Three stories by Daryl Scroggins
Nobody can leave so everybody looks out their windows into other people’s windows. My favorite, way down the street that rises to a hilltop, is a big modern house set against the sky, one side of it all glass with a roof. I have good binoculars like a tank battalion commander would use. The glass part of the house faces south, so in the evening when the sun is about to set, people in it are silhouettes, sometimes with a little fuzz of colors at their edges. I figure it’s an entertainment room, with not much in it but a couch and a TV. Well, it’s just the side edge of the TV that I can see, so for all I know it’s a painting. But that would be weird, since the man usually sitting there would have to be looking at one thing for a really long time. Occasionally a woman comes in and stands looking too, but the way she stands, and the brief duration, always makes it seem like she is perplexed by whatever it is that so captivates the man. It’s all like something French to me. This has been going on for weeks, just the man on the couch and sometimes a moment of also the woman. But today, for the first time, I see a child. Nightgown. Long hair. She appears suddenly and goes to stand directly in front of the man on the couch, facing him. The man’s profile doesn’t change. After a minute he reaches out, and I can see by the side stumble steps of the child that he has pushed her aside, so she will not obstruct his forward gaze.
Then one day you didn’t have to think of apocalyptic stories as science fiction. It was more like realizing a dam had broken and the wall of water just hadn’t yet rounded the bend. Some people kept on with their picnics. Others went for their guns. And some tried to find a Hallelujah look that even they could talk themselves into regarding as a sign of truth.
But everybody needed to think of it as a story, because stories have readers poised at the far end, gazing thoughtfully at closed books—which means there must still be a place to sit and ponder a closed book.
Story: A couple is getting married outside when a volcano explodes miles away. They feel the pre-tremors and see the whole mountain’s billowing slump, but they want to finish. Just when they are about to kiss a rock the size of a golf cart lands on them, and they are gone, as if in the flourish of a magician’s cape. The bride’s father, already drunk and late for the ceremony, catches the drift of events from the circle drive out front. People running well beyond the reach of their faces. He knows something about pyroclastic flows, and this prompts him so steal the wedding limo and floor it. He heads away from the volcano until the redlined engine chucks up all its parts and skids into a ditch.
Half a million years later, self-replicating survey bots from another galaxy take note of odd metallic fossils. Their attention is caught by structures lodged in compacted ash. And with their own version of reverence, they extract a rumpled steering wheel to be saved.
Boots Left Standing Under Mud
When it fills up it will be a big lake, even for Texas. The dam finished last year. Sandy, my identical twin sister, flops down on floorboards, on her stomach. Her fingers flow through lingerie in a Montgomery Ward catalog while I sit on a pickup truck seat on the front porch, shooting squirrels. The snap of my .22 is muffled by fog thick enough to let bass swim through oaks. The limbs all Halloween. Daddy sits chin to chest in the dark. I think the last time he spoke to me was when he looked up from his supper plate one night to ask why I didn’t get all the bones out of the fish. He won’t come out of the back room now, even when I tell him men have come to take down the power lines along our dirt road. When trucks rumble by they raise no dust and sometimes have to be pulled out of a rut with a winch. I look in on him sometimes and ask him why we are still here, but he just raises his arms and twists both hands side to side. Won’t talk. He must be thinking about his empty church, back in the shadows behind our house, and all the people who trickled away. Mama buried behind it. Some people moved their dead out but she’s still there. Daddy would say a final resting place is a final resting place.
We wake to the sound of floating wood bumping into floating wood. The sound says Tonk, or Tink. I get Daddy’s hammer and the last of his nails and build a short pier on skids. I knot a rope to it and tie the other end to a stump so it won’t get away. Every few days I pull it house-ward and lie on it with my left eye at the new water level. With my palm held an inch above the surface, I wait for something far away to make a little wave that licks my wrist. I’m tired of hearing my own boots clumping in and out of the house, me the only one doing anything that needs to be done.
A water moccasin is a kind of black that is really brown.
Daddy calls out Tammy? And I go to him. But he only says words now like he’s looking at them hanging there in the air. Or–he spools out a speech. Says we will not leave what we were led to build. He says We will pray for the faith to ignore what shouldn’t come washing over us. And if walking in knee-deep water slows us down and the wet keeps lapping in, we will live under it. This makes me think of those people in the San Marcos Aquarena. A show you can see from a glass submarine, where a pig swims down to a picnic table to drink from a bottle of grape soda a mermaid opens for him. I guess we can have air tubes bubbling ready, and can come up now and then like they do, slow and dignified. At least I can still smile, thinking about that. Daddy keeps up a steady mumbling, his lips pressed into the blue ticking of his pillow. Water like mice touching his bed legs.
Everything now is never where it was a minute ago. When I tell Sandy a clothes line under water is not a clothes line, she says Yes it is. And I can’t find the words to be right. She’s always looking at me like the mirror is wrong. I guess out in the world everybody will be more like her.
I fish from the kitchen table, then drag planks in to set across the rafters above. I tear my work shirt on a nail getting it all up there and sew it together with string tied to a thorn. Tomorrow I will work at sawing through the roof to sky. My sister tacks an art postcard to the ceiling and practices being the woman in it. Ophelia. When everything is below us, only the next breath will tell which world we have jumped to. Legs making the choice.
Daryl Scroggins lives in Marfa, Texas. He is the author of This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press). Last year his fictions and poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Web. Also, one of his fictions appears in Best Microfiction 2020.