To celebrate my favourite month of the year, let’s kick it off with the first story I wrote in Houston, an homage to the king of October Country with an east Texas swampy feel. It’s collected with a few other unsettling stories in Unquiet Dreams. It originally appeared in a lit’ry magazine, but don’t let that scare you. They were suckered into printing a weird tale because it came from a university address.
On Buffalo Bayou
(for Ray Bradbury)
The Mother offered up a daily bounty. Her gifts varied; some days they fed the boy, some days they earned him only scorn from the Man, who would cuff his ear and spit angrily through the gap in his teeth, threatening dark prophecies and secret pain. Occasionally, her offerings puzzled him. Colorless, shapeless objects, their soft, soaked secrets brimming with her waters—they pleased him enough to ignore the Man’s shouting and to poke tenderly the bloated surface, wondering. At least until the inevitable gruff rebuke, when the Man would slap the offending entity from his curious hands and stalk off, muttering ruin and starvation.
Not today; today her treasure had come to the boy. He gazed at it and felt a deep sound, unheard, uncoil within his belly. It was a like the ringing of the train crossing’s warning bell, a sound he heard only when the winds were fierce from the south. It echoed within his gut and shook his bowels and gave him a kind of excitement he had never known in his short life. He could not tear his eyes from their hungry appraisal of its surface. He did not know what it was, truly. He only knew it was her face, the face of the hungry waters, of the Mother. It was as changeable as her waters, mysterious and fluid. He held it in the shadows, then in the light. He was eager to see it in the murky darkness under the overpass, but before he could tuck it under his ragged coat, the Man noticed his inaction and grumbled toward him, cursing the boy’s slothfulness. He would never have a secret while the Man was around, he would never own a thing himself. At that tired realization—a thought much repeated—the boy knew that one day he must kill the Man or he would never escape. Not now, but someday when he was bigger and stronger, he would do it. It was the only dream he had.
“Whatchoo got there, boy?” the Man rumbled gruffly, swiping at the boy’s head perfunctorily. The boy just as habitually ducked his blow, and reluctantly turned to show his prize to the Man. For once the Man did not immediately grab the gift from his hands, but paused. If the boy had had a word for the feeling on the Man’s tired face, the word would have been awe. But he knew respect—the Man complained often enough about not getting any—and he knew that the Man had found something worthy of respect. “Damn, boy, whatchoo find there?” He almost seemed squeamish about touching it, gripping instead the boy’s wrists and bringing them up to his squinting gaze.
The light caught the thing differently then, and it seemed to change its shape a little. At first the boy would have said it had a face, or was a face, but now he could see that it was something else. Oh, it was still her face, it was still the face she showed the world, her heart, her soul—if you believed the teachings of the Savers—but it was changed. The Man’s jaw hung open, his eyes transfixed. He couldn’t resist any more than the boy could, but reached out a tentative finger and poked its squishy, waterlogged skin. The boy could hear the Man’s sharp intake of breath, but already knew the surprise: the feeling as if it were alive. It wasn’t. The boy was pretty sure of that, but it did have that eerie feeling, like it might move, or worse, like it might squeak out some kind of wet, burbling sound, a sound that would make the boy shiver, he was sure. The sounds that the Mother made in the night, or the sound of impending flood, sounds that weren’t fishes or the gators; those were the sounds it might make. Not splashes, but gurgling and gasping like something moving under the water with a mind. It was kind of hypnotizing, waiting for it to do something.
But it did nothing.
The Man was no less fascinated, the boy could tell, yet he made no move to snatch it away from the boy’s hands. Normally, there was no stopping him. Why, he’d just grab whatever the boy had if it looked at all promising. Whoosh, it was gone. He seldom found anything really worth much. Most often the Man would seize it, smell and weigh it, then throw it back to him. Sometimes, the Man would secret it away in one of the countless pockets in his coat, an architectural wonder which he never removed even on the most doggy of the dog days of summer. The boy would strip down to his smalls when it got too hot, and burn red in the early part of the hot season, but become deep brown by the time the cool returned for its short visit. The Man, however, never removed a stitch. The coat was his treasure trove, but the boy could not understand why the Man might not remove his other clothes and avoid the rivulets of sweat that plagued him every day and created an elaborate network of paths through the venerable grime on his face and neck, all the flesh that was visible above his collar. His fortunes were just too precious, he supposed.
