Limber Up Before Letting Loose: Response to Prompt 12

Oh, for shame…I have been too long away from the pen…er, keyboard. I have been lax in my prompting duties, and for this, I offer my humble and sincere apologies to you, dear readers. But see? I make amends.

Below is my response to Prompt 12; imagine if you will, two young men, arriving on bicycles at the home of one of the men’s sister, in the midst of a raging thunderstorm; they encounter an empty house, front door wide open in the wind-driven rain. A chair sits just inside the open door, and upon a quick look into the basement of the split-level home, they see water pouring in through an open door from the back yard; the basement floor is already under 12″ of water.

And thus, I leave you…

 

Create a still-life in the room that implies a dramatic moment (e.g. an overturned chair, several balled-up pieces of paper, an open map, a torn envelope, a set of keys, a silk scarf). Describe what happened either just before or just after that moment.

 

Our childhood home was a split-level ranch, located at the bottom of a steep, woodsy hill; there was a three-foot-high retaining wall at the bottom of this hill, constructed of old, rotting railroad ties. At some point, my parents decided to remove the disintegrating lumber, along with many of the trees from said hill, to allow more sunlight into the house. Being relatively new first-time homeowners (having lived in several small apartments prior), they didn’t understand the concept of erosion, or neither of the trees’ role in keeping the hillside intact, nor the railroad ties’ as stemming the flow of water that would cascade down the hill unchecked during a storm…with nothing now to stop it but our house.

When my youngest sister Ada was born, my brother Phil was unceremoniously stashed in the bedroom with my sister June and I—which, for many reasons, was less than ideal, the least of which was that Phil had the habit of rocking himself to sleep, singing the chorus of “Benny and the Jets,” or, if he was stressed out, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” So, after a quick coat of paint and the purchase of some indoor-outdoor carpet, June and I became the proud new residents of the basement. There was a door to the backyard from our bedroom; the door itself was not a true exterior door—it was a cheap, hollow-core interior type. Once you opened this door, there was a steep concrete staircase in front of you, and blue sky above. I suppose there may  originally have been a bulkhead outside, but my only memory of it was without. We learned the hard way that the combination of torrential rain, a sandy hillside, and no bulkhead was a disastrous one; time and time again, the water would seep in under the basement door and saturate the rug—sometimes not drying for days.

On one miserably hot and muggy summer day, strong thunderstorms were forecast. I had always been terrified of thunderstorms, and my mother’s remedy for this was to expose me to my fears; she would perch on a chair at the front door, Ada in her lap, June, Phil and I clinging to her arms, and we’d watch the storm rage outside. This must have actually worked, because to this day, I love a big storm—as long as I am safe inside.

We three kids were standing in our underwear (too hot to wear anything else), watching the froth and fury of a real humdinger of a storm—I had just noticed the sheer volume of water pouring down the street in front of our house—when a horrific crash, too loud to even be confused with the ear-splitting thunder we had been experiencing, shook the very floor under our feet. My mother jumped up, sending the three of us stumbling, and after she glanced down the cellar stairs, yelled, “Grab hold of my shirt—we’re going across the street to the Nagles’!” We stared at her for a moment in horror. We had no idea what could possibly be terrible enough to warrant A) going out into the maelstrom before us, and B) doing so in our underwear. The Nagles were a household of five children, two of which were boys; the thought of us parading over there in such a state was nothing short of unthinkable.

And yet, there we went, flying out the door, barely touching the ground, it seemed, thunder and lighting raging around us and rivers of water pouring beneath our feet. I learned later, wrapped in scratchy towels (the Nagles always dried their laundry on a clothesline), that the basement stairwell had literally filled up with water—a result of the deluge of rainfall in such a short time—and the basement door had finally burst off of its hinges, letting in a wall of water. My mother, in a panic that we were in imminent danger of being electrocuted or some such calamity, whisked us off to safety the only way she knew how.

And, as we watched for any signs of flame or combustion from across the street, who should appear through the sheets of rain but my Uncle Mike and his trusty sidekick, Joe, riding in on shining steeds of metal and rubber (read: ten-speed bikes). Apparently, they had been on their way over to visit when the storm blew through, and when my mother saw them swing their bikes into the driveway and run into the house through the open front door, she ran out into the rain, down the steep, grassy slope of the Nagles’ front yard, and across the street, into the dark maw of the open front doorway.

I’m not sure what exactly happened after that to allow our return, but in my 10-year-old-mind, somehow Mike and Joe performed some magical incantation or mystical sequence that ensured our safety, and enabled us to reenter our home.

Perhaps I’ll ask him about it some day.

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