Fiction by Leslie Doyle
Yesterday, the house across the street fell onto the one next to it.
This morning the kids found a dog when they went over to the beach. This was after she threw them out of the trailer so she could concentrate on the latest documents, requests, and forms from FEMA, from the state, from her insurance company. She can make no sense out of any of them. She keeps stopping to look out the window.
All the stuff she’d piled in the street, broken and sodden and moldy, has been bulldozed away by some carpet-bagging company from some other town, some other state. They loaded up her stuff, everybody’s stuff—moldy particle board and lamps and sofa cushions and the new television and the sofa itself and mattresses and the boxes of paper she’d meant to organize one day, things that might help her fill out the forms now if they weren’t a sodden mess, and all but two of her daughters’ stuffed animals, the ones they carried when they drove to the motel the night before the storm hit.
She read a quote from one of the FEMA officials yesterday, “We’ve learned over the years that one of the most significant things we can do to make people feel better and to accelerate recovery efforts is to take the trash away,” he’d said.
She doesn’t feel any better.
With the piles of debris gone, what remains are collections of glass fragments, scattered in front of each house. Everything else adhered to the clumping insistence of the blades scooping it into loaders, from there to the mountains of debris mounded at the staging area by the beach, to be loaded again into long distance haulers which will ultimately unload them at anonymous dumps hundreds of miles away.
But the glass, small shards pebbling down through each house heap, sticks to the road. A glittery smear marking what’s gone.
The dog has a collar but the tags are missing. She knows the local shelters are already full with abandoned dogs and cats.
“We can name him Sandy,” the older girl says, with the absolute certitude of a nine-year-old who can’t imagine that there are probably a dozen children, up and down the coast, making the same announcement about abandoned pets they’d found.
Here on the Bayshore, she and her neighbors feel abandoned. No president or governor has walked through photo ops on the debris-covered bay beach, even though the Verrazano Bridge and the tip of the Manhattan skyline in the distance would be a lovely frame.
“We can’t keep him, there’s no room in the trailer.” No room for a dog. No room for her boyfriend, who had decamped shortly after the storm, looking for work where the big construction projects were starting up further down the shore, in Seaside and Mantoloking. No room for the sight of the house across the street, that ugly stucco box, twice the size of anything else on this block, which has slid off the house jacks that were lifting it, onto the cottage next door. The owners, whose second home it was, were the first ones, still the only ones on this block, to find a house-lifting business to raise the house above flood levels. But yesterday the tower of box cribs holding up the one side had collapsed in on itself, and the house had first slowly, then more rapidly, canted the side, tumbling over onto the small bungalow next door. Thankfully, those neighbors were gone, staying with the wife’s parents in Freehold.
She’s been looking at the fallen house all morning. She’d dreamed about it all night. Unable to sleep, she’d gotten down from her top bunk in the trailer, careful not to wake the girls beneath her. Moonlight planed down the cantilevered sides of the tipped over structure. What was left of the tiny cottage beneath it was hidden in darkness.
The girls are crying now because they can’t keep the dog. They don’t pay attention to the tilted house across the street, surrounded by police tape and knots of emergency workers, most of them standing and staring. Not sure where to start.
The dog stinks. His fur is matted and sandy mud is embedded in the pads of his feet. His ribs are showing. But he let the girls tie a rope they found on the beach to his collar and he heeled perfectly when they walked him home. He’s some kind of mutt, mid-sized with curly pale brown hair. His eyes have that sleepy serenity of a pit mix. The animal shelter tells her to bring him in, they’ll find room, but with Brad gone, so is the only car she had use of. There is no way to take him there.
It’s warm for January, but getting too cold to stand around outside. She tells the girls they need to come inside for lunch. She tells them that the shelter people will come and get the dog soon. This is a lie, of course. Maybe she can get a lift from a neighbor. Half the houses are empty, the owners gone to stay with relatives or to long-term shelters. Some others have trailers parked in their yards, like hers. Up the street, the lucky few on slightly higher ground are able to stay in their houses. Maybe one of them can drive her and the dog.
Maybe someone can right the big stucco house back onto its foundation.
Maybe someone can stop the waves that crashed over the seawall, the rain that filled the wetlands behind her house, the wind that smashed a boat into it.
Maybe someone can stop the construction of that big ugly house, and the displacement of people like her that it represented.
Maybe someone can tell her how not to have been a single mom with an unreliable boyfriend when she needed to face a hurricane.
Maybe someone can turn back the decisions made by men which led to this new world where weather events are labeled “superstorms” and places flood that never flooded before.
She looks down at her phone. She has no numbers for any of those needs. She goes inside to make the girls’ lunch, barring the dog from entering, shooing it away.
Through the porthole of the window, above her daughters’ heads bent over their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, she can see him cross the street, slipping past the workers into the space under the leaning house. She can’t see it in the shadows, but she knows it is lying there out of the wind, sheltering beneath the ruins, waiting for her.
© Leslie Doyle
[This piece was selected by Dylan Brie Ducey]
Leslie Doyle’s work has appeared in Front Porch, Cobalt, MARY (winning their Editor’s Prize for Fiction), Gigantic Sequins, The Fourth River, Hermeneutic Chaos, and elsewhere. She lives in New Jersey and teaches at Montclair State University.