It was during Kathy’s fifty-fifth year that the Great Flood came, and she was the one who prophesied it.
No one believed her. Her husband, her children, her neighbors, her coworkers at Delaware River Tubing—all had gotten used to her doom-and-gloom forecasts and constant worries about death and destruction over the years. They had no idea that she’d always had the gift of prophecy, it had just taken over five decades for her to be able to express it accurately. For example, her husband only knew that on the night of their honeymoon, Kathy’s first sexual experience, she had bled on the sheets and had spent the rest of the night in the bathroom, sitting in the tub and clamping a towel between her legs, telling him through the door that she was worried if she removed the towel she would bleed to death. What her husband did not know was that in the motel room next door, a young woman was slitting her wrists in the bath and would be dead by the morning, rolled out on a stretcher before the newlyweds woke.
Her children, too, had stories of their mother’s neurotic doomsaying. Like the time years ago, before the two younger boys were born, when there were still just the four girls all squeezed into the backseat of the Dodge as their mother drove them home from visiting their father at his job, a night shift at the Crayola factory in Easton. It began to downpour somewhere along the back roads their mother had taken to avoid the highway, so she slowed the car to a crawl and eventually pulled over to the side of the street. The car was silent save for her sharp intake of breath and the sheets of rain washing the windows. One of the girls asked her what was wrong. “There’s something wrong with the rain,” she finally said. “It looks too shiny!” One of them swallowed a quickly aborted laugh. The windows fogged with their mother’s hyperventilated breath, but she would not let them open one because she said the rain might be toxic. They waited there almost an hour until the rain let up, and then their mother began to breathe normally again and even laughed at herself as she drove the rest of the way home. What they did not know was that the rain that night was indeed toxic. It was laced with chemicals from a spill at a local plant, and it soaked into the grounds of nearby farmland and killed upwards of one hundred cows by the end of the month.
Even Kathy’s neighbors learned to dismiss her warnings about freak weather patterns and bears breaking into homes and low-flying bats getting tangled in hair. So what if she did correctly predict the Halloween snowstorm of 2011? So what if the bears really did progress from tearing through garbage cans to heaving their bodies against glass doors? So what if someone’s kid did get a bat tangled in her hair and had to get stabbed in the belly with three rabies shots? They chalked it up to the intuition of a woman who had lived her whole life among these woods beside this river in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains.
And then, at Delaware River Tubing where she worked as a safety instructor handing out life jackets to tubers and kayakers, Kathy had almost lost her job countless times in the past after voicing her concerns about the strength of the current and suggesting that certain customers not go down the Delaware that day because the river was too rough. Sometimes the customers ignored her, and they almost always arrived at the other end of the route safely, except for the one time a nine-year old boy had fallen off a kayak during a Boy Scouts trip and drowned. The company was safe from liability because of an “at your own risk” clause in a contract all customers signed, but they did shut down for one season following the accident, and Kathy took that season to wallow in the guilt she felt for not keeping the boy safe. That was also the season she bore her sixth and final child, a son. The following season the company re-opened its doors and Kathy’s coworkers did not speak of the accident or how Kathy’s predictions may have been right, but they also no longer complained to the manager when she told tubers to come back another day when the waters were calmer. They allowed her worried vociferations free rein just in case, but they still didn’t believe she could really foresee the future.
So at the end of the summer during her fifty-fifth year, when Kathy told her family to pack their clothes and photo albums and diaries and anything else they wanted to save, when she knocked on neighbors’ doors and told them they would need to evacuate their homes because the Delaware was going to crest to historic heights and sweep houses from their foundations, no one believed her. They believed what the news told them: that they would be on the outskirts of the hurricane, that at most they’d get some rain, maybe a little flooding in the houses closest to the river. They’d prepare as they always did. Flashlights, Bud, sandbags, buckets.
Kathy told her children to hurry and pack; they would need to leave within the next hour. Her daughters rolled their mascara-crusted eyes, closed their doors, and continued talking on the phone. Her oldest son nodded, his glazed eyes glued to his videogame. Her husband tried to rub her shoulders as she threw her clothes and his into a garbage bag.
“Relax,” he said. “It’s all in your head.”
Only her youngest son obeyed her orders and meticulously packed his little wooden suitcase studded with Pokemon stickers. He stood expectantly at the door until she told him, “We don’t have to leave this very minute.” She looked up the stairs, listened to the sound of videogame gunfire and electronic music and her daughters’ voices laughing and gabbing. “We’ll leave when everyone’s ready.” Her son rapidly clenched and unclenched his fists and wrinkled his forehead, all sure signs he was about to have another of his episodes. She told him not to worry, she would make his favorite peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, the only thing that always calmed him down. By the time he was done eating it, they’d be ready to leave.
When she went into the kitchen she found the bread was moldy. She dangled the last blue-spotted slices between her thumb and forefinger and then threw them in the trash. Her son paced the linoleum behind her as she looked out the window at the river at the edge of their back yard. It was swollen and the rain had only just started. Their yard was always shaded by trees but was especially dark at this moment, a sickly yellow-gray. She debated whether to go out and get more bread for her son’s sandwich. He was beginning to whine. Next, he’d piss his pants and writhe on the floor or curl up in a ball in the closet or maybe even squeeze himself into the crawl space again and pass out like he did last time. The general store was only ten minutes away, she reasoned, but the rain and wind could drastically increase in that span of time. The river could crest and fill their house from ground floor to attic, drowning her husband and her children in a flash flood.
