AGAINST THE FLOOD

I pulled the tattered curtain away from my Grandmother's window and peered out toward the black top road. The storm had slackened enough that she might finally let me go outside. I found Mama Cissy in the kitchen stooped over the wood stove stuffing in some old newspaper and branches. Thick, pungent smoke was already curling from cracks in the stack to disappear into the soot-covered ceiling. You could clearly hear the rat-a-tat of rain drops on the tin roof beating slower and slower. She turned toward me with a weary what-now-kid face and I knew I was free.

My cousin, Gene, was already in the flooded gully beside the rock road that branched down from the black top. He had dropped large chunks of red Mississippi clay into the narrow channel to cut the flow and was smoothing it over with mud. When he noticed me, he turned and flashed his usual condescending grin.

"A city boy could never build a dam like this!"

We were the same age, but he was much bigger and stronger. From eleven years of eating fresh collard greens and cornbread, according to his mom. Maybe so, I thought to myself, but at least in the city our bathrooms are indoors.

I glanced at the small lake that was building up behind his dam and bolted down the rocky side road. Around a sharp bend was the spot I had already picked out. I carefully placed some bricks across the channel which by now, thanks to Gene, had slowed to a trickle. Over the solid foundation I piled massive amounts of mud and dirt, molded and smoothed and packed, until it looked as perfect as any concrete and steel dam could ever look. The final touch was the six lengths of hose pipe positioned evenly across its face. They would funnel a constant flow of water and reduce any pressure on the dam.

Just as I stood up to admire my work, Gene came running around the bend waving his arms. He had broken open his dam. The rushing water sounded like thunder as it poured around the curve. The flood slammed into my dam so hard, I thought it would just disappear, but it didn't. The pipes were working perfectly, spraying water like jets on the other side. I let out a triumphant yell to which Gene took exception. He lunged but I was too quick. I reached down and picked up a large flat rock and caught him right in the forehead. I wheeled, racing for the safety of Mama Cissy's house, and there was no way he was going to catch me.

But, of course, he did.

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