A tidal wave emerged from between two hills, reared up, and fell down on top of our town. It happened at night, and many people drowned in their sleep. The lake on top of the mountain above the town had never been much in people’s minds. They had been warned about trouble up there; but they’d been warned so many times, that perhaps they’d grown tired of waiting for a disaster that never happened—until it rained so much the earthen dam broke, and the lake came pouring down the valley. Growing up, I sometimes felt I was living among watery ghosts. I sought reassurance from my mother that the flood was in the past, long before I was born, and could never happen again.
My mother had three miscarriages before me. When I was a little boy, she and my father took me on a picnic up the mountain to the place where the lake had been. There was nothing but a wide depression in the ground. A solitary house, with a front porch and steps that led down to a field of grass, stood on the hill facing the depression. My father, a happy man who liked jokes and stories, said: “That was a lakefront house. And there were sailboats on that lake. Imagine—sailboats on the mountain! It seems impossible. But there they were.”