Thursday, August 24, 2017. Allison was in her dining room, her nose at a window, a latte on her lip. She hadn’t noticed it before, but Dave’s house had a shed roof. How could she have missed that? It pitched at least twenty degrees and was layered in solar cells. The low point emptied into a gutter with downspouts flowing into the large tank in his backyard—clearly, a basin for harvesting rainwater.
Very cool. Dave was living off the grid, but he’d also ducked out of sight. Two hours earlier, Allison watched a flatbed truck park across the street. Three workmen got out. They rolled up the construction fence that had temporarily separated their properties and drove off. All the while Dave remained inside. Allison stood at the window taking it in, thinking.
Thinking, I should be scared. Or pissed. Or both, but I’m not. Why? She waited for her voice to respond. When it didn’t, Allison asked herself, How come I’m okay with him popping up next door? I should be creeped out. I should be getting a restraining order. Anyone who’s gone to this much trouble is the stalker from hell. Instead of anger, though, the word natural came to her mind.
Birds of a feather.
Jeez, go back to sleep, she told the voice. I’ll figure this one out myself.
Allison replayed the events of the last two weeks. At her old neighbor Earl’s suggestion, she had taken a ten-day vacation to the Galápagos. There, she hooked up with a stranger, an architect named David Wiggs. Like herself, Dave, aka Jack, designed houses, or so he said. Coincidentally, or so it seemed, he lived nearby in Baytown. She and he had different perspectives, but also much in common. Or so she thought. They mutually agreed that architecture could deal with rising seas. To prove it, Allison had designed numerous plinth homes and won awards for her work. Dave had never entered a competition but said he was constructing a flood-proof house for himself—at which point he clammed up. He wouldn’t tell her where the project was or how it achieved its post-apocalyptic magic. By the end of the cruise, she knew why: Dave was a jerk. Allison discovered he worked for oil companies, the very people causing seas to rise.
She arrived home from Ecuador last Saturday to find a construction fence surrounding what used to be Earl’s property, but no construction underway. Four days later there was a furnished house, occupied by Dave.
Of all people, why would he land next to me? Before Galápagos, I didn’t know the guy from Adam.
Ha. A double entendre. Allison recalled Earl using the same line about Dave. Earl claimed to have forgotten who bought his land. Blaming age, he said he “couldn’t remember his name from Adam.” Allison wondered if Earl knew Dave’s middle name actually was Adam.
And that triggered a series of mental images. She saw a river’s edge. Dave was there. Next, she saw them living together in a forest, and they weren’t alone. Surrounding them were people with green faces, hundreds of them, men, women, children. Leaves covered their heads and bodies, but Allison and Dave were naked. She jokingly told herself an apple tree grew in that forest, which led her to contemplate the irony of a man named David Adam living adjacent to a woman named Allison Eve.
Seeing Dave on his porch this morning prompted another deja vu moment. The vision caused Allison to rappel from the treehouse she’d been using to spy on her popup neighbor. Hemp burning hands, feet sliding across the grass, she charged into Maison de Mom equal parts confused and relieved. The word comfortable came to mind. She tossed off her housecoat and put on jogging shorts and a tee. Lacing sneakers, she murmured, “He is found.” Passing the kitchen, she wondered why the hell she was saying that. Walking into her dining room, Allison extended her arms and craned at the ceiling. “What is happening here?”
The answer came as an ear-piercing wail from a vibrating iPhone:
EMERGENCY ALERT: AIR FORCE HURRICANE HUNTER PLANE FINDS HARVEY STRENGTHENING. The tropical storm is tracking toward the north-northwest at a fast speed and is expected to approach the southern Texas coast tomorrow with gale-force winds. Harvey is expected to make landfall near Corpus Christi.
Sorry, Corpus; looks like it’s your turn for a rinse cycle. Here in Houston, though, I’ve got my own problems. Like, how to make sense of this? How should I read the tea leaves?
Birds of a feather.
Allison stomped into her kitchen and confronted the Green Woman mounted on the wall next to her refrigerator. “If that’s you talking to me, you’re no help.”
The terracotta head looked vacantly back.
“I don’t even want your help. I may not know why Dave moved next door, but I do know how he built his place so quickly. I know a shipping container house when I see one.”
