Copyright © John Slayton. All rights reserved.
Light stretched down the stairs from the open doorway above and projected wobbling dull white ovals on the dark surface of water filling our basement. Dad’s duck decoys bobbed around a burlap bag, normally their home but now a swamped island breathing out an odor of must and rich earth. One of the ducks had strayed and bonked its bill into the cement wall.
Dad hovered behind me. “How can this happen? We’ve lived here for twelve years. This has never happened before. Why now?” He stifled a curse.
Small waves lapped at the step two below. I shrugged. I didn’t know what to say. I was only ten. But no one else on our street had a flooded basement, and ours was new.
Dad had spent all last summer making a playroom. He had put in heat. He had painted it. He had made it as perfect as he could. He had done everything for us. But the spring had melted the snow and ice and caused the flooded basement. The great flood of 1972. That was a year before Dad moved out for good.
The phone rang, and Dad left to answer it. He returned shortly after. Grandma had died. I found out years later that she went to get her mail from the box by the road. She slipped on the ice and fell into a ditch, breaking her hip. She lived up on a mountain road by herself. People had told her for years she shouldn’t. She froze to death unable to climb out. She must’ve lain there for hours, until night came and the temperature dropped and the cold claimed her.
Sometimes, when I think of her, I remember how the aroma of Gold Medal flour and vanilla lingered on her after she baked, and I remember the many times we played Old Maid and Crazy 8’s on her back porch. Other times, I can’t help but imagine how her last few hours, lying alone in the ditch, in the dark, consumed by the cold. I’ve heard that freezing to death is like falling asleep. I’m not sure if that’s true or even how someone could ever know.
All I knew that day was that she was dead, and the basement was flooded, and Dad was crying. I learned everything else later.
“Why?” Dad asked through choking breath.
My naked feet shuffled on the cold rough wood of the step as I stared down at the water and thought about Dad and Grandma and the flood.
“Slop. Slop,” the rising water replied, clopping and sucking on the step below.