The Thin Black Line
The boys stared at the TV, which hung from the ceiling in a corner above the bar. It wasn’t on before, but now they watched as a reporter stood in raging water and pointed at tree limbs rushing passed him. He wore a giant blue raincoat and glasses that were fogged up and riddled with rain droplets to the point you couldn’t see his eyes.
“He’s going to get swept away,” said Demi like she was seriously afraid for his life.
“They said it’s going to rain all night,” mentioned Gabe.
“We got water back here!!” yelled Nancy suddenly from the kitchen. “Fuck me running, we got water!”
The urgency in her voice made the men rise to their feet and gallantly go back into the kitchen where they started talking sand bags.
“I don’t have any fucking sandbags,” said Nancy. This was the old bartender in her coming out, pragmatic and razor sharp.
I looked over at Demi as she stood in the middle of the diner, lighting up another cigarette.
“You can’t smoke in here,” I said with indignation.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“Go open up a door or something.”
“Really?” she replied and pointed to the front door which now had visible water rising at the bottom of the glass and some of it was coming in.
“We’re going to have to be rescued,” I said.
“It will be fine. We have food in here for days. We have a roof. I’m sure these seat cushions come off and become life preservers,” said Demi while taking long, slow drags. Her bright red lipstick rubbed off on the filter.
“This isn’t a plane,” I said.
Her calmness made me uneasy. The boys and Nancy were in a yelling match about what to save in the last minute if we needed to flee for our lives. John was on the phone with the Ohio State Patrol. No one was running rescue missions in the middle of the night, but we should call back if the water rose to be a certain number of feet in the diner. There was a threshold we had to meet before others would risk their lives. Everyone became a little edgy, except for Demi. She grabbed her plate of mashed up the pie and put it on the counter. Then she reached over, grabbed a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee. I realized the giant sweater made her look like she had no pants on.
“People underestimate themselves,” she said.
“We’re going to make it through this. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost everything, but I just know we’re going to be alright. No better place to be than here.”
“You lost your dog,” I began to feel vulnerable.
“Hey. He wasn’t just a dog.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just stressed.”
“Call your boyfriend.”
“He probably won’t answer.”
“He sounds like an asshole.”
“He’s not, he’s just Simon.”
“That sounds like an asshole’s name,” said Demi, trying to get to me, to start something. Oh, how I wish she’d freak out about the rain so I could rise to the occasion.
“Go smash some more pie.”
“We are not good enough acquaintances for you to point out my nervous ticks. Smoking is one, now you pointed out playing with my food.”
I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not.
The boys and Nancy were in a full-fledged shouting match at this point, something about sacks of flour as sandbags. This diner was going to implode on itself before the rain stopped. No one was coming to save us.
“You’re right. I’m going to call him.”
“Good,” she said and went back to her booth.
I stood by the glass door and watched the water leak in by my bare feet as the phone rang. I had 30% battery power left, and the only charger I had was back in my car. What an amateur mistake. I thought of swimming back to the rental when he answered and startled me.
“You called me.”
“Yeah, where are you?”
“I’m in Vegas, you know that,” he sounded like I interrupted him.
“How is it? How are you?”
“I’m good and busy. How’s Ohio? How is the family?”
“Well, I don’t know. I am kind of stranded at the moment.”
“I guess there is a never-ending rain cloud above Ohio today, and it’s been raining since I crossed state lines. Now there are flash floods, and no one is coming to save us,” I sounded more desperate than I actually felt.
“Save you? Where are you?”
“I’m in a diner with two farm boys, a waitress and a crazy lady who has a dead dog with her.”
“What? Call your father. Where is your car and why can’t you drive? I really wish you would have flown, Ann.” He sounded like a parent. This annoyed me.
“The roads are all washed out. I took the back way to dad’s because it’s faster and the roads are shitty to begin with so it’s really no surprise. The car stalled and I walked.”
“Oh my god. How bad is the flooding?”
“Well, the kitchen floor started to get water, but we have food, and there’s a roof,” I said. Simon’s concern gave me poise.
“Call Larry, Ann.”
“My dad would try to come out here in a canoe or something and get killed, I’m not doing that. The state patrol has been called, they know we’re here.”
“I’m worried for you.”
“Thank you, that helps.” It really did help. I looked over my shoulder back at Demi, who pretended not to listen to my conversation as she studied the pie menu that consisted of apple or cherry. That’s when I heard women’s voices in the background. Someone said, Simon where’d you go?
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m at a casino.” He said this like I should know better.
“Was that Shelley?” I asked. Shelley was his co-worker and traveled with them a lot. She was married and also hated men.
“No, Shelley didn’t come. One of her kids is sick, and Charlie couldn’t get off work.”
“Oh. Well, who is that then?” I could hear more voices. Either I was paranoid, or my boyfriend was in a room full of women.
“It’s Vegas, Ann.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s Vegas. We’re having a real time.”
“Me and Nichols and Branson and some other guys we met at the sales meeting. Their company men are showing us a good time.” When he said “company men” I suddenly felt like a 1950s housewife, thinking of the Wellesley education I gave up. I felt the heat on my face for the first time in several hours.
