Floodlines

Rivers of dark brown rainwater surged down the streets, overflowing the gutters and inundating the sidewalks all the way to the doorstep. The storm had begun just before dawn and had raged well into the afternoon. The house was full of the roar of the deluge pounding the plastic skylights, so I had turned up the stereo to compensate. No one would hear us outside.
The cigarette smoke hung just below the ceiling, suspended in the humid air like fog. I had begged Marcelo to stop, but as his speeches became longer and more animated, he lost himself and the instinct to light up was automatic. The cigarettes, when not in his mouth, waved about in his hand like tiny, smoking batons.
When the rain finally stopped, Marcelo and his audience discovered that the Fernet had run out, and anyway, vodka would be better. I volunteered to go to the market, knowing that even the threat of flooding wouldn’t be enough to close the supermercado chino. I needed to breathe the air.
At the market, a barricade of cardboard boxes had been erected in front of the entrance to keep the flood at bay. Or at least well enough that water didn’t make it past the cash register. I bought the vodka, the cheap stuff that was made locally, and a bottle of Coke. The usual old man was at the register. I waved towards the cardboard dam, “Que valiente sos.”
He smiled and nodded, mumbling something about “plata.” I gave him a mock salute and headed back outside where the rain had started again.
More people were crowded into the kitchen by the time I returned, and the cigarette haze was thicker. I recognized some of the thin, eager faces. Like Marcelo, they were all young and the product of a collapsing middle class. I could tell many, if not all, of those present were drunk. Their zeal would last until morning, at least.
I tried to focus on what Marcelo was saying, but he had his porteño audience now and my ear did not consider the majority of the sounds escaping his mouth to be words. A drop of water hit my nose; there was a leak in my ceiling. I tracked the droplets to the floor where a puddle had formed. Cigarette butts floated on the surface, spinning idly. I frowned. They wouldn’t leave ashes on the tables in their own homes, because their homes belonged to their parents.
I was turning to leave the kitchen when Marcelo finally paused. He called for a clear space on the table and unrolled the copies of the schematics we had managed to steal from the archives at his brother’s office in the Workers’ Union. He looked up and found me with his eyes, smiling.
“El plan, chicos, es tirar la ciudad en el oscuro.” It was as he had told me before — a city without electricity was a city on its knees. A city humbled was a city that could be saved.
As the others crowded around the blueprints and listened intently to “the plan,” I studied Marcelo again. His hair was long and pulled back into a knot on the crest of his head. The beret he normally wore was lying cast-off on my couch. What he could manage for a beard covered his face and darkened his soft features. The clothes were American, and the watch was German. He would have had a cigar in his mouth if they had been readily available.
When he finished outlining the plan, the arguments began. Who would be responsible for what? How would they coordinate with their comrades once the plan had gone into place? When could they hope to strike?
Of course, Marcelo was nothing if not a confident man, and he had answers — answers that were not answers, but rather assurances of answers in the future. The certainty was only that it must be done. All things must have their beginning.
“Incluso los grandes árboles comienzan como pequeñas semillas.” Their tree, their “grande árbol” was the kind of revolution that they had heard about in rock songs.
I grew restless as the talk in the room turned toward the philosophical, the intangible. Marcelo was again waving his hands about.
Taking advantage of another break in the rain, I left the house and ducked into the pizzeria on the corner. The patio furniture that normally occupied the sidewalk had been pulled inside to save it from being swept off in the tempest.
I approached the counter where tepid empanadas sat in a glass case waiting to be reheated in the oven. The owner was in the tiny kitchen, rolling dough into balls that he then mashed flat into disks. Leaning on one elbow, I looked over at the only other customer. He was a fish-eyed old man, a regular fixture. Every day, when the pizzeria opened, he appeared with the sole intention of drinking wine from the same blue-tinted glass.
Following his eyes, I noticed the television above the beer cooler. The news played silently, showing images of massive floods of muddy water devouring entire city blocks. People stood on their rooftops and clung to tree limbs, telephone poles. The caption at the bottom of the footage mentioned the nearby town of La Plata. It declared: missing people and crumbling infrastructure.
I remembered then the grocer and thought maybe he hadn’t been talking about money at all. Something felt wrong in the pit of my stomach and I stepped away from the empanada case, looking out towards the street. But already the deep, rushing water was receding to the gutters.

fin

Flooding in Argentina, Source: Silvia Bonett

Flooding in Argentina, Source: Silvia Bonetti, 2013

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