The Flood

The morning starts as a holiday. Our jobs call and cancel until further notice. Yawning, we drink coffee in the dark of the living-room, immersed in the sound of rain drumming all around us. The night was sleepless and turbulent because of thunderclaps that shook our apartment and triggered car alarms.

It rains in buckets, in rivulets, in streams.

I have never seen so much water in my life.

The streets are unfamiliar—everything vanishing under a churning river—and we watch, with bated breath, an ambitious car venture out of the apartment gates and drift to the middle of the road. We predict he’ll be swept downstream, into the backwaters of backroads.

The car struggles around the intersection and retreats back to the apartment.

We laugh. There is no danger yet.

Flashing lights in the gray swirling clouds.

And still it rains.

We watch the news on my phone—cars completely submerged, kayakers paddling down freeway rapids, the downtown area transformed into a swirling sea from which skyscrapers poke out the top of their heads.

We watch as a woman in a white vehicle steers around a security barrier and into a submerged underpass ocean. A construction worker runs after her car, his mouth open in a silent shout. The light of her cell phone waves frantically as the car sinks slowly into the dark waters.

The car disappears and so does the light.

Eight people drowned that day.

The Clinic

Dr. Heller never mentioned his problem, but everyone at the clinic knew about it. We were shocked by how normal he acted afterwards. He didn’t even take a sick leave or anything. A couple of days after his incident, Judy decides to bring in a vase of flowers for his office, some ugly artificial thing with a heavy cluster of lilies and roses and ferns. Dr. Heller thanks her and sticks his face in them and we all laugh because we think he’s fucking with us. Turns out, he thought they were real.

Judy later discovers him in his office and we can hear her screams throughout the building.

The clinic is in a state of excitement, the staff milling around. Everyone keeps saying that he was fine all morning. We keep saying, how could this have happened. We keep talking about what we could have looked for, the warning signs. We repeat how much we miss him. A get-well card circulates around the clinic and everyone signs it from their hierarchical order of importance—the surgeons, anesthesiologists, RNs, the receptionists, even the fat, ugly custodian who only creeps in after everyone leaves for the day.

We draw lots to elect a person to go visit him. Our clinic’s been a family for more than ten years and is heavily involved in each other’s lives. We take care of our own. (Only the receptionists get recycled out every so often for newer, younger candidates. We take pride in appearances here.) Also, everyone is dying for more news about the late and great doctor.

No one volunteers to go, so we draw lots. I get chosen. They all clap my back and say, sucks to suck.

He is a beautiful man. His forehead is taut, his eyes etch upwards at the corners. The sides of his nose are perfectly symmetrical lines. With a ruler, you can measure the alignment of his eyes to his ears. Even now, hunched forward with his shoulders drawn up so he looks like a turtle receding into a shell, his flesh is smooth and hard like plastic. He adjusts his position over the edge of the bench as if uncomfortable, and his hands are spread claws digging into the wood.

Smile Dr. Heller, I say and lean closer to him. I take a picture of us on my phone, me with a huge smile and Dr. Heller looking lost.

The sun is out, but it’s cold. The sunshine deceives us. We sit on a bench on the lawn. His personal caregiver is in a chair a few yards away from us and glances at us over the cover of her book.

He is wealthy enough to have escaped the indignity of sanitariums, where they throw together the psychotic and the mentally ill indiscriminately. He has that small mercy for him. His wife is filing for divorce now, I hear, and will soon have sole custody of the kids and house, a substantial fortune built upon the splicing and reconstruction of flesh. Maybe this is his punishment for tampering with natures works, sullied as they are. Maybe this is punishment for playing God.

I take his face with my hands and kiss him. I feel his perfectly sculpted lips with my tongue.

It’s ok, Dr. Heller.

You’ll get over this.

Everyone at the clinic misses you.

Remember Mrs. Lebowitz? She threw a fit when we told her you went on vacation. She says no other doctor in the city does skin as good as you.

It’s dark when I leave. The neighborhood is unsettling in its quiet, undisturbed by traffic or people. I miss the dirty mess and the noise of the city. The stars are like dim, sad echoes of the city lights.

