When the city floods we build a boat. This is what our father would have wanted us to do. Katherine suggests wood, but I doubt wood can save us. Alice pulls our father’s drafts from the library—thousands of pages of his work, unseen, unremarkable. We consider it with careful fingers. This is our father spilled onto the page. We mourn him individually. Outside, the rain falls steadily, heavily, sheets of it becoming walls, barricading our view of the world.
Katherine and Alice and I begin to build. Our father’s premonitions will surely keep us afloat. We have already begun to forget that we grew up on solid ground. The space we are in blurs at the edges, undone by the idea of what comes after this disaster we are in. Tape and hopefulness hold our paper boat in place.
One of our father’s pages says: Do you despair for your own end or the world’s?
Alice says: I missed him even when he was still here.
The electricity has been out since the deluge began. We tinker with our paper boat—our father’s protection—by the glow of candlelight. This is a commentary on history, I think. How far we think we have come and how far we will go until we find ourselves right back at the beginning.
Our neighbor Gus has already drowned. There was nothing we could do to help—we had not yet built our boat. As he was swept away into the building tide, we saw his familiar face, his gentle smile—he bobbed in and out of the flood, happy. We watched until we could only see rising water and the absence of Gus.
When our boat is complete, we stand back and admire. This disaster has revealed the explicit beauty of everything. The satisfaction of ink on paper, the uneven dimples of my sister’s cheeks, the powerful unending circulation of blood inside my body.
What disaster do we face that we have not faced before?
We put on water-resistant raincoats and several pairs of socks. We tuck away the idea that we may return to our childhood home. The storm outside—angry and blue—is waiting.
It takes all our might to heft the paper boat into the flood outside—our father’s words are heavy. At the end of his life he was father-shaped, but empty. Struck down by a sad disease that humans hadn’t cured yet. It ate him from the inside-out. Maybe his body saw the end of the world before the rest of us—maybe that’s always been true.
We propel ourselves into the boat. It is shaped like a savior. The flood is steady and we can’t see the street. Stray cats paddle to the paper stern, scratching at the boat, asking for safe passage. Though we have nothing to promise, no plan, Katherine picks up the wet, scrawny creatures, and sings to them.
We have no hope of navigating on purpose. We sail down the ghosts of streets, searching for familiar markers. There is the movie theater marquee, choked in the river. A good time to show Apocalypse Now, Alice screams. She is thinking about our father’s quiet death, how envious she was.
The flood converges with other floods from other places and sooner or later we find ourselves adrift in an ocean-shaped thing. I take my sister’s hands and tell them this looks less like the end than I thought it would. We huddle against the wind and rain in a paper boat our father gave to us. This is our narrative now. We close our eyes and try to find comfort in remembering the world is just one small thing in an unimaginable universe.
Emma Stough is a Midwestern writer living in Charleston, South Carolina where she teaches beginning creative writing. She has work out or forthcoming in Third Coast, Quarterly West, Jellyfish Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly.