After his divorce, Grant Costello moved from Raleigh, North Carolina to Billings, Montana. He rented an apartment above a dry cleaners and took a job at a grocery store. He told everyone at the Crow Bar his wife Tina drowned in a flash flood, even though Tina was very much alive and working as a claims adjuster in Wilmington.
“Shit,” everyone told him. “Sorry.”
Grant explained how he fought the rising waters to get back home and save Tina but the state troopers wouldn’t let him through.
“I hate talking about this,” he told everyone, but he pressed on.
He told them how he begged and persisted in the sideways rain. Told them how he got into his truck and drove through their barricades, how the troopers shot out his tires, how he kicked out the window of the squad car trying to get free.
“Jesus,” they said, buying Grant drinks which he gulped down like he thought a grieving husband would.
One night at the bar, he met a woman named Valerie.
“To conquer my fear about floods,” he told her. “I live on a floodplain.”
Valerie was a hairdresser and she promised him free haircuts if he kept on buying her drinks.
At closing time he told her he had a bottle of vodka and some mixers back at his apartment.
“You look harmless enough,” she said.
They pulled off each other’s clothes in the entryway of his apartment, had sex on his kitchen floor, snapped open beers afterward.
“Your wife’s still alive,” Valerie told him. “Isn’t she?”
“How did you know?” he asked.
“I cut hair,” she said.
They dated for a while, some nights going line dancing, some nights curling up in bed and watching old episodes of Antiques Roadshow. Sometimes when Roadshow ended he would gather up some household objects and bring them to her to appraise.
“This is a very rare Sony Dream Machine, made with superior craftsmanship in Japan in the late part of the last century,” she’d say. “From the markings here and here, you can tell it was made by one of the preeminent artisans in the alarm clock district of Tokyo.”
Whenever he brought an item to her she took her time, turned it over delicately in her hands. It didn’t matter how ordinary or trivial – a broken button, a dusty shoehorn – she always showed interest in whatever he handed to her.
“Quite rare,” she would say. “Quite valuable.”
Soon they moved in together, rented a place near the river. They had dinner parties, told their guests how every year in the spring the water rose and when it receded it left things behind.
This year, a green bedsheet, a roll of pennies, a refrigerator door.
Last year, two badly soiled dresses and half of an extension cord.
Over the years they learned that what you do is buy a rake. What you do is have a garage sale. What you do is put all the things you don’t need anymore, things that you had a use for once, you put them all on a card table in your driveway and you put the music on low and hope for a day without rain. You greet everyone who stops by, you say hello or you say howdy, depending.
Notes from Guest Reader Meghan Phillips
This story just felt so human to me. I mean, being a person is weird. There are so many hazards of being in the world, so many things that we can’t control. But we can control the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories we tell to ourselves.