The Obsequious Pen

The Obsequious Pen: Kristin Ivey

Kristin Weller headshot
Kristin Ivey, writer

Kristin Ivey is a PA based writer and educator. She writes about herself in the following:

Kristin Ivey is a Pennsylvania writer, English teacher, and a graduate student at Wilkes University. Her essay, Life: What Writer and Teacher Can Tell You about Craft, was featured in Craft section of the May 2017 issue of Hippocampus Magazine. She earned a Writing Fellowship with the National Writing Project in 2000, an organization for which she has served as an Advisory Board member and teacher-consultant. When she’s not grading papers or running her two boxer dogs around agility courses, she’s participating in local writing groups in the Lehigh Valley area.

Ivey’s story is called, Flooded 40.91.

*40.91 – the number of feet of floodwater that washed through Wilkes-Barre during Hurricane Agnes

Earth’s sovereign star settled in the uppermost branches of April’s bare oaks. Brown squirrels and slate-belt pigeons fiddled through a pile of cracked corn the dog walker had tossed between two of Public Square’s park benches. Spring snowflakes at dawn had given way to cerulean skies by midday. As the day’s temperature rose, so too did the city’s residents. By one o’clock, Terrance’s fourteen-story apartment building cast a pencil-shaped shadow across Public Square Park and sliced through the remnants of Maiden Kankakee’s pedestal — her fountain long silenced. Terrance studied the patch of birdseed from the other side of the crosswalk as he waited for the cross-traffic to quiet. She won’t come, he thought for the thousandth time.

As the light changed and Terrance rolled into the intersection, he turned his attention to the little girl in the orange sweatshirt who skipped ahead of him, her hand firmly knotted within a woman’s whose hair was straight and white. The rumble of an idling vintage mustang revved and crescendoed at the main intersection off to his left. The sound scared the pigeons and startled the little girl, but didn’t seem to bother the squirrels none.

Terrance noted the moment the little girl’s Velcroed sneaker hit the park island’s curb. How she broke free from her parental knot and ran with an unabashed joy no grown-up has ever been able to muster. He nearly laughed when she flung herself onto the jungle gym sculpture nearest the park’s entrance. And by the time his wheels scraped the sloped curb leading into the park, the little girl was halfway up the eight-rung steel tower and well on her way to touching the trapped metal sphere at its center.

Terrance gave the wheels of his chair four hard pumps so he could build up momentum for the transition from concrete to brick pavers. His army green messenger bag, its winking stitched owl logo facing outward, bounced off one of his wheels like a palm on a bongo. He felt the subtle shift in speed the bag caused, and compensated. The menagerie of items he carried on the tray he’d clamped to his wheelchair jangled and danced as he buzzed over the bricks. He followed the spiraling pathway towards Kankakee’s defunct font at the park’s center. The trail reminded him of the outline of his own Momma’s ear — subtly curving in on itself until the center sunk into the subterranean. Of course, his Momma was long-gone now. Perhaps it was the anniversary of her passing that resurrected the residual ghost of the storm.

Can’t believe it’s been almost forty-five years since Agnes. That storm. She puked up so much water and mud all over the place. Must’ve been tearin’ it up in heaven for at least a century a’forehand. Smelled like it anyway. The night before Agnes hit, Momma said not to bother none with the evacuation. She said we were too far inland to worry about any trouble from the Susquehanna. “We’re underground people, not river people. Always have been,” she said. Well, until June 23, 1972, that is.

Terrance rubbed his thighs through his stained cargo shorts, but only felt his palms as they warmed. It had been decades since he’d registered any direct news from his nether parts. Twenty-eight trillion gallons of rainwater fell with Agnes and with it, she floated one brand new Buick from a Market Street showroom in Wilkes-Barre to Kingston and Momma’s station wagon. Mamma kept her wood-paneled wagon parked snug against the curb in front of their former two-story Cape. Until the flood, their house had been located at the backend of Kingston, eight-miles from the river’s edge.

He thought about taking out the scrappy article, but really, he didn’t need to read the faded clipping to remember its contents. We huddled in the wagon, wet and shivering despite the warm, swampy air after Momma finally caved about the evacuation orders. But by then we all knew she was too late. “Momma told me to hunker down on the passenger floor and ordered my little sister, Dotty, to lay flat across the back seat,” Terrance had told the reporter who interviewed him at Geisinger the day after he learned he had lost the use of both legs. “The rain was comin’ down so hard it was difficult to hear, but I did what she said. I stayed put, even though we all felt a bunch of debris hittin’ the car and trying to push us down the street. But when that Buick hit us– boy, it was louder than all the rest. Then, the front of Momma’s car crumpled and pinned me.” He remembered how the reporter had kept eye contact with him, even as the balding writer sketched his funny-looking notes in one of those flip-pad notebooks.

Terrance engaged the brake on his wheelchair, reached for his messenger bag and fished out his wallet. He didn’t need it, but took out the news clipping anyway. The paper had brittled and turned the color of horseradish. A feeble breeze kicked up and rattled the aged article, but Terrance held tight. He studied the grainy photograph of his Momma at its center. In it, she stood next to Terrance’s hospital gurney as she held his hand. Terrance gave the photographer a thumbs-up with the other,  but his Momma didn’t smile. Instead, she stared straight ahead, her eyes fierce — her mouth a straight-razor’s edge.

The sound of a nearby news broadcast from a suddenly unmuted cell phone made Terrance look away from his past. The white-haired mother was sitting on a bench nearby, watching a weather forecast. “Come here, darling,” she said to the orange-sweatshirt girl. “Come, look at this.”

She won’t come here again, Terrance thought. She won’t.