At Morganza’s Gates by Lucinda Kemp
Seventy-two year old Evangeline Poisson stood up and shut off the television. “Well, that’s that! She looked down at her companion of the last ten years, Honoré Toutant Beauregard. “They’ve done it, and we’re done for, too!” Honoré, a black French bulldog, eyed his mistress intently and wagged the nub of his docked tail.
The Army Corp of Engineers had ordered and executed the opening of the Morganza Spillway on the Mississippi River at mile 280 to divert the waters threatening to overrun the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans further down river. The gates of the spillway hadn’t been opened in forty years. Sacrificed for the greater good, the eight hundred homes of Butte La Rose in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana would be flooded.
Evangeline opened the front door of her19th Century Louisiana raised cottage. She stepped onto the porch and looked out at the street. She’d lived in Butte La Rose her entire life; it was a place so lush and vivid she’d never felt the urge to venture away from it. But now, all she saw was water and what a sight! At the foot of the porch steps, her hostas and blue fuscue had been swallowed up; the overflow from the spillway licked at the lip of the eleventh of the porch’s thirteen steps.
From the horizon, a small motorboat chugged its way down her street.
“Evangeline! Evangeline!” yelled a figure inside the boat.
Honoré gave a half-strangled growl. Evangeline squinted. She recognized old Celestin Rose, a descendent of one of the town’s founders, and a man she considered worse than the devil for his dogged pursuit of her attentions. The boat halted at her front mailbox, only the top of which could be seen.
“Evangeline Poisson, you have got to get into the boat!”
“Celestin, you go on now. I had my say last night at the town hall meeting. The engineers and the Lord have chosen. I’m staying.”
“You’ll be committing suicide. That’s against the will of the Lord!”
“Oh don’t be a Biblical literalist. My time has come, and I go with joy in my heart. My John’s waiting. The beat of his white wings is calling from above.” She looked up at the sky, closed her eyes for a second; yes, she felt John’s presence. Then she glanced back at the boat in her front yard and the man inside it.
“Woman, you’re out of your mind. The river will crest at fifteen feet. Death is guaranteed,” he said, pausing. “At least let me take Honoré?”
“Honoré wouldn’t think of deserting me at a time like this. Go on, Celestin!” She turned and stormed inside, slamming the front door.
“This is madness,” yelled Celestin. Damned woman! He restarted the engine and motored away, shaking his head.
“Tiresome man!” she said, peeking out the front window and watching the boat fade into a dark speck on the horizon. “Honoré, the time has come!” She adjusted her reboso—a present from her dead husband John—around her shoulders and re-opened the front door and planted her ass in her porch rocker, where she sat facing her now marshy yard. Honoré trotted after her and squatted next to his mistress’s chair. She eyed the surging murk and gripped the handrails. The water sloshed onto the porch itself. She closed her eyes. “John, get ready, I’m coming. Father God, make it swift!”
Water lapped at her ankles and tickled Honoré’s belly. He snapped at it but paused at the sound of an engine; the motorboat had returned. Honoré barked, bolted and jumped off the porch into the swirling flood and swam to the boat. Celestin hoisted him inside and accelerated the engine.
Evangeline tightened her grip on the chair as the water licked at her calves. “Father God, take me now,” she bellowed. “Yes, yes!” She felt the approach of Rapture. Strong arms grabbed her shoulders and lifted her up. “Oh, John, you’re here,” she said, opening her eyes.
“For Christ’s sake woman. Snap out of it!” yelled Celestin. “You’re time ain’t come yet. John’s been dead for two damned decades and you’re coming off this goddamned porch with me!”
Evangeline opened her mouth to object. Celestin released her shoulders and grabbed her hand, leading her to the boat idling near the steps. “I’ve never known a woman to do what you’ll do for attention. In all the years I’ve been alive, you bust the mold.”
She twisted his hand, “Celestin Rose, in all my life I never—”
“No, you’ve never. And you ought to be delighted someone’s done what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do to you later.”
“What!” she sputtered for a second, then her eyes sparked with something she hadn’t felt in eons. Evangeline squeezed his hand. “Celestin Rose, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say nothing. Just get in the goddamned boat with Honoré.”
And she did. Evangeline Poisson, Celestin Rose and Honoré Toutant Beauregard motored away down the pea-green watery streets as the Morganza Spillway’s waters spread through the Atchafalaya Basin and filled the town of Butte La Rose, Louisiana, to the pitch of the roofs and beyond.