Hook and Eye by Magdalen Powers


It was August, it was humid; we were hurricanable. There were, for once, more rats than roaches, and the afternoon rain—pocking the sand in the yard so it smelled beachy—still couldn’t get at the hanging plants on the verandah. We decorated them with jetsam we found in the weeds, then went back to our badminton, howling into the darkening skies as if to echo the daytime concrete saws and sad singing of the construction workers at the condominiums going up across the street.
     “This is why we can’t have nice things,” said Ellen, dodging a bowling pin in the living room. She removed the stemware to a safer locale, then padded off up the front stairs to think more about politics, or sex, or something in between.

*

     The small ants bit. The larger ones were termites, which left fine brick-red dust, like in the bottoms of tea tins, on the windowsills of the upstairs additions.
     Giorgio cooked a shrimp curry that incapacitated us for days.
     Frank and Jenner were sailors, forever tying things in knots. They dodged alligators and got sunburned differently than the rest of us.
     “Do you remember Seattle in the nineties, when decaf cost ten cents extra?”
     “No, Lily,” they sighed. “We were barely born.”
     “And we are, must I mention, in the Sunshine State,” said Frank. “Who wants to think about all that rain?”
     In the meantime, we pined for the lost miracle of DDT, doused with DEET or calamine, and scratched.

*

     Our house was so big it sometimes swallowed us. Often we chatted on computers with everybody home, the soft tapping of our keyboards no match for ceiling fan and air conditioner and backup signal from the condominiums’ crane.
     We were waiting for breakthroughs of all kinds.
     Things turned to damp powder around us—toothpaste, saltines, those windowsills. Every time we stopped to look, it was four a.m.

*

     “Something smells,” said Jenner.
     “Your feet,” said Giorgio from the hundredth wicker loveseat.
Jenner manned the verandah like a prow, hanging by a pillar out over the yard, and sniffing the thunderstormy breeze. “Nope,” he said. “Something’s coming in.”

*

     The next morning, a Tuesday, Ellen looked out her bedroom window to see a flock of ibis on the front lawn—scarlet, half a continent too far north. Scudding through the sparse grass, they seemed mopey and dissatisfied.
     Ellen suggested we breakfast outside. The birds performed an exaggerated tiptoe around the lee of the house, where they took to roost on the badminton net, causing a precipitous sag.
     The wind was up, and we could all smell the smell: like ozone, but not quite. Metallic, almost tasteable.
     We drank orange juice from concentrate, and scrutinized the birds. When it was four a.m. again, we watched them, by torchlight, take flight across the face of the moon.
     Something shrieked and chattered from the magnolia tree, where seed pods hung like ovate peaches, glowing. This started up the cicadas, which sounded to us like an alarm clock, like some sort of warning.

*

     On Wednesday, we decided to have breakfast delivered by a Rube Goldberg machine, from the café up the street. Frank placed the order via orange juice cans and string. English muffins, they said, was all they could send. These arrived, still hot, on handmade plates from Japan. “You’ll have to supply your own jelly,” they said. “Tell them we have plenty,” hollered Giorgio.
     That night sounded like bowling. “Chill out, Lily,” they called. “We know it’s four a.m., but we are not bowling.” Giorgio peeked out the round window on the front stairs. “My God,” he said, “it’s armadillos.” Rolling in tight balls across the porch, bouncing off pillars, toppling plastic chairs.
     “Something is afoot,” we said. Bed seemed sensible, but we were unnerved. We huddled in an anteroom, near the remains of our breakfast contraption, which was weighted down with plates and crumbs, swaths of strawberry.

*

     On Thursday we awoke in a heap, and went outside to right the chairs.

*

     By Friday, the wind was higher. Termite dust swirled in the upstairs corners. A green heron’s quizzical eye peered through a sunroom window. Jenner stalked out on the roof with a spyglass and stared it down. “Avast,” he muttered, perhaps from the Italian basta, meaning enough, but more likely from the Dutch.

*

     On Saturday, it began to rain for real.

*

     On Sunday, Giorgio suggested Mass. We were cranky and brimming with heresy. As a compromise, Frank sang Mozart’s Requiem until we got the creeps and asked him to stop.
     “Is your air conditioner running?” asked Ellen, in response to a loud dripping sound coming from the window below Giorgio’s room.
     “Better catch it before it runs out the door!” said Giorgio. There were, depending on gender, either guffaws and chest-bumping or a rolling of eyes, the latter first toward the ceiling—an indifferent and particularly secular god—and then to the front window, which was grainy and dun. The noise had increased.
     The rain came down in such size and quantity, it was as if the sand had risen of its own accord.
     “Do you think we’ll need to bail?” asked Jenner. Frank already had a bucket.
     The condos’ ground floor was taking on water. Our house, on its stubby brick pilings, loomed. Down the slight incline of the street in front came an armadillo, floating, curled on its back. It spun and spun as it sailed off into the near distance.
     Ellen proposed a toast. “To armadillos!” she said.
     “To the lifeboats . . . ?”
     “No, Lily,” said Jenner, “it’s not like that at all.”

*

     Our handyman’s name should have been something like Enoch or Caleb, but it wasn’t; it was Bill. He came from upstream in a dented bass boat, as the sun was setting in a lurid haze. He tied up to one of the verandah pillars, and did his best to persuade us to get in. A lovely gesture, but one that we refused. The rats decided it, slinking out to dip their delicate toes in the water, then slipping back inside. In matters such as this, we assumed they could be trusted.
     Bill wished us well and sailed on in the company of bicycles, potted citrus trees, armadas of Spanish moss.
     The rain stopped. The air was dense and silent, and we breathed warily.
     We jostled ourselves inside, as though that would be helpful. Water bloomed through the floorboards, and soon we were awash in sand to our ankles. We cut a hole through the back-stair landing into the pantry below for foodstuffs, moved upstairs, and hoped for the best.

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Magdalen Powers’s work has appeared in various journals and been collected in two chapbooks. She lives in Salem, Oregon.