Before We Were Born Again
by Heather Bourbeau
There once was a child who saw the water rise before our radars did. They tried to warn their parents, but the child was too young, the parents too filled with faith in engineers and instruments, in public servants, and in all they had known. Nearly smiling, the child repeated more loudly, “The Embarcadero will fall, old boundaries return, and new hope blossom in the wake.” And as their parents absorbed the child’s incongruous eloquence, a wave just beyond the bridge began to grow and the sirens sounded in earnest.
I cannot say this was the first sign. We both know that would be a lie. There had been signs for centuries, but we chose to believe in fairy tales of man outwitting nature and beast. Hubris was humanity’s most developed muscle and our greatest weakness.
So the child was initially ignored, and we entered the time of unhappy coincidences.
Our leader went for a swim in seemingly calm waters, trying to charm a woman he saw and thought he should have. However, before he was half way to her, he got caught in a quick and persistent undertow, the first ever recorded in the area. The medical examiner noted the fullness in his chest from water and moss and fish that lodged in his lungs. On the other side of the great river, the object of his desire walked to the bank unscathed, wrote a book, did a speaking tour, then retreated to the house she wanted to be left alone in from the beginning.
Soon thereafter, the speaker of the parliament was preparing for a hunt, checking his rifle, marking his face, plotting his perch when a stag crept unheard from behind and speared him with his impressive rack of horns. The coroner said the speaker suffered greatly in the hour or so it took for his hunting companions to find him and call an ambulance. During that short but shockingly fatal period, the chief gun lobbyist tripped on an unseen vine and in an effort to steady himself, set off the fully prepped rifle of his now dead friend. It was so incredibly unlucky, we all agreed.
Then a yacht carrying the CEO of a large plastics manufacturer was trapped in sludge, which was unusual enough in that part of the ocean. But then he pierced his arm on a pole as he worked with crewmen to create an opening for the vessel. Well, this was bad luck indeed, but then the blood attracted the tiger sharks that eventually devoured him after the pole broke and the velocity of the break threw him over the sludge pack and into the sea. Such, such bad fortune. How ironic, how sad for his family, we all sighed with a slight look over our shoulders.
But once again, we were told not to worry, to play Fortnite, to continue shopping, watch another comedy special, and forget. We were living in a golden age of options. We were grateful. We were numbed.
By the time the convention happened, we began to suspect something was awry. Children had found the guns left in their teachers’ desks, cities were transformed as floods and quakes flattened landfill, women razed industries that had ignored and profited from their pain, and the turtles—it really was the turtles that made us pay attention—the turtles began walking onto roads. Turtles gathered in front of diners, at office parks, in football stadiums. Their eggs were left on highway onramps and in front of power stations. There were too many to simply kill. Overnight turtles had become like cane toads. We were equal parts confused, charmed, and furious. The turtle issue was the initial reason we convened. We tried to solve “the problem,” but the more we argued to find the root cause, the quieter, the more alert we became.
We called upon the child, who had by then become a young adult. They helped us to breathe fully again, to learn the language of wild cats and elk, to mourn the illusion of control, to listen to the rhythms of water and sun, and become aware of how a footfall can crush the ants, carry a seed, or change a world.
There once was a child who saw the water rise before we did, and now we swim with their grandchildren over the remains of world exhibitions that once touted the triumphs of man.
About the Author:
Heather Bourbeau’s fiction and poetry have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cleaver, Eleven Eleven, Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Chalkboard, Open City, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and the anthologies Nothing Short Of 100: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story and America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press). She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia.
About Weekly Flash Prose and Prose Poetry:
CutBank Online features one work of flash prose or prose poetry every Monday. Submissions are free and open year-round. Send us your best work of 750 words or less at https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit.