Submerged! by Leo Kuelbs

Do you remember that day? The air was heavy and wet and when we looked off the cliffs towards the sea, the water, haze and sky joined together earlier on the horizon the normal and it gave us pause. We had been up at the old cemetery dropping flowers off at Dad’s grave. It was the anniversary of his drowning and we had returned, once again, to our sad, annual picnic. I remember we drank two bottles of white wine and slept for a while near his grave under a tree. I woke up with sweat stains all over my shirt and my mouth full of thick saliva. We packed up, said goodbye to Dad and walked the trail back down to town.

There had been hurricanes and more hurricanes in the couple summers before, but there hadn’t been any word lately. It seemed like we might get a season without having to deal with another round of heartbreak and trying to get back to where we were before the summer began. We had been slipping backwards for the last several years. Always trying to get back.

Work was slow. Career work, work for money, I mean. As we had fixed houses again and again, you and I talked about moving somewhere more northern. And inland. We could always do construction that much was certain. I remember we often talked about starting a restaurant together. Or maybe doing new things on our own. New things. I had a communications major that I hadn’t had time to use and wanted to write for a newspaper; you were a good cook, at least around the house, and still wanted to go to school and become a real chef. But Mom was alive and old and didn’t want to leave and if we both took off, she would be stuck in bad spot. I think we both decided to stay that long for solidarity. If Dad were there, with her, instead of in the bluff’s graveyard, we would have both been long gone from our slow hometown.

We were part way down the cliff, just above town, when you pointed and told me to look out. It took me moment to see, but once I followed your finger more closely, I saw the lump in the horizon. Fuck. Remember that? An unnatural lump, like the kind a woman worries about on her body. We didn’t ask each other what we thought it was. Remember that? We could practically read each other’s minds. Besides that, what else could it be? There were a few other swelling lumps similar as we scanned the line.

We stopped staring and started running down towards town. Anyone else would have stumbled and rolled off the trail and onto the rocks that met up with the roiling waves, but we knew the trail better than most. We were like goats, you and I.

On the way down, we stopped a second and looked again to be sure. It seemed ridiculous that another round of tragedy would be slated for us, for our family, our town, after everything we’d lived through. And this time with no warning? We hadn’t been up with Dad that long. But there were more lumps—big waves, huge waves on the horizon line. Instead of the flat horizon, the line rose up and fell and if it was a song on a page it was a blue one that went up and down and on and on.

The waves we spotted initially were moving that much closer and we knew the town’s only hope of protection was, as always, the bay. Most of the waves would break, but some of these would get through. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe these waves would calm down. But another look out to sea showed more lumps and the previous lumps were now waves that could be seen in the distance and they were followed by more and more waves. You said they might all break at the mouth of the bay. The truth is we had never seen anything like this before.

We broke apart when we reached town, you went to get Mom and the car, me to tell whoever I could. As I watched you run up the street towards home, your white shirt fluttered under your black hair. No hugging, no goodbye. It would be okay for us. We had seen it first.

Everything in town was calm. Everyone was tired of tragedy and floated dreamily through the days between massive difficulties. Martin was sitting outside his coffee shop reading and I yelled that big waves were coming, he quit reading and sat up. He asked me something, but I kept running. I was the only alarm this time and I hadn’t time to explain everything to Martin, who always had a million questions about anything anyway.

I yelled at every soul I saw. Big waves, no warning, get inland!! A few of them stiffened and went upright before bolting away in urgent comprehension. But most people who heard me in my quick flight gaped a moment, then went on with whatever they were doing. As I turned on Water Street, I looked to see Martin pulling down the metal cover of his door, but he was doing it slowly. Too slowly. It was as if most of them knew and accepted that they were already dead. They were all slack, burned out and not able to take any more.

You were home with Mom by then, throwing things in the back of the Volvo wagon. That stupid wagon. If we hurried, we could avoid the traffic pile-up and get inland, where we would hopefully be safe. We knew that we had little time to get out of town and inland. The bay had always protected us for a while, but no one had ever seen anything like that then. All those waves. It was a matter of time before they forced there way through the bay’s opening and put the town, everyone and everything in it, under water.

Few people were out as I ran up the hill, the last couple blocks, to Mom’s house. It was a relief. Though I wasn’t tired, trying to communicate was taking time away from me. I wanted to live, but I didn’t want to feel guilty, like I didn’t do what I reasonably could to save whoever would listen.

We were not the only people to have seen the waves. Screeching rubber could be heard as I closed in on Mom’s. A few more cars pulled out backwards and fast and drove up the sloping hill that led away from neighborhood, into the mountains, and out of town. If we didn’t hurry, we would get stuck in traffic and die in our cars, just like good Americans probably should. I thought about that as I ran, eating hamburgers in the car, driving, singing, and now dying. Or maybe the car would float for a while. I thought about the bodies trapped in shipwrecks in the cold, fresh water lakes of the north. I could see the three of us trapped together in the Volvo with the crackers disintegrated and the water bottles still full floating and trapped between us. And I wasn’t afraid. We had all seen so much death by then, the idea seemed almost appealing. If it had to happen, I wouldn’t fight, at least the three of us would be together.

The car door was open when I ran into the driveway and yelled for you to hurry. You didn’t hear me, you were yelling at Mom in the doorway, I still see your black hair again and the sweat stains had overtaken your shirt. I said we had to go. I told you about the other cars and you turned to me with your hands up and open. I can see your mouth moving still but I cannot hear the words. But I know what they were, “She won’t come out. She won’t come out.” Then you told me to go, and closed the door. I heard the front door lock snap and three other cars went by. In a moment, I was pulling back into traffic and driving fast past the living room window. I saw you wave, smiling and sad and maybe I could see Mom on the chair she always sat in behind you.

By then, the first waves had already destroyed the part of town that sat on the water, the part of town where the tourists used to walk and watch the sunset, the beach where we used to have our parties, drinking by a bonfire, the best part of town, the part we were known for, the piece that always felt the best human joy and the initial brunt of the big storms. That was put under by the first waves. They didn’t stop coming for six days.

I had to take a boat to get here. And it was expensive, no one wants to come out here now, it’s too soon. Dad is still up here and even though no one has tended this graveyard for over a year, it is in relatively good shape. It’s an island now! But you know that. I wonder if someone will put a resort here someday. Maybe it’s too small for a resort, but a rich guy could buy it, I suppose, and build a house over Dad and the others. I don’t think he would care anymore, I wouldn’t care—that piece of the world is gone and that part of me will always be submerged with you until I die.