Allison thought the building was attractive in an industrial kind of way. It wasn’t architecture with a capital “A,” but neither was it bad. The house had possibilities. For example, Allison thought the rusty cladding contrasted nicely with its silvery cage. So why not play that up? Its four containers were stacked atop and alongside each other, two up and two down. The second story was set back to create balconies. The first floor had a covered porch, the result of a partially-roofed structural cage. The entire house rested on a low plinth—a very low plinth, Allison noted. Dave’s house was only a couple feet above grade. That meant the building was doomed to flood.
Bingo. Shipping containers sail across oceans strapped topside to decks. They survive gale-force wind and rain because their steel doors have gaskets. Dave must think all he need do in a hurricane is batten down the hatches and ride it out submerged.
Wacko, Allison thought, but it could work—if every opening were watertight. But she could see that Dave added floor-to-ceiling windows to the containers’ long sides—the sides without waterproof doors. Thick laminated glass, the kind museum aquariums use to resist water pressure, had a green cast. Dave’s windows were clear. He used standard glazing. His house would, therefore, flood as surely as Earl’s, and as easily as her old home had before Maison de Mom.
She fingered the ADMIT ONE ticket Dave left on her door stoop. Tomorrow, she told herself, I’ll take his little tour. Then I’ll grill the man on what he’s up to. She thought about bringing a baseball bat for reinforcement but decided a razor tongue would be enough, especially with the incipit: “Your house is gonna flood, Mr. Wiggs. Do you understand that? What the hell were you thinking?”
Why don’t you walk over now and talk to him? asked the topiary head in her mind.
Because that’s what he wants me to do. Allison returned the ticket to its small box. I’m gonna throw him off his game. She checked her Fitbit and saw that it would be overcast all day, perfect weather for kayaking. But on second thought, she worried that runoff from the Corpus storm would be wending through intercoastal tributaries, spilling into Houston’s canals on its way to the Gulf. Shooting the rapids wasn’t a sport she enjoyed.
Jogging along Buffalo Bayou, Allison passed three feet of murky water trickling inside a canal twenty-seven feet deep. And for the first time in her life, she saw an alligator.
Friday, August 25, 2017. Allison awoke to the comforting sound of rain. She pulled up the covers and sank into bed, hypnotized by a thrumming roof. Looking past her feet, she saw droplets meander on glass and a patchwork of blue dissolve into gray sky. She was up an hour later, washed, and in the kitchen. With an espresso brewing, Allison opened her laptop to local news.
Tropical Storm Harvey reached hurricane force winds overnight. Hurricane Harvey is moving toward the northwest near ten mph, but its forward speed is expected to decrease significantly. Harvey will make landfall on the middle Texas coast tonight or early Saturday. The hurricane is then likely to stall near or just inland of the middle Texas coast through the weekend.
Huh. It must be a massive storm for rain bands to reach Houston from Corpus Christi. Allison thanked goodness Harvey was moving away from her. The local forecast was for rain all day, so she decided to postpone visiting Dave until things cleared up tomorrow. Why make an appearance dressed like a wet cat?
Allison spent the morning at her desk working on Gloria and Otto’s house. She also found time to make a few sketches concerning Dave’s house, a housewarming for the jerk. Then she had lunch in her dining room and watched Dave’s shed roof slowly lower itself flat.
Amazing. The roof must be motorized to track the sun’s altitude, or like it just did, retract on cloudy days. Talking to herself in a mocking voice, “Golly, Dave has all the toys.” Grinning, Allison added to tomorrow’s script: “Lucky you didn’t build your house in Corpus, Dave. You’d have blown a fuse by now.”
Saturday, August 26, 2017. The weatherman lied. Instead of clearing, more rain was forecast. In the wee hours, Harvey grew from a category two hurricane to category four. It also switched direction. The cyclone was now headed east. Houston television stations were predicting torrential rain over the next few days. Allison feared water in the streets, which meant her yard would flood, which would make it hard for her to make that neighborly house call she’d planned. Better wait another day and hope the weatherman wasn’t only dishonest, but incompetent.
Sunday, August 27, 2017. This is getting ridiculous. Rain pounded her roof last night with increasing intensity. The wind was merciless. Allison got up in the middle of the night and cranked down most of the rolling shutters protecting her glass house. She left up the ones for the front and back doors.
