The People in the Driest of Places
by Amy Minton
The butterflies harbinger the great flooding.
It happens every ten years in the driest places: butterflies hatch en masse and darken the skies. Butterfly bodies splatter cars. To drive, turn on the windshield wipers to keep their mangled wings from blocking the view. When moving, bodies bounce off the windshield and skitter like chunky snowflakes in a blizzard. Take care when any hinges swing open that the butterflies don't rush inside the house, the place of work, the car, the mouth.
In the early stages, the butterflies are cute. During this time, swirl around like Snow White. Do this and the butterflies will form an impromptu halo around the head, alighting on fingertips and earlobes before they flit away into the path of an oncoming car.
This enchantment lasts one week. After that week, the swarms aren't airy and charming anymore. The swarms are crowded and panicked.
Citizens appear on the news. In a segment called "What's Bugging You" they complain about the overpopulation of butterflies. Notice the tight smiles of the complainers: it's really hard to knock butterflies. Butterflies are pleasant. Butterflies are endearing. Who wants to be the asshole to say otherwise?
In late September the butterflies will disappear. Not all at once. Just little by little so that it is not noticeable. Take a last Snow White twirl in the enchanted forest with the few that haven't yet died.
Then the rains will begin.
Rain is welcomed at all times in the driest places. When it thunders, people pull over, get out of their cars, and high five each other. People inside office buildings cling to windows, hearts jumpy. Young children startle. Some as old as four have not heard thunder before. Those children will think, at first, the thunder is a garbage truck.
Not long, only after ten minutes of rain, the roadways will slicken when the encrusted, built-up oil on the asphalt mutates into liquid again. Refuse to drive when it rains. People in the driest places do not possess the skills to drive in rain. They do not brake lightly. They do not control skidding by steering inward. Collisions abound. Stay inside. Begin making the sandbags. At the end of the day, the water line will lap at the front porch.
Too much water surprises the people in the driest of places. They pat grass on top of rock, and they water the grass to keep it alive. But there is only so much water. Laws spell out which homes may water their lawns on which days, and police ticket those who run sprinklers at unassigned times. Black, porous hoses snake the perimeter of homes to apply water to cracking foundations. Houses shift. Some crack straight down the middle. Doors won't close. Floor tiles break in half. Fault lines in walls open and close--the thirsty drywall mouths want water. Rains morph the shape of the land. Rains will bend a house backward so far that the cracks slam together. Sweep up the dust from the wall boards. Praise God the doors will close again.
On the second day of the rains, citizens will be on the news again. This time, the "What's Bugging You" segment will be about the rain. The smiles will be tight because rain is always welcomed in the driest of places. Who wants to be the asshole who spits at God for a gift?
Roll the footage of the family van that attempted a low water crossing. A lady and her chubby son wave from the roof of their van. Water gushes in through the passenger window and out the driver's window. A helicopter dangles a rope for them. Don't think: "There but for the grace of God." Think: "Stupid, stupid people."
On the third day of the rains, the government must shut down the entire city. Only employees essential to the operations of the government must report to work. Enjoy a day off behind the sandbags, and watch television. All day action is in store for the stupid, stupid people who fail to negotiate the floods. Currents of storm water replace the asphalt entirely. Drainage ditches clog. Toss a few more sandbags on the doorstep. Watch the kids swim in the streets.
On the fourth day of the rains, the city will not reopen. The National Guard arrives--quietly--because there are not enough city helicopters to rescue stupid people. This is a quiet operation. Resist panic. The "What's Bugging You" segment features families in rusted canoes padding to drier places. There is no drier place, so they just paddle in circles. Citizens wag fingers at those who live in the flood plains. They should know better. They should have left earlier. Don't they watch television? Entire neighborhoods transform into lakes with tar shingle islands.
The rains do stop. Not all at once. It just trails away little by little. Like a grand drape, the water recedes to reveal the horror show underneath. The horse strangled in a tree. The upended car oozing mud. The bloated children popping out of drainage ditches like champagne corks.
The city reopens. People drive again. Cars are muddy, but the crusted butterfly bodies wash away. Citizens will complain about the wreckage on the "What's Bugging You" segment. No one can stand the sight of it. They think: "There but for the grace of God." They say out loud: "Stupid, stupid people."
About the author:
Amy Minton lives in San Antonio. She is working on her MFA at the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Visit her at http://www.myspace.com/violet_butter.