“Are you with prostitutes?” I said that word with force under my breath and cupped the phone in an attempt to keep Demi from hearing it. But I heard her snort from behind me. I flicked her off without thinking.
“It’s Vegas, Ann. And they’re not prostitutes. This is a really classy place. Everybody hangs out with escorts when they’re here.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s entirely inaccurate.”
“I don’t know what to say. The guys want us to have a good time. They buy us things, and we have to just go with it.”
“Oh my god Simon, you’re not in an episode of Mad Men. You don’t have to go with anything. And by things to do you mean women? As in other human beings?”
“I’m not going to fuck anyone.”
“I hope you do, and your dick falls off.”
“Wow, really mature, Ann.”
“Better double wrap your shit.”
“I can’t believe you just said that.”
“I’m wearing my funeral dress and watching entire trees float by, Simon. I’m pretty much at an unpredictable juncture here. But by all means, have a good time, with the company men,” I sounded enraged and yet felt nothing. “My feet have gone entirely white, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to get capillary refill of my toes.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Simon.
“Of course, you don’t.”
“Don’t be a bitch. You’re just going through a rough time.”
“Seriously? I’m going to mom’s funeral, and my boyfriend is in Vegas with strippers while I float away in a flash flood, and you’re telling me it’s a rough time? That is the definition of an understatement.”
“I will see you in New York.”
“I will have your things waiting for you.”
“What? Don’t be crazy, you’re not one of those women.”
Before I had a moment to respond, Demi had come up behind me and grabbed the phone and hung up on him.
“Go to the bathroom, take off your dress, dry it under the hand dryer and use this towel to dry yourself off. You’re going to get sick.”
I just stood there for a moment staring at her. There was no sarcasm or anger or anything in her brown eyes except sincerity. I hadn’t seen that kind of look in someone’s eyes since I moved to New York. People are too busy to look at you like that like they really give a shit. I began to think it was just a Midwestern thing, but something told me it was her. Without responding, I went back to the bathroom and did what she said.
When I came back out everyone stood in a circle in the middle of the diner. They looked like they were about to hold hands and say a prayer.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nice sweater,” said John.
“We have decided on a plan,” said Nancy. She pulled her grayish-blond hair back and now wore a bandana that had tiny seahorses on it. Gabe held a large ax.
“Are we going to lead an attack on something?” I asked. Demi laughed.
“No, we’re just getting ready. The state patrol knows we’re here, but they can’t come to get us because they’re under such demand right now. Folks in town are stranded on the roads. Power lines are down. They said we’re safer out here as long as the water doesn’t rise to several feet,” explained Gabe.
“Do we think it’s going to get that bad?”
“I guess. The Buffalo passed flood stage according to the trooper, so it might,” said John.
“So, we decided that we’re going to stick it out here until we absolutely have to leave, and we’re going to get on the roof if it gets to bar level,” said Nancy and pointed to a mark on the bar they’d made with a Sharpie. That was it. That was the thin black line that kept us all on the ground level.
“There’s a ladder in the back I’m going to set up just in case,” assured John.
“And Nancy said she’s got plenty of food to fix us and coffee for hours and hours, and we’re going to turn on some music and dance,” said Demi. She sounded happier than she should have been.
The floor at this point had a nice sheen on it from standing water.
“I really wish we had alcohol,” I said.
John pulled out his flask and shook it, demonstrating its emptiness.
“Well, there is a gas station right next to us, it’s closed, but I bet we can get in through the back door. The kids that work there always leave that thing unlocked when they take out the trash,” said Gabe. We all looked at him and wondered how he knew that.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said.
“You guys, even with the water as low as it is, a current comes by or a tree branch, and you’ll be knocked off your feet,” said Nancy.
“Annalyn and I were just out there.”
“Doesn’t mean shit,” said John.
“Can you even swim?” I asked him.
“I can swim plenty good, and I’m the one with the flashlight.”
“Sounds like you’re leading this excursion then,” I said.
Nancy let me borrow her shoes but decided to stay back with Gabe in case one of us got trapped or swept away. They were the rescue party.
They stood at the door and watched as John, Demi, and I began to wade slowly out into the dark water. The lights from the diner and the gas station glimmered on the surface, and I could see trash and small tree limbs floating by.
“I’ve never risked so much for a beer,” said John to himself as he glided passed me in the water.
“Your Bronco is still here,” I said to Demi, who waded ahead of me, holding her sweater balled up at her waist.
“It’s gonna have to get a helluva lot worse to start moving trucks,” comforted John, as his big frame moved through the water, like a ship out to sea. He brought Gabe’s ax which was from the diner’s fire emergency kit and held it up over his shoulder like a lumberjack.
“I’m so glad you brought that, in case we meet a zombie or a serial killer along the way,” I chided.
“You don’t like me do you?”
John looked away from me and made his way towards the back of the gas station to check the door. Demi and I stood there and watched the water move passed us. It slowly rose above my knees.
