Downpour

It was raining.

It was a drizzling, pissing rain that fell without cease. It churned the dirt into thin mud and turned the main road into a chocolate river. The town of Hawk, Arizona(elv. 2, 534) had received a scant 12 inches of rain in the last 20 years. In the past week, it had rained 24.

Scott looked out his kitchenette window, sipping coffee from a slipware mug painted with a saguaro cactus. The lava rocks that made up his yard were drowning. The path from his front door was a stream. The poles of the carport buckled under the reservoir that had formed in the tarpaulin.

Scott made a face. Even the coffee tasted watery, and no amount of sugar or milk could disguise that.

Scott threw open the door and tossed the coffee out. It lingered only a moment as a brown streak before it diffused into the greater tan body of water.

Scott got on the waders he used for fishing and cut holes in a garbage bag to wear as a poncho. Electing to leave his jeep in the high and dry, he walked.

The population of Hawk comprised mostly of retirees. As Scott descended the steep gravel path from his house, he could hear singing. Ed Tomlinson, his closest neighbor, was holed up in his double-wide.

“If it keeps on raining, the levee’s going to breeeaaaak,” Ed wailed in a piercing tenor, “when the levee breaks, you’ll have no place to staaaayyyyy.”

Dottie Paulson’s tin shack straddled a bend in the dirt road-turned-swamp. “The flower lady” graced the frontage in lopsided lettering. The sunfaded daisy that substituted the o looked drowned. Dottie sat in the delivery bay, decked out in overalls and a tye-dye shirt, round face beaming as Scott drew closer.

“Look!” She gestured as if Scott was somehow ignorant of the rain.

“Yup. Still dry as an Irish funeral.”

Dottie laughed raucously. “Here I was beginning to miss Portland. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Mmm.” Scott looked at the mud bubbling through the cracked asphalt of of the loading bay. “Pretty” was not the operating word he would have chosen.

“I hope it rains more,” Dottie burbled, “I hope it rains on all those thirsty jackrabbits and coyotes. I hope it rains so much these hills soak it up and stay green forever!”

The hills didn’t appear to be doing a whole lot of soaking in Scotty’s eyes, but he watched Dottie splash in a puddle and decided words would probably fail him here.

He bid Dottie adieu and descended.

Benjamin Devereux’s stop ‘n shop sat on an incline. For years, his dusty lot had been a nuisance. Now it was a trap, a mire of mud so fine and sticky that Scott nearly lost a wader.

Benjy stood on his porch, meaty arms folded over his apron.

“Benj.” Scott struggled with his left foot, suctioned. “You ought to git over to my place. Foundation’s starting to float.”

“What, in this? Just a drizzle.” Benjy stared at him defiantly as Scotty fought his left foot out of the mud and now began struggling with his right.

“I don’t know if you see this or not, but it ain’t stopping.” Scott tried wriggling his foot forward and nearly fell over.

“Ah. It’ll stop. Has to.”

“Benj.” Scott finally tripped, slipping out of his wader. The cold bit into his bare foot, made his pants cling to his leg. “I’m serious, now. Come to my place.”

“It’ll blow over. Has to.” Benjy eyed the rain as if it had done him personal wrong.

Scott slipped off the second wader, watching it fill with water and sink. He could not feel his feet as he abandoned the lot. Each step made him stagger, there was no solid ground anymore. Scott found a floating tomato stake to use as a walking stick.

Down, down. Ezra was in his front yard, making the most of it. He’d stuck a bucket of iced beers in an innertube and reclined in a pool chair.

“Get to higher ground,” Scotty said.

Ezra raised a beer in salute.

Down, down into town. The poncho did almost nothing to keep the rain from his body. The water hit the rips and drizzled downwards, soaking him gradually. He started to shiver.

The water around main street was calf-height. Scott waded up to Ralph Ohls, laying on the starter in his old ford truck.

“Howdy.” Scott prodded the surface of the water. “Ralph, I dunno if you see this or not—”

“Ah.” Ralph waved his hand, turning his keys back and forth in an endless cycle. “I got it. Don’t worry.”

“I do worry, Ralph. Looks to be a flood.”

“It don’t rain that much here.” Ralph jiggled the keys. “Won’t flood.”

“What do you call this, then?” Scott lifted a wrinkled, white foot out of the water. Ralph refused to look.

“Got to get home to Liz,” Ralph said, tongue tucked into a corner of his mouth, “got to get those sandbags down.”

“Ralph, your house is downhill. There ain’t much sandbags can do at this point.”

Ralph did not reply, just kept turning the keys to his drowned engine.

The water became thigh-deep, then chest-deep. Scotty half swam to Ira’s Antiques and peered through the smoked glass of the front door.

Ira’s widow Sonya stood in the water, antiques garlanding her like the detritus of a shipwreck, and knitted. A sign boasting of “genuine turquoise” drifted past. Scott tried the door. Locked.

“Not open yet. Not til twelve,” Sonya called in a blank voice.

“Sonya? It’s Scotty. You got to get out, Sonya. Open the door. Let me help you.”

Sonya continued knitting. “Scotty, I’m too old to be moving around now.”

Scott shook the knob. “Sonya, I mean it. The whole town’s sitting on mud right now. Any second—”

Sonya shook her head, not looking up from her purl stitch. “I see no reason to go running around like a chicken with my head cut off. If it happens, it happens.”

“Sonya, listen to me: if Dottie’s place comes unmoored, it’ll come right this way. It’ll do some damage.”

“And what do you want me to do about it?” Sonya shook her head. “Thanks all the same, Scotty, but I ain’t moving.”

Scott could not feel most of his legs and his wading stick had got away from him. He shambled to higher ground, past Ralph sitting in a truck cab gradually filling with water.

Dottie met him going the other way, sledging in the flower shop now unseated by the water.

“Whee!” she waved to him as she slid past, looking like a little girl on a parade float. “Here I go! Whee!”

Scotty did not stop to watch her go. He climbed up, up, up, and the rain came down, down, down. It sabotaged every step, dissolving the mud beneath his feet and sucking the warmth from his legs. Benjy sat in a rocking chair on the shop’s porch as Scott stumbled past, whittling with a penknife as the rotten timbers of the building creaked and groaned.

Scott passed the flat streak that marked Dottie’s travel, where her shop had bowled over a “no parking” sign and gouged the hillside so the hollow was filling with rainwater. Gravity was working with the rain, tiring Scotty so every step uphill was a battle. His numb feet could not find purchase and he slipped, falling to meet the water again and again.

He traveled up, up, up to his house. To higher ground. To drier ground. He looked up to see something coming down to meet him.

Tomlinson’s double-wide, shining like a silver bullet, skied down the hill to him. Behind it, Scott could see his jeep, skidding unimpeded by the parking brake. And behind that, he could see his house, his lava rocks, the whole hillside slithering to meet him.

It was raining.

It was a drizzling, pissing rain that fell without cease. It soaked Scott as he futilely threw one hand up in the face of the landslide.

It was a down, down, downpour.

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