It was the year the flood washed a parade of homes downriver. They called it a rain bomb. Kate’s home was fourth. She followed three other women, unable or unwilling to leave their homes that once lined the largest river on their tropical island. Kate tried her phone, but no calls connected.
Aunty Lani, from the house ahead of her, tossed Kate a rope, and that’s how the four women tied their homes, their lives, their fates together. What a sight. Four houses, all shades of green, headed for a crescent-shaped bay backdropped by lush fluted mountains sliced with waterfalls. Oh, the waterfalls. So many that they looked like icing dribbling down the creases of a pound cake.
There was food and water. Everyone packed disaster kits these days. Everyone filled their bathtubs whenever sirens alerted a pending natural disaster. Everyone knew the disasters were coming more and more often. It used to be hurricanes or tsunamis, but with warming temperatures, extreme flooding had become a more deadly disaster.
It stopped raining by evening. At dusk, frogs climbed onto the women’s decks. Frogs by the dozen, frogs crawling on top of other frogs, frogs seeking rescue and sending the women onto their roofs at sunset, as a full moon rose over the eastern sky, painting it a post-apocalyptic orange-gold.
For dinner, Jodi shared a vegetarian lasagna she’d made the day before with taro leaves and vegan cheese. Kate made a salad from the bag of mixed greens, her last from her ex-girlfriend, the farmer. The women shuttled everything, one to the other, in baskets they hooked to the ropes connecting them.
“Like dessert?” Aunty asked and passed around banana bread with macadamia nuts, the bananas and nuts she grew in what was once her backyard. Stephanie was the practical one. She tossed everyone a lime and said they were good for washing your hands. “Armpits, too.”
At ten o’clock, a phone pinged, and everyone thought they’d floated into cell phone range, but it was just Jodi’s alarm, a reminder to take melatonin before bed. Instead, Aunty passed around a bottle of Patron. “I was saving it,” she said. “But I figure this is as special as it gets.” Stephanie went inside her house and returned with tortilla chips and salsa. “Good to have something on the stomach,” she said.
No one slept that night, and Kate learned their stories, piecemeal, relayed like the old game of telephone. Aunty was going through a divorce, or not, she couldn’t decide. Her husband spent most of his time fishing or racing outrigger canoes, his first love the ocean, a cliche if there ever was one. Stephanie had just lost her dog to cancer. Jodi was a cancer survivor—breast. And, Kate, recently split from her long-time girlfriend, her lease expiring, trying to figure out her next move. As a seasonal field biologist, Kate couldn’t afford to live alone in Hawaii.
Kate tried her phone again. No bars.
No one asked the question that was on everyone’s mind.
When the moon started to arc for the horizon, Aunty ran fishing lines between the houses and baited the hooks with frogs. She’d learned a few tricks from her fisherman husband, she said. With any luck, she’d cube up an aweoweo and make poke for breakfast. “I’ve got scallions,” Kate said, another leftover from her girlfriend. Jodi didn’t eat fish, not after the baby seal died when it snagged a fish off a fisherman’s line, swallowing the hook, too. But she offered chili pepper water.
Just before the moon dropped out of sight, Kate heard the sound of a whoosh and felt a spray of droplets coat her body. A pungent smell lodged in the back of her throat, and she could just make out a humpback whale, a bloom of red expanding around it. As the women watched, another whale one-third the size surfaced. They listened as they heard the whale calf take its first breath. They watched as it nudged its mother’s side and wrapped its long slender tongue around a teat extending from its mother’s belly. The whales rolled around on the water’s surface, sounding shortly after sunrise.
Kate could barely see the island, their flotilla having drifted far off-shore, but she could see the look on every woman’s face. “That deserves more Patron,” Aunty said and sent the tequila around again.
Before they could check the fishing lines and think about making breakfast, they heard it. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. The women looked up, their hair blowing in the turbulence of the helicopter’s blades. But not a single one stood.
Kim Steutermann Rogers lives with her husband and 16-year-old dog Lulu in Hawaii. Her essay, “Following the Albatross Home” was recognized as notable in Best American Travel Writing. Her journalism has published in National Geographic, Audubon, and Smithsonian; and her prose in Atticus Review, CHEAP POP, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She was awarded residencies at Storyknife Writers Retreat in Alaska in 2016 and 2021 and Dorland Mountain Arts in 2022. Find her @kimsrogers.
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