She’d been lucky, she knew, to have had all six of her children live through childhood and into adolescence without as much as a broken bone. Back in her mother’s and grandmother’s days, when having six children was not something grocery-store cashiers raised their eyebrows about, at least one child would die during birth or before reaching the age of ten. This luck was what worried her—she might have been be too lucky, she thought, so lucky in the past that some terrible tragedy was bound to strike her family in the near future. All those times she canceled their road trips because she had dreamt about losing her children behind the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. or imagined her children snatched away by alligators in the swamps of Louisiana, perhaps those were all false prophecies pointing toward the true, final loss that would sneak up on her in the one moment she wasn’t vigilant, like in the ten minutes it would take her to drive to the general store.
But still, there was her son writhing on the floor with wet pants. There was the need of a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich.
She knocked on the door to the bathroom, where her husband had been for the last fifteen minutes, she assumed, reading auto magazines. She told him through the door that she was going to the general store for bread and she’d be back soon. She told him that he’d better watch the river and if it looked like it was rising he needed to load the kids in the car and drive up the mountain and meet them at the store. She wasn’t sure if he heard her amid the rustle of a turned page but couldn’t waste time repeating herself. She called once more to her children upstairs that they’d better be ready to leave by the time she got home, and then she scooped her son off the floor and took him with her in the truck, backed out of the gravel drive, and sped down the deserted highway under fat drops of rain and increasing winds. She glanced quickly to her right—the river through the trees was brown and rushing over the banks. She could hear, in the distance, a tree limb crack. When a gust of wind pushed her truck over the yellow line into the other lane, she considered turning around, but the store was close enough that she could almost see it, and she knew it would make a better shelter for her son than their house would.
When she got there, she pressed her boy close to her body and wrapped her jacket around both of them, and then they ran against the wind into the store, where they were ushered in by a crowd of people milling about the entrance. They watched the rain through the glass door, sheets of it running down the pane. Across the way, a flag with the picture of a smiley-face on it was ripped from a porch and flew across the road. A tree looked dangerously close to falling on someone’s car. But the store itself felt safe to Kathy. She bought her son a grape lollipop, the only thing besides a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich that also worked to keep him calm, and then she did something she never imagined she’d do: she left him.
She asked the store’s owner, a woman she’d gone to high school with, if she would keep an eye on her son while she returned to get the rest of her kids. The woman agreed but tried to warn her from going back out in the storm. Couldn’t she just call her family and tell them to come? Kathy shook her head; their cell service had been shut off for non-payment and they didn’t have a house phone. Wouldn’t her husband know what to do? Weren’t her kids old enough to use common sense in a storm? Kathy shook her head again; none of her kids was really that swift, not to mention this was going to be a storm of historic proportions—no one would know what to do in a storm like this. The woman continued to protest as Kathy opened the bell-bedecked door and stepped out into the sound of rain and wind and rising river.
She sped, with only a passing thought that it’d been years since they got new tires for the truck, worrying only for a moment about hydroplaning, worrying a little more about the hail that started to fall and fracture the windshield and began to pile up in the back of the truck so that when she finally got home, finally pulled in the driveway and stopped the truck and got out, she saw that almost the whole bed was filled up with them, golf-ball sized pieces of ice. But even then her mind was occupied on other worries: the river, the flood, her children left in the house. She didn’t even notice the fact that their other car was gone, that her husband had listened to her after all and taken their kids to higher ground. She left the truck running and ran into the house, calling the names of all her children from youngest to oldest: “Buddy! Alice! Susan! Franny! Jennylee!”
The house was silent, save for the whoosh of the river, which had already overflowed the banks and rushed through their yard and was eddying around her ankles. She ran up the stairs two, three steps at a time and searched the rooms to make sure none of her children were hiding in closets like they did when they were younger, how they used to try to scare her, how they used to try to prove her love for them, like they needed to do that. She looked in the bathrooms and called their names again, but by the time she remembered that she had asked her husband to drive the children up the mountain, by the time she realized that the car had not been in the driveway when she pulled up, by the time she realized that no one was left in the house, the river had surged to impossible heights and the current was rushing through the house with the force of a tidal wave and Kathy barely had a second to gloat that she was finally right, that this was indeed the Great Flood, because in the next moment her poorly manufactured house detached from its weak foundation and was swept away with the current, taking Kathy along with it.
At first she wasn’t sure what was happening. “This is it,” she thought. “This is the tragedy I knew would come.” She wasn’t afraid, then; she was almost excited, almost vindicated. A shiver of joy and freedom that she hadn’t felt in so long, since before being married and having children, gave her goosebumps. And then as the house sped down the river, this woman who worked at a kayak shop but was afraid to kayak herself began to feel the thrill of the rapids, and the thrill turned to a rush of love when she glimpsed, through the trees, their silver Dodge moving slightly slower than the current down the highway parallel to the river, on the way to higher ground, her husband’s head behind the driver’s side window, her children squeezed in the back. She pushed open the screenless window of her daughter’s bedroom and waved to them, shouting, Goodbye! I love you! but they didn’t see her. How she wanted them to see her! She was happy, she was laughing, and she knew they should have seen her that way more often while they were growing up. She laughed again when her house was swept past the general store, which was too far from the river for her to see into its windows, but she knew he was there, her baby boy, still sucking the lollypop and probably playing with plastic farm animals on the floor. And she knew, as she was pulled farther down the river, jostled in her daughters’ bedroom from postered wall to postered wall, that her husband would soon make it to the general store with the rest of their children, and they’d all ride out the storm there together, safe.
Even when she had drifted miles from the general store and from the town, even when there was no one to hear her but squirrels hiding in the hollows of uprooted trees, she shouted her happiness out of the opened window of the house, her “yahoos!” getting lost in the wind and rain. She thought about all the places the river would take her, all the places she’d never been and would now see as she cruised through on this strange ship. Who knew in what wondrous world she would end up?
Photo By: .waldec