Story — From the August 2014 issue

Bounty

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It was happening just like they said it would. Things never happen like they say they will. That I was living to see it felt kind of special, truth be told. Like a headline. history in the making!

My neighbor’s house still stands, and across a new tiny sea in turmoil from trapped fish and unprepared people, one additional cluster of houses remains, perhaps four in all. Day and night, people hang out the windows waving white bedsheets and shouting. What kind of message is that? Surrender? To whom? I’ll bet they have no food or water. My neighbor’s house shakes from the extra people crammed inside. Each of the ten bedrooms probably holds a small village of newly homeless vagrants he’s rescued. I told him to prepare. I know this sounds crazy, I said. We haven’t always gotten along, but I decided it was the neighborly thing to do. You’d think he’d have been grateful. But instead he just crowds our last parcel of heavenly land with bums. If I open the windows I will smell the house, its burdened toilets and piss-soaked corners. The shallow but rising sea moat between our homes is rank with sewage. The tide takes it away, but more always comes.

In the old days, I would have left a letter in his mailbox about this or that neighborhood issue. The mail carrier once warned that it was illegal for non–mail carriers to put things into mailboxes. She held it out for me to take back. It’s just a note, I snarled. See how overgrown his hedges are? She stared unbudgeably hard, held the letter steady between us. Why can’t you just leave it there for him? I fumed. I slammed the door in her face and the next morning I found it stuffed in with my own mail, in my own mailbox. On it she had scrawled petulantly, Only I can put this in the mailbox, and I won’t do it!

Through my great-room window, I can see that his grand staircase, with those audacious carved-pineapple finials, is littered with men, women, and children. The way they lie about, it looks as though there’s one whole family to a stair. A boy dangles from a dusty crystal chandelier. I watch an old woman topple over a railing while maneuvering through the immense spiral shantytown. What a shame. But you can’t let everyone in. There would be no end to it.

I run a finger over the great room’s mantel. Dead skin, infiltrated ash. Too bad the housekeeper has most likely perished.

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’s collection Man V. Nature will be published in October by Harper. This is her first story for Harper’s Magazine.

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