The Flood

By David Lipowski

In August, the rainy season, the town seems perpetually overcast by black clouds. Every other day brings with it a torrential downpour, flooding the streets, overwhelming the sewers—rainwater invading basements, bolts of forked lightning downing power lines, wind carrying off anything not firmly adhered to ground— these are the infamous storms that announce the arrival of autumn.

During the early years of the town, just after the developers had arrived to begin dividing the land, the worst times came. Flood waters rose, quickly filling the streets with streams of flowing black water, slithering forth from the town’s highest point. Each night brought a new fleet of dark clouds. Hardly had the populace time to recover from one storm—removing fallen branches from the road, tossing out spoiled food from the freezers, bucketing out the water that filled basements—that another, worse blow would come.

In the worst of it, neighborhoods banded together, building walls of sandbags to hold back the flood, to prevent it from drowning their street, their homes. At times, this effort proved unnecessary, the waters receding long before they reached the houses; other times, the structures proved useful, holding back the destruction for just another night.

Most of the time, however, these walls proved worthless, regardless of however strategically the populace constructed them or how organized the effort was. Late into the night, one could peer through the downpour to see figures wearing bright blue ponchos, working to build the wall, sometimes even as water was already beginning to seep over and through their obstacle.

Despite the futility of their efforts, still they returned, night after night, to build a new wall, further back from the last, in hopes of saving the homes that had not yet gone under. It seemed insane to continue on, in vain, and yet they did it.

Perhaps because it was all they could do.

At the end of the month, when the skies cleared and the waters slowly began to recede (leaving behind dirt, debris, and a smell of murky pestilence), the full destruction the storms had caused revealed itself: rotted wooden fences, rusted garden tools, destroyed basements (and in those basements, ruined pool tables, bookshelves, books, photo albums, dressers, cabinets, tables, chairs, sofas, lamps, sewing machines, baseball card collections, televisions, radios, computers, washing machines, dryers, water heaters, tool sets, carpets, rugs, entire pantries, sheets, curtains, beds, wicker baskets, dog houses, outdoor furniture, toys, swing sets, in-ground pools, above-ground pools, hot tubs, deck chairs, fire pits. These things, ruined, accumulated on curb-sides, standing there for weeks on end as garbage pick-up was temporarily halted both by downed trees and branches blocking the road and by the sheer volume of material being carried off to the landfills.

In this way, while the houses were emptied of their possessions, leaving blank walls with water-damaged wallpaper, the streets became richer than ever, with as many places to sit and dine as there were people that lived in the town, with enough books, half of the pages still legible, to fill a library, enough materials to construct a new, smaller village. The streets, with their relative wealth, resembled the interior of houses, while the inside of those homes, marred by water damage and emptied of possessions, resembled the streets.

This is what the storms destroyed that August.

The flood waters at last disappeared entirely, the roads became clear, and life—somehow—resumed. But when the ordeal was over, the neighborhoods of the town found something new; the people who lived around them suddenly seemed familiar. The faces that appeared on the house porches were the same that had once peered out from under the hood of a blue poncho, once appeared on the other side of a sofa that was too heavy to move alone.

It would be a lie—to convenient of an ending—to say that everyone became friends. The newfound familiarity often developed into resentment, pointless bickering, friction, stolen property, hurt feelings. In the end, what the storm destroyed was nothing compared to the offenses the neighbors committed to one another; nature may be cruel and calloused, but man has proved, in time, to build much better bombs. Nevertheless, where there was once silence, there were now voices. Where there were once no stories there were now volumes.

This is what the storms forged that August.