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erator. It just floats up and falls over. You’d never think a refrigerator would float, but it will,� says Marion. “In fact, the bottom of Pontchartrain is probably covered with refrigerators washed out from shore homes.� Carpet stretches and bubbles as it pulls itself free. Marion finds a radio. Extra batteries? Thelma had batteries, but she cannot find them. Going with what she has, Marion picks up the radio, its back slides off, and all four batteries plop into water. She tosses the radio on the table atop the now submerged sofa. Water now almost up to Pat’s armpits, Thelma calls for her jewelry. “Go,� Marion says, “but hurry.� Pat enters Thelma’s bedroom. His movements press against heavy water, creating waves that edge toward a bureau. He nears his target. The chest comes alive. Lifting itself off the floor, it tips the jewelry box and dumps its contents. Pat struggles to snatch whatever jewelry he can catch in the murk. The chest floats down the wall, closes the door and settles there, daring Pat to escape. Recognizing real danger, Pat forgets chasing jewelry. He pushes himself, head first, to the door, but the pressure is too strong. The bureau will not budge.

A minimum of 200 pounds of force will be needed to move an empty chest and release a wooden door against this water pressure. Pat needs less than two feet to get out. With water on both sides of the door, he progresses by inches. He calls to his nephew. Together, the nephew pushing, Pat pulling, they crack the door enough for Pat to squeeze through. Having lost its battle, the chest sinks beneath the water. Water rises still. Its pressure so strong, its depth increasing, the six move in slow motion. They opt for upstairs. Pat, with two duffle bags and a garbage bag holding Red’s and Thelma’s medicines, leads the other five up. They reach the first bedroom. Marion stands on the bed, looking out a window, three-feet square, waiting for water to follow them. Next option will be the attic. “What about an ax?� she asks. City safety guides state “Have an ax in the attic.� “Ax or no, it’s too late,� Pat replies. As quickly as water came, just as quickly it stops. Its rise ends on the top step, not two inches below the second floor. From 10:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Marion waits for help. Some boats speed by. None stop. The house rests in at least 12–feet of brackish water. Outside, only roof tops show.


Here and there, dusk-to-dawn globes stick up like dainty garden tea lights. Maps code New Orleans at eight feet below sea level. But levees put New Orleans in a bowl. Levee diagrams show 17.5-foot levees hold Lake Pontchartrain back, while 23-foot levees keep the Mississippi within its United States Army Corps of Engineers boundaries. Confined water, once released, levels. With high floods, New Orleans can lie 14 feet below sea level. Breach key levees, and surrounding waters, swallow the city. In time, a john boat appears with a friend looking for Pat. Not finding Pat at Cardenas, the fireman motors to Lakeview. He sees Marion peering out the upstairs window. He knows a bridge, he says. Though surrounded by water still rising, it is dry now. All agree. Take the chance. Marion’s sister-in-law goes out the window butt first, drops and settles into the boat. Marion is next. She has to drop backwards, about four feet, into a space no wider then 36 inches, without toppling the two out of the boat or missing the boat entirely. Once out the window, she hangs from the window sill. Her legs dangle like a child’s, suspended from monkey bars. She can do this, but reason takes time.








Longlead Summer 2010  

The Summer 2010 issue of Longleaf

Longlead Summer 2010  

The Summer 2010 issue of Longleaf