The coffee tin was empty.
And Joshua knew it would be a lousy day.
Looking over at the stove, he grunted when he saw the digital clock still shining the time.
“Seven o’clock,” he grumbled, rubbing his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept in this late. Aside from yesterday. And the day before.
And the day before that, and the day before that.
On and on and on, for weeks now, Joshua and his family had been sleeping in, because
“There’s no work to be done.”
Joshua had been raised the same as his father and his father’s father: work is what a person needs, for purpose and for a clean conscience. He believed it as ardently as his father, and as passionately as his father’s father.
there was no work to be done.
And so Joshua and the family slept in.
The edge of the world was bright, the Sun balancing on a thin strip of horizon, pausing to take a breath before jumping high into the air. Joshua stared at it from the kitchen window, as he held an empty coffee mug that would remain so. He watched the clouds that hung near the Sun; watched them evaporate and reappear in different shapes, in ebbing hues. He smiled watching the heavenly things dance.
But then his eyes fell back to world, and his smiled soured, and his heart felt as empty as his coffee mug.
The shining sea glistened, stretching out forever, reflecting the shape of the sun and the twirling faces of the clouds. The infinite sea reflected everything Joshua loved, and he hated it for that.
Sucking his teeth, he turned from the window to find something to do while the house continued not working. He leafed through old mail, wiped a few crumbs from the tabletop, and straightened a picture frame that wasn’t quite plumb.
That was it.
That was all there was to do.
No dishes needed cleaning; his wife had done that the night before.
No furniture needed repairing; he and his daughter had steadied the wobbly leg of the sofa two weeks ago.
No bills needed paying, no clothes needed cleaning, no carpets needed vacuuming.
Nothing needed doing.
And Joshua felt his insides shrivel just a little more.
Walking around to the living room, he squinted as he looked out the large windows bordering each side of their bright orange front door. His wife had picked the colour, and he loved it. Spider silk thin curtains hung over the windows, their wispy shapes distorting the clarity of what anyone could see.
He grumbled while he gazed, wishing that he could attribute what he was seeing with some illusion created by the drapes, but he knew he’d be a fool to do so. What he saw was honest; it was there and there wasn’t anyway around it.
Their little green front yard stretched out about ten yards from the front of the house, its border clearly marked with a white picket fence. Rose bushes grew up along the fence, their leaves deep green and the buds not yet formed. It was still too cool outside.
The cobble stone path Joshua had put in a year ago led confidently from their eccentric front door to the waist high hinged gate in the middle of the fence, and from there, a gravel footpath stretched on south, bordered on either side by wildflowers and rampant grass. But then…
Further out, only a few yards from the furthest side of the footpath, the ocean sat, shining. The sky, deep purple swirled with ripples of excited blue, reflected in its face; a countenance feigning happiness.
Joshua hatefully sucked his teeth again, and glared at the ocean.
There was no doubt about it.
He hated that water.
“Weeks of this,” he muttered, and walked to his recliner. He sat down heavily in the chair, which before everything happened, had seen little use. Now, there were the beginnings of a permanent butt imprint in the cushion.
Joshua thought it appropriate that the clearer the impression became, the deeper his depression fell.
“I just want to work,” he said to the quiet, sleeping house. Setting the empty coffee mug on the small side table nearest him, he snatched up the television remote and turned the TV on.
They only had a few stations here.
Just like the recliner, the television rarely saw use. It wasn’t due to hating technology that the entire family avoided it. It was simply cause they had better things to do than to watch a late night show or movie. The kids had never been interested in watching things; not when there was so much fun to be had outside, when there had been work to be done.
But lately, the television had become a welcome distraction from the lack of work, from the lack of play to be had.
“Let’s see if we’re getting any attention today,” he said, flicking through the channels.
Home fitness systems, diet pills, depression pills, insomnia pills, pills to ween you off of pills, vegetable juicers, vegetable dicers, vegetable friers, celebrities celebrating, celebrities chastizing, celebrities capitulating, celebrities advocating, and all the talking heads.
The grand, professionally dressed sirs and ma’ams that dominated small squares of the television screen, like the opening graphic to the Brady Bunch. All them nodded, all of them shook their heads, and all of them vocalized.
They didn’t wait for “their turn” to speak. They just spoke. And if whom they were trying to speak over didn’t submit, they turned their volume up.
