They took their annual vacation in the fall. Not summer. Not spring break. Not over the winter holidays. It had to be fall. As soon as the first green leaves transformed into their livelier hues they would head back to where it all started. A little cabin in a rural settlement off a gravel road with no good phone service, a spotty internet connection, and mosquitoes with the wingspan of eagles. Every year they had a tradition. Fall was when they returned to this place. But that was before the flood.
Cornelius never wanted to move away from the cabin—that’s the irony. It was Caroline who craved interstates and stadiums and neon lights that glittered through the night. She wanted neighbors a stone’s throw away with their fancy degrees and their tinkling uptown accents and their homeowner association fees. Fees they would funnel into rebuilding the neighborhood after the flood.
At first a trickle skated down their city street like butter sliding in a cast iron skillet. Then it was a stream that grew into a river that grew into a lake. It swelled into a raging, sewage-ridden, photo album carrying, pick-up truck tossing, tree plowing lake.
Before the flood, a ten-day respite welcomed them every fall in that cabin off that gravel road. To reminisce on the day they first met in Ms. Brown’s 3rd grade class. Flashbacks to the town’s Easter day parades. Poking fun at the other’s dance moves at senior prom. It was the time they’d ride out on his old 4-wheeler and name the trees along their path. The time they’d start a bonfire in the backyard after dinner and look up at the stars. The time they’d cook what was fished out of the lake or hunted out of the woods or picked out of the fields. And when it was over, they’d pack up and drive out—Cornelius always buzzing about how he couldn’t wait to do it next year.
Indeed, it was never his dream to be sucked into the foreign state of affairs called city life. It was tragic, downright unthinkable, that when the flood came, it was his body lodged between the sofa and the radiator once this unnatural tide subsided. Bloated. Unrecognizable. Nothing like that chiseled, square-jawed, grizzly-faced man who took a trip to the place where his story started every fall with the love of his life.
It was fall once more, and the green leaves shed their uniformity for a more interesting palate as Caroline placed her suitcase in the bed of their red F-150 going back to where it all started with just her memories of him riding shotgun and no return date.