We had strung tarps beneath the sweet gums and were living on canned food and wild mushrooms. What with the hurricane rains, the woods were lousy with them. The kids seemed fine with the arrangement, old enough to understand why we’d abandoned the comforts of our thirty-year-old manufactured home, yet still young enough to turn the situation into an adventure.
Bob set down an armload of wood and inhaled the vapors from the pot hanging over the cook fire.
“I love the smell of beans in the morning!”
“You ain’t smelled nothing yet, Mr. Man.”
“What are the girls up to? We could use a bucket of water.”
“Oh, they’re off playing hide and seek with the chanterelles. Maybe they’ll score a lion’s mane.”
“Speaking of water, turn around.”
“Uh oh. Shit.”
The predicted high water event was creeping up the meadow below our camp, spreading towards us like a disease. We would have to leave and leave now. Twenty yards uphill, I regretted my haste.
“Dang, I should have brought shoes!”
“We aren’t going back.”
“What about the girls?”
Silence. I knew the answer. We had prepared them for this moment and had to trust they would also be heading for higher ground. Still… I stopped and yelled for them, trying out a couple of one-note pitches until I found the loudest one, and repeated it twice more. Wishing I had time to stand and wait for their answer, I ran to catch up with Bob.
We arrived at a large pavilion in the center of town and were greeted by the staff. Two of the first, we chose seats on an old sofa with spotty, blue upholstery. I stretched one foot behind me and folded myself into the heavenly soft cushion, leaning into the warmth of my distracted husband. The place was filling with murmuring refugees. Second tier refugees. We’d already evacuated once.
All had mentally rehearsed this moment, this banding together, this test of our collective mettle. We all knew that our lives would never be the same. Together we would create a new, possibly nomadic reality in conjunction with other roving bands. Big government wasn’t going to save us now.
Bob got up and moved around the room. I yielded my cushy seat to a young family, a little self-conscious in my bare feet and baggy cream-colored flannel nightshirt smothered in frisky ponies, a remnant from our online shopping days. I scanned the room for our kids but didn’t see them. I thought I caught a whiff of vanilla and before I could talk myself out of it, dared to hope for something sugary and fried in fat.
A kindly-faced man cleared his throat and everyone turned toward him. “It’s time to announce the election results.” I dug around my brain and remembered voting months ago for a contingency leader should rising water force us into an apocalypse. “And the winner is, Bob Armantrout!”
No one was surprised. Bob feigned a tired smile. In his heart of hearts, he would rather have dodged this bullet. I beamed, excited for the challenge. I went to his side, hoping to slide in beside him, but the green and yellow webbed lawn chair wouldn’t fit the two of us.
I re-entered consciousness beneath a down comforter in our opulent pre-fab master bedroom and watched my dream melt away in rivulets. I listened for rain but heard none. I was comforted by Bob’s quiet breathing and noticed hints of dawn spilling around the edges of our dun-colored wooden blinds. No tarps, no apocalypse, no exodus; just another easy day in paradise.