Shouting, yelling, insulting, accusing, debasing, defaming, degrading, insinuating, instigating, all of it was irritating, and yet Joshua watched. Not for long – never for long on any one channel – but he watched.
Flipping from one alphabet news station to another, he looked, he watched, he listened – he even tried reading the scrolling ticker at the bottom, though he’d left his glasses on his bedside table.
For thirty minutes, he sat in his chair, the house still asleep around him, his eyes trained on the television set, and he waited for something to pop up. He waited for what he was hoping would appear to make even a small entrance.
But it didn’t.
So, after thirty minutes, which was almost more than he could stand, Joshua clicked the television off and sighed while watching his own dark reflection in the lifeless black screen. The clock he’d inherited from his Dutch grandmother, the one that hung in the upstairs hallway, ticked away the seconds, softly, consistently; doing good work.
It was working, while they were not.
Joshua hated the ocean.
In soft swishes of cloth and the gentle tap of cushioned feet, Joshua heard his wife walk down the stairs. She stopped halfway down and looked at him, then at the television, then back at him.
“Still sayin nothin?”
“Still talkin bout hatin the president?”
He grunted again.
“They doin’ anything about it, or…”
“Nah,” he finished. “They’re just talkin. On and on and on, they’re just talkin. That’s all I seen ’em do.”
“That’s all they ever do,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Always talkin’ about helpin, always talkin’ ’bout action, but when somethin’ does happen…” She let the sentence hang in the air, and they both nodded, knowing how it would end.
She yawned again and looked upstairs at the Dutch clock.
“Past time for breakfast,” she muttered to herself.
“We’re outta coffee.”
“I’ll grab some when we get to the store.”
He grunted, a sneer on his face. They wouldn’t be going to the grocery store. Not today, and not for a long long time. The ocean had seen to that.
“Think I should get the kids up?”
Joshua shrugged and sighed, dropping the remote on the side table a little louder than he’d meant.
“Ain’t nothin’ for ’em to do,” he said, getting to his feet.
“I know that. I just figured… Well, I don’t know what I figured.” She studied him in the pale light of the living room, and she joined Joshua in a great big sigh. “I guess lettin’ ’em sleep a little longer won’t hurt.” She turned to head back up to bed, muttering that she was doing so as she did, but she stopped. Without looking at him, without looking out the window at the ocean they both hated, she asked Joshua, “Karen says the offer stands, by the way. They have enough room there, and we could hunker til the insurance money kicks in; start fresh somewhere else.”
Joshua was silent, chewing his cheek, looking at the Sun that rose in the picture frame of the kitchen window.
“This was gonna be the year we’d get ahead,” he said, throat burning, eyes burning, heart heavy, and mind flooded in grief. “Just one more year, an’ then we’d be ahead.”
“I had it all planned out too. I redid and rechecked all the grids over and over and made sure I got the planting season started at just the right time. Me ‘n the boys went over every inch of the equipment, changin out parts, oilin’ ’em, gettin’ ’em ready for a year of tough work; the toughest they’d be through. I had it all planned out, ’bout how we was gonna plow and dig and sow; how we was gonna treat for pests and blight. Did I ever tell you I accounted for that too? More’n usual too. I planned on half of everything, half the harvest, half of all the crops on goin sour, for one reason or another. Yeah, I was thinkin’ hard and even if we lost half of everything, we’d still have come out on top this year. No more mortgage, no more car payments. Nothin. Yeah… even if we lost half of it.”
His eyes were still on the rising Sun when his wife approached him from behind, wrapping her arms around his chest and leaning her head against his strong back.
“But that’s more than half,” he sniffed. His throat hurt too bad to keep talking, and so he stood there, breaths coming in quiet shudders as tears fell hot from his eyes. And as he watched, a slab of ice, the size of a school bus drifted by; floating in the ocean where his farmland once flourished.
* * * * *
This is for the men and women, for the families and communities and livelihoods that have been lost and forever altered. I can never know how much you’ve lost in these floods, and I know these words won’t fix anything. But I wanted to show you that you aren’t forgotten, your trials are not insignificant, and no matter how hard the media tries to ignore the pain this catastrophe has inflicted on you, I will do my part to make sure your needs are voiced and your stories heard.
For all the victims of the 2019 Midwest Flood, we remember you.