“This is kind of fun,” she said and turned around to look at me.
“It’s also completely insane,” I said.
“Well, fuck. You gals are out of luck. The back door is locked,” we heard John say. It was dark, and we could barely make out his figure as he came wading back around. “I was hopin’ to get one of you drunk and dance dirty with you on a table.”
“Gross,” I responded.
“Why on a table?” asked Demi.
“Let’s go back,” he said with his head down.
I waded over to him and took the ax from his meat-cleaver hands. He just looked at me like, what do you think you’re doing? But he didn’t try to stop me.
“That’s not a toy.”
“No, shit,” I said and swung it like a baseball bat into the station’s large front window. It shattered.
“Holy shit!” said Demi.
“I think a tree limb busted through here,” I said. “Don’t you John?”
He laughed, “I think you’re right.”
“I think I’m starting to like you,” said Demi.
“I thought you already did.”
We dusted the glass away from the frame as much as possible and made our way carefully into the station. It was completely dark except for the freezer lights and a Budweiser sign.
“It does kind of remind me of a horror movie in here,” I said, making my way through the aisles. “We are definitely the ones who die first since we left the diner.”
“Don’t say that!” said Demi.
“Nope. We have the ax,” said John. “We are breaking the law, by the way, ladies.”
“It’s more exciting that way,” said Demi.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I responded. “I mean, I was a cop once.”
The two of them stopped moving.
“What?” asked John.
“You’re a cop?” asked Demi.
“I used to be. A while ago. Not since I left for New York. Calm down, guys. I’m not going to arrest you. I broke the damn window.”
“You’re full of surprises aren’t you?” asked Demi.
“It’s going to be okay everyone, just get the damn beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures or whatever,” I said and continued to load beer cans into my shirt.
“This is why I have large sweaters,” said Demi as she piled the cans high.
We made it out of there with two sweaters full of beer and a bottle of spiced rum. As we made our way back over, it started to rain again. I thought of the thin black line on the bar and wondered what life would to be like at that point.
When we got back to the diner, Nancy turned on a CD and Whitney Houston serenaded us. “Come on, dance with me,” said Demi and grabbed Gabe. He shook his head and smiled, and I thought he looked like a young Carey Grant at that moment. The two of them began to twirl on the diner floor like they hadn’t a care in the world. Then Gabe moved towards her and brought her to him and actually started dancing. I was impressed, and Nancy clapped her hands like I imagined she did at her children’s soccer games.
“You kids look great,” she said.
“Where’d you learn to dance?” asked Demi.
“The Marine Corps.” The explanation stopped there. Gabe had a way about him that made me think he was a soul lost in the wrong century. He embodied a genteel nature, an older code of honor I felt none of us could understand. He had been a lone mountaineer in another life. He was the top of a still lake in midsummer, quiet and tranquil, with unknown depths below.
I sat on top of a table and ate cold fries. The water on the floor had risen to the point the two of them made sloshing sounds as they danced. That’s when I caught John’s glance. He smiled at me. He wasn’t a bad guy; he just looked at things like he wanted to fuck them, even inanimate objects.
“Don’t even think about it,” I said from across the room.
“Don’t worry, I don’t want to dance with you either.”
“I’ll dance with you sweetheart,” said Nancy and her bartender-self were back, a little less Irish-pub and a little more small-town.
So the four of them sloshed around on the tiled floor that began to take on a brown hue, due to the water rising. I drank the cheap beer and pulled my arms into the sweater to try to keep warm.
“Were you over there?” asked Demi, looking up at Gabe. He looked about thirty, maybe older. He wore the answer on his face and with those combat boots he wore, weathered from long days in the desert.
“Yes, ma’am. Three times.”
“Both,” he said. “Iraq in 2003 and then two tours in Afghanistan much later.”
“He’s got good war stories,” said John.
“You don’t have to tell a war story,” said Demi. Now they slow danced to Sinatra.
“You’ve got a variety of music here Nancy,” I said and moved from the table to the booth.
“I used to have a bar before I got my youngest. This was my go-to soundtrack before we got the fancy iTunes-player-thingy,” she explained.
“I knew you were a bartender. And a mom.”
“Oh yeah. And all through college too, but then I started adopting kids and didn’t want to be gone at night. Now I flip pancakes and serve coffee.”
“He’s got good hair too,” said John and danced closer to Gabe so he could reach out and mess up his wavy black hair.
“Are you jealous or something?” I asked, feeling the beer.
John shot me a glare that said I’d hit a nerve so I didn’t prod further. John was one of those manly men that were as manly as they could get away with until someone called them out on their bullshit. He was older than Gabe and had some gray hair coming out under that Reds cap. He lived a hard-working life and probably ran around with six-pack abs as a farm boy before the beer and potatoes got the best of him. He had sharp blue eyes and a scruffy beard that went without trimming of any kind. I imagined he once played football in high school, tight end or defensive lineman and that he stole school lunches as a hobby. But he also had a quality about him that assured you, he had your back. He was a good man in a storm.
