This is East Texas, and East Texas is flat. Here, in Matagorda, flat land butts up against flat ocean. The joke goes that if you stand on a can of soup, and if you squint your eyes just right, you’ll see the back of your head.
I used to let my brain chew on that joke pretty often as a kid, when I had no way of understanding it, and I’d only repeat it around younger kids, or the kids that had just moved in, or anybody who I knew wouldn’t get it any more than I did. I used to say it when we played kick the can outside the Lucky Stars gas station on Main, balancing one foot on the upright can I’d shout, “I can see the back of my head!” and a few others would try it and claim that they could see it too while the rest stood there, mystified, too scared to try because what if they didn’t see it? And then what if they did?
We were the kids who lived in houses that were built on the ground: small houses, a couple rooms to each one, and small porches, only big enough for one chair, a spittoon, and a single, handsome, potted Aloe Vera plant. Our houses would be the first to go. The others, built on stilts, might survive.
This was when everyone was still talking about Allison. Our parents would start sentences with “Ever since Allison came through…” or “Back before Allison…” and everything was measured in time against that one storm. Before Allison it would have been Alicia, and before Alicia it was Claudette, all the way back to the Great Storm of 1900. Stories from the storms were muddled with stories from the Bible; they were stories so flooded in mystery and lore, walking such a fine line between truth and fiction, told sometimes in reverence, sometimes in warning, it were as though the world began its second act with the Great Storm—like Noah’s flood happened here at the Gulf of Mexico just a few hundred yards from our front door.
We used to run up and down Matagorda beach, dodging defunct jellyfish that sank into the sand like spilt, blue lava, and before going home we’d stop to watch the bay as the sun made a dash past that perfect line that splits grey ocean from lavender sky, and the clouds would be exposed, if only for a minute, as enormous and menacing by those final volleys of light and the approaching dark that chased the light away. Those were the clouds we knew. They were unpitying, even sinful. We watched them, and they watched us, and from time to time there would come a low, prophetic mumbling from their guts and we’d walk home those nights with Allison on our minds and God at our heels.
One night, as we sat on the beach with our families and watched my first storm sail inland, the Gulf breathed heavier than usual. Our parents spoke obsequiously, remembering suddenly how lightning flashes pink when clouds are black, and green when they are blue. The sky swirled and met at an epicenter, like a peppermint, and then it transformed into a bright green color that lit up the clouds and looked more like seawater than air. I sat up straight with my face parallel to the sky, and felt for a brief moment that if I didn’t grab hold of something fast I would fall upward into its shining green waves and drown.
BIO: Tyler is a poet and writer of flash fiction who lives in Provo, Utah.