It started, I guess, on about the third day, when the message finally got through to a majority of the population that things weren’t actually okay. It reminded me of a fire alarm going off in a shopping centre—people standing around, shrugging at each other, doing things slightly more slowly but still doing them. That was us, those first few days. Sipping coffees out on the sidewalk, shifting our chairs as the rain quickly hemmed us in. Driving out to the discount shops on the Saturday, willing away the growing water fins spreading out behind our cars. Making an extra effort to drop by the hardware store to stock up on electrical tape. It was Sunday when all the TV channels switched to a single voice. That horrible klaxon whine, as if we weren’t paying attention already. A storm. A big one.
Now I’d hate to give you the wrong idea about our city. It wasn’t that we weren’t conscientious, or didn’t give a damn, it was that we weren’t a natural disaster type of place. We saw stories on the news—earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, sometimes even in the next state over—and we gave our ten bucks to the Red Cross when a celebrity asked us to, but our city was burdened more by mundanity than vengeful acts of nature. We had high taxes, bad roads, problems with pigeon flocks, but our weather was generally agreeable.
When, on Sunday, we opened our curtains on a sky tinted vilely like a bad bruise, we laughed it off, joking about horsemen riding down from the sky. But, really, our mouths were dry and our stomachs shivered. Were we supposed to fill bags with sand? Were we supposed to board up our windows? We were sure we had read somewhere that you filled your bath with fresh water, and ate tinned beans under a supporting wall. Or did you open the doors and let the wind run through?
The rain—but not really rain, it was torrents of force-fed water—slammed sideways into our thin walls and tore up streetscapes like flakes of skin. We watched helplessly as our cars reversed away from us on sheets of the new brown river that rose, rose up fast, up to the edges of our family-smudged windows.
And through it all, we heard our own voices, saying, “It’ll be okay. This never happens. Not really.”