The Bombing of Water Valley

It wasn’t like a metaphor, but Satan for real. The neighborhood witches had summoned him for fun but then lost interest in their prize. The kids’ test scores went down. The wind blew the smell from the chicken plant down Main Street. Slow internet.

Two points I want to make: There should have been enough Jesus in this town, but we were forsaken. Second, the trenches along Panola, which were for the rain, could fit a crouching soldier.

I was not optimistic. The road West, which was usually the route to see turtles crossing or to get to the movie theater, had been cordoned off. If closed for another 24 hours, the kudzu would form a wall. East was our foe, Atlanta, and a long way, with Birmingham in between. Highway 7 North was so full of lumber trucks it was impossible to merge. South was the hurricane.

I shaved my head and gave my son his great grandfather’s Zippo. I told him there’s basil, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes in the garden, which should keep the family alive for like two days. I kissed my wife and promised to write.

We soldiers bivouacked against the propane tanks and soda machines at the Piggly Wiggly. We watched Satan pull out of the Sonic through our binoculars, while we listened to the home team lose on the radio. There was noise overhead, but it was just the medevac to Baptist Memorial in Memphis. We needed more helicopters to escape this doomed town. Where were the Alderwomen? 

A different authority: we broke camp when the manager fussed.

I returned home with no good hero stories and an occurrence of trench mouth, not contagious but not sympathetic either. Listerine burned, which meant it was working, but it took a few hours to get back in the family’s good graces. Yes, I saw the devil, no, I did not attack.  What did I look like? An angel?

However, my garden continued to grow, despite the fear and tumult that I’ve heard plants can sense, and I imagined I could make a kind of dull salad while we waited. For what? What did the fiend have in store? An earthquake? He liked those, or maybe he’d send his red squirrels to chew the power lines, and his frat boys to crowd the meager country club.  

Looking back, it was like when one dog notices something, barks, and then the whole neighborhood starts up. A heavy boom, which could have been something to do with a big truck, the loading of something heavy into a big truck, or that big truck hitting something. But then two more, then five, then we stopped counting. We just didn’t know what was making that sound.  Do I need to say pestilence, famine, war and death?

The sirens. The sirens and the smoke. My happy family cringed but shouted to the rest of the country—remember when we used to say—hey, if you’re there, pick up, it’s me.

Sean Ennis

Sean Ennis is a Philadelphia native, now living in Water Valley, MS.  His fiction has appeared in Tin HouseCrazyhorseThe Mississippi ReviewThe Good Men ProjectBayou, The Greensboro Review, and the Best New American Voices anthology.  He's taught for the University of Mississippi, the University of New Orleans, and the Gotham Writers' Workshop. A recipient of a Mississippi Arts Commission literary grant, he is the author of the story collection, Chase Us (Little A/New Harvest).