by Moshe Dann (April 2013)

A hundred yards up river a section burst suddenly, water heaving swiftly over the top, breaking through a larger hole and gushing through the breech onto the narrow side-road. Men shouted to one another as they rushed to fill the gap.

There was no place for them to go, except to ride out one of the roads between towns, past farms he recognized, old neighbors, some friends and a sky filled with stars. He suggested a drink and she knew what he wanted. They ended up in his room grappling with each other, hungry for a closeness that neither of them could offer. He called her name as if jumping off a cliff and she held him until they fell asleep. Awakened suddenly in the middle of the night, splotches of light floating across the ceiling, the sound of rock music from a car on the street below, he felt adrift, unable to hang on to anything, except her.

Maggieee, he sighed aloud, as if trying to hold on against a storm that crashed against him, weariness pulling him out with tides of mistrust. Downstream a crew had begun to repair a breach in the levee. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand tasting salt and sand on his lips, barely able to make out the lights of the diner. He wondered if Maggie was working night shift and if she would stay with him when everyone else had left.

Climbing into his truck, Jim waved as he drove away. Farther down the road, a few men got into their cars and drove off, half-skidding through the mud, horns blaring, headlights wavering in the drizzle.

Sam closed his eyes, following the sound of her footsteps. Holding his breath, he counted heartbeats as he did when he was a child, hiding among the dust and cobwebs beneath the wooden porch, dreaming of castles and wars, listening to distant calls for him to come home. Even alleycats, he thought, need a place to call home.

He listened to their chattering, scattered crumbs of sound in the hallway as they left. A cold night wind battered the slightly opened window, banging a Venetian blind against the glass. From the window he could see cars parked near the entrance to the hospital. Jim was talking with his ex. They hugged. A kiss.

Hardly able to move, Sam listened and taking a deep breath, resigned himself to whatever would happen.

He was awakened in the middle of the night by a nurse wheeling a large office chair towards him, her white silhouette like a ghost near his bed. Suddenly he recognized her.

He tried to shift his weight, grimacing with pain as she pulled his legs over the side of the bed and helped him into the armchair.

They helped Sam inside and placed him on a straw mattress.

Sam awoke to the sound of wood chopping outside and raised himself to the window. Maggie and Walt were talking between powerful blows of splitting logs. They began to argue, Maggie stood in front of him with her hands on her hips as he swung the ax over his head. Stepping back suddenly, she seemed part of a dance as Walt moved towards her, the ax glistening for a moment above them and then hurtling down at her feet. She grabbed the handle with both hands and swung it around, catching him in the chest with the blade. Blood spattered her face and her rumpled uniform. Stunned, he seemed to call out to her, his mouth open, a silent scream, and then one hand on his chest, the other reaching towards her, he took a step and collapsed.

Standing over his body, Maggie leaned on the ax. Shoulders drooping, she shivered and wiped her face with her sleeve. She turned and walked back to the cabin, dragging the ax and left it propped against the wall.

Clouds darkened, the air suddenly became still, as if a heavy blanket pulled across the sky, thundering in the distance. The first drops of rain spattered the ground and then exploded into a heavy downpour, splashing across the yard and the place where blood had soaked into the earth. Rain pounded the roof throughout the day and all night.

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