But, if I crane my head, I can see the city lights glow like a distant fire.

Friday Night

The dogs are barking again.

I’m sprawled on a heaping trash nest of clothes and towels and papers and plastic bags. I stare at the ceiling. I’ve been staring at the ceiling for hours. My ceiling looks like the moon’s surface: sickly yellow-pale like old cottage cheese and riddled with craters.

Each bark is like a hammer blow to my head.

There are flies everywhere. My head is filled with buzzing. Blow flies and flesh flies and bloated house flies like black motors flying. They descend on the overflowing piles of trash. They dance in and out of the open drawers of the cabinets that lie upended on the floor. Everything in the room is crooked. The kitchen sink is clogged with stagnant ooze, where food chunks float on a sea of oily grease.

Someone runs above me, THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP

and the dogs chase after them barking, yelping, baying like the hounds of hell.

Things moving behind me, things moving in the mirrors and in the windows. There are voices, like swarms of flies, the voices are needles drilling the buzzing into my skin, and there are thousands of them. It fills up the back of my eyes. They are talking about me, but I can’t make out what they say.

The dogs are barking and barking and barking.

I’m standing on the table with a hammer and I swing that hammer over my shoulder and into ceiling. The dogs are going crazy as I bring the hammer harder and harder into the ceiling, punching holes, showering plaster on the carpet and into my hair and screaming face.

Have I been screaming the entire time?

Shouts from upstairs and I hear the neighbor’s big booming voice as if he’s right there in the room with me, “I’m going to fucking kill him!”

Stomping feet down the stairs, like an earthquake shaking my apartment.

I throw the hammer one more time at the ceiling, where it bounces off and thuds to the carpet, and I run into the decaying, stinking kitchen with the dingy lightbulbs and grab the wooden block of large butcher knives and carry it back to the door. I tuck it into my left armpit and my right hand lands on the doorknob like a distorted fly, separate from my body.

The pounding on the door intensifies.

The dogs are still barking. The room spins in a blurry funnel of colors and noises, and the neighbor is yelling something with his fists battering the door inches from my face.

The fly opens the door.

Season of the Bear

The old man is there as usual, haunting the stained and narrow doorway. He hunches over his bony knees in layers of newspapers and dirt and ragged linen. Skeletal wrists dangling over the crusty blanket on his lap. A small wiry dog lying next to him whines uneasily and raises his head as the bear walks by them.

Straightening, the old man reaches out to the bear. The bear, black and shaggy, flinches back involuntarily and almost overbalances on his hind legs. He huffs angrily as a group of hooded teenagers walk by them and laugh.

The old man shuffles towards him on his knees, arms outstretched, baring his cracked hands palms-up like two tattered white flags. He clutches at the bear’s leg and hoarsely cries, “If the world is on fire then why are we laughing?”

The bear roars and shoves out with his meaty arms and the old man falls on his side. The dog shrills like something mortally wounded and noses the writhing form.

“We are blind!” The old man howls after the bear.

The bear marches home the way irate old women march, in a furious protuberance of movement, trundling forward with bent head and thick-jowled glowers. His short, stubby arms swing closely to his sides. Barreling down the crowded sidewalks, he does not appear to see the world around him; the florid and artificial surroundings, the people crowding along the concrete paths. But then his nostrils twitch and his shaggy head turns and his eyes follow a passing group of long-legged clicking heels. His arm is jostled by an elbow and the shadow attached to it turns around to say something, then looks up at the bear and walks away. There is something blazing in the large heavy face, something arcane and bestial.

The bear finds himself on a bridge on the outskirts of the city. He is hesitant, in this crepuscular hour of silent footsteps and stirring street shadows, to roam into unknown territory. There are signs in the sky that tell him to run and run until the breath heaves in his side and all color and light leaches overhead. He hears multitudinous sounds of pursuit. And feels a humming of the highest frequency that is redolent of den noise, the thrum of routine and repetition and dormancy. It both beckons and warns him to flee; flee and seek shelter elsewhere, and break free of this sonorous lull. Near him, a mountain of steel walls are emblazoned with huge spray-painted words in neon green that look like newly budded branches, and he smells the bitter sap released from the tortured forms of oak trees that line the street, imprisoned in unyielding concrete.

