Jim Meirose

Under Flood Watch

               Robert Moss sat having his crispy bacon breakfast in the small house he shared with Ma since Pa died at the big house suddenly, after chopping wood, of a brain bleed. The green plastic radio they had since the sixties scratchily gave the news from atop the stove.
               —a sixty five foot crack has appeared in the monolith dam—
               Robert’s head jerked up and he spoke, chewing.
               Ma! Do you hear that?
               —the entire area of the valley below the dam is under flood watch—
               I do, I do, said Ma—that’s us. Listen—
               —route five which crosses the dam has been closed in both directions as a bulge has appeared in the area of the crack, which is two inches wide. Engineers are—
               Ma! I need to walk over that dam to get to my new job in Potter!
               He held out a hand.
               Yeah, said Robert—I’m starting the new job at the Amish store in Potter, and now I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I was going to walk the three miles over the dam and get there by nine, but now I don’t know—
               She lowered her dark eyes into his.
               You ought to have not sold Pa’s car—you ought to not have sold it. I told you—
               He waved a hand across and looked away.
               Yeah, but I did. Damn it. I can’t walk the ten miles down to Henderson to cross over there—I guess I’m going to have to call Marthe and tell her I can’t be there today.
               That’s not a good thing to need to be out, when it’s your first day.
               I know. I swear. God damn this whole thing!
               The radio went on as Robert rose and went to the phone.
               —divers will be sent down today to assess the damage and the water level above the dam will begin to be lowered to ease the pressure—
               —got to call Marthe, he thought, dialing the number—explain the mess I’m in I so wanted to be there today though she’s so sweet that face those eyes they just look into you like she’s pulling the story of your life out of you—yes I think she wants me, her eyes said she wanted me
               The phone of the Amish store rang. And rang.
               He shook the phone.
               Damn Ma, no answer!
               He hung up hard as he said angrily, Why would there be no answer at the store? Plus there’s not even an answering machine—what kind of damned store is that?
               Ma rose to clear the dishes.
               Now calm down Robert, she said—you just can’t be there today—you can try calling later—it’s early yet—maybe she’s not in yet. What, does it open at nine?
               No. I have to be there at nine. It opens at ten.
               Well, don’t worry then. You’ll reach her.
               But he worried. He called at nine, and ten, and eleven—no answer. So he figured Marthe knew by now he wouldn’t be there, so he gave up. She must have heard about the dam on the radio. Yes the dam was all over the radio news today—
               —yes she’s heard about the dam on the radio, he thought, and put two and two together and knows I just couldn’t get there today—yes she knows I don’t have a car because I told her at the interview I would be buying a car after I started at the store I’d have the money then oh but those eyes of hers, those damned eyes the dam will be open tomorrow I’m sure the dam will surely be open tomorrow
               He tried calling again throughout the day, but there was still no answer, all day.
               Ma, what do you suppose the problem is? Why no answer?
               They’re Amish. Maybe they don’t use the phone.
               Well why have a phone at all, then?
               She rolled her eyes.
               Who’s to tell? They’re Amish. Very odd ducks.
               —they’re Amish yes but she is so sweet so beautiful so perfect she’s in that store now knowing that tomorrow I will be there
               But in the morning of the next day, as they sat having their eggs and toast and rolls, the news on the radio was no better. They listened through the static.
               —the reservoir water level has been lowered four feet but divers say the crack remains the same. Route five remains closed for another day, causing massive traffic tie ups and affecting local businesses and—
               Damn! said Robert, slamming the table.
               Easy Robert, said Ma.
               So another day passed. The next morning, things were better at the dam.
               —the water has been lowered twenty feet and divers report the crack has closed—
               Hear that Ma! The crack has closed!
               —the width of the crack is one inch now—
               Hear that Ma!
               —the water will continue to be lowered and route five will remain closed another day until the crack closes and the bulge eases—
               Damn, no, you didn’t say that, no! said Robert, slamming the table again. One more damned day!
               —and the flood watch remains in effect. In other news—
               My job will be gone, God damn it!
               Easy Robert.
               Well, where the hell is Marthe?
               He tried to call Marthe again, but again no answer. He rushed to his bedroom and threw himself on the bed and twisted the chenille spread in his fists.
               —why doesn’t she answer the phone the damned phone three days now it’s been do I still have a job will I still be with her will she still want me? Yes, she wants me I could see it in her eyes she wanted me since she first laid eyes on me, see, see, if I close my eyes she’s here in the bed with me and all I have to do is roll to the side and she will be there and my arms will go around her and all the rest all the rest all the rest
