Flood, Fire, Fish

A triptych of disasters and miracles by Olivia Parkes

Flood, Fire, Fish

FLOOD

A hurricane came and everyone left, except for Roy and George. George was eighty years old. He had survived hurricanes before and considered them a massive inconvenience, as well as an opportunity for the poor to loot his home. Roy stayed because he was a dog: a Dachshund, a very loyal breed. Anyway, the hurricane landed and proceeded to cause, as the newscasters put it, “historical devastation.” The more fanciful and apocalyptic stations favored the term “biblical,” but the point was not argued.

Meanwhile, the hurricane had flooded George’s home. George was treading water and holding onto an air mattress, while Roy sat atop it. George had lost his glasses and the dim shape of his old tufted armchair rocking woozily in the brown water was terrible, terrible. The water rose until Roy and George’s heads were just below the ceiling. It was night now, and difficult for George to keep awake. But Roy did not abandon George, licking his face every time he drifted off or let go of the air mattress. By late morning the water had receded slightly, and Roy and George escaped from the house.

By noon the next day, this was being broadcast as a miracle. Certainly it was a good bit of spit-shine for something people liked to believe in. The man had stayed to protect his home, the dog to protect his master! There was something about the odds — George’s age, Roy’s short legs, the forces they were up against — that warmed people’s hearts. The rest of the footage, splinters swirling in rippled murk, dark faces mouthing soundlessly from a patchwork of roofs, chilled them to the bone.

Soon however the news moved on, and so did Roy and George. George was sent to a facility for the elderly. Dogs were not allowed there, and Roy began a tour of schools for disabled children to continue his work, whatever that was. George’s home was not looted, but the furniture was swollen and stained, the walls soaked right up to the rafters. In the end it was torn down with the neighborhood, the lot scraped clean as a bone. Something new would be built there. It was said that the same mistakes would not be made again.

FIRE

A group of men plotted to blow up a building, a high building where high finance went on. On the appointed day, they lit themselves like fuses, setting the twin spines of the hijacked elevator shafts alight. Smoke and flames and sprinkler systems began to wreck their urgent havoc. Marcel and his guide dog, Nina, were in a conference room on an upper floor, where the fund Marcel worked for was discussing seaweed. Marcel had an uncanny knack for predicting the market, and his opinions about nascent trends were highly valued. Privately it was said that his blindness had something do with it, something sonar-or-other, “like bats”; maybe he could hear the money moving around. In the conference room, people began to panic, but Marcel and Nina stayed calm.

Nina, a sleek retriever with aloof blue eyes, rose and guided Marcel out of the conference room and into the rising hysteria of the hall. She led him to the stairwell and down many flights of crowded stairs and out of the flaming building into the street. Traffic had gridlocked around empty cars with open doors and the metro had stopped running underground. The streets were all movement, awash with sirens and people who had begun to run, though they didn’t all know what from. Unperturbed by the chaos and the rising clouds of smoke and dust, Nina led Marcel across the city all the way to his apartment uptown.

Later, it emerged that Marcel was the only man from his morning conference to make it out alive. Was the blind man blessed? People had to wonder. For a week or two man and dog were much photographed, but something about their eyes — the one pair blue, the other blind — was a little creepy on camera. Though he had emerged unscathed, something had changed in Marcel. His market predictions became spotty, erratic. When the crash came later that year, he found he was thoroughly unprepared.

FISH

On a clear, windless day a dolphin swimming off the coast of Florida got caught in a crab trap line, where she sustained horrific injuries. Some time later a crew of activists arrived and, after much exclamation and photography, disentangled the dolphin and transported her to the Marine Aquarium onshore.

Along with marine species from around the world, the aquarium was home to a highly respected team of biologists and veterinarians. In the intervening weeks and interventions that followed, the dolphin’s tail was removed along with two her vertebrae, and she was named Wanda by the staff. What now? They wondered. It did not seem like the right place to stop: too far from the start, too short of something. Luckily there was a war on, and the technology for prosthetics had never been better. Wanda was fitted with a prosthetic tail and, amazingly, trained to swim in a new pattern that would accommodate it.

Wanda had much opportunity to demonstrate this feat in the tank on the main floor where she swam back and forth against the glass, smiling. Children of all sorts were brought to see the dolphin: sick children, school children. Species were labelled with their proper names at the bottom of each tank, and colored interactive maps distributed them according to preferred regions and climes. Most children however seemed happy enough not knowing the names of things, and ran heedlessly from tank to tank, pressing their hands against the increasingly blurry glass.

One little girl however, Martha, visiting the aquarium with her mother, spent some time studying the wall text that accompanied Wanda’s tank with peculiar intensity. The girl’s mother was a medievalist and the child had absorbed a notion that dense texts illuminated a great many mysteries, including her mother. “The fish was saved from the sea, Ma,” Martha said when she had finished reading. Martha’s mother frowned; she had a perfect phobia of paraphrase — that was how she put it, a perfect phobia of paraphrase — but in this instance it seemed essential to correct the particulars, rather than the ill shape of summary. Believing that a child must understand the world sooner rather than later, she made it quite clear to her daughter that a dolphin was not a fish.

About the Author

Olivia Parkes is a British-American artist and writer currently based in Berlin. Her work has been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, American Chordata, The New Haven Review, Gone Lawn, Bosque Magazine, and Blue Five Notebook, and is forthcoming in Zyzzyva. In 2016, she was awarded second prize in The Exposition Review’s Flash 405 contest.

About the Author

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