Yet the Man made no move to possess this gift. There was something undeniably eerie about it. Even if it didn’t really have a face, now that he looked at it again, it did have some kind of character, he guessed you might say. It had something that made it seem alive—and watchful, almost. There was the whole thing about sound, too. It might make some sound. Not that it had done so, but there was some certain glow to it that suggested the possibility; not speech, no, probably not that, but some kind of gurgle or burp, surely. Not that it was alive—what that dwelt so long in her bosom and was not fish could live?—but that there was something beyond mere living and not.
He had no time to puzzle out these oddities, though, for the Man was formulating ideas. He was at his most dangerous then; he expected things. Whenever his hopes went up, the Man was much more inclined to get angry. His audacious strategies seldom amounted to anything more than half-assed thoughts, but the boy could not complain. It wasn’t as if he had any ideas of his own. All he knew was the Man and the Mother, her moods and her offerings, her floods and swells. His moods, too, and their hidey-hole under the overpass. The other Men and the few women around the bayou left them alone mostly, and the two of them did the same. There was never a time the boy could remember when things had been any different. He knew the world was out there, the world the Savers lived in and the people who walked by the Mother, and drove their cars over the overpass. Lovers , who at times snuggled on the benches along the Mother’s meandering sides, they came from elsewhere and then went back. But he knew, too, that he had no part in that world and its mysteries. Sometimes he looked up at the billboards and pondered their messages. Mostly they were unclear, but sometimes he knew they were stories of hooch—not the hooch like the Man liked to drink with the others—but a special kind of hooch that those other people would drink, because the pictures looked like them, smiling and laughing, not fighting with knives like the Man always wanted to do. Sometimes, when the floods came, all manner of things appeared after the waters receded, bits and pieces of the wide world out there—small people you could hold in your hand, better shoes, boxes with pictures of food. A different world.
“We got us a money-maker, boy,” the Man said at last, startling the boy from his reverie. “Yup, there’s a rare kind of quality in this…here thingee. I expect folks will be willin’ to give us a quarter—mebbee even a dollar—to see this thing, hell, to touch it.” The boy only nodded, for her knew that was what the Man wanted. “Smarts,” said the Man, pointing significantly at his own head, “Smarts is takin’ advantage of opportunities what come your way. I do that, boy. This time we won’t need to be diggin’ in the dirt no more, ye see, no more siftin’ through the gator waters. Folks is gonna come to us.” He rubbed his hands together in a greedy spasm of self-satisfaction. “What we need is a jar or something. You don’t wanna go touching that thing too much, might…might…” he paused, and his face looked puzzled again. He swallowed. “Well, you don’t want it to lose any of that specialness. Folks go touchin’ it too much and it’ll get all dirty.” He looked pointedly at the boy’s filthy hands, but did not demand the treasure from him.
The boy did not understand why the Man did not claim possession, but he reveled in the handling of this precious object, loved being its keeper. He knew it forged a closer connection to the Mother, for it was her particular gift, her treasure, a true reflection of her ever-changing face. She blessed him, he knew, in the way the Savers talked about their Man, but she blessed him in the way of the Mother, which was much more mysterious, but a lot more friendlier, too. He felt a kind of odd excitement, like when you knew it was finally getting cool, when the nights would be sweet and fresh, and the days not so sweltering. It was a kind of anticipation, but he did not know what for. He would have to wait and see, as life had always told him. Things happened to him, he did not make them happen.
They returned to the overpass and frightened off a squirrel who had taken an interest in their system of boxes heavily coated with pigeon droppings. The vermin hardly did any real damage—the two settlers were too well-prepared for such thievery—but squirrels were a nuisance all the same. They took stuff and hid it, or chewed holes in their boxes and bags. It was a constant battle, but one so much a part of daily life that the two of them would have only noticed its absence. Like the mice who found their way into every crevice, there were certain indignities that simply had to be endured. What did it matter anyway; they rebuilt the burrow every few months, whenever Mother rose up from her banks, washing away everything in her path, but leaving new gifts and wonders behind. The seasons went round, wet and dry, cold and hot, the only clock they knew.
