August 1, 2021
Volume 2, Issue 1
Because the thunderstorms were only passing through, the venue staff did not think Maggie’s wedding would need to be delayed. If they were to spot lightning within two miles of the area on the day and hour of the wedding, however, it would have to be canceled or postponed, they told us. So we crossed our fingers when the black ballooning clouds lingered over the ocean.
It was a day before my sister would be married, and rather than a hotel, all the guests were invited to stay in a large yacht anchored just outside of the venue. Each night, some of the boat crew came out and decorated the top deck with fairy lights and table clothes and drink stands handing out rums-and-cokes, sparkling wines, and margaritas, as if each night were a celebration on its own accord. The venue staff came out to meet us via a dinghy that buzzed into view from some undisclosed location to our east, explaining, when they arrived, how everything worked, the add-ons, the costs. By the time they finally left, Aunt Dina was drunk and started chucking throw pillows into the ocean from each of the rooms, and a friend of the groom told everyone he’d seen a 20-foot shark swim just below the boat, right there, just under the surface. See it? See it? he shouted.
Maybe they were in cahoots, whispered my mother to me, and maybe Aunt Dina was simply trying to hit the shark with the pillows. She then laughed herself back into her own room, leaving me alone on the deck. I was nervous about the water. Something about the rising oceans, the gradual merging of the Atlantic and the Gulf over what was once land made me shudder. I did not like floating above that in-between.
Maggie told me that once they set it all up, you barely notice the water. They let her visit for a recent celebration for some company execs who successfully manned another space flight to the sun, and she said the mechanics of it apparently worked beautifully. It felt like it was mostly back to normal of our old hometown. I wondered if she shared my views about this place we grew up as children, that its disappearance was like losing your faith: Everything is still there inside of you, only buried around corners, hidden in shadows. Or, rather, you find yourself looking for it everywhere you go.
I recently thought that God may have sunk, too—overburdened as well by the highways and condos and deforestation of his own body. Slowly, he started resembling suburbs and cities until all the natural space was replaced by a façade. Now, I’m not so sure. He might just as well be the ocean, rising up to meet us, in revenge or love or ambivalence.
When the venue staff told us about the thunderstorms, Maggie grabbed my shoulder, pulled me into the hallway, and muttered something about it being a sign. Maybe the wedding should not happen, she’d said with a tired look on her face. For the briefest moment, I wondered about her intention in booking this venue, if there was a hint of self-sabotage in the act as though she secretly hoped everything would crash into the ocean before she said, “I do.” I said, maybe, but maybe not, because I didn’t really know how to answer in that moment. I knew the groom Mark and never liked him much. So I was not about to champion his virtues, if that’s what she was hoping for.
In the middle of the night, I woke up to a briny smell atop the deck, having apparently
sleepwalked out of my room and found a seat facing east where my hometown used to be. Of course, in the dark, I could not see the lapping ocean or even the distant flickers of lightning—only the four blinking red lights that had been affixed atop each of the jackup rigs. Tomorrow, it would all look different. New, or old, rather. The place that was now sunken below the surface would be fished out for our convenience using expensive technology, looking like it did many, many years ago, or so they told us.
I was terrified to discover myself sitting so close to the edge, so I hurried back to my room, locked myself in, and barely slept the rest of the night.
In the morning, everybody else was up before me, watching from the deck as the massive rigs lifted my hometown out of the water, gradually. Up, it rose like a rebirth. The surface of the water rumbled violently with the pressure of the rising landmass, and the screeching mechanics were deafening.
When I finally exited my room, roused by the noise, it had fully emerged, dripping wet like a newly washed car. Aside from the jackup rigs, it looked like most occupied islands. There were a few battered-looking condos and a couple manicured beaches, but it mostly housed a small borough that had once been known for prime real estate and a great view of the water. My cousin Jack told me that the venue staff were going to let us tour it, even though they had not finished clearing it of sea life yet. He was excited about seeing the little green fish flopping on the sidewalks and the barnacles pressed across all the surfaces like chicken pox.
I had never really been to this area of town. Except for once, when my friend Liv and I were delivering sandbags to some houses in advance of a category 3. She worked at her parents supply store, and though the rain had already started pouring down, the pickup truck we borrowed from her dad managed well through the deep road puddles around clogged drain grates. During the drive, Liv kept looking over the coastal houses, saying how a famous TV wrestler apparently lived in one of them. We all knew he lived nearby, because we would occasionally see him in town, at restaurants and movie theaters, but nobody could say which house was his.
Which one, I asked, but she didn’t actually know. She only said it was one of the houses.
When I pulled up to the one marked on our delivery note, I joked that maybe it was this one, but Liv went quiet, as though starstruck. We left the sandbags with some gardeners who were waiting out the rain beneath a small shed by the driveway. They were crammed inside of it like sardines.
I don’t know why Maggie wanted to shell out so much money to get married in a part of town we didn’t even live in, and I told her as much, but she shrugged it off, saying it all felt familiar—the principle of it—and still felt like home to her. And obviously, everything else was gone, so this was the best they could do. Part of me wanted to look for the wrestler’s house again, while we were exploring the resurfaced mass of land, but it had been too long ago for me to remember exactly we had gone. Plus, I was distracted, because I knew Maggie had invited Liv to the wedding, but I did not see her yet.
