Moving Water, Tucson by Peggy Shumaker

This is a story I read aloud in Flash Memoir 101 class, and is the first piece in the Short Takes anthology. It’s a great example of making a story out of something small and beautifully illustrates the traits of good flash stories. If you like it I hope you’ll read more from Peggy Shumaker – you can learn something valuable from any piece she’s written.

Moving Water, Tucson by Peggy Shumaker

Thunderclouds gathered every afternoon during the monsoons. Warm rain felt good on faces lifted to lick water from the sky. We played outside, having sense enough to go out and revel in the rain. We savored the first cool hours since summer hit.

The arroyo behind our house trickled with moving water. Kids gathered to see what it might bring. Tumbleweed, spears of ocotillo, creosote, a doll’s arm, some kid’s fort. Broken bottles, a red sweater. Whatever was nailed down, torn loose.

We stood on edges of sand, waiting for brown walls of water. We could hear it, massive water, not far off. The whole desert might come apart at once, might send horny toads and Gila monsters swirling, wet nightmares clawing both banks of the worst they could imagine and then some.

Under sheet lightening cracking the sky, somebody’s teenage brother decided to ride the flash flood. He stood on wood in the bottom of the ditch, straddling the puny stream. “Get out, it’s coming,” kids yelled. “GET OUT,” we yelled. The kid bent his knees, held out his arms.

Land turned liquid, that fast, water yanked our feet, stole our thongs, pulled in the edges of the arroyo, dragged whole trees, root wads and all, along, bettering reams thrust downstream anything you left there gone, anything you meant to go back and get history, water so high you couldn’t touch bottom, water so fast you couldn’t get out of it, water so he the earth couldn’t take it, water … We couldn’t step back. We had to be there, to see for ourselves. Water in a place where water’s always holy. Water remaking the world.

That kid on plywood, that kid waiting for the flood. He stood and the water lifted him. He stood, his eyes not seeing us. For a moment, we all wanted to be him, to be part of something so wet, so fast, so powerful, so much bigger than our selves. That kid rode the flash flood inside us, the flash flood outside us. Artist unglued on a scrap of glued wood. For a few drenched seconds, he rode. The water took him, faster than you can believe. He kept his head up. Water you couldn’t see through, water half dirt, water whirling hard. Heavy rain weighed down our clothes. We stepped closer to the crumbling shore, saw him downstream smash against the footbridge at the end of the block. Water held him there, rushing on.

More good flash reading:
Sample stories
Hitchhiker’s guide to flash stories online
Best flash memoir collections

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