Rainy-Day Parade
fiction by Nate Baker

I’m not partial to islands or beaches; they’re warm until I get into the water, then I freeze until the world catches back up with my body. While I’m drying off, the sun goes from bake to roast to broil and I end up burnt and tired. 

Not my wife; she adores the beach. She throws herself into the water and returns to the surface when we’re both breathless. A few months ago, she asked if we could go to Myrtle Beach. 

“Sure, I guess.” 

But that was then, when it was a vacation several hundred miles away at a swanky motel with an eight-foot-deep pool mocking the nearby ocean with its symmetrical TruBlue Tiles and strong steel railings to keep your balance. I can almost taste the cheap hooch and pineapple juice, the chemically clean chlorine splashing onto my tongue, and the overcooked whitefish whose name I’ll never learn. Because that was then. Now?

Now I float as a member of the rainy-day parade, our amphibian homes careening with the biblical rapids that flow above the ruined roads. I climb to the roof of my ark and wave at the pedestrians looking down from the slick mountainside. They look tired and I can’t blame them; they carry what the water couldn’t. But they’ll have to come down eventually to find what’s still in the mud. As for my fellow floats, those sailors who still breathe loiter on the roof tops. We holler back and forth across the water with no hope of hearing each other—the rain drowns our voices. But the futile effort? It brings me a little comfort as we all near the bend—

I hear the first noise through the rain since it started: the creaking tear of my float being disemboweled on something beneath the surface. My rooftop skips on the rapids as portions of my life seep into the river: photos of my family, flat-screen televisions, and the submerged carcass of our cat spew out in the crash. Frozen, I cling to the corrugated metal. Water pours down my throat as I see the victim of my hit-and-run: a submerged, shipwrecked trailer park. The floodwater tastes of rust and vinegar. 

My phone’s dead and I’d reckon so is my wife. She went to her mother’s last night before we left for the beach, but an overnight cloudburst crept in while we slept and swept away the lucky. She might’ve made it out with her mother, maybe with a whole horde of folks. Now she’s waiting to be rescued high in the hills. Maybe she’s already been rescued and is desperately trying to get ahold of me. I wouldn’t know.

Some of us were jumping for joy at the sight of the helicopter. . . I saw one man so excitedly signal to the greater world that he slipped from the hillside. . . . Others flipped them the bird and shouted obscenities

Maybe the helicopter knows, hovering above with cameras capturing the annual procession; the filthy rainbow of vehicles and mobile homes swaying on the river makes for great technicolor. Some of us were jumping for joy at the sight of the helicopter, a few even held dirtied containers of emergency supplies like they were Mardi Gras trinkets. I saw one man so excitedly signal to the greater world that he slipped from the hillside. He only noticed he fell when he met the water, but his gracious smile never faltered.

Others flipped them the bird and shouted obscenities like young punks armed with attention. An old, one-armed miner atop a neighboring float raised his fist to the whirlybird, his flickering headlamp a shining beacon for them to focus on. For a moment, I wondered how he managed to get to the top of the float all by himself, but then again, if you can move mountains for strangers, you can likely move yourself. And then, why didn't he move to higher ground? And what’d I do?

It’s not for the television, but I wave for my neighbors and kin so they’ve got proof of my participation. I am my father’s son. A father’s son of a father’s son—and at that, one who lived or died through muddied waters but wanted no martyrdom. A quiet end suits a quiet people who only need Peter’s tally to rebuild when all is said and done.  I’ve got my own headcount vying with Heaven’s work as I drift with the stream, etching my friends’ and neighbors’ headstones before Peter does mine. I look at the house up the hill from us, an elderly couple’s little trailer, but all I see is a bare foundation and the drool of a mudslide. They make twenty-three.

Near the bend, the crook of our improvised river, it seems that the parade will end in protest as a dam is being built of trailers and cabins that couldn’t make the turn. I won’t make it either, but the miner will. His shotgun house cemented the dam’s spillway, slamming into the skeletons of the holler. The force threw him toward the sloshing teeth of the crashed community, but the bloated bodies cushioned his dive.  In a net of contorted corpses all strung along their floating graves, the miner writhed and climbed over them onto the dry. He looks me dead in the eye, frowning ear-to-ear, and I can’t stand to look back. I turn to the bottomless ocean that surrounds me. Swimming’s no good, crying’s no good, and I’m no good. I’d be better off sinking in the dark.

Dimly shining through the mist at the bend, the miner’s headlamp calls my attention. Still standing, still shouting, still shaking his fist. I already know his seething words, there’s no need to hear him. “Git outta here, you no-good bastards, you ain’t savin’ no one! You just build us back up for the next one!” 

His gaze leads me to his target, and I can look that flying camera in the eye as it happens. I shake a fist at them and holler: “Watch us die, then forget us in a week! You pat yourselves on the back for the T.V. dinners, yet you won’t fill the hollow hills! You all smell just like chlorine, hooch, and pineapple juice—”

Nate Baker was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky and received a B.A. in Public History at Morehead State University. Like many other Appalachians from the area, he took the Hillbilly Highway to the Lexington metropolitan area for work, though he often returns home. He is currently enrolled in the University of Kentucky's Library Sciences MA program and works as a Museum Site Coordinator in Paris, Kentucky. “Rainy-Day Parade” is his debut publication.

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