The streets were not yet inundated with people and stolen boats. At first, I did not see anyone wading in the water below. I saw that most of Larry’s cars that were parked on the streets were flooded at least halfway to their roofs. The smaller ones were completely submerged. Many doorways of the houses around remained dry, well above the water line because they were raised several feet off the street. Still, I was clueless as to the depth of the water at this point.
All those I had seen the night the rains started were there, along with a couple of other neighbors. I could tell that everyone was almost as exhausted as I was, but the mood was rather buoyant and light. Had everybody found a secret stash this morning? Then, I noticed the pill bottle gleaming on the table. The large pharmacy bottle read “Hydrocodone 10mg.” Suddenly, the pill bottle lit up like an angel sent directly from heaven. I swear to God, I actually heard harps and shit when I saw this enormous bottle glimmering in the bright sunshine. I grinned from ear to ear. I grabbed it and gobbled down about fifteen of those pills.
I heard Liam shouting from down on the street as he ran towards us with the excited look of a kid who had stumbled upon a rare treasure. The water was up above his waist as he struggled to push through its thickness.
“Hey, Eliza, you are up! Come down and let me in…have I got a surprise for you!”
I hurried down through the dark hallway and unlocked the old heavy front door. The lock was probably seventy years old and I had to shake the handle a little until it unlocked with a snapping click. The old rusty handle creaked slightly as I turned it ever so little, and then I pushed my shoulder against the door, leaning my weight into it. It stuck at first, then swoop, it jumped open. Liam stepped inside the door, shutting it behind him.
He was drenched, and water dripped as if it is coming from a trickling faucet. His tennis shoes were sloshing with the water that had drowned his socks. He started reaching in his pockets, hungrily. He pulled out a treasure of pharmaceuticals: big, bottles with factory labels containing hundreds of pills.
“You have to put on your shoes and come quick,” he grabbed my hand and led me toward the apartment. “You know all the real names for pills, and the generic names and all that shit. We need to get back there quick, and we need something to carry the shit in better than these soggy pockets.” In the apartment, there was enough light to see. I took the pill bottles in my hand, turning them over and over with ecstasy and need. Alazopram, which is generic Xanax, Valium, Vicodin, Percocet, and then I turned over the last pill bottle, which was much smaller than the rest.
Again I heard the harp from heaven, but this time it was accompanied by an organ. “Oxycontin 20 mg.” There must have been two hundred little pink pills in there! We found the mother load! Holy fucking shit! Liam and I hastily filled our cups with water from the faucet that was still spitting out what appeared to be clean water. We scraped, and we crushed, and we stirred, and we mixed, and we heated. And we cooled, but we did not have to poke and prod. Sweet relief! I felt like my old self again as the warm shot of Oxycontin entered my bloodstream. Soft edges and hazy outlines.
I pulled on a well-worn pair of black high top Doc Martins. I had on a baggy pair of shorts and a tight black t-shirt with a local punk band’s logo. We opened the main door and walked onto the porch. Below the wooden slats of the porch, I could see the water dancing around in the sunlight. The water was all the way up to the bottom of the porch.
Out here, all I could see was water. The sound of water lapping onto the sides of the old house rhythmically pounded my ears. You couldn’t see the bottom. The water was black with all kinds of debris floating around in it- branches, and leaves, and Styrofoam containers. There was dirt and slime, and the sun reflected rainbow-colored oil patterns all over the top of the water. It seemed choppy in parts, like it might be flowing. Maybe it was still rising. I could not tell.
When I stepped into the water, it was warm like piss. It was warm, and wet, and fluid. It was all around me, sinking into the pores of my skin and weighing my clothes down on me until they hung sagging off my skinny frame. I wasn’t always this skinny. That was one major advantage to the constant bounce between sickness and wealth that every hard-core junky comes to know.
Undoubtedly, the humidity had only gotten worse with all this extra moisture flowing through the streets of the city. The sun was rising, and I knew pretty soon the heat would be choking down on us relentlessly.
I did not notice the smell then. It must have taken a couple of days of heat and humidity in the midst of these river streets for the smell of death and decay to really permeate the air. A couple of days from that moment, the smell of death would be so deep in my hair that I feared it would never wash off. That smell is a smell that I will never forget. Every now and again I get a strange whiff of something that reminds of that hurricane smell of death and destruction, and I am brought right back to that place in my mind.
When I stood in the middle of the street, the water was up to my chest. I slowly pushed my way through it. It was a long and rather arduous process to wade through chest deep water. I kept my arms high enough to stay above the water, pulling them back and forth while dragging the rest of my body behind, I could feel my thighs burning from the physical workout.