A malicious undercurrent pushes one barge into another, puncturing the hull causing ammonia to leak from the hold, forcing entire neighborhoods near the river to evacuate. Of course it’s  the poorest part of town. Of course it’s winter. Of course it’s Saturday so there’s no work and no school for warmth. Butchie and I walk the barricades while people pour out like besieged migrants. I’m hoping my photographs will look like the survivors of Jericho streaming out of a broken city, or Gomorrah being swallowed by sulfur, but really these are just poor people dealing with one more insult while trying to stay warm. My notions of epic, biblical photographs crumble next to the frightened, angry faces, and after a roll or two I put my camera away, ashamed that it took as long as it did. 

We see Sadie Landrum and Darla Willingham shivering on the corner of Humbolt and Westmoreland and head over to talk. They are tough young women and aren’t about to complain or ask for any favors, and at first they sneer at my invitation to walk down Laramie to Trewyn Park where they have some barrel fires going. Darla says the catastrophe is part of a conspiracy to push black people from their homes and I can’t think of a single reason not to believe her. She also says that if I pull my camera out that she will smack me to the ground and I definitely believe that. 

At dusk the wind shifts, the police extend the barricade another fifteen blocks, and we head to the Bullhead cafe, which is really just a tavern that serves doughnuts with its liquor. We reminisce about school even though we were not friends and, no surprise, their recollections differ from mine. Butchie went to a different school and doesn’t have much to say. He didn’t finish anyway and doesn’t have fond memories. We drink and play pool until closing and when we come out the wind has shifted again, pushing the cloud up the bluff to the mansions on Moss Avenue. The barricades don’t move so we sneak through backyards and alleys trying to avoid floodlights from the helicopters above. At Sadie’s home we continue to drink until dawn, and when we come outside the lawns, roofs, and streets are strewn with thousands of dead birds and occasional dogs and cats. That’s when Darla begins wailing. She crumples to the ground and Sadie just shrugs her shoulders and whispers, “She didn’t even have a pet.” I help her up and lay her on a couch and she doesn’t look so tough and intimidating anymore. Butchie and Sadie disappear into another room and I sit with Darla most of the day while we slowly sober up. I make her tea, but she doesn’t drink. She just sits looking out the window, sad and haunted. 

In the weeks, months, years that follow I see Darla from time to time; in a cafe, walking in the street, in my car at a stoplight. I offer a little wave and she always gives me a nod of recognition. We don’t need much more. Against all odds, Sadie and Butchie get together and stay together until he dies when his cycle crashes through a barrier at the end of East Lorentz Street into the swift curve of the river. Neither his body nor the bike is found and I spend my weekends searching the treacherous banks and shallows. I waver on whether to curse or pray to the waters, but it’s wasted effort because that god don’t listen to nobody.

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