Louise was the first to leave and we called her traitor. She never wanted to stay in the first place; her son had a ranch near Denver.
They’d already started the dam. Early morning, the breeze just right, you could hear it—the sound of machines.
There wasn’t much to pack. What do you take when you’re losing your home? No sense in the tractor; there’d be no farm. No room for the sofa, where we were headed.
Graham and the boys took these things to auction. The whole town did. Everyone left for auction and I was alone in the streets. I walked them to see how it would be, the tracks along Main Street flooded, silt rising with every step. It was still dry, of course, but with the town empty, I could see it that way. I could hold my hands, at the station, against the tracks and feel them rust, then flake, grow slick with algae. I followed them out of town, to the church at the edge and the cemetery beyond.
I knelt at your stone, the one marked Daughter Of, and the water followed me. My skirt lifted in the imagined flood. Dirt drifted until your box uncovered and you spilled out, body as soft as I remembered. We floated together, with no one to see, wide-eyed beneath a surface crossed by boats’ and skiers’ wakes.
I stayed too long. I’m the reason they moved you and the others—they found me at auction’s end and said you couldn’t be left. Of course not.
A man photographed the rows of stones so we could lay you in order in your new home. Then we wrapped each stone in cotton—some were near eighty years old, from when the town first founded. And then we dug, backhoes like bugs, and stacked you with the others in the backs of pickups. We drove an hour away, to the new cemetery to unload, but by then it was too late to re-bury.
I saw my chance and took it.
Before dawn, I crept from Graham’s side. The boys’ breaths fell like a breeze down the stairs and I hurried outside. I pushed the truck to the road so the engine wouldn’t wake them, and I drove to the new place, where your box lay.
I opened it.
A year’d gone by and my arms ached to hold you, but you weren’t the same. It took awhile to collect myself.
A thing like that ain’t natural, of course. It changed me, I know. But I held you and loved holding you and remembered combing your hair that last day, how you fought to be gone, the picnic at the creek already begun and you anxious to climb that tree, not knowing how you’d fall.
It don’t matter what they saw when they found us, what they said or did. All that matters is that they dug your grave and put you in it. They took me home.
After Louise went Matthew and Agnes and theirs. Then Tom with his family and Bob with his. The Jacobsons. The Pickenses. Wilbur and Mary.
We were the last because I would not pack and I would not leave. I sat in your room with the pink wallpaper and the quilt Great Grandmother made and I held your dolls in turn, but there were too many and I didn’t know which had been your favorite. Did you have one? I don’t suppose so, always hankering after a new one the way you were.
The dam finished. The air, mornings, hung still. Graham took the boys to the place he’d found in the city. He said, “Pick what you want and come after,” but I couldn’t pick.
I stayed. Water shone on the south horizon. The ground turned gradually soft. Graham took to coming every weekend, when he had time from his job at the print shop there in the city and the boys were off from school.
Authorities knocked sometimes, said I had to leave.
Water ran ribbons through town.
Graham said, “It can’t stay like this forever.”
“Don’t touch me,” I warned.
It’s rained since and Graham hasn’t returned. Water laps the steps in town but ours is farther north, on a knoll. The road’s swamped, and the yard, but our step is clean and dry. I haven’t checked the cellar.
But Graham’s right—I can’t stay forever.
I hate your goddamn dolls and I’ve a bag packed with none of your things. It’s some satisfaction knowing, if you can’t float beneath that lake, they will.
Stacy Trautwein Burns’s flash fiction has been published online at Smokelong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, and New Flash Fiction Review (among others) and has been anthologized in print with Bath Flash Fiction and Reflex Fiction. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University.