“Keep talking shit and I’m going to come over there and make you dance,” he said to me and we smiled at one another like we both knew it was all just a game.
“I bet you’d give it a helluva try, John,” I assured him. I laid down on the red vinyl booth, my legs dangling off the edge and stared up at the ceiling. I had not been that comfortable in a long time, which seemed strange because I had no shoes again and I was freezing.
The song had changed to a country one with a singer who had a winy voice and I suddenly thought of my mother. She was a big country fan. She would insist that she only loved “classic country.” George Strait or Johnny Cash. She’d play George loudly as we pulled up to school. This was during my metal phase, and I’d yell at her and say she embarrassed me. She would turn it down and say, “okay honey.” It’s moments like that that make you want to go back in time and kick your own 16-year-old ass.
I closed my eyes and thought of my mom and dad and how they would dance to this stupid country song and love it. Then I remembered my cousin’s wedding and how they danced and laughed and my father had no skill whatsoever, but my mother didn’t care. I thought then how I disappointed her. How I left and she wouldn’t talk to me. And just as I saw her face, wrinkled and sad and stained red with tears, I felt someone on top of me and opened my eyes.
“What was her name?” asked Demi. We were both squeezed into that booth in the most awkward of ways. She braced herself with one arm on the table, and the other one gripped the back of the booth.
“What was your mother’s name?” she asked.
“Pretty. Now dance with me,” she said and grabbed my arm and pulled me up. The song changed to an oldie, and we soon were doing the “twist” together which turned into splashing each other with flood water and laughing like children. The boys clapped out of beat with the song and Gabe smiled for the first time all night. Nancy leaned on the bar and drank John’s spiced rum, laughing at us.
Amidst all that, I forgot my mother’s face and New York and Simon and why I had left in the first place. Demi twirled me around. We both looked utterly ridiculous in those giant, knitted, sweaters, like two big marshmallows bumping into one another. We barely noticed the water rising. It was now well above our ankles in the diner. It was much higher outside. Suddenly, I stepped down hard and broke something beneath the murky water and fell.
“Shit!” I screamed. The pain seared up my leg, all the way to my hip. Demi tried to catch me as I fell but ended up alongside me in the water. Gabe, John, and Nancy jumped to our aid and quickly got us up on our feet.
“I think I cut myself,” I said and held up my leg.
Nancy went to turn the music down, and John helped me onto a table. “Let me take a look,” he said and knelt down. “Oh yeah, you stepped on glass or something and shattered it, it’s all up in your foot. Where the hell are your shoes?”
“They’re heels, and they’re about two miles back in the mud somewhere.”
“Let me,” said Demi as she slightly pushed John away. “There’s still glass in there. It looks pretty deep.”
“Well, shit,” I said in an attempt to sound like I really didn’t care. But inside I thought about infection and disease and how much it fucking hurt.
“Let me get the first aid kit,” said Nancy. “You’re in good hands, Annalyn. Demi was a nurse.”
“I wasn’t a nurse. I was an EMT for a while in Columbus. Just something that paid the bills until I got married.”
“Not anymore,” she said, and I looked up at the boys, and they both gave me a look like, don’t ask.
Nancy trotted over in the water with the first aid kit and everyone huddled around and watched Demi. They were all so damn calm I thought I was going to scream or start crying. Nancy seemed to pick up on this and said, “Okay guys, let’s give them some space.”
“I’m going to get some boots for you Annalyn,” said Gabe. “I’ve got a pair in my truck.”
“Be careful. Really, I’m okay.”
“No, you’re not. If this thing gets infected you’ll be in all sorts of trouble,” confirmed Demi. “This is going to hurt.”
I started to writhe in pain as she used tweezers to get the glass out.
“Drink this,” said John, handing me the spiced rum. I began to take large gulps. “Now, not too much. We wanna be able to get you out of here.”
“So her name was Louise,” said Demi.
“What was she like?”
“I don’t want to talk about her.”
“She was your mother, it’s weird you haven’t spoken to her.”
“I told you about Pilot.”
“Not the same thing.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t be-little me. You don’t know what I’ve lost,” she stopped poking my foot and looked up, her eyes met mine. And at that moment, it occurred to me that I wanted to hold her.
“I’m sorry,” I said. There was silence between us for what seemed like several minutes. I let out a deep sigh and began, “My mother was endearing. She was tough. She was kind. She had blond hair and blue eyes, and she filled a room. And she was a cop.”
“She sounds amazing. Now stop with the generic shit and tell me who she was.”
“She was complicated,” I said, speaking slower, “she had a hard life. It wasn’t easy being the only female cop in a small town, everyone expected dad to look out for her, and she hated that,” I stopped to breathe in sharp as Demi pulled a speck from my cut. Then I continued, “She wanted the world for her kids, and we disappointed her in some way or another. When I left the force, she quit talking to me. We didn’t talk for years except at Christmas, and it was always about the snow and my sister Janine, and then we’d go back to not talking. She thought I was weak. And maybe I was or am. I don’t know.”
“Did you speak with her before she died?”
