link to Home Page

Chapter 15: Lost and Found

The houseboat is peddling along close to a shore that has occasional rock outcroppings. Most of Memphis is at least partially flooded, but the upper floors of high rises are above water. As with other locations, earthquake and wind damage are obvious, even from afar. The high rises have a spire here and there standing, metal shafts that are flexible and do not collapse in quakes. Masonry or brick buildings are a rubble, collapsed. Frame buildings are often simply tilted to one side, thrown to the side during a large quake.

The remains of Memphis seem to go on for a long distance, to the right and left of the houseboat. The tops of the Desoto bridge can be seen to the left of the houseboat, on what was the Arkansas side. The Arkansas side is completely flooded, as far as the eye can see. The remains of Interstate 40 can be seen dropping down into the water and heading toward the remains of the Desoto bridge arches. A rusty sign sticking up indicates Interstate 40.

Finegan is standing on the roof of the houseboat, holding his short wave radio with newly installed crank to gen electricity. He is cranking away energetically, then holds the radio to his ear, listening.

(scritch) . . approaching . . (snap)

Finegan adjusts a dial and listens again. Having located the group he spoke to earlier by short wave, he interjects.

Yo, Finegan Fine here, trader. We spoke before. Which hilltop are you on?

Memphis Papa answers,

I'd give you the GPS but we can't raise that no more. Are you that houseboat we see? What you got rigged on the back?

Finegan explains,

That's a water wheel. Slow, but works, and I can steer. Direct me to you.

Memphis Papa says,

You're down river from us. Well, ah, what used to be the Mississippi anyways. We see you when we look at the sunrise, down, ya know, ah, south of us . . Or what used to be south. Hell of a mess, twisted around and all. . . Come up river a bit, and I'll talk you in.


Finegan is sitting on what used to be a dining room chair along a piece of plywood being used as a tabletop. Several men and women are seated around this table too, all in various kinds of chairs - folding chairs, living room easy chairs, stools, and stepladders. The table is stained in many places, having been used for many conferences. A large map of the US is laid out on it, taped in places to hold it together and frayed at the corners. Finegan is leaning on his left elbow, holding a mug of coffee in his left hand, and pointing with his right hand. Joey is standing just behind his left shoulder, standing on his toes, peering at the map intently.

I started out upriver from Savannah. The river was rising something fierce. By the time I built my boat, I was going overland on the water. That bad.

The group nods in unison. Finegan sits up straight and looks over his left shoulder at Joey.

Joey here got separated from his parents. Ain't found 'em since.

Finegan goes back to leaning on his left elbow and pointing at the map.

We worked our way around what's now the new coastline of Georgia. No maps for any of that. I gather that Florida is gone.

Finegan sits straight again, taking a sip of his coffee.

I'm guessing you all have a better idea of the rate of rise, but seems to me it just keeps rising. . .

The group nods in unison. Memphis Mama is a wrinkled, pale woman slouched at one end of the table. She wears a flowered dress and has some kind of plastic flower covered hair net holding her gray, greasy hair in place. A strand or two of her gray hair escapes, hanging down on her neck or over her face.

And the sun rises in the south and sets in the north.

Everyone just sits, stone silent except for the occasional slurp on a cup of coffee. Joey is craning his neck to see every face up and down the table, as he is intensely curious. It's clear no one is going to speak.

How come?

Memphis Papa is a grizzled man at the end of the table, sitting in an easy chair that is collapsing at one arm and with upholstery that is very stained. He has a beard, tousled hair, and wears a tattered shirt with dirty cuffs. Like Memphis Mama, his posture also shows the effects of too many conferences and not enough exercise, as he appears collapsed into his chair.

We figure that the Earth shifted in space, son. That's how come everything got shook up, and somehow that's how come the water keeps rising. . . Best we can figure.

Joey has dug the photo of his parents out of his pocket and flaps it in the air.

Did my parents come by?


Finegan and Joey are standing in front of a wall covered with pinned notes. The note paper is of every kind - scraps of paper torn out of phone books, lined notebook paper, pages torn from day-timers, notes written on the edges of coupons, notes written on the carbon copy from checkbooks, pages from children's coloring books, etc. The wall is covered floor to ceiling with some notes starting to cover other notes, layering.

Martha, Ed Grover and I are to Cincinnati.
MacMahons are heading to Uncle John's farm.
God help us! Little Bob drown and Big Bob died from the grief.
We made it! See you at the Hemp's. Mitzy

Joey walks up to the wall and starts to read, when Memphis Papa interrupts him.

This here's for Arkansas, across the river from us. They came up here like drowning rats on anything that would float. We got a separate room by state, so's to reduce the confusion. What state were your parent's from?

Joey spins around on his feet, facing Memphis Papa, with a hopefully, eager look on this face.


Memphis Papa says,

This way.

They all walk down a corridor of an old office building that remained upright during the quakes. Some of the rooms along the exterior wall are cluttered with broken furniture and boxes of refuse cleared out from the interior rooms. The exterior rooms have broken windows, so the cardboard is weathered near the windows. The interior rooms are being used for lost and found boards. There are labels on the door jams of the interior rooms, arranged alphabetically - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, N Carolina, Ohio, S Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, W Virgina. Painted in red paint on the wall across from the Alabama and Arkansas rooms is a general index, a list of these states, with an arrow pointing down the corridor.

Memphis Papa walks ahead of Joey, who is literally at his heels. Finegan brings up the rear. They stop in the Georgia doorway, Joey bumping into Memphis Papa's ample rear end.

Here we are.

The room is bare, not a single note pinned.

We got a few from Florida, came by early on boats, but ain't got nothing from the East Coast to speak of. Too far by land.

Memphis Papa drops his hand to the top of Joey's head, patting it.

Sorry son.


Finegan and Joey are preparing to leave. They are moored onto the back porch of an older home, which is listing into the water. This is the current residence of Memphis Papa, who is there saying goodbye. Finegan pulls the gangplank onto the boat while Memphis Papa gently tosses the grappling hooks onto the deck. He has a warning.

You going upriver? Watch out for them yahoos on boats, they been looting at night round these parts.