Anthony Boudoin stood in the attic of his New Orleans home, less than a mile from Lake Pontchartrain. Having abandoned the hacksaw thirty minutes ago for the cordless trim saw, his forearms were burning. I didn’t charge da battree enough. It was over 90° and sweat was pouring down the back of his legs. His socks were wet. There was no way for him to get the bed downstairs otherwise. Doug wasn’t strong enough to help him get it down from the attic. When he finally had the headboard sliced in half, he called Doug to the bottom of the attic stair. He slowly handed the pieces down to him.
“Where do these go?” Doug leaned the chunks of wood up against the wall and examined them.
“Oin da batroom winda,” he pointed to one piece of headboard, “lawndry room,” he pointed to the other piece.
“We using nails or clamps?”
“Think we used all da clamps. I’ll go fine some nails.”
At the end of their street was a levee lining the 17th Street Canal. The canal drained water out of the city and into Lake Pontchartrain. It also served as a city limit, on the other side of it was an area of Metairie called Bucktown. Lakeview and Bucktown were bound to each other, connected by the Old Hammond Highway Bridge. There was little difference between the two neighborhoods. They were both pretty suburban, but also filled with seafood restaurants and boat launches. Doug even went to Catholic school in Bucktown. When he turned twelve, Anthony said he could try walking to school by himself.
Doug went to the kitchen and picked at the scrambled eggs he hardly touched during breakfast. His body was sore from boarding up windows. It seemed like yesterday there were more people staying behind. But now it was Sunday, a day before the hurricane would hit, and it was apparent that the neighbors were all gone. Standing outside, it was obscenely quiet. Houses crowded on top of each other but each one silent. Only one air conditioning unit humming in all of Lakeview, and it belonged to the Boudoin’s.
“Dougie!” Anthony grunted.
In the yard, Anthony was holding the headboard over the bathroom window. He was standing in the flower bed. Doug picked the hammer up out of the grass and went to nail the board up. Two, five-inch long nails were poised in between Anthony’s lips and he leaned down to give them over to Doug.
Halfway through the second nail, Anthony started to shift. The board almost came loose “Dad, come on.”
“Ow! Ow! What da holy shit!” Anthony let go of the board, ran away from the flower bed, and started beating the leg of his blue jeans with his palms. Slapping himself, he wiggled his feet to get out of his loafers. His shoes off, he started pulling down his pants and making his way to the garden hose. Doug spotted the raging red ant pile under the window, ants pouring out of the injured dome. In his boxer shorts and socks Anthony started hosing his legs to get the bugs off. The bites were already turning red. Great. Dis is great. What a fun way to spend da starm.
“Well, this is pretty sturdy. Look, it’s stayin up with just one nail,” Doug showed him. The kid was a master at harping on the positive. As long as he looked on the bright side, it helped Anthony to look on the bright side of things, too.
In his dripping wet underwear, Anthony was unamused. His socks were getting muddy.
Doug tried again, “At least the neighbor’s aren’t around to see you.”
“Fine. Least dere’s dat,” Anthony conceded and went into the house to change.
“There’s bite spray in the medicine cabinet,” Doug said over his should as he finished nailing up the board. He threw the hammer in the grass and started picking up potted plants. He put them in the laundry room along with the doormats, the windmill garden statue, and the American flag that usually hung by the front door.
“I look like da goddam chicken pox.” Anthony returned to the porch.
“Does it itch?”
“Not wit dat medicine oin it.”
“That’s good.” They methodically went to the swing that hung under the old oak. They unhooked the swing from it’s chains and moved it into the laundry room. Without the swing, the chains hanging from the tree limb waved in the air. Anthony grabbed one and threw it up into into the air, it wrapped around the limb and fell back down towards the ground. Anthony grabbed the chain again and threw it up and around the limb, shortening the chain each time. Doug helped with the other chain. Once they didn’t hang low enough to be in arm’s reach, Anthony decided it was safe enough. “That’ll be a pain in the ass to get down later.”
“Hey,” he warned.
“Sorry, pain in the butt.”
