'The After' by Heather McQuillan

Inside our house, sounds are diluted as if there’s water above the level of my ears. My fingers trace the flowered wall seeking out where I’d stood every first day of a month – straight-spined, feet flat and heels to the skirting board – while Mom pressed my hair down with a ruler to mark my growth. It’s been months and months since I last got measured. Maybe I’ve stopped. It feels like that. The after. Mom yells at me not to touch.

Dad says the hurricane got itself trapped up in Mom’s mind and it’s not my fault but sometimes it’s hard to tell. He told her to stay away but Mom ain’t got no damned patience for that. Time wasted heaves through her veins and erupts in hard slaps across her own legs and sometimes mine. So we’ve come to see for ourselves, shuddering in a borrowed car through streets we recognise but don’t. Air hisses from Mom’s lips as we pull up at the curb where all our stuff’s got pitched like a drunken yardsale. A mirror, its glass patched with mold, leans back on the step reflecting tumorous clouds. Dad salvages what he can. He stands, shirtless, in the doorway as Mom rushes in. I follow in her wake.

Our house is stripped bare to a shell, and that smell, damp and sweet like death, but the walls alive, spawning petals of grey, black and mauve. There’s a line all around sketched like a horizon between then and now. I kick my sandals off to stand barefoot on buckled boards, my heels to the swollen skirting. My scalp is below the horizon. I hold my breath. A surge of water inside my skull drowns out her howl.

---

First published in Flash Frontier June 2018: New Orleans.

Comments

  1. Such an appropriate story to end the flood with!

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