Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: SA Libby

The rain has been falling for days. So long his weary eyes can’t remember exactly where the roads lay under all those feet of muddy water. Planks of wood and shingles surf along the surface. Clothes and blankets, curtains, magazines, food and bottles — all the rubbish of life — float lazily by. No bodies, though that doesn’t comfort him. If anything, it makes the lives in the attic lonelier.
It has been days since their phones worked. Shortly after the last screen went dark, the radio died with a static cough. His ears still ring with the last soft sounds of the world going mute. There has not been a shout from a rooftop or a sob of life outside this room in many rain-scourged days. They are alone.
“Now, I know it came down worse than this,” Albert Bluff says.“in ’54. It was higher than the cornears that year, and that was just when it got started. Lucky for us, the houses floated better then. Tanner and I used ours as a raft and sailed out over the whole town. I tell you, you couldn’t say where the river ended and the town began.”
“That’s not true, Grandpa!”
“Sure enough is,” he huffs. “You can check the record books.”
“Don’t question your grandfather!” his son, Patrick, answers by rote over his shoulder. Pat has been watching the storm clouds through the only window all day.
The rain tumbles into the flood hard and insistent. Much harder than in ’54, if Albert is honest. And much, much longer. Their house rests atop a small hill in the center of the subdivision. The houses below are islands of rooftops. Even just two days ago they were still dotted with refugee families. A rather wet way to end up on a deserted island, Albert had joked. Tanner made that joke back in ’54. It hadn’t been funny then either.
Some of the lowest homes are entirely gone now, swallowed up by the storm. It took the whole week, but the flood has finally reached the foot of their house, licking against the foundation. And rising.
“Shall we play a game?” he suggests.
“Grandpa, what’s the point? We’re all going to die!” Kat, the youngest of the Bluff children, says. She is sniffling but proud, determined not to be the one to cry out for Mommy.
“Don’t talk like that!” Patrick shouts, but he doesn’t turn from the window.
“The worst thing in these situations is the waiting. To be rescued, I mean, or for the storm to spend itself out. Tanner and I always played games during storms. We’ve got boardgames up here somewhere…” He digs around. Luckily, the attic is stocked full of abandoned activities and canned goods in dusty boxes. “Here we are. We’ve got Memory, a half a pack of cards, most of the pack for charades, and — well bless my soul, I thought this had disappeared long ago — Dream Boat.”
Samantha plucks her ears up at that. She puts down the cocktail she’s mixing with the available makeup and sidles up to him. “What’s that one, Grandpa?”
“My favorite game. This here is what Tanner and I played when we were children.”
“How do you play?”
“It’s very easy. Everyone, gather round.” The children obey. Pat stays at his window. Albert picks up a dusty miniature boat and places it between them.
“The game is simple. Everyone draws a card. On the card is a person: a shipbuilder or a lawyer or something. Now, we’re all on this boat together, castaways. We tell each other our dreams – as a lawyer or a shipbuilder or whatever – and after we hear all the dreams we have a secret vote. Whoever gets the most votes is the winner and named captain. We set sail for wherever the captain dreams. The person with the least votes is thrown off the boat!”
They all look very skeptical about it. But they’ll see the fun once they get going.
“So, let’s start. Everyone draw a card. Pat?” His son does not turn around. It’s selfish of him, to keep staring out there, waiting on something that’s not coming.
“I’ll just draw for him.” Then aside, whispering to his son, “You’re a fireman.”
They all have their cards, although no one seems eager to start. The rain redoubles, the only thing not exhausted by these downpour days. Trevor, the only boy and second youngest, seems a little frightened to hear the drops fall so fast again. Albert will have to walk them through the game, keep their minds away from their father and what he watches out the window.
“So Samantha, why don’t you go first?”
“Do I have to?” she pleads, trying out a flirtatious flick of her eyelashes. More practice still needed, little one.
“Okay, fine. Whatever. I’m a banker. My dream is that I’ve been picked up for an amaaaazing roll in a new film starring Cherry Bottom, that lush guy who was in Formative Years last summer.” She looks around to see if anyone is jealous yet. “So, Cherry and I are the major stars in this new film and it’s set on an island. We fly out early to practice our scenes together — in private— and after we have a few too many mojitos—” she checks to see if the word is allowed “—we start kissing for real. And then we fall in love and get married and have lots of babies. The end.”
The rain thrashes against the house. The wind knocks at the window, threatening to come in. There is a coolness rising through the floor that tells them the water has begun its invasion on the lower levels. Trevor squeezes his knees and closes his eyes. Albert Bluff pets him and tries to bring them back to the game.
“How does that relate to being a banker, Sweetie?”
“Okay, fine, and there’s a bank and stuff on the island.”
No one seems particularly impressed, so Samantha grumbles that she always thought the game was stupid anyway.
Cindy, the middle girl and the shyest, is looking depressed enough to jump out the window and take her chances with the flood, so he calls on her next.
“I got musician,” Cindy says quietly.
“Very good. So, what is your dream?”
She gives a furtive look for instruction then rushes out with her story, almost too quickly to catch the words. “My dream is to join a band, a big rock band, and tour the country. And we’ll be famous — but just a little, none of those photographers and none of the drugs or anything — and we’ll just play the most beautiful music every night. And I will play flute—”
“Rock musicians don’t play flute!” Samantha mocks.
