Requiem for Chopin

in Featured/Stories/Stories and Poems

Elaine was lucky for two reasons. She had flood insurance and she had somewhere to go.

Her new life, far away from the dire-faced officials on the Public Access channel was finally coming into focus after the two-hour layover in Chicago. With new strength, she wheeled her suitcase, stuffed with belted dresses and creased slacks, away from the crowded carousel and into the Metro that lulled her all the way to Chinatown.

She’d apply for a job in a quiet office near the National Gallery and spend her days answering phones and typing letters, one at a time, occasionally responding to respectful interruptions from calm, adult voices. No angry teenager would ever again cuss her out for detecting their plagiarism or blame her for not deciphering their hurriedly-scrawled sentences correctly.

The days and threats of drop-in visits from her principal (or “drive-bys” as her blatantly-disgruntled math teacher called them) drowned like demons under a holy drawbridge when she watched the polite concierge wave her passkey over the elevator panel, sending Elaine up to the third floor. Let Mr. Nelson or Mr. George deal with Allison’s demands to go to the bathroom, the nurse, the superintendent, or home. Let Dr. Graham figure out who was cussing and who needed meds after playing video games on his phone all night.

Elaine would find a small apartment like her daughter’s—maybe in the same building—where she would walk from after-work spin classes or yoga, stretch out in a cucumber-scented bubble bath and contemplate buying Bruce in the USA tickets for Saturday’s show at The Hamilton.

There would be weekend wine-festivals, fall farmers’ markets and trips to Mt. Vernon, friends from Santee who would stay with her, tour the Smithsonian and the White House. Maybe Kate–her neighbor who had enlisted her helpful ex-husband to load Kate’s new heat pump and kitchen cabinets onto his truck bound for Charlotte–would see how happy Elaine was and leave the soggy lowlands with its steadfast hurricane season and multiplying mosquitoes behind.

“I guess we live too close to the river to expect a reprieve this time,” Kate had said, accepting Elaine’s six allotted sandbags and two boxes of perishables. “Tell ‘em to look for me in the attic if you don’t hear from me by Christmas,” she added, bereft of her usual optimism.

Elaine had just ordered the baked ziti at Nostra Cucina when she got the call. “This is an announcement from Griffdale County Schools,” it began neutrally, like the colors of the slowing traffic on D Street. “Now that the threat of floodwaters has subsided, and the National Weather Service is forecasting continued clear skies, school will resume on Tuesday. Teachers will report for duty at eight o’clock on Monday.”

Kate brought over a pan of lemon bars when she saw the pale light piercing Elaine’s window. “The water was absorbed by those old cotton and rice fields,” she explained to her friend. “Hardly anyone lost power.”

I am an English teacher who loves words, poetry, and contributing in print to our human legacy.

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