Jack was right, though: There were barnacles fastened to everything—the plastic trees, the windowpanes, the streetlamps—and the town stunk like a seafood market. Once or twice, we passed a few locals who had been hired from one of the stilted villages nearby to come in and pressure wash everything. It always surprised me that people still lived around here, considering mostly everyone I knew sold their homes and moved as soon as the floods reached their doorsteps. I heard Jack ask one of the pressure washers if it was true that barnacles screamed when you pulled them off a surface. The person shrugged. I wanted to scold Jack, because this was no museum tour; we were only passersby, brief visitors to a land that no longer existed.
Admittedly, the place felt familiar. Not quite like coming home, but close.
As everybody began getting dressed up for the ceremony, I found Maggie while she was getting her hair done. Immediately, she apologized for the night before, saying that she didn’t actually want the wedding to be called off; she was only nervous, frightened. I asked if she was frightened of Mark, or of being married, but she only shrugged. Then I asked about Liv’s RSVP, and Maggie started to tease me, which seemed to help her nerves.
Back on land, I tried to feel for wobbling below my feet, for signs that the rigging was not as perfect as it had been advertised. A few of us had trouble walking, but it could just as well have been from spending the better part of a week on the yacht.
Later that morning, we helped prepare for the wedding. The venue looked beautiful—it was in a small garden just outside of an old churchyard, which had been decorated with flowers and lights that were brought in from the yacht. I laid out chairs and hors d’oeuvre tables for nearly an hour, pausing every once in a while to watch Maggie beam at everything. I could not blame her; it all seemed to be coming together nicely. Even despite my skepticism, I had nearly forgotten we were on manufactured land at all.
Just before the wedding, however, another thunderstorm swept in from the west. More guests had arrived on a large pontooned ferry, including Liv, who, upon seeing me, gestured around her and made a can-you-believe-it face. I was happy to be able to see her again, but once it started raining, the entire crowd had to clamber into the church, and we were separated. So I found Maggie, again, who was arguing with one of the venue staff about why we could not simply wait on the land mass for the storm to pass. Apparently, it was the company’s policy to evacuate the island in the presence of lightning, in case the rigs were to malfunction or get struck by lighting and everything fell in.
Maggie said she didn’t think everything was going to fall in, and that it sounded extremely unlikely, but the staff member told her that there was nothing they could do about it, except offer her a discount for wasted time. They were sorry, but Maggie seemed sorrier. Not sad, exactly. Just disappointed, maybe, which felt more worrisome. The wedding was not cancelled, they reassured her, just delayed.
I found Liv again when the staff was ushering us all back to the boats. She leaned closer to me and said that the place would feel a lot more real if there were any birds, but no, not even seagulls or pelicans were to be seen. So I joked that maybe birds were part of a more expensive wedding package, but Liv shook her head and told me they must be around here somewhere, the birds. We should go find them, she said.
And we were off, just like that. With her in the lead, we circled the outskirts of town, hiding behind abandoned backyards and parking lots, shrouded in the dimness of a gentle rainfall. With her, I began to recognize my surroundings more. A street corner that used to house a decent taco place. The grocery store. Even the neighborhood where Liv and I had delivered sandbags. We were standing outside of a gated mansion, covered in seaweed and coral, reeking of mildew, when Liv smirked knowingly.
No birds, she said, but we can finally solve the mystery of the wrestler. By breaking in, I asked. Yep. And she pulled open the gate, which had rusted to a point of uselessness, and began up the long driveway that used to be made out of pebbles, but was now covered in patches of sand and broken shells. I followed, catching up with Liv by the time she reached the front door, which had more barnacles than wood.
She resembled a sea creature somehow, standing there in her bright yellow sun dress. Possibly it was a type of reef fish that came to mind when I looked at her, but for the first time, I realized that she had changed. Not physiologically, but in a way that made me feel even more disconnected from this place, from this rotting house and the puddles of seawater and the hazy sunlight.
Liv opened the door and walked inside, while I waited outside. Waited. Waited. Until she reemerged carrying a picture frame. The glass was cracked and smudged and the frame itself chipped on the corners, but the proof was clear—the faded photograph showed a small family smiling at the camera, and standing at the center was the wrestler.
It’s not stealing if I keep it, right, she asked, beaming. I said, no, I guessed not. So we departed the house, decided we should go find somebody and see if we could get a ride back to the yacht. But before we could cross the sandy driveway, a wave of heavy rain surprised us, sending us hurrying into a nearby shed to stay dry. It would pass, surely—the rain—and be no big deal ultimately, but at that moment, I was terrified of the thunder and the drumming of massive raindrops against the tin roof of the shed. Liv noticed this and tried to comfort me, but, somehow, I feared her, too. So we sat there in the shed, waiting for the rain to stop.
The wedding was only delayed by an afternoon, and Maggie looked genuinely happy to be married that evening, but I did not stay for the reception. As soon as the ceremony ended, I fled back to the yacht, back to my little, rocking room, where I peered out my window, hoping to see a bird, any bird, but finding none at all.
Joey Hedger is author of the chapbook, In the Line of a Hurricane, We Wait (Red Bird). He currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, where he is associate editor for an education association and a reader for Reservoir Road Literary Review. You can find him at joeyhedger.com.