Chapter 4 of the unpublished novel Infinite Tenderness by local author & Rainshadow Journal Founding member Mark Clemens. The story is set in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina is about to roar into town. A family searches for a lost son. The first three chapters are posted in Rainshadow Journal and the links to them are at the end of this chapter. Or you can find them listed on the front page of Rainshadow on the lower right.
Across The Rigolets
Sunday, August 28, 2005
10:48 p.m./central time
It was growing late, too late, and Hershel knew the causeways to Mississippi were due to shut down soon. But after Jackson Square, he had one more place to look: the Superdome. It wasn’t far away but getting there was a struggle—traffic slow, drivers ranging from skittery to desperate, streets close to choked with abandoned cars.
He figured Landon was still in the microbus. Numbed out or trippin’, he wouldn’t have the wherewithal to switch vehicles so quickly after he took the bus and ran away five days ago. But Hershel had reported it to the Louisiana State Police and there’d been no word from them or any law enforcement agency in surrounding states—Landon might have switched the plates. Wherever he was tonight, hiding in New Orleans or over in Mississippi or way the hell gone to Poughkeepsie or Timbuktu, Hershel hoped Landon was somewhere warm and dry and beyond the reach of any storm surge.
From Jackson Square Hershel eked his way up Saint Phillip Street to Louis Armstrong Park, then along Rampart and across Poydras to the Superdome. Police had streets closed off in the complex, so he parked by the Post Office and walked on in, groaning when he saw the miserable mass of humanity shuffling toward the Dome for shelter overnight. He stopped to size things up, rain drizzling off the bill of his cap and down his face. Picking Landon out of this crowd would be hard, but Hershel walked up to one of the lines filing toward the entrance and looked for the sloping shoulders of his tall, slender son, ducking to peek in faces. Landon could hide in a crowd, could see Hershel coming before Hershel saw him, then fade back out of sight. Hershel searched until the line dissolved in a swarm of people coming from all directions in the wind and rain, the drenched and wretched from the Quarter, Lower Ninth, Arabi, all over, and Hershel wandered randomly from person to person, the sea of faces coming at him streaming wet in the rain, as if people were weeping as they trudged along.
“Let me, ma’am,” he said to an elderly Black woman who tripped in front of him. He caught her by the arm and a young boy walking with her caught her on the other side. Hershel held her till she steadied. “Bless you,” she said.
After that, he retreated to his pickup and drove away, wanting to high tail it to Mississippi before the hurricane shut everything down and he was cut off from his home in Ansley, a little community out in the marshlands just over the state line where he had a shack and a boat and the Gulf wasn’t much more than a stone’s throw away, not ideal right now, but… Just as he hopped on Interstate 10, he remembered Dewey’s apartment in Chalmette. It would be simple to get there, North Claiborne was coming up. He could hop on it and be there in a flash to hole up and ride out the storm. He wouldn’t have considered it ordinarily, but Dewey was way off in Colorado now—Fountain, Colorado—where Dewey’s sister Leola and her family lived. He’d been to Denver, Durango, Gunnison, never heard of Fountain. He pictured a bright-lit home on the outskirts of a darkened town, Dewey and all them safe inside. He wondered if there actually was a fountain. Have to be special to name a town for it. Maybe it was smack in the middle of the town square with a plaque on it that told of Spanish conquistadors who’d explored the area. Or the fountain was built around a natural spring, an artesian bubbler where people came to fill gallon jugs for home. He could see Dewey there with a jug, always looking for something natural and pure.
In a blink, Hershel came back to the prospect of Dewey’s place in Chalmette. She had given him the key years ago, always said stay there if he needed. But he didn’t want to stay there, they weren’t together now and hadn’t been for years. Dewey hadn’t said so, but he knew she’d get back together in a minute. He didn’t trust her, maybe didn’t trust himself. The key might be buried somewhere in his glove box, but he wasn’t sure. Besides, he had never stayed there. Hurricane might make it easy but he didn’t want to now.
He watched the turn-off to Claiborne slip by. Then he got on the Chef Menteur Highway and kept going east out of New Orleans, spray across the highway almost blinding.
Knowing Landon, Hershel kept his eyes peeled all the way. The kid would pop up when and where you least expected, the way it had happened the first two times he’d run away. In the heavy weather, there wasn’t anyone on foot along the highway. Nor were there any microbuses on the road until Hershel came up behind one around Greens Ditch. It had a white top, just like his. He pulled alongside in the rain slashed dark, thought the side panels were mint green, also like his, but the panels turned out to be light blue. As he pushed by on his pickup, Hershel saw the driver hunkered over the wheel, a huge man with wild, exploding hair, not Landon.
Wind and rain all the way from Fort Macomb to The Rigolets, the strait that led from the east end of Lake Ponchartrain out into the Gulf. If the wind let up for a moment, the rain hammered straight down, but mostly the wind blew steady and fierce, bent the rainfall into a slant, sometimes nearly parallel to the ground. He came up on a traffic control point, orange barricades blocking the way. Emergency workers kept pointing for him to take Highway 11. That went through Bayou Savauge to Interstate 10—he shook his head. He talked the supervisor into letting him continue on the Chef Menteur and he was the last car on that stretch. About mid-span on the eight-mile bridge over The Rigolets, the spray turned into solid waves that flared in his headlights and thudded into the side of the pickup. He plowed through a foot of water, maybe two, until he made it to the other side, thinking maybe he should’ve listened to that supe. He could hear Dewey telling him he could have stayed in Chalmette, silly man.
To be continued….