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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she can’t exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Don’t online mag.

**WEB: AFTER THE FLOOD Pitchfork Battalion
from 'THEN' Rick Henry
THE BRIDGE Lisa Grayson
CRUISING Eric Sasson
WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer

Pitchfork Battalion (Motke Dapp, Susannah Felts, Todd Dills, John Minichillo)

This Nashville-based crew of fiction writers debuted this round-robin, each author's contribution proceeding from the phrase "after the flood," at the June 18, 2010, Brick Reading Series event, almost two months after record rainfall produced epic flooding in and around their hometown. For more from Motke Dapp, check out his Twitter-story feed. Susannah Felts teaches writing at Watkins College of Art and Design, John Minichillo at Middle Tennessee State University; both have published widely. Todd Dills is THE2NDHAND's editor.

After the flood, they put their houses on stilts, using magic and wishes to elevate the structures and wondering why they hadn't used them when the waters were filling the area from sky and ground. Unused wishes are like uneaten wrapped candy that lives under your bed, that you don't want to eat because you know you'll be sad when it's gone.

The blueberry bush garden that she spent the previous summer planting had relocated itself to the neighbor's roof, and the birds were finishing off the last of the ripened fruit. The garden was immune to wishes, or so she was lead to believe from magazine articles she read on the subject.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

She stood at her window, watching the clouds bump into each other before dissipating, thinking of the receding waters, the absence of phone calls, her missing stuffed rabbit with the wonky ear, and the one wish she had yet to use, nestled in the pocket of her apron.

She spent months drying out her photos. Her memories. The things she kept in vials and fancy hatboxes. They sat on her back lawn soaking up the sun.

When everything had passed, seven years total, she glanced at her stove and had the sudden desire to bake a pie. She discovered the apron with the pocket that contained the one remaining wish. In the time between the flood and that moment, she had married, moved to Canada, nurtured and raised a basket of waterproof robot kittens, and had learned that sometimes you forget that you have a wish in your pocket. She stared at the wish, remembering the water and the rain and the boats and the wet homes on stilts.

She made a wish. --Motke Dapp

After the flood I heard thunder rolling in my dreams. I couldn't find Big Kitty. I called you from the motel and you said you'd be coming by to help. Noon at the latest. At two you called and said you were tied up with helping your mama. You've always been good to your mama. I respect that. Find a man that treats his mama good, Auntie Kris always said to me.

Bernice and Auntie Kris showed up. Poppy, too, after he got the water out his own basement. His back was out but he came. He caught me texting you, said leave that boy be, we don't need no more hands. We can handle this.

That TV you got me? Ruined. And the ionizer fan? Ruined too. All your clothes you left over here, all my work scrubs and weekend dresses too, soaked with that river stink water. I kept thinking bout all the dead creatures. Those piranas got loose, they said, down at the mall. I still couldn't find Big Kitty and I didn't want to think on it. Auntie piled the clothes in Hefty bags, said with a nice hot wash they'd be good as new, but I set em on the curb. Nextdoor at Jimmy Frank's, and over at Miss Pearl's and Tessie's, same thing. House upon house, same thing, just different stuff. Our whole block was houses turned inside out. You should have seen the piles. You should have seen Tessie, just laughing and laughing, hauling out all those old R&B records. The yellow-shirt folks got a kick out of her. I quit laughing, I'll start crying, she said. I sent you another text: Where r u? A little while later you wrote: Still over at Mama's. Be there soon.

Me and Bernice and Auntie Kris and Poppy stood at the back door, where the water had bust in, looking down the yard, where the water come up from. It had swallowed up the kitchen floor before I could throw some stuff in a bag and go. I got out faster than some. Now all we could see was river mud dried on the bushes down there at the creek bank, six foot up, like a dirty tub ring on the leaves. The sun was powerful hot. Poppy had his hand on his back, I knew he was hurting. In my bedroom, I could smell mold fixing to bloom. I sprayed some of that cologne Bernice gave me last Christmas. Might as well use it, I figured. You always said you didn't like it.

