Chapter 25: Homecoming

Finegan is sitting cross-legged atop the roof of his houseboat, a map spread out on his lap. He is pondering. Joey's head pops up on one side. Finegan says,

Seems to me it was about here . .

Finegan waves his hand in the direction of the open water where the dawn is breaking.

But the land ashore looks different.

Joey climbs up on the rooftop and turns 360° around. He says,

The water rose since we been here last. . . I think we were a bit more this direction.

Joey is pointing down along the shoreline, to his right as he faces the shoreline. He says,

Mehbe so. . . I'll go out to deep water and you look afar out there. .

Finegan is pointing out into deep water, where they expect to find the seamstress's island.

______________________________

Finegan is peddling away, almost out of sight of the shoreline, but moving parallel to the shoreline. Joey is atop the houseboat roof, hand shielding his eyes from the Sun, which is rising over the open water, peering out into deep water for any sighting of the island. Suddenly Joey is animated, pointing with one arm and calling back over his shoulder to Finegan.

I see it! I think I do. Ahead and to the right.

______________________________

The houseboat is approaching the island where the seamstress and the other deaf/mutes lived, working with sheep and wool and gardening at the Institute for the Deaf. The island looks smaller than when visited last, over a year ago. The water level has risen. But the buildings, which were atop the hill, are still above water. No sheep can be seen grazing on what is now a limited grass area around the remnants of the main Institute buildings.

The seamstress, carrying a bundle in her arms, can be seen running down the slope toward the spot where the houseboat will be mooring. There is a rowboat with oars pulled onto the shoreline there also. Finegan is walking across the gangplank toward the seamstress, who is standing on the shore. The seamstress is smiling broadly, very happy, with tears in her eyes. She holds the bundle forward slightly, with both hands. A four-month-old baby girl is in the bundle, looking up at her mother and waving her free arm a bit. Finegan is choked up.

Oh my . .

The baby suddenly jerks its head in Finegan's direction, looking startled. Finegan smiles and looks at the seamstress.

It can hear! . . Ah, not an it . . a boy or a girl?

The seamstress is placing the baby girl into Finegan's arms. She points to the baby and then to herself, meaning, a girl. Finegan is all smiles, goggling and cooing to the baby, who is cooing and blowing bubbles in kind.

A deaf man is walking down the path, carrying a suitcase and a bundle of cloth diapers. He has a smile on his face also. He begins telling Finegan the story, in sign language. He puts the suitcase and bundle of diapers down, and motions in a sweep from the hilltop to land, indicating that everyone moved to the mainland. He points to the water then raises his hand slowly, indicating that the water kept rising.

The deaf seamstress, seeing that Finegan is looking over her shoulder steadily, only now becomes aware that the deaf man has arrived. She turns to watch his story too. The deaf man points to the seamstress, then frowns and crosses his arms, shaking his head in the negative, meaning that she had refused to go. He points to Finegan, then to the seamstress again, holding his hand over his eyes and scanning the horizon, indicating that she was waiting for Finegan to return. Finegan says,

Well, we're here now, and not leaving until she comes along.

Joey has come round behind Finegan, a big smile on his face too, and picks up the suitcase and bundle of diapers, taking them onboard. The deaf man points to the rowboat nearby, then points to himself, then a sweeping gesture from the mainland to the seamstress, then opening his arms to encompass her and himself swooshing back toward the mainland. He is relaying that he came for her. Finegan smiles affectionately one last time at his baby girl, then hands her back to her mother, stepping toward the rowboat.

We'll take this along.

Finegan points to the deaf man, indicating with a wave of his arm that he should get onto the houseboat.

______________________________

As the houseboat approaches a narrow inland bay, the dark, dead trunks of trees can be seen sticking up here and there at the entrance. Waves are slapping the pontoons of the houseboat, the wind is starting to whistle. The sky is darkening. Joey is standing on the roof in his usual position, his clothes starting to whip now and then in the wind. He is signaling Finegan, pointing to the water to the side and motioning with his hand to move in the other direction when he sights a flooded tree that could snag the houseboat.

The seamstress and the man who vacated the island had been sitting in the rear, facing Finegan, but now go into the house on the boat. The seamstress covers the baby's face with the blanket edge. The baby can be heard starting to cry due to the wind in its face.

______________________________

The houseboat is now moored well into the inland bay, where the waterway is so narrow the houseboat barely made it between the flooded trees. Finegan is tying the houseboat as well as mooring via the grappling hooks, anticipating a hurricane. The gangplank has been lowered.

The seamstress and baby are hustling up the hill toward a farmstead in the shelter of the hills. Joey is carrying her bundle of diapers and the deaf man from the island is at the lead, carrying the suitcase. Their clothes can be seen blowing in the wind now and then, but not to the extreme as out on the open water. Finegan is pulling the gangplank back onto the houseboat and jumping down into shallow water, wading ashore, hustling to catch up to the group going up the hill.

______________________________

Twenty or so people are huddled under the shelter of a barn roof, which has been hoisted up by posts to form a large lean-to. The group includes children of all ages. The straw that had been in the upper floor of the barn has spilled out onto the ground, so forms a soft seating area. Twenty or so sheep are also huddled under the roof, to one side, a section of fence pulled around them. This fence had been pulled from a field, is made of posts and wire fencing between the posts, and has been rolled up to make it portable.

