalk, gradually deepening their cracks. Puddles as big as swimming pools, jade green in my neighbors’ backyards. Puddles collecting around the solid foundation of the house, seeping into the basement reservoir. I crouched by the cellar window, peering into my own room like an intruder. My toes sank into the mud like it was quicksand.


At my post by the window I continued to watch the lethargic drowning of my worldly possessions. A scrapbook my mother made for me lost its grip on the surface, sliding towards oblivion. Several photos slipped out, grasping for salvation. One was black and white; my mother and father, growing up together in Brooklyn. They married young and moved to the Pacific Northwest to raise us kids. I wondered if they knew what they raised was sinking now. It was my mother that called me then, my cell phone’s vibration that sent a tingle up my spine. I fell asleep in my clothes, the phone in my back pocket, inadvertently saving it from a watery grave. I dug my phone out with one hand, spreading my fingertips against the rough concrete of the foundation for balance. Her name glowed brightly, the stark contrast overwhelming my eyes. Louisa, it told me. I don’t remember when I began to use her given name. The phone sent crackling static to my ear intertwined with my mother’s voice. Your father is gone, she said. He floated away.


Gently nudging open the grease-smeared pane, I slipped the phone into the rising lake. The murmurs on the other end died away. Soon, my mother was floating away too. I shut the window tightly, climbed the stairs, gave the porch swing a push, and stepped inside. Tracking sod through the halls, I returned to that homely couch. I didn’t need a blanket, or a pillow; I just curled up and went to sleep.





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