Them yellow-shirt folks showed up and said we had to rip the carpet out fast. They picked up the sofa, put it in the yard. Picked up the recliner, put it in the yard. They found your wallet behind the sofa, soggy like everything else. What you been doing without your wallet? You ain't missed it? I just don't get it. I just don't get you. I sent a text: You missing your wallet? But you ain't answered. This yellow-shirt girl stood there with the wallet in her hands.

That belongs to my fiancé, I told them. He's coming around later.

He's your fiancé? He should be coming around now, this woman said. Shouldn't he?

Well, I didn't know what to say to all that.

Then they took axes to the walls and just started ripping up the walls. They tore the walls out of my living room and started in on the baby's room. They threw the chunks of wall on the lawn. More piles. Wall crumblings everywhere. I know they was doing what had to be done, but it was hard to watch, you know. I went back in the bedroom with Auntie Kris and made myself busy emptying out drawers. They kept coming back there, asking me do I want to keep this and this and this. Baby clothes and toys and such. I say no. Let it go. Because you just never know. You don't want to take that kinda chance. I didn't want our baby breathing that mold. The sun went down and Bernice had to go home to her kids, and Auntie Kris and Poppy was so tired. Go home, Poppy, I said. Drink a beer and take some aspirin. I sat on my back stoop, the one where the water come in, and called and called for Big Kitty. But that cat ain't showed back up yet. --Susannah Felts

"After the flood, hell, I went to play golf. Never seen it quite so bad -- when I pulled off Briley and hurtled the pickup down into the bottom below the freeway I must've been in a foot of water before I knew what was happening. She chugged on through it, though. Damn engine stalled just out the other side of it, but I had plenty pull coming off the hill to carry me around the loop, and I pushed the clutch quick to the floor and rolled up and out and, just as she was coming to a stop, popped it and fired her again."

I'd already heard this story twice, Mr. Mike's tale of how he lost his voice several days back now.

Mike was the prognosticator, the soothsayer, among the hangers-on at the clubhouse. I'm quoting him at length here because, well, this might've been the tallest among his many tallboys, a story you would've been quick to disbelieve or take for a joke if it weren't for the positive fucking welt on the man's neck and the raspy voice with which he told the story.

The course was closed on the day in question, a week ago now, as were many businesses all through town. But, Mike says, he and Larry and several others among the area's cabin-fevered residents, after two solid days of pouring rain and plenty back strain shop-vaccing and then carrying upstairs water from deep basements, they collected on the closed course for a gratis though truncated 13-hole round. You had to avoid holes 13-17 down in the low terrain by the freeway, as they were three feet underwater, but free golf we all probably deserved. The course manager, Bill, totally wiped out in the flooding himself but for his golf clubs, which he of course swam to save, hastened to agree. He was out here on the links that day himself.

"The rest of the course," Mike said. "Well, it weren't the greatest day to walk 18 -- or that 13, sloppy-ass wet as it were -- but it was a damn long sigh of relief after two days of wondering whether you'd be washed away. Apologies, Bill, but he was out here too, one of a dedicated damn few. Thing is, though there weren't much of us, me and Larry we'd come up on 11 and cranked out two sliced drives into the Haywoods' cow pasture way down the big hill there when we realize, way too late, of course, that we'd hit right into a couple ladies playing ahead of us who were in the same predicament as us.

"I found mine right quick, plugged in some mud next to a big saturated cowpie, and a few yards away from one of the cows out there. And goddamnit Bill, I know it ain't course property and we ain't supposed to be over there, but a golf ball is a golf ball. Two bucks, you know. I hate to lose one. Anyhow, the cow. She was wiggling her hindquarters a little funny when she sidled away from me and I couldn't help but notice a gleam of white when she swished her tail. And sure enough, there was a ball plugged right there in the hole up under that tail. I got a little closer, saw it was a Titleist, and Larry always plays the Noodle ball, so I turned to one of the women, got hold of the cow's tail and lifted it. 'Hey,' I said, 'Hey, does this look like yours?' She turned and hit me in the throat with a nine iron." --Todd Dills

After the flood, I stood under the hot shower until my sore muscles loosened. I'm not allowed to have pets in my apartment building, but I brought home a cage from work.

