JoeAnn Hart

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JoeAnn Hart

Inheritance was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

         Les licked the air, and sat up straight. The National Guard had arrived that afternoon, shop clerks and bankers in soldier garb stacking sandbags, protecting downtown at the cost of intensifying the blast here along the creek. He could feel their fear. He felt his own now. Water was already grinding at the earth beneath his ledge. Wished he had some nips.
        No. Not yet. He needed to wait for the homeless family who camped under the bridge. He had to warn them. It was life or death. Or life and death.
       He closed his eyes and saw a silver dragon charging down the canyon in a fury on the hot wind of the foehn. A red dragon had burned the trees and shrubs in the mountains last summer, allowing snow melt to rush down unimpeded. Then there's the secret ingredient to any disaster. Dust. It rises up from exposed ground, gets blown on the snow, accelerating the melting, which creates more ground, which blows more dust. The system will keep repeating itself, and then the system will keep repeating itself.
            After a wildfire in another county, two inches of rain fell and it took just forty-five minutes for the flow of water to rise from 60 cubic feet per second to over 2000. He calculated the snow melt. How long did he have? While place and space can be measured as matter, time can only be measured in relation to space: The distance light travels. What was the distance to the floodgates up in the mountains? That was the time allotted.
            In other words, if he stayed too much longer he was fucked.
            It was all so familiar. His chromosomes remembered the Pleistocene, the great melt twenty thousand years ago, an inundation so sudden it submerged early human settlements and left behind oral histories of a flood. Les used to believe that it was only the futility of that first flood that prevented the gods from sending a second, but now he was not so sure. They've reimagined the future without us. If that's what had to be, so be it. Water will swallow people, cities, and continents, but it will also swallow our grievous mistakes.
            An angel appeared. A quiet one, wings long, slender, and slate-gray, folded like a dove's. He was surprised one could find him without a trail of empty nips. She waited with her head down. She has all the time in the world she says. All the time, measured any way he wanted. He had no time, he said, and she laughed, raising her head to look him in the face. He saw eternal love, but pity too. "Climb high or die" she said. "When the water comes down from the mountains it will be like a fist." She turned and stepped onto the roiling water, walking away until she disappeared into the billowing mist.
He stood up to leave, bumping into a dark, smirking angel, wings slamming open and closed like cemetery gates.
            Coming for you. 
            Les found the metal shepherd's crook he used to collect trash and brandished it at the angel, holding it high. He knew what had to be done. He had always hoped that one day he would be saved by love washing over him, but he saw now, he could only be saved by letting it wash through him. "Love it or leave it," he yelled. The smirking angel gave him the finger as it backed into the creek, sinking beneath the turbulence.
            As Les stored the crook on a low branch of his cottonwood tree, he saw crazed birds flying out of the canyon. He felt brush snapping, animals running for high ground, and knew that water had begun rushing like a freight train through the burnt land in the mountains. What was coming was explosive. A hawk plunged down from the heavens, its screech drowned out by the roar as it snatched a rabbit hoping to escape, driven out into the open by fear, the flood a shopping opportunity for those with flight. Talons dug deep into the rabbit's flesh, and Les felt his shoulder bleed. 
            The land was breaking up. Time to go. The family he waited on must have figured it out and gone elsewhere. But just as he turned to climb to safety he saw the mother way up by the bridge. She stood at the top of the path and looked down at the creek. She held a grocery bag in one hand and a baby carrier in the other. Les shouted at her to run, but as she moved, she slipped down the embankment to where the earth melted away, and the water tore the carrier from her grip. It floated. It was floating, even as he heard the water blast out of the canyon. Les yanked himself up into the cottonwood tree by the crook just in time, then leaned over the rising water on the branch, holding tight. He lowered the crook into the water. The baby carrier was a swiftly moving thing, but he understood his purpose in life had condensed to this moment. In defiance of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, it was possible to measure speed and position simultaneously, so that the carrier's handle became perfectly aligned with the hook, nearly pulling Les in. He tightened his upper arms around the branch and used both hands to pull until he could grab the carrier's handle. Saved. The baby was his. He looked into the eyes, the silent, open mouth. Pure fear. "It's Earth, little one. I'm here, and I'm sorry."

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