I didn’t realize that cars bled. I guess it’s because we pay regularly to keep it from happening, and because even a paper-cut on a car can leave us holding plastic over our heads as we wait on the highway for AAA. But Division Street was a pool of carnage. True, it was mostly flood water, but there was a rainbow slick marking the waterline. Their husks were piled upon each other, their windshields shattered, their quarter-panels bashed in. I saw them mosh with each other when the rain popped the dam and realized a second thing; it only took a couple feet of water to make them dance.
I’m homeless now. But I’m not the kind of homeless you wouldn’t give change to. Maria and I are staying in the high school—the Red Cross set up a couple hundred cots. You’d think it was terrible, but it’s not. It’s like a town sleepover. Mr. Hurley is telling war stories to our kids like he does during the town picnic. That’s a good thing, too, because a huge chunk of the First Presbyterian Church collapsed under the pressure of the deluge, and the park is debris now.
The rain’s let up, and we’re getting out to look around. I listened on the radio last night—Morristown got wiped off the map. Don’t know if it’s true or not. The cell tower came down. We haven’t been able to call my parents in Binghamton, or Maria’s sister in Albany. The National Guard has the roads restricted to essential vehicles, and that’s good, seeing as how the highway is a dirt-bike track right now. I don’t even know if my car runs.
I can see Tommy down the street, pitting his chainsaw against a Poplar tree blocking his driveway. He’s wearing those wrap-around, doofy tactical sunglasses. Only tactical thing he ever did was launch an offensive against a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers. Except for last night. Maybe I’ll have to lay off the jokes. He spots me and flips me the finger. He’s a hundred yards away but I can think of nothing else it would be.
We got a sweet little town here. We go to church every Sunday, and I’m sure this Sunday, Minister Bailey will preach from the top of one of those wrecked cars, and we’ll be sitting on fold-out chairs in the middle of the road. We love the flag, mom and apple pie in that order, and even our bar brawlers make peace on Monday mornings at the bottling plant where we all work. When we got the notice from the Sheriff that Jay Matthews moved in above Marella’s Market, it was a dark spot on our sun.
Jay taught music at the elementary school. Given what we’d learned about him, you’d think there’d be a whole list of kids he’d abused, after all, he was legendary for taking his class on field trips. But it was only one; my little one, innocent and without shame, full of life—descriptions he stole from her behind the school stage. It was enough to get him arrested and penned for five years. By then, Donna had grown into a fiercely independent teenager with a death wish and a rap sheet. She’s in juvie right now, in fact. I poured every ounce of blame I had into my fist and slammed it into his gut when I saw him last Tuesday. Before the flood. Before all this.
I didn’t even realize that I was at the edge of the ravine that opened wide to drink the engorged river. It’d always been deep, but the instant erosion made the edges jagged. I could see sprigs of two-by-fours, aluminum siding fanned out, sheetrock powdered, staining the rocks, and, of course, husks of cars that fell off the edge. And the red ninety-six Dodge Neon with the mudded-out windows. It was almost submerged. Last night, I asked Tommy if we should go down and push it further. He said not to worry about it. It was supposed to rain again tomorrow, and even if they open the door, they wouldn’t think much past a drowning. He was just debris.