Morning started with a bang. Epic thunder boomed across the city, and black clouds billowed the sky. The heavens were moving fast, spawning tornadoes and never-ending lighting. Allison prayed her large oak would be spared both wind damage and Thor’s hammer. The tree’s soul was as much a part of her as the telepathic clay head in her kitchen. She didn’t want to lose either of them.
Worrisome, too, was the bayou in her backyard. The National Hurricane Center advised Harvey had turned “catastrophic” with potentially “life-threatening flooding.” Indeed, as of this morning, low-lying parts of Houston and Galveston were going under. From her dining room, Allison could see Buffalo Bayou near the top of its bank, twenty-four feet above normal. Hopefully, it had crested by now.
Allison changed the purpose of today’s visit to Dave’s house. No longer would it be reconnaissance and reprimand. This was now a rescue mission. Mr. Wiggs would need to abandon ship if the bayou overflowed. Safe harbor was Maison de Mom. Whatever he was up to, whatever happened between them in the Galápagos, could wait. Life trumps love, or lack thereof, she told herself. Allison would ask Dave to lower his periscope and ride out the storm with her.
She donned a yellow raincoat, sou’wester, and rubber boots before stepping into a battering deluge. The gale hit her full on. She cinched the cord to her hat and kept her head down, her face away from the stinging pinpricks. Wind drowned out all other sounds. She fell on slippery grass, got up, and fell again. Halfway to Dave’s house, she bumped into someone.
“Allie, I know you’re freaking out to see me.” Dave was shouting through the squall. “I can’t blame you, but there’s no time to explain. Come to my place. The bayou’s going to flood the whole block.”
Allison yelled back. “I was on my way over to get you, you shit.” She finger-tapped his chest. “You built your house just a few feet off the ground. You’re the one who’s going under, not me.” Pointing, “Those watertight doors won’t protect your side windows. Do you know that?”
“No worries. I can jack my house up fifteen feet.”
Louder, “I’ve got jack rig motors attached to the columns.
Dave moved his face under the brim of Allison’s rain hat. Nose to nose, “Jack motors. I have a sea stair on my porch that extends twenty feet, and I generate my own power. There’s enough fresh water for weeks, Allie. My place is storm-proof.”
“Oh, I get it now. Your nickname. Your oil buddies call you Jack because you design oil rigs. Is that it? Dave Wiggs, the jack rig king?”
“Allie, I don’t design oil rigs, or refineries, or anything of the sort.”
Her finger stabbed deeper into his ribs. “Yes, you do. Why did you tell me you designed houses? Why did you lie to me?”
“Can we go inside?”
Dave moved his mouth to her ear and cupped his hands. “Listen up. I design floatels, floating hotels. That’s where crews live when they’re on drilling platforms. That is housing, Allie. It isn’t glorious work, but it pays the bills and then some. Designing for offshore also taught me a thing or two about living out of harm’s way.” He stepped back.
Allison studied him. “Then what the hell are you doing in my neighborhood? Why are you here?”
“Can we dry out first?” He took her hand.
She yanked it back but immediately reconsidered. Someone has to save this dummy. They walked with locked arms. Climbing the steps to Dave’s porch, Allison noticed a Green Man mounted to the bottom of a downspout.
“Where did you get him?”
“Found it laying on the ground near my water tank. Not my taste, but it kinda spoke to me. Do you like it?”
He is found.
Allison bent down and touched the terracotta face. “Yes, I do. His mate lives with me. Pretty sure she’s been looking for him.”
Dave uncorked a bottle of Chianti and made a lunch of red beans and rice. He was surprised when Allison said she enjoyed it.
“I’ll have you know this was my mom’s signature dish, Mr. Wiggs. Except in her recipe, you soak the beans overnight.”
“In my version, I open a can.” He displayed a pantry stocked with tuna fish, soup, all matter of canned goods. With two fingers on his forehead, he said, “Always prepared.”
There was an endearing quality to the man, she had to admit. The word familiar came to mind. She sensed an honest practicality, an earnestness not unlike his house. Allison leaned over the table and lifted her wine glass. “So spill the beans, my boy scout lover. What brought you to my side of town?”
