The moral high ground might not be the best place to stand in an emergency.
| STANDING ON HIGHER GROUND|
Entered in The Writer's Cramp, not selected
Approximately 1070 words
"Heavy rainfall in the south," said the radio weather girl, "with flood warnings for Calgary and area. Expect 15 to 25 centimetres in the next six hours, and the Bow River is already flooding its banks. Low-lying areas should prepare for evacuation...." There followed a list of threatened neighborhoods, and instructions for preparation.
JayLynn Fernie's basement apartment was in the flood zone. She quickly packed diapers and supplies into Lucy's stroller, packed a suitcase with essentials, and stuffed important papers and what little cash she had into her purse. She tucked the baby into the stroller and zipped the rain cover, then tugged on her own tatty raincoat. Suitcase in one hand, stroller handle in the other, she struggled into the hall. The elevator didn't respond to the button. Muttering curses, she opened the door to the stairwell. Water was already trickling down the stairs. Step by step, she hoisted the suitcase and dragged the stroller backwards up the stairs to the foyer, where she waded to the door. The rain outside thundered like Niagara Falls, a seemingly solid wall of water. A steady stream surged under the front door; it was already part-way up her rubber boots. She wondered if she would be able to make it to the shelter.
A few blocks away, Beth Carstairs stood in the foyer of the Stefford Block. Stefford Oil, her employer, had closed its office and sent everyone home. As they waited for cabs and Ubers, she continued arguing with a colleague from the Stefford legal team. "It's not that the oil industry denies climate change," she was saying, "but it is important that the industry be seen as occupying the moral high ground. We have to be perceived as being in favor of clean energy, carbon capture, all that crap. Oh, wow, look at that come down!"
A taxi plowed through the water and pulled up at the door. "That one's mine. Bye, guys, stay dry!" She cursed as she sloshed to her ride. "$300 shoes, ruined! Shit, shit, shit!" She directed the driver to her house in Bel Aire, on the hill north of the Bow. The whole downtown might flood, but she'd be high and dry.
As the vehicle pulled off, the driver, a swarthy man with a beard and a turban, said, "I'm glad to get out of here. The Bow's over its banks and traffic downtown will soon be impossible! The army's got a couple of detachments doing flood control, but most places the sandbags don't help at all." Between rain pounding on the roof and the rush of tires through the flood, it was difficult to hear.
The cabbie slowed to avoid splashing a young woman holding a suitcase and pushing a stroller. The water was almost over her boots. The cab gently stopped beside her.
"What are you doing?" demanded Beth from the back seat. "Let's go, you said the water's rising."
"I'm off the meter. Just sit tight." He leaned over to open the passenger door and yelled, "Hey, lady, you need a ride?"
"Oh, my God, yes, thank you, thank you! Can you take us to the shelter in the Butterdome?"
"It's on our way. Hop in." JayLynn tried to shelter Lucy from the rain as she took her out of the stroller. Oblivious, the little girl slept on.
"This is MY cab," protested Beth
"Actually, it's my cab," retorted the driver as he got out. He splashed around back to load stroller and suitcase into the trunk while JayLynn and Lucy slid into the front seat. Cold rain chased them into the cab.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm getting your seat all wet," said JayLynn when the driver climbed back in.
"No problem, so am I," laughed the driver
JayLynn turned to the back seat. "Hi, I'm JayLynn and this is Lucy. Thank you so much for sharing your ride with me. I wasn't sure we were going to make it through to the Butterdome. It's a long walk and the water keeps getting deeper. The stroller was almost turning into a boat!
"I'm sorry if you're upset, but this is such a blessing for me. My place is probably a metre deep in water by now." She sighed. "Not that it's much of a place, three room basement suite. But it's mine. Was mine. Well, mine and Lucy's."
"Just the two of you?" Beth began to warm to the cheerful young woman.
"My husband was killed in an industrial accident three months before Lucy was born. He never got to meet his daughter. So yeah, just us."
"Workers' Compensation? Life insurance?"
"Well, group stuff from work, but they're dragging their heels, saying Jeff was at fault and it's like a suicide or something, exclusion they call it. And Workers' Comp is still investigating. It's been pretty tight since Jeff was killed."
"Geez, that's tough. How do you get by?" Beth realized she was prying, but hoped the girl didn't mind.
"A job on minimum wage, but they let me bring Lucy and nurse her and all. It's cool. Do I make enough for rent and food and diapers? No way, Jose! Pick any two of the three. And thanks to grants and student loans, I'm still managing a night course at Bow Valley College."
Beth was both amused and amazed. She'd had the best of upbringing, the best of schools, the best of activities; now, she had a lucrative job, good clothes, a great apartment, her choice of professional men as friends and lovers. Yet here was this spunky widow coping with things that would have sent Beth wailing to her psychiatrist.
"Butterdome," announced their cabdriver. The rain was still heavy, but the water in the street was streaming down the gutters towards downtown and the cab no longer seemed in danger of being swept away.
"Hold on," said Beth, recalling her earlier comment about moral high ground. What was so moral about misrepresenting facts, spinning data to look good, covering up? Surely the moral high ground belonged to people like JayLynn, decent folks struggling to keep their heads up above the flood, both figuratively and literally. Beth suddenly realized that the moral high ground of Stefford Oil was not necessarily safer, or right.
"JayLynn, would you and Lucy like to stay with me as my guests until the flood is over? I've got lots of room, and company is welcome during emergencies like this. Please say you'll come."