Frank MacLorin had nineteen parkas. He’d worn each while clinging to a guardrail, wincing at the wind reddening his face and billowing his Gore-Tex. He was a natural disaster specialist.
At the moment, he was hip-deep in thick brown water. His sleek black Patagonia embroidered DCB for Dennis Charles Broadcasting. He braced himself against a row of sandbags , his feet wedged between cobblestones now underwater. MacLorin looked into the camera. “I’m here in Omaha’s Old Market district. This neighborhood of restaurants and galleries is under four feet of water, courtesy of the ‘Muddy Mo.’” He let this hang. “We have firm reports of three deaths, and I’ve just learned the tragic story of a man trapped in his car on Dodge Street when his power locks and windows failed.”
“Any sign of the water receding, Mac?” a voice asked in his earpiece.
He shook his head grimly. “As you can see,” MacLorin said, peering out from under his dripping black hood, “it’s raining now.” He gave the audience a beat to reflect on the driver who sat helpless in the rising water, to consider their own terrible mortality. “Things are going to get worse for Omaha before they get better.”
Dennis Charles kept a laser pointer in his breast pocket, as another man might keep a fountain pen. “The new currency is bandwidth,” he said. His glowing red laser sight circled the word “efficiency” onscreen.
Hurricane Bret was honing in on the coastal Carolinas, beckoning MacLorin east. Instead, Dennis wanted him in the placeless void of cyberspace.
“I can’t send you across the country every time some shitburg gets flooded. The guy rowing his canoe down main street—we’ve seen it. Might as well show stock footage, Mac.”
The offshore storm was gathering strength. So far just high winds and rain – clattering street signs, poignant empty beach chairs – but still.
MacLorin told Teresa about bandwidth, that he might have to retire his parka.
“What are you, some kind of action hero?” Her voice and face were shrill and angry. And – he hated himself for this – it was not a little arousing.
Teresa wanted to be the only disaster in his sights. He suspected that she’d slept with Dennis Charles, though he had not obtained conclusive proof. But he could never shake the thought of Dennis tracing her curves with his red laser pointer, once the image had occurred to him.
“There is,” he said, “a certain amount of – well, if not bravery, some daring.”
“There is, Mac, a certain amount of stupidity in being the one clinging to a tree during a lightning storm. ‘Folks, I felt a little sizzle there!’”
They made love hungrily, with the TV on. Hurricane Bret was taunting him. Most of Savannah evacuated, seeking shelter in churches and high school gymnasiums. MacLorin leaned on one elbow to watch. Hundreds of refugees, shivering, bleary-eyed under donated blankets, wanted only to go home.
Jenn Stroud Rossmann teaches mechanical engineering at Lafayette College and writes the series "An Engineer Reads a Novel" for Public Books. Her stories have appeared recently in Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and failbetter, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her novel THE PLACE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO LAUGH is forthcoming in 2018 from 7.13 Books.