Iowa Writes


This is before.

They left water running—

Faucet-heads pulled clean, windows boarded and cracks caulked. This is beyond flood insurance, making waterfall of stairwell, making lake of living room. Of course, it only held for a moment, you know—all that water and all that wood.

This is before.

They left water running—

Our house had holes. Different sizes. Holes with jawlines and holes with nose-bridges. Eye sockets and cheek-divots and long Southern wrinkle-stretches. Holes the size of mommy and holes the size of daddy, of brother and sister. Holes that leaked.

Leaked noise. Like trucks on overpass. Like car-bass booms: through pavement, through sheetrock. Pillowcase thunderclap, kitchen below bed: stormy. Conversation-tremors. Words that can't be said.

They used these words, the men. Like spears, really. Threw them round, drew red doodles on us.

"Ow, you're hurting us," we said.

We learned to resemble fish. In that house, on that night.

The men chased upstairs, so filled with water and so filled with sound. We swam, and the men chased. Chased up attic-access. Fold-Out stairs rocking, rickety. Insulation clumping in rising water like floating pink anthills.

And we huddle, we huddle hard, mommy and daddy and sister and me.

This is before.

They left water running—

Just as sinks breached, their surfaces evened with countertop, placid. Like they'd never been carved from it at all, like none of us had ever been harmed. Never cracked from mountainside and cut to size. Never shipped, never paid for.

And the plywood skeleton, it bowed. Sure it did. And the rafters. But they held. But only for a moment, but in that moment the house seemed whole. Like we had never once been pained in all our little lives. Like the foundation was crackless. Like we were crackless.

We'd seen it set-down, the foundation. Portland cement churning. Dark workers, rake-lines, baseball caps atop bandannas. It caked-dry: a huge salt flat. We cheered: quietly though, with modest fists. It was just the beginning.

This is before.

They left water running—

They nailed-up attic-hatch just as water snaked through air vents, just as ceiling-fan blades cut into it like boat-motors, like our house was an ocean liner.

The men, these men, our men: faces pressed to ceiling, faces and hands, as if trying to move it, huffing for air. And all the windows, and all the holes, they realize: they've shut-up. And they claw—smooth ceiling texture, and it dusts their hair like dandruff, and it mats their face. And it is embarrassing.

"Help," they say. "Help!" they say.

"Sorry," we say.

Like we're talking across great lengths of pool.

And when the ceiling lifts and cracks beneath our entangled feet we know they've learned to resemble fish too.

This is before.

They left water running—

Backs-to-rafter we float stomach-down, making hungry-baby-bird mouths at the vent spinning in fresh air where roof timber crisscrosses. We're gulping. And the air—I think stupid things about it, I waste thoughts: laundry detergents smell nothing like this, I think; air fresheners smell nothing like this. Then I can't smell anything.

Daddy: face fat and funny—looking with held breath, and mommy: hair smoky, curling wet brunette. We might be in the ocean, on a cruise, docked and waiting. We might be in the neighborhood pool, playing underwater games: sharks and minnows. Brother diving for quarters daddy flicked into the deep end, bubbles slung under his eyes like zits. We might be.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Chris Harrision grew up in Texas, hated it, attends the University of Iowa and loves it.

This page was first displayed
on July 29, 2006

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