Don’t Blink

Tricia Sankey

crawfish picture
Just before Lissa’s husband was given orders for his second deployment, they moved into a rental in Slidell, Louisiana. Unbeknownst to her, this was the biggest house she would ever rent. It was a four bedroom. And this was before children and the addition of more pets, before her husband left the Army and searched for a civilian job, two years before Katrina would come ashore and devastate New Orleans.

They’d finally moved out of base housing and she was thrilled to have a real, actual neighborhood, with cute picket fences and thick paved sidewalks, where she could walk her small dog. Back then the dog was young and loved to run. This was before the dog ate too much and incurred joint problems and preferred to lounge belly up on the sofa. Missy was a yappy little Yorkie they’d picked up in Arizona. Lissa was thrilled to be out of the desert and next to some water – Lake Pontchartain was only blocks away.

The couple couldn’t know when they signed the year lease that it would only be three months they would actually fulfill. “I was just deployed six months ago,” Mark explained to the realtor. “Should be here a while.”

Of course there’d been rumors that his unit might deploy, but he didn’t dare tell the woman, and he wouldn’t worry his wife. Instead Mark concerned himself with how he would mow the backyard, which was marred with little piles of dirt – holes, the woman said.

“Oh yes, you’re in the South now,” she’d explained, in a lilting southern tongue. “Crawfish, they’re crawfish jumping up through the ground. We’re so close to the Lake, don’t you know?”

Lissa didn’t know.

“Now you just watch, once it rains, they’ll be hopping,” she laughed, “don’t you blink or you’ll miss it!”

Lissa knew nothing about fish flopping around in backyards; she was from Oklahoma, after all. And the southern drawls were just as foreign. The locals all seemed like caricatures with their funny accents and boisterous laughs, but she loved it. And she loved the house. It consisted of an open floor plan, the kitchen flowing into the dining room, which then emptied into a large living area. But her favorite place was inside the large bay window sill, where she would curl up and look out onto the vast green yard or dream up into the thick grey clouds. It would rain every afternoon. Sometimes when it rained, she thought she saw the crawfish popping out through their holes. The ground was so malleable, almost marsh-like. She had fears she would see an alligator, but at least they had a fence.

Mark spent longer days at work but Lissa made friends with the neighbors and they showed her the lively streets of New Orleans. They strolled the French Quarter, sat at the Café du Monde and chatted about the war in Iraq.

“I wish it would end,” Lissa lamented while tearing at a beignet.  

Grace, her neighbor, nodded while holding a chicory coffee that slowly warmed her hands. It was nearing the end of November and the weather was starting to turn. Grace, the wife of a Lieutenant Major, knew what was coming. Orders often came in the winter. And this year would be no different.

Lissa would soon know, too. She sat with her husband, at the foot of Lake Pontchartain, looking out, drifting and desolate, swept up into the hollows of transient waves. It was paradise, but now a paradise lost. Mark tried to be optimistic, because that’s all he could do. “It will be okay,” he promised and it sounded empty to them both. But he wouldn’t allow himself to be down and perhaps he never was. For soldiers were trained not to feel, and he was moving up in the ranks.

It was only months later, during a flight to Kuwait, that this memory, this empty memory burrowed up like those fish in the rain. Then that memory was gone, like a silver coin falling into a descending funnel. It travels along concentric trajectories of coils upon coils, revolving at a constant speed of acceleration, until the coin drops lifelessly into a hole.  Gone.

Lissa wasn’t as cleverly trained. She would eventually leave that rental and head to Kansas, to be closer to family. She stayed with family until her soldier returned home. Eventually the two would endure a hurricane, loss of work, the joy of children, and so much more. She would often let her mind roam back over the years, in and out of states, between this rock and that jagged spot, in an attempt to record the times she was truly happy.

She finally surmised that even then, with full knowledge he would leave, and their time in Slidell ticking, she might have been content, eyes unflinching on that grass, littered with little holes, surrounded by picket fence, under rain laden clouds. If happiness was to be judged in each perceptible moment that dotted time, and not in plans that were dreamt and not in times that had past, she might have been happy. And when she turned eighty-five, with grey hair that mirrored that sky, she would dream of herself bent down on a dazzling green canvas, replete with glittering holes that she longed to see inside.

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