t rained so hard, the wicker baskets were overflowing. Water poured through the ceiling, carrying nails, unrecognizable timbers, and sloppy pink insulation. It was a relief to go outside.
“This isn’t as bad as the time our house burned down in the middle of Death Valley,” said Herbert, standing under the useless awning.
“Why?” I shouted, skeptically, through the pounding roar.
He pulled something out of his pocket. “Because I’ve salvaged this water purifier. We won’t go thirsty!”
I waded to his corner and threw my arms around him. Our fingertips were beyond pruny. Our clothes had long passed the spongy stage, and were now brittle.
I felt his body’s warmth, hale against the elements.
We met when I was holding an enormous umbrella high over my head, across the street from the Massachusetts State House, waiting for all the brave souls who’d signed up for the walking tour. At least one of them should wade through the mess, for the sake of the $20.
“Hi, is this the tour? I wasn’t sure where the State House was.”
“Because of the rain?” I asked.
“Because I’m not from here. I work here four days and fly back to Idaho for the weekends.” He took off his glasses to wipe them down. Through the lowered lashes, I saw our two life paths merge.
“I don’t think anyone else is coming,” I said. “Would you like to get coffee and wait this out?”
I was married to someone else, and so was Herbert. When I told my then-husband that it was over, he set the house on fire. So the Death Valley incident wasn’t my first house fire since I’d known Herbert.
“This isn’t as bad as when Grabble burned the house down, either,” I said.
“It was much worse, because I was in Boston and you were away in Idaho.” Our slippery fingers intertwined.
We stepped into the rowboat. Herbert took the oars and I used a tin pail to keep the craft afloat under the cascade.
After the Death Valley fiasco, I got an internship with a Hollywood studio and Herbert managed the grocery store. One day, when I was done shredding unsolicited scripts, I biked to the store to get some kisses, but the Earth opened up underneath me. I halted, my front wheel spinning over the abyss. Across the rift, cars from the lot tumbled ceaselessly downward, and the store’s automatic doors opened and shut over darkness. Herbert waved to me from just beyond the glass.
“Sweet love!” I called.
“Hey darlin’!” he replied when the door opened. The next go around, he said, “The radio’s saying it was 8.5, but this looks bigger than that to me!”
There was nothing else to do: I biked home to find some books fallen off the shelves. I ate ice cream because the power was out and waited for Herbert to come home. It took five days before someone finished a bridge across one of the gaps and Herbert crossed back into my arms.
We vowed never to work in different buildings again.
We progressed down the river-like street past rooftops that appeared to be sinking. My shoulders developed a grinding pain, as if they were on fire. I couldn’t stand the thought that Herbert might feel the same pain, so I set my jaw against it, abandoned the bailout and sat on the bench next to him.
“If I stop rowing, my love,” he said, “it will be too hard to start again.”
I put my hands over his on the oars. I loved the way the incessant droplets scuttled straight down his nose and lingered at the tip for a full second before releasing their grip.
“You know what this is worse than?” I asked into his ear. “The time we walked back to Boston.”
It had been on TV, the crazy couple who survived the quake and took off in a wagon.
We longed to return to the city where we’d met, but airline seats weren’t to be had for love or money. In the rubble, we found a rusty red Radio Flyer, piled some necessities in it, and started walking northeast. We each carried an umbrella to avoid outright sunstroke. Sometimes, one of us would sit in the wagon and rest while the other pulled. We survived 200-mile-per-hour winds in Nebraska by hunkering down in an old barn. The roof blew off, and it was hard to breathe the rushing air, but then it was over and we got back up. We forded the Mississippi on a barge. Sometimes, we used gravity to our advantage. We both sat in the wagon through most of Pennsylvania, coasting down the Poconos.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you help each other!” I said hoping Herbert would let me relieve his oar duty. “We made it all the way to Boston, even though we destroyed our knees!”
“None of that matters when you’re so much in love,” Herbert replied. He looked at me through those wet, streaked lenses. Our lips touched, slimy and chapped at all once. It was the best feeling in the world.
We barely had time to grab each other’s hands when the flash flood hit. We held on tight, but nature always wins.
In the hospital bed next to mine, Herbert was saying, “Nothing’s really gone right since we met, has it, sweetheart?”
“But we’re together!” I said, blowing kisses as best I could through all the tubes. “How can it be wrong?”
A friend in L. A. pulled some strings, and my old studio, just recovering from the quake, asked me to write a script about the fascinating story of Herbert and me and our true love. I tried, but it was impossible. There’s just no drama.
* * * * *
Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss is a fiction editor at Fireship Press in Tucson, Arizona. She has published fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in numerous venues and is working on a novel set in medieval Spain. Get updates on her writing at her blog: jessicaknauss.blogspot.com. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.