Rooftop

Photo: © S. Bertrand. All rights reserved.

1.

On day one on the rooftop, I stand at the edge and spit and watch my saliva pool in with the dirty mud water beneath me before it swallows it all together again. I tell Chris that I think it lasted five seconds. Chris spits and he says his lasted seven. I spit again and then Dad tells us to stop because we are wasting the water in our bodies on “looghey games.” Dad sits at the point on the roof where both sides of the house meet. He sometimes looks like a Pharaoh on top of a pyramid and he stretches his big arms to the skies around him sometimes like he’s daring Moses or someone to bring the rains back. I almost want to tell him to stop, but I don’t think it would work. The family across the street sits down and rubs their hands over their faces a lot. They’re white. They’re probably burning up under the sun. I think their last name is Davis but I can’t remember. They’ve got a mom and two boys. I don’t know where their dad is. Maybe he’s like our Mom and he was somewhere else before the storm hit.

2.

On day two on the rooftop, Dad tries to talk Chris into going in through the window we crawled out through and look for some kind of food in the attic. Chris tells Dad that there isn’t going to be food in the attic because it’s an attic and we keep all our food in the pantry which is now going to be filled with fish or frogs or something. Dad doesn’t listen and he tells Chris to do it anyways. I wonder why he doesn’t ask me. Dad crawls in to prove a point. He comes back with a tin of stale Christmas cookies and a jug of water for the water bubbler we kept in the living room. Chris helps him pull the bubbler water out. I sit at the far end of the roof by where the dish for the TV used to be. I remember I saw on Twitter one time that during a big storm a shark swam up and through the town like it was saying that the street was his now and anyone who tried to tell him otherwise would be eaten up because he was a mean hungry shark. Chris told me that the shark was probably photoshopped in or something. I keep my eyes peeled. For sharks. Or gators.

3.

On day three on the rooftop, the white family who maybe are called the Davis’s start writing us messages with marker and pieces of a box they found. The first just says “Hi.” We don’t have markers or cardboard so we jump and down and wave our hands. Dad gives a thumbs up and goes back to being a pharaoh or something. They next ask us for food. Chris makes big slashes with his arms that I think are supposed to say that, “No. We don’t have food. Please stop asking.” They write back, “Sorry,” but I’m not sure why. Chris shouts back, “It’s okay,” but Dad tells him to shut it and he does. I am feeling hungry. I almost want to throw up the stale Christmas cookies I had yesterday and eat it back up again like a mama bird feeding her kids except this time I am the mama bird and the kids.

4.

On day four on the rooftop, I have to watch Dad and Chris poop. I know they’ve pooped before because I’ve heard the plops hit the water and I can smell the smell. This time I have to watch because Dad wants one of us to always be watching for a boat or a helicopter or something. I try looking away as Chris poops off the edge, but Dad tells me that Chris is pooping right in the spot where you can get the best angle to see something. It’s awful and I hate it. Later that day I see a dog swimming his way through the mucky brown water that used to be our street. I want to warn it of sharks, but it just keeps paddling. I wonder if it’s been doing that for days or if it has been able to rest. I don’t think I would be able to do that. Chris maybe. He swims during the summer on the swim team. He’s pretty good. I think. I don’t know much about swimming. I can swim sorta like that dog but not much better.

5.

On day five on the rooftop, the youngest Davis boy doesn’t wake up. Their skin is all red and burnt and he just lays there in the sun. Cooking. Mom Davis curls up around him and nuzzles him like a sad dog. The older Davis boy sits in the corner in the tiny bit of shade the tree skeleton in their backyard can give. Dad stands at the edge of the roof for a while and watches Mom Davis and her snuggling. He doesn’t say much. For a while I think he wants to jump in and swim over and make sure they are okay. He doesn’t. He just sorta stares and watches for a while. Then he goes back and sits. Again. We are almost out of bubbler water. Dad gives us three sips a day, but I think Chris is sneaking more. Dad doesn’t say anything although I think he knows. I don’t think I could tell anyone not to drink.

6.

