Friday, December 19, 2008


I've been revising a short story, and I'm going to submit it to a few journals. I've never posted any of my fiction on this blog. But here goes. P. 1-3 and a section of p. 14 of an 18-page story.

From "Search and Rescue"

George’s stepmother kept like an unwilling refugee in his house in Baton Rouge. It had become controversial in the news to call them that. None-the-less, George Landry Jr. felt she was his personal refugee.

Eula Mae Landry was eighty-two. She had not left the safety of the Arabi Park Trailer Estates in ten years, not since her second husband, George Landry Sr., had passed away.

At George Jr.’s urging, Eula Mae’s live-in son Carlton drove Eula Mae up from Arabi to Baton Rouge with her two dearest essentials – a photo of herself at sixteen, full moon mouth half smiling as it exterminates candles on a sheet cake, and Beatrice, her chatty white cockatoo. In Eula Mae’s moss green Chevy Impala that lacked air conditioning and radio, Carlton and his mother waded through ten hours of rain and evacuation traffic to make the eighty-mile trip.

Eula Mae clucked her tongue against her teeth and patted her brow with a cotton handkerchief. “Lord, Carlton. Betsey’s gonna be a bad one.”

Carlton kept his gaze straight ahead. “Mama, this here’s Katrina. Hurricane Betsey was in ‘65.” The wipers thrashed with effort across the windshield.

“Oooh.” Eula Mae placed her right arm beneath her breasts and tucked them upward. She moved her hand to rest it over her heart. The white handkerchief drooped in surrender between her fingers. “Yes. That’s right.”

Traffic stood still.

“Listen to that rain, Carlton.” Water jack-hammered steadily onto the car. Eula Mae furrowed her brow and blood rose to her cheeks. “Where’s your daddy? Flyro should not be foolin around with Betsey. Better get out fore the storm hits. He’s meetin us up in Baton Rouge?” She looked around, trying to gain her senses. “Is that right?”

“Mama, this here’s Katrina. Hurricane Betsey was ’65. Daddy passed in the storm. You married George Landry Sr. in ‘77. Remember? We’re headed to his son George Jr.’s now.”

Carlton unbuttoned the second and third buttons on his work shirt. An Exxon patch was affixed to his front pocket just below a patch with his name stitched on it. He wiped sweat from his upper lip. Rain sprayed through cracked-open windows in the back, and mist condensed on the vinyl seats.

Eula Mae clucked again. “I wanna get home soon.” The woman turned to her bird. “Be-Be, Eula Mae wants to go home.”

“Cluck. Eula Mae wants to go home,” the bird mimicked. The wetter Beatrice became in her cage, the louder the bird squawked her discomfort from the back seat of the car.

That night, reasoning that his stepbrother should have a turn with her, Carlton deposited his mother for good with George, and he proceeded to Alabama to stay with an old high school buddy. George stood under the cover of his carport and smoked a cigarette while Carlton backed down the driveway. Carlton stopped the Impala and stuck his head out of the window. “She gets upset, show her that old photo. Likes to think she’s sixteen.”

“You comin back in a few days?”

“I’ll be back once the hurricane’s passed. Sure I’ll have to get back to work in the next few days.”

George, a fifty-six year old emergency search and rescue worker, had married at 20, divorced at 28, and lived alone ever since. He taught courses at the Federal Emergency Training Institute housed at the state university, and he spent evenings alone. The occasional explosions at one of the area’s oil refineries or grain elevators were the most catastrophes he’d experienced. Sometimes, a year passed without crisis. He supposed this was a good thing.

On the day after his stepmother and her cockatoo began perching in his ranch-style house in an old white-flight subdivision in Baton Rouge, Katrina hit New Orleans. Wind gusts blew through Baton Rouge, splitting oak trees and tearing shingles from roofs. His own water oaks were spared, and it seemed Katrina wasn't so severe after all.

Enjoying the calm that followed the hurricane, George and Eula Mae sat on his porch barbecuing hot dogs and listening to cassette tapes through an old battery-powered jam box while, in New Orleans, the levees broke. “Expect Carlton will be headin back soon and ya’ll can make your way home,” George told Eula Mae. Electricity was out and phone lines were down. They didn’t hear about the flooding until a day later when George received a text message saying he would be responding in the Ninth Ward. Be prepared to leave at dawn, his supervisor had written.

P. 14

George walked inside and returned with a whiskey and the photo. “Amit, why don’t you run on home for now.” Lines grew from the corners of George’s eyes, fanning out over his temples, tracing history like arpent lines. George’s tired blue slits met Amit’s chocolate eyes. Amit’s eyes were like the boy’s eyes, and George remembered:

“Deformed monkey goes in the luggage compartment or you leave him behind,” the officer had told George. “You have two fucking options.” New Orleans had been ominous. Hundred-year-old live oaks and Canary Island date palms splayed against the neutral grounds, diminished like anorexic bodies. Where water receded, the city had been smothered in a toxic gumbo – soot, mud, overturned cars, engine oil, sewerage, rat and dog carcasses. A thick odor hovered in the humid air; it was the unforgettable, unbearably hot smell of death. The clearest sound had been men in shrimp boots sloshing through the thick gray-brown liquid. Caved-in rooftops of sunshine-yellow shotgun homes and melon-colored Creole cottages jutted from the slush. Headlamps strapped to hard hats glared into worker’s faces – the lamps acting as silent sirens beaming into each man’s eyes. Before giving the boy up to the officer, George had hugged him. He had hugged him once and set his gloved hand over the boy’s head in prayer.

George kneeled beside his stepmother now. He pried her hands off of her face and tilted her head up to look at him. “Eula Mae. It’s gonna be all right.”

Beatrice clucked in a kind of stutter. The sound penetrated George’s ears.

George spoke over Beatrice. “Eula Mae. Look here. Everything’s gonna be alright.” George picked up the paper towel and dabbed her eyes and cheeks. “You look real pretty today, Eula.” He pressed the drink against her palm, wrapped her hard fingers into a grasp around the whiskey glass. “Go on, sip on this.”

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