The sheep are lying down, almost on top of one another, and include spring lambs. Blankets have been thrown on top of the straw in the seating area for people. The people are likewise very crowded, trying to stay out what is becoming hurricane force winds and torrential rains. The wind can be heard whistling and moaning amid the thunder of raindrops on the roof.

The seamstress is in the middle of the group, which includes normal folk as well as the deaf that came from the island. Several women are crowding around her, admiring the baby and cooing at the baby. There is a particularly strong gust of wind and the seamstress pulls the blanket up over the baby's head, moving her body to shield the infant. Finegan is to the open edge of the lean-to, trying to pull some planks up to create a windshield. He finally gives up as the planks keep blowing down, and comes to join the group huddled further in under the roof.

______________________________

The storm has blown over and sunlight can be seen beyond the shade inside the homestead barn. Birds are singing again. The seamstress is sitting alone on a blanket in the middle of the straw, nursing her baby. The afternoon sunlight is shinning into the barn, so mother and child are in a beam of sunlight. The sheep have been released to return to grazing, and no one else is around. It is a madonna and child moment.

______________________________

Finegan and Joey are being given a tour of a community of survivors, numbering around 300 folks. This is a rural area, so the makeshift homes are of various materials and styles. One has stacks of used tires for walls, with a piece of plywood over the top as a roof. Over the plywood is a tarp, to keep it all waterproof. The doorway is simply open, with a cloth tied up at top to be dropped at night for privacy or for warmth. This is true of a couple window openings on either side, where the top tires are missing but a cloth can be dropped as a curtain.

Several homes are bermed into a hillside, a former pasture. The earth that has been dug out is used to form walls on the open side of the houses, hobbit style. The walls are braced by various boards taken from the sides of collapsed barns or farm buildings. Doors and window frames from these buildings are in place, packed with dirt all around. The roofs are sections of tin roofs, likewise scavenged from collapsed farmhouses. One of the bermed homes has a complete corner taken from a farmhouse, moved to form this corner.

Yet another house has been formed by parking several cars and vans into a rectangle, with an open communal area inside these cars. The communal area is covered by planks taken from a collapsed barn, rough wood with a piece of straw here and there stuck to the boards. The car doors are open in good weather along the outside of this commune, closed at night or during rain. None of the cars have tires, so are sitting on the ground. The doors of the cars and vans have been removed on the inside so the complex is like a large dorm area for sleeping.

Yet another house is formed by bales of straw that are secured by wire wraps, leftover from before the troubles hit. The farm wagon used to haul the straw bales has been tipped over on its side to form one wall, with a portion of a farmhouse roof pulled over the center for protection from the rain.

Yet another house is an old tractor, long out of gas, with all manner of plastic sheeting thrown over the top and pulled taut and staked and tied at the edges - one large tent. Boxes and stored items are stuffed under the tractor body, with sleeping blankets laid out in all directions like the spokes of a wheel from this center.

The village folk are milling around a central area preparing a communal supper. A cooking fire has been started and a large pot hung over the fire. Several women are chopping vegetables and a man is cleaning fish on a table nearby. The communal dining area has every type of table and chairs imaginable, collected from the area - kitchen table and chairs, picnic tables, stools and benches from barns, and tables made from boards held up by broken concrete blocks. All the tables have been covered by tablecloths tattered and of all colors but the tableclothes are clean. In the centers of these tables are dishes and tableware, also of every kind and color, many chipped. The glasses and pitchers of water are primarily plastic ware, children's durable drinking glasses.

In the distance can be seen an extensive garden area, running up one slope and over the top of the hill. The sheep can be seen grazing on yet another hilltop. Free ranging chickens are dashing about, underfoot. There is lots of chatter going on, friends calling out to each other to ask about the windstorm that had blown through and how their homes were affected.

. . How'd you fare?

Another answering,

Nearly tore my roof off but it held.

Finegan and Joey are walking down a row of shops, off to the side of the sleeping and eating areas. These are primarily just open areas, covered by tarps and left open at night as any tools or goods are packed away at night. The shops are mostly closed due to the storm that passed recently. One shop is a shoe repairman, who is seated on a contraption that is a chair with a post in front of the chair, atop this post a wooden foot. Alternative wooden feet, different sizes, are in a box at his side. He is waiting for customers, his box of tools beside him including cutting knives, glue, a hammer, and various pieces of leather.

A communal library is next, a woman putting books back onto shelves that had been taken from several different collapsed homes. These shelves are of every size and shape. She is handling the books with great care, almost in an affectionate manner. She has a couple tables, one small for children, and several chairs in the library too.

A furniture repair shop is next, and woodworker setting up shop, continuing to repair a chair he had been working on before the storm. He has woodworking tools - a plane, hammers, saws, nails, glue, clamps, and a hand drill. Some wood shavings are on the ground underfoot. He is sitting on a stool in front of a low sturdy table, the chair to be repaired atop this table. Finegan approaches the woodworker.

Could you make me a cradle? One that could hang from a ceiling yea high?

Finegan has his hand over his head, indicating the height of the houseboat roof.

______________________________

The houseboat is again on the open water, drifting along toward the sunset, with the shoreline off to the right. Finegan is not at the pedals, but Joey is sitting cross-legged on the rooftop, reading to himself. All four lines from the corner posts are covered with cloth diapers, drying in the breeze.