by Chris Bullard
His mom slammed the door of the dishwasher and shouted, “They said we had to evacuate. They’re going to close the road to Melbourne.” His dad bellowed back, “You know they always say that.”
Jess pushed his tugboat over the rag rug in his bedroom and made engine noises. The tug was fighting the waves of a hurricane like the one that was moving up the coast toward the barrier island where his family lived.
“You’re going to let us drown,” his mom screamed. He heard his dad turn up the sound on the TV.
Earlier in the evening his dad had put up the storm shutters, but he had refused to pack the car. “We don’t even know if it’s going to hit us,” his dad had said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
“We’re surrounded by water,” his mother had replied. “We’ve got to get out now.”
Jess was used to his parents’ arguments. They were as frequent as afternoon thunderstorms. Nothing ever came of them. So he was surprised when his mother grabbed his arm and steered him downstairs.
As they passed through the living room, his mom announced that she was taking the boy and leaving for the mainland. His dad sighed and turned off the TV. He picked up the suitcases that his mom had left in the kitchen and threw them in the trunk of the car that was waiting in the garage.
The wind was blowing so hard that the car moved sideways as they drove across the causeway to the mainland. Whenever the car veered, his mom gave a loud gasp.
“Don’t worry,” his dad said, “I’ll get us there safe.” His mom shot back, “If we had left two hours ago we’d be safe enough now.”
They stayed in the gym of a high school. Jess spread out on a wrestling mat and read comic books. He could hear his mom’s voice booming over the voices of the women sitting at her table. She was saying that she had to have been crazy to move to an island. Everything she owned was going to wash away.
His dad sat talking with a group of men. The men were playing a card game while slumped in their chairs like football fans waiting out a heavy rain at a stadium.
His mom’s voice spread out over the gym like high waves rolling in from the ocean and whenever her words broke over the table where the men sat, his dad looked at the ceiling and shrugged.
The lights went off at ten. Other people kept talking, but he turned over and thought about the storm. He wondered if the ocean would rise and wash away the town. He pictured the high school full of water. He saw himself on his wrestling mat floating above his silent parents.
In the morning his dad drove them to the motel where they would stay until the island re-opened. His dad navigated in a roundabout way to avoid flooded streets. Each of the buildings stood in its own small lake.
The air was warm and misty. He tried to breathe through his mouth to see if he could live underwater.
“We’re surrounded.” his dad said. “There’s no way to get out of here without a boat. It’s like we’re living in goddam Venice. I feel like I’m driving a gondola.”
His dad started to sing, “O sole mio.”
“Don’t be such a martyr.” his mom replied.
Jess asked his dad, “Will everyone have to leave?”
“Of course not,” his dad said. “They’ll just build everything back. You’ll see, everything will be like it was before.”
His mom gave his dad a long look. “Then the next storm will come through and knock it down again.”
His dad seemed unconcerned. “That’s just the way it is around here.”
Years later, Jess was standing beside the Bridge of Sighs while his girlfriend took his picture. They had met while they were both in their junior year abroad and had gotten along well until they had made this trip to Venice. They had already had one fight that morning about whether to walk or take the vaporetto.
Tourists streamed by like a crowd of refugees.
“Venice,” he said, “We’re living in goddam Venice.” She didn’t ask him to explain.