Last night they discussed what had to get done today, and there was no room for thought. They just did what they had agreed upon. When they were finished in the yard, Doug would start cooking the food in the fridge. What was left in the freezer was now defrosting in the sink. Anthony would pack ice chests with the food and fill the sinks and bathtub with water. “Didju see what dat sign say?” A block away was a girl’s Catholic high school, it had been in the neighborhood longer than any of the houses. Now, there was a large, painted sign hung over it’s doors.
“May God bless you and keep you.”
Anthony nodded, “Of course. Dat’s nice.” He nearly said that Doug’s mother had gone to school there, but as usual Anthony didn’t mention her. It was hard enough just sending Doug over to see the sign at all.
“How does God keep people?”
“He keeps em.” He cleared his throat and tried again, “Like he protecks ya. Keeps ya close ta him.”
Doug went through the drawers in the kitchen looking for the apron-potholder drawer. Anthony was a sucker for reorganization, he optimized cooking time by rearranging drawers depending upon what he was cooking, how it needed to be cleaned up, and how the leftovers would be stored. Every couple days, Anthony would pull out two drawers filled with utensils, phone books, dish towels, pot-holders, coupons, coffee filters, or other junk, and switch their places. The cabinets in the kitchen had been unrigged since 1978 so that the drawers could be pulled out of their cubbies and put in another. This also meant that if you pulled on a drawer too hard, you’d end up dump the contents all over the kitchen.
From a junk drawer Doug found a plastic hair barrette. He held it up quizzically for Anthony to see. “That was your grandmotha’s” Anthony lied. He always said girl-things in their house belonged to Doug’s late grandmother, but most of the time they were things that belonged to his mother. Barrettes, finger nail polish, rainbow shoe-laces, eye-liner, charms for bracelets. There were too many places for these tiny things to hide. When a person grows up somewhere, they get themselves in every nook and cranny. Anthony usually left the things where he found them, although he never imagined his daughter ever coming back for them. Of course, if Janine ever cleaned up she’d be back for more than just her old Bonnie-Belle lipstick collection.
Dinner was ready. Doug fried trout for his Dad, but he had baked himself fish-sticks. Well, he’s no Justin Wilson, but at least he’s book smawt. “Look what I saved from the weather,” Anthony put his soccer ball on the kitchen floor.
“What’s the rain gonna do to that?”
“Hell, it’ll float ova ta somebody else’s yawd.”
“Oh, yeah,” Doug put the ball in the corner. “Thanks.”
“We got any tawtaw sauce?” Anthony opened the nearly empty fridge.
Doug helped him find it. “What do you do when the power’s out? Just read?”
“Yeah. Didn’t you say ya got homewerk? Do dat.”
“What are you gonna read?”
“I read tings. I’ll read dis,” he lifted up a cereal box and pretended to think it was interesting.
When Doug rolled his eyes he didn’t know he looked just like his mother. “But what did you do before? What did you do last time the power was out.”
“I contemplated da wonders of da whirld.” Actually the last time the power went out, Doug was at school and Anthony had just gone to eat lunch uptown. “Dis trout is purfect. How’s ya processed fish produck?”
“Much better than trout,” Doug covered his plate in ketchup. “What happened to the ant bites? Did they all go away?”
“No, most of em look like pimples now. Dey got all da way up ta ma belly button. Dey weren’t foolin around, doze tings were gonna take me down just fa standin on deys pile.”
“Did you know that when it floods, ants survive by piling together in a big ball, all of the ants hook to each other. They just float around in this big ant-ball. Until they find land or something to climb up on.”
“Dey’d climb up on a person, too?”
“I guess so.”
“Dats why we don’t go in in da flood.”
Full Story Continues HERE
Author: Sarah Rae
I am originally from New Orleans where this story is set, and I too failed to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina. Another excerpt of my novel thesis Charity was published in Southeastern Missouri State University’s Big Muddy issue 8.2. I received my Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the City College of New York. My work has also appeared in Inscribed Magazine, Oracle Stories & Letters, Big Muddy, and Ramble Underground.