Elliot Goodacre Survives the Flood

Danielle Armstrong
My brother has gone inside himself, deep inside the cobwebby caves that make up his mind, and I don’t think even I can knock him out of his trance, not this time. We’re sitting at the end of the boat dock, which juts into the lake at the top of the hill above the house where we live—well, where we used to live.

The water is rising.

The grayed boards beneath us have a warped, creaky look about them, a look that says they too will disappear soon. I’ve lost my shoes somewhere. I rub my callused heels against the wood, to make sure I can still feel something, even if it is pain.

Jeremy hasn’t spoken to me since yesterday when we sat at the kitchen table solving word problems, and I can’t remember the last time my skin wasn’t cold and pruney from being wet. I keep checking Jeremy’s face. If his lips turn blue, then we’re probably both under-oxygenated. Mother always used that word when she watched us swimming, and now I’m using Jeremy as a mirror, my silent twin.

The lake wishes to become a river, to wash away to new places, as I suppose we’ll be forced to do soon. Rain slaps against the green water and objects appear from the world beneath like some sort of magic trick: discarded rubber tires, whole felled trees, and even a piece of a trunk and weeds, which together look to me eerily , like a soggy woman with long strands of seaweed hair.

Jeremy doesn’t comment when I look back and forth from this water show to his blank expression. The lake surrounding us on all sides seems so unreal as if I still haven’t woken from a deep sleep. Jeremy tells me about his dreams sometimes, where he would rather live and be the characters he imagines, where T-Rex dinosaurs in pince-nez rule alternate universes and little boys puke up fully functional remote control trains. I wonder if dreams appear to him in this subtle way, as new worlds below the one we see each day, below the rigor and routine, underneath the bottomless layers we don’t even know exist, surfacing into our unconscious minds as we sleep.

Right now, Jeremy’s sitting next to me, cross-legged on the dock, his eyes glazed and his breathing a little slower than I’d like, and I can’t help but wonder when he’ll return to me. He’s all I have right now. The rain has probably washed away our town, and I’ve brought us to the dock, mainly because it floats. I don’t know what else to do. I’m hoping some rescue plane or boat will come and find us. The rain beats down harder and Jeremy rocks back and forth almost imperceptibly.

Our house is ten miles north of downtown, and we’re at least four miles from the nearest neighbor. If the rain creates an upstream current of ten miles per hour, which increases with every inch of rain, how long will it take someone to know we’re still here?

I need Jeremy’s help. I reach over and poke the side of his grey and blue striped t-shirt, deep into his ribs. This knocks his body dangerously close to the side of the dock, but he still says nothing, only returns to his rocking. But his eyes move, and I can tell I have his attention from the way he looks at me out of the corner of his eye.

We all have a natural blind spot, Mother told us, because of the placement of the optic nerve. Right now, I can’t afford to miss anything. I need Jeremy to see what I can’t.

“Hey, Jer. Can you, uh, can you see anybody? Do you think someone’s coming for us? Is there something I’ve overlooked?”

While I wait for him to answer, I take stock of our options: wait for the dock to unmoor and use it as a make-shift raft, dive back into the house and try to take off a door or something else that might float, swim. I could for a while, but Jeremy? Lightning flashes not far from the opposite shore, and thunder makes the dock shake beneath us.

We have to find something to use as a raft.

“Jeremy,” I whisper close to his face, but still off to the side. When he’s become inverted like this, he does best when I don’t make direct eye contact. It’s as if he’s turned so far inward he cannot look straight ahead.

He begins to hum along with his rocking. Finally. I’m getting somewhere.

Jeremy points to the dock, and I know what he wants me to do. It would be too dangerous to go back into the house now that it’s mostly submerged, especially in the rain that’s still coming down. But the dock is old, and in this constant rain, there have to be places where the boards have rotted through. I walk back toward where shore used to be and kick at the posts.Where the dock is anchored to shore, a few inches of water have crept up to cover the boards.

All that can be seen of our house is the oval window that looks out from the attic. Early yesterday morning, Jeremy and I stood there and waved to mother as she left for work. She hasn’t come back. Most likely the rain flooded the roads that led to our house before she got off her shift at the elderly center. She’d have to find a boat to get back here now. She might have tried calling, but even if our phones had stayed dry, the storm probably prevented service getting through.

More debris has floated past the dock, mostly tree branches, it looks like, and somehow a pink pair of goggles has materialized next to Jeremy. He must have grabbed them from the water.

“Thanks, pal,” I say and put them on. I stick my head into the water near the end of the dock as I wiggle the posts. They seem looser, and with the goggles on, I can see what I’m doing. It sounds strange with my head under the water while it rains, like I imagine it sounds inside a snow globe that’s been turned upside down. My body shakes from the cold water, but I focus on loosening the posts, and a squelching sound tells me they are as loose as they’re going to get. I try pulling them up and out of the mud, but that’s impossible while I’m standing on top of the boards. Instead I lie down and kick at the posts with my heels until they splinter. The rain washes blood from my feet as the dock begins to move away from the house.

The dark, churning lake drifts us farther into the middle of the current. I crawl back to Jeremy and pull him down until he’s also laying flat on his stomach. That’s when I realize I’m still wearing pink goggles, pink girl’s goggles, which I push up onto my forehead.

“Where are we going?” Jeremy asks.

I shrug my shoulders and hope the dock-now-makeshift-raft holds together if the storm gets worse. All we can do now is wait and watch.

We catch up to the tree branches that floated past earlier. I grab at them and begin to strip off leaves and the little twigs at the end. It looks more like a broom than an oar, but when I dip it into the water, I’m able to change our path slightly. The lake and floodwater has merged so much, I’m not even sure which direction we’re going. I just know that our house and Mother and the town are now somewhere lost behind us.

“Where do you think we should go?” I ask. “We can stay in this current or try to move to the side somewhere, but I doubt we could row against this with tree branches.”

Jeremy nods, looking around. There’s so much water, we can only see the tops of trees sticking up above the surface. There aren’t any other houses up here, and I don’t see any boats.

Thunder cracks again, and the sky turns green from lightning. When it’s quieted and I can hear the raindrops against the water again, Jeremy points toward my left to a tall tree with a cat clinging to its evergreen branches, a cat who howls frantically in an almost human-like scream. I use the oar and Jeremy sticks his hands in the water, and we paddle in the cat’s direction. Maybe if we have someone else to save, we can figure out a way to save ourselves.

Danielle Armstrong

Danielle Armstrong, a Tennessee native, received her MFA in fiction from the University of Central Florida. While at UCF, she worked as an English Department GTA with the Literary Arts Partnership to provide creative writing classes to Orlando area youth and adults affected by mental illness. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming online and in print at riverSedge, Scissors & Spackle, Paragraph Line, and Connotation Press. She works in Orlando as a technical writer.

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