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I took Broadway to work Saturday morning. The north wind remained brisk, and the dawn sky took on a mother-of-pearl iridescence unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I stumbled more than a few times, foolishly staring at the sky instead of watching where I was going.
I turned south toward the construction site and soon found tide water over the tops of my shoes. Startled, I searched the faces around me but didn't see a flicker of concern. People still walked to work, trolleys ran, and horses pulled loaded delivery wagons same as always, splashing through the light overflow. I glanced down the street to the gulf where great waves broke on the beach, sending showers of white spray into the air. Storms and overflows might be a normal occurrence around here, but I wasn't sure I'd ever get used to it. It made me feel like the whole island was sinking into the sea.
When I got to work, Mr. Farrell was already there, standing on the fourth house gallery, looking out over the beach. I climbed up beside him, and he pointed toward the streetcar trestle strung across the surf. Swells crashed against pilings and across rails, hurling plumes of white spray as high as telephone poles. Further down, spent waves had already reached the Midway. Fingers of foam raced around the ramshackle restaurants and shops as if searching for something to drag back into the sea.
We watched till everyone arrived, then Mr. Farrell put us to trimming doors and windows inside the first two houses. Concentrating on work wasn't easy, though. Even Zach had a hard time with such a spectacle going on outside.
Streets and yards around us filled with rain and tidewater, but still, people trickled in from trolleys, buggies, and on foot. Men in suits, dressed for work, and women gripping the hands of children gathered to see a sight as grand as fireworks on the Fourth of July.
As the morning wore on, the storm increased, and so did the crowds. Streetcars stopped three blocks short of the beach, no longer venturing out over the wild surf, and still people braved the rising water to see the show. Some of them even wore their bathing suits.
Skies darkened. Wind stripped umbrellas inside out and blew hats tumbling toward the surf. A driving rain soaked sightseers' backs and peppered the north side of the house where I'd been working, striking like pebbles against windows and siding.
I heard cries as waves picked up the two-wheeled, portable bathhouses and flung them into the row of flimsy buildings that made up the Midway, showering brightly painted pieces of wood over the roofs. Further down, swells rolled in, one upon the other, exploding against creosoted pilings under the Pagoda and slamming against floor joists with such force I could feel the gallery railing shudder beneath my hands.
Mr. Farrell shouted from the house next to us. "Looks like it might get worse before it gets better. You boys best get on home."
Zach nodded and waved. We dropped our tools inside the unfinished parlor and headed out into the rain.
"You live pretty far out, don't you, Seth?" Zach asked. "You're welcome to come wait out the storm with us if you want."
I shook my head. "Thanks, but I'll feel better knowing that things are okay at home."
"I guess I would, too." He held up a hand. "Monday morning, then."
I nodded. "I'll be here."
We all struck out in almost knee-deep water, headed toward higher groundZach with Frank and Charlie, and Henry with Mr. Farrell. Josiah and I trudged behind them but stopped when we heard excited yells behind us. We turned in time to see the Midway buildings lift on the waves and crash to the ground like kindling. Josiah gave me a stunned look as debris washed toward the shocked crowds. Many people turned to leave, but some stayed on, their faces lit with excitement.
"Let's go," I yelled over the sound of the surf. Josiah nodded, and we bent our heads into the rain, wading toward the higher ground on Broadway where I hoped we'd have an easier time of getting home.
Rising water and high curbs had turned the south streets into rushing, brown rivers, but buggies and drays still moved along them as if overflows were a daily occurrence. Kids floated by on homemade rafts or paddled along in washtubs, bumping into broken tree limbs and odd bits of bobbing lumber. They laughed while wet hair whipped around their faces.
Everywhere I looked I saw tiny green frogs, thousands of them, covering floating debris, sitting on fence posts and porches, and even riding astride a horse's back.
We waded out of the water just one block shy of Broadway and made our way west toward Thirty-Fifth Street. It wasn't long before I saw whole families struggling in from the beach roads just like we had, leaving their homes for higher ground. They carried clothing, food, and framed photographs, and ahead of them, they pushed muddy kids hugging kittens and puppies to their chests.
"The bay and the gulf have joined!" one of them yelled, pointing to the street.
I looked and saw water rushing in from Galveston Bay on one side and from the gulf on the other. The two seas met in the middle of Broadway, swirling over the wooden paving blocks, and I couldn't help but shudder at the sight. All of Galveston appeared to be under water.
When we reached Twenty-Fourth Street, I looked south toward the gulf, trying to keep an eye on the stalking sea. Wild waves rose up like a great hand and wrenched loose the Pagoda's long staircase, sending planks tumbling through the air. With horror I watched the end of one twin building sway and dip into the surf.
I yelled at Josiah, but my words disappeared on the wind. I grabbed his arm, pointed, and we stood together, shoulder to shoulder, mouths gaping, watching the impossible.
Like a wounded Goliath, the great bathhouse shuddered, folded in on its long legs, and collapsed into the sea.
Copyright © 2006 Marian Hale
This text is from an uncorrected proof