SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Way of Things Now

Story by Linda Niehoff (Read author interview) November 7, 2016

Art by Katelin Kinney

An alligator swam past my window and that’s when Mama said it was time to leave. He stopped and turned, looked in with a forever smile. Like he knows we can’t last. Like he’s out there waiting.

Mama says we can’t keep waiting. River’s gonna rise before it falls. But still we don’t go. Ain’t no river to it anymore. It’s ocean light that seeps into my windows, rippling green swampy shadows.

Mama says to hold our breath. I practice. I hold it a little longer every day. At night the water sloshes over the house. Logs and creatures bang to get in. But Mama’s got it sealed up tight.

Five days ago the water touched the roof. We could still stand out on it, feel the sun. Get ourselves dried out. There was still a sun to feel before it got buried in green water. Two days ago the water came up onto the shingles and grabbed for our toes. We didn’t even try for the roof yesterday. Mama heard water sloshing against the attic door. Start holding your breath, she said. That’s gonna be the way of things now.

I hold it until my scalp tingles, until I hear the starlight we can no longer see. Until I feel balloon light and wavery. Until I can’t hold it no more. Mama says it still ain’t long enough.

The Kopers swam by three days ago in a tornadic whirlwind. Mr. Koper was still trying to hold onto his hat. A refrigerator floated by. So did the dress from Sutton’s Dry Goods that Mama wanted. The dress with purple flowers that made Mama stand and stare all wistful like and touch the glass once leaving a smudge on the window before she grabbed my hand and tugged me along. Left her hand print. That hand print is gone now. All our hand prints are gone.

Mama says the time to go was yesterday before that alligator started staring in.

He looked like a dinosaur, like the color plate in my textbook back at the school shoved into my desk full of ruffled papers marked up Isabel loves Geoffrey.

There’s no more school. Hasn’t been for days. No more book. I bet that alligator sniffed out the swamp water, tore himself out of the picture, swam up and away. And now he waits outside my window.

Mama says we may not make it to the top.

Trouble is, Mama says, that water ceiling just keeps getting higher. But still we don’t go. She tries to look up past my window, tries to see the top. The sun keeps getting softer and greener. We just keep getting darker like we’re sinking to the bottom of something.

Mama doesn’t know if we can make it now.

He’s back, I say to Mama and sure enough there he is grinning in the window. Maybe I’ll ride his back up toward the sun.

Mama says it’ll get dark soon and stay that way. That’s just the way of things now. No more green light even.


Notes from Guest Reader Matthew Fogarty

The thing about reading blind is sometimes you come across a story and you want to know immediately who the author is so you can go out and find everything else they’ve ever written and read it at once. This is one of those stories. Such a brilliant premise and a fully realized world. Such a perfect structure. The narrator has made a compelling character simply via narration and observation. This piece is working on many levels and gives us everything we could want from a story while also making us question what we want from a story in all the best ways possible. Not to mention, it’s beautiful and clean, but challenging and intriguing, prose that doesn’t have to stretch or overreach to make for us memorable, lasting, haunting images.

About the Author

Linda Niehoff’s short fiction has appeared in TriQuarterly, Necessary Fiction, New South, and elsewhere. She lives in a small Kansas town where she works part time as a portrait photographer and full time as a homeschooling mom. Find her on Twitter: @lindaniehoff.

About the Artist

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four

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