The Man at once began to paw through the heap of bottles anchoring the far corner of their warren. A cascade of green, brown and clear glass rolled away from his burrowing hands, but he did not seem to locate what he needed. From time to time he paused, held up a bottle or container for closer scrutiny, but each potential candidate had to be dismissed after a quick glance at the prize. There just wasn’t one big enough. The Man stopped for a moment and rubbed his chin, cogitating. The boy thought about it, too, but no miracle seemed forthcoming. Then his eye alighted on their cooking pot, heavy, blackened, and deep.
“We could put it in the pot,” he suggested hesitantly, his unused voice croaking unsteadily. The Man looked ready to cuff him out of habit, but then seemed to consider the possibility. He could see the Man had had his heart set on a jar or a bottle, so you could hold it up and look at the treasure from all different sides. Yet a jar that big, it would be kind of awkward. If they set it down in the pot, you could gaze down into the depths and… well, it would kind of add to the mystery of the thing. Like a really good stew when you caught a squirrel and the smell rose up while you stirred it. Anticipation.
“We’ll need some water,” the Man said at last. The boy made to hand him the thing and go fetch, but the Man twitched away from his gesture. The boy felt his own eyebrows raise unexpectedly. A curious feeling arose in his chest. He would not have recognized it as power, for controlling it was an unknown quality in the boy’s experience. He’d been on the receiving end of power most of his life, but it was not a tool he had ever wielded himself. All he knew then was that its glow was pleasant, and that there was an unexpected joy in watching the Man grumble to no one in particular, turn, and head down to Mother with a couple of bottles under his arm. The Man was afraid! It was not a victory of his own. No, it was more proof of the power of the Mother, her boundless love for the boy. As he watched the retreating steps of this conundrum, he had another realization. The Man’s momentary absence would also leave the boy a little time to examine the thing further, and he reveled in the chance for closer observation.
It was whitish, but it was not entirely without color. No—more like it was a kind of elusive shade of pastiness, but one that had some other nuances of shading. Oh, it was impossible to describe, the boy thought helplessly, he just didn’t have the words. His tutelage under the Man’s harsh rule had left far slighter impressions on his grey cells than on his back and arms and legs. He did not have the words to say how it was both alive and not alive, not dead, but somehow, well, outside the life he knew. That gave it knowledge, Her knowledge. Was it a part of her? Why, yes, that must be it. That was why he loved it already—and why the Man feared it. Just as he hated and feared Her, even though they were all dependent upon her largesse. The Mother fed them, but she also tried to drown them, as if it weren’t really her concern if they lived or died. Yet if they paid attention to her ways, well, if they did, she offered up her praises and prizes. The boy knew she had the truth, a truth the Man could never comprehend because his fear kept him from it.
The Man returned, lugging containers full of Her waters. Without a word he poured them into the cooking pot, then nodded to the boy. With a gentleness worthy of a newborn’s father, the boy laid the treasure in the mouth of the pot and there it floated with seeming contentment as the water lapped the coal-colored sides of the pot. Returned to the water, it gave off a whiff of the bayou smell, equal parts trash and rotting vegetation baked by the constant sun. It was the scent that filled your nose as you stood on the banks, while all around you trees hung low over the lazy waters as if bowed down by their sorrows. The boy shivered. Surely it was a mystery.
“Git so’more water, boy, don’t stand there gawpin’,” and then the long-expected cuff came, and the Man thrust the bottles into his still slippery hands and the boy turned with some reluctance to trudge back down to the water’s edge. Surreptitiously he turned just before their nook was out of sight and saw the Man staring into the depths of the pot. Just staring, and doing nothing. The boy kept on his way to the bayou, unaccustomed thoughts fighting for predominance in his head. He scooped the greenish water with gratitude, silently thanking the Mother for the gift of this momentous day, and wistfully hoping that there was more to the mystery than just making money for the Man. As if to soothe his troubled brow the waters gurgled their familiar tune and he smiled, trusting to the Mother’s wisdom. She would show him the way.
He carried the water-weighted bottles back to their home and found the Man still staring, and now squatting beside the pot. The boy said nothing, but the Man coughed energetically to cover his uncertainty, and motioned with a surly economy of jerking movements for the boy to fill the pot. The thing in the pot seemed to welcome the additional fluids and swam in the eddies around the inky rim. The boy and the Man both stared, and the boy felt his neck want to follow the floating circles, like his eyes already did. It was as if a part of himself wanted to rise right out of his skin and hover up high. From nowhere it struck him that maybe this was what the Man and other others felt, loaded up on hooch, rambling, incoherent. They would sway like the lazy circles of the treasure in its pit, moving to music no one could hear, feeling the earth move. The boy had always shied away from the lure of the hooch, for he had seen the vomiting and the shakes and the blood, but he understood now the magic, the lifting, the hope that raised the Man and his fellows above the rough box life they lived.