“No. It was a heart attack, and it happened suddenly.”
Demi was really digging now, all the rum in the world would not stop me from feeling her moving around inside my foot. “Fuck!” I screamed, and this made Demi jump.
“I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to get the glass out,” she said this and kissed the top of my foot.
“My feet are filthy,” I said to her.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said and went back to digging.
“I do worry, though. I don’t even know you, and I worry about you,” I said this and wasn’t quite sure why I was saying it. I felt the rum heating up my insides. My face was warm, my fingers were tingling.
“Why did you stop being a cop?” she asked. I began to see scenes in my head as the last acts of a long, drawn out play that everyone has wanted to leave for the last hour. I laid back down on the table and didn’t answer her. I thought of the answer, but I couldn’t form words. And then the lights went out.
“Oh Lord,” said John. “We lost power.”
“Shit,” said Gabe. It was the first time we’d heard him swear.
“Everyone calm down,” said Nancy, appearing from the kitchen. The water was up to her knees. But she was short, so there was still time.
“John, I’m going to need your flashlight,” I heard Demi say. She was determined to heal my foot. John waded over and shined the flashlight on me.
“I can see up your sweater,” he said aloud.
“Shut up,” said Demi.
“Nice black panties,” he continued. “Are those lace?” he said and focused the flashlight on my crotch.
“I’m too drunk for this,” I said. I placed an arm over my eyes as if I could shut everything out.
“Leave her alone, John,” I heard Gabe say.
“Shut up, Gabe. You don’t get to be the noble one.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all night,” replied Gabe.
“I can see her panties from here, it’s not like I’m staring up her skirt. She doesn’t even have pants on.”
“I wish you would stop saying panties,” I said.
“Just leave the ladies alone,” said Gabe.
“I’m holding the flashlight, dumbass. You wanna be a hero?” John said, beginning to raise his voice.
“He is a hero,” said Demi without taking her eyes off me.
“He gets his dick sucked wherever we go.”
“Nobody is sucking anybody’s dick,” I said.
“When are you going to stop being jealous?!” Gabe shouted. It sounded unnatural.
“You boys stop it,” said Mother Nancy.
“Fuck you. I ain’t jealous of your PTSD-ass,” responded John.
“Stop it!” yelled Demi.
“This is what happens when he drinks rum,” said Gabe.
“Don’t talk about me like that,” said John. He reminded me of a bully on a playground, just pushing other kids down with his giant hands and belly. I wanted him to stop talking.
“I should kill you for saying that,” said Gabe.
“Well, you’re the Marine. Isn’t that all you boys do?”
Gabe got up at this and walked over to John. “Take it back,” he said calmly. At this point, I sat up.
“Please keep the flashlight on her foot,” said Demi. I admired her determination amidst the chaos.
John and Gabe just stared at each other like two wild bulls about to clash horns. Then John dropped the flashlight in the water.
“Come on!” said Demi and quickly grabbed it up. “Okay, lay back Annalyn. Almost done.”
The two men just stood there for what seemed like an hour and stared at one another. I suddenly regretted the alcohol. I didn’t realize how tall Gabe was until that moment. He towered over John. I noticed his right hand was balled up in a fist, turning white.
“Come on guys it’s going to be like the stick man fighting a bowling ball. No one wants to see it,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. But they didn’t budge. Something awful was about to happen. I felt the world on a tilt, but it might have just been the rum.
“John! What would Margaret think of you? Don’t hit that boy,” said Nancy. I thought this was funny. Gabe was clearly not a boy and not the one who needed protection.
“Who is Margaret?” I asked.
“His wife,” answered Demi.
“You’re married?” I asked John, but he didn’t answer.
“I should gut you for saying those things, like the pig you are,” said Gabe. He was serious. It scared me. But the nervous energy in the room gave me composure.
“Hey guys, don’t make me restrain one of your asses. Just call it quits, and you can fight later when there isn’t broken glass and infested water,” I said.
Demi looked up at me, shaking her head and smiling.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re not restraining anyone.”
“Why is that? I was a cop you know. I restrained a lot of grown men.”
“I bet you did, but not with an open wound on your foot,” she looked up at me for a moment. The two men towered behind her, but she just kept working. “You do have nice panties,” she joked. That brevity broke the mood and Nancy laughed.
“I’m walking away,” said John. “I know you’re a good man, Gabe.”
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” said Nancy.
“She’s known Gabe since he was a boy,” said Demi to me.
John walked back over to the bar and sat down. I watched Gabe. He just stood there, staring at nothing. His fist was still tight and shaking. I don’t think he had taken a breath in several minutes.
“Gabe,” I said.
“No, just let him be,” said Demi.
So he just stood there awhile and then I finally heard him exhale and slosh away to the opposite end of the bar.
I passed out from all the rum and pain and woke up in Demi’s arms in that booth. The water lapped at its sides as if we were on a raft. I don’t know how we fit like that, like two puzzle pieces.
“I’m wearing boots,” I said.
“Gabe and I put them on your feet after you passed out,” explained Demi as she moved slightly.