“I wish I could say it was you, but it wasn’t. I designed this house a few years ago. I was looking for land near water and thought about Galveston, but when Earl put his property on the market, I jumped. It was a steal.”
“So you and I meeting in Ecuador and winding up living next door to each other is nothing more than mere coincidence? Why do I not believe that?”
“Think what you want. Earl pitched me the Amor trip when I closed on his property. He said I looked like someone who needed a vacation and gave me a tour brochure. The guy is a hell of a salesman.”
“Damn.” Allison slapped the table. “He set us up. Uncle Earl was playing matchmaker.” She decided to hug Earl just before hanging him.
“Anyway, I liked the building next door, but I didn’t know it was yours. Thought it must have been designed by an architect, so I looked it up in the AIA guidebook. Read that it had won awards, but the architect’s name wasn’t you. It was a different Allison.”
“You saw my married name. I designed the house for my mom when I was single but had the credit changed when I got married. I was such a frikken idiot.”
“I figured out who you were midway through the islands. Didn’t know how to tell you, though. Sometimes you scare the crap out of me.”
With a grin and a chilling voice, Allison said, “You are right to fear me, Mr. Wiggs. Be afraid. Be very afraid.” But she was thinking something else. I was wrong about this guy. I have to fix this. “David, listen—”
He shook his head. “Not now.” Dave pointed to the window behind Allison’s chair. “Thar she blows.” He dashed out of the kitchen.
Allison trotted to the porch and saw two-foot waves cascading over the yard. Tree limbs and assorted detritus rushed toward their homes. She felt herself moving up, as if in an elevator.
Dave walked onto the porch saying, “I lifted us six feet. Hope that’s enough.”
They watched water pass under Maison de Mom’s plinth and flow up Allison’s curved ramp. “Shit, it’s rising fast. I gotta get over there.”
“I can make it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You face your fears and all that. This isn’t snorkeling in a lagoon, though. This could be a biblical flood.”
“I can make it. End of discussion.” Allison walked down the sea stair and stepped tentatively into frothing brown water. Foam bubbled around her calves, and then her knees. By the time she reached her driveway the water was chest high. She started dog paddling.
The current pulled her ninety degrees from where she wanted to go until an eddy rotated her around her oak tree. Allison wound up near her ramp and used its handrails to pull herself the rest of the way. At the landing, she was greeted by a pair of large eyes, one black, the other green, connected to a long snout lurking just below the surface.
Allison drifted backward and let the eddy swing her around the tree again. At the knotted rope to her treehouse, she climbed. The animal snapped seconds later, blowing hot air over her legs.
On the treehouse deck, Allison saw a branch extending over her porch’s roof. She inched along the limb and jumped, falling on her back. Crawling to the edge of the roof, she searched for the reptile below, which was pointless in the driving rain. Allison hesitated before picking a column on the far side of the roof. She shimmied down and gingerly made her way through water roiling across her plinth. Buffalo Bayou breached Maison de Mom as soon as she opened the front door.
What to save? What to take? She panned photos and drawings, books and paintings, museum quality furniture now afloat. Allison bid goodbye to Eero’s table, Ludwig’s armchairs, Charles and Ray’s bed. Wading into her kitchen, she pulled the terracotta head off the wall, then floated through the back door. She sidestroked with Green Woman under her arm to the trellised folly holding her kayak. The first passenger in was the topiary face.
It took her fifteen minutes of paddling against wind, rain, and surf to reach the sea stair. Dave stumbled where the steps met the water, nearly falling into what was now a tsunami. “Harvey is a monster, Allie!” He reached to grab hold of the kayak’s bow. “I had to jack us up over eight feet.”
Allison handed him the terracotta head as the boat slipped out of his hand. The kayak made a sudden wrench to one side before capsizing.
When it righted, she was gone.
But not completely. Pachamama knows that part of her remained. Allison lingered long enough to observe Dave, and then others, search frantically in the water around his house. Like mist dissipating in a breeze, she then rose into the clouds. There, she reentered the stream of time. Soon enough, a yearning would take Allison to another epoch, where her sojourn would begin anew.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Part 5 of the series is here. Allison Rising is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Sojourn: A Novel Theory of Architecture. Copyright 2017-2018 Richard Buday. All Rights Reserved.
Featured image by the author.