When I dream of the floods, we are sinking. We’re sinking because my tiny arms can’t carry your fat little body. If it weren’t for how short your limbs are, we’d be the same size. Those hams keep weighing us down.
When I dream of the floods, they are sepia, because that kind of brown seems historical, the culmination of many old things, like how the water itself was polluted. As a child, all of my scariest and most important dreams were the same color, and so I’ve attached a fearful importance to it. In the nightmare I remember most clearly, Dracula disguised himself to work at a carnival, to run the Ferris Wheel and give me a lollipop, which sounds innocuous, but what frightened me at the time was that I might be capable of being fooled, that something so small and simple as a piece of candy could lead me so easily from safety.
The floodwaters are coming from the canal by the old house in filthy currents, the canal I watched our father heave your diapers into like footballs, the canal that bobbed with mysteries. The water is worse than it was in that picture of us in the trashcan, that one we dragged to the stoop, so full of rainwater it took the two of us. I remember dropping you in and shoving you aside before I slid in myself. It was full of leaves and bugs and debris, leftover trash probably, but had a sunwarmed quality that was pleasant, and there was nowhere else to go swimming. I don’t remember the photo being taken, or where we got the umbrella I’m holding, only the tight look of concern we got when I explained that the can hadn’t been empty when we climbed in.
In movies, when it floods, the water is clear enough to see and light shafts its way through. In my dreams, the water is a milky sludge, churning and foaming angrily around us while it rains down on the house and in through the windows. It smells. It smells like all the rotten smells I know mixed together with some I can’t recognize. It’s hot and though the winds seem to drive the water through the walls, the air is heavy on top of us, as if it weren’t moving at all. It’s hard just keeping you upright.
When I dream of the floods, I wear a frilly white dress and I sit with my back against the wall on the daybed. I have you propped up between my legs, holding your little belly while you stare at your toes. If we get off the bed, the water will touch us, and we know that’s dangerous. We are alone, somehow, with a pot sitting next to us on my teddy bear bedspread in case we have to go, since we can’t get up. The brass is pressing uncomfortably against my back, but I don’t want to move too much, because if I let go of you, you might throw one of my bears into the water. Even that small, you know better than to sacrifice your own things.
We watch through the window at the dark, at the rain, waiting for lightning. In the flashes, we watch the water rise up the sides of trees, loosen cars from parking spots, float mailboxes up from the ground. The wind is ripping down the street, hurling branches and shingles through the air. I tell you that this is how oceans are made, and when all the trees sink to the bottom, mermaids and fish will live in houses built from them. I tell you not to worry, because this bed is a boat, and we will ride it to safety. I tell you to get some rest, because I’ll need your help steering when we float away. I tell you all of the things I would like to be true.
In these dreams, the water rises up to the bed, but it doesn’t float like a raft as I’d expected. It gurgles along the sides, pushing us into the middle, the mattress off-balance. We wobble as it rises up to the windows, trying to keep steady as the currents pull the trundle apart and drag us up and off the frame. It’s hard to tell if the clanging we hear is coming from our room or the outside. The water muffles all other sounds, and I know it’s only a matter of time before we’re dragged down into that dirty quiet.
I used to think I was a good swimmer, but I start to doubt my abilities. I don’t like feeling small like this. We are still young enough to announce our bigness, and watching the world fill up with water and overflow like a bathtub makes it seem even less true. Any minute now, we could be tossed off the mattress to drown. You don’t swim, don’t even like to get your face wet at bath time. You are afraid of “drownding” which you insist on pronouncing wrong, no matter how many times I correct you. Thinking of all the times I told you that you can’t drown in your own house, I feel guilty for lying. I wonder if it’s a lie if you didn’t know the truth.
It’s not your fault that we fall off the mattress. You’re too little to know better. Something unidentifiable, sinister, bobs up to the surface and you jerk away in terror, taking us both down. I learned to tread water at the YMCA and I try to teach you, but you’re too afraid of going under to focus. I want you to understand that this is the only way to keep your head above the surface, but you’re blubbering and sputtering and finally I just grab you and try to swim. You are so heavy. I tell you if you kick your legs it will help, but it doesn’t do much. My arm can’t pull both our weights for much longer.
When I dream of the floods, we are sinking. We’re sinking and I can’t keep us afloat any longer. I tell you to take a breath, the biggest one you can, and hold it. Don’t cry or you’ll lose the air. I look around the room one last time, as if something will appear from beneath for us to hang onto, but the mattress has sunk, and the water is still rising high against the windows. Let this breath out and take an even bigger one. Close your eyes. I kick my legs one last time before I wrap my other arm around you and hold on tight. We don’t fall gracefully. Your weight is like an anchor, and though I want to be brave, my fear has me kicking around, bumping into things that neither of us could see, even if we opened our eyes. You are holding on so tight that it hurts me, and I wish you could turn that strength to swimming, but it’s far too late for that. I can feel the ground, or something like it, slimy beneath my bare feet and just beyond your reach. We descend through hot silt and wreckage until we settle to the bottom, clutching each other, streaming bubbles til the blackness catches us.