There was no break for two days and the rain fell heavy. Andrew was the new boss, so I had to explain things. I watched a lot of TV and he didn't. I had called him at home in the middle of the night because the storm had turned into something else. I told him to turn on Channel Four. I broke it to Andrew, the zoo director and one of the highest paid municipal employees, that his zoo was on a floodplain. Andrew was an expert on Africa. He knew about the preferred tree canopy of the hyacinth macaw and the optimal gestational diet of the ringed desert tortoise. He knew where to buy ants wholesale for our aardvark. But he had no idea what to do in a flood.

"I'm coming out there," he said.

"You can't," I said. Because of where he lived. Everyone within a hundred miles wanted to live where he lived, but with the severe weather, it kept him apart from the zoo. "The highway's closed," I said. "You better stick tight."

I got a hold of everyone on staff who could make it. A handful of cops and firefighters were also sent over, and we went about securing the animals in three-person teams. For the animals with permanent enclosures, getting them inside was easy as feeding time. We checked the grazing areas, which were open and had high spots. Prairie dog town was the sad part, an enclosed mud puddle.

I had been up all night doing hard wet labor and when I walked back through the apartment into the kitchen in a towel, I almost forgot the Goeldis monkey. As I stood in front of the open refrigerator looking for something to eat, he watched me from inside the wire cage that rested on the counter. I took the bowl of fruit from the counter and set it where he could see. My towel slipped to the floor and I said, "We've got bananas, apples, oranges, a pear. You can have the pear."

I turned on the TV with the remote and we watched Channel Four together: the reporters in their raincoats, the requisite footage of cars overwhelmed and swept away, cars floating like alligators, up to their noses in water. I opened the cage and the Goeldis walked out like a lone survivor. He looked up and regarded the ceiling. He was eight inches tall and looked and moved exactly like a tiny man covered in black fur and with a tail.

I contemplated the size of his brain. What he knew and didn't know. But he was a good companion. He didn't require special vitamins or indigenous plants. I laid out newspaper in a corner of the kitchen and he knew just what to do.

I called Andrew and gave him the rundown of the animals that were secured and the ones we'd left to chance. The ones that were taken to nearby farms or people's garages. As a way of thanking me and of ending the conversation, Andrew said, "Get some sleep. Take a few days off and we'll regroup when the river swell recedes."

I needed sleep. Instead I cut up a shoebox with a pair of scissors, into a little desk and chair. "There's one more thing," I said to Andrew. "The Goeldis. Keep an eye out for him. That little bugger got away from me."

"The what?"

"The tiny monkey over by the parrots."

"We have a monkey by the parrots?"

"He lived in a birdhouse inside a cage. But he got away."

Me and the little guy watched Channel Four together all the next day: the highway was closed, the schools closed, neighborhoods evacuated, sections of town without electricity. Every good citizen was encouraged not to go driving around, and we were told to conserve water. Tennessee Titans and country music stars answered phones and took pledges. We finished off the bananas then we ate granola cereal with soymilk. We watched Oprah and rubbed our bellies.

"You miss the jungle?" I said. "You gonna get all heartsick and die on me like E.T?" We laughed about that one. He probably did miss the jungle, but there was no way he was nostalgic over his pathetic birdhouse at the zoo. When we were tired of TV, I opened the sliding glass door and we perched on the balcony and looked out. I pay way too much for my apartment, but it has an undeniable selling point, and that's the view. The sky was clear blue and our city was getting back to normal. --John Minichillo


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