The Man was cogitating again. The boy could tell because he was rubbing his grubby hands up and down his greasy coat, humming a tuneless song. There was something close to a smile on his face, as grim an expression as any other in his repertoire. The boy let his eye drift back to the depths of the cooking pot and the treasure that floated within it, but kept alert to cues from the Man. All this cogitating would result in some chore, likely unpleasant, usually tiring. It was all he knew. That and the bayou from the seven pillars to the prison: the Mother’s smell, her lazy pace, her swelling floods, her green waters, these were the boundaries of his existence and they had begun to weigh upon his shoulders ever since the treasure had come to him that day. He got ambition, just as the Man had always warned. But what to do with it?
“Boy!” The Man’s cogitating was through and he had a plan. “Go get Rusty, and Lefty and Jimbo. Tell ‘em we got som’thin’ they jus’ gotta see fer theirselves.” The boy nodded and hastened to the command, but he puzzled at the Man’s vision. Those three—they were the oldest of the lot. They had survived most of the calamities their rough life afforded: punks with knives, cold snaps, hurricanes, floods, cars, drunkenness, starvation, and their own mutually destructive tendencies. Come night fall, like as not there’d be a fight betwixt this one and that. These old codgers would not usually be at the center of it, but they had that stray dog kind of logic to know the winning side and help tip the balance toward the natural order of things. But they weren’t the kind of folk you might make money off of—no sir, they were as shifty and suspicious as the Man himself, ready to take a chunk out of you as soon as not, just on principle. Maybe the Man wanted them to go in with him, but that didn’t seem likely. He barely allowed the boy to have any share of his glories. The boy chewed these thoughts without resolution as he sought out the trio of grizzled prospectors.
He found Lefty and Jimbo all right, but Rusty was nowhere to be seen. The boy looked for the shock of white hair—had it ever been red?—but did not see it in the usual haunts, either up by the big wheel or behind the government building, where he gathered up his evidence. He was lucky to find Lefty and Jimbo together, slumped over a picnic table by the University where they growled at the passers-by with impotent menace and shared a warm bottle of hooch. The boy liked to look up at the University, where students called to one another on the patio high above the bayou in that other world which they lived within, weighed down by the knowledge in their enormous satchels, but free to come and go, to get into cars and buses and travel to places far from the fetid land under the overpass. Jimbo and Lefty went there just to spit and snarl, enjoying the small surge of power they had to frighten the kids and perhaps to stand as proud harbingers of what might yet be.
“Man wants to talk,” the boy stuttered out, barely heard, barely acknowledged. Nevertheless, Jimbo corked the bottle with a few practiced spins and the three shuffled off toward the overpass like the condemned men they were. The Man greeted them with a crafty look and a puffed up air of magnanimity. But all he said was “See what I got here?” He practically bowed before them, swinging his arm out in an arc that took in the whole of their cavern as if it were a stinking palace. There was no mistaking, however, the aim of his gesture, for his hungry eyes sought it out and grew hooded, as if he regretting sharing the prize so soon. Lefty and Jimbo squinted in the murky dimness, caught sight of the whitish thing floating in the black pot’s belly, and beheld its luminosity.
And they stared.
So far, so good; the Man knew what he was doing. The two old reprobates leaned in, drawn by its mesmerizing self-sufficiency, and the boy felt proud, as if he had something to do with it—other than finding it in the Mother’s arms.
Lefty cocked one eye up at the Man. There was doubt in his words but wonderment in his face. It was funny, the boy thought, how a face that old and begrimed, a face that had sunk a thousand rafts of garbage, could still look little more than a child’s when confronted with a miracle like this. “Whatchoo do there, Roy? Where th’hell you get sumpthin’ like that?”
The Man shrugged like it was nothing at all. “Boy found it.”
“It’s a brain,” Jimbo cut in urgently. “Cow brain maybe. Maybe pig.”
“Ain’t no brain,” Lefty countered with scorn. “Brains’re grey, not white.”
