When Selah's house down in the valley was flooded Justine was there for her. She waded up to her neck to float Selah's gun metal chest to dry ground. She didn't get home until one thirty in the morning, hours late. Martin, her son -the middle child- had been waiting obediently since seven, their agreed upon departure time. Justine came in shaking from the cold. Martin lay in the doorway curled up, watching the door, napping, waiting, playing with shadows.
An ebony piano in the corner, all eighty-eight of its fangs and white buckteeth bared. The other furniture in the room shrouded. Justine, a narrow, hunched woman in black wool trousers, a long sleeved black shirt and a blue shawl sat down on the narrow wooden piano bench, soaked to the skin, chain smoking. A hovering, flat wraith of smoke divided the large room in half. The piano a dead shark. Her hands useless sardine cans.
She'd always treated herself for any little problem. Home remedies. She'd awaken to an electric numbness spanning left clavicle to hip, a frenzy in her sternum. Symptoms too dense for anything in her kitchen. She forgot things, hid the confusion of not exactly knowing where she was.
Justine reaches for Martin's hand. He was dark-haired, petite, her only son. 'Time for us to go Martin.' The two make their way to the door. Justine's left hand trembles and her head swathed in blue silk wags subtly, a continuous and involuntary No. Martin pulls the heavy door open. The mother and son make their way slowly down the stairs, Martin supporting his mother with both of his small hands, one on her shoulder, one on hip. Justine twists from one step to another, pausing to get her bearings. A car drives by slowly, windshield wipers on, wending its way carefully. Its lights cut through the trees, briefly lacerating the boy and his mother with its bright glare.
They stop and wait for the car to pass, disoriented by the arcing light. Martin looks at Justine questioningly, she nods and they continue. Four steps to go.
Justine looks out toward the road. Not yet to Martin's knees, the water. She looks down. The next stair swarms beneath her gaze. She looks back at the door, closed behind them. 'Martin, did we lock the door...Fuck. We left the lights on. Go back and turn them off.' Could he leave her, unsteady on the stairs, wet and cold? 'OK Martin. I'm already soaked sweetheart. I can wait here. In fact, I'll meet you at the gate. Go turn out the fucking lights and lock the door behind you.' Martin waits. He wonders if she'll fall. It would be hard to lift her. 'Go Martin goddammit!' A sudden tremor surges through her feet and contorts her form and face monstrously. Martin turns and runs up the stairs. He pulls the keys out of his pocket. He slides his thumb over the keys, feeling for the long front door key with the flat square head.
The key hole is eye level. A bit of light streams through it. He slides the key in and turns hard with both hands, slightly leaning where the lock sticks. He turns. 'Why do you want to turn out the lights when the whole house is about to drown?' 'Just turn out the fucking lights!'
Justine watches the lights go out room by room, squinting into the beginnings of a snow slightly blinding her eyes. Martin turns off the light on the back porch and in the music room where the furniture sits senselessly draped. He runs to the front door, hits three switches, and locks the door behind him. Justine twists to the gate, humming with fists clenched. She hears the door close and pauses, angling her torso to look back at Martin. He is wading, stepping high and wide. Once to the car Justine pulls herself around the passenger door by gripping the top of the window. Her feet slide. 'Shit shit shit slippery fuckin' mud' she mumbles. Martin steadies her with one small young arm as she inclines spasmodically into the seat. Martin gets in on the driver's side and closes the door. 'You are the smartest child that ever lived' she says, exhaling and laying her head back on the faded seat.