“Is it still raining? Are we on a boat?” I asked. I felt the rum in my head. I looked over, and Gabe was lying on the bar, I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not. Nancy hummed to herself in the kitchen, and I couldn’t see John anywhere.
“I want to lay here a minute,” I said. “Tell me a story. Tell me the story of your name,” I said.
“Yeah, you said it was your grandmother’s nickname.”
“It’s a short story,” she said. And readjusted herself. Her legs were up on the table now, and my head was on her shoulder.
“Demi was my grandma’s call-girl name. She was a hooker and worked at a port in San Diego, during World War Two for the Navy boys going off to war.”
“And your mom thought it would be a good idea to give you that name?”
“My mom was a full-fledge hippie in the 60s. She protested the war and did LSD, the whole package. She equated sexual liberation with liberation.”
“What’d your grandmother think?”
“Victoria was dead when I was born. She would have hated it, though. She was a classy lady, so I was told.”
“A classy hooker,” I said.
“I’m sorry. What about your mom?”
“My mom was kind of all over the map. She was a hurricane. She spent most of her adult life trying to track down her father, one of those sailors, despite Victoria’s protests. There was a wedge between those two that no amount of drugs could fill. I loved my mother. She was difficult to love, but I loved her,” said Demi and looked over at me. I sat up.
“Why aren’t you a cop anymore?” she asked.
“It’s a really long story.”
“We have until the water gets there,” said Demi and pointed to the thin black line on the bar. We were about a foot away from the “abandon ship mark.”
I sighed loudly. “Well, I was a cop in Cleveland for three years when I left Ohio for good. I come from a long line of cops. My mom was a cop, my dad was a cop. My uncles are cops, my grandfathers were both cops. I have a cousin who is in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for god’s sake. The only one who didn’t become a cop was my sister, Janine. She’s an artist and hates authority. She fled to NYC. I think you two would get along.”
“Because I’m such a rebel?”
“Something about that feather tattoo on your neck tells me you two would get along, that’s all.”
“Ha, okay,” she said.
“There is something every cop goes through in their career. It’s just the nature of the job, and it makes or breaks you, but everyone at some point faces it.”
Demi stayed quiet.
“Your first child victim, your first dead kid.”
Demi still didn’t say anything.
“I had been called to this house on the shitty end of town more than once for stupid stuff like loud parties. There was a young couple that lived there. It was a rental. And I knew they had a kid, I’d seen him before. Samuel. We always wished child services would take him. They were serious addicts too, but we could never get anything on them. For as dumb as they were, they were pretty smart.” I paused and looked over at Demi, her brown eyes just stared back at me, with that same look of sincerity I’d noticed before. I suddenly felt I could tell her things I’d never told anyone.
“One day we were called to the house again because the neighbors smelled something. Everyone on that call knew we were going to be dealing with a de-comp. I figured it was an overdose.” I could smell it in my nostrils again.
“We got up to the house and went in. I was the first one in, and I thought maybe it was just all the trash inside and the food rotting in the sink. I half-expected to find a dead rat or something,” I paused and took a deep breath. I could see the house in my head. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. “I went to the back bedroom and opened it. And there he was, Samuel. He was about 18 months. His crack-head parents left him there to go score drugs. They locked him in his fucking room, and he starved to death.”
I saw Demi’s abdomen take a deep breath in. “Oh my god,” she murmured. Now I sat, legs folded in, across from her. Her hand was on my knee.
“I guess I just wasn’t the same after that. I took it personally. If I had done something about it earlier, maybe tried harder to get something on the parents.” I wasn’t looking at Demi anymore; I was looking at the water. “I called it in and went back to work the next day, but then I started seeing his face in my dreams, in my little cousin’s faces, in my coffee, in the sky on a clear day. So I turned in my badge and gun and went to New York, to my sister’s.”
“Is this why your mother wouldn’t talk to you? How could she not understand?”
“Everyone goes through it. She made it, and she thought I gave the family a bad name by leaving. You don’t understand how important the tradition is in my family. She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t move on. It wasn’t my kid.”
“It’s still disturbing.”
“I just could never get it to stop. I’d carry him around with me. We’re supposed to protect people.”
“Annalyn,” she said my name and squeezed my knee cap. Her hands were cold and wet. “Annalyn,” she repeated as if my name were an apology.
“I don’t need sympathy.”
Nancy and John suddenly appeared from the back kitchen with candles and a lighter. They looked jovial as they placed little candles on every table and started lighting them. It reminded me of Christmas.
“We’re not to the black line yet!” announced Nancy.
Gabe started to stir and got up. He now sat at the bar and placed his wet combat boots on a stool beneath him. “I’m starving,” he said.
“Me too,” I said. “What can we make back there?”
“There’s everything in the fridge. Pies, milk, sandwiches, lunch meat, cold fried chicken,” said Nancy as she came over to us and placed a candle on our table. “You two okay?” she asked.
“We’re good,” said Demi.
“Cold chicken sounds amazing,” I said and started to get up and climb over Demi.