On day six on the rooftop, I wake up to hear a thumping motor cutting through the air. There is a helicopter hovering above us. It’s long and skinny and wobbles in the sun. Chris jumps up and down and waves. I do too. I think the older Davis boy does also. Dad doesn’t wake. The chopper circles and turns above us. Like a bird. I want it to open its claws and snatch us up and take us away. Somebody inside shouts something out of a megaphone but it sounds like a screaming mumble and I don’t understand it. I shout back that they should come down and get us and Chris shouts something else. Soon we are both just shouting and jumping and screaming and I think Dad is awake now and is behind us doing it too. The helicopter hovers then it circles and then it squawks out some ugly sad sounds that I can’t understand. The Davis boy shouts back and I shout back and then it just leaves. Dad is angry and he jumps up and down and says so many curse words that I cover my ears and mutter to myself that I really wish he would stop. We watch the helicopter disappear away and over the houses and into the weird sort of tree skyline of the buildings in the distance. It’s nighttime and I can hear Dad crying. Chris drinks the last of the water and doesn’t tell us. I wish that dog would come back.

7.

On day seven on the rooftop, Dad wakes me up and whispers in my ear. He’s going to swim out and see what he can find in the ruins and in the water. Maybe he can find food or water or at least get help. I want to tell him not to go and that there are sharks in the water and there may be dead things in there and what if Mom comes back or the helicopter and he’s not here, but I don’t. I just kinda nod that nod you make when your parents tell you something that you don’t agree with but you know it’s no use fighting it so you just go along with it anyway. Chris sits next to me as we watch him go. I swallow and feel my throat go tight and grab onto Chris’s arm. The sun is barely up by the time that Dad disappears from view. Chris says that he didn’t even know that Dad could swim. I didn’t even think about that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Dad swim. Or cry. The older Davis boy wakes up a few hours later. He doesn’t go near his mom and brother. They haven’t moved since that one time. Maybe he’s pretending that they aren’t real or that they are napping or something. I don’t think I would be strong enough to do that. At around midday he prepares to make a jump to a neighbor’s house. Chris and I don’t think he can make it, but we watch. The Davis boy paces back and forth a few times. He makes a few jogs to the end and then turns back. He swings arms around a lot. Finally, he makes a big run and jumps over the gap. He makes it a lot better than I thought he would. Chris and I clap and cheer. It’s the best thing we’ve seen. He smiles and bows and then disappears through a window. Chris says we will probably never see him again. Maybe this is true. Chris starts pacing around the roof like he wants to do the same thing, but I start to cry and tell him no. He stops so I will stop crying. There was no way he was going to make that jump. It’s like at least two cars long. In the evening the Davis boy climbs out of the window and crawls out onto the roof. He does this a few times and each time brings up something. Planks of wood. Bottles of water. Cans. He finds more in the dead people’s house than in either of ours. I don’t know how he plans on getting those across the gap though. I fall asleep that night and he is still on the other house working on something. Chris spends the whole evening playing lookout. He’s the man of the house now he says. He has to look out for me. I worry about Chris. When I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, he’s asleep and he’s curled up in a little ball like a dead fox. I want to pat him and tell him I love him. He wouldn’t let me do this when he was awake, but now he looks so tiny and forgotten. His skin feels cold at night.

8.

On day eight on the rooftop, I wake up and I find that Chris is gone. I walk around the rooftop fifteen times and scream his name at the corners. The Davis boy joins in too eventually. I don’t even think that he knew Chris’s name before this. It feels wrong. Like if you got a stranger to help find your missing dog. My throat can only handle so much screaming. I feel it start to close up and scratch against itself. I haven’t drunk any water in a while now. I don’t find Chris. The Davis boy gives up screaming a little after I do. I lie down in the noonday sun and I feel it try to swallow me up like it has the Davis mom and younger boy. I close my eyes and try to think of other things but I can’t stop trying to wonder what happened to Chris. My first thought is that a big huge bird or eagle or something like the ones I see circling above in the sky saw Chris and decided that his cold, dark skin looked like a steak or something to eat right up and it swooped down and grabbed him and carried him away. I realize that this is stupid. Birds don’t get that big. He probably tried to jump to one of the other houses. I don’t know if he made it. A lot of me wants to roll over and double check to make sure that he didn’t land between the houses, but I don’t want to see if he’s still there. In the muddy water the Twitter sharks and gators and dead people with their arms reaching out to grab him could have taken him and I don’t want to know if that might have happened. I open my eyes in the late afternoon and the sky looks like its swimming. The clouds and sun and blue are blending together in a gross mess like a tie dye shirt. I’m hungry. I wish there wasn’t a river separating myself and the Davis boy. He has managed to open a can and he eats it and watches his mother and brother. I can smell them.

