By Jeffrey M. Greene
We were trying to get out of the parking lot when the tambourine guy and his dancing daughter caught my eye: all the encouragement he needed. Shameless in a blue silk vest, no shirt, and gold pantaloons, he sidled over and leaned into the car, dropping his tambourine on the seat between us as he winked at Iva and talked about the rain that wouldn’t stop. I groped for coins while his Little Egypt moon-walked for a hard hat in an orange rain suit who couldn’t take his eyes off her wet, clinging veils. I smelled his dirt as he leaned across me to snag his tambourine, baring his bad teeth at the five quarters I dropped into it.
“Buy a boat before the price goes up,” he sang, bumping hips with his daughter.
I should have listened to him because the last dry route from our neighborhood into town turned into a lake not long after that, and pretty soon we were shoveling snakes off the deck, the pressure-treated pine slippery-green and spongy underfoot. I never got used to the sound of early morning commuter boats barreling through the no-wake zone of the former Glendale Road while the water slopped over the front porch steps. If the rain didn’t stop soon, it was higher ground for everybody, not just the poor bastards at the foot of the hill. Trees that a year ago were dying of thirst were now drowned, their leafless branches home to countless starlings and crows that seemed always more bedraggled and desperate.
“What do they eat now that they’ve run out of squirrels?” my son asked.
“Whatever crawls up the trunk to dry off,” I said. “Or floats by.”
“They’ll be after us pretty soon,” he said, letting the curtain drop and turning away. He was still adjusting to no electricity then, his many juiceless toys so much junk lying around. I kicked something in the dark one night, reached down and picked up his cell phone charger, the phone itself long since smashed in one of his then-frequent rages. His asthma really spiked after that, with all the mildew, and sapped his anger along with his strength. An attack almost killed him one night when I couldn’t get the damn boat started, and that’s when we gave up and headed west toward the mountains, where everyone else had beat us to it.
I didn’t expect to find any work and didn’t, and housing prices were obscene, and we soon realized the mountains weren’t any better, with the mudslides and flash floods and an ark-building prophet in every hollow, cannibalizing his church to prepare for the prophesied deluge that had finally come. We just wanted a dry place to wait it out, someplace where our clothes weren’t damp all the time, the sky so blue you wanted to shout, and a high desert sun that loved you and killed you and made you dream about it every night. So we caught a barge train in Charleston, West Virginia, heading for Nevada, the driest state in the Union, along with ten thousand other pilgrims.
One day, on the shoreless, inland sea that had been the Mississippi, someone noticed that it hadn’t rained for the last five minutes. We pushed on, our hopes rising as the sky cleared, reaching the Kansas drylands in December, where we rented a car, and when we got to Las Vegas, we rested in a motel while deciding what to do. The weathermen back east said it was over, the waters would recede, we could go home now, and I was ready to believe them, but my son’s asthma was better, and Iva dug in her heels, so I said let’s stay. With the last of our savings, we bought a little house in the distant suburbs, and on the day we moved in, I went out to look at the yard and felt a drop of rain on my face. I stood there, looking up at the sky as all the clouds in the world, it seemed, moved in from the east.