“Bring out the pies while you’re at it,” said John.
“Let’s have a feast!” I said, limping through the water.
Nancy followed me back to the kitchen, and we started to raid the fridge like two high kids with the munchies. I placed the pies in her arms like logs to carry back to fire when she said, “that girl’s been through a lot. Be careful with her.”
“Why would I hurt her?”
“She’s like an open wound, that one.”
“We’re all wounds,” I said.
“That Dan she married used to hit her around. Do you know what I’m saying?”
“I was a cop so I’ve seen it all, yes,” I said.
Nancy glared at me like I hadn’t spoken in English. “That’s why she got that dog. Pilot. She brought him home one day, and Dan tried to come at her, and Pilot took a big chunk out of his leg.”
“She didn’t say anything about that.”
“That dog barely got excited about a steak, but he didn’t hesitate to protect her. He knew evil. Dan was evil.”
“I’m glad she’s free.”
“They got a divorce. It was a long awful, drawn out thing. Dan tried to put the dog down, but the judge refused. That dog saved her life, you see.”
We all sat at the diner’s counter. Our legs were curled up under the bar stools as the water rose beneath us. We just sat there and ate pie and cold, fried chicken. Demi actually ate, and Gabe and John talked to one another again. Things seemed to be getting better and we’d all forgotten about the storm. The rain had become a light drizzle outside, but water still came in, the Buffalo must have finally breached its banks. None of that mattered. It was just us and the dirty brown water below. My phone was on the counter next to me, and it was at 5%, but I had no desire to call anyone. The thin black line was still untouched and for a moment, I felt as if anything could happen and it wouldn’t matter. The diner had become our refuge, we had become our refuge. I could no longer feel my throbbing foot, and I wasn’t cold anymore. We were all drunk on survival.
“I’m pretty sure once the beer wears off we are all going to realize we have hypothermia,” said John.
“And diabetes,” I added.
“I don’t care. About anything,” said Gabe.
“We’re going to have to build a boat and rescue ourselves,” said Demi.
“I think we should all dance again,” said Nancy. “Forget our troubles.”
That’s when we heard it. It sounded like a metal building moaning. It sounded like mourning. We turned towards the giant front glass window and watched as Demi’s orange Bronco began to move.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” she said and dropped her fork. “Shit!” she screamed and jumped into the water and made her way quickly to the door.
“Demi! No! You can’t go out there!” I yelled and jumped down after her.
“Oh Jesus,” said John.
“Come back here! You can’t stop it!” I heard Nancy yell. But it was too late; she was out the door and half wading, half-swimming towards the moving vehicle. I was behind her.
The water moved fast. It was above my hips and sometimes I slipped, and it was above my neck. I couldn’t be really fucking tell where it was, but Demi had soon made it to the driver’s door and grabbed onto it like it was a life-saver.
“Pilot!” she screamed. “I have to get him out of there!” she yelled as if the dog was alive and it mattered.
I was behind her now, latched on and holding her up at the same time. The truck moved slowly, we held it there in place for a moment.
At that point, I noticed everyone outside in the darkness. I thought for a brief second, this is how it ends. We all drown.
“I’ll use what I got,” said John and climbed up on the hood of the car to weigh it down. Gabe followed suit as did Nancy.
“Can you get him out of there?” asked Nancy.
I moved off of Demi and tried opening the door. “We can’t open it with water pushing in,” I said. The Bronco had stopped moving for the moment.
Demi tried to break the glass with her fist. Debris was getting tangled up in our holey sweaters.
“Fuck! I’m not letting him go!”
That’s when John dipped down from the roof of the Bronco and swung the blunt end of his pocket knife into the window, it cracked.
“Do it again!” she screamed above the roar of the water and tucked her face in her sweater for protection.
“Watch out!” he yelled and with all his force, shattered the window.
Demi didn’t hesitate and jumped in, cutting herself on the glass as she went.
“Oh my god,” I said to myself.
“We’re moving again! We’re moving!” yelled Nancy.
“Hang on!” I yelled. I watched Demi through the glass window wrap her arms around Pilot and try to lift his stiff body onto hers. I had no idea how she thought she could get him out of there.
“We gotta go, guys, we gotta go,” repeated Gabe and started to slide down the windshield into the water. John made his way onto the hood, holding Nancy’s hand.
“Come on, Demi! Leave him, he’s dead,” I said through the glass. She didn’t look up, she didn’t stop trying.
“He can’t rot in this truck,” she just kept saying that, more to herself than to me.
By this time the Bronco was well on its way out of the parking lot and the other three were swimming back to the diner. It was all going so fast. This is how people get swept away in floods. You’re always seeing the people on their cars looking up at the helicopter and wondering why the hell they stayed there. Because it happens so, fast.
I had to do something. She wasn’t going to leave that dog.
“He’s dead!” I pleaded.
“Fuck you!” she shouted.
At this point, I had soda cans, leaves, and bugs sticking to my sweater. I started to pull it off while clinging to the Bronco. I was soon down to my bra and underwear and cut up by debris.
