by Yume Kitasei
We should have left before the rains started, but we dragged our feet until the last minute. We knew we were not coming back. This was the big one, the one we had all been waiting for since the last one.
One hour. We could leave by boat or by the chopper. The island’s airstrip had already been washed away by the thirsty lapping of the waves.
The tourists went first, by chopper, with our children. There were more tourists than children. The island school had closed a few years ago. Five families were not enough for the government to justify paying for a teacher.
I hurried back to the house from the soggy field where the chopper had taken off with my sister and her son. My t-shirt was soaked through with warm rain.
My father moved methodically through the house, placing items in large trash bags. He paused to heft one, testing its weight.
I looked inside and saw only practical things: clothes, food, a pot.
I started to take photographs.
“You don’t need those,” he said.
“The water is rising. What if the house is washed away?”
“Never. I built this house.”
My younger brother poked his head in and said the boat was only making one more trip. The waves were getting too rough for it to land. What are we doing standing around? We should hurry! Come on, hurry!
He grabbed one of the trash bags, hefted it over his shoulder, and left.
While my father’s head was turned, I took down the old wedding photograph of my parents and stuck it in a bag. “All right, then.” I surveyed the insides of the small house, upended as if the ocean had already come through and ransacked everything.
Papa put a kettle on the stove and lit it with a match while the winds rattled the windows.
“There’s no time for that.”
“There’s always time for tea. Go on. I’ll meet you there.”
I thought about the strength of the winds, and the windy walk along the cliff above our beautiful black-sand beaches. We’d have to take the long way around.
He fussed with the canister of tea.
“Papa,” I said.
“Just a cup.”
There was a crash. I went to the window. The trunk of an ancient tree had crushed the roof of the bed-and-breakfast across the street. A gust came, and for a moment it was raining perfectly horizontally, as if the ground was nothing.
“We have to go.”
The kettle whistled, and its shrillness filled my ears. The storm was shaking me from the inside. I thought about grabbing him by the arm and forcing him along. What could he do? Sink his long brittle nails into my arms? Pull my hair? I watched him spoon dry leaves into the mug, pour the hot water.
“I’ve been to London, before,” he said. He had worked on ships when he was younger. He’d been lots of places.
“Yes, the city will be like that.”
“No, it won’t be.”
The door banged open. My younger brother was back. He took a remaining bag. “Let’s go.”
“He’s having tea,” I said, and laughed.
My brother shook his head. “The boat will be here soon.”
“I’ll do one more pass of the house.” I didn’t want to leave our father.
My brother shrugged and went out again through the rain, staggering this way and that like a drunk. I watched him until he disappeared around the bend in the road, then sluggishly forced myself to move about the apartment, opening drawers and cabinets without purpose. Everything seemed so important. Several times, I picked up an object with the thought of taking it, but each time I held one, it lost its meaning. I put each one back, closed the drawer, moved on to the next thing.
“What will you do in the city?” Papa asked.
“Not so easy to get a job like that.”
“And what will you do?” I asked. “I mean, not work, of course. You don’t have to work.”
“Hm.” His fingers brushed the dining table polished smooth by the years.
“The government will help us get started.”
Papa sipped his tea. He was taking the smallest of sips, just wetting his lips each time, like he didn’t mean to ever finish.
In the distance, I heard the blare of the boat horn.
“Papa,” I said helplessly. “We have to go.”
“You go. Take the last bag.”
“And you’ll what?”
“Drink this tea.”
“You’re not planning to get left here, are you?” I asked.
“No.” He was looking at the soft, faded blanket on the couch—the one that my mother had crocheted before I was born. I strode over to the couch, grabbed the blanket, and stuffed it in the last trash bag.
My phone rang. I could barely hear my brother over the wind. He asked if we were on our way.
“Yes!” I shouted. “Yes!”
I opened the front door, and wet wind rushed into the house, enraged. Photos fell from their nails and shattered. “Watch it!” my father cried. “Shut the door!”
I didn’t shut the door. I hefted the bag.
He took a broom and began to sweep the shards of glass.
“Leave it,” I said. I went to him and tried to grab his arm, but he twisted away.
“Let me do this one thing. Then, I’ll come.”
The boat horn sounded again, and panic filled me. What if they left? “I’ll make them wait,” I said. I took the bag and stepped out into the rain.
The maelstrom buffeted everything around me, but somehow it was easier outside. A strange lightness took hold of my limbs, and I moved forward, away from my father.
At the bend in the road, I looked back. Papa was putting the tea kettle away. The electricity winked out, and then he was just a shadow in shadow. Now, won’t he come? I thought. Won’t he?