“Even when washed by the bayou?” Jimbo said, but you could tell he had lost enthusiasm for his theory. “Damn strange, anyway.” They all shook their heads in accord. The boy grinned to himself, proud of the Mother, and her child. Jimbo reached out, like to poke the thing, but the Man growled a warning—don’t touch the merchandise. Yet it was hard to resist. The bunched white lobes of it seemed so portentous; slick, swollen, it floated with a regal air, smug and complacent, the boy thought, as if it was just humoring them all for now, but soon it would have more important things to do. The thought made him shiver again. The Mother had secrets, secrets this treasure shared.
Jimbo dinged the side of the pot and the low echo of its resounding tone swooshed the water ever so slightly, so that the pale shape turned lazily circling deosil now, then widdershins, against the sun as if turning the other side to the warming rays—rays that could not possibly reach here under the overpass. The old men muttered and stroked their rat-haired beards, cogitating one and all. The boy had an idea growing in his belly. He could not yet articulate it in simple words, but it had a lightness, a brightness that lifted his spirits yet again.
The clang of the lid woke them all from their stupor. The Man had put the plan in action. No more freebies. Jimbo and Lefty took his measure, but found him fixed. They went quietly, though, to the boy’s surprise. The Man glowered, like he had already given them too much—and regretted it. But as they shuffled off exchanging low words, the shifty grin peeled across his grimy countenance, a look of triumph and smug self-satisfaction. The fortune was already made, the boy could see. They would be rich.
It took no time at all. That night men started to come, to gaze into the pot and marvel at the shape of the thing as it floated in the black waters. They paid. Some a little. Some a little more. Within days, those who had little could no longer pay enough to see it. Stories flew up and down the bayou, but the boy knew why they could never agree, why they always came back. It wasn’t what it was, but what it could be. The mystery of the thing drew them—that small piece of the Mother—like flies to a dogs’ carcass; hopeful, hovering, they gathered at night and offered their thoughts, their opinions. No answers, no sureness. They all sighed, stymied—even the Savers—and came back, again, and poked at it with their words and with their thoughts. Never with their hands; the Man kept them all from touching it, naturally. He had to protect his investment.
“It’s a dog’s stomach…”
“Nah, it’s a brain, I tole you—”
“Cow brain, yeah, I think that’s—”
“Hell, no! Ain’t nuthin’ but some little hunk of papier maché.”
“Oh, right, Mac. That’s why you been back here every night this week, uh huh.”
“Shut up! You ignorant. It’s a man’s liver, bleached in the sun.”
“Oh man, you such a liar. Ain’t never no liver. No matter how long in the sun. Look at it!” And look they did, puzzling, tapping the sides of the pot, watching it circle lazily in its bath. Violence always threatened. These men were accustomed to settling their arguments with quick jabs and low kicks. Fear kept them in line, though, here under the hum of the overpass. Old Snowy had drawn blood one night, arguing with some young one-armed guy over just what the treasure was. Opinions were the only capital one held in this world. The veracity of opinions could rank one highly, while the dubious sort left you at the back of the line, last one to get the drift, last to check out the trash barrels. Old Snowy was used to respect, used to his place in the wrangling chaos. But he drew blood, endangered the uneasy truce. The Man didn’t let him come back yet. No one else would risk banishment from the single wonder of their world, so the peace wore on, threatened at times, but holding, like a dam not quite ready to burst.
And the boy got ambition. He had a name for the feeling that kept rising in his chest: freedom. When he got his split of the money, he could…go…somewhere. He didn’t exactly know, but some place else. He could leave, leave the Man, go out in the wide world. He could follow the Mother to her big broad belly, the Gulf, her true home. It was out there, the Man said so. The boy remembered. He could recall the first time he heard the word. It was just an offhand remark for the Man, just a spit between his teeth. Where did things wash away, why, all the way to the Gulf, he had said. The boy had been little then, hanging on the Man’s words as a mystery that might be solved, rather than a burden that must be endured, as he knew well now. But the word had filled him with a swell of excitement: all that water! All the floods that ever happened, going to this place, the Gulf—how immense it must be. Water that big, he finally realized, water that big would provide a life for him. The small existence they poked out of the edges of the bayou would be nothing to the bounty of Mother’s great belly where the many waters gathered. He could live in great ease, scrounging in the morning, then taking it comfortable, watching the flow of the water with a peaceful satisfaction. That was ambition, surely.