“I’m getting you out of there,” I said, and I somehow pried open that back door, first with my arms and then my legs. The water rushed in on her and Pilot. I reached out my hand, and I don’t know if it was her fear of dying there or just the force of the water, but she grabbed my hand and jumped towards me. She wrapped her legs around my waist and her arms around my shoulders, and I began to sink a little. We were being pushed downstream by the water now. It felt like we were completely out of control. Now she had let go, and we were both swimming for our lives back towards the diner. I could still touch the bottom, but barely. It was more the force of the water that kept me off my feet, than how deep it was.
“Come on!” yelled the others from the doorway.
“Swim!” yelled John.
I almost choked on twigs. I looked over, and Demi was drifting away. She looked tiny out there in all that water.
“Demi! Come on!” She didn’t look like she wanted to swim anymore. I wondered if she’d given up. I swam towards her, trying to stand up and reached out and grabbed the sleeve of her giant sweater and pulled her into me again. She was crying. No, she was wailing and couldn’t catch her breath. I told myself at that moment, fucking stand up. Stand up. I think all her crying gave me strength and I stood up with her. We managed to stand up and gain our footing.
“Are you guys going to stand there all day?” asked John. “Let’s go! Get out of there!” He shined the flashlight on us.
She pulled away from me to watch the Bronco go down the road that wasn’t a road anymore but a river. She just watched it in silence, and I think she stopped crying, but I wasn’t sure.
“Let him go, Demi. You have to let him go.”
“You don’t understand,” she said.
“I do understand. You have to let it be now, he’s gone.”
She grabbed my hand, and we stood side by side and watched her orange bronco get smaller and smaller. The water started to move me again, but we were steadfast.
“You have to let that boy go too,” she said this without looking at me.
Those words pierced me. I felt anger and squeezed her hand, I think she thought I was sincere, but I wanted to scream at her.
“What happened to him is not your fault.”
I saw Samuel’s face in my head again, in that Bronco, that orange Bronco that looked like a sunset moving away in the dark.
Then Demi turned and looked at me. There was something terrifying and absolutely beautiful about her and without thinking my entire body became an impulse, and I kissed her. It was a hard kiss, I gripped her. I was holding onto something. We pulled back for a second and looked at one another and then she kissed me again.
“Holy mother of all that is good,” said John.
“Let them be,” said Gabe and turned around. “Turn around John,” he said.
“You should be a priest, you weirdo.”
She kissed my forehead and my cheek and my lips once more and jumped back into the water towards the diner. I watched her swim away.
The others grabbed her up when she got closer and huddled inside the diner. Only John stood in the water, hands on his hips, staring at me. I studied the wreckage rushing all around me, the remains of things that used to be important. I could see the water rising up my body, and I thought of what it all must have looked like once without any water. And how strange it would be to see the dry ground, as if we had always been in a flood, as if that was real life and grass and the sunshine were altogether someplace else.
“You’re not going to do something stupid out there are you?” yelled John. I’d forgotten he was there. “Like jump in the water and float off somewhere to die, cause that’s how you look. You look like you’re longing to drown.”
“I don’t want to die,” I said and looked up at him.
“That’s good to hear, girl. Bring your crazy ass back over here. You saved her life.”
“I didn’t save anyone,” I said.
“I bet you made one hell of a cop,” said John as I swam up to him and stood up.
“Hey you guys, we’re up here,” said Gabe. He looked down at us from the roof.
“Is it that time?” I asked.
“Yup, the line has been breached.”
“What a shit show,” said John as we struggled together to open the diner door. We moved inside and waded towards the kitchen where we found the ladder.
“Is anyone coming for us?” I asked once we got to the roof.
“Everyone’s phone is dead, but they told us before, they’d come in the morning,” explained Nancy.
“Your phone got lost in the water Annalyn. I’m sorry,” said Gabe.
“Doesn’t matter much anyway,” I replied.
“I guess we’re watching the sunrise together,” said John. “And what the fuck are those?” he asked and pointed to a pile of red plastic squares that looked like party floats.
“Those are seat cushions from some of the booths, and our last hope if they don’t come for us,” explained Nancy.
“Where’s Demi?” I asked.
Gabe pointed to the opposite end of the roof.
“So this is a plane,” I said and sat down next to her. She stared at the darkness below. Things started to creak and moan under the pressure of the water. I could feel the building shift as things snapped beneath us. I hugged my knees to my chest to try and stay warm. The rum had worn off.
“Where would you want to fly to?” she asked.
“I think I’d stay right here,” I said.
“I think I would too,” she said and smiled at me.
“Do you think they’ll come for us?”
“I don’t know.”
We sat there, and I looked over at her. She was cut up pretty bad from all the glass. I grabbed her forearm that had a gash on it and squeezed hard, trying to put pressure on it.
It was still dark, and we couldn’t see the water below. We could only hear its rushing and the breaking of things. At one point I thought I heard motors but time went by, and no one came. There started to be light on the horizon, a purple hue of the morning and I felt the cold in my bones.
But I just sat next to her, holding her wound, waiting.