“They could! Anyway, it’s my dream…Then we’d win some awards and make some money and we’d give most of it to charity.”
“That’s a very nice dream, Cindy,” he says and musses her hair.
“A very dorky dream,” counters Samantha.
“Musician was always Tanner’s favorite. One time he told a Dream Boat story so good we had him write it down and send it into the papers. He won a national prize for it.”
“No he didn’t Grandpa!” Kat says.
He considers a moment. “Perhaps not a national prize, but something really fancy. Anyway, Trevor, you’re up.”
Light tears across the sky to the sound of a bass drum. Even Patrick jumps back a bit.
“It hit the tree.”
“Not our tree!” Samantha cries.
A wet spot has formed around his grandson. Albert braces himself: the moment is finally here.
But no, it is only the fear in the boy’s belly relinquishing itself. Albert’s immediate concern is keeping the boy out of embarrassment. He edges his grandson over behind some boxes and discreetly hands over a pair of trousers from when Pat was a boy. Samantha watches out of the corner of her compact but only brushes her hair back quietly.
“Did I ever tell you kids the time Tanner put out the fire in the old courthouse? It had been a dry summer and some fool on jury duty dropped a lit cigarette on himself, burst right into flames. The whole place would have burned to the ground if not for Tanner being there on a school project. Boy, he worked miracles that way. Picked up a janitors’ bucket and dowsed the thing room by room. The old folks in town still call it Tanner Hall in his honor.”
“Grandpa, you tell that story all the time,” Kat complains. “And every time Uncle Tanner does something more incredible. Last time he saved a judge having a heart attack. Before that, he stopped a jailbreak. But if he was so great, then why did he fall off that bridge?”
Albert searches for the answer in the folds of his ancient fingers. “I’ve often wondered that, Katherine. Perhaps he’d done all the great things he was capable of, and there was no point in not falling anymore.”
“The river took him away?” asks Cindy.
“The river took him away.”
Trevor returns from behind his boxes and sits on the opposite side of his wet spot. The girls kindly ignore the sudden wardrobe change and the mixed smells of urea and must arising from that area of the attic.
“So, who are you Trev?”
“I’m a chef.” The boy blinks a bit of excitement. He likes his food. This is a great bit of luck for him.
“Grandpa, do we have to go on?” Samantha moans.
“We’re in the middle of the game, Sweetie. We have to find out whose dream is the best.”
“What’s the point, though?” snipes Kat. “The water’s already halfway up the house.”
As if by command, the house wobbles right and left like a half-full bottle of soda given a nudge. The little wooden boat slides along the floor.
The Bluff family is in no mood to continue now. The little eyes around him have turned wide and red with worry, waking to the sudden realness of their situation. It is in fact Kat who whimpers the first, “Mamma.” Samantha stretches an arm around her, and they rock back and forth with the house.
Albert peeks past his son to gauge the water level. All the other houses have submitted to the tide. They are treasures at the bottom of a new sea. The dirty water swirls savage and angry eating the items fleeing for safety. Albert feels like an ant watching the water rush around a bathtub.
“Trev, go on.”
Trevor shivers a reply.
“Pat, perhaps you could go.”
“What do you want, Dad?”
“So, you’re a fireman. What would your dream be?”
“My dream would be for this damn rain to stop and everyone to be home safe and sound.”
Albert lets a sigh seep out of him. “Tanner and I, in ’54—”
“Enough, Dad!”
“We’re all gonna die!” Kat cries.
Hail beats against the attic. Thunder shouts foreboding. He doesn’t look out the window, but he can sense the water is rising still. Where have all those houses gone? Where are all the families? Tanner would have an answer, although Tanner has been gone so long he’s not much good for anything but anecdotes.
They all crawl away from him to join Pat at the window. No one bothers to ask about his card. What a shame. He’s been lucky enough to pull the best one: sea captain.
The water dampens his bottom and his feet. No more false alarms from Trevor’s questionable bladder.
I would dream us onto this boat.
Trevor lets out a terrified shriek; Pat holds him, then expands his grasp and pulls all his children close.
We’d sail off to all sorts of lands — fight pirates and save maidens and meet savages — just me and my trusted family. Pat would be there and the grandchildren and Pat’s Teresa, and my sweet Sylvia, and Tanner. And we’d sail into sunsets where the water looks sherbet. We’d find candy cane islands, follow treasure maps, and live out our days from adventure to adventure.
The children are all crying now. Pat breaks the glass to get access to the roof. He’s giving instructions, but Albert can’t follow them. His story shouts over the rest.
Perhaps we can all shrink down, ride the waves out and explore a new world. It would be just like the stories. And we’d find Sylvia along the way. And Teresa. And Tanner. There’d be no more need to cry then, we’d all be together and it would all turn out alright. After every adventure, we’d all come back together. And just sail on again. Tanner would captain; I would steer. Just over the horizon would be the next adventure. We could go on like that forever.
He would win the game with that one if they would only vote. But instead Patrick is pulling them out, one by one, and loading them on to the roof to watch the last few minutes before the storm overtakes them.
He is the last to go. The floor of the attic is full of floating memories, soaked through and sinking. The game cards sit atop the water, all face down. Photos and love letters also bob to the surface, looking set to survive. Albert looks around for his little wooden Dream Boat.
And surprise, it floats.


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