               The day passed with no answer on the phone, and Robert dozing, dreaming of Marthe. The next morning they listening to the radio news again during breakfast, and the news was better.
               —the water has been lowered further and divers report the crack has closed and authorities rushed to reopen route five, this morning—route five will be open to vehicular and foot traffic—good news for commuters and local businesses—
               He leapt up.
               Ma! He cried—the dam is open! I can go to work! My God, got to go get dressed—
               Thank God, Robert—don’t forget to thank God. He fixed the dam you know.
               As he rushed to his room to dress he heard a final reassurance from the green plastic radio.
               —and the flood watch for below the dam has been lifted. Great news in the valley—
               He dressed quickly and looked at himself in the mirror combing his hair, his mind racing.
               —Marthe, I am coming, I will be there today I will be on time I may even be early I will see you I will spend the day with you, you will have to show me what the job consists of you need to stand close to me showing me with your slender hands your perfume enveloping us both that is if you wear perfume being Amish as you are but we will end up together this is just the start of years together I will win you yes I will I know you want me it was in your eyes your hands your hair your mouth your lips—I will be there fast don’t worry Marthe, I will be there today
               He kissed Ma goodbye, and started out on the road toward route five—he cut through Baker’s pasture to get there quicker, avoiding the cow pies and other filth, but there would be no filth when he was with Marthe—he came up on route five and came to the dam—the reservoir stretched out to the right, seeming to be half empty—mud flats stretched from what water was left to the bank and debris cluttered the flat—old lawn chairs, old bicycles—boats sat grounded and it was amazing to Robert how much water they had let out of the reservoir; where had all that water gone? But no it didn’t matter he was crossing the dam. He passed yellow trucks and men in hard hats clustered around the end of the dam and he passed through them and into the village of Potter, yes; the sign said VILLAGE OF POTTER, and half-ran past it. The Amish store, here it comes; it’s coming at him and cars are parked out front, and he checked his watch is was quarter to nine. He was early but still, he rushed to the door through the lot, and his hand went on the knob and it turned, and the door opened, and he went in. She stood there and turned to him. Marthe at last! At last!
               Robert! she said—
               He smiled and stepped forward.
               Marthe, I am so sorry I couldn’t get here when I should have but, well, here I am!
               —yes Marthe, I am here to start to work, I am saying something, I am saying here I am, ready to start, but why didn’t you answer your phone. I’ve been trying to call for three days I am here now though, you knew about the dam, I’m sure you knew why I wasn’t here here I hold out my hands to you I am here to work to work to work
               Robert, she said, her hand raised to her chin, her face paling—where were you? I thought you didn’t want the job. I went ahead and hired Christopher here—why didn’t you call you should have called, oh God, I am so sorry.
               A gawky pimple-faced youth stepped out from behind the shelving and smiled.
               What? said Robert—I called—here—as he kept his eyes on her, he thrust his hand into his pocket,and pulled out the card with her number handwritten the way she had told it to him at the interview.
               Here, he said—here—I called this number. Over and over and over. The dam was out—the radio said local businesses were affected. Yours is a local business. I thought you could get in either—
               She examined the card, biting her lip.
               —see I called you didn’t answer the job is mine the job is mine
               She looked up and started to speak.
               This is off by one digit. I’m sorry Robert. You wrote the number down wrong.
               She handed the card back. He took it, trembling.
               —no. No. The dam. The dam you ought have know it was the dam, and, you gacve ne the wrong number I swear you must have I am careful
               The job is Christopher’s, she said. I’m sorry about this misunderstanding, but I can’t in good conscience let him go. I am worry about this, I—I can’t believe this has happened.
               He crushed the card in his hand and looked her in the face.
               —I was under flood watch why didn’t you know bitch where have you been bitch, listen, say something, I am—and why is it rising to my neck, over my head choking me. I thought flood watch was over. They said flood watch was over on the radio, but they must have lied, because what’s this cold water coming up all around be rising on me? Now that flood watch is supposed to be over, why is the water coming up, drowning me here as I stand looking you in the face your face right now, here and now—I can’t believe this has happened either you can’t believe I can’t believe what to believe this can’t be
               My God Robert! My God—Christopher, please call someone, we need help! Robert!

Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Permafrost, Blueline, Ohio Edit, Bartleby Snopes, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published. And a novel, Mount Everest was released in 2015 by Montag Press. Another novel, Eli the Rat, has just been released by Montag as well. Three more novels are under contract with Montag for 2016-2017 release: these are previously published novels which had gone out of print from other houses.

More information is available at www.jimmeirose.com.
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