His body tenses and he starts to lope in the direction of mountains, on all fours now, towards a dim thrum of color and sound hundreds of miles to the north. But then the wind carries to him a piercing honeyed musk. He smells the warm wafting droughts of golden syrup, sweet mammalian secretions. In sharp bursts of snorts and whuffles, his keen nose catches hold the stinging pheromones—a calling, or an invitation. He abruptly rears to change directions and with heavy tread, returns to the source of the scents.

The air in the house is almost as chilly as the night he inadvertently brings in with him. The source of the coolness stands in the entrance of the house, arms crossed, heavy lines along her mouth already twitching in anticipation for the flood of words about to escape. She pushes back a tuft of earth-colored fur from her forehead impatiently and it springs back. He leans forward to brush it away gently and she steps back fiercely. The cubs are sprawled around in the living room ignorant of the plummeting mood of the atmosphere, or indifferent to it.

The female looks up and reads the taut mask of her mate’s face, the yearning in his shiny, black eyes. She bites back her words. She holds out her paws to him, palms up, unaware that it is not the first hopeless, supplicating gesture that has been proffered to him that day. Outside, all colors slowly bleed out of the sky. The darkness closes in and triggers the artificial lights to turn on and drapes a sheet of sickly orange light over the stirring street creatures in their bundled up swaddling of rags and quiet despair. The lights flicker on throughout the concrete wilderness, and the lights in the sky dim and fade entirely.

The Last Day

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I tear through my late neighbor’s garden on my hands and knees. The sloping ground behind her house is all mud and broken stalks that twitch in the wind. Mrs. Cordon sighs from within the house. Her body has been lying in her bedroom for almost a year.

Although it’s late afternoon, the darkening skies make it hard to distinguish rock from root in the mud. Gray clouds move shadows over the scorched and cratered valley below the mountains, over toppled buildings and highways gridlocked with abandoned cars.

The city burned for days until the rains came; the sky filled with a black smoke that coated the trees with ash like early winter. Now it is still.

As I dig, mud spreads on my face and clothes and weighs down my hair. Blood mingles with the mud on my arms. I was ambushed today. They had stalked me for a week — a pack of feral dogs, mangled, ugly. They ambushed me in the rubble of a gas station. An emaciated Mastiff latched onto my arm as I howled and found a rock the size of a lamp to bring down on its head. The others scattered into the woods, their retreat marked by rustles and yelps.

Now I listen.

I hear something.

But it might be just the voices.

The wind carries voices sometimes. Whispers that trickle through our silent town, into the empty husks of houses, under collapsed roofs and over the unmoving remains of my neighbors.

But this sound — a scratching sound like a plow being dragged along the earth, and jangling keys — is new. And it’s close.

Hello! A voice calls from a distance. Hello, Hello, Hello!

The words cut through the empty streets.

Is there anyone here?

Barks and yips sound in the mountains as if in answer.

I stop digging, my stomach full of raw potato and mud, and scan the street.

A figure appears by the Miller’s house, a person with a large hiking backpack, layers of dark clothing, a hooded sweatshirt shadowing their face. They push a shopping cart heaped with assorted bundles and water bottles.

I scramble on all fours from the garden to Mrs. Cordon’s house, up the rotting wooden stairs to the porch, through the door, the mildewed rot of living room, and crouch by a window.

Is there anyone out there? The figure hesitates in the road and looks around. They look directly at my window and I fall to the floor.

The skeleton of the house creaks around me. I hear the wavering old voice of Mrs. Cordon. Stay, she whispers.

When I look out the window again, the street is empty. Mrs. Cordon is quiet. In the silence I hear the echoes of my first calls, unused to the abrupt stillness in town, when I wandered the empty streets and screamed my voice raw. I creep onto the porch and listen.

A single warning bark in the distance.

Wait, I try to say, my voice cracked.

The gray skies swirl above me and the air is full of rain.