9.

On day nine on the rooftop, the Davis boy rolls his mother and brother into the water with a big plank of wood. I close my eyes and hear the splash and the streetriver push up against them. I don’t want to see them floating in the water like a gross soup. I open my eyes after I hear the plopping sound of their bobbing float farther away. I watch to see the Davis boy. He sits by his chimney and has his head in between his knees. I look down and for the first time I see a window on their house that used to be covered by the water. I can see inside and I see posters marked with a brown muddiness and a bed that has been turned over. For a while, I am so focused on the room and its mud-covered Star Wars posters that I don’t even realize that this means that the water has gone down. It’s another hour before I realize that this means that I can get inside the house now. It’s another two hours before I am able to lower myself in through the attic window and into the inside house. It smells like a wet sock or tent left out in the rain. I try to cover my nose with my hand but it doesn’t smell much better. All of the boxes and Christmas decorations are knocked all around. I wonder if it’s from Dad or the storm. Maybe both. The bottom floor is still buried by the water. The top floor with my bedroom and Chris’s room and Mom’s room has a little puddle of water that stretches all around. Dad’s couch is downstairs and underwater. There’s probably a fish living in it now. I feel my feet splash against the water and it feels nice after lying on the hot roof. I want food. I know if I were to swim down into the underwater I would get stuck and the water would fill up in my chest. I don’t know what food I would have upstairs. I try Chris’s room and look for candy but don’t find any. I try Mom’s room because I always thought she hid stuff from me but I don’t find anything I can eat. Mom’s pictures of me and Chris are out of their frames and float on the floor. They float in the water all around my feet. I pick one up of Mom and Dad and I fold it up four times and put it in my pocket. I find Flintstones vitamins in my bathroom. They taste like chalky candy but they feel like something. I put them in my pocket right next to the folded picture. It takes me two hours to move the boxes in the attic around so I can get out. I eat all my Flintstones vitamins. I get out on the roof again and it is almost nighttime. The Davis boy sees me and waves a lot. I wave back. I think he thought that I had disappeared like Chris. He shouts and asks if I found anything and I shake my head. He grabs a can and throws it real hard. It almost makes it to my front yard before plopping into the water. The Davis boy tries again and again but none make it close enough to reach me. I start to laugh and he does too.

10.

On day ten on the rooftop, a man I don’t know shakes me awake. He is wearing a poofy orange outfit and headgear and asks me if I am okay. I don’t know what to say and he picks me up without me asking him too. He holds me close to his vest and tells me that I am okay. He waves up to the helicopter in the sky which is hovering there like it was the other day before Dad left. I am angry and I tell the man this. He doesn’t hear me. I tell him to look for Chris and he motions to the helicopter. A rope comes down and he grabs it and soon we are both in the air floating upwards and I see the rooftop drop away from below me. The helicopter is loud and cluttered but the Davis boy is waiting for me. I hug him because he is not the man and he hugs me back. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with me but we hug because we are in the air and not in the water. I look down into the water and I look for Dad and I look for Mom and I look for Chris and I look for Twitter sharks and for cars but the water just stretches on and out and in between the houses and streets. I blow my lips together and feel them vibrate like a motorboat because it feels like the only thing I can do. The Davis boy does the same. I close my eyes and let myself be carried away and out and I let the sun swallow me.

 

by Nick Anstett

 

Nick Anstett graduated from Washington College with a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 2016 where he was listed as a finalist for the Sophie Kerr Prize. He has previously had work recognized by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, and Center Stage Theater in Baltimore. He currently lives and works in Cockeysville, MD. This is his first publication.

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