The Man paid him back for having it, as he should have known he would do. His impatience was to blame. If only the boy had waited, the Man might have swelled with enough magnanimity to toss him some coins, and he could have stolen away in the night, unnoticed, unmourned. But he asked for his money when the dreams grew too loud in his sleep, and the Man slapped him down with a harsh cuff and a guffaw. The few others there, gathered early for the nightly ritual, joined in the laughter and goaded the Man on. “Money?” he snapped as the boy cowered, holding his ear, waiting for the pain and ringing to subside. “This my money, boy. My rules, my world. You forget that, boy?”
“I found it,” he grumbled proudly, if unwisely.
The Man laughed and the others with him. “Finders keepers, eh? Losers weepers!” They all laughed at this witticism. “Guess you the loser, boy.” Even as their coughing hilarity buoyed him up and out of the circle, their eyes returned to the treasure, famished for its sight.
He stumbled away from their laughter into the first greying shades of twilight. It had been dark all day, overcast and fishy. Night would be just a deepening hue. He went to the Mother and plunged his hands into her cold waters to calm their shaking and his angry heart. This is what it came to, all of it. He had her soothing waters and he had the Man’s rough regency. If it all came down to that, well, then he chose her. Better her mystery, her harsh floods and droughts than the brutal way of the Man. Her ways were uncompromising, but they were better than the capricious rule of the Man, who would always be stronger, smarter and more powerful, who would always tell him what to do and when, who changed his mind but never his methods. The Mother would not lead him, she would not offer easy answers; he’d have to think for himself and live within her harmonies. But if you followed her flow, all was right—it was swimming upstream that brought trouble, and a failure to follow her signs. He made his choice then, he chose her, and not the joyless way of the Man.
He did not expect epiphanies, he knew he was not saved, but she sent him a gift anyway, just to show him the choice was right. He leaned closer to the waters and heard the story they sang to him. He lifted his head and looked west. Dark clouds had hung there all day, drifting slowly north. He puzzled at the sign. He had seen the clouds, knew they meant rain, knew too that they were passing far to the north. But the waters sang the tune of coming. He shook his head as if to clear his still-ringing ears. What was she telling him? Was he just too stupid to heed? He trailed his hand in the now-black waters, feeling for the truth, waiting for the secret to be revealed, hoping some trash-bloated carp wouldn’t come along and bite his fingers for bait. His head inclined toward the Mother’s song, eyes closed, heart almost still as he listened with his body and soul to her message.
He had almost drifted into a melancholic slumber when the revelation hit him, nearly knocking him over. When? Soon. How much? A lot! He should go, now. He didn’t even realize he was smiling as he half-walked, half-climbed up the slope to the road. He looked back down at the Mother he loved so much. The bench on her banks where lovers sat on cool days, the trees still bent low, always listening to her speech, her tunes, her warnings. He wondered if he should go higher, but he knew he had to stay, to see, to bear witness, to know that freedom would truly be his.
It was a short time later—less time than a walk to the seven pillars, but more than a slow steady piss in the morning—he first heard it. He could see from the overpass where he dangled his long legs that the Man and his cronies were as attentive as ever to her little secret, her small mystery, and he smiled this time and knew it was. It was her gift, after all. Her bigger mystery was coming. He didn’t know how he knew, he tried to make it so simple, but she had shared it with him. She knew. She always knew.
At the first roar his head jerked up. Somehow he had been nodding. How long had he been asleep? Or was it the unaccustomed weight of freedom, a burden he would move from shoulder to shoulder until he found the right position to bear it away. He would become used to it, quickly. Again, louder now, he heard it coming as it rushed along the many twists of her snaking body, trying arrogantly to carve new ways. Chin resting on the guardrail he looked down towards the Man, candle lights sparkling in his puny world, reflecting his small understanding, and the boy waited. It was not long. The roaring, the confusion, the shouts, and finally only the green-brown waters so high, so sudden, he finally had to lift his feet or risk losing his two different shoes. There was no sign of the Man or the mystery. Maybe tomorrow; he would be walking south, perhaps he would see the Man, washed ashore, white and bloated as everything else swept up by her waters. And maybe not. He didn’t much care. The Gulf would really be filled this time. He hummed to himself as he crossed the empty street, swung over